What is it good for

“A war doesn’t merely kill off a few thousand or a few hundred thousand young men. It kills off something in a people that can never be brought back. And if a people goes through enough wars, pretty soon all that’s left is the brute, the creature that we—you and I and others like us—have brought up from the slime.” – John Williams, Stoner

Matters of equity

“Seamen are a class of persons remarkable for their rashness, thoughtlessness, and improvidence. They are generally necessitous, ignorant of the nature and extent of their own rights and privileges, and for the most part incapable of duly appreciating their value. They combine, in a singular manner, the apparent anomalies of gallantry, extravagance, profusion in expenditure, indifference to the future, credulity, which is easily won, and confidence, which is readily surprised. Hence it is, that bargains between them and ship-owners, the latter being persons of great intelligence and shrewdness in business, are deemed open to much observation and scrutiny; for they involve great inequality of knowledge, of forecast, of power, and of condition. Courts of Admiralty on this account are accustomed to consider seamen as peculiarly entitled to their protection; so that they have been, by a somewhat bold figure, often said to be favorites of Courts of Admiralty. In a just sense they are so, so far as the maintenance of their rights, and the protection of their interests against the effects of the superior skill and shrewdness of masters and owners of ships are concerned.” – Justice Joseph Story, Brown v. Lull

The principle of the interest

“It is a maxim founded on the universal experience of mankind, that no nation is to be trusted farther than it is bound by its interest; and no prudent statesman or politician will venture to depart from it.” – George Washington, “Letter to Henry Laurens, November 14, 1778″

Always look on the bright side of life

“The human mind is always poring upon the gloomy side of Fortune, and while it inhabits this lump of Clay, will always be in an uneasy and fluctuating State, produced by a thousand Incidents in common Life, which are deemed misfortunes, while the mind is taken off from the nobler pursuit of matters in Futurity. The sufferings of the Body naturally gain the Attention of the Mind, and this Attention is more or less strong, in greater or lesser souls, altho’ I believe that Ambition & a high Opinion of Fame, makes many People endure hardships and pains with that fortitude we after times Observe them to do. On the other hand, a despicable opinion of the enjoyments of this Life, by a continued series of Misfortunes, and a long acquaintance with Grief, induces others to bear afflictions with becoming serenity and Calmness. It is not in the power of Philosophy, however, to convince a man he may be happy and Contented if he will, with a Hungry Belly. Give me Food, Cloaths, Wife & Children, kind Heaven! and I’ll be as contented as my Nature will permit me to be.” – Albigence Waldo, Diary, December 15, 1777, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania (emphasis in original)

Go hungry and see how good everything tastes

“Mankind are never truly thankfull for the Benefits of life, until they have experienc’d the want of them. The Man who has seen misery knows best how to enjoy good. He who is always at ease & has enough of the Blessings of common life is an Impotent Judge of the feelings of the unfortunate.” – Albigence Waldo, Diary, December 15, 1777

When the war was young

“I am Sick—discontented—and out of humour. Poor food—hard lodging—Cold Weather—fatigue—Nasty Cloaths—nasty Cookery—Vomit half my time—smoak’d out of my senses—the Devil’s in’t—I can’t Endure it—Why are we sent here to starve and Freeze—What sweet Felicities have I left at home; A charming Wife—pretty Children—Good Beds—good food—good Cookery—all agreeable—all harmonious. Here all Confusion—smoke & Cold—hunger & filthyness—A pox on my bad luck. There comes a bowl of beef soup—full of burnt leaves and dirt, sickish enough to make a Hector spue—away with it Boys—I’ll live like the Chameleon upon Air.” – Albigence Waldo, Diary, December 14, 1777

So high, you can’t get over it

“I really am of opinion that there is few of the young fellows of the modern age exempt from vanity, more especially those who are bless’d with exterior graces. If they have a fine pair of eyes they are ever rolling them about a fine set of teeth, mind they are great laughers, a genteel person, for ever changing their attitudes to shew them to advantage, oh vanity! vanity! how boundless is thy sway!” – Sarah Wister, Journal, December 12th, 1777 (spelling, usage, and punctuation in original)

some people think

“some people my dear think that there’s no difference between good nature and good humour. but according to my opinion they differ widely good nature consists in a naturally amiable and even disposition free from all peevishness and fretting, it is accompany’d by a natural gracefulness a manner of doing and saying everything agreably, in short it steals the senses and captivates the heart. good humour. consists in being pleas’d and who wou’d thank a person for being chearful if they had nothing to make them other ways, good humour is a very agreable companion for an afternoon but give me good nature for life.” – Sarah Wister, Journal, November 1st, 1777 (spelling, usage, and punctuation in original)

Getting away with murder

Justifiable homicide is that which is committed either, 1st, by unavoidable necessity, without any will, intention or desire, or any inadvertence or negligence in the party killing, and therefore without blame; such as, by an officer, executing a criminal, pursuant to the death-warrant, and in strict conformity to the law, in every particular; or, 2dly, for the advancement of public justice; as, where an officer, in the due execution of his office, kills a person who assaults and resists him; or, where a private person or officer attempts to arrest a man charged with felony and is resisted, and in the endeavor to take him, kills him; or, if a felon flee from justice, and in the pursuit he be killed, where be cannot otherwise be taken; or, if there be a riot, or a rebellious assembly, and the officers or their assistants, in dispersing the mob, kill some of them, where the riot cannot otherwise be suppressed; or, if prisoners, in gaol or going to gaol, assault or resist the officers, while in the necessary discharge of their duty, and the officers or their aids, in repelling force by force, kill the party resisting; or, 3dly, for the prevention of any atrocious crime, attempted to be committed by force; such as, murder, robbery, house-breaking in the night time, rape, mayhem, or any other act of felony against the person. But in such cases, the attempt must be not merely suspected, but apparent, the danger must be imminent, and the opposing force or resistance necessary to avert the danger or defeat the attempt.” – Simon Greenleaf, A Treatise on the Law of Evidence (footnotes omitted; emphases in original)

Do you call that equitable

“If one man strikes another a blow, that other has a right to defend himself, and to strike a blow in his defence; but he has no right to revenge himself; and if, when all the danger is past, he strikes a blow not necessary for his defence, he commits an assault and a battery. It is a common error to suppose that one person has a right to strike another who has struck him, in order to revenge himself.” – Justice Coleridge, Regina v. Driscoll

Parking on the left is now parking on the right

“So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distractions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.” – James Madison, “The Federalist 10”

Pulling a national rabbit from an imperial hat

“A remarkable aspect of the Revolution is that for almost seven years, the war was conducted by a government that, strictly speaking, had no governing powers. The wonder of this becomes all the sharper when one reflects that the war was both a struggle with Britain and an internal or civil war. No one has yet convincingly disputed the guess of John Adams that throughout the conflict at least one third of the Americans remained loyal to Great Britain. Another third were neutrals, people who didn’t much care who won and who never caught the spirit of ‘76 until after the definitive American victory at Yorktown in 1781. The Revolution was carried to its successful end by a mere third of the population.” – Milton Lomask, The First American Revolution

And still do

“The ‘Tidewater’—the broad coastal plain along the Atlantic—had spawned one kind of culture. The ‘upcountry’ beyond—the great central plateau or Piedmont and the mountains forming its western border—had engendered a far different one. Tidewater North Carolina was rich. Upcountry was poor. Tidewater was a land of rice and indigo plantations worked by armies of slaves. Upcountry was a warren of small farms, each tillable by ‘a man, a mule, and a nigger,’ provided all three worked from dawn to dusk. In the three lower colonies, the Carolinas and Georgia, the Tidewater planters controlled the legislature, made the laws, fixed the taxes, and dominated the courts.” – Milton Lomask, The First American Revolution

The ghosts that haunt us still

“Colonial policy had always been to exclude Negroes from militia service, but more often than not a need for soldiers had dictated a contrary practice. Many blacks had fought in the French and Indian War. As the dispute with Parliament neared breaking point, Negroes volunteered for the New England militia. All were accepted. . . . In the late fall of 1775 Southern delegates to Congress were complaining that the Continental Army had become ‘a refuge for runaway slaves.’ They insisted that the blacks already enrolled be dismissed and that future volunteers be turned down. The Congress at first rejected these proposals. Then the delegates reversed themselves to the extent of barring future enlistments. On this matter they would alter their position several times during the war. Meanwhile, in the face of changing official edicts, blacks continued to join both their local militia and the Continental Army.” – Milton Lomask, The First American Revolution

Same as it ever was

“This is the age of crime. I’m sure we all grant that. It’s the age, of course, of other things as well. Of the great chance, for instance, and the loss of faith, of the bureaucrat, and of technology. But from the highest public matters to the smallest private acts, the mugger, the embezzler, the burglar, the perjurer, tax chiseler, killer, gang enforcer, the plumber, party chairman, salesman, curator, car or TV repairman, officials of the union, officials of the corporation, the archbishop, the numbers runner, the delinquent, the police; from the alley to the statehouse, behind the darkened window or the desk; this is the age of crime.” – Renata Adler, Pitch Dark

It hasn’t happened

“There never was a scheme against which objections might not be raised. But this alone is not a sufficient reason for rejection. The only line to judge truly upon, is, to draw out and admit all the objections which can fairly be made, and place against them all the contrary qualities, conveniences and advantages, then by striking a balance you come at the true character of any scheme, principle or position.” – Thomas Paine, “The American Crisis”

For instance, kidnapping children and holding them hostage

“Immediate necessity makes many things convenient, which if continued would grow into oppressions. Expedience and right are different things.” – Thomas Paine, “Common Sense”

Choose your poison, it chooses you

“Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a Government, which we might expect in a country without Government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer. Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence; the palaces of kings are built upon the ruins of the bowers of paradise. For were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver; but that not being the case, he finds it necessary to surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest ; and this he is induced to do by the same prudence which in every other case advises him, out of two evils to choose the least. Wherefore, security being the true design and end of government, it unanswerably follows that whatever form thereof appears most likely to ensure it to us, with the least expence and greatest benefit, is preferable to all others.” – Thomas Paine, “Common Sense” (emphases in original)

From the specific to the general

“The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind. Many circumstances have, and will arise, which are not local, but universal, and through which the principles of all lovers of mankind are affected, and in the event of which their affections are interested.” – Thomas Paine, “Common Sense”

Keeping and bearing

“The supposed quietude of a good man allures the ruffian; while on the other hand, arms like laws discourage and keep the invader and the plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property. The balance of power is the scale of peace. The same balance would be preserved were all the world destitute of arms, for all would be alike; but since some will not, others dare not lay them aside. And while a single nation refuses to lay them down, it is proper that all should keep them up. Horrid mischief would ensue were one half the world deprived of the use of them; for while avarice and ambition have a place in the heart of man, the weak will become a prey to the strong. The history of every age and nation establishes these truths, and facts need but little arguments when they prove themselves.” – Thomas Paine, “Thoughts on Defensive War” (emphases in original)