Founders' Quote Database

Joseph Story

Commentaries on the Constitution — 1833
Category: Judiciary
The truth is, that, even with the most secure tenure of office, during good behavior, the danger is not, that the judges will be too firm in resisting public opinion, and in defence of private rights or public liberties; but, that they will be ready to yield themselves to the passions, and politics, and prejudices of the day.

Benjamin Franklin

letter to William Strahan — 1784
Category: Congress
But they have two other Rights; those of sitting when they please, and as long as they please, in which methinks they have the advantage of your Parliament; for they cannot be dissolved by the Breath of a Minister, or sent packing as you were the other day, when it was your earnest desire to have remained longer together.

Thomas Jefferson

letter to Judge Spencer Roane — 1819
Category: Separation of Powers
My construction of the constitution is very different from that you quote. It is that each department is truly independent of the others, and has an equal right to decide for itself what is the meaning of the constitution in the cases submitted to its action; and especially, where it is to act ultimately and without appeal.

Joseph Story

Commentaries on the Constitution — 1833
Category: Government
How much more do they deserve our reverence and praise, whose lives are devoted to the formation of institutions, which, when they and their children are mingled in the common dust, may continue to cherish the principles and the practice of liberty in perpetual freshness and vigour.

Thomas Jefferson

letter to John Cartwright — 1824
Category: The People
The constitutions of most of our States assert that all power is inherent in the people; that they may exercise it by themselves in all cases to which they think themselves competent, or they may act by representatives, freely and equally chosen; that it is their right and duty to be at all times armed; that they are entitled to freedom of person, freedom of religion, freedom of property, and freedom of the press.

Benjamin Franklin

Poor Richards Almanack — 1743
Category: Religion and Morality
How many observe Christ's birth-day! How few, his precepts! O! 'tis easier to keep Holidays than Commandments.

Benjamin Franklin

Poor Richards Almanack — 1742
Category: Work
Have you something to do to-morrow; do it to-day.

Thomas Jefferson

on George Washington in a letter to Dr. Walter Jones — 1814
Category: Founders on Founders
Perhaps the strongest feature in his character was prudence, never acting until every circumstance, every consideration, was maturely weighed; refraining if he saw a doubt, but, when once decided, going through with his purpose, whatever obstacles opposed.

James Madison

Federalist No. 37 — 1788
Category: Constitution
It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it [the Constitution] a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the revolution.

George Washington

as quoted by Gouverneur Morris in Farrand's Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 — 1787
Category: Constitutional Convention
It is too probable that no plan we propose will be adopted. Perhaps another dreadful conflict is to be sustained. If, to please the people, we offer what we ourselves disprove, how can we afterwards defend our work? Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair. The event is in the hand of God.

George Washington

circular letter of farewell to the Army — 1783
Category: God
I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection, that he would incline the hearts of the Citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to Government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow Citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the Field, and finally, that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that Charity, humility and pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristicks of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation.

Thomas Jefferson

letter to Dupont de Nemours — 1816
Category: Education
Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day.

George Washington

Farewell Address — 1796
Category: Politics and Parties
Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the Spirit of Party generally. . . . A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

Thomas Jefferson

letter to Judge Spencer Roane — 1821
Category: Judiciary
The great object of my fear is the federal judiciary. That body, like gravity, ever acting, with noiseless foot, and unalarming advance, gaining ground step by step, and holding what it gains, is ingulfing insidiously the special governments into the jaws of that which feeds them.

Thomas Paine

Common Sense — 1776
Category: Law
But where says some is the King of America? I'll tell you Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the Royal Brute of Britain...let it be brought forth placed on the divine law, the word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve of monarchy, that in America THE LAW IS KING.

Thomas Jefferson

letter to John Randolph — 1803
Category: Opinion
Experience having long taught me the reasonableness of mutual sacrifices of opinion among those who are to act together for any common object, and the expediency of doing what good we can; when we cannot do all we would wish.

George Washington

Farewell Address — 1796
The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their Constitutions of Government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, 'till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole People is sacredly obligatory upon all.

George Washington

fragments of the Draft First Inaugural Address — 1789
The blessed Religion revealed in the word of God will remain an eternal and awful monument to prove that the best Institution may be abused by human depravity; and that they may even, in some instances be made subservient to the vilest purposes. Should, hereafter, those incited by the lust of power and prompted by the Supineness or venality of their Constituents, overleap the known barriers of this Constitution and violate the unalienable rights of humanity: it will only serve to shew, that no compact among men (however provident in its construction and sacred in its ratification) can be pronounced everlasting an inviolable, and if I may so express myself, that no Wall of words, that no mound of parchm[en]t can be so formed as to stand against the sweeping torrent of boundless ambition on the side, aided by the sapping current of corrupted morals on the other.

Gouverneur Morris

Notes on the Form of a Constitution for France — 1791
Category: Religion and Morality
Religion is the only solid basis of good morals; therefore education should teach the precepts of religion and the duties of man towards God.

Alexander Hamilton

Federalist No. 32 — 1788
Category: Federalism
But as the plan of the convention aims only at a partial union or consolidation, the State governments would clearly retain all the rights of sovereignty which they before had, and which were not, by that act, EXCLUSIVELY delegated to the United States.

James Madison

Federalist No. 39 — 1788
Category: Federalism
Each State, in ratifying the Constitution, is considered as a sovereign body, independent of all others, and only to be bound by its own voluntary act. In this relation, then, the new Constitution will, if established, be a FEDERAL, and not a NATIONAL constitution.

Alexander Hamilton and James Madison

Federalist No. 62 — 1788
Category: Law
It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be to-morrow.

John Jay

Federalist No. 64 — 1788
Category: Separation of Powers
The convention have done well, therefore, in so disposing of the power of making treaties, that although the President must, in forming them, act by the advice and consent of the Senate, yet he will be able to manage the business of intelligence in such a manner as prudence may suggest.

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