Patriotic Quotes and Constitutional Limitations on Government ~
- "Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God. I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death."
-- Patrick Henry, speech to the Virginia Convention, Richmond, Virginia, March 23, 1775
- "As a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights. Where an excess of power prevails, property of no sort is duly respected. No man is safe in his opinions, his person, his faculties, or his possessions."
-- James Madison, National Gazette essay, March 27, 1792
- "Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks -- no form of government can render us secure. To suppose liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea. If there be sufficient virtue and intelligence in the community, it will be exercised in the selection of these men. So that we do not depend on their virtue, or put confidence in our rulers, but in the people who are to choose them.
-- James Madison, Speech in the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 20, 1788
- "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if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man who knows what the law is today can guess what is will be tomorrow."
-- James Madison, Federalist no. 62, February 27, 1788
- "We have seen the mere distinction of colour made in the most enlightened period of time, a ground of the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man."
-- James Madison, Speech at the Constitutional Convention, June 6, 1787
- "The issue today is the same as it has been throughout all history, whether man shall be allowed to govern himself or be ruled by a small elite."
-- Thomas Jefferson
- James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, elaborated upon this limitation in a letter to James Robertson:
With respect to the two words "general welfare," I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators. If the words obtained so readily a place in the "Articles of Confederation," and received so little notice in their admission into the present Constitution, and retained for so long a time a silent place in both, the fairest explanation is, that the words, in the alternative of meaning nothing or meaning everything, had the former meaning taken for granted.
- In 1794, when Congress appropriated $15,000 for relief of French refugees who fled from insurrection in San Domingo to Baltimore and Philadelphia, James Madison stood on the floor of the House to object saying, "I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents."
-- James Madison, 4 Annals of congress 179 (1794)
- "Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated."
--Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Albert Gallatin, 1817
- "That no free government, or the blessing of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles."
-- George Mason, the Virginia Declaration of Rights, 1776
- "There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations."
-- James Madison, speech to the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 16, 1788
- "the true theory of our Constitution is surely the wisest and best . . . (for) when all government . . . shall be drawn to Washington as the centre of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another, and will become as . . . oppressive as the government from which we separated."
- "The tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."
-- Thomas Jefferson
- "I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit."
-- President Grover Cleveland vetoing a bill for charity relief (18 Congressional Record 1875 
- "I cannot find any authority in the Constitution for public charity. [To approve the measure] would be contrary to the letter and spirit of the Constitution and subversive to the whole theory upon which the Union of these States is founded."
-- President Franklin Pierce's 1854 veto of a measure to help the mentally ill.
- "The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection."
-- John Stuart Mill
- "We must confine ourselves to the powers described in the Constitution, and the moment we pass it, we take an arbitrary stride towards a despotic Government."
-- James Jackson, First Congress, 1st Annals of Congress, 489
- "An honest man can feel no pleasure in the exercise of power over his fellow citizens . . . There has never been a moment of my life in which I should have relinquished for it the enjoyments of my family, my farm, my friends and books."
--Thomas Jefferson, 1813
- "All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree."
-- James Madison in The Federalist
- "No man is good enough to govern another man without that other's consent."
-- Abraham Lincoln, October 16, 1854
- "We still find the greedy hand of government thrusting itself into every corner and crevice of industry, and grasping at the spoil of the multitude. Invention is continually exercised to furnish new pretenses for revenue and taxation. It watches prosperity as its prey and permits none to escape without a tribute."
-- Thomas Paine
- Resolved, That the General Assembly of Virginia, doth unequivocally express a firm resolution to maintain and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of this State, against every aggression either foreign or domestic ... That this Assembly doth explicitly and peremptorily declare, that it views the powers of the federal government, as resulting from the compact, to which the states are parties; as limited by the plain sense and intention of the instrument constituting the compact; as no further valid than they are authorized by the grants enumerated in that compact; and that in case of deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by the said compact, the states who are parties thereto, have the right, and are in duty bound, to interpose for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining within their respective limits, the authorities, rights and liberties appertaining to them.
-- James Madison, 1799
- RESOLVED: That the principle and construction contended for by sundry of the state legislatures, that the general government is the exclusive judge of the extent of the powers delegated to it, stop nothing short of despotism; since the discretion of those who administer the government, and not the constitution, would be the measure of their powers:
That the several states who formed that instrument, being sovereign and independent, have the unquestionable right to judge of its infraction; and that a nullification, by those sovereignties, of all unauthorized acts done under colour of that instrument, is the rightful remedy.
-- Thomas Jefferson, 1799
- "You have rights antecedent to all earthly governments; rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws; right derived from the Great Legislator of the Universe."
-- John Adams
- "The whole of the Bill (of Rights) is a declaration of the right of the people at large or considered as individuals .... It establishes some rights of the individual as unalienable and which consequently, no majority has a right to deprive them of."
-- Albert Gallatin, New York Historical Society, October 7, 1789
- "Those who would give up essential Liberty to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."
-- Ben Franklin, Respectfully Quoted, p. 201, Suzy Platt, Barnes & Noble, 1993
- "It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress."
-- Mark Twain, 1894
- "If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that, if it is comfort or money it values more, it will lose that too."
-- William Somerset Maughan, 1941
- "The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite."
-- James Madison, Federal No. 45, January 26, 1788
- "I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground that 'all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states or to the people.' To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specially drawn around the powers of Congress, is to take possession of a boundless field of power not longer susceptible of any definition."
-- Thomas Jefferson, Opinion on the Constitutionality of a National Bank, February 15, 1791
- "The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground."
-- Thomas Jefferson, letter to E. Carrington, May 27, 1788
- "A wise and frugal government ... shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government."
-- Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801
- "Government, in my humble opinion, should be formed to secure and to enlarge the exercise of the natural rights of its members; and every government, which as not this in view, as its principal object, is not a government of the legitimate kind."
-- James Wilson, Lectures on Laws, 1791
- "It is sufficiently obvious, that persons and property are the two great subjects on which Governments are to act; and that the rights of persons, and the rights of property, are the objects, for the protection of which Government was instituted. These rights cannot be separated."
-- James Madison, Speech at the Virginia Convention, December 2, 1829
- "If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the general welfare, the government is no longer a limited one possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one subject to particular exceptions." James Madison, "Letter to Edmund Pendleton,"
-- James Madison, January 21, 1792, in The Papers of James Madison, vol. 14, Robert A Rutland et. al., ed (Charlottesvile: University Press of Virginia,1984).
- "Government is instituted to protect property of every sort; as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals, as that which the term particularly expresses. This being the end of government, which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own."
-- James Madison, National Gazette, March 1792, in The Papers of James Madison, vol. 14 ed. R.A. Rutland (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), p. 266.
- "I see,... and with the deepest affliction, the rapid strides with which the federal branch of our government is advancing towards the usurpation of all the rights reserved to the States, and the consolidation in itself of all powers, foreign and domestic; and that, too, by constructions which, if legitimate, leave no limits to their power... It is but too evident that the three ruling branches of [the Federal government] are in combination to strip their colleagues, the State authorities, of the powers reserved by them, and to exercise themselves all functions foreign and domestic."
-- Thomas Jefferson to William Branch Giles, 1825. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, (Memorial Edition) Lipscomb and Bergh, editors, ME 16:146
- "An elective despotism was not the government we fought for, but one which should not only be founded on true free principles, but in which the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among general bodies of magistracy, as that no one could transcend their legal limits without being effectually checked and restrained by the others."
-- Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia Q. XIII, 1782. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, (Memorial Edition) Lipscomb and Bergh, editors ME 2:163
- "When all government, domestic and foreign, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the center of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated."
-- Thomas Jefferson to Charles Hammond, 1821. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, (Memorial Edition) Lipscomb and Bergh, editors, ME 15:332
- "The greatest [calamity] which could befall [us would be] submission to a government of unlimited powers."
-- Thomas Jefferson, Declaration and Protest of Virginia, 1825. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, (Memorial Edition) Lipscomb and Bergh, editors, ME 17:445
- "Every State has a natural right in cases not within the compact (casus non faederis) to nullify of their own authority all assumptions of power by others within their limits. Without this right, they would be under the dominion, absolute and unlimited, of whosoever might exercise this right of judgment for them."
-- Thomas Jefferson, Draft Kentucky Resolutions, 1798. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, (Memorial Edition) Lipscomb and Bergh, editors ME 17:387
- "The only greater [evil] than separation... [is] living under a government of discretion."
-- Thomas Jefferson to William Gordon, 1826. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, (Memorial Edition) Lipscomb and Bergh, editors, ME 10:358
- "[The purpose of a written constitution is] to bind up the several branches of government by certain laws, which, when they transgress, their acts shall become nullities; to render unnecessary an appeal to the people, or in other words a rebellion, on every infraction of their rights, on the peril that their acquiescence shall be construed into an intention to surrender those rights."
-- Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia Q.XIII, 1782. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, (Memorial Edition) Lipscomb and Bergh, editors, ME 2:178
- "Whensoever the General Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force."
-- Thomas Jefferson, Draft Kentucky Resolutions, 1798. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, (Memorial Edition) Lipscomb and Bergh, editors, ME 17:380
- The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others."
-- Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, (Memorial Edition) Lipscomb and Bergh, editors, ME 2:221
- [T]he powers of the federal government are enumerated; it can only operate in certain cases; it has legislative powers on defined and limited objects, beyond which it cannot extend its jurisdiction.
-- James Madison, Speech in the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 6, 1788, Elliot's Debates (in the American Memory collection of the Library of Congress)
- It has been objected also against a bill of rights, that, by enumerating particular exceptions to the grant of power, it would disparage those rights which were not placed in that enumeration, and it might follow by implication, that those rights which were not singled out, were intended to be assigned into the hands of the general government, and were consequently insecure. This is one of the most plausible arguments I have ever heard urged against the admission of a bill of rights into this system; but, I conceive, that may be guarded against. I have attempted it, as gentlemen may see by turning to the last clause of the 4th resolution.
-- James Madison, Proposing Bill of Rights to House, June 8, 1789
- "He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself."
-- Thomas Paine
- That we will, at all times hereafter, consider ourselves as a free and independent state, capable of regulating our internal police, in all and every respect whatsoever -- and that the people on said Grants have the sole and exclusive and inherent right of ruling and governing themselves in such manner and form as in their own wisdom they shall think proper...
-- Vermont Declaration of Independence, January 15, 1777
- " The government of the United States is a definite government, confined to specified objects. It is not like state governments, whose powers are more general. Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government."
-- James Madison, speech in the House of Representatives, January 10, 1794
- "The only good bureaucrat is one with a pistol at his head. Put it in his hand and it's good-by to the Bill of Rights."
-- H.L. Mencken
- "The majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime, abuses its strength, and by acting on the law of the strongest breaks up the foundations of society."
-- Thomas Jefferson
- My body is my own, at least I have always so regarded it. If I do harm … it is I who suffers, not the state.
— Mark Twain
- The general rule is that an unconstitutional statute, though having the form and name of law, is in reality no law, but is wholly void, and ineffective for any purpose; since unconstitutionality dates from the time of it’s enactment, and not merely from the date of the decision so branding it. No one is bound to obey an unconstitutional law, and no courts are bound to enforce it.
— 16 Am Jur 2d, Sec 177 late 2d, Sec 256
- It [is] more beneficial, that many guilty persons should escape unpunished, than one innocent person should suffer. The reason is, because it is of more importance to the community, that innocence should be protected, than it is, that guilt should be punished; for guilt and crimes are so frequent in the world, that all of them cannot be punished; and many times they happen in such a manner, that it is not of much consequence to the public, whether they are punished or not. But when innocence itself, is brought to the bar and condemned, especially to die, the subject will exclaim, it is immaterial to me whether I behave well or ill, for virtue itself is no security. And if such a sentiment as this should take place in the mind of the subject, there would be an end to all security whatsoever.
— John Adams
- Distrust all men in whom the impulse to punish is powerful.
— Friedrich Nietzsche
- Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny.
— Edmund Burke
- The prestige of government has undoubtedly been lowered considerably by the Prohibition law. For nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced. It is an open secret that the dangerous increase of crime in this country is closely connected with this.
— Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions (1954)
- Here the great art lies, to discern in what the law is to be to restraint and punishment, and in what things persuasion only is to work.
— John Milton, 1644
- The aim of the law is not to punish sins.
— Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes
- Ignorance of the law excuses no man; not that all men know the law, but because ’tis an excuse every man will plead, and no man can tell how to confute him.
— John Selden, Table Talk (1689)
- It is not only vain, but wicked, in a legislator to frame laws in opposition to the laws of nature, and to arm them with the terrors of death. This is truly creating crimes in order to punish them.
— Thomas Jefferson, 1779
- The more laws and order are made prominent, the more thieves and robbers there will be.
— Lao Tsu
- The 4th Amendment and the personal rights it secures have a long history. At the very core stands the right of a man to retreat into his own home and there be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion.
— Justice Potter Stewart
- The strength of the Constitution lies entirely in the determination of each citizen to defend it. Only if every single citizen feels duty bound to do his share in this defense are the constitutional rights secure. — Albert Einstein
- There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.
— Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (1957)
- Outside of the Constitution we have no legal authority more than private citizens, and within it we have only so much as that instrument gives us. This broad principle limits all our functions and applies to all subjects.
— President Andrew Johnson
- Judges . . . rule on the basis of law, not public opinion, and they should be totally indifferent to pressures of the times.
— Justice Warren E. Burger
- Our peculiar security is in the possession of a written Constitution. Let us not make it a blank paper by construction.
— Thomas Jefferson
- The more corrupt the state, the more laws.
— Tacitus, The Annals
- The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the force of the Crown. It may be frail; its roof may shake; the wind may blow through it; the storms may enter, the rain may enter, — but the King of England cannot enter; all his forces dare not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement!
— William Pitt, the Elder, Speech on the Excise Bill
- The American Constitution, one of the few modern political documents drawn up by men who were forced by the sternest circumstances to think out what they really had to face, instead of chopping logic in a university classroom. — George Bernard Shaw We may be tossed upon an ocean where we can see no land— nor, perhaps, the sun or stars. But there is a chart and a compass for us to study, to consult, and to obey. That chart is the Constitution.
— Daniel Webster
- I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.
— Thomas Jefferson
- Every actual state is corrupt. Good men must not obey laws too well. — Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Laws are silent in times of war.
— Marcus Tullius Cicero, Pro Milone
- For most Americans the Constitution had become a hazy document, cited like the Bible on ceremonial occasions but forgotten in the daily transactions of life.
— Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
- One single object…[will merit] the endless gratitude of the society: that of restraining the judges from usurping legislation.
— Thomas Jefferson
- We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.
— Ronald Reagan
- It would be an absurdity for jurors to be required to accept the judge’s view of the law, against their own opinion, judgment, and conscience.
— John Adams
- Where there is no law, there is no freedom.
— John Locke
- Constitutions are checks upon the hasty action of the majority. They are the self-imposed restraints of a whole people upon a majority of them to secure sober action and a respect for the rights of the minority. — William Howard Taft
- Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’, because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.
— Thomas Jefferson
- If you support the war on drugs in its present form, then you’re only paying lip-service to the defense of freedom, and you don’t really grasp the concept of the sovereign individual human being.
— Neal Boortz
- The pages of history shine on instances of the jury’s exercise of its prerogative to disregard instructions of the judge
-- U.S. vs. Dougherty, 1972
- You can’t legislate morality; We legislate little else.
— Robert Bork
- Every law is an evil for every law is an infraction of liberty.
— Jeremy Bentham
- The Constitution is not neutral. It was designed to take the government off the backs of people. — Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas
- Wrong must not win by technicalities.
— Aeschylus, The Eumenides
- Natural justice is a symbol or expression of usefullness, to prevent one person from harming or being harmed by another.
- Unnecessary laws are but traps for money.
— Thomas Hobbes
- Can any of you seriously say the Bill of Rights could get through Congress today? It wouldn’t even get out of committee.
— F. Lee Bailey
- It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me. But it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.
— Martin Luther King Jr.
- We are slaves of the law in order that we may be able to be free.
— Marcus Tullius Cicero
- There are not enough jails, not enough policemen, not enough courts to enforce a law not supported by the people.
— Hubert H. Humphrey
- I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the very highest respect for law.
— Martin Luther King Jr.
- If the First Amendment means anything, it means that a state has no business telling a man, sitting alone in his own house, what books he may read or what films he may watch.
— Justice Thurgood Marshall, 1969
- Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a law breaker, it breeds contempt for the law.
— Louis D. Brandeis
- I’m in favor of legalizing drugs. According to my value system, if people want to kill themselves, they have every right to do so. Most of the harm that comes from drugs is because they are illegal.
— Milton Friedman
- If you have ten thousand regulations you destroy all respect for the law.
— Winston Churchill
- Ignorance of the law is no excuse, in any country. If it were, the laws would lose their effect, because it can always be pretended.
— Thomas Jefferson, Letter to André Limozin (22 December, 1787)
- A jury consists of twelve persons chosen to decide who has the better lawyer.
— Robert Frost
- Power is the great evil with which we are contending. We have divided power between three branches of government and erected checks and balances to prevent abuse of power. However, where is the check on the power of the judiciary? If we fail to check the power of the judiciary, I predict that we will eventually live under judicial tyranny.
— Patrick Henry
- I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is a disgrace, two men are called a Law Firm, and three or more are called a Congress.
— John Adams
- Bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.
— Thomas Jefferson, 1801
- All bad precedents begin with justifiable measures.
— Julius Caesar
- There is no man so good that if he submitted all his actions and thoughts to the scrutiny of the laws, he would not deserve hanging ten times in his life.
— Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, Essais
- Law and morality may succeed for a time in holding human appetites, ambitions and propensities in check, but when opportunities arise, they will break out again from the depths of the human heart.
- Where law ends, tyranny begins.
— William Pitt, the Elder
- Written laws are like spiders’ webs, and will like them only entangle and hold the poor and weak, while the rich and powerful will easily break through them.
— Anacharsis, Life of Solon
- Life, faculties, production — in other words, individuality, liberty, property — this is man. And in spite of the cunning of artful political leaders, these three gifts from God precede all human legislation, and are superior to it. Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.
— Frederic Bastiat, The Law
- Where the constitution is mute, we should vote about these matters rather than litigate them.
— Robert Bork
- The judiciary of the United States is the subtle corps of sappers and miners constantly working under ground to undermine the foundations of our confederated fabric. They are construing our constitution from a co-ordination of a general and special government to a general and supreme one alone.
— Thomas Jefferson
- Laws are like Cobwebs, which may catch small Flies, but let Wasps and Hornets break through.
— Jonathan Swift, A Critical Essay upon the Faculties of the Mind (1707)
- Laws should be constructed so as to leave as little as possible to the decision of those who judge.
- Members of society must obey the law because they personally believe that its commands are justified.
— Judge David Bazelon
- We’re not really going to get anywhere until we take the criminality out of drugs.
— George P. Schultz, McNeil-Lehrer News Hour
- Whenever the offence inspires less horror than the punishment, the rigour of penal law is obliged to give way to the common feelings of mankind.
— Edward Gibbson
- On every question of construction carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.
— Thomas Jefferson
- The duty of government is to leave commerce to its own capital and credit as well as all other branches of business, protecting all in their legal pursuits, granting exclusive privileges to none.
— Andrew Jackson
- Laws do not persuade just because they threaten.
— Lucius Annaeus Seneca
- The privilege against self-incrimination is one of the great landmarks in man’s struggle to make himself civilized. … The Fifth is a lone sure rock in time of storm… a symbol of the ultimate moral sense of the community, upholding the best in us.
— Erwin Griswold, Dean of the Harvard Law School
- A Bill of Rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse to rest on inference.
— Thomas Jefferson, Letter to James Madison December 20, 1787
- This provision speaks for itself. Its plain object is to secure the perfect enjoyment of that great right of the common law, that a man’s house shall be his own castle, privileged against all civil and military intrusion.
— Justice Joseph Story, 1833
- Judge: a law student who marks his own papers.
— H. L. Mencken
- Whenever the offense inspires less horror than the punishment, the rigor of penal law is obliged to give way to the common feelings of mankind.
— Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
- The law of self-preservation is higher than written law.
— Thomas Jefferson
- One with the law is a majority.
— Calvin Coolidge, Republican National Convention, 27 July 1920.
- To live outside the law you must be honest.
— Lao Tse
- Just as it is the duty of all men to obey just laws, so it is the duty of all men to disobey unjust laws.
— Martin Luther King Jr.
- If the Government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. To declare that in the administration of the criminal law the end justifies the means — to declare that the Government may commit crimes in order to secure the conviction of a private criminal — would bring terrible retribution.
— Louis D. Brandeis
- The jury has a right to judge both the law as well as the facts in controversy.
— John Jay
- Hold on, my friends, to the Constitution and to the Republic for which it stands. Miracles do not cluster, and what has happened once in 6000 years, may not happen again. Hold on to the Constitution, for if the American Constitution should fail, there will be anarchy throughout the world.
— Daniel Webster
- It is not the business of the law to make anyone good or reverent or moral or clean or upright.
— Murray Rothbard
- Useless laws weaken the necessary laws.
— Charles Louis de Secondat, De L’Esprit des Lois
- It’s easy for people to assume that the Bill of Rights will be, as somebody once called the Constitution, a machine that runs itself. I disagree. I think eternal vigilance is the price of keeping it in working order.
— Judge Lawrence Tribe
- The jury has the power to bring a verdict in the teeth of both law and fact.
— Oliver Wendell Holmes
- We don’t seem to be able to check crime, so why not legalize it and then tax it out of business?
— Will Rogers
- The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach.
— Justice Hugo Black
- A principal source of errors and injustice are false ideas of utility. For example: that legislator has false ideas of utility who considers particular more than general conveniences, who had rather command the sentiments of mankind than excite them, and dares say to reason, `Be thou a slave'; who would sacrifice a thousand real advantages to the fear of an imaginary or trifling inconvenience; who would deprive men of the use of fire for fear of their being burnt, and of water for fear of their being drowned; and who knows of no means of preventing evil but by destroying it.
The laws of this nature are those which forbid to wear arms, disarming those only who are not disposed to commit the crime which the laws mean to prevent. Can it be supposed, that those who have the courage to violate the most sacred laws of humanity, and the most important of the code, will respect the less considerable and arbitrary injunctions, the violation of which is so easy, and of so little comparative importance? Does not the execution of this law deprive the subject of that personal liberty, so dear to mankind and to the wise legislator? And does it not subject the innocent to all the disagreeable circumstances that should only fall on the guilty? It certainly makes the situation of the assaulted worse, and of the assailants better, and rather encourages than prevents murder, as it requires less courage to attack unarmed than armed persons.
— Cesare Beccaria, Of Crimes and Punishments
- The law will never make men free; it is men who have got to make the law free. They are the lovers of law and order, who observe the law when the government breaks it.
— Henry David Thoreau, Slavery in Massachusetts
- Prohibition will work great injury to the cause of temperance. It is a species of intemperance within itself, for it goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes. A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.”
— Abraham Lincoln, Speech to the Illinois House of Representatives; 18 Dec. 1840
- The more corrupt the Republic, the more the laws.
— Giovanni Sartori
- We can never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.”
— Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail (16 April, 1963)
- The 10 Commandments contain 297 words. The Bill of Rights is stated in 463 words. Lincon’s Gettysburg Address contains 266 words. A recent federal directive to regulate the price of cabbage contains 26,911 words.
— The Atlanta Journal
- The First Amendment makes confidence in the common sense of our people and in the maturity of their judgment the great postulate of our democracy.
— Justice William O. Douglas
- The merit of our Constitution was, not that it promotes democracy, but checks it.
— Horatio Seymour
- If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable.
— Louis D. Brandeis
- After 20 years on the bench I have concluded that federal drug laws are a disaster. It is time to get the government out of drug enforcement.
— Judge Whitman Knapp, New York Times; May 14, 1993
- Only in a police state is the job of a policeman easy.
— Orson Welles
- Where there is Hunger, Law is not regarded; and where Law is not regarded, there will be Hunger.
— Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanack (1755)
- He who decides a case without hearing the other side, though he decide justly, cannot be considered just.
— Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Medea
- When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law.
— Frederick Bastiat
- [The Bill of Rights is] designed to protect individuals and minorities against the tyranny of the majority, but it’s also designed to protect the people against bureaucracy, against the government.
— Judge Lawrence Tribe
- Capital punishment is our society’s recognition of the sanctity of human life.
— Orrin Hatch
- The clatter of arms drowns the voice of the law.
— Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, Essais
- When your response to everything that is wrong with the world is to say, ‘there ought to be a law,’ you are saying that you hold freedom very cheap.
— Thomas Sowell
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