What Did The Founders Believe About Our Nation?

In Their Own Words

George Washington (1732-1799)

George Washington (1732-1799)

First President of the United States

“It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the Providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.”

George Washington, Oct. 3, 1789

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Third U.S. President; Author of Declaration of Independence

“I predict future happiness for Americans, if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”

James Madison (1751-1836)

James Madison (1751-1836)

Fourth U.S. President; Author of Bill of Rights

“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. “

Federalist No. 45, Jan. 26, 1788

Alexander Hamilton (1789-1795)

Alexander Hamilton (1789-1795)

First Secretary of the Treasurer, Most Influential Interpreter of the U.S. Constitution

“The fabric of American empire ought to rest on the solid basis of THE CONSENT OF THE PEOPLE. The streams of national power ought to flow from that pure, original fountain of all legitimate authority.”

Federalist No. 22, 1787

George Washington (1732-1799)

George Washington (1732-1799)

First President of the United States

“The citizens of the United States of America have the right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were by the indulgence of one class of citizens that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

Letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, R.I., 1790

John Adams (1735-1826)

John Adams (1735-1826)

Second U.S. President; First Vice President

“We electors have an important constitutional power placed in our hands; we have a check upon two branches of the legislature…the power I mean of electing at stated periods [each] branch. … It becomes necessary to every [citizen] then, to be in some degree a statesman, and to examine and judge for himself of the tendency of political principles and measures. Let us examine, then, with a sober, a manly…and a Christian spirit; let us neglect all party [loyalty] and advert to facts; let us believe no man to be infallible or impeccable in government any more than in religion; take no man’s word against evidence, nor implicitly adopt the sentiments of others who may be deceived themselves, or may be interested in deceiving us.”

John Adams, The Papers of John Adams, Robert J. Taylor, ed. (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1977), Vol. 1, p. 81, from “‘U’ to the Boston Gazette” written on August 29, 1763.

Benjamin Franklin (1775-1785)

Benjamin Franklin (1775-1785)

U.S. Postmaster General; U.S. Minister to Sweden, France; Patriarch of the Constitutional Convention

“Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.”

Franklin’s motto.

Samuel Adams (1722-1803)

Samuel Adams (1722-1803)

Founding Father; Architect of American Republicanism

“Religion and good morals are the only solid foundation of public liberty and happiness.”

 Letter to John Trumbell, 1778

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Third U.S. President; Author of Declaration of Independence

“[S]hould things go wrong at any time, the people will set them to rights by the peaceable exercise of their elective rights.”

The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Paul Leicester Ford, ed. (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1905), Vol. 10, p. 245.

John Adams (1735-1826)

John Adams (1735-1826)

Second U.S. President; First Vice President

“It is the duty of all men in society, publicly, and at stated seasons, to worship the SUPREME BEING, the great Creator and Preserver of the universe. And no subject shall be hurt, molested, or restrained, in his person, liberty, or estate, for worshiping GOD in the manner most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience; or for his religious profession or sentiments; provided he doth not disturb the public peace, or obstruct others in their religious worship.”

John Adams, Thoughts of Government, 1776.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Third U.S. President; Author of Declaration of Independence

“I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”

Letter to William Charles Jarvis, 1820

Benjamin Rush (1746-1813)

Benjamin Rush (1746-1813)

Signer of the Declaration of Independence; Physician; Social Reformer; Educator; Humanitarian

“[T]he only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.”

On the Mode of Education Proper in a Republic, 1806

John Jay (1745-1829)

John Jay (1745-1829)

First Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court; U.S. Secretary of State, Foreign Affairs

“The Bible is the best of all books, for it is the word of God and teaches us the way to be happy in this world and in the next. Continue therefore to read it and to regulate your life by its precepts.”

Letter to Peter Augustus Jay, 1784

John Adams (1735-1826)

John Adams (1735-1826)

Second U.S. President; First Vice President

“Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; and not for profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, the people alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government; and to reform, alter, or totally change the same, when their protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness require it.”

Thoughts of Government, 1776

James Madison (1751-1836)

James Madison (1751-1836)

Fourth U.S. President, Author of Bill of Rights

“It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage, and such only, as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent both in order of time and degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe.”

A Memorial and Remonstrance, 1785

Noah Webster (1758-1843)

Noah Webster (1758-1843)

English Language Spelling Reformer; Father of Scholarship and Education

“When you become entitled to exercise the right of voting for public officers, let it be impressed on your mind that God commands you to choose for rulers, ‘just men who will rule in the fear of God.’ The preservation of government depends on the faithful discharge of this duty; if the citizens neglect their duty and place unprincipled men in office, the government will soon be corrupted; laws will be made, not for the public good so much as for selfish or local purposes; corrupt or incompetent men will be appointed to execute the laws; the public revenues will be sqandered on unworthy men; and the rights of the citizens will be violated or disregarded. If a republican government fails to secure public prosperity and happiness, it must be because the citizens neglect the divine commands, and elect bad men to make and administer the laws.”

Noah Webster, History of the United States (New Haven: Durrie & Peck, 1832), pp. 336-337, 49.

William Penn (1644-1718)

William Penn (1644-1718)

Founder of Pennsylvania; Early Advocate of Religous Freedom

“Governments, like clocks, go from the motion men give them; and as governments are made and moved by men, so by them they are ruined too. Wherefore governments rather depend upon men than men upon governments. Let men be good and the government cannot be bad. …But if men be bad, let the government be never so good, they will endeavor to warp and spoil it to their turn. … [T]hough good laws do well, good men do better; for good laws may want [lack] good men and be abolished or invaded by ill men; but good men will never want good laws nor suffer [allow] ill ones.”

William Penn quoted from: Thomas Clarkson, Memoirs of the Private and Public Life of William Penn (London: Richard Taylor and Co., 1813) Vol. I, p.303.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Third U.S. President; Author of Declaration of Independence

Laws are made for men of ordinary understanding and should, therefore, be construed by the ordinary rules of common sense. Their meaning is not to be sought for in metaphysical subtleties which may make anything mean everything or nothing at pleasure.”

Letter to William Johnson, 1823

Alexander Hamilton (1789-1795)

Alexander Hamilton (1789-1795)

First Secretary of the Treasurer; Founder of the U.S. Coast Guard

“A share in the sovereignty of the state, which is exercised by the citizens at large, in voting at elections is one of the most important rights of the subject, and in a republic ought to stand foremost in the estimation of the law.”

The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, Harold C. Syrett, ed. (New York, Columbia University Press, 1962), Vol III, pp. 544-545.

George Washington (1732-1799)

George Washington (1732-1799)

First President of the United States

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism who should labor to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness.”

Washington’s Farewell Address, 1796

Samuel Adams (1722-1803)

Samuel Adams (1722-1803)

Founding Father; Architect of American Republicanism

“Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote that he is not making a present or a compliment to please an individual — or at least that he ought not so to do; but that he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society for which he is accountable to God and his country.”

 

The Writings of Samuel Adams, Harry Alonzo Cushing, editor (New York: G.P Putnam’s Sons, 1907), 4:256, originally in the Boston Gazette, 4/16/1781.

John Adams (1735-1826)

John Adams (1735-1826)

Second U.S. President; First Vice President

“…took our horses to the meeting in the afternoon and heard the minister again upon ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and this righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.’ There is great pleasure in hearing sermons so serious, so clear, so sensible and instructive as these…”

John Adams to his wife, Abigail, July 4, 1774.

James Madison (1751-1836)

James Madison (1751-1836)

Fourth U.S. President; Author of Bill of Rights

“We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government; upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”

 

George Washington (1732-1799)

George Washington (1732-1799)

First President of the United States

“It should be the highest ambition of every American to extend his views beyond himself, and to bear in mind that his conduct will not only affect himself, his country, and his immediate posterity; but that its influence may be co-extensive with the world, and stamp political happiness or misery on ages yet unborn.”

George Washington, letter to the Legislature of Pennsylvania, 1789

Declaration of Indepence, 1776

Declaration of Indepence, 1776

Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Benjamin Franklin (1775-1785)

Benjamin Franklin (1775-1785)

U.S. Postmaster General; U.S. Minister to Sweden, France; Patriarch of the Constitutional Convention

“In the beginning of the Contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favor.

“I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: that God governs in the affairs of man. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured sir, in the Sacred Writings that ‘except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it’ (Psalm 127:1). I firmly believe this, and I also believe that without His concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builder of Babel. We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages. I, therefore, beg leave to move that, henceforth, prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessing on our deliberation be held in this assembly every morning…and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested.”

To the Constitutional Convention, 1787

Samuel Adams (1722-1803)

Samuel Adams (1722-1803)

Founding Father; Architect of American Republicanism

“A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue then will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader.”

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Third U.S. President; Author of Declaration of Independence

And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever.”

Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 18 — 1781

James Madison (1751-1836)

James Madison (1751-1836)

Fourth U.S. President; Author of Bill of Rights

“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

Federalist No. 48, Feb. 1, 1788

John Jay (1745-1829)

John Jay (1745-1829)

First Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court; U.S. Secretary of State, Foreign Affairs

“The Americans are the first people whom Heaven has favored with an opportunity of deliberating upon and choosing the forms of government under which they should live.”

“Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation, to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”

The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, Henry P. Johnston, ed. (New York: G.P. Putnams Sons, 1890), Vol. I, p. 161; Vol IV, p. 365.

Joseph Story (1799-1845)

Joseph Story (1799-1845)

U.S. Supreme Court Justice; Magisterial Jurisprudence Pioneer

“It yet remains a problem to be solved in human affairs, whether any free government can be permanent, where the public worship of God, and the support of religion, constitute no part of the policy or duty of the state in any assignable shape. The future experience of Christendom, and chiefly of the American states, must settle this problem, as yet new in the history of the world, abundant, as it has been, in experiments in the theory of government.”

Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833

 

Alexander Hamilton (1789-1795)

Alexander Hamilton (1789-1795)

First Secretary of the Treasurer; Founder of the U.S. Coast Guard

“The regular distribution of power into distinct departments; the introduction of legislative balances and checks; the institution of courts composed of judges holding their offices during good behavior; the representation of the people in the legislature by deputies of their own election. ...They are means, and powerful means, by which the excellences of republican government may be retained and its imperfections lessened or avoided.”

Federalist No. 9, 1787

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Third U.S. President; Author of Declaration of Independence

And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever.”

Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 18 — 1781

James Madison (1751-1836)

James Madison (1751-1836)

Fourth U.S. President; Author of Bill of Rights

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself.”

Federalist No. 51, Feb. 8, 1788

John Adams (1735-1826)

John Adams (1735-1826)

Second U.S. President; First Vice President

“Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; and not for profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, the people alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government; and to reform, alter, or totally change the same, when their protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness require it.”

Thoughts of Government, 1776

Alexander Hamilton (1789-1795)

Alexander Hamilton (1789-1795)

First Secretary of the Treasurer; Founder of the U.S. Coast Guard

“If the federal government should overpass the just bounds of its authority and make a tyrannical use of its powers, the people, whose creature it is, must appeal to the standard they have formed, and take such measures to redress the injury done to the Constitution as the exigency may suggest and prudence justify.”

1788

Joseph Story (1799-1845)

Joseph Story (1799-1845)

U.S. Supreme Court Justice; Magisterial Jurisprudence Pioneer

“Let the American youth never forget, that they possess a noble inheritance, bought by the toils, and sufferings, and blood of their ancestors; and capacity, if wisely improved, and faithfully guarded, of transmitting to their latest posterity all the substantial blessings of life, the peaceful enjoyment of liberty, property, religion, and independence.”

Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833

 

John Adams (1735-1826)

John Adams (1735-1826)

Second U.S. President; First Vice President

“Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; and not for profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, the people alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government; and to reform, alter, or totally change the same, when their protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness require it.”

Thoughts of Government, 1776

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Third U.S. President; Author of Declaration of Independence

When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.

George Washington (1732-1799)

George Washington (1732-1799)

First President of the United States

“Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.”

George Washington, Rules of Civility, 1748

Benjamin Franklin (1775-1785)

Benjamin Franklin (1775-1785)

U.S. Postmaster General; U.S. Minister to Sweden, France; Patriarch of the Constitutional Convention

“Freedom is not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature.”

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