Important Quotes

The following quotes provide an insight and clear understanding of how the Framers and others understood freedom and liberty, and how they viewed the role of government as related to individual unalienable rights.

James Madison
Date: Unknown
"On the distinctive principles of the Government -- of the U. States, the best guides are to be found in -- The Declaration of Independence as fundamental Act of the Union of these states."


John Adams
Date: Unknown
"Our constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."


Declaration of Independence
Date: July 4, 1776
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and pursuit of Happiness: that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”


Bill of Rights
Date: Ratified December 15, 1791


Albert Gallatin letter to Alexander Addison
Date: October 7, 1789
“The whole of that Bill [of Rights] is a declaration of the right of the people at large or considered as individuals...[I]t establishes some rights of the individual as unalienable and which consequently, no majority has a right to deprive them of.”


Thomas Jefferson Letter to John Cartwright
Date: June 5, 1824
“Nothing then is unchangeable but the inherent and unalienable rights of man.”


Massachusetts Declaration of Rights
Date: 1776
“All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.”


John Adams Thoughts on Government
Date: 1776
“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.”


John Adams Dissertation on Canon and Feudal Law
Date: 1765
“Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right, from the frame of their nature, to knowledge, as their great Creator, who does nothing in vain, has given them understandings, and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge; I mean, of the characters and conduct of their rulers.”


George Washington: Fragments of the Draft First Inaugural Address
Date: April 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 one side, aided by the sapping current of corrupted morals on the other.”


John Adams
Date: Unknown
“…[T]he liberty, the unalienable, indefeasible rights of men, the honor and dignity of human nature, the grandeur and glory of the public, and the universal happiness of individuals, were never so skillfully and successfully consulted as in that most excellent monument of human art, the common law of England…”


William Paterson: Vanhorne's Lessee v. Dorrance
Date: 1795
“It is evident that the right of acquiring and possessing property, and having it protected, is one of the natural, inherent, and unalienable rights of man. Men have a sense of property: Property is necessary to their subsistence, and correspondent to their natural wants and desires; its security was one of the objects, that induced them to unite in society. No man would become a member of a community, in which he could not enjoy the fruits of his honest labour and industry.”


Thomas Jefferson letter to Samuel Adams Wells
Date: May 12, 1821
“The Declaration of Independence... [is the] declaratory charter of our rights, and the rights of man.”


James Madison The Federalist Papers Federalist No. 10
Date: November 23, 1787
“[D]emocracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property; and have, in general, been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.“


Alexander Hamilton The Farmer Refuted
Date: February 23, 1775
“The fundamental source of all your errors, sophisms and false reasonings is a total ignorance of the natural rights of mankind. Were you once to become acquainted with these, you could never entertain a thought, that all men are not, by nature, entitled to a parity of privileges. You would be convinced, that natural liberty is a gift of the beneficent Creator to the whole human race, and that civil liberty is founded in that; and cannot be wrested from any people, without the most manifest violation of justice.”


Alexander Hamilton The Farmer Refuted
Date: February 23, 1775
“To grant that there is a supreme intelligence who rules the world and has established laws to regulate the actions of his creatures; and still to assert that man, in a state of nature, may be considered as perfectly free from all restraints of law and government, appears to a common understanding altogether irreconcilable. Good and wise men, in all ages, have embraced a very dissimilar theory. They have supposed that the deity, from the relations we stand in to himself and to each other, has constituted an eternal and immutable law, which is indispensably obligatory upon all mankind, prior to any human institution whatever. This is what is called the law of nature....Upon this law depend the natural rights of mankind: the Supreme Being gave existence to man, together with the means of preserving and beatifying that existence. He endowed him with rational faculties, by the help of which, to discern and pursue such things, as were consistent with his duty and interest, and invested him with an inviolable right to personal liberty, and personal safety…The Sacred rights of Mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records. They are written, as with a sun beam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the Hand of the Divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power”


James Madison Essay on Property
Date: March 29, 1792
“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, that alone is a just government which impartially secures to every man whatever is his own.”


George Washington letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island
Date: August 17, 1790
“It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people 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.”


James Wilson Lectures on Law
Date: 1791
“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 has not this in view, as its principal object, is not a government of the legitimate kind.”


Thomas Jefferson letter to Roger C. Weightman
Date: June 24, 1826
“All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride legitimately, by the grace of God.”


James Madison Speech at the Virginia Convention
Date: December 2, 1829
“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 well be separated.”


Thomas Jefferson Rights of British America
Date: 1774
“A free people [claim] their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate.”


Thomas Jefferson Letter to James Monroe
Date: 1791
“Natural rights [are] the objects for the protection of which society is formed and municipal laws established.”


Thomas Jefferson First Inaugural Address
Date: March 4, 1801
“All, too, will 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.”


Alexander Hamilton The Farmer Refuted
Date: February 23, 1775
“The fundamental source of all your errors, sophisms and false reasonings is a total ignorance of the natural rights of mankind. Were you once to become acquainted with these, you could never entertain a thought, that all men are not, by nature, entitled to a parity of privileges. You would be convinced, that natural liberty is a gift of the beneficent Creator to the whole human race, and that civil liberty is founded in that; and cannot be wrested from any people, without the most manifest violation of justice.”


James Madison letter to Thomas Jefferson
Date: October 17, 1788
“The invasion of private rights is chiefly to be apprehended, not from acts of Government contrary to the sense of its constituents, but from acts in which the Government is the mere instrument of the major number of the Constituents.”


Thomas Paine On Financing the War
Date: 1782
“I consider the war of America against Britain as the country's war, the public's war, or the war of the people in their own behalf, for the security of their natural rights, and the protection of their own property.”


Virginia Bill of Rights Virginia Bill of Rights, Article 16
Date: June 12, 1776
“[R]eligion, or the duty which we owe to our creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and this is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.”


Massachusetts Bill of Rights Massachusetts Bill of Rights, Part the First
Date: 1780
“It is the right as well as 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 worshipping God in the manner and season most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience; or for his religion profession of sentiments; provided he doth not disturb the public peace, or obstruct others in their religious worship....”


John Adams Thoughts on Government
Date: 1776
“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 worshipping 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 Dissertation on Canon and Feudal Law
Date: 1765
“Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right, from the frame of their nature, to knowledge, as their great creator, who does nothing in vain, has given them understandings, and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge; I mean, of the characters and conduct of their rulers.”


John Dickinson Letters III
Date: 1788
“We may with reverence say, that our creator designed men for society, because otherwise they cannot be happy. They cannot be happy without freedom; nor free without security; that is, without the absence of fear; nor thus secure, without society. The conclusion is strictly syllogistic—that man cannot be free without society. Of course, they cannot be equally free without society, which freedom produces the greatest happiness.”


James Madison National Gazette Essay
Date: January 18, 1792
“In Europe, charters of liberty have been granted by power. America has set the example . . . of charters of power granted by liberty. This revolution in the practice of the world, may, with an honest praise, be pronounced the most triumphant epoch of its history, and the most consoling presage of its happiness.”


Samuel Adams essay in The Public Advertiser
Date: 1749
“[N]either the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt.”


Benjamin Rush On the Mode of Education Proper in a Republic
Date: 1806
“[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.”


James Wilson Of the Study of the Law in the United States
Date: 1790
“Law and liberty cannot rationally become the objects of our love, unless they first become the objects of our knowledge.”


Noah Webster On Education of Youth in America
Date: 1790
“It is an object of vast magnitude that systems of education should be adopted and pursued which may not only diffuse a knowledge of the sciences but may implant in the minds of the American youth the principles of virtue and of liberty and inspire them with just and liberal ideas of government and with an inviolable attachment to their own country.”


James Madison letter to Littleton Dennis Teackle
Date: March 29, 1826
“The best service that can be rendered to a Country, next to that of giving it liberty, is in diffusing the mental improvement equally essential to the preservation, and the enjoyment of the blessing.”


John Adams letter to Patrick Henry
Date: June 3, 1776
“The dons, the bashaws, the grandees, the patricians, the sachems, the nabobs, call them by what names you please, sigh and groan and fret, and sometimes stamp and foam and curse, but all in vain. The decree is gone forth, and it cannot be recalled, that a more equal liberty than has prevailed in other parts of the earth must be established in America.”


James Madison Notes on Nullification
Date: Unknown
“It becomes all therefore who are friends of a Government based on free principles to reflect, that by denying the possibility of a system partly federal and partly consolidated, and who would convert ours into one either wholly federal or wholly consolidated, in neither of which forms have individual rights, public order, and external safety, been all duly maintained, they aim a deadly blow at the last hope of true liberty on the face of the Earth.”


John Adams An Essay on Man's Lust for Power
Date: August 29, 1763
“[D]emocracy will soon degenerate into an anarchy, such an anarchy that every man will do what is right in his own eyes and no man's life or property or reputation or liberty will be secure, and every one of these will soon mould itself into a system of subordination of all the moral virtues and intellectual abilities, all the powers of wealth, beauty, wit and science, to the wanton pleasures, the capricious will, and the execrable cruelty of one or a very few.”


Alexander Hamilton Tully, No. 3
Date: August 28, 1794
“The instrument by which it [government] must act are either the AUTHORITY of the laws or FORCE. If the first be destroyed, the last must be substituted; and where this becomes the ordinary instrument of government there is an end to liberty!”


Thomas Jefferson letter to E. Carrington
Date: May 27, 1788
“The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.”


Noah Webster On the Education of Youth in America
Date: 1788
“Every child in America should be acquainted with his own country. He should read books that furnish him with ideas that will be useful to him in life and practice. As soon as he opens his lips, he should rehearse the history of his own country; he should lisp the praise of liberty, and of those illustrious heroes and statesmen, who have wrought a revolution in her favor”


Alexander Hamilton The Farmer Refuted
Date: February 23, 1775
“There is a certain enthusiasm in liberty, that makes human nature rise above itself, in acts of bravery and heroism.”


John Adams the Novanglus
Date: 1775
“Human nature itself is evermore an advocate for liberty. There is also in human nature a resentment of injury, and indignation against wrong. A love of truth and a veneration of virtue. These amiable passions, are the "latent spark"... If the people are capable of understanding, seeing and feeling the differences between true and false, right and wrong, virtue and vice, to what better principle can the friends of mankind apply than to the sense of this difference?”


Benjamin Rush letter to David Ramsay
Date: 1788
“[W]here there is no law, there is no liberty; and nothing deserves the name of law but that which is certain and universal in its operation upon all the members of the community.”


James Wilson Of the Study of the Law in the United States
Date: 1790
“Without liberty, law loses its nature and its name, and becomes oppression. Without law, liberty also loses its nature and its name, and becomes licentiousness.”


Inscription on the Liberty Bell
Date: Unknown
“Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”


John Adams A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law
Date: 1765
Liberty must at all hazards be supported. We have a right to it, derived from our Maker. But if we had not, our fathers have earned and bought it for us, at the expense of their ease, their estates, their pleasure, and their blood.”


Oliver Ellsworth A Landholder, No. III
Date: November 19, 1787
Liberty is a word which, according as it is used, comprehends the most good and the most evil of any in the world. Justly understood it is sacred next to those which we appropriate in divine adoration; but in the mouths of some it means anything, which enervate a necessary government; excite a jealousy of the rulers who are our own choice, and keep society in confusion for want of a power sufficiently concentered to promote good.”


Thomas Jefferson letter to John Adams
Date: September 12, 1821
“I will not believe our labors are lost. I shall not die without a hope that light and liberty are on a steady advance.”


Fisher Ames Essay on Equality
Date: December 15, 1801
Liberty is not to be enjoyed, indeed it cannot exist, without the habits of just subordination; it consists, not so much in removing all restraint from the orderly, as in imposing it on the violent.”


Benjamin Franklin letter to Samuel Cooper
Date: May 1, 1777
“[I]t is a common observation here that our cause is the cause of all mankind, and that we are fighting for their liberty in defending our own.”


Benjamin Franklin letter to Benjamin Vaughn
Date: March 14, 1783
“Where liberty dwells, there is my country.”


George Washington letter to James Madison
Date: March 2, 1788
Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth.”


Thomas Jefferson Summary View of the Rights of British America
Date: August, 1774
“The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them.”


Thomas Jefferson letter to William Stephens Smith
Date: November 13, 1787
“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”


George Washington letter to the Reformed German Congregation of New York City
Date: November 27, 1783
The establishment of Civil and Religious liberty was the Motive which induced me to the Field -- the object is attained -- and it now remains to be my earnest wish & prayer, that the Citizens of the United States could make a wise and virtuous use of the blessings placed before them.


George Washington letter to the people of South Carolina
Date: 1790
“The value of liberty was thus enhanced in our estimation by the difficulty of its attainment, and the worth of characters appreciated by the trial of adversity.”


George Washington address to the New York Legislature
Date: June 26, 1775
“When we assumed the Soldier, we did not lay aside the Citizen; and we shall most sincerely rejoice with you in the happy hour when the establishment of American liberty, upon the most firm and solid foundations shall enable us to return to our Private Stations in the bosom of a free, peacefully and happy Country.”


Benjamin Franklin Historical Review of Pennsylvania
Date: 1759
“They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”


Patrick Henry Speech at St. John’s Church in Richmond before the Virginia legislature
Date: March 23, 1775
“We have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on…The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? 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!”


Joseph Warren Boston Massacre Oration
Date: March 6, 1775
“Our country is in danger, but not to be despaired of. Our enemies are numerous and powerful; but we have many friends, determining to be free, and heaven and earth will aid the resolution. On you depend the fortunes of America. You are to decide the important question, on which rest the happiness and liberty of millions yet unborn. Act worthy of yourselves.”


John Adams letter to Abigail Adams
Date: 1780
“I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”