The Bill of Rights becomes law

December 15, 2013

On December 15, 1791, Virginia became the last state to ratify the Bill of Rights, making the first ten amendments to the Constitution law and completing the revolutionary reforms begun by the Declaration of Independence. Before the Massachusetts ratifying convention would accept the Constitution, which they finally did in February 1788, the document’s Federalist supporters had to promise to create a Bill of Rights to be amended to the Constitution immediately upon the creation of a new government under the document.


The Anti-Federalist critics of the document, who were afraid that a too-strong federal government would become just another sort of the monarchical regime from which they had recently been freed, believed that the Constitution gave too much power to the federal government by outlining its rights but failing to delineate the rights of the individuals living under it. The promise of a Bill of Rights to do just that helped to assuage the Anti-Federalists’ concerns.

The newly elected Congress drafted the Bill of Rights on December 25, 1789. Virginia’s ratification on this day in 1791 created the three-fourths majority necessary for the ten amendments to become law. Drafted by James Madison and loosely based on Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, the first ten amendments give the following rights to all United States citizens:

  1. Freedom of religion, speech and assembly
  2. Right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of a well-regulated militia
  3. No forcible quartering of soldiers during peacetime
  4. Freedom from unreasonable search and seizure
  5. Right to a grand jury for capital crimes and due process. Protection from double jeopardy, self-incrimination and public confiscation of private property without just compensation.
  6. Right to speedy and public trial by jury and a competent defense
  7. Right to trial by jury for monetary cases above $20
  8. Protection against excessive bail or fines and cruel and unusual punishments
  9. Rights not enumerated are retained by the people
  10. Rights not given to the federal government or prohibited the state governments by the Constitution, are reserved to the States… or to the people

William Branch Giles, Virginia statesman and supporter of James Madison

August 9, 2012


William Branch Giles (the name is pronounced jyles) was an American statesman, long-term Senator from Virginia, and the 24th Governor of Virginia. He served in the House of Representatives from 1790 to 1798, and again from 1801 to 1803; in between, he was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, and was an Elector for Jefferson (and Aaron Burr) in 1800. He served as United States Senator from 1804 to 1815, and then served briefly in the House of Delegates again. After a time in private life, he joined the opposition to John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay, in 1824; he ran for Senate again in 1825, and was defeated, but appointed Governor for three one-year terms in 1827; he was succeeded by John Floyd, in the year of his death.


United States Senator from Virginia

He was born on August 12, 1762, and died December 4, 1830, in Amelia County, Virginia, where he built his home, The Wigwam. Giles attended Prince Edward Academy, now Hampden-Sydney College, and the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University; he probably followed Samuel Stanhope Smith, who was teaching at Prince Edward Academy when he was appointed President of the College in 1779. He then went on to study law with Chancellor George Wythe and at the College of William and Mary; he was admitted to the bar in 1786. Giles supported the new Constitution during the ratification debates of 1788, but was not a member of the ratifying convention.

Giles was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in a special election in 1790, taking the seat of Theodorick Bland, who had died in office on June 1; he is believed to be the first member of the United States Congress elected in a special election. He was to be re-elected three times; he resigned October 2, 1798, on the grounds of ill health, and in disgust at the Alien and Sedition Acts. During this first period in Congress, he fervently supported his fellow Virginian James Madison against Alexander Hamilton. He introduced three sets of resolutions in 1793, which criticized Hamilton’s conduct as Secretary of the Treasury to the point of accusing him of misconduct in office; he opposed the first Bank of the United States and Jay’s Treaty; he resisted naval appropriations during the Quasi-War of 1798. In the same year, he voted for the Virginia Resolutions in the House of Delegates.

After another term in the House, from 1801 to 1803, Giles was appointed as a Senator from Virginia after the resignation of Wilson Cary Nicholas in 1804. Giles served in the U.S. Senate, being reappointed in 1810, until he resigned on March 3, 1815. Senator Giles strongly advocated the removal of Justice Samuel Chase after his impeachment, urging the Senate to consider it as a political decision (whether the people of the United States should have confidence in Chase) rather than a trial.

Giles was deeply disappointed by the acquittal of Chase. He supported the election of Madison as President in 1808, in preference to the Old Republican insurgents’ candidate, James Monroe, and definitely to the Federalist Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. In fact, Giles was Madison’s chief advocate in Virginia.

After the election, however, he joined with Senator Samuel Smith of Maryland and his brother Robert Smith, the Secretary of State, in criticizing Madison; first as too weak on England, and then, in 1812, as too precipitate in going to war – he did, however, vote for the declaration of war. He particularly disliked Albert Gallatin, the Secretary of the Treasury, and was largely responsible for preventing his nomination as Secretary of State and for defeating Gallatin’s bill of 1811 for a new Bank of the United States.

Giles’ refusal to accept the General Assembly’s instructions led to his rejection at the next poll for a senator. (Senators in those days were elected by the state legislatures.) Giles served one relatively uneventful term in the Virginia House of Delegates in 1816–17, and then retired from political office for a time. He did, however, publish opinion pieces and columns, chiefly in the Richmond, Virginia, Enquirer, in which he deplored the Era of Good Feeling as a false prosperity, given over to banks, tariffs, and fraudulent internal improvements; these would centralize and corrupt government, and ruin the farmers. He attacked John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay as he had attacked Hamilton, as corrupt Anglophiles.

Giles also published a perceptive criticism of the Jeffersonian program for public education. As Giles explained, it was unjust to tax one man to educate another man’s children, and the teachers the government employed would constitute a special interest always at the ready to vote for higher taxes and higher government spending. Besides, he said, giving every boy in Virginia three years of school would have limited practical utility, would deprive farm families of much-needed labor power, and would leave the typical “scholar” unfitted for the return to hard labor that awaited him.

When James Barbour left the Senate in 1825, Giles attempted to persuade the Legislature to appoint him as replacement; they appointed John Randolph instead. In 1826, Giles was again elected to the House of Delegates, and in 1827 he was elected Governor; Giles served as Governor of Virginia for three terms, from March 4, 1827 to March 4, 1830. From the governorship, Giles encouraged Virginia’s Senator Littleton Waller Tazewell to organize a southern resistance to the American System of Henry Clay centered on a boycott on northern manufactures. Tazewell found little support for it among southern senators.

In Giles’ last term, he was a member of the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829–30; he strongly supported the existing apportionment of the House of Delegates, which gave the eastern counties of Virginia, with a minority of the voters, control of the legislature. He did favor reform of the suffrage requirements, however. Giles also opposed the movement in the Convention to strengthen his own office, the governorship. Strong governorships in other states, such as New York, were at the center of political machines kept together by patronage and corruption, he said, and the reason Virginians had not suffered from those ills was that there was no point in fighting for control of Virginia’s weak governorship. Rather than follow the example of New York, with its Clintonian party machine, it was better for Virginia to retain George Mason’s executive model. Giles lost on this point to some extent: while the governor’s term remained short and he was still accountable to the General Assembly, the Constitution of 1830 abolished the Council—and thus made the governorship a bit more independent.


The Wigwam, located 8 miles northwest of Chula, Virginia, was nominated to the National Registry of History Places on November 25, 1969.

Giles married twice; first, Martha Peyton Tabb in 1797; he built his 28-room house, “The Wigwam”, for her. After she died, in 1808, he married Frances Ann Gwynn in 1810. His surviving children, one son and two daughters, appear to have been from the second marriage.

Counties in two states were named in his honor. One in the state of Virginia, Giles County, Virginia, and one in the state of Tennessee, Giles County, Tennessee.


  • F. Thornton Miller, “Giles, William Branch”; American National Biography Online, Feb. 2000. Access Date: Wed Nov 26 16:23:26 EST 2008 (link requires subscription
  • W. Frank Craven, “William Branch Giles” in Princetonians, 1776–1783; a Biographical Dictionary, Princeton University Press, 1981.


  • Dice Anderson, William Branch Giles; A Study in the Politics of Virginia and the Nation from 1790 to 1830, George Banta, 1914 and William Branch Giles, a Life, George Banta, 1915.
  • Mary A. Giunta, The Public Life of William Branch Giles, Republican, 1790–1815, PhD dissertation, Catholic University, 1980. For some reason, this study leaves off before Giles’ editorial and gubernatorial career.
  • Kevin R. C. Gutzman, Virginia’s American Revolution: From Dominion to Republic, 1776–1840, Lexington Books, 2007.
  • Kevin R. C. Gutzman, “Preserving the Patrimony: William Branch Giles and Virginia vs. The Federal Tariff,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography” 104 (Summer 1996), 341–72.

The Virginia Plan for the Constitution

June 14, 2012


The Virginia Plan (also known as the Randolph Plan, after its sponsor, or the Large-State Plan) was a proposal by Virginia delegates for a bicameral legislative branch.[1] The plan was drafted by James Madison while he waited for a quorum to assemble at the Constitutional Convention of 1787.[2][3] The Virginia Plan was notable for its role in setting the overall agenda for debate in the convention and, in particular, for setting forth the idea of population-weighted representation in the proposed national legislature.

The Constitutional Convention gathered in Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation. The Virginia delegation took the initiative to frame the debate by immediately drawing up and presenting a proposal, for which delegate James Madison is given chief credit. It was, however, Edmund Randolph, the Virginia governor at the time, who officially put it before the convention on May 29, 1787, in the form of 15 resolutions.[4]

The scope of the resolutions, going well beyond tinkering with the Articles of Confederation, succeeded in broadening the debate to encompass fundamental revisions to the structure and powers of the national government. The resolutions proposed, for example, a new form of national government having three branches (legislative, executive and judicial). One contentious issue facing the convention was the manner in which large and small states would be represented in the legislature, whether by equal representation for each state, regardless of its size and population, or proportionate to population, with larger states having more votes than less-populous states. Under the Articles of Confederation, each state was represented in Congress by one vote. It was also unicameral.


Front side of the Virginia Plan

The Virginia Plan proposed a legislative branch consisting of two chambers (bicameral legislature), with the dual principles of rotation in office and recall applied to the lower house of the national legislature.[5] Each of the states would be represented in proportion to their “Quotas of contribution, or to the number of free inhabitants.”[6] States with a large population, like Virginia (which was the most populous state at the time), would thus have more representatives than smaller states. Large states supported this plan, and smaller states generally opposed it, preferring an alternative put forward on June 15. The New Jersey Plan proposed a single-chamber legislature in which each state, regardless of size, would have one vote, as under the Articles of Confederation. In the end, the convention settled on the Connecticut Compromise, creating a House of Representatives apportioned by population and a Senate in which each state is equally represented.

In addition to dealing with legislative representation, the Virginia Plan addressed other issues as well, with many provisions that did not make it into the Constitution that emerged. It called for a national government of three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. Members of one of the two legislative chambers would be elected by the people; members of that chamber would then elect the second chamber from nominations submitted by state legislatures. The executive would be chosen by the legislative branch.

Terms of office were unspecified, but the executive and members of the popularly elected legislative chamber could not be elected for an undetermined time afterward. The legislative branch would have the power to negate state laws if they were deemed incompatible with the articles of union. The concept of checks and balances was embodied in a provision that legislative acts could be vetoed by a council composed of the executive and selected members of the judicial branch; their veto could be overridden by an unspecified legislative majority.


  1. Frantzich, Stephen E.; Howard R. Ernst (2008). The Political Science Toolbox: A Research Companion to the American Government. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 24. ISBN 0742547620.
  2. Roche, John P. (December 1961). “The Founding Fathers: A Reform Caucus in Action”. American Political Science Review 55.
  3. Ann Marie Dube (May 1996). “A Multitude of Amendments, Alterations and Additions”. National Park Service.
  4. Transcription of the Virginia Plan
  5. “Res[olved] that the members of the first branch of the National Legislature ought to be elected by the people of the several States every for the term of;___…to be incapable of reelection for the space of ___after the expiration of their term of service; and to be subject to recall.” Max Farrand, ed., The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, 4 vols. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911), 1:20.
  6. “Variant Texts of the Virginia Plan, Presented by Edmund Randolph to the Federal Convention, May 29, 1787. Text A.”, The Avalon Project at Yale Law School

William Eustis, Revolutionary War surgeon and Governor of Massachusetts

June 7, 2012

William Eustis was an early American physician, politician, and statesman. Trained in medicine, he served as a surgeon during the American Revolutionary War before entering into politics. He served several terms in the United States Congress representing Massachusetts, and was serving as Secretary of War under President James Madison at the outbreak of the War of 1812. He then served as minister of the United States to the Netherlands before returning to Massachusetts. He was twice elected Governor of Massachusetts, and died in office.


He was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on June 10, 1753 and studied at the Boston Latin School before he entered Harvard College, from which he graduated in 1772. He studied medicine under Dr. Joseph Warren and helped care for the wounded at the Battle of Bunker Hill, where Warren was killed. He served the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War as surgeon of the artillery regiment at Cambridge and then as a hospital surgeon.

He entered medical practice in Boston after the war and served as surgeon with the Shays’ Rebellion expedition of 1786–1787.

He became vice president of the Society of the Cincinnati, serving from 1786 to 1810 and again in 1820.

He was elected to the Massachusetts General Court from 1788 to 1794 and was a member of the Governor’s Council for two years. Following this he served two terms in the United States House of Representatives from 1801 to 1804, representing Massachusetts in the 7th and 8th Congresses, and having won close races over Josiah Quincy III and John Quincy Adams. While in the House he was one of the managers appointed by the House of Representatives in 1804 to conduct the impeachment proceedings against John Pickering, judge of the United States District Court for New Hampshire. He failed to win reelection in 1804.

He served as United States Secretary of War from March 7, 1809 to January 13, 1813. During his tenure, he attempted to prepare the U.S. Army for the outbreak of the War of 1812, and resigned in the face of criticism following American reversal on the battlefield.

He was appointed minister of the United States to the Netherlands by President James Madison, serving from 1814 to 1818.

He returned home from Europe because of ill health, at which time he purchased and resided in the mansion in Roxbury built by royal governor William Shirley in the 1750s (now known as the Shirley-Eustis House). He was again elected to the United States House of Representatives and served 1820 to 1823, presiding as chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Military Affairs during this time. He ran unsuccessfully for Governor of Massachusetts three times (in 1820, 1821 and 1822) and was finally elected governor and served two terms, from 1823 to 1825.

He died in Boston while governor in February 6, 1825 and is buried at the Old Burying Ground in Lexington, Massachusetts.


The Constitutional Convention, forming a new government

May 27, 2012

Even before Shays’ Rebellion, prominent Americans were thinking of means to strengthen the Articles of Confederation. James Madison and others met with George Washington at Mount Vernon in 1785, to discuss commercial issues relating to Virginia and Maryland.

One recommendation from that meeting was to convene a group of delegates from the states to discuss alterations of the Articles. Only five states sent representatives to Annapolis in the fall of 1786, but Alexander Hamilton’s recommendation to convene another reform meeting in Philadelphia in the spring of 1787, was forwarded to the Continental Congress.

Two ground rules would govern the convention proceedings. First, all deliberations were to be kept secret. Detailed word about the debates remained guarded until the publication of Madison’s notes in 1840. Second, no issue was to be regarded as closed and could be revisited for debate at any time.


The Convention convened on May 25, 1787, at the State House (now Independence Hall) in Philadelphia. It opened eleven days later than planned because of the slow arrival of some delegates. All of the states were represented except for Rhode Island, which declined to attend.

Washington, noted for his patience and fairness, was selected as the presiding officer. In all, 55 delegates attended. Though often regarded as great sages by later generations, the delegates were largely lawyers, merchants, and planters who represented their personal and regional interests.

What was remarkable, however, was the degree to which the delegates managed to subordinate those interests at crucial times in order to reach a series of compromises. Many were experienced in colonial and state government, and others had records of service in the army and in the courts. Eight had signed the Declaration of Independence and 17 were slave owners.

Interestingly, a number of prominent figures of the day did not attend, including Richard Henry Lee, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock.

The stated goal of the Convention — the revision of the Articles of Confederation — was quickly discarded, and attention given to more sweeping changes. Discussion turned instead to two competing concepts of how a new government should be formed, the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan.

The Virginia Plan was favored by the big states. It envisioned a bicameral legislature with both houses having membership proportional to population. The New Jersey plan was favored by the small states. It called for each state’s representation in each house to be equal to every other state’s. The impasse was resolved by the Connecticut Compromise, which split the difference. The upper house (Senate) would have equal representation from each state. The lower house (House of Representatives) would allocate membership in proportion to population.


Although not present in Philadelphia, Thomas Jefferson kept abreast of developments from his post in Paris and corresponded regularly with acquaintances in Congress and at the convention. One of the points he strove to make was the need for an independent executive, to attend to the details that the Congress was incapable of handling.

The delegates considered whether the legislature should be elected directly by the people or by the state legislatures. The usual arguments against allowing too great an influence from an unsophisticated electorate were met by George Mason, who observed that legislatures were subject to improper pressures, and Madison, who argued that at least one of the two bodies should be elected directly. This became the compromise position.

In determining the population which, in turn, would determine the number of members each state would have in the House of Representatives, the question of slaves was considered. No one suggested that slaves should vote, and the free states argued that they should not be counted at all. The slaveholding states, on the other hand, felt that free and slave should all be counted. The final compromise was the make the House depend on the free population plus three fifths of the slaves.


At one point, Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts observed to the delegates that if they admitted too many Western states, they would eventually “oppress our commerce and drain out wealth into the Western country.” He proposed limiting the number of potential new states so that they would never outnumber the Eastern states. In response, Sherman retorted that there was no probability that the new Western states would ever outnumber the original thirteen. Gerry’s recommendation was defeated.

The finished Constitution has been referred to as a “bundle of compromises.” It was only through give-and-take that a successful conclusion was achieved. The Framers of the Constitution had gone far beyond revising the Articles of Confederation.

By conferring extensive new powers, the Convention gave the federal government full power to levy taxes, borrow money, establish uniform duties and excise taxes, coin money, fix weights and measures, grant patents and copyrights, set up post offices, and build post roads.

The national government also had the power to raise and maintain an army and navy and to regulate interstate commerce. It was given the management of Indian affairs, foreign policy and war. It could pass laws for naturalizing foreigners and controlling public lands, and it could admit new states on a basis of absolute equality with the old.

The power to pass all necessary and proper laws for executing these clearly defined powers, enabled the federal government to meet the needs of later generations and of a greatly expanded body politic.


On the final day, Benjamin Franklin acknowledged that there were parts of the proposed constitution that were not to his liking, but also noted that he had been obliged at times in his life to change what he had considered to be a settled opinion. He urged all the delegates to lay aside any reservations they felt and sign the document with him.

At the end of three and a half months, 38 of the 55 delegates signed the document and adjourned to the City Tavern for libations and a final dinner. The Constitution was conveyed to the Congress, which, in turn, decided to pass the matter along to the states for ratification.

The Founding Fathers on Constitutional War Power

March 9, 2012

Photo of the Constitution of the United States of America. A feather quill is included in the photo.The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America and is the oldest codified written national constitution still in force. It was completed on September 17, 1787.

The Congress shall have Power…To declare War… – The Constitution of the United States, Article I, Section 8, Clause 11

Justice Joseph Story

Justice Joseph Story

“The power to declare war is exclusive in congress.” – Commentaries Volume III, Chapter XXI, Paragraph 1172, 1833

Alexander Hamilton 001

Alexander Hamilton

The President is to be the “commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several States, when called into the actual service of the United States. He is to have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment; to recommend to the consideration of Congress such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; to convene, on extraordinary occasions, both houses of the legislature, or either of them, and, in case of disagreement between them with respect to the time of adjournment, to adjourn them to such time as he shall think proper; to take care that the laws be faithfully executed; and to commission all officers of the United States.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 69, “The Real Character of the Executive,” New York Packet, March 14, 1788

While, therefore, the Legislature can alone declare war, can alone actually transfer the nation from a state of peace to a state of hostility, it belongs to the “executive power” to do whatever else the law of nations, co-operating with the treaties of the country, enjoin in the intercourse of the United States with foreign Powers. – Pacificus No. 1, June 29, 1793; Works: Vol. 4

Thomas Jefferson 025

Thomas Jefferson

We have already given, in example, one effectual check to the dog of war, by transferring the power of declaring war from the executive to the legislative body, from those who are to spend, to those who are to pay. – Letter to James Madison, Paris, September 6, 1789; Bergh 7:461

Considering that Congress alone is constitutionally invested with the power of changing our condition from peace to war, I have thought it my duty to await their authority for using force in any degree which could be avoided. – Confidential message to Congress on Spanish Spoliations, December 6, 1805; Bergh 3:400

James Madison 026

James Madison

Every just view that can be taken of this subject, admonishes the public of the necessity of a rigid adherence to the simple, the received, and the fundamental doctrine of the constitution, that the power to declare war, including the power of judging of the causes of war, is fully and exclusively vested in the legislature; that the executive has no right, in any case, to decide the question, whether there is or is not cause for declaring war; that the right of convening and informing congress, whenever such a question seems to call for a decision, is all the right which the constitution has deemed requisite or proper; and that for such, more than for any other contingency, this right was specially given to the executive. – James Madison, essay, Helvidius IV, September 14, 1793; Writings: Vol. 6

“The constitution supposes, what the History of all Governments demonstrates, that the Executive is the branch of power most interested in war, & most prone to it. It has accordingly with studied care, vested the question of war in the Legislature. – James Madison, letter to Thomas Jefferson, April 2, 1798; Writings 6:312

William Paterson 002

Justice William Paterson

There is a manifest distinction between our going to war with a nation at peace, and a war being made against us by an actual invasion, or a formal declaration. In the former case it is the exclusive province of Congress to change a state of peace into a state of war. – United States v. Smith, 27 F. Cas. 1192, 1806

George Washington 003

George Washington

The Constitution vests the power of declaring war with Congress; therefore no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after they shall have deliberated upon the subject, and authorized such a measure. – Letter to South Carolina Governor William Moultrie, Philadelphia, August 28, 1793; Fitzpatrick: 33

James Wilson 002

James Wilson

This system will not hurry us into war; it is calculated to guard against it. It will not be in the power of a single man, or a single body of men, to involve us in such distress; for the important power of declaring war is vested in the legislature at large: this declaration must be made with the concurrence of the House of Representatives: from this circumstance we may draw a certain conclusion that nothing but our interest can draw us into war. – James Wilson, remarks in the Pennsylvania Convention to Ratify the Constitution of the United States, December 11, 1787; Works: Vol. 1, Part I

Vices of the Political System of the United States

February 16, 2012

James Madison 013

Vices of the Political System of the United States

James Madison
April 1787

1. Failure of the States to comply with the Constitutional requisitions.

This evil has been so fully experienced both during the war and since the peace, results so naturally from the number and independent authority of the States and has been so uniformly examplified in every similar Confederacy, that it may be considered as not less radically and permanently inherent in, than it is fatal to the object of, the present System.

2. Encroachments by the States on the federal authority.

Examples of this are numerous and repetitions may be foreseen in almost every case where any favorite object of a State shall present a temptation. Among these examples are the wars and Treaties of Georgia with the Indians–The unlicensed compacts between Virginia and Maryland, and between Pena. & N. Jersey–the troops raised and to be kept up by Massts.

3. Violations of the law of nations and of treaties.

From the number of Legislatures, the sphere of life from which most of their members are taken, and the circumstances under which their legislative business is carried on, irregularities of this kind must frequently happen. Accordingly not a year has passed without instances of them in some one or other of the States. The Treaty of peace–the treaty with France–the treaty with Holland have each been violated.[See the complaints to Congress on these subjects]. The causes of these irregularities must necessarily produce frequent violations of the law of nations in other respects.

As yet foreign powers have not been rigorous in animadverting on us. This moderation however cannot be mistaken for a permanent partiality to our faults, or a permanent security agst. those disputes with other nations, which being among the greatest of public calamities, it ought to be least in the power of any part of the Community to bring on the whole.

4. Trespasses of the States on the rights of each other.

These are alarming symptoms, and may be daily apprehended as we are admonished by daily experience. See the law of Virginia restricting foreign vessels to certain ports–of Maryland in favor of vessels belonging to her own citizens–of N. York in favor of the same.

Paper money, instalments of debts, occlusion of Courts, making property a legal tender, may likewise be deemed aggressions on the rights of other States. As the Citizens of every State aggregately taken stand more or less in the relation of Creditors or debtors, to the Citizens of every other States, Acts of the debtor State in favor of debtors, affect the Creditor State, in the same manner, as they do its own citizens who are relatively creditors towards other citizens. This remark may be extended to foreign nations. If the exclusive regulation of the value and alloy of coin was properly delegated to the federal authority, the policy of it equally requires a controul on the States in the cases above mentioned. It must have been meant 1. to preserve uniformity in the circulating medium throughout the nation. 2. to prevent those frauds on the citizens of other States, and the subjects of foreign powers, which might disturb the tranquility at home, or involve the Union in foreign contests.

The practice of many States in restricting the commercial intercourse with other States, and putting their productions and manufactures on the same footing with those of foreign nations, though not contrary to the federal articles, is certainly adverse to the spirit of the Union, and tends to beget retaliating regulations, not less expensive & vexatious in themselves, than they are destructive of the general harmony.

5. want of concert in matters where common interest requires it.

This defect is strongly illustrated in the state of our commercial affairs. How much has the national dignity, interest, and revenue suffered from this cause? Instances of inferior moment are the want of uniformity in the laws concerning naturalization & literary property; of provision for national seminaries, for grants of incorporation for national purposes, for canals and other works of general utility, wch. may at present be defeated by the perverseness of particular States whose concurrence is necessary.

6. want of Guaranty to the States of their Constitutions & laws against internal violence.

The confederation is silent on this point and therefore by the second article the hands of the federal authority are tied. According to Republican Theory, Right and power being both vested in the majority, are held to be synonimous. According to fact and experience a minority may in an appeal to force, be an overmatch for the majority. 1. If the minority happen to include all such as possess the skill and habits of military life, & such as possess the great pecuniary resources, one third only may conquer the remaining two thirds. 2. One third of those who participate in the choice of the rulers, may be rendered a majority by the accession of those whose poverty excludes them from a right of suffrage, and who for obvious reasons will be more likely to join the standard of sedition than that of the established Government. 3. Where slavery exists the republican Theory becomes still more fallacious.

7. want of sanction to the laws, and of coercion in the Government of the Confederacy.

A sanction is essential to the idea of law, as coercion is to that of Government. The federal system being destitute of both, wants the great vital principles of a Political Constitution. Under the form of such a Constitution, it is in fact nothing more than a treaty of amity of commerce and of alliance, between so many independent and Sovereign States. From what cause could so fatal an omission have happened in the articles of Confederation? from a mistaken confidence that the justice, the good faith, the honor, the sound policy, of the several legislative assemblies would render superfluous any appeal to the ordinary motives by which the laws secure the obedience of individuals: a confidence which does honor to the enthusiastic virtue of the compilers, as much as the inexperience of the crisis apologizes for their errors. The time which has since elapsed has had the double effect, of increasing the light and tempering the warmth, with which the arduous work may be revised. It is no longer doubted that a unanimous and punctual obedience of 13 independent bodies, to the acts of the federal Government, ought not be calculated on. Even during the war, when external danger supplied in some degree the defect of legal & coercive sanctions, how imperfectly did the States fulfil their obligations to the Union? In time of peace, we see already what is to be expected. How indeed could it be otherwise? In the first place, Every general act of the Union must necessarily bear unequally hard on some particular member or members of it. Secondly the partiality of the members to their own interests and rights, a partiality which will be fostered by the Courtiers of popularity, will naturally exaggerate the inequality where it exists, and even suspect it where it has no existence. Thirdly a distrust of the voluntary compliance of each other may prevent the compliance of any, although it should be the latent disposition of all. Here are causes & pretexts which will never fail to render federal measures abortive. If the laws of the States, were merely recommendatory to their citizens, or if they were to be rejudged by County authorities, what security, what probability would exist, that they would be carried into execution? Is the security or probability greater in favor of the acts of Congs. which depending for their execution on the will of the state legislatures, wch. are tho’ nominally authoritative, in fact recommendatory only.

8. Want of ratification by the people of the articles of Confederation.

In some of the States the Confederation is recognized by, and forms a part of the constitution. In others however it has received no other sanction than that of the Legislative authority. From this defect two evils result: 1. Whenever a law of a State happens to be repugnant to an act of Congress, particularly when the latter is of posterior date to the former, it will be at least questionable whether the latter must not prevail; and as the question must be decided by the Tribunals of the State, they will be most likely to lean on the side of the State.

2. As far as the Union of the States is to be regarded as a league of sovereign powers, and not as a political Constitution by virtue of which they are become one sovereign power, so far it seems to follow from the doctrine of compacts, that a breach of any of the articles of the confederation by any of the parties to it, absolves the other parties from their respective obligations, and gives them a right if they chuse to exert it, of dissolving the Union altogether.

9. Multiplicity of laws in the several States.

In developing the evils which viciate the political system of the U. S. it is proper to include those which are found within the States individually, as well as those which directly affect the States collectively, since the former class have an indirect influence on the general malady and must not be overlooked in forming a compleat remedy. Among the evils then of our situation may well be ranked the multiplicity of laws from which no State is exempt. As far as laws are necessary, to mark with precision the duties of those who are to obey them, and to take from those who are to administer them a discretion, which might be abused, their number is the price of liberty. As far as the laws exceed this limit, they are a nusance: a nusance of the most pestilent kind. Try the Codes of the several States by this test, and what a luxuriancy of legislation do they present. The short period of independency has filled as many pages as the century which preceded it. Every year, almost every session, adds a new volume. This may be the effect in part, but it can only be in part, of the situation in which the revolution has placed us. A review of the several codes will shew that every necessary and useful part of the least voluminous of them might be compressed into one tenth of the compass, and at the same time be rendered tenfold as perspicuous.

10. mutability of the laws of the States.

This evil is intimately connected with the former yet deserves a distinct notice as it emphatically denotes a vicious legislation. We daily see laws repealed or superseded, before any trial can have been made of their merits: and even before a knowledge of them can have reached the remoter districts within which they were to operate. In the regulations of trade this instability becomes a snare not only to our citizens but to foreigners also.

11. Injustice of the laws of States.

If the multiplicity and mutability of laws prove a want of wisdom, their injustice betrays a defect still more alarming: more alarming not merely because it is a greater evil in itself, but because it brings more into question the fundamental principle of republican Government, that the majority who rule in such Governments, are the safest Guardians both of public Good and of private rights. To what causes is this evil to be ascribed?

These causes lie 1. in the Representative bodies.

2. in the people themselves.

1. Representative appointments are sought from 3 motives. 1. ambition 2. personal interest. 3. public good. Unhappily the two first are proved by experience to be most prevalent. Hence the candidates who feel them, particularly, the second, are most industrious, and most successful in pursuing their object: and forming often a majority in the legislative Councils, with interested views, contrary to the interest, and views, of their Constituents, join in a perfidious sacrifice of the latter to the former. A succeeding election it might be supposed, would displace the offenders, and repair the mischief. But how easily are base and selfish measures, masked by pretexts of public good and apparent expediency? How frequently will a repetition of the same arts and industry which succeeded in the first instance, again prevail on the unwary to misplace their confidence?

How frequently too will the honest but unenlightened representative be the dupe of a favorite leader, veiling his selfish views under the professions of public good, and varnishing his sophistical arguments with the glowing colours of popular eloquence?

2. A still more fatal if not more frequent cause lies among the people themselves. All civilized societies are divided into different interests and factions, as they happen to be creditors or debtors–Rich or poor–husbandmen, merchants or manufacturers–members of different religious sects–followers of different political leaders–inhabitants of different districts–owners of different kinds of property &c &c. In republican Government the majority however composed, ultimately give the law. Whenever therefore an apparent interest or common passion unites a majority what is to restrain them from unjust violations of the rights and interests of the minority, or of individuals? Three motives only 1. a prudent regard to their own good as involved in the general and permanent good of the Community. This consideration although of decisive weight in itself, is found by experience to be too often unheeded. It is too often forgotten, by nations as well as by individuals that honesty is the best policy. 2dly. respect for character. However strong this motive may be in individuals, it is considered as very insufficient to restrain them from injustice. In a multitude its efficacy is diminished in proportion to the number which is to share the praise or the blame. Besides, as it has reference to public opinion, which within a particular Society, is the opinion of the majority, the standard is fixed by those whose conduct is to be measured by it. The public opinion without the Society, will be little respected by the people at large of any Country. Individuals of extended views, and of national pride, may bring the public proceedings to this standard, but the example will never be followed by the multitude. Is it to be imagined that an ordinary citizen or even an assembly-man of R. Island in estimating the policy of paper money, ever considered or cared in what light the measure would be viewed in France or Holland; or even in Massts or Connect.? It was a sufficient temptation to both that it was for their interest: it was a sufficient sanction to the latter that it was popular in the State; to the former that it was so in the neighbourhood. 3dly. will Religion the only remaining motive be a sufficient restraint? It is not pretended to be such on men individually considered. Will its effect be greater on them considered in an aggregate view? quite the reverse. The conduct of every popular assembly acting on oath, the strongest of religious Ties, proves that individuals join without remorse in acts, against which their consciences would revolt if proposed to them under the like sanction, separately in their closets. When indeed Religion is kindled into enthusiasm, its force like that of other passions, is increased by the sympathy of a multitude. But enthusiasm is only a temporary state of religion, and while it lasts will hardly be seen with pleasure at the helm of Government. Besides as religion in its coolest state, is not infallible, it may become a motive to oppression as well as a restraint from injustice. Place three individuals in a situation wherein the interest of each depends on the voice of the others, and give to two of them an interest opposed to the rights of the third? Will the latter be secure? The prudence of every man would shun the danger. The rules & forms of justice suppose & guard against it. Will two thousand in a like situation be less likely to encroach on the rights of one thousand? The contrary is witnessed by the notorious factions & oppressions which take place in corporate towns limited as the opportunities are, and in little republics when uncontrouled by apprehensions of external danger. If an enlargement of the sphere is found to lessen the insecurity of private rights, it is not because the impulse of a common interest or passion is less predominant in this case with the majority; but because a common interest or passion is less apt to be felt and the requisite combinations less easy to be formed by a great than by a small number. The Society becomes broken into a greater variety of interests, of pursuits, of passions, which check each other, whilst those who may feel a common sentiment have less opportunity of communication and concert. It may be inferred that the inconveniences of popular States contrary to the prevailing Theory, are in proportion not to the extent, but to the narrowness of their limits.

The great desideratum in Government is such a modification of the Sovereignty as will render it sufficiently neutral between the different interests and factions, to controul one part of the Society from invading the rights of another, and at the same time sufficiently controuled itself, from setting up an interest adverse to that of the whole Society. In absolute Monarchies, the prince is sufficiently, neutral towards his subjects, but frequently sacrifices their happiness to his ambition or his avarice. In small Republics, the sovereign will is sufficiently controuled from such a Sacrifice of the entire Society, but is not sufficiently neutral towards the parts composing it. As a limited Monarchy tempers the evils of an absolute one; so an extensive Republic meliorates the administration of a small Republic.

An auxiliary desideratum for the melioration of the Republican form is such a process of elections as will most certainly extract from the mass of the Society the purest and noblest characters which it contains; such as will at once feel most strongly the proper motives to pursue the end of their appointment, and be most capable to devise the proper means of attaining it.

12. Impotence of the laws of the States

The Papers of James Madison. Edited by William T. Hutchinson et al. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1962-77 (vols. 1-10); Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1977-(vols. 11-). 9:348-57

Summary and Analysis: Federalist No. 51 – The Structure of the Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances Between the Different Departments

February 4, 2012

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James Madison begins his famous federalist essay by explaining that the purpose of this paper is to help the readers understand how the structure of the proposed government makes liberty possible. Each branch should be, for the most part, in Madison’s opinion, independent. To assure such independence, no one branch should have too much power in selecting members of the other two branches. If this principle were strictly followed, it would mean that the citizens should select the president, the legislators, and the judges. But, the framers recognized certain practical difficulties in making every office elective. In particular, the judicial branch would suffer because the average person is not aware of the qualifications judges should possess. Judges should have great ability, but also be free of political pressures. Since federal judges are appointed for life, their thinking will not be influenced by the president who appoints them, or the senators whose consent the president will seek.

Madison furthers, the members of each branch should not be too dependent on the members of the other two branches in the determination of their salaries. The best security against a gradual concentration of power in any one branch is to provide constitutional safeguards that would make such concentration difficult. The constitutional rights of all must check one man’s personal interests and ambitions. We may not like to admit that men abuse power, but the very need for government itself proves they do, “if men were angels, no government would be necessary.” Unfortunately, all men are imperfect, the rulers and the ruled. Consequently, the great problem in framing a government is that the government must be able to control the people, but equally important, must be forced to control itself. The dependence of the government on the will of the people is undoubtedly the best control, but experience teaches that other controls are necessary.

Dividing power helps to check its growth in any one direction, but power cannot be divided absolutely equally. In the republican form of government, the legislative branch tends to be the most powerful. That is why the framers divided the Congress into two branches, the House of Representatives and the Senate, and provided for a different method of election in each branch. Further safeguards against legislative tyranny may be necessary.

In a representative democracy it is not only important to guard against the oppression of rulers, it is equally important to guard against the injustice which may be inflicted by certain citizens or groups. Majorities often threaten the rights of minorities. There are only two methods of avoiding evil. The first is to construct a powerful government, a “community will.” Such a “will” is larger than, and independent of, the simply majority. This “solution” is dangerous because such a government might throw its power behind a group in society working against the public good. In our country, the authority to govern comes from the entire society ­ the people. In addition, under the Constitution society is divided into many groups of people who hold different views and have different interests. This makes it very difficult for one group to dominate or threaten the minority groups.

Justice is the purpose of government and civil society. If government allows or encourages strong groups to combine together against the weak, liberty will be lost and anarchy will result. And the condition of anarchy tempts even strong individuals and groups to submit to any form of government, no matter how bad, which they hope will protect them as well as the weak.

Madison concludes that self-government flourishes in a large country containing many different groups. Some countries are too large for self-government, but the proposed plan modifies the federal principle enough to make self-government both possible and practical in the Untied States.

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In this essay, Madison’s thoughts on factionalism are delineated clearly. As we observed earlier, he assumed that conflicts of interests are inherent in human nature, and he recognized that, as a consequence, people fall into various groups. He wanted to avoid a situation in which any one group controlled the decisions of a society. Free elections and the majority principle protected the country from dictatorship, that is, the tyranny of a minority. However, he was equally concerned about the danger that he thought was more likely in a democracy, that is, the tyranny of the majority. A central institutional issue for him was how to minimize this risk.

Madison’s solution characteristically relied not only on formal institutions, which could be designed, but also on the particular sociological structure of American society, which he took as a fortunate starting point for the framers of the new constitution. The institutional component in his solution was checks and balances, so that there were multiple entry points into the government and multiple ways to offset the power that any one branch of the government might otherwise acquire over another. In this system, “the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on each other.”

These institutional arrangements were reinforced by the sociological fact that the Republic contained a multiplicity of interests that could, and did, offset one another: “While all authority in it will be derived from and dependent on the society, the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests and classes of citizens that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority.” It is good that there are many group interests; that they be numerous is less important than that they be impermanent and shifting alliances whose components vary with the specific policy issue.

Madison commenced the statement of his theory in Federalist 51 with an acknowledgement that the “have nots” in any society are extremely likely to attack the “haves,” for like Hamilton the Virginian believed class struggle to be inseparable from politics. “It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard against the oppression of its rulers,” Madison writes, “but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by a common interest the rights of the minority will be insecure.”

Madison, it is clear, had emancipated himself from the sterile dualistic view of society that was so common in the eighteenth century and that so obsessed Hamilton. Madison was one of the pioneers of “pluralism” in political thought. Where Hamilton saw the corporate spirit of the several states as poisonous to the union, Madison was aware that the preservation of the state governments could serve the cause of both liberty and union. Finally, the vastness of the United States, a fact that Hamilton considered the prime excuse for autocracy was recognized by Madison as the surest preservative of liberty. To assert after reading this passage that Alexander Hamilton wrote Federalist 51 is to imply first, that he was a magician in mimicking Madison’s very words and tone of vote, and in the second place that he was the most disingenuous hypocrite that ever wrote on politics. No unprejudiced or informed historian would accept this latter charge against Hamilton.

It is interesting to note that the Federalist papers are unique, as shown in this paper, because of the extreme amount of thought that was put into the design of the constitution, as shown in Madison’s original thought process that were penned in 51. Many, if not most, changes in institutional design, they usually occur as the reactions of shortsighted people to what they perceive as more-or-less short-range needs. This is one reason the Constitutional Convention was a remarkable event. The Founding Fathers set out deliberately to design the form of government that would be most likely to bring about the long-range goals that they envisaged for the Republic. What is most unusual about Madison, in contrast to the other delegates, is the degree to which he thought about the principles behind the institutions he preferred. Not only did he practice the art of what nowadays is deemed institutional design, but he developed, as well, the outlines of a theory of institutional design that culminated in this essay.

Moral Ethics – Quotes From The Founding Fathers

November 26, 2011

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Noah Webster

“The moral principles and precepts contained in the Scriptures ought to form the basis of all our civil constitutions and laws. All the miseries and evils which men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery, and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible.” – History of the United States, Noah Webster, ed. (New Haven: Durrie & Peck, 1832), p. 309, paragraph 53

“God’s Word, contained in the Bible, has furnished all necessary rules to direct our conduct.” –  The American Spelling Book: Containing the Rudiments of the English Language, 1807



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William Penn

“If thou wouldst rule well, thou must rule for God, and to do that, thou must be ruled by him… Those who will not be governed by God will be ruled by tyrants.” – William Penn, Founder of Pennsylvania, 1668 (Penn was imprisoned for writing this tract.)

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Patrick Henry

“The great pillars of all government and of social life [are] virtue, morality, and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone, that renders us invincible.” – Letter to Archibald Blair, January 8, 1799; Patrick Henry, Moses Coit Tyler ( New York: Houghton Mifflin Co; 1897), p. 409

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Daniel Webster

“If religious books are not widely circulated among the masses in this country, I do not know what is going to become of us as a nation. If truth be not diffused, error will be; If God and His Word are not known and received, the devil and his works will gain the ascendancy, If the evangelical volume does not reach every hamlet, the pages of a corrupt and licentious literature will; If the power of the Gospel is not felt throughout the length and breadth of the land, anarchy and misrule, degradation and misery, corruption and darkness will reign without mitigation or end.” – 1823; Every Christian a Publisher, Ernest Reisinger, Free Grace Broadcaster, Issue 51, Winter, 1995, p. 17

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Thomas Paine

“The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind.” – Common Sense, January 10, 1776; The Writings of Thomas Paine, Volume 1, Chapter XV; Collected and Edited by Moncure Daniel Conway (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1894)

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James Madison

“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 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 to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.” – A Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, June 20, 1785; The Papers of James Madison, Edited by William T. Hutchinson et al. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1962–77 (vols. 1–10); Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1977–(vols. 11–) Vol. 8

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Francis Scott Key

“The patriot who feels himself in the service of God, who acknowledges Him in all his ways, has the promise of Almighty direction, and will find His Word in his greatest darkness, ‘a lantern to his feet and a lamp unto his paths’…He will therefore seek to establish for his country in the eyes of the world, such a character as shall make her not unworthy of the name of a Christian nation.” – Speech to the Washington Society of Alexandria, March 22, 1814

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Thomas Jefferson

“The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them.” – A Summary View of the Rights of British America Set Forth In Some Resolutions, July 1774; The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Federal Edition, Editor: Paul Leicester Ford, (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5) Vol. 2

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Abigail Adams

“A patriot without religion in my estimation is as great a paradox as an honest Man without the fear of God. Is it possible that he whom no moral obligations bind, can have any real Good Will towards Men? Can he be a patriot who, by an openly vicious conduct, is undermining the very bonds of Society?….The Scriptures tell us ‘righteousness exalteth a Nation.'” – Letter to friend Mercy Warren, November 5, 1775; Warren-Adams Letters, 1743-1777, (Massachusetts Historical Society Collections), Vol. I, p. 72. L.H. Butterfield, editor

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John Adams

“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever.” – Letter to Abigail Adams, July 3, 1776; The Adams Family Correspondence, L.H. Butterfield, ed. (1963) Vol. 2

“Before God, I believe the hour has come. My judgment approves this measure, and my whole heart is in it. All that I have, and all that I am, and all that I hope in this life, I am now ready here to stake upon it. And I leave off as I began, that live or die, survive or perish, I am for the Declaration. It is my living sentiment, and by the blessing of God it shall be my dying sentiment. Independence now, and Independence for ever!” – John Adams, Speech to Congress, July 4, 1776

“Now I will avow, that I then believed and now believe that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God; and that those principles of liberty are as unalterable as human nature and our terrestrial, mundane system.” – Letter to Thomas Jefferson, June 28, 1813; The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams, (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856); 10 volumes, Vol. 10

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Samuel Adams

“We have this day restored the Sovereign to whom all alone men ought to be obedient. He reigns in Heaven, and with a propitious eye beholds his subjects assuming that freedom of thought, and dignity of self-direction which He bestowed on them. From the rising to the setting sun, may His kingdom come.” – Samuel Adams, speech to Congress, Statehouse of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, July 4, 1776

“He therefore is the truest friend to the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue, and who, so far as his power and influence extend, will not suffer a man to be chosen into any office of power and trust who is not a wise and virtuous man.” – Essay, The Advertiser, 1748; The Life and Public Service of Samuel Adams, William Vincent Wells, ed.; Little, Brown, and Company; Boston, 1865, Vol. 1



November 21, 2011

President James Madison’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation of 1815 was the last such proclamation issued until President Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation of 1864.

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The senate and House of Representatives of the United States have by a joint resolution signified their desire that a day may be recommended to be observed by the people of the United States with religious solemnity as a day of thanksgiving and of devout acknowledgments to Almighty God for His great goodness manifested in restoring to them the blessing of peace.
No people ought to feel greater obligations to celebrate the goodness of the Great Disposer of Events of the Destiny of Nations than the people of the United States. His kind providence originally conducted them to one of the best portions of the dwelling place allotted for the great family of the human race. He protected and cherished them under all the difficulties and trials to which they were exposed in their early days. Under His fostering care their habits, their sentiments, and their pursuits prepared them for a transition in due time to a state of independence and self-government. In the arduous struggle by which it was attained they were distinguished by multiplied tokens of His benign interposition. During the interval which succeeded He reared them into the strength and endowed them with the resources which have enabled them to assert their national rights, and to enhance their national character in another arduous conflict, which is now so happily terminated by a peace and reconciliation with those who have been our enemies. And to the same Divine Author of Every Good and Perfect Gift we are indebted for all those privileges and advantages, religious as well as civil, which are so richly enjoyed in this favored land.
It is for blessings such as these, and more especially for the restoration of the blessing of peace, that I now recommend that the second Thursday in April next be set apart as a day on which the people of every religious denomination may in their solemn assembles unite their hearts and their voices in a freewill offering to their Heavenly Benefactor of their homage of thanksgiving and of their songs of praise.
Given at the city of Washington on the 4th day of March, A.D. 1815, and of the Independence of the United States the thirty-ninth.


November 21, 2011

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The two Houses of the National Legislature having by a joint resolution expressed their desire that in the present time of public calamity and war a day may be recommended to be observed by the people of the United States as a day of public humiliation and fasting and of prayer to Almighty God for the safety and welfare of these States, His blessing on their arms, and a speedy restoration of peace, I have deemed it proper by this proclamation to recommend that Thursday, the 12th of January next, be set apart as a day on which all may have an opportunity of voluntarily offering at the same time in their respective religious assemblies their humble adoration to the Great Sovereign of the Universe, of confessing their sins and transgressions, and of strengthening their vows of repentance and amendment. They will be invited by the same solemn occasion to call to mind the distinguished favors conferred on the American people in the general health which has been enjoyed, in the abundant fruits of the season, in the progress of the arts instrumental to their comfort, their prosperity, and their security, and in the victories which have so powerfully contributed to the defense and protection of our country, a devout thankfulness for all which ought to be mingled with their supplications to the Beneficent Parent of the Human Race that He would be graciously pleased to pardon all their offenses against Him; to support and animate them in the discharge of their respective duties; to continue to them the precious advantages flowing from political institutions so auspicious to their safety against dangers from abroad, to their tranquillity at home, and to their liberties, civil and religious; and that He would in a special manner preside over the nation in its public councils and constituted authorities, giving wisdom to its measures and success to its arms in maintaining its rights and in overcoming all hostile designs and attempts against it; and, finally, that by inspiring the enemy with dispositions favorable to a just and reasonable peace its blessings may be speedily and happily restores.
Given at the city of Washington, the 16th day of November, 1814, and of the Independence of the United States the thirty-eighth.

The Hartford Convention: War for State’s Rights or Federalist Effort to Overthrow the Government?

October 28, 2011

The Hartford Convention was an event spanning from December 15, 1814–January 4, 1815 in the United States during the War of 1812 in which New England’s opposition to the war reached the point where secession from the United States was discussed. The end of the war — with a return to the status quo ante bellum — disgraced the Federalist Party, which disbanded in most places.


The Secret Journal of the Hartford Convention, published 1823.

Trade policy

Thomas Jefferson’s foreign trade policies, particularly the Embargo Act of 1807 in response to Great Britain’s policies toward the young nation, and James Madison’s Non-Intercourse Act of 1809, were very unpopular in the northeastern United States, especially among merchants and shippers. Jefferson’s successor, President James Madison, was even less popular in New England, particularly after his prosecution of the War of 1812, which ended legal trade with England. The opposing Federalist Party regained strength especially in New England, and in New York where it collaborated with Mayor DeWitt Clinton of New York City and supported him for president in 1812.

Reaction of New England to commerce impediments

When Madison was re-elected in 1812 the reaction in New England intensified. The war turned against the Americans, and the British effectively blockaded the entire coastline. Almost all maritime activity (apart from smuggling) was stopped and New England interests suffered.

Massachusetts and Connecticut felt that they were physically threatened from without. They also experienced the repercussions of their opposition to Madison’s position on relations with England. Instead of entrusting their governors with local defense, as the administration had entrusted the governors of States which supported the war, the President now insisted upon retaining the exclusive control of military movements.

Because Massachusetts and Connecticut had refused to subject their militia to the orders of the War Department, Madison declined to pay their expenses. Consequently, critics said that Madison had abandoned New England to the common enemy. The Massachusetts Legislature appropriated $1,000,000 to support a state army of 10,000 men. Harrison Gray Otis, who inspired these measures, suggested that the Eastern States meet in convention in Hartford. As early as 1804 New England Federalists had discussed secession from the Union if the national government became too oppressive. [1] Those Federalists opposed to war with Britain and supportive of secession were called the Blue light federalists.

Secession was again mentioned in 1814–1815; all but one leading Federalist newspaper in New England supported a plan to expel the western states from the Union. Otis, the key leader of the Convention, blocked radical proposals like seizing the Federal customs house, impounding federal funds, or declaring neutrality. Otis thought the Madison administration was near collapse and that unless conservatives like himself and the other delegates took charge, the radical secessionists might take power. Indeed, Otis was unaware that Massachusetts Governor Caleb Strong had already sent a secret mission to discuss terms with the British for a separate peace. [2]


On October 10, 1814, the Massachusetts state legislature called for the Hartford Convention, ostensibly to discuss several constitutional amendments necessary to protect New England’s interests. On December 15, 1814, delegations from all five New England states were to meet at the Old State House in Hartford, Connecticut, in the chamber of the Connecticut Senate. Official delegations were sent by Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.

Twelve delegates were appointed by the Massachusetts Legislature, of which George Cabot and Harrison G. Otis were chief (see list below). In Connecticut, the legislature of which denounced Madison’s conscription plan as barbarous and unconstitutional, a delegation of seven was made up — Chauncey Goodrich and James Hillhouse, at the head. Rhode Island’s Legislature added four more to the list. So deep-rooted, however, was the national distrust of this movement that Vermont and New Hampshire shrank from giving the convention a public sanction. New Hampshire had a Republican council; while in Vermont the victory at Plattsburgh stirred the Union spirit; Governor Martin Chittenden himself having changed in official tone, after the war became a defensive one. Violent county conventions representing fractions of towns chose, however, three delegates, two in New Hampshire and one in Vermont, whose credentials being accepted by the convention, the whole number of delegates assembled at Hartford was twenty-six.

The following lists the states that attended and the names of the notable attendees. [3]

Massachusetts: George Cabot, Harrison Gray Otis, Nathan Dane, William Prescott Jr., Timothy Bigelow, Samuel Sumner Wilde, Joseph S. Lyman, Stephen Longfellow Jr.

Connecticut: Chauncey Goodrich, John Treadwell, James Hillhouse, Zephaniah Swift, Nathaniel Smith, Calvin Goddard, Roger Minott Sherman

Rhode Island: Daniel Lyman, Samuel Ward, Jr., Edward Manton, Benjamin Hazard

New Hampshire and Vermont: Two delegations represented New Hampshire and Vermont

Secret meetings

In all, twenty-six delegates attended the secret meetings. No records of the proceedings were kept, and meetings continued through January 5, 1815. After choosing George Cabot as president, and Theodore Dwight as secretary, the present convention remained in closed session for three continuous weeks. Surviving letters of contemporaries show that representative Federalists labored with these delegates to procure the secession of New England. Assembling amid rumors of treason and the execration of all the country west of the Hudson, its members were watched by an army officer who had been conveniently stationed in the vicinity. Cabot’s journal of its proceedings, when it was eventually opened, was a meager sketch of formal proceedings; he made no record of yeas and nays, stated none of the amendments offered to the various reports, and neglected to attach the name of authors to propositions. It is impossible to ascertain the speeches or votes of individual delegates.

Convention report

The convention ended with a report and resolutions, signed by the delegates present, and adopted on the day before final adjournment. The report said that New England had a “duty” to assert its authority over unconstitutional infringements on its sovereignty — a doctrine that echoed the policy of Jefferson and Madison in 1798 (in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions), and which would later reappear in a different context as “nullification.”

The Hartford Convention’s final report proposed several amendments to the US Constitution. These attempted to combat the policies of the ruling Republicans by:

1. Prohibiting any trade embargo lasting over 60 days;

2. Requiring a two-thirds Congressional majority for declaration of offensive war, admission of a new state, or interdiction of foreign commerce;

3. Removing the three-fifths representation advantage of the South;

4. Limiting future Presidents to one term;

5. Requiring each President to be from a different state than his predecessor. (This provision was aimed directly at the ruling “Virginia Dynasty”.)


The Hartford Convention or LEAP NO LEAP, by William Charles

Negative reception

The Democratic-Republican Congress would never have recommended any of New England’s proposals for ratification. Hartford delegates intended for them to embarrass the President and the Republicans in Congress—and also to serve as a basis for negotiations between New England and the rest of the country.

Some delegates may have been in favor of New England’s secession from the United States, and forming an independent republic, though no such resolution was adopted at the convention. Historian Samuel Eliot Morison rejected the notion that Hartford was an attempt to take New England out of the Union and give treasonous aid and comfort to Britain. Morison wrote, “Democratic politicians, seeking a foil to their own mismanagement of the war and to discredit the still formidable Federalist party, caressed and fed this infant myth until it became so tough and lusty as to defy both solemn denials and documentary proof.” [4]

Massachusetts actually sent three commissioners to Washington, D.C. to negotiate these terms. When they arrived in February, 1815, news of Andrew Jackson’s stunning victory at the Battle of New Orleans, and the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, preceded them and, consequently, their presence in the capital seemed both ludicrous and subversive. They quickly returned. Thereafter, both Hartford Convention and Federalist Party became synonymous with disunion, secession, and treason, especially in the South. The party was ruined, and survived only in a few localities for several more years before vanishing entirely.


  1. Schouler, History of the United States, vol. 1
  2. Morison (1969) pp. 362-70
  3. Lalor, Cyclopedia of Political Science
  4. Morison 1969 p. 394


  • Lyman, Theodore, A short account of the Hartford Convention: taken from official documents, and addressed to the fair minded and the well disposed; To which is added an attested copy of the secret journal of that body. Boston: O. Everett, 1823.
  • Adams, James Truslow. New England in the Republic, 1776-1850 (1926)
  • Banner, James M., Jr. A Shadow Of Secession? The Hartford Convention, 1814. History Today 1988 38(Sep): 24-30.
  • Banner, James M. Jr. To the Hartford Convention: The Federalists and the Origins of Party Politics in Massachusetts, 1789-1815 (1970).
  • Buckley, William Edward. The Hartford Convention. Yale University Press (1934)
  • Samuel Eliot Morison, Harrison Gray Otis, 1765-1848: The Urbane Federalist (1913); revised edition (1969)
  • Morison, Samuel Eliot. Our Most Unpopular War, Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings 1968 80: 38-54.

Morison calls the War of 1812 undoubtedly the most unpopular the nation has ever waged. Opposition to the war came from other sections besides New England, although the hostility of the New England Federalists was more apparent since they controlled the State governments. He contends that the chief sponsors of the Hartford Convention intended to avoid State secession at all costs, and he scorns the myth that New England secession was thwarted by the Treaty of Ghent and Jackson’s victory at New Orleans.

  • Samuel Eliot Morison, Frederick Merk, and Frank Freidel, Dissent in Three American Wars (1970), Ch. 1
  • James Schouler, History of the United States vol. 1 (1891), provides the text for portions of this article
  • John J. Lalor (ed.) Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States by the Best American and European Writers (1899)
  • The Report and Resolutions of the Hartford Convention (Wikisource)
  • Stacey Meider. The Convention of the Semi-Gods, Los Angeles: California. 2005.

The United States Was Founded A Christian Nation

October 18, 2011

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When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another; and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate but equal station to which the laws of Nature and Nature’s God have so entitled them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind require that they should declare the causes for the separation.

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 the pursuit of Happiness.

Photo of the Constitution of the United States of America. A feather quill is included in the photo.The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America and is the oldest codified written national constitution still in force. It was completed on September 17, 1787.

Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the twelfth. IN WITNESS whereof We have here- unto subscribed our Names… – U.S. Constitution, Article VII


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Independence Hall, Philadelphia

“With hearts fortified with these animating reflections, we most solemnly, before God and the world, declare, that, exerting the utmost energy of those powers, which our beneficent Creator hath graciously bestowed upon us, the arms we have compelled by our enemies to assume, we will, in defiance of every hazard, with unabating firmness and perseverance employ for the preservation of our liberties; being with one mind resolved to die freemen rather than to live as slaves.” – Thomas Jefferson & John Dickinson, Declaration of the Cause and Necessity of Taking up Arms, Second Continental Congress, July 6, 1775; The Growth of the American Republic, Volume 1, Seventh Edition. New York: Oxford University Press; 1980; p.168


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Benjamin Franklin

“All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance? 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 Men. 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 labor in vain who build it. I firmly believe this, — and I also believe that without his concurring Aid, we shall succeed in this political Building no better than the Builders 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.” – Request for prayer at the Constitutional Convention, June 28, 1787; The Papers of James Madison, Henry D. Gilpin, editor, (Washington: Langtree and O’Sullivan, 1840), Vol. II, pp. 984-986, June 28, 1787; Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 Reported by James Madison, James Madison, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., Ohio University Press, 1966), pp. 209-210


George Washington Praying at Valley Forge

General George Washington, Prayer at Valley Forge

“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.” – Quoted by Gouverneur Morris in Farrand’s Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, March 25, 1787

“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, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. It is substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who, that is a sincere friend to it, can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?”

– Farewell Address, September 17, 1796; originally published in American Daily Advertiser on September 19, 1796; The Life of George Washington: Special Edition for Schools, Appendix V: Farewell Address, editors Robert Faulkner and Paul Carrese (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000)


John Adams 001

“Human government is more or less perfect as it approaches nearer or diverges farther from the imitation of this perfect plan of divine and moral government.” – Draft of a Newspaper Communication, Circa August 1770

“The Form of Government, which you admire, when its Principles are pure is admirable, indeed, it is productive of every Thing, which is great and excellent among Men. But its Principles are as easily destroyed, as human Nature is corrupted. Such a Government is only to be supported by pure Religion or Austere Morals. Public virtue cannot exist in a nation without private, and public virtue is the only foundation of republics. There must be a positive passion for the public good, the public interest, honour, power and glory, established in the minds of the people, or there can be no republican government, nor any real liberty: and this public passion must be superiour to all private passions. Men must be ready, they must pride themselves, and be happy to sacrifice their private Pleasures, Passions and Interests, nay, their private Friendships and dearest Connections, when they stand in Competition with the Rights of Society.” – Letter to Mercy Warren, April 16, 1776; Warren-Adams Letters, Being Chiefly a Correspondence among John Adams, Samuel Adams, and James Warren, Volume 2, 1778-1814; Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, vol. 73. [Boston:] Massachusetts Historical Society, 1925

“[I]t is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue.”

“Statesmen, my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free Constitution is pure Virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People in a greater Measure than they have it now, They may change their Rulers and the forms of Government, but they will not obtain a lasting Liberty. They will only exchange Tyrants and Tyrannies.”

– Letter to Zabdiel Adams, June 21, 1776;The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Little, Brown, 1854), Vol. IX, p. 401

John Adams 002

“The moment the idea is admitted into society, that property is not as sacred as the law of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If ‘Thou shall not covet’ and ‘Thou shall not steal,’ are not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society, before it can be civilized or made free.” – A Defence of the Constitutions of Government, 1787; The Works of John Adams, Edited by Charles Francis Adams; 10 vols. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1850–56. See also: Butterfield; Cappon; Warren-Adams Letters

“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” – Letter to the Officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts, October 11, 1798; The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States; With A Life of the Author Notes and Illustrations of his Grandson Charles Francis Adams, Volume IX, Books For Libraries Press, Freeport, New York (First Published, 1850–1856, Reprinted 1969), 228–29

“The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence, were the only principles in which that beautiful assembly of young men could unite, and these principles only could be intended by them in their address, or by me in my answer. And what were these general principles? I answer, the general principles of Christianity, in which all those sects were united, and the general principles of English and American liberty, in which all those young men united, and which had united all parties in America, in majorities sufficient to assert and maintain her independence. Now I will avow, that I then believed and now believe that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God; and that those principles of liberty are as unalterable as human nature and our terrestrial, mundane system.” – Letter to Thomas Jefferson, June 28, 1813; The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams, (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856); 10 volumes, Vol. 10


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Abigail Adams

“A patriot without religion in my estimation is as great a paradox as an honest Man without the fear of God. Is it possible that he whom no moral obligations bind, can have any real Good Will towards Men? Can he be a patriot who, by an openly vicious conduct, is undermining the very bonds of Society?….The Scriptures tell us “righteousness exalteth a Nation.” – Abigail Adams, letter to friend Mercy Warren, November 5, 1775; “Warren-Adams Letters, 1743-1777,” (Massachusetts Historical Society Collections), Vol. I, p. 72. L.H. Butterfield, editor


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Thomas Jefferson

“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 of 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; that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events; that it may become probable by supernatural interference!” – Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVIII , The Particular Customs and Manners That May Happen to Be Received In That State, 1782; The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Federal Edition, Editor: Paul Leicester Ford, (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5) Vol. 4


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James Madison

“I have sometimes thought there could be no stronger testimony in favor of Religion or against temporal Enjoyments even the most rational and manly than for men who occupy the most honorable and gainful departments and are rising in reputation and wealth, publicly to declare their unsatisfactoriness by becoming fervent Advocates in the cause of Christ, & I wish you may give in your Evidence in this way. Such instances have seldom occurred, therefore they would be more striking and would be instead of a “Cloud of Witnesses.” – Letter to William Bradford, September 1773; The Lustre of Our Country: The American Experience of Religious Freedom (2000) by John Thomas Noonan, p. 66

“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: And if a member of Civil Society, who enters into any subordinate Association, must always do it with a reservation of his duty to the general authority; much more must every man who becomes a member of any particular Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign.” – A Memorial and Remonstrance presented to the General Assembly of the State of Virginia at their Session, December 1784; The Writings of James Madison, comprising his Public Papers and his Private Correspondence, including his numerous letters and documents now for the first time printed, ed. Gaillard Hunt (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1900). Vol. 2


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Samuel Adams

“We, therefore, the Congress of the United States of America, do solemnly declare and proclaim that… We appeal to the God who searcheth the hearts of men for the rectitude of our intentions; and in His holy presence declare that, as we are not moved by any light or hasty suggestions of anger or revenge, so through every possible change of fortune we will adhere to this our determination.” – Manifesto of the Continental Congress, October 30, 1778; Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, Vol. XII, p. 1082

“I have thought fit, according to the ancient and laudable Practice of our renowned ancestors, to appoint a day of PUBLIC THANKSGIVING to God, for the great benefits which HE has been pleased to bestow upon us, in the Year past. And I do by advice and consent of the Council, appoint THURSDAY the Nineteenth day of November next, to be observed as a DAY of PUBLIC THANKSGIVING and PRAISE throughout this Commonwealth: Calling upon the Ministers of the Gospel of all Denominations, with their respective Congregations to assemble on that Day to offer to God, their unfeigned Gratitude, for his great Goodness to the People of the United States in general, and of this Commonwealth in particular.” – Proclamation Declaring a Day of Thanksgiving on November 19, 1795; Columbian Centinel, October 14, 1795

“As Piety, Religion and Morality have a happy influence on the minds of men, in their public as well as private transactions, you will not think it unseasonable, although I have frequently done it, to bring to your remembrance the great importance of encouraging our University, town schools, and other seminaries of education, that our children and youth while they are engaged in the pursuit of useful science, may have their minds impressed with a strong sense of the duties they owe to their God, their instructors and each other, so that when they arrive to a state of manhood, and take a part in any public transactions, their hearts having been deeply impressed in the course of their education with the moral feelings – such feelings may continue and have their due weight through the whole of their future lives.” – Address to the Legislature of Massachusetts, January 30, 1797


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Patrick Henry

“The great pillars of all government and of social life [are] virtue, morality, and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone, that renders us invincible.” – Letter to Archibald Blair, January 8, 1799; Moses Coit Tyler, Patrick Henry ( New York: Houghton Mifflin Co; 1897), p.409


John Jay

John Jay

“[It is] the duty of all wise, free, and virtuous governments to countenance and encourage virtue and religion.” – John Jay, Governor, to the Committee of the Corporation of the City of New York, November 4, 1800; “The Life of John Jay: with Selections from his Correspondence and Miscellaneous Papers,” by William Jay, (New York: J. & J. Harper, 1833) Vol. I, pp. 457-458; see also “The Speeches of the Different Governors to the Legislature of the State of New York, Commencing with Those of George Clinton and Continued Down to the Present Time”, (Albany: J.B. Van Steenbergh, 1825), p. 66

“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 as their rulers.” – Letter to John Murray, Jr., Bedford, October 12, 1816; The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, 1794-1826, Henry P. Johnson, editor, (Reprinted NY: Burt Franklin, 1970), Vol. IV, p. 393


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John Hancock

“Sensible of the importance of Christian piety and virtue to the order and happiness of a state, I cannot but earnestly commend to you every measure for their support and encouragement.” – Independent Chronicle, Boston Massachusetts, November 2, 1780; John Hancock, His Book, Abram English Brown, editor (Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1898), p. 269


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Dr. Benjamin Rush

“Man is naturally an ungovernable animal, and observations on particular societies and countries will teach us that when we add the restraints of ecclesiastical to those of domestic and civil government, we produce in him the highest degrees of order and virtue.” – Thoughts Upon the Mode of Education Proper in A Republic, 1786; American Political Writing During the Founding Era: 1760-1805, ed. Charles S. Hyneman and Donald Lutz (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1983). 2 vols. Volume 1, A Plan for the Establishment of Public Schools and the Diffusion of Knowledge in Pennsylvania; to Which Are Added, Thoughts upon the Mode of Education, Proper in a Republic


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Noah Webster

“The brief exposition of the constitution of the United States, will unfold to young persons the principles of republican government; and it is the sincere desire of the writer that our citizens should early understand that the genuine source of correct republican principles is the Bible, particularly the New Testament or the Christian religion.” – Preface to his History of the United States, New Haven: Durrie & Peck, 1833; Noah Webster, God’s Law and the United States Constitution, the influence of the bible on the development of american constitutionalism, Stephen McDowell, editor

“The religion which has introduced civil liberty is the religion of Christ and His apostles, which enjoins humility, piety, and benevolence; which acknowledges in every person a brother, or a sister, and a citizen with equal rights. This is genuine Christianity, and to this we owe our free Constitutions of Government.” – History of the United States, Noah Webster, editor (New Haven: Durrie & Peck, 1832), p. 300

“The moral principles and precepts contained in the Scriptures ought to form the basis of all our civil constitutions and laws. All the miseries and evils which men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery, and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible.” – History of the United States, Noah Webster, editor (New Haven: Durrie & Peck, 1832), p. 309


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James Otis

“Government is founded immediately on the necessities of human nature, and ultimately on the will of God, the author of nature; who has not left it to men in general to choose, whether they will be members of society or not, but at the hazard of their senses if not of their lives. Yet it is left to every man as he comes of age to chuse what society he will continue to belong to. Nay if one has a mind to turn Hermit, and after he has been born, nursed, and brought up in the arms of society, and acquired the habits and passions of social life, is willing to run the risque of starving alone, which is generally most unavoidable in a state of hermitage, who shall hinder him? I know of no human law, founded on the law of nature, to restrain him from separating himself from the species, if he can find it in his heart to leave them; unless it should be said, it is against the great law of self-preservation: But of this every man will think himself his own judge.” – The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved, 1764 (Boston and London: J. Williams and J. Almon, 1766)


Charles Carroll

Charles Carroll of Carrollton

“Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime and pure (and) which insures to the good eternal happiness, are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.” – Letter to Secretary of War James McHenry, Annapolis, November 4, 1800; Bernard C. Steiner, The Life and Correspondence of James McHenry (Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers, 1907), p. 475


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General Nathanael Greene

“America must raise an empire of permanent duration, supported upon the grand pillars of Truth, Freedom, and Religion, encouraged by the smiles of Justice and defended by her own patriotic sons.” – Letter to Samuel Ward of Rhode Island, a member of the Second Continental Congress, January 4, 1776


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Justice Joseph Story

“[A]t the time of the adoption of the constitution, and of the amendment to it, now under consideration, the general, if not the universal sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state, so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience, and the freedom of religious worship. An attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation. 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.” – Commentaries on the Constitution, Volume III Chapter XLIV Amendments to the Constitution, p. 726, paragraph 1868 (1833); [1] 2 Lloyd’s Deb. 195, 196

“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.” – Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, Volume III Chapter XLIV Amendments to the Constitution, p. 727, Paragraph 1869 (1833)


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Justice James Wilson

“All [laws], however, may be arranged in two different classes. 1. Devine 2. Human. … But it should always be remembered that this law, natural or revealed, made for men or for nations, flows from the same Divine source: it is the law of God. … Human law must rest its authority ultimately upon the authority of that law which is Divine.” – Lectures on Law, Part I, Chapter II: Of the General Principles of Law and Obligation, 1790; The works of the Honourable James Wilson, Bird Wilson, editor, (Philadelphia: Lorenzo Press, 1804), Vol. I, pp. 103-105

“[I]t should always be remembered that this law, natural or revealed, made for men or for nations, flows from the same divine source: it is the law of God. What we do, indeed, must be founded on what he has done; and the deficiencies of our laws must be supplied by the perfections of His. Human law must rest its authority, finally, upon the authority of that law which is Divine. Far from being rivals or enemies, faith and law are twin sisters, friends, and mutual assistants.” – Lectures on Law, Part I, Chapter II: Of the General Principles of Law and Obligation, 1790-91; Collected Works of James Wilson, edited by Kermit L. Hall and Mark David Hall, with an Introduction by Kermit L. Hall, and a Bibliographical Essay by Mark David Hall, collected by Maynard Garrison (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2007). Vol. 1, Part 2: Lectures On Law

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Justice Samuel Chase, Maryland

“By our form of government, the Christian religion is the established religion; and all sects and denominations of Christians are placed upon the same equal footing, and are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty.” Runkel v. Winemiller, 4 Harris & McHenry 276, 288 (Sup. Ct. Md. 1799);  Runkel v. Winemiller, 4 Harris & McHenry (MD) 429 1 AD 411, 417 (Justice Chase); see also, Our Christian Heritage, Letter from Plymouth Rock (Marlborough, NH: The Plymouth Rock Foundation), p. 4

Public Education According to the Founders

October 3, 2011

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Benjamin Franklin

“History will also afford frequent Opportunities of showing the Necessity of a Publick Religion, from its Usefulness to the Publick; the Advantage of a Religious Character among private Persons; the Mischiefs of Superstition, &c. and the Excellency of the Christian Religion above all others antient or modern.”

“History will also give Occasion to expatiate on the Advantage of Civil Orders and Constitutions, how Men and their Properties are protected by joining in Societies and establishing Government; their Industry encouraged and rewarded, Arts invented, and Life made more comfortable: The Advantages of Liberty, Mischiefs of Licentiousness, Benefits arising from good Laws and a due Execution of Justice. Thus may the first Principles of sound Politicks be fix’d in the Minds of Youth.”

“The good Education of Youth has been esteemed by wise Men in all Ages, as the surest Foundation of the Happiness both of private Families and of Common-wealths – Almost all Governments have therefore made it a principal Object of their Attention, to establish and endow with proper Revenues, such Seminaries of Learning, as might supply the succeeding Age with Men qualified to serve the Publick with Honour to themselves, and to their Country.”

Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pensilvania, pamphlet published in Philadelphia, 1749; The Writings of Benjamin Franklin: Philadelphia, Volume II: 1726 – 1757


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Dr. Benjamin Rush

“The principle of patriotism stands in need of the reinforcement of prejudice, and it is well known that our strongest prejudices in favor of our country are formed in the first one and twenty years of our lives. The policy of the Lacedamonians is well worthy of our imitation.”

“Our schools of learning, by producing one general and uniform system of education, will render the mass of the people more homogeneous and thereby fit them more easily for uniform and peaceable government.”

“In order more effectually to secure to our youth the advantages of a religious education, it is necessary to impose upon them the doctrines and discipline of a particular church. Man is naturally an ungovernable animal, and observations on particular societies and countries will teach us that when we add the restraints of ecclesiastical to those of domestic and civil government, we produce in him the highest degrees of order and virtue.”

“Let our pupil be taught that he does not belong to himself, but that he is public property. Let him be taught to love his family, but let him be taught at the same time that he must forsake and even forget them when the welfare of his country requires it.”

“To obviate the inconveniences of their studious and sedentary mode of life, they should live upon a temperate diet, consisting chiefly of broths, milk, and vegetables. The black broth of Sparta and the barley broth of Scotland have been alike celebrated for their beneficial effects upon the minds of young people.”

“In the education of youth, let the authority of our masters be as absolute as possible. The government of schools like the government of private families should be arbitrary, that it may not be severe. By this mode of education, we prepare our youth for the subordination of laws and thereby qualify them for becoming good citizens of the republic. I am satisfied that the most useful citizens have been formed from those youth who have never known or felt their own wills till they were one and twenty years of age, and I have often thought that society owes a great deal of its order and happiness to the deficiencies of parental government being supplied by those habits of obedience and subordination which are contracted at schools.”

“From the observations that have been made it is plain that I consider it as possible to convert men into republican machines. This must be done if we expect them to perform their parts properly in the great machine of the government of the state.”

Thoughts Upon the Mode of Education Proper in A Republic, 1786; American Political Writing During the Founding Era: 1760-1805, ed. Charles S. Hyneman and Donald Lutz (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1983). 2 vols. Volume 1, A Plan for the Establishment of Public Schools and the Diffusion of Knowledge in Pennsylvania; to Which Are Added, Thoughts upon the Mode of Education, Proper in a Republic

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Alexander Hamilton

“The safety of a republic depends essentially on the energy of a common national sentiment; on a uniformity of principles and habits; on the exemption of the citizens from foreign bias and prejudice; and on that love of country which will almost invariably be found to be closely connected with birth, education, and family.” – The Examination,” No. VII-IX, 1802; The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Harold C. Syrett (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961), 25:491-501

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Noah Webster

“For this reason society requires that the education of youth should be watched with the most scrupulous attention. Education, in a great measure, forms the moral characters of men, and morals are the basis of government. Education should therefore be the first care of a legislature; not merely the institution of schools, but the furnishing of them with the best men for teachers. A good system of education should be the first article in the code of political regulations; for it is much easier to introduce and establish an effectual system for preserving morals, than to correct by penal statutes the ill effects of a bad system. The goodness of a heart is of infinitely more consequence to society than an elegance of manners; nor will any superficial accomplishments repair the want of principle in the mind. It is always better to be vulgarly right than politely wrong…. The education of youth [is] an employment of more consequence than making laws and preaching the gospel, because it lays the foundation on which both law and gospel rest for success.” – Noah Webster, Schoolmaster to America, H. R. Warfel, (New York: Octagon Press, 1966), pp. 181-182; see also Faith of Our Founding Fathers, Tim LaHaye, (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, Publishers, Inc., 1987), pp. 76-77

“In our American republics, where [government] is in the hands of the people, knowlege should be universally diffused by means of public schools – Of such consequence is it to society, that the people who make laws, should be well informed, that I conceive no Legislature can be justified in neglecting proper establishments for this purpose. … When I speak of a diffusion of knowlege, I do not mean merely a knowlege of spelling books, and the New Testament. An acquaintance with ethics, and with the general principles of law, commerce, money and government, is necessary for the yeomanry of a republican state. This acquaintance they might obtain by means of books calculated for schools, and read by the children, during the winter months, and by the circulation of public papers.” – On the Education of Youth in America, Epilogue: Securing the Republic, 1788; A Collection of Essays and Fugitive Writings on Moral, Historical, Political and Literary Subjects, Boston, 1790; reprint. Delmar, N.Y.: Scholars’ Facsimiles & Reprints, 1977

“Discipline our youth in early life in sound maxims of moral, political, and religious duties.” –Preface to his first Dictionary published April 14, 1828; American Dictionary of the English Language (reprinted San Francisco: Foundation for American Christian Education, 1967), Preface, p. 22

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Abigail Adams

“If you complain of neglect of education in sons, what shall I say with regard to daughters, who every day experience the want of it? With regard to the education of my own children, I find myself soon out of my depth, and destitute and deficient in every part of education. . . . I most sincerely wish that some more liberal plan might be laid and executed for the benefit of the rising generation, and that our new constitution may be distinguished for learning and virtue. If we mean to have heroes, statesmen and philosophers, we should have learned women. The world perhaps would laugh at me, and accuse me of vanity, but you I know have a mind too enlarged and liberal to disregard the sentiment. If much depends as is allowed upon the early education of youth and the first principals which are instilled take the deepest root, great benefit must arise from literary accomplishments in women.” – Letter to John Adams, August 14, 1776; Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive, Massachusetts Historical Society

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Samuel Adams

“It has been observed, that ‘education has a greater influence on manners, than human laws can have.’ Human laws excite fears and apprehensions, least crimes committed may be detected and punished: But a virtuous education is calculated to reach and influence the heart, and to prevent crimes.” – Address to the Legislature of Massachusetts, January 17, 1794

“If we continue to be a happy people, that happiness must be assured by the enacting and executing of reasonable and wise laws, expressed in the plainest language, and by establishing such modes of education as tend to inculcate in the minds of youth, the feelings and habits of “piety, religion and morality,” and to lead them to the knowledge and love of those truly Republican principles upon which our civil institutions are founded.” – Address to the Legislature of Massachusetts, January 16, 1795

“As Piety, Religion and Morality have a happy influence on the minds of men, in their public as well as private transactions, you will not think it unseasonable, although I have frequently done it, to bring to your remembrance the great importance of encouraging our University, town schools, and other seminaries of education, that our children and youth while they are engaged in the pursuit of useful science, may have their minds impressed with a strong sense of the duties they owe to their God, their instructors and each other, so that when they arrive to a state of manhood, and take a part in any public transactions, their hearts having been deeply impressed in the course of their education with the moral feelings – such feelings may continue and have their due weight through the whole of their future lives.” – Address to the Legislature of Massachusetts, January 30, 1797


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George Washington

“The best means of forming a manly, virtuous, and happy people will be found in the right education of youth. Without this foundation, every other means, in my opinion, must fail.” – Letter to George Chapman, December 15, 1784; The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources 1745-1799, Edited by John C. Fitzpatrick (1931-44) Vol. 28

“It has always been a source of serious reflection and sincere regret with me, that the youth of the United States should be sent to foreign countries for the purpose of education. Altho there are doubtless many under these circumstances who escape the danger of contracting principles, unfriendly to republican government; yet we ought to deprecate the hazard attending ardent and susceptible minds, from being too strongly, and too early prepossessed in favor of other political systems, before they are capable of appreciating their own.” – Letter to the Commissioners of the District of Columbia, January 28, 1795; George Washington: A Collection, compiled and edited by W.B. Allen (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1988), Chapter 13

“…let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” – Farewell Address, September 17, 1796; originally published in American Daily Advertiser on September 19, 1796; The Life of George Washington: Special Edition for Schools, Appendix V: Farewell Address, editors Robert Faulkner and Paul Carrese (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000)

“Amongst the motives to such an institution, the assimilation of the principles, opinions, and manners, of our countrymen, by the common education of a portion of our youth from every quarter, well deserves attention. The more homogeneous our citizens can be made in these particulars, the greater will be our prospect of permanent union; and a primary object of such a national institution should be, the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important, and what duty more pressing on its legislature, than to patronize a plan for communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?” – Eighth Annual Message to Congress, December 7, 1796; George Washington: A Collection, compiled and edited by W.B. Allen (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1988), Chapter 11


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John Adams

“They made an early provision by law, that every town consisting of so many families, should be always furnished with a grammar school. They made it a crime for such a town to be destitute of a grammar schoolmaster for a few months, and subjected it to a heavy penalty. So that the education of all ranks of people was made the care and expense of the public, in a manner that I believe has been unknown to any other people ancient or modern.” – A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law, published in the Boston Gazette, August 1765; The Revolutionary Writings of John Adams, Selected and with a Foreword by C. Bradley Thompson, chapter 2 (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000)

“Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially of the lower class of people, are so extremely wise and useful, that, to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.” – Thoughts on Government, 1776; The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams, Volume 4; (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856) 10 volumes

“Wisdom and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties, and as these depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education in the various parts of the country, and among the different orders of people, it shall be the duty of legislators and magistrates to cherish the interest of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries of them.” – Thoughts on Government, Chapter V, Section II: The Encouragement of Literature, 1776; The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams, (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856); 10 volumes, Vol. 4, Chapter: Works on Government


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Thomas Jefferson

“It becomes expedient for promoting the public happiness that those persons whom nature hath endowed with genius and virtue shall be rendered by liberal education worthy to receive, and able to guard, the sacred deposit of the rights and liberties of their fellow citizens; and that they should be called to that charge without regard to wealth, birth, or other accidental condition, or circumstance.” – A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge, Section I, Chapter L XXIV, 1779; The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Federal Edition, Editor: Paul Leicester Ford, (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5) Vol. 2

“This bill proposes to lay off every country into small districts of five or six miles square, called hundreds and in each of them to establish a school for teaching, reading, writing, and arithmetic. The tutor to be supported by the hundred, and every person in it entitled to send their children three years gratis, and as much longer as they please, paying for it. These schools to be under a visitor who is annually to chuse the boy of best genius in the school, of those whose parents are too poor to give them further education, and to send him forward to one of the grammar schools, of which twenty are proposed to be erected in different parts of the country, for teaching Greek, Latin, geography, and the higher branches of numerical arithmetic. Of the boys thus sent in any one year, trial is to be made at the grammar schools one or two years, and the best genius of the whole selected, and continued six years, and the residue dismissed. By this means twenty of the best geniuses will be raked from the rubbish annually, and be instructed, at the public expence, so far as the grammar schools go. At the end of six years instruction, one half are to be discontinued (from among whom the grammar schools will probably be supplied with future masters); and the other half, who are to be chosen for the superiority of their parts and disposition, are to be sent and continued three years in the study of such sciences as they shall chuse, at William and Mary college, the plan of which is proposed to be enlarged, as will be hereafter explained, and extended to all the useful sciences.”

“But of all the views of this law none is more important, none more legitimate, than that of rendering the people the safe, as they are the ultimate guardians of their own liberty. For this purpose the reading in the first stage, where they will receive their whole education, is proposed, as has been said, to be chiefly historical. History by apprising them of the past will enable them to judge of the future; it will avail them of the experience of other times and other nations; it will qualify them as judges of the actions and designs of men; it will enable them to know ambition under every disguise it may assume; and knowing it, to defeat its views.”

“In every government on earth is some trace of human weakness, some germ of corruption and degeneracy, which cunning will discover, and wickedness insensibly open, cultivate, and improve. Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves therefore are its only safe depositories. And to render even them safe their minds must be improved to a certain degree. This indeed is not all that is necessary, though it be essentially necessary. An amendment of our constitution must here come in aid of the public education. The influence over government must be shared among all the people. If every individual which composes their mass participates of the ultimate authority, the government will be safe; because the corrupting the whole mass will exceed any private resources of wealth: and public ones cannot be provided but by levies on the people. In this case every man would have to pay his own price.”

Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XIV: the Administration of Justice and the Description of the Laws, 1781; The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Federal Edition, Editor: Paul Leicester Ford, (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5) Vol. 4

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“Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. Enable them to see that it is their interest to preserve peace and order, and they will preserve them. And it requires no very high degree of education to convince them of this. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty. After all, it is my principle that the will of the majority should prevail.”

“Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to; convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty.”

– Letter to James Madison, December 20, 1787; The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Federal Edition, Editor: Paul Leicester Ford, (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5) Vol. 5

“Education is here placed among the articles of public care, not that it would be proposed to take its ordinary branches out of the hands of private enterprise, which manages so much better all the concerns to which it is equal; but a public institution can alone supply those sciences which, though rarely called for, are yet necessary to complete the circle, all the parts of which contribute to the improvement of the country, and some of them to its preservation.” – Sixth Annual Message, December 2, 1806; The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Federal Edition, Editor: Paul Leicester Ford, (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5). Vol. 10

“To all of which is added a selection from the elementary schools of subjects of the most promising genius, whose parents are too poor to give them further education, to be carried at the public expense through the college and university – The object is to bring into action that mass of talents which lies buried in poverty in every country, for want of the means of development, and thus give activity to a mass of mind, which, in proportion to our population, shall be double or treble of what it is in most countries.” – Letter to Jose Correa de Serra, November 25, 1817; Thoughts From Our Founding Fathers,” B.A. Brooks (2009)

“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 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, Monticello, September 28, 1820; The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Federal Edition, Editor: Paul Leicester Ford, (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5) Vol. 12

“The truth is, that the want of common education with us is not from our poverty, but from want of an orderly system. More money is now paid for the education of a part, than would be paid for that of the whole, if systematically arranged.” – Letter to Joseph C. Cabell, Poplar Forest, November 28, 1820; The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Federal Edition, Editor: Paul Leicester Ford, (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5). Vol. 12

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James Madison

“If Congress can employ money indefinitely to the general welfare, and are the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare, they may take the care of religion into their own hands; they may appoint teachers in every State, county and parish and pay them out of their public treasury; they may take into their own hands the education of children, establishing in like manner schools throughout the Union; they may assume the provision of the poor; they may undertake the regulation of all roads other than post-roads; in short, everything, from the highest object of state legislation down to the most minute object of police, would be thrown under the power of Congress…. Were the power of Congress to be established in the latitude contended for, it would subvert the very foundations, and transmute the very nature of the limited Government established by the people of America.” – Letter to Edmund Pendleton, January 21, 1792; Letters and Other Writings of James Madison, (1865), Volume I, page 546

The Federalist Papers: America’s Political Classic

September 9, 2011

Dr. Quentin Taylor, Resident Scholar Liberty Fund, Inc. Indianapolis, Indiana

The joint work of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, The Federalist papers were written to defend and explain the recently drafted Federal Constitution, and promote its ratification in the state of New York. Published seriatim in New York City newspapers from October 1787 to August 1788, the eighty-five essays appeared under the pseudonym “Publius,” a legendary founder of the Roman republic and “friend of the people.” If measured by the large majority of Antifederalists elected to the New York ratifying convention, the project was not a success in its immediate aim. Once the Constitution was adopted, however, the papers – collected and bound – were soon recognized as a tour de force of political reasoning and elevated to the status of a classic. George Washington correctly predicated that The Federalist would “merit the notice of posterity,” while Thomas Jefferson called it “the best commentary on the principles of government which was ever written.” More than two centuries later, it is still regarded as the leading commentary on the Constitution and America’s greatest contribution to political science.

Origins and Authors

The idea for The Federalist originated with Alexander Hamilton, who tapped fellow New Yorker John Jay and Virginia congressman James Madison as collaborators. Jay was the senior member of the team in years and experience, having served as president of the Continental Congress, envoy to the peace talks that ended the War of Independence, and secretary for foreign affairs under the Articles of Confederation. Madison had served on a number of important committees in Congress and was among the leaders of the movement to strengthen the national government. His prominent role at the Federal Convention subsequently earned him the (somewhat misleading) title of “Father of the Constitution.” Hamilton had also been a delegate to the Convention, but his ultranationalist views and irregular attendance limited his influence. Like Madison, he had been an early and persistent advocate of a stronger central government. At the abortive Annapolis Convention (October 1786), the two co-authored a statement calling for a convention of states to take up the issue of constitutional reform. In late February 1787, following Shays’ Rebellion, Congress authorized delegates of the states to meet at Philadelphia in May to “revise and amend” the Articles of Confederation. While the Convention went well beyond its mandate, neither Madison nor Hamilton was fully satisfied with the document they signed on September 17, 1787. Both, however, vowed to work for its adoption as the best plan that could be obtained under the circumstances.

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The Plan and the Premise

Prompted by growing attacks on the Constitution in the New York press, Publius laid out an ambitious plan for a comprehensive response in the first number of The Federalist. The question before the American people entailed “nothing less than the existence of the UNION” and “the fate of an empire.” America’s unique experiment in republican government had reached a critical juncture, and a wrong decision was likely to end in disunion and disaster. According to Publius, the outcome would not only determine the destiny of the United States, but answer the larger question raised by the American Revolution: “whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice”?

With the stakes so high Publius shunned the pose of impartiality, and openly declared his “opinion [that] it is your interest to adopt [the Constitution] … as the safest course for your liberty, your dignity, and your happiness.” Aware that such a momentous question affecting so many interests was bound to unleash “a torrent of angry and malignant passions,” he pledged to provide a candid and fair appraisal of the Constitution and answer the numerous objections of its opponents. As a self-styled patriotic voice of reason, Publius sets out six broad propositions the papers aim to establish: “[1] The utility of the UNION to your political prosperity – [2] The insufficiency of the present Confederation to preserve that Union – [3] The necessity of a government at least equally energetic with the one proposed, to be attainment of this object – [4] the conformity of the proposed Constitution to the true principles of republican government – [5] Its analogy to your own State constitution — and lastly, [6] The additional security which its adoption will afford to the preservation of that species of government, to liberty, and to property.”

These divisions provide the basic structure for The Federalist and embody its principal conclusions. Brief headings added to each paper in the first collected edition identify the more specific topics addressed. For all its length and detail, however, the arguments in The Federalist are guided by two basic assumptions: (1) that the rejection of the Constitution would almost inevitably result in disunion and an end to the republican experiment, and (2) that nothing short of the government proposed could preserve the Union, and with it the safety and liberty of the American people. The prospect that the nation could survive under the Articles of Confederation (or a strengthened version thereof) is simply not entertained by Publius. He suggests it would be more likely for the union to dissolve into two or more rival confederacies.

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The Promise of Union

The stark nature of this either/or scenario is most evident in the early numbers of The Federalist, where disunion is viewed as the prologue to foreign intrigue, military establishments, and civil war. Jay, the author of numbers 2 through 5, underscored the natural bases of American union, the “dangers of foreign influence & force,” and the advantages of a strong bond. (Jay would fall ill in the early stages of the project and only contribute one more paper.) In numbers 6 through 8, Hamilton drew upon history to illustrate the gloomy prospects of a disunited America.

Paper nine, also by Hamilton, was the first to address a major criticism of the Constitution and defend a leading principal upon which it was based. Early in the ratification debate, Antifederalists had invoked the respected Montesquieu to challenge the feasibility of establishing a republic over a large territory. Turning the argument on its head, Hamilton drew upon the same thinker to show that a “confederate republic” is not only possible over an extended territory, but is particularly suited to quelling the peculiar vices of popular government – domestic faction and insurrection. This was one of those advances in the “science of politics” – the reconciliation of “energetic” government with an extended republic – that rendered the “gloomy sophisms” of the critics obsolete.

Popular Tyranny and the Extended Republic

The focus on faction, and particularly majority faction, as the bane of popular government is the subject of number 10, Madison’s first contribution to The Federalist. Faction has many causes, but its most prominent and perennial source is the “various and unequal distribution of property,” which arises from the “diversity in the faculties of men …”(Madison’s assertion that “[t]he protection of these faculties is the first function of government,” provides a glimpse into what some modern scholars have called the class-based assumptions underlying the Constitution.) Since the tendency to faction is “sown in the nature of man,” it can only be eradicated at the cost of destroying liberty. Controlling its effects, rather than eliminating its causes, is the only course of action consistent with public liberty. Accordingly, “[t]he regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern Legislation.” Like Hamilton’s reversal of Montesquieu, Madison’s assertion that this task “involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of Government” was at odds with prevailing republican theory, which viewed the discernment of the public good, rather than the regulation of clashing interests, as the hallmark of statesmanship. In practice, however, the extended republic embodied in the Constitution will provide a check against majority tyranny as well as a mechanism for securing the public good.

On one hand, a large territory will encourage a multiplicity of interests –religious, political, economic – none of which will likely constitute a majority of the whole. If an unjust majority did form, great distances and other barriers will make acting in concert on a large scale difficult. On the other hand, the large electoral districts from which the people, directly or indirectly, select their representatives will enhance the prospect of choosing “fit characters” for national office. In conjunction with federalism – “the great and aggregate interests being referred to the national, the local and particular, to the state legislatures” – an extended republic promises to supply “a Republican remedy for the diseases most incident to Republican Government.”

In numbers 11 through 13, Publius outlines the advantages of a firm union in terms of foreign commerce, revenue, and overall economy. A united people and a respectable navy will work to secure the nation’s commercial interests, while revenue derived from duties on imports will reduce the need for more direct and unpopular forms of taxation. Finally, the support of a single national government will prove more economical and less burdensome than maintaining two or three separate confederacies. The fourteenth paper, which concludes the first section, provides additional arguments for the extended republic, including improvements in transportation and communication. Publius ends with a rousing appeal to his “fellow countryman,” who should reject the “unhallowed language” of disunion and trust to “their own good sense, the knowledge of their own situation, and the lessons of their own experience.” While The Federalist is often approached as a work of constitutional theory, such passages reflect the rhetorical idiom and partisan context in which it was written.

The Articles of Confederation: Defects and Dangers

In the second division (Nos. 15-22), Publius catalogues the fatal defects of the Articles of Confederation. Foremost among these is the “great and radical vice” of a Congress that could legislate for the states, but left the individual untouched. Moreover, Congress had no power to directly tax or regulate commerce, nor the means of enforcing its laws. As a result, the states had repeatedly defied or evaded its measures to the point of national paralysis and disintegration. Like past and present confederacies whose central authority lacked the basic attributes of sovereignty, the Articles embodied the “political monster of imperium in imperio,” a government within a government.

In addition to these “fundamental errors,” Publius judges the Articles defective on a number of other counts. An equal vote for each state regardless of size, a supermajority for important legislation, and unanimity for amendments had proved unfair and unworkable. A unicameral legislature and the absence of an independent judiciary or executive were at variance with separation of powers and wholly unsuited to responsible governance. governing the nation. Finally, the Articles, adopted by the regular state legislatures, lacked a firm foundation in the consent of the American people. For these reasons it was necessary to scrap the Articles altogether and frame a constitution on entirely different principles.

The nature of these principles, and their necessity for an enduring union, is the subject of the third section of papers (Nos. 23-36). Here Publius defends the Constitution’s provisions for an unlimited power of taxation and a peacetime military establishment on the grounds that “the means ought to be proportioned to the ends.” Given the responsibilities assigned the national government, and the incalculable nature of its future needs, a limitation on the taxing power or a prohibition on standing armies would prove impractical and improvident. Publius reminds Antifederalist critics that the states will possess a concurrent power to tax (except on imports and exports) and retain authority over its principal source of revenue (land tax). Conversely, civilian control of the military, the sentiments of the local militias, and the natural vigilance of the states will serve as a bulwark against the unlikely threat of military despotism.

The Composite Republic: “Neither Wholly Federal Nor Wholly National”

The remaining essays veer from the plan outlined in Federalist No. 1, but the remaining propositions are thoroughly canvassed. First, Publius pauses to reflect on the many difficulties faced by the Framers, and expose the petty and incoherent objections of the Constitution’s opponents. A more substantive objection – that the Constitution deviates from republican principles and creates a consolidated government – is addressed in number 39. Since the government “derives all its powers directly or indirectly from great body of the people, and is administered by persons holding their offices … for a limited period, or during good behavior,” it is fully consistent with republican principles. Alternatively, an examination of the sources, operation, and extent of the government’s powers reveals not a consolidated or unitary system, but a mixture of national (unitary) and federal (confederal) elements. This hybrid quality, “neither wholly federal nor wholly national,” is also apparent in the Constitution’s measures for ratification and amendment.

In numbers 41 through 46, Publius defends the specific powers granted Congress and argues that they are neither dangerous to the authority of the states nor a threat to the liberties of the people. Fear that the “necessary and proper” clause (granting Congress authority to carry out its delegated powers) would result in a general power to legislate is dismissed as chimerical: such authority, Publius maintains, is implicit in any system of delegated powers. Moreover, these powers are “few and defined,” while those left to the states are “numerous and indefinite.” Should the national government attempt to encroach upon the jurisdiction of the states, the latter will have ample means to resist. At bottom, however, the national and state governments will be “but different agents and trustees of the people, constituted with different powers and designed for different purposes.”

Separation of Powers: Safeguard from Tyranny

The charge that the Constitution’s arrangement of the three branches of government violates the principle of separation of powers is addressed and refuted in numbers 47 through 51. Publius notes that a complete separation of powers is neither wise nor possible. Checks and balances and the unity of government necessitate that each branch be given a role in the operation of the others. Like the state constitutions, the proposed plan creates three separate branches of government, but integrates their functions. Each branch exercises exclusive powers, which include the power of checking the other. Given the tendency of the legislative power to predominate in a republic, the Constitution divides the Congress into an upper and lower chamber, providing an additional safeguard against untoward legislation.

For Publius, the dilemma lies not in the division of the three branches, but in keeping them separate. He rejects plans that would go outside the normal operation of the system to correct its abuses as impractical and destabilizing. Nor should one rely on the “parchment barriers” of a written constitution. The solution must be intrinsic to the system and link human motivation to institutional dynamics. “The only answer,” Madison writes in number 51, consists in “contriving the interior structure of the government as that its several constituent parts may, by their mutual relations, be the means of keeping each other in their proper places.” To defend against encroachments each branch most possess “the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist.” Since these motives will invariably be less than angelic, the means of defense must be “commensurate to the danger of attack.” Hence the Constitution’s elaborate system of checks and balances. Just as the extended republic will obstruct the formation of a tyrannical majority, separation of powers will block the establishment of a tyrannical government. The further division of powers at the state level provides a “double security” for “the rights of the people.”

The Legislative Branch: House and Senate

Objections to the proposed House of Representatives and the regulation of elections are answered in numbers 52 through 61. Antifederalists maintained that the sixty-five representatives elected to the first Congress would be (1) too far removed from the people to serve the public interest, (2) drawn for districts too large to have an adequate knowledge of conditions, and (3) too few in number to be trusted with power. Publius maintains the number is a reasonable mean: large enough to prevent a cabal, but small enough to avoid a mob. As the population increases, the number of representatives will be raised to a level consistent with the body’s deliberative function. On matters of national concern, the legislators will possess sufficient information to adequately represent the interests of their constituents. Elections every two years will ensure that representatives remain accountable to the people.

In addition to these considerations, the Senate – the focus of papers 62 through 66 – will serve as a check on the lower house and introduce a necessary degree of moderation and stability into the legislative councils. By virtue of indirect election and a longer (and staggered) term of office, the Senate will possess greater permanence and supply ballast to the ship of state, a judgment supported by the histories of governments with an upper house. These qualities make the Senate the proper depository of the power to confirm presidential appointments, ratify treaties, and try impeachments. Far from a violation of the separation of powers, this “partial intermixture” is necessary for maintaining independence, checking unwise measures, and moderating policy.

The Presidency: An Energetic Executive

Just as Publius defends the Senate against the charge that it was too “aristocratic,” he rejects the claim that the proposed chief executive resembled an “elected king.” If the president’s powers are formidable and subject to abuse, they are also limited and subject to a check. In papers 67 through 77, Publius surveys the structure and powers of the president and underscores the need for “energy” in the executive branch, which he considers “a leading character in the definition of good government.” The president is given the power to appoint and removal officials and to make treaties, but only with the senate’s approval. (The first Congress interpreted the removal clause to vest this power solely with the president.) As commander-in-chief, the president will head the military, but the power to declare war is vested in Congress. The Constitution does give the president an exclusive power to grant pardons and reprieves and the power to receive ambassadors, but these are justified by the nature of clemency on one hand and diplomacy of the other. Provisions for impeachment and removal of the president by Congress provide a final check on the abuse of executive power.

Publius identifies the key ingredients of an “energetic” executive as unity, duration, adequate compensation, and a defensive power. Unity in the form of a single executive will allow for “decision, activity, secrecy and dispatch” and provide for the accountability absent in a plural executive. A four-year renewable term is of sufficient duration to fortify the office and maintain the executive’s independence. A prohibition on raising or lowering the president’s salary during his term will cut off a perennial source of undue influence. Finally, the qualified veto will give the executive the means to defend itself against unwarranted attacks and shield society from oppressive or unjust legislation.

The Judiciary: Constitutional Supremacy

The judiciary is the subject of papers 78 through 83. Since it will possess neither “sword nor purse,” Publius characterizes the judicial branch as “least dangerous” to the rights and liberties of the people. The greater danger is for it to come under the influence of the other two branches. To ensure the judiciary’s independence, the Constitution grants judges life tenure during good behavior. Such security will encourage judges to interpret the laws impartially and without fear of political consequences. It will also attract “fit characters” to the federal bench. The provision that judges’ salaries may not be reduced will remove another threat to judicial independence.

Judicial review, the power of the courts to nullify unconstitutional laws, is addressed in number 78. While not mentioned by name in the Constitution, Publius maintains it is implicit in a fundamental law that is superior to ordinary legislation. When such legislation is “contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution” it is the duty of the judiciary to declare it “void.” In response to the argument that this power makes the judiciary superior to the legislature, Publius avers that it makes the will of the people, as embodied in the Constitution, superior to both. Federal courts are essential not merely to protect the Constitution, but to adjudicate disputes between the states and the national government as well as among the states themselves. The need for legal uniformity and finality also requires a national judiciary and a supreme court. The state judiciaries will retain their customary authority, except in the few cases where exclusive jurisdiction is granted the federal courts. Finally, the more specific details of judicial structure (“inferior” courts) and procedure (judicial review of state measures) will be left to Congress.

The Constitution as a Bill of Rights

The penultimate paper defends the absence of a bill of rights in the Constitution, which Publius asserts is itself a bill of rights. In addition to including a number of prohibitions (e.g., ex post fact laws, bills of attainder), the Constitution limits the government to specific grants of power. An enumeration of all the rights and liberties possessed by the people was not only “unnecessary” but potentially “dangerous” in a written constitution. This argument failed to persuade Antifederalists, whose persistence moved leading Federalists to concede that a bill of rights should be added once the Constitution was adopted. In the final paper, Publius rejects the idea of making prior adoption of amendments a condition of ratification as well as calls for a second convention to correct the “errors” of the first. The states may freely offer amendments after ratification and a second convention is no more likely devise a perfect plan than the first. Further delay will only invite disaster and the opportunity to establish a firm union might be lost forever. The adoption of the Constitution in New York, where Hamilton and Jay led its supporters, and in Virginia, where Madison was its chief advocate, ensured that the American experiment in republican government would survive.

Fame and The Federalist

Despite its negligible influence in the ratification debates, The Federalist has endured as a classic of constitutional government and political theory for well over two centuries. As early as 1798 it was cited by the Supreme Court for its insights and authority, a practice which has continued to the present day. It has been translated into a number of languages and widely consulted by constitution-makers and scholars for its treatment of federalism, separation of powers, and judicial review. While of limited relevance to modern constitutional law, it remains unparalleled as an exposition of the American political system in its original understanding.


September 8, 2011


This is an informative post of the Virginia Resolutions of 1798, authored by James Madison. Thanks to Green Mountain Scribes for reminding us of our nation’s history.


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