Walter E. Williams bio photo

Walter E. Williams

Professor of Economics.
wwilliam@gmu.edu
(703) 993-1148
D158 Mason Hall
Department of Economics
George Mason University

Related Sites:
The homepage of George Mason University.
Homepage of the Department of Economics at GMU.

More Founder's Wisdom

Independence Hall
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  • “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.”
    – Thomas Jefferson, to Archibald Stuart, 1791

  • “I consider the foundation of the [Federal] Constitution as laid on this ground: That “all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States or to the people.” [10th Amendment] To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specifically drawn around the powers of Congress is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible of any definition.”
    – Thomas Jefferson [February 15, 1791] in his opinion on the constitutionality of a national bank

  • “[A] constitution of government once changed from freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.”
    – John Adams, letter to Abigail Adams, 1775

  • “The powers of the federal government are enumerated; it can only operate in certain cases; it has legislative powers on defined and limited objects, beyond which it cannot extend its jurisdiction.”
    – James Madison, speech at Virginia’s Ratifying Convention June 6, 1788

  • “To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.”
    – Thomas Jefferson, letter to Joseph Milligan, 1816

  • “Each State, in ratifying the Constitution, is considered as a sovereign body, independent of all others, and only to be bound by its own voluntary act. In this relation, then, the new Constitution will, if established, be a federal, and not a national constitution.”
    – James Madison, Federalist No. 39, 1788

  • “[W]e still find the greedy hand of government thrusting itself into every corner and crevice of industry, and grasping the spoil of the multitude. Invention is continually exercised, to furnish new pretenses for revenues and taxation. It watches prosperity as its prey and permits none to escape without tribute.”
    – Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, 1791

  • “There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.”
    – John Adams, Notes for an oration at Braintree, 1772

  • “This will be the best security for maintaining our liberties. A nation of well-informed men who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God had given them cannot be enslaved. It is in the religion of ignorance that tyranny begins.”
    – Benjamin Franklin

  • “Government is instituted to protect property of every sort; as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals, as that which the term particularly expresses. This being the end of government, that alone is a just government which impartially secures to every man whatever is his own.”
    – James Madison, National Gazette [March 1792]

  • “It has been objected also against a bill of rights, that, by enumerating particular exceptions to the grant of power, it would disparage those rights which were not placed in that enumeration, and it might follow by implication, that those rights which were not singled out, were intended to be assigned into the hands of the general government, and were consequently insecure. This is one of the most plausible arguments I have ever heard urged against the admission of a bill of rights into this system; but, I conceive, that may be guarded against. I have attempted it, as gentlemen may see by turning to the last clause of the 4th resolution.”
    – James Madison, proposing Bill of Rights to the House, June 8, 1789

  • “The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the atmosphere.”
    – Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Abigail Smith Adams commenting on Shays Rebellion, February 22, 1787

  • “In the end, more than freedom, they wanted security. They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all – security, comfort, and freedom. When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again.”
    – Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

  • “Dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of > virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition.”
    – Thomas Jefferson

  • “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.”
    – Thomas Jefferson

  • “He who dares not offend cannot be honest.”
    – Thomas Paine

  • “Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare but only those specifically enumerated.”
    – Thomas Jefferson

  • “A free people ought not only to be armed but disciplined; to which end a uniform and well digested plan is requisite: And their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories, as tend to render them independent on others, for essential, particularly for military supplies.”
    - George Washington, January 8, 1790, First State of the Union Address

  • “…the opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not, not only for themselves in their own sphere of action but for the Legislature and Executive also in their spheres, would make the Judiciary a despotic branch.”
    – Thomas Jefferson

  • “[T]he powers of the federal government are enumerated; it can only operate in certain cases; it has legislative powers on defined and limited objects, beyond which it cannot extend its jurisdiction.”
    – James Madison, Speech in the Virginia Ratifying Convention [June 6, 1788]

  • “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country”
    – Nathan Hale (Sept 22, 1776, before being executed as a spy by the British)

  • When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.
    – Benjamin Franklin

  • …[T]he government of the United States is a definite government, confined to specified objects. It is not like the state governments, whose powers are more general. Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government.”
    –James Madison

  • “No nation was ever ruined by trade, even seemingly the most disadvantageous.”
    – Benjamin Franklin, Principles of Trade, 1774

  • “Were we directed from Washington when to sow, and when to reap, we should soon want bread.”
    – Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, 1821

  • “Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.”
    – Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776

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

  • “He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”
    – Thomas Paine, Dissertation on First Principles of Government, December 23, 1791

  • “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute.”
    – Representative Robert Goodloe Harper, Address, June 18, 1798 (Harper was the Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means)

  • “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it.”
    – Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, No. 4, September 11, 1777

  • “The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If ‘Thou shalt not covet’ and ‘Thou shalt not steal’ were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society before it can be civilized or made free.”
    – John Adams, A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, 1787

  • “To be prepared for war, is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.”
    – George Washington, First Annual Message, January 8, 1790

  • “The fundamental article of my political creed is that despotism, or unlimited sovereignty, or absolute power, is the same in a majority of a popular assembly, an aristocratic council, an oligarchical junto, and a single emperor.”
    – John Adams, Letter to Thomas Jefferson [November 13, 1815]

  • The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.
    – Thomas Jefferson

  • “One single object. . . [will merit] the endless gratitude of the society: that of restraining the judges from usurping legislation.”
    – Thomas Jefferson, letter to Edward Livingston, March 25, 1825

  • “Remember democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”
    – John Adams, letter to John Taylor, April 15, 1814

  • “To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.”
    – Thomas Jefferson, letter to Joseph Milligan, April 6, 1816

  • “I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it.” – Benjamin Franklin, On the Price of Corn and Management of the Poor, November 1776 “The majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime, abuses its strength, and by acting on the law of the strongest breaks up the foundations of society.”
    – Thomas Jefferson

  • “[The purpose of a written constitution is] to bind up the several branches of government by certain laws, which, when they transgress, their acts shall become nullities; to render unnecessary an appeal to the people, or in other words a rebellion, on every infraction of their rights, on the peril that their acquiescence shall be construed into an intention to surrender those rights.”
    – Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia [1782]

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