Thomas Paine, Patrick Henry & John Adams: Americans Have Always Distrusted Government


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. —Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776

A long and violent abuse of power, is generally the Means of calling the right of it in question. —Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776

We repose an unwise confidence in any government, or in any men, when we invest them officially with too much, or an unnecessary quality of, discretionary power; for though we might clearly confide in almost any man of the present age, yet we ought ever to remember that virtue is not hereditary either in the office or in the person. —Thomas Pain, “A Serious Address to the People of Pennsylvania,” 1778

Real liberty is neither found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments. —Alexander Hamilton, speech to the Constitutional Convention, June 26, 1787

All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree. —James Madison, speech to the Constitutional Convention, July 11, 1787

The good people of the U. States in their late generous contest, contended for free government in the fullest, clearest, and strongest sense. That they had no idea of being brought under despotic rule under the notion of “Strong Government,” or in the form of elective despotism: Chains being still Chains, whether made of gold or iron. The corrupting nature of power, and its insatiable appetite for increase . . . [makes amendments necessary to safeguard natural rights]. —Richard Henry Lee to Samuel Adams, October 1787

The people are the only censors of their governors. —Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington, 1787

It will not be denied that power is of an encroaching nature, and that it ought to be effectually restrained from passing the limits assigned to it. —James Madison, The Federalist Papers, 1788

The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground. —Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington, May 1788

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