The generation which is going off the stage has deserved well of mankind for the struggles it has made, & for having arrested that course of despotism which had overwhelmed the world for thousands & thousands of years. If there seems to be danger that the ground they have gained will be lost again, that danger comes from the generation your cotemporary. But that the enthusiasm which characterises youth should lift its parricide hands against freedom & science, would be such a monstrous phenomenon as I cannot place among possible things in this age & this country.
Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Green Munford, June 18, 1799
Mr. Gerry never expected to hear in a republic a motion to empower the Executive alone to declare war.
Elbridge Gerry, as recorded in James Madison’s notes on the Constitutional Convention, August 17, 1787
I agree with you that “it is difficult to say at what moment the Revolution began.” In my Opinion it began as early as the first Plantation of the Country. Independence of Church and Parliament was a fixed Principle of our Predecessors in 1620 as it was of Sam. Adams and Chris. Gadsden in 1776. And Independence of Church and Parliament were always kept in View in this Part of the Country and I believe in most others.
John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, May 29, 1818
We have seen the mere distinction of colour made in the most enlightened period of time, a ground of the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man.
James Madison, speech in the Constitutional Convention, June 6, 1787
It would have sounded better if he hadn’t owned slaves himself.
Love your Neighbor; yet don’t pull down your Hedge.
Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1754
The circumstances of the world are continually changing, and the opinions of men change also; and as government is for the living, and not for the dead, it is the living only that have any right in it. That which may be thought right and found convenient in one age, may be thought wrong and inconvenient in another. In such cases, Who is to decide, the living, or the dead?
Thomas Paine, Rights of Man Part 1, 1791
I think vital Religion has always suffer’d, when Orthodoxy is more regarded than Virtue. And the Scripture assures me, that at the last Day, we shall not be examin’d what we thought, but what we did; and our Recommendation will not be that we said Lord, Lord, but that we did GOOD to our Fellow Creatures.
Benjamin Franklin, letter to Josiah and Abiah Franklin, April 13, 1738
A distinction had been set up & urged, between the Northern and Southern States. He [Morris] had hitherto considered this doctrine as heretical. He still thought the distinction groundless. He sees however that it is persisted in, and that the Southern Gentlemen will not be satisfied unless they see the way open to their gaining a majority in the public Councils. ….. Either this distinction is fictitious or real; if fictitious let it be dismissed & let us proceed with due confidence. If it be real, instead of attempting to blend incompatible things, let us at once take a friendly leave with each other.
Gouverneur Morris, as recorded in James Madison’s notes on the Constitutional Convention, July 13, 1787
A “what if” that many have wondered about.
Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus. If it could be understood it would not answer their purpose. Their security is in their faculty of shedding darkness, like the scuttle fish, thro’ the element in which they move, and making it impenetrable to the eye of a pursuing enemy. And there they will skulk, until some rational creed can occupy the void which the obliteration of their duperies would leave in the minds of our honest and unsuspecting brethren.
Thomas Jefferson, letter to Francis van der Kemp, August 6, 1816
According to the pamphlet you sent me, we must all pay, voluntarily or involuntarily, Tithes or Fifths or thirds, or halves, or all we have, to send Bibles and Missionaries, to convert all Men and save their Souls. I am confident that all the property of Europe and America would not be sufficient to convert Asia and Africa. Mankind must have a Crusade, a War of Reformation, a French Revolution, or Anti-Revolution, to amuse them and preserve them from Ennui.
John Adams, letter to Benjamin Waterhouse, December 19, 1815