I do believe that General Washington had not a firm confidence in the durability of our government. He was naturally distrustful of men, and inclined to gloomy apprehensions; and I was ever persuaded that a belief that we must at length end in something like a British constitution, had some weight in his adoption of the ceremonies of levees, birth-days, pompous meetings with Congress, and other forms of the same character, calculated to prepare us gradually for a change which he believed possible, and to let it come on with as little shock as might be to the public mind.
Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Walter Jones, January 2, 1814
It’s nice to have a computer again after my old one burned up, literally. The ones at the library were okay for some things, but they were so outdated they didn’t work with tumblr.
It is obviously impracticable in the federal government of these States; to secure all rights of independent sovereignty to each, and yet provide for the interest and safety of all - Individuals entering into society, must give up a share of liberty to preserve the rest. The magnitude of the sacrifice must depend as well on situation and circumstance, as on the object to be obtained. It is at all times difficult to draw with precision the line between those rights which must be surrendered, and those which may be reserved; and on the present occasion this difficulty was encreased by a difference among the several States as to their situation, extent, habits, and particular interests.
George Washington, to the Continental Congress, September 17, 1787
When the Constitutional Convention was over, Washington gave this short speech explaining a concept that some people do not understand to this day.
While our country remains untainted with the principles and manners which are now producing desolation in so many parts of the world; while she continues sincere, and incapable of insidious and impious policy, we shall have the strongest reason to rejoice in the local destination assigned us by Providence. But should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation while it is practising iniquity and extravagance, and displays in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candor, frankness, and sincerity, while it is rioting in rapine and insolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world; because 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.
John Adams, letter to Officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts, October 11, 1798
The last two sentences have been greatly abused by the Christian Nation nuts. As is clear from the whole paragraph, Adams simply didn’t believe the government had adequate law enforcement powers if people decided to be a bunch of lawbreakers.
That which is worth following, will be followed for the sake of its worth; and it is in this that its security lies, and not in any conditions with which it may be encumbered. When a man leaves property to his heirs, he does not connect it with an obligation that they shall accept it. Why then should we do otherwise with respect to constitutions?
The best constitution that could now be devised, consistent with the condition of the present moment, may be far short of that excellence which a few years may afford.
Thomas Paine, Rights of Man Part Two, 1792
A constitution, to contain an accurate detail of all the subdivisions of which its great powers will admit, and of all the means by which they may be carried into execution, would partake of the prolixity of a legal code, and could scarcely be embraced by the human mind. It would probably never be understood by the public. Its nature, therefore, requires that only its great outlines should be marked, its important objects designated, and the minor ingredients which compose those objects be deduced from the nature of the objects themselves. That this idea was entertained by the framers of the American constitution, is not only to be inferred from the nature of the instrument, but from the language.
John Marshall, opinion in McCulloch v. Maryland, March 6, 1819
The general tendency of state politics convinced me that no safe and permanent remedy could be found but in a more efficient and better organized general government. The questions too which were perpetually recurring in the state legislatures, and which brought annually into doubt principles which I thought most sacred, which proved that everything was afloat, and that we had no safe anchorage ground, gave a high value in my estimation to that article in the constitution which imposes restrictions on the states.
John Marshall, letter to Joseph Story, July, 1827
Anybody else for more restrictions on the states? Restrictions on engaging in voter suppression, on targeting worker protection laws, on new abortion restrictions?
It is a fact declared by the General Convention, and universally understood, that the Constitution of the United States was the result of a spirit of amity and mutual concession.
George Washington, to the House of Representatives, March 30, 1796
The convention obviously lacked modern wingnuts, who do not allow the word “compromise” to taint their vocabulary.
Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment.
Thomas Jefferson, letter to Samuel Kerchival, 1816