Land, as before said, is the free gift of the Creator in common to the human race. Personal property is the effect of Society; and it is as impossible for an individual to acquire personal property without the aid of Society, as it is for him to make land originally. Separate an individual from society, and give him an island or a continent to possess, and he cannot acquire personal property. He cannot become rich. So inseparably are the means connected with the end, in all cases, that where the former do not exist, the latter cannot be obtained. All accumulation therefore of personal property, beyond what a man’s own hands produce, is derived to him by living in society; and he owes, on every principle of justice, of gratitude, and of civilization, a part of that accumulation back again to society from whence the whole came.
Thomas Paine, Agrarian Justice, 1797
It is as much the duty of government to render prompt justice against itself, in favor of citizens, as it is to administer the same, between private individuals.
Abraham Lincoln, Annual Message to Congress, December 3, 1861
Complaints are every where heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty; that our governments are too unstable; that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties; and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice, and the rights of the minor party; but by the superior force of an interested and over-bearing majority.
James Madison, The Federalist No. 10, November 22, 1787
On proposing a progressive tax
The object is not so much the produce of the tax, as the justice of the measure. The aristocracy has screened itself too much, and this serves to restore a part of the lost equilibrium.
Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, Part Two, 1792
Judgment of Death against those Soldiers would have been as foul a Stain upon this Country as the Executions of the Quakers or Witches, anciently. As the Evidence was, the Verdict of the Jury was exactly right.
John Adams, from his diary, March 5, 1773
Adams commenting on the outcome of the trial from the Boston Massacre. He defended the soldiers at the trial. I thought it was interesting to see him call something ancient that happened less than 100 years before.
We now have a National character to establish; and it is of the utmost importance to stamp favourable impressions upon it; let justice then be one of its characteristics, and gratitude another.
George Washington, letter to Theodorick Bland, April 4, 1783
It is much to be wished (but I think a good deal to be doubted) that the States would adopt a liberal and proper line of Conduct for the Government of this Country. It should be founded in justice. prejudices, unreasonable jealousies, and narrow policy should be done away. competent powers for all general purposes should be vested in the Sovereignty of the United States, or Anarchy and Confusion will soon succeed.
George Washington, letter to John Augustine Washington, June 15, 1783
Many Founding Fathers, including Washington, had strong doubts regarding the ability of states to govern with justice and fairness.
It is necessary that we should not lose sight of an important truth, which continually receives new confirmations, namely, that the provisions heretofore made with a view to the protection of the Indians, from the violences of the lawless part of our frontier inhabitants are insufficient. It is demonstrated that these violences can now be perpetrated with impunity. And it can need no argument to prove, that unless the murdering of Indians can be restrained, by bringing the murderers to condign punishment, all the exertions of the government to prevent destructive retaliations, by the Indians, will prove fruitless; and all our present agreeable prospects illusory.
George Washington, Seventh Annual Message to Congress, December 8, 1795
Nice statement, but it went nowhere. Obviously the impunity continued.
If an Indian injures me, does it follow that I may revenge that Injury on all Indians? It is well known that Indians are of different Tribes, Nations, and Languages, as well as the White People. In Europe, if the French, who are White People, should injure the Dutch, are they to revenge it on the English, because they too are White People? The only Crime of these poor Wretches seems to have been, that they had a reddish brown Skin, and black Hair; and some People of that Sort, it seems, had murdered some of our Relations. If it be right to kill Men for such a Reason, then, should any Man, with a freckled Face and red hair, kill a Wife or Child of mine, it would be right for me to revenge it, by killing all the freckled red-haired Men, Women and Children, I could afterwards any where meet with.
Benjamin Franklin, A Narrative of the Late Massacres in Lancaster County, 1764
A principle that still needs to sink into so many people. When?
We are so naturally inclined to give the utmost degree of force to our own case, that we call every pretension, however founded, a right; and by this means the term frequently stands opposed to justice and reason.
Thomas Paine, Public Good, December 30, 1780