Introductory quotes from The American Ideal...


There ought to be no New England men, no New Yorker, &c., known on the Continent, but all of us Americans . . .

Christopher Gadsden (Letter to Chas. Garth, after attending the Stamp Act Congress representing S.C., 1765)

The distinctions between Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers, and New Englanders, are no more. I am not a Virginian, but an American.

Patrick Henry (In Continental Congress, 1774)


The name of AMERICAN, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discriminations.

President George Washington, Farewell Address


We are laboring hard to establish in this country principles more and more national and free from all foreign ingredients, so that we may be neither "Greeks nor Trojans," but truly Americans. (Emphasis per the original.)

Alexander Hamilton (Letter to Rufus King, 1796)


What then is the American, this new man? . . . He is an American, who leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds . . . The American is a new man, who acts upon new principles; he must therefore entertain new ideas, and form new opinions. From involuntary idleness, servile dependence, penury, and useless labour, he has passed to toils of a very different nature, rewarded by ample subsistence.--This is an American. (Emphasis per the original.)

J. Hector St. John de Crévecoeur (A French immigrant become a New York farmer; essays, 1782--Letters From An American Farmer)


Patriotism . . . This noble affection which impels us to sacrifice every thing dear, even life itself, to our country . . .

John Hancock (Oration, Boston, March 5, 1774)

The only [worthy] principles of public conduct . . . are to sacrifice estate, ease, health, and applause, and even life, to the sacred calls of his country. These manly sentiments, in private life, make the good citizen; in public life, the patriot and the hero.

James Otis (Statement in Court opposing "Writs of Assistance," 1761)

To a generous mind, the public good, as it is the end of government, so it is also such a noble and excellent one, that the prospect of attaining it will animate the pursuit, and being attained, it will reward the pains. The very name of patriotism is indeed become a jest with some men; which would be much stranger than it is, had not so many others made a jest of the thing, serving their own base and wicked ends, under the pretext and colour of it. But there will be hypocrites in politicks, as well as in religion. Nor ought so sacred a name to fall into contempt, however it may have been prostituted & profaned, to varnish over crimes. And those times are perilous indeed, wherein men shall be only lovers of their own selves, having no concern for the good of the public. Shall we go to the pagans to learn this god-like virtue? Even they can teach it . . . [A Christian lacking patriotism] . . . would be a reproach not only to his religion, a religion of charity and beneficence, but even to our own common nature, as corrupt and depraved as it is. But how much more infamous were this, in persons of public character? in those, on whom the welfare of their country, under providence, immediately depends? (Emphasis per original.)

Rev. Jonathan Mayhew (Election Sermon, 1754)


Patriotism is as much a virtue as justice, and is as necessary for the support of societies as natural affection is for the support of families. The Amor Patriae is both a moral and a religious duty. It comprehends not only the love of our neighbors but of millions of our fellow creatures, not only of the present but of future generations. This virtue we find constitutes a part of the first characters of history.

Dr. Benjamin Rush (An essay, 1773)

The true patriot therefore, will enquire into the causes of the fears and jealousies of his countrymen; and if he finds they are not groundless, he will be far from endeavoring to allay or stifle them: On the contrary, constrain'd by the Amor Patriae, and from public views, he will by all proper means in his power foment and cherish them: He will, as far as he is able, keep the attention of his fellow citizens awake to their grievances; and not suffer them to be at rest, till the causes of their just complaints are removed.--At such a time Philanthrop's Patriot [a King's man] may be "very cautious of charging the want of ability or integrity to those with whom any of the powers of government are entrusted": But the true patriot, will constantly be jealous of those very men: Knowing that power, especially in times of corruption, makes men wanton; that it intoxicates the mind; and unless those with whom it is entrusted, are carefully watched, such is the weakness or the perverseness of human nature, they will be apt to domineer over the people, instead of governing them, according to the known laws of the state, to which alone they have submitted. If he finds, upon the best enquiry, the want of ability or integrity; that is, an ignorance of, or a disposition to depart from, the constitution, which is the measure and rule of government & submission, he will point them out, and loudly proclaim them: He will stir up the people, incessantly to complain of such men, till they are either reform'd, or remov'd from that sacred trust, which it is dangerous for them any longer to hold.-- (Emphasis per original.)

Samuel Adams (Essay in Boston Gazette, 1771)


Be it remembered, however, that liberty must at all hazards be supported . . . cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people . . . And the preservation of the means of knowledge among the lowest ranks, is of more importance to the public than all the property of all the rich men in the country.

John Adams ("A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law," 1765)

I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.

Thomas Jefferson (Letter to Win. C. Jarvis, 1820)

A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

James Madison (Letter to W. T. Barry, 1822)

Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness. In one in which the measures of Government receive their impression so immediately from the sense of the Community as in ours it is proportionably essential. To the security of a free Constitution it contributes in various ways: By convincing those who are intrusted with the public administration, that every valuable end of Government is best answered by the enlightened confidence of the people: and by teaching the people themselves to know and to value their own rights; to discern and provide against invasions of them; to distinguish between oppression and the necessary exercise of lawful authority; between burthens proceeding from a disregard to their convenience and those resulting from the inevitable exigencies of Society; to discriminate the spirit of Liberty from that of licentiousness, cherishing the first, avoiding the last, and uniting a speedy, but temperate vigilance against encroachments, with an inviolable respect to the Laws.

President George Washington (First Annual Message to Congress, 1790)


If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.

Thomas Jefferson (Letter to Chas. Yancey, 1816)

It [education] is favourable to liberty. Freedom can exist only in the society of knowledge. Without learning, men are incapable of knowing their rights, and where learning is confined to a few people, liberty can be neither equal nor universal.

Dr. Benjamin Rush (Essay, 1786)

Although all men are born free, and all nations might be so, yet too true it is, that slavery has been the general lot of the human race. Ignorant --- they have been cheated; asleep --- they have been surprized; divided --- the yoke has been forced upon them. But what is the lesson? that because the people may betray themselves, they ought to give themselves up, blindfold, to those who have an interest in betraying them? Rather conclude that the people ought to be enlightened, to be awakened, to be united, that after establishing a government they should watch over it, as well as obey it. (Emphasis per original.)

James Madison (Essay: "Who Are the Best Keepers of the People's Liberties?" 1792)

[Effective resistance to usurpers possible only] provided the citizens understand their rights and are disposed to defend them.*

[Safeguards of Liberty are just and constitutional laws] and above all the vigilant and manly spirit which actuates the people of America, a spirit which nourishes freedom, and in return is nourished by it.**

The Federalist (*No. 28 by Alexander Hamilton; **No. 57 by James Madison)


Though, when a people shall have become incapable of governing themselves and fit for a master, it is of little consequence from what quarter he comes.

George Washington (Letter to Lafayette, 1788)

 . . . the powers reserved by the people [under the Constitution] render them secure, and, until they themselves become corrupt, they will always have upright and able rulers. I give my assent to the Constitution ....

John Hancock (Massachusetts Ratifying Convention, 1788)

[I] . . · believe farther that this [new government under the Constitution] is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other.

Benjamin Franklin (In the Framing Convention, 1787)

With money we will get men, said Caesar, and with men we will get money. Nor should our assembly [the Virginia Legislature] be deluded by the integrity of their own purposes, and conclude that these unlimited powers will never be abused, because themselves are not disposed to abuse them. They should look forward to a time, and that not a distant one, when a corruption in this, as in the country from which we derive our origin [Great Britain], will have seized the heads o! government, and be spread by them through the body of the people; when they will purchase the voices of the people, and make them pay the price. Human nature is the same on every side of the Atlantic, and will be alike influenced by the same causes. The time to guard against corruption and tyranny, is before they shall have gotten hold on us. It is better to keep the wolf out of the fold, than to trust to drawing his teeth and talons after he shall have entered. (Emphasis added.)

Thomas Jefferson ("Notes on the State of Virginia," 1782)


Foresight through hindsight conduces insight.

To fail to learn from history is to be doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.

A maxim

Experience keeps a dear School, but Fools will learn in no other, and scarce in that . . .

Benjamin Franklin (Poor Richard in "The Way to Wealth ') Note:. "dear" meaning costly

Experience is the oracle of truth; and where its responses are unequivocal, they ought to be conclusive and sacred

The Federalist (No. 20, by Madison)

I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past.

Patrick Henry (Address in the second Virginia Convention, 1775)

 . . . forty years of experience in government is worth a century of book-reading . . .

Thomas Jefferson (Letter to Samuel Kercheval, 1816)

Experience is a severe preceptor, but it teaches useful truths, and however harsh, is always honest.--- Be calm and dispassionate, and listen to what it tells us.

Chief Justice of New York John Jay (Address to People of N.Y. State, 1788)

. . . experience is the surest standard, by which to test the real tendency of the existing Constitution of a country; that facility in changes upon the credit of mere hypotheses and opinion exposes to perpetual change, from the endless variety of hypotheses and opinion...

President George Washington, Farewell Address


To be free, Man must have and exercise freedom of choice Based on knowledge, understanding, of the alternatives, Which he must be at liberty to help conceive, create, In order to make freedom of choice most beneficial.


. . . truth is great and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.

Virginia Statute of Religious Liberty, 1786


It has been frequently remarked, that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend, for their political constitutions, on accident and force.

The Federalist (No. 1, by Alexander Hamilton)


But I go on this great republican principle, that the people will have virtue and intelligence to select men of virtue and wisdom. Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks--no form of government can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea. If there be sufficient virtue and intelligence in the community, it will be exercised in the selection of these men. So that we do not depend on their virtue, or put confidence in our rulers, but in the people who are to choose them.

James Madison (Virginia Ratifying Convention, 1788) ("republican" means: of a republic)


A people must, from time to time, refresh themselves at the well-springs of their origin, lest they perish.

(An adage)


Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair. The event is in the hand of God.

George Washington (In the Framing Convention, 1787)


That no free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people, but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.

Virginia Declaration of Rights, 1776

A frequent recurrence to the fundamental principles of the constitution, and a constant adherence to those of piety, justice, moderation, temperance, industry and frugality, are absolutely necessary to preserve the advantages of liberty, and to maintain a free government.

Massachusetts Bill of Rights, 1780

Our conflict is not likely to cease so soon as every good Man would wish. The measure of iniquity is not yet filled; and unless we can return a little more to first principles, and act a little more upon patriotic ground, I do not know when it will, or, what may be the Issue of the contest . . . many melancholy proofs of the decay of public virtue . . . [are evident; the British boast] . . . that we shall be our own conquerers. Cannot our common Country Am. [America], possess virtue enough to disappoint them? . . . Our cause is noble, it is the cause of Mankind! and the danger to it, is to be apprehended from ourselves.

George Washington (Letter to James Warren, 1779)