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The Founding Fathers on Freedom

“Whether we talk about Columbus, or the Pilgrim Fathers, or the First Thanksgiving, or the American Revolution, it seemed like God’s guiding hand was upon this nation.”


The American experiment was one of the great chapters in human history. To found a nation based primarily on the principles of freedom and democracy, and the resistance to tyranny, was all rather unique in human history. Certainly, in terms of its beginnings, we are right to speak of “American exceptionalism.”

And no one studying the founding of this great nation can help but be impressed with how it seemed to be so very providential. Whether we talk about Columbus, or the Pilgrim Fathers, or the First Thanksgiving, or the American Revolution, it seemed like God’s guiding hand was upon this nation. See more on this here for example.

This article is the third in an informal series on freedom – articles that feature great quotes about freedom. Last week I presented a number of great quotes from the important Christian thinker Os Guinness.

And earlier this week I offered a number of inspiring liberty quotes by various folks.

Here I want to present a few key quotes from America’s Founding Fathers. Of course, not everyone that I feature here is exactly a Founding Father – some came later, eg., Lincoln. But all are important early figures in the American Republic and all had terrific things to say about liberty. So here they are in alphabetical order:

John Adams (1735-1826)

“Liberty must at all hazards be supported. We have a right to it, derived from our Maker.”

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

“Without virtue, there can be no political liberty.”

“Statesmen may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand.”

Samuel Adams (1722-1802)

“It does not take a majority to prevail … but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.”

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

“Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.”

“Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.”

“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

“Freedom is not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature.”

Alexander Hamilton (1756-1804)

“Good and wise men, in all ages … have supposed that the Deity, from the relations we stand in to Himself and to each other, has constituted an eternal and immutable law, which is indispensably obligatory upon all mankind, prior to any human institution whatever. Upon this law depend the natural rights of mankind.”

“To be more safe they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free.”

Patrick Henry (1736-1799)

“The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people; it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government – lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.”

“Give me liberty, or give me death!”

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

“Government big enough to supply everything you need is big enough to take everything you have. The course of history shows us that as a government grows, liberty decreases.”

“The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.”

“Freedom is lost gradually from an uninterested, uninformed, and uninvolved people.”

“The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them.”

“When government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.”

“I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”

“My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.”

“The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.”

“The greatest threat to Democracy is unprincipled men spending other people’s money.”

“Can the liberties of a nation be sure when we remove their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people, that these liberties are a gift from God?”

“No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.”

“The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.”

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

“To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”

“I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery.”

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.”

“Freedom is the last, best hope of earth.”

James Madison (1751-1836)

“If men were angels no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”

“I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”

James Monroe (1758-1831)

“How prone all human institutions have been to decay; how subject the best-formed and most wisely organized governments have been to lose their check and totally dissolve; how difficult it has been for mankind, in all ages and countries, to preserve their dearest rights and best privileges, impelled as it were by an irresistible fate of despotism.”

Thomas Paine (1735-1826)

“The American constitutions were to liberty what a grammar is to language: they define its parts of speech and practically construct them into syntax.”

“Some writers have…confounded society with government…[but] Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices…The first is a patron, the last a punisher.”

William Penn (1644-1718)

“If we will not be governed by God, we must be governed by tyrants.”

George Washington (1732-1799)

“If the freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”

“Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

Daniel Webster (1782-1852)

“Liberty exists in proportion to wholesome restraint.”

There are many more such quotes of course. Feel free to add your favourites to this list.

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