The Founders on Elections and Politics

As we near the November 8 election, I thought I’d share some interesting and relevant quotations from the Founding generation on elections and politics –

(1) “Whenever politics are applied to debauch mankind from their integrity and dissolve the virtue of human nature, they become detestable; and to be a statesman on this plan, is to be commissioned a villain. He who aims at it, leaves a vacancy in his character, which may be filled up with the worst epithets.” – Thomas Paine

(2) “An auxiliary desideratum for the melioration of the Republican form is such a process of elections as will most certainly extract from the mass of the Society the purest and noblest characters which it contains; such as will at once feel most strongly the proper motives to pursue the end of their appointment, and be most capable to devise the proper means of attaining it.” – James Madison, Vices of the Political System of the United States (1787)

(3) “After all, Sir we must submit to this idea, that the true principe of a republic is that the people should choose whom they please to govern them. Representation is imperfect in proportion as the current of popular favor is checked. This great source of free government, popular election, should be perfectly pure, and the most unbounded liberty allowed.” – Alexander Hamilton.

(4) “Corruption in Elections has heretofore destroyed all Elective Governments. What Regulations or Precautions may be devised to prevent it in future, I am content with you to leave to Posterity to consider. You and I Shall go to the Kingdom of the just or at least shall be released from the Republick of the Unjust, with Hearts pure and hands clean of all Corruption in Elections: so much I firmly believe. Those who shall introduce the foul Fiend on the Stage, after We are gone must exorcise him as they can.” – John Adams to Thomas Jefferson (April 6, 1796)

(5) “In all free governments, contentions in elections will take place, and, whilst it is confined to our own citizens, it is not to be regretted; but severely indeed ought it to be reprobated, when occasioned by foreign machinations.” – George Washington

(6) “Politics is such a torment than I would advise everyone I love not to mix with it.” -Thomas Jefferson

(7) “When a man assumes a public trust, he should consider himself as public property.” – Thomas Jefferson

(8) “Every man who acts beyond the lien of private life, must expect to pass through two severe examinations. First, as to his motives; secondly, as to his conduct. On the former of these depends his character for honesty; on the latter for wisdom.” – Thomas Paine

(9) “The aim of every political constitution is, or ought to be, first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society; and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous whilst they continue to hold their public trust. The elective mode of obtaining rulers is the characteristic policy of republican government. The means relied on in this form of government for preventing their degeneracy are numerous and various. The most effectual one, is such a limitation of the term of appointments as will maintain a proper responsibility to the people.” – James Madison, Federalist No. 57

(10) “[I]n no case ought the eyes of the people to be shut on the conduct of those entrusted with power; nor their tongues tied from a just wholesome censure on it, any more than from merited commendations. If neither gratitude for the honor of the trust, nor responsibility for the use of it, be sufficient to curb the unruly passions of public functionaries, add new bits to the bridle rather than to take it off altogether. This is the precept of common sense illustrated and enforced by experience — un-controuled power, ever has been, and ever will be administered by the passions more than by reason.” – James Madison, Political Reflections

 

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