"Unlike most of the 111 that preceded it, the 112th Congress must begin the process of restoring the national regime and civic culture the Founders bequeathed. This will require reviving the rule of law, reasserting the relevance of the Constitution and affirming the reality of American exceptionalism."
19th Century Quotes on America: Exceptional Founding
"Were we directed from Washington when to sow, & when to reap, we should soon want bread. It is by this partition of cares, descending in gradation from general to particular, that the mass of human affairs may be best managed for the good and prosperity of all. I repeat that I do not charge the judges with wilful and ill-intentioned error; but honest error must be arrested where it’s toleration leads to public ruin. As, for the safety of society, we commit honest maniacs to Bedlam, so judges should be withdrawn from their bench, whose erroneous biases are leading us to dissolution. It may indeed injure them in fame or in fortune; but it saves the republic, which is the first and supreme law."
[T]he Signal of arousing men to burst the chains, under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings & security of self-government. [T]hat form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. [A]ll eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. [T]he general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view. [T]he palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of god. [T]hese are grounds of hope for others. [F]or ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them."
"Scarcely any one has looked at the United States with any other apparent purpose than to find arguments for and against popular government. America has been discussed, as if she were nothing but a democracy: a society, differing from other human societies in no essential point, except the popular character of her institutions. The friends or enemies of parliamentary reform have been more or less in the habit of ascribing to democracy whatever of good or evil they have found or dreamed of in the United States. One class of writers, indeed, the political economists, have taken notice of a second circumstance, namely, that population in America does not press upon the means of subsistence—and have traced the consequences of this as far as high wages, but seldom further; while the rest of the world, if their partialities happened to lie that way, have gone on ascribing even high wages to the government; which we are informed is the prevalent opinion among the Americans themselves, of all ranks and parties. But the Government is only one of a dozen causes which have made America what she is. The Americans are a democratic people: granted; but they are also a people without poor; without rich; with a 'far west' behind them; so situated as to be in no danger of aggressions from without; sprung mostly from the Puritans; speaking the language of a foreign country; with no established church; with no endowments for the support of a learned class; with boundless facilities to all classes for 'raising themselves in the world;' and where a large family is a fortune.
Without analysing minutely the effects of all these causes, let us glance at some few of the numerous considerations which they suggest.
America, then, is a country in which there are no poor. This is not the effect of the government. There are, indeed, governments in the world which would make any people poor; but to such governments, a people as civilized as the Americans never would submit. Where there is sufficient protection of property, and sufficient freedom from arbitrary exaction, to enable capital to accumulate with rapidity, and where population does not increase still more rapidly, no one who is willing to work can possibly be poor. Where there is no poverty, there will be a remarkable freedom from the vices and crimes which are the consequences of it."
"[T]he original founders of the colonies, from whom the present race of Americans are descended, were of the middle class, were people who could read, and who valued reading as the means of being instructed in their religion, we shall not wonder that this well-paid people are also a reading people; and that this well-paid and reading people are a democratic people. High wages and universal reading are the two elements of democracy; where they co-exist, all government, except the government of public opinion, is impossible. While the thirteen states were dependent colonies of Great Britain, they were, as to internal government, nearly as complete democracies as they now are; and we know what was the consequence of attempting to impose burdens upon them without their own consent."
"MR. MADISON remarked to me, that the United States had been 'useful in proving things before held impossible.' Of such proofs, he adduced several. Others, which he did not mention, have since occurred to me; and, among them, the pursuit of the a priori method in forming a constitution:--the a priori method, as it is styled by its enemies, though its advocates, with more reason, call it the inductive method. Till the formation of the government of the United States, it had been generally supposed, and it is so still by the majority of the old world, that a sound theory of government can be constructed only out of the experience of man in governments; the experience mankind has had of despotisms, oligarchies, and the mixtures of these with small portions of democracy. But the essential condition of the fidelity of the inductive method is, that all the elements of experience should be included. If, in this particular problem, of the true theory of government, we take all experience of government, and leave out all experience of man, except in his hitherto governing or governed state, we shall never reach a philosophical conclusion. The true application of the inductive method here is to test a theory of government deduced from the principles of human nature, by the results of all governments of which mankind has had experience. No narrower basis will serve for such an induction. Such a method of finding a good theory of government was considered impossible, till the United States 'proved' it.
This proof can never be invalidated by anything that can now happen in the United States. It is common to say 'Wait; these are early days. The experiment will fail yet.' The experiment of the particular constitution of the United States may fail; but the great principle which, whether successfully or not, it strives to embody,--the capacity of mankind for self-government, --is established for ever. It has, as Mr. Madison said, proved a thing previously held impossible. If a revolution were to take place to-morrow in the United States, it remains an historical fact that, for half a century, a people has been self-governed; and, till it can be proved that the self-government is the cause of the instability, no revolution, or series of revolutions, can tarnish the lustre, any more than they can impair the soundness of the principle that mankind are capable of self-government. The United States have indeed been useful in proving these two things, before held impossible; the finding a true theory of government, by reasoning from the principles of human nature, as well as from the experience of governments; and the capacity of mankind for self-government."
"If I ask the first American I meet, either at home or abroad, whether he considers religion to be of service to law and social order, he will answer unhesitatingly that civilized society, especially if it be free, can not exist without religion. Respect for religion is in his eyes the best safeguard for political stability and private security. Those who know least about government know this much. There is no country in the world where the boldest political doctrines of the eighteenth century philosophers have received so general a practical application as in America. But, notwithstanding the unlimited freedom of the press, their infidel doctrines have never made any progress there."
"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that 'all men are created equal.'
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.
...we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people by the people for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
"The world has never before seen such huge fortunes exercising combined control over the economic life of a people, and such luxury as has come out of the individualistic pioneer democracy of America in the course of competitive evolution. At the same time the masters of industry, who control interests which represent billions of dollars, do not admit that they have broken with pioneer ideals. They regard themselves as pioneers under changed conditions, carrying on the old work of developing the natural resources of the nation, compelled by the constructive fever in their veins, even in ill-health and old age and after the accumulation of wealth beyond their power to enjoy, to seek new avenues of action and of power, to chop new clearings, to find new trails, to expand the horizon of the nation's activity, and to extend the scope of their dominion. 'This country,' said the late Mr. Harriman in an interview a few years ago, 'has been developed by a wonderful people, flush with enthusiasm, imagination and speculative bent.... They have been magnificent pioneers. They saw into the future and adapted their work to the possibilities. . . . Stifle that enthusiasm, deaden that imagination and prohibit that speculation by restrictive and cramping conservative law, and you tend to produce a moribund and conservative people and country.' This is an appeal to the historic ideals of Americans who viewed the republic as the guardian of individual freedom to compete for the control of the natural resources of the nation."
"Two ideals were fundamental in traditional American thought, ideals that developed in the pioneer era. One was that of individual freedom to compete unrestrictedly for the resources of a continent--the squatter ideal. To the pioneer government was an evil. The other was the ideal of a democracy--'government of the people, by the people and for the people.' The operation of these ideals took place contemporaneously with the passing into private possession of the free public domain and the natural resources of the United States. But American democracy was based on an abundance of free lands; these were the very conditions that shaped its growth and its fundamental traits. Thus time has revealed that these two ideals of pioneer democracy had elements of mutual hostility and contained the seeds of its dissolution. The present finds itself engaged in the task of readjusting its old ideals to new conditions and is turning increasingly to government to preserve its traditional democracy. It is not surprising that socialism shows noteworthy gains as elections continue; that parties are forming on new lines; that the demand for primary elections, for popular choice of senators, initiative, referendum, and recall, is spreading, and that the regions once the center of pioneer democracy exhibit these tendencies in the most marked degree. They are efforts to find substitutes for that former safeguard of democracy, the disappearing free lands. They are the sequence to the extinction of the frontier. It is necessary next to notice that in the midst of all this national energy, and contemporaneous with the tendency to turn to the national government for protection to democracy, there is clear evidence of the persistence and the development of sectionalism."