Founding Fathers Quotes on Politics, Patriotism, and the Importance of Putting America First
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It’s not clear that any of the Founding Fathers would have considered themselves “politicians.” Perhaps “statesmen” if they were being uncharacteristically grandiose, but more likely the Founders would have considered themselves to simply be patriots. Still, their views on politics proper are worthwhile, mostly because they distrusted the entire notion of professional politicians making their decisions on the basis of what was politically popular rather than what was good for the health of the polity.
The Founders likewise would be derided as “America first” types today. They were very clear that, while they believed in universal political and philosophical principles, they also considered their first loyalty to be to the United States and fellow Americans. The Founders were a number of things, but “citizens of the world” was not one of them.
“Be a listener only, keep within yourself, and endeavor to establish with yourself the habit of silence, especially on politics. In the fevered state of our country, no good can ever result from any attempt to set one of these fiery zealots to rights, either in fact or principle. They are determined as to the facts they will believe, and the opinions on which they will act. Get by them, therefore, as you would by an angry bull; it is not for a man of sense to dispute the road with such an animal.”
“When once a man has cast a longing eye on offices, a rottenness begins in his conduct.”
“I have heard of some great man, whose rule it was, with regard to offices, never to ask for them, and never to refuse them; to which I have always added, in my own practice, never to resign them.”
“If a due participation of office is a matter of right, how are vacancies to be obtained? Those by death are few; by resignation none.”
“My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office [the vice-presidency] that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.”
“Men by their constitutions are naturally divided into two parties: 1. Those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes. 2. Those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise depository of the public interests. In every country these two parties exist; and in every one where they are free to think, speak, and write, they will declare themselves.”
“It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another; foments occasionally riot and insurrection.”
“If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.”
“No sooner has one Party discovered or invented an Amelioration of the Condition of Man or the order of Society, than the opposite Party belies it, misconstrues it, misrepresents it, ridicules it, insults it, and persecutes it.”
“Politics, like religion, hold up the torches of martyrdom to the reformers of error.”
“I agree with you that in politics the middle way is none at all.”
“Politics are such a torment that I would advise every one that I love not to mix with them.”
“Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for, I have grown not only gray, but almost blind in the service of my country.”
“The patriot, like the Christian, must learn that to bear revilings and persecutions is a part of his duty; and in proportion as the trial is severe, firmness under it becomes more requisite and praiseworthy.”
“It is in the man of piety and inward principle, that we may expect to find the uncorrupted patriot, the useful citizen, and the invincible soldier. God grant that in America true religion and civil liberty may be inseparable and that the unjust attempts to destroy the one, may in the issue tend to the support and establishment of both.”
“Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.”
“My affections were first for my own country, and then, generally, for all mankind.”
“Our obligations to our country never cease but with our lives.”
“Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. 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.”