Inspiration and Wisdom
from the Writings of
by Joseph Lewis
There never yet was any truth or any principle so irresistibly obvious that all men believed it at once. Time and reason must coöperate with each other to the final establishment of any principle; and therefore those who may happen to be first convinced have not a right to persecute others, on whom conviction operates more slowly. The moral principle of revolutions is to instruct, not to destroy.
An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty. It leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws. He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.
It is never to be expected in a revolution that every man is to change his opinion at the same moment.
The action of spinning upholds a top.
Those who abuse liberty when they possess it would abuse power could they obtain it.
The government of England honored me with a thousand martyrdoms, by burning me in effigy in every town in that country, and their hirelings in America may do the same.
Desolation, chains and slavery had marked the progress of former wars, but to conquer for liberty had never been thought of.
To receive the degrading submission of a distressed and subjugated people, and insultingly permit them to live, made the chief triumph of former conquerors; but to receive them with fraternity, to break their chains, to tell them they are free, and teach them to be so, make a new volume in the history of man.
As government in America is founded on the representative system any error in the first essay could be reformed by the same quiet and rational process by which the Constitution was formed, and that either by the generation then living, or by those who were to succeed.
If ever America lose sight of this principle, she will no longer be the land of liberty. The father will become the assassin of the rights of the son, and his descendants be a race of slaves.
Apostasy stalked through the land in the garb of patriotism, and the torch of treason blinded for a while the flame of liberty.
To elect, and to reject, is the prerogative of a free people.
There is no subject more interesting to every man than the subject of government. His security, be he rich or poor, and in a great measure his prosperity, are connected therewith; it is therefore his interest as well as his duty to make himself acquainted with its principles, and what the practice ought to be.
Every art and science, however imperfectly known at first, has been studied, improved and brought to what we call perfection by the progressive labors of succeeding generations; but the science of government has stood still. No improvement has been made in the principle and scarcely any in the practice till the American Revolution began.
An appeal to elections decides better than an appeal to the sword.
There is a general and striking difference between the genuine effects of truth itself, and the effects of falsehood believed to be truth. Truth is naturally benign; but falsehood believed to be truth is always furious. The former delights in serenity, is mild and persuasive, and seeks not the auxiliary aid of invention. The latter sticks at nothing.
Among ridiculous things nothing is more ridiculous than ridiculous rage.
A nation, though continually existing, is continually in a state of renewal and succession. It is never stationary. Every day produces new births, carries minors forward to maturity, and old persons from the stage. In this ever running flood of generations there is no part superior in authority to another. Could we conceive an idea of superiority in any, at what point of time, or in what century of the world, are we to fix it? To what cause are we to ascribe it? By what evidence are we to prove it? By what criterion are we to know it?
A single reflection will teach us that our ancestors, like ourselves,
were but tenants for life in the great free-hold of rights. The fee-absolute
was not in them, it is not in us, it belongs to the whole family of man
through all ages. If we think otherwise than this we think either as slaves
or as tyrants. As slaves, if we think that any former generation had a
right to bind us; as tyrants, if we think that we have authority to bind
the generations that are to follow.
[-- "Dissertations on First Principles of Government" (1795)]
Time has no more connection with, or influence upon principle, than principle has upon time. The wrong which began a thousand years ago is as much a wrong as if it began to-day; and the right which originates today is as much a right as if it had the sanction of a thousand years.
Time with respect to principles is an eternal NOW.
The rights of minors are as sacred as the rights of the aged.
The minor cannot surrender them; the guardian cannot dispossess him.
Every age and generation is, and must be (as a matter of right), as free to act for itself in all cases, as the age and generation that preceded it. The vanity and presumption of governing beyond the grave is the most ridiculous and insolent of all tyrannies. Man has no property in man, neither has one generation a property in the generations that are to follow.
The true and only true basis of representative government is equality of rights.
It is always to be taken for granted, that those who oppose an equality of rights never mean the exclusion should take place on themselves; and in this view of the case, pardoning the vanity of the thing, aristocracy is a subject of laughter. This self-soothing vanity is encouraged by another idea not less selfish, which is that the opposers conceive they are playing a safe game, in which there is a chance to gain and none to lose; that at any rate the doctrine of equality includes them, and that if they cannot get more rights than those whom they oppose and would exclude they shall not have less.
When we consider how many ways property may be acquired without merit, and lost without crime, we ought to spurn the idea of making it a criterion of rights.
Wealth is no proof of moral character; nor poverty of the want of it -- On the contrary, wealth is often the presumptive evidence of dishonesty; and poverty the negative evidence of innocence.
That property will ever be unequal is certain. Industry, superiority of talents, dexterity of management, extreme frugality, fortunate opportunities, or the opposite, or the means of those things, will ever produce that effect, without having recourse to the harsh, ill-sounding names of avarice and oppression; and besides this there are some men who, though they do not despise wealth, will not stoop to the drudgery or the means of acquiring it, nor will be troubled with it beyond their wants or their independence; while in others there is an avidity to obtain it by every means not punishable; it makes the sole business of their lives, and they follow it as a religion. All that is required with respect to property is to obtain it honestly, and not employ it criminally; but it is always criminally employed when it is made a criterion for exclusive rights.
I see no reason that a difference between Mr. Washington and me should be made a theme of discord with other people. There are those who may see merit in both without making themselves partisans of either.
He that picks your pocket always tries to make you look another way.
Ye gentle graces, if any such there be who preside over human actions, how must ye weep at the viciousness of man!
When we consider, for the feelings of nature cannot be dismissed, the calamities of war and the miseries it inflicts upon the human species, the thousands and tens of thousands of every age and sex who are rendered wretched by the event, surely there is something in the heart of man that calls upon him to think.
Let it then be heard, and let man learn to feel, that the true greatness of a nation is founded on the principles of humanity; and that to avoid a war when our own existence is not endangered, and wherein the happiness of man must be wantonly sacrificed, is a higher principle of true honor than madly to engage in it.
War involved in its progress such a train of unforeseen and unsupposed circumstances, such a combination of foreign matters, that no human wisdom can calculate the end.
I defend the cause of the poor, of the manufacturers, of the tradesmen, of the farmers, and of all those on whom the real burden of taxes falls -- but above all, I defend the cause of humanity.
He that acts as he believes, though he may act wrong, is not conscious of wrong.
The deception that has once happened will happen again from the same causes.
Credit is not money, and therefore it is not pay, neither can it be put in the place of money in the end. It is only the means of getting into debt, not the means of getting out, otherwise the national debt could not accumulate; and the delusion which nations are under respecting the extension of credit is exactly like that which every man feels respecting life, the end is always nearer than was expected; and we become bankrupts in time by the same delusion that nations become bankrupts in property.
If, therefore, anything herein advanced shall be disagreeable, it must be justified on the ground that it is better to be known in order to prevent ruin, than to be concealed, when such concealment serves only to hasten the ruin on.
Credit is often no more than an opinion, and the difference between credit and money is that money requires no opinion to support it.
There is naturally a wholesome pride in the public mind that revolts at open vulgarity. It feels itself dishonored even by hearing it, as a chaste woman feels dishonor by hearing obscenity she cannot avoid.
A painted sun may glisten, but it cannot warm.
In casting my eye over England and America, and comparing them together, the difference is very striking. The two countries were created by the same power, and peopled from the same stock. What then has caused the difference? Have those who emigrated to America improved, or those whom they left behind degenerated? There are as many degrees of difference in the political morality of the two people as there are of longitude between the two countries.
In the science of cause and effect everything that enters into the composition of either must be allowed its proportion of influence. Investigating, therefore, into the cause of this difference we must take into the calculation the difference of the two systems of government, the hereditary and the representative.
Under the hereditary system it is the government that forms and fashions the political character of the people. In the representative system it is the people that form the character of the government. Their own happiness as citizens forms the basis of their conduct, and the guide of their choice. Now, is it more probable that a hereditary government should become corrupt, and corrupt the people by its example, or that a whole people should become corrupt, and produce a corrupt government? For the point where the corruption begins becomes the source from whence it afterwards spreads.
While men remained in Europe as subjects of some hereditary potentate they had ideas conformable to that condition; but when they arrived in America they found themselves in possession of a new character, the character of sovereignty; and, like converts to a new religion, they became inspired with new principles. Elevated above their former rank, they considered government and public affairs as part of their own concern, for they were to pay the expense and they watched them with circumspection.
They soon found that government was not that complicated thing, enshrined in mystery, which Church and State, to play into each other's hands, had represented; and that to conduct it with proper effect was to conduct it justly. Common sense, common honesty and civil manners qualify a man for government and, besides this, put a man in a situation that requires new thinking, and the mind will grow up to it, for, like the body, it improves by exercise. Man is but a learner all his lifetime.
How nearly is human cunning allied to folly! The animals to whom nature has given the faculty we call cunning, know always when to use it, and use it wisely; but when man descends to cunning, he blunders and betrays.
Though hypocrisy can counterfeit every virtue, and become the associate of every vice, it requires a great dexterity of craft to give it the power of deceiving.
Where there is no danger cowards are bold.
The American Revolution began on untried ground. The representative system of government was then unknown in practice, and but little thought of in theory. The idea that man must be governed by effigy and show, and that superstitious reverence was necessary to establish authority, had so benumbed the reasoning faculties of men that some bold exertion was necessary to shock them into reflection. But the experiment has now been made ... and the New World is now the preceptor of the Old. The children are become the fathers of their progenitors.
The representative system does not put it in the power of an individual to declare war of his own will. It must be the act of the body of the representatives, for it is their constituents who are to pay the expense.
Some are so afraid of doing wrong that they never do right.
Hypocrisy is a vice of sanguine constitution. It flatters and promises itself everything; and it has yet to learn, with respect to moral and political reputation, it is less dangerous to offend than to deceive.
Error and crime, though often alike in their features, are distant in their characters and in their origin. The one has its source in the weakness of the head, the other in the hardness of the heart.
Ought a people who, but a few years ago, were fighting the battles of the world for liberty had no home but here, ought such a people to stand quietly by and see that liberty undermined by apostasy and overthrown by intrigue? Let the tombs of the slain recall their recollection, and the forethought of what their children are to be revive and fix in their hearts the love of liberty.
Every case in America ought to be determined on its own merits, according to American laws, and all reference to foreign adjudications prohibited.
The fundamental principle in representative government is that the majority govern; and as it will be always happening that a man may be in the minority on one question, and in the majority on another, he obeys by the same principle that he rules.
America has the high honor and happiness of being the first nation that gave to the world the example of forming written constitutions by conventions elected expressly for the purpose, and of improving them by the same procedure, as time and experience shall show necessary .
It has been said of a thief that he had rather steal a purse than find one.
Great scenes inspire great ideas.
I must be in everything what I have ever been, a disinterested volunteer; my proper sphere of action is on the common floor of citizenship, and to honest men I give my hand and my heart freely.
In a great affair, where the happiness of man is at stake, I love to work for nothing; and so fully am I under the influence of this principle, that I should lose the spirit, the pleasure, and the pride of it, were I conscious that I looked for reward.
My reward existed in the ambition to do good, and the independent happiness of my own mind.
I will further say, that when that moment arrives in which the best consolation that shall be left will be looking back on some past actions, more virtuous and more meritorious than the rest, I shall then with happiness remember, among other things, I have written the "Rights of Man."
When moral principles, rather than persons, are candidates for power, to vote is to perform a moral duty, and not to vote is to neglect a duty.
Calumny is a vice of a curious constitution. Trying to kill it keeps it alive; leave it to itself and it will die a natural death.
Funeral orations give no protection to falsehoods.
There is not a worse character in life than that of a mischief-making blackhearted man.
It would be a miracle in human affairs that mere theory without experience should start into perfection at once.
You see what mischief ensued in France by the possession of power before they understood principles. They earned liberty in words, but not in fact. The writer of this was in France through the whole of the Revolution, and knows the truth of what he speaks; for after endeavoring to give it principle, he had nearly fallen a victim to its rage.
We every day see the rich becoming poor, and those who were poor before, becoming rich. Riches, therefore, having no stability, cannot and ought not to be made a criterion of right. Man is man in every condition of life, and the varieties of fortune and misfortune are open to all.
Truth can derive no advantage from boisterous vulgarity.
The man who resorts to artifice and cunning, instead of standing on the firm and open ground of principle can easily be found out.
I was one of the nine members that composed the first Committee of Constitution Six of them have been destroyed. Sieyès and myself have survived -- he by bending with the times, and I by not bending. The other survivor joined Robespierre; he was seized and imprisoned in his turn, and sentenced to transportation. He has since apologized to me for having signed the warrant, by saying he felt himself in danger and was obliged to do it.
Herault Sechelles, an acquaintance of Mr. Jefferson, and a good patriot, was my suppléant as member of the Committee of Constitution, that is, he was to supply my place, if I had not accepted or had resigned, being next in number of votes to me. He was imprisoned in the Luxembourg with me, was taken to the tribunal and the guillotine, and I, his principal, was left.
There were two foreigners in the Convention, Anarcharsis Clootz and myself. We were both put out of the Convention by the same vote, arrested by the same order, and carried to prison together the same night. He was taken to the guillotine, and I was again left. Joel Barlow was with us when we went to prison.
Joseph Lebon, one of the vilest characters that ever existed, and who made the streets of Arras run with blood, was my suppléant, as member of the Convention for the department of the Pas de Calais. When I was put out of the Convention he came and took my place. When I was liberated from prison and voted again into
the Convention, he was sent to the same prison and took my place there, and he was sent to the guillotine instead of me. He supplied my place all the way through.
One hundred and sixty-eight persons were taken out of the Luxembourg in one night, and a hundred and sixty of them guillotined next day, of which I now know I was to have been one; and the manner I escaped that fate is curious, and has all the appearance of accident.
The room in which I was lodged was on the ground floor, and one of a long range of rooms under a gallery, and the door of it opened outward and flat against the wall; so that when it was open the inside of the door appeared outward, and the contrary when it was shut. I had three comrades, fellow prisoners with me, Joseph Vanhuele, of Bruges, since president of the municipality of that town, Michael Rubyns, and Charles Bastini.
When persons by scores and by hundreds were to be taken out of the prison for the guillotine it was always done in the night, and those who performed that office had a private mark or signal, by which they knew what rooms to go to, and what number to take. We, as I have stated, were four, and the door of our room was marked, unobserved by us, with that number in chalk; but it happened, if happening is a proper word, that the mark was put on when the door was open, and flat against the wall, and thereby came on the inside when we shut it at night, and the destroying angel passed by it. A few days after this, Robespierre fell, and Mr. Monroe arrived and reclaimed me, and invited me to his house.
When we see maxims that fail in practice, we ought to go to the root, and see if the maxim be true.
For it is the office of a chief magistrate to compose differences and prevent lawsuits.
If the people choose to have arbitrations instead of lawsuits why should they not have them?
Before we imitate anything, we ought to examine whether it be worth imitating.
We have but one order in America, and that of the highest degree, the order of sovereignty, and of this ORDER every citizen is a member of his own personal right.
It is here necessary to distinguish between lawyer's law, and legislative law. Legislative law is the law of the land, enacted by our own legislators, chosen by the people for that purpose. Lawyer's law is a mass of opinions and decisions, many of them contradictory to each other, which courts and lawyers have instituted themselves, and is chiefly made up of law-reports of cases taken from English law books. The case of every man ought to be tried by the laws of his own country, which he knows, and not by opinions and authorities from other countries, of which he may know nothing. A lawyer, in pleading, will talk several hours about law, but it is lawyer's law, and not legislative law, that he means.
I am not an ambitious man, but perhaps I have been an ambitious American. I have wished to see America the Mother Church of government, and I have done my utmost to exalt her character and her condition.
Painful as the want of liberty may be, it is a consolation to me to believe that my imprisonment proves to the world that I had no share in the murderous system that then reigned. That I was an enemy to it, both morally and politically, is known to all who had any knowledge of me; and could I have written French as well as I can English, I would publicly have exposed its wickedness and shown the ruin with which it was pregnant. They who have esteemed me on former occasions, whether in America or in Europe, will, I know, feel no cause to abate that esteem, when they reflect the imprisonment with preservation of character is preferable to liberty with disgrace.
Justice is due to every man. It is justice only that I ask.
If we give to patriotism a fixed idea consistent with that of a republic, it would signify a strict adherence to the principles of moral justice, to the equality of civil and political rights, to the system of representative government, and an opposition to every hereditary claim to govern; and of this species of patriotism you know my character.
The malignant mind, like the jaundiced eye, sees everything through a false medium of its own creating. The light of heaven appears stained with yellow to the distempered sight of the one, and the fairest actions have the form of crimes in the venomed imagination of the other.
The degree of improvement which America has already arrived at is unparalleled and astonishing, but 'tis miniature to what she will one day boost of.... We have nearly one whole region yet unexplored: I mean the internal region of the earth. By industry and tillage we have acquired a considerable knowledge of what America will produce, but very little of what it contains. The bowels of the earth have been only slightly inquired into.
Attraction is to matter what desire is to the mind but cohesion is an entire different thing produced by an entire different cause.
I recollect a scene at one of the Theatres that very well explain the difference between attraction and cohesion. A condemned Lady wished to see her child and the child its mother. This call attraction. They were admitted to meet, but when ordered to part they threw their arms round each other and fastened their persons together. This is what I mean by cohesion -- which is a mechanical contact of the figures of their persons as I believe all cohesion is.
Whereas, the vexations and injuries to which the rights and commerce of neutral nations have been, and continue to be, exposed during the time of maritime war, render it necessary to establish a law of nations for the purpose of putting an end to such vexations and injuries, and to guarantee to the neutral nations the exercise of their just rights.
We, therefore, the undersigned Powers, form ourselves into an association, and establish the following as a law of nations on the seas.
As one among thousands who had borne a share in that memorable Revolution, I returned with them to the re-enjoyment of quiet life, and, that I might not be idle, undertook to construct a bridge of a single arch. The quantity of iron I had allowed in my plan for this arch was five hundred and twenty tons to be distributed into thirteen ribs, in commemoration of the thirteen United States.
I shall likewise mention that it is much visited and exceedingly admired by the ladies, who, though they may not be much acquainted with mathematical principles, are certainly judges of taste.
It renders bridges capable of becoming a portable manufacture, as they may, on this construction, be made and sent to any part of the world ready to be erected; and at the same time it greatly increases the magnificence, elegance and beauty of bridges.
I have deposited in the office of the Secretary of State, and under the care of the Patent Office, two models of iron bridges; the one in pasteboard, the other cast in metal. As they will show by inspection the manner of constructing iron bridges, I shall not take up the time of Congress with a description of them.
My intention in presenting this memoir to Congress is to put the country in possession of the means and of the right of making use of the construction freely; as I do not intend to take any patent right for it.
I have to request that this memoir may be put on the journals of Congress, as an evidence hereafter that this new method of constructing bridges originated in America.
I am enough acquainted with life and the world, to know, that abuse is the evidence of want of argument, and that those who use it, have no right on their side. There is a dignified calmness in conscious rectitude, which descends not to abuse. It can reason but it cannot rage. It cannot quit the strong fortress of rectitude to skirmish in the fields of vulgarity.
I have often observed that by lending words for my thoughts I understand my thoughts the better. Thoughts are a kind of mental smoke, which require words to illuminate them.
Arbitration is of more importance to society than courts of law, and ought to have precedence of them in all cases of pecuniary concerns between individuals or parties of them. Who are better qualified than merchants to settle disputes between merchants, or who better than farmers to settle disputes between farmers? And the same for every other description of men. What do lawyers or courts of law know of these matters? They devote themselves to forms rather than to principles, and the merits of the case become obscure and lost in a labyrinth of verbal perplexities. We do not hear of lawyers going to law with each other, though they could do it cheaper than other people, which shows they have no opinion of it for themselves.
The principle and rule of arbitration ought to be constitutionally established. The honest sense of a country collected in convention will find out how to do this without the interference of lawyers, who may be hired to advocate any side of any cause; for the case is the practice of the bar is become a species of prostitution that ought to be controlled. It lives by encouraging the injustice it pretends to redress.
It is justice and good judgment that preside by right in a court of arbitration. It is forms, quoted precedents and contrivances for delay and expense to the parties, that govern the proceedings of a court of law.
A vice begotten might be worse than a vice imported.
Whoever has made observation on the characters of nations will find it generally true that the manners of a nation ... can be better ascertained from the character of its press than from any other public circumstance. If its press is licentious, its manners are not good. Nobody believes a common liar or a common defamer.
The press, which is a tongue to the eye, was then put exactly in the case of the human tongue. A man does not ask liberty beforehand to say something he has a mind to say, but he becomes answerable afterwards for the atrocities he may utter.
In like manner, if a man makes the press utter atrocious things he becomes as answerable for them as if he had uttered them by word of mouth.
The term liberty of the press arose from a fact, the abolition of the office of Imprimatur, and that opinion has nothing to do in the case. The term refers to the fact of printing free from prior restraint, and not at all to the matter printed, whether good or bad.
The case often is, that men are led away by the greatness of an idea and not by the justness of it
An unexercised genius soon contracts a kind of mossiness, which not only checks its growth, but abates its natural vigor. Like an untenanted house it falls into decay, and frequently ruins the possessor.
Though nature is gay, polite, and generous abroad, she is sullen, rude and niggardly at home. Return the visit, and she admits you with all the suspicion of a miser, and all the reluctance of an antiquated beauty retired to replenish her charms. Bred up in antediluvian notions, she has not yet acquired the European taste of receiving visitants in her dressing-room: she locks and bolts up her private recesses with extraordinary care, as if not only resolved to preserve her hoards, but to conceal her age, and hide the remains of a face that was young and lovely in the days of Adam. He that would view nature in her undress, and partake of her internal treasures, must proceed with the resolution of a robber, if not a ravisher. She gives no invitation to follow her to the cavern. The external earth makes no proclamation of the interior stores, but leaves to chance and industry, the discovery of the whole. In such gifts as nature can annually re-create, she is noble and profuse, and entertains the whole world with the interest of her fortunes; but watches over the capital with the care of a miser. Her gold and jewels lie concealed in the earth, in caves of utter darkness; and hoards of wealth, heaps upon heaps, mould in the chests, like the riches of a necromancer's cell. It must be very pleasant to an adventurous speculist to make excursions into these Gothic regions; and in his travels he may possibly come to a cabinet locked up in some rocky vault, whose treasures shall reward his toil, and enable him to shine on his return, as splendidly as nature herself.
By a small degree of attention to the order and origin of things, we shall perceive, that though the surface of the earth produce us the necessaries of life, yet 'tis from the mine we extract the conveniences thereof. Our houses would diminish to wigwams, furnished in the Indian style, and ourselves resemble the building, were it not for the ores of the earth. Agriculture and manufactures would wither away for want of tools and implements, and commerce stand still for want of materials. The beasts of the field would elude our power, and the birds of the air get beyond our reach. Our dominion would shrink to a narrow circle, and the mind itself, partaking of the change, would contract its prospects, and lessen into almost animal instinct. Take away but the single article of iron, and half of the felicities of life fall with it. Little as we may prize this common ore, the loss of it would cut deeper than the use of it. And by the way of laughing off misfortunes 'tis easy to prove, by this method of investigation, that an iron age is better than a golden one.
Accident is almost every day turning out some new secret from the earth.
Perhaps a few feet of surface conceal a treasure sufficient to enrich a kingdom.
We owe many of our noblest discoveries more to accident than wisdom. In quest of a pebble we have found a diamond, and returned enriched with the treasure.
As the limit of the mechanical powers, properly so called, is fixed in nature no addition or improvement otherwise than in the application of them, can be made. To obtain a still greater quantity of power we must have recourse to the natural powers, and for usefulness combine them with the mechanical powers. Of this kind are wind and water to which has since been added steam. The two first cannot be generated at pleasure. We must take them where and when we find them. It is not so with the steam engine. It can be erected in any place, and act in all times, where a well can be dug and fuel can be obtained.
When I consider the wisdom of nature I must think that she endowed matter with this extraordinary property for other purposes than that of destruction. Poisons are capable of other uses than that of killing.
If the power which an ounce of gunpowder contains could be detailed out as steam or water can be, it would be the most commodious natural power.
There never yet was an impregnable fortification, nor ever can be. Every fortified place can be taken that can be approached. All that a fortified place can do is to delay the progress of an enemy till an army can arrive to raise the siege.
To suppose that arts and sciences are exhausted subjects, is doing them a kind of dishonor.
Even the eye is a loiterer, when compared with the rapidity of the thoughts.
Of the present state we may justly say, that no nation under heaven ever struck out in so short a time, and with so much spirit and reputation, into the labyrinth of art and science; and that, not in the acquisition knowledge only, but in the happy advantages flowing from it. The world does not at this day exhibit a parallel, neither can history produce its equal.
The man who first planned and erected a tenable hut, with a hole for the smoke to pass, and the light to enter, was perhaps called an able architect, but he who first improved it with a chimney, could be no less than a prodigy; yet had the same man been so unfortunate as to have embellished it with glass windows, he might probably have been burnt for a magician.
Even thanks may be rendered troublesome by being tedious.
Many a good cause has been lost or disgraced and many a man of extensive property ruined by not supporting necessary measures in time.
Property is always the object of a conqueror, wherever he can find it.
The social compact would dissolve, and justice be extirpated from the earth, or have only a casual existence were we callous to the touches of affection. The robber and the murderer would often escape unpunished, did not the injuries which our tempers sustain, provoke us into justice.
Wit is naturally a volunteer, delights in action, and under proper discipline is capable of great execution. 'Tis a perfect master in the art of bush-fighting; and though it attacks with more subtility than science, has often defeated a whole regiment of heavy artillery. Though I have rather exceeded the line of gravity in this description of wit, I am unwilling to dismiss it without being a little more serious. 'Tis a qualification which, like the passions, has a natural wildness that requires governing. Left to itself, it soon overflows its banks, mixes with common filth, and brings disrepute on the fountain. We have many valuable springs of it in America, which at present run purer streams, than the generality of it in other countries. In France and Italy, 'tis froth highly fomented; in England it has much of the same spirit, but rather a browner complexion. European wit is one of the worst articles we can import. It has an intoxicating power with it, which debauches the very vitals of chastity, and gives a false coloring to every thing it censures or defends. We soon grow fatigued with the excess, and withdraw like gluttons sickened with intemperance. On the contrary, how happily are the sallies of innocent humor calculated to amuse and sweeten the vacancy of business! We enjoy the harmless luxury without surfeiting, strengthen the spirits by relaxing them.
It is certainly some reputation in a man to be esteemed most by those who know him best.
Though 't is confessed on all hands that the weal or woe of life depends on no one circumstance so critical as matrimony, yet how few seem to be influenced by this universal acknowledgment, or act with a caution becoming the danger.
Those that are undone this way are the young, the rash and amorous, whose hearts are ever glowing with desire, whose eyes are ever roaming after beauty; these dote on the first amiable image that chance throws in their way, and when the flame is once kindled, would risk eternity itself to appease it. But, still like their first parents, they no sooner taste the tempting fruit, but their eyes are opened: the folly of their intemperance becomes visible; shame succeeds first, and then repentance; but sorrow for themselves soon returns to anger with the innocent cause of their unhappiness. Hence flow bitter reproaches, and keen invectives, which end in mutual hatred and contempt. Love abhors clamor and soon flies away, and happiness finds no entrance when love is gone. Thus for a few hours of dalliance, I will not call it affection, the repose of all their future days are sacrificed; and those who but just before seem'd to live only for each other, now would almost cease to live, that the separation might be eternal.
Considering how unwilling men are to recede from fixed opinions, and that they feel something like disgrace to being convinced, the way to obtain something is to give something.
I am not conscious of any circumstance in my own conduct, that should give you [Benjamin Franklin] one repentant thought for being my patron and introducer to America.
For my own part, I thought it very hard to have the country set on fire about my ears almost the moment I got into it; and among other pleasures I feel in having uniformly done my duty, I feel that of not having discredited your friendship and patronage.
Everything that Franklin was concerned in producing merits attention. He was the wise and benevolent friend of man. Riches and honors made no alternation in his principles or his manners.
Doctor Franklin has finished his Career. He died the Saturday befor[e] the 27th of April. Congress goes into Mourning a Month on the Occasion. His funeral procession was attended by the greatest Concourse of people he ever saw except the Coronation at London. Not only the streets, windows, and roofs but the tops of the chimneys were covered with people.
I am sensible that he who means to do mankind a real service must set down with the determination of putting up, and bearing with all their faults, follies, prejudices and mistakes until he can convince them that he is right.
The countries the most famous and the most respected of antiquity are those which distinguished themselves by promoting and patronizing science, and on the contrary those which neglected or discouraged it are universally denominated rude and barbarous. The patronage which Britain has shown to Arts, Science and Literature has given her a better established and lasting rank in the world than she ever acquired by her arms. And Russia is a modern instance of the effect which the encouragement of those things produces both as to the internal improvement of a country and the character it raises abroad. The reign of Louis the fourteenth is more distinguished by being the Era of science and literature in France than by any other circumstance of those days.
For men who act from principle, however separated by circumstances, will, without contrivance, act alike, and the concurrence of their conduct is an evidence of their rectitude.
The pleasure of repaying ought to be as great as that of receiving.
If I have any Enemies I am conscious of not having deserved them.
It is easier to wish than to obtain the object wished for, and we readily resolve on what is afterwards difficult to execute.
After I got home, being alone and wanting amusement, I sat down to explain to myself (for there is such a thing) my ideas of national and civil rights, and the distinction between them. I send them to you [Jefferson] to see how nearly we agree.
Suppose twenty persons, strangers to each other, to meet in a country not before inhabited. Each would be a Sovereign in his own natural right. His will would be his law, but his power, in many cases, inadequate to his right; and the consequence would be that each might be exposed, not only to each other, but to the other nineteen. It would then occur to them that their condition would be much improved, if a way could be devised to exchange that quantity of danger into so much protection; so that each individual should possess the strength of the whole number. As all their rights in the first case are natural rights, and the exercise of those rights supported only by their own natural individual power, they would begin by distinguishing between those rights they could individually exercise, fully and perfectly, and those they could not. Of the first kind are the rights of thinking, speaking, forming and giving opinions, and perhaps are those which can be fully exercised by the individual without the aid of exterior assistance; or in other words, rights of personal competency. Of the second kind are those of personal protection, of acquiring and possessing property, in the exercise of which the individual natural power is less than the natural right.
Having drawn this line they argee to retain individually the first class of Rights, or those of personal competency; and to detach from their personal possession the second class, or those of defective power, and to accept in lieu thereof a right to the whole power produced by a condensation of all the parts. These I conceive to be civil rights, or rights of compact, and are distinguishable from natural rights because in the one we act wholly in our own person, in the other we agree not to do so, but act under the guarantee of society.
It therefore follows that the more of those imperfect natural rights or rights of imperfect power we give up, and thus exchange, the more security we possess; ... the word liberty is often mistakenly put for security.... But it does not follow that the more natural rights of every kind we assign the more security we possess, because if we resign those of the first class we may suffer much by the exchange; for where the right and the power are equal with each other in the individual, naturally, they ought to rest there....
I consider the individual sovereignty of the States retained under the act of confederation to be of the second class of right. It becomes dangerous because it is defective in the power necessary to support it. It answers the pride and purpose of a few men in each State, but the State collectively is injured by it.
It so often happens that men live to forefeit the reputation at one time they gained at another that it is prudent not to presume too much in one's self.
When I see my female friends drop off by matrimony I am sensible of something that affects me like a loss in spite of all the appearances of joy: I cannot help mixing the sincere compliment of regret with that of congratulation. It appears as if I had outlived or lost a friend. It seems to me as if the original was no more, and that which she is changed to forsakes the circle and forgets the scenes of former society. Felicities are cares superior to those she formerly cared for, create to her a new landscape of life that excludes the little friendships of the past. It is not every lady's mind that is sufficiently capacious to prevent those greater objects crowding out the less, or that can spare a thought to former friendships after she has given her hand and heart to the man who loves her. But the sentiment your letter contains has prevented these dull ideas from mixing with the congratulation I present you, and is so congenial with the enlarged opinion I have always formed of you, that at the time I read your letter with pleasure I read it with pride, because it convinces me that I have some judgment in that most difficult science -- a lady's mind. Most sincerely do I wish you all the good that heaven can bless you with, and as you have in your own family an example of domestic happiness you are already in the knowledge of obtaining it. That no condition we can enjoy is an exemption from care -- that some shade will mingle itself with the brightest sunshine of life -- that even our affections may become the instruments of our sorrows -- that the sweet felicities of home depend on good temper as well as on good sense, and that there is always something to forgive even in the nearest and dearest of our friends, -- are truths which, though too obvious to be told, ought never to be forgotten; and I know you will not esteem my friendship the less for impressing them upon you.
Though I appear a sort of wanderer, the married state has not a sincerer friend than I am. It is the harbor of human life, and is, with respect to the things of this world, what the next world is to this. It is home; and that one word conveys more than any other word can express. For a few years we may glide along the tide of youthful single life and be wonderfully delighted; but it is a tide that flows but once, and what is still worse, it ebbs faster than it flows, and leaves many a hapless voyager aground. I am one, you see, that have experienced the fate I am describing. I have lost my tide; it passed by while every thought of my heart was on the wing for the salvation of my dear America, and I have now, as contentedly as I can, made myself a little bower of willows on the shore that has the solitary resemblance of a home. Should I always continue the tenant of this home, I hope my female acquaintance will ever remember that it contains not the churlish enemy of their sex, not the inaccessible cold hearted mortal, nor the capricious tempered oddity, but one of the best and most affectionate of their friends.
The idea of conferring honor of citizenship upon foreigners, who had distinguished themselves in propagating the principles of liberty and humanity, in opposition to despotism, war and bloodshed, was first proposed by me to Lafayette, at the commencement of the French Revolution, when his heart appeared to be warmed with those principles. My motive in making this proposal, was to render the people of different nations more fraternal than they had been, or then were. I observed that almost every branch of science had possessed itself of the exercise of this right, so far as it regarded its own institution.
Most of the academies and societies in Europe, and also those of America, conferred the rank of honorary member, upon foreigners eminent in knowledge, and made them, in fact, citizens of their literary or scientific republic, without affecting or anyways diminishing their rights of citizenship in their own country or in other societies: and why the science of government should not have the same advantage, or why the people of one nation should not, by their representatives, exercise the right of conferring the honor of citizenship upon individuals eminent in another nation, without affecting their rights of citizenship, is a problem yet to be solved.
As to patience I have practiced it long -- as long as it was honorable to do so, and when it goes beyond that point it becomes meanness.
Calumny is a species of treachery that ought to be punished as well as any other kind of treachery. It is a private vice productive of public evils; because it is possible to irritate men into disaffection by continual calumny who never intended to be disaffected.
It is therefore equally as necessary to guard against the evils of unfounded or malignant suspicion as against the evils of blind confidence. It is equally as necessary to protect the characters of public officers from calumny as it is to punish them for treachery or misconduct.
I have heard this morning with extreme concern of the death of our worthy friend Capt. Reed. Mrs. Reed lives in a house of mine at Bordentown, and you will much oblige me by telling her how much I am affected by her loss; and to mention to her, with that delicacy which such an offer and her situation require, and which no one knows better how to convey than yourself, that the two years' rent which is due I request her to accept of, and to consider herself at home till she hears further from me.
It is not every man whose mind is strong enough to bear up against ingratitude.
A general is a fool and a politician is the same, who fights a battle he might avoid, and where the disasters if he is beaten far outweighs the advantages if he succeeds.
Our very good friend, the Marquis de Lafayette, has instructed to my care the key of the Bastille, and a drawing handsomely framed, representing the demolition of that detestable prison, as a present to your Excellency, of which his letter will more particularly inform. I feel myself happy in being the person through whom the Marquis has conveyed this early trophy of the spoils of despotism, and the first ripe fruits of American principles transplanted into Europe, to his master and patron. When he mentioned to me the present he intended you, my heart leaped with joy. It is something so truly in character, that no remarks can illustrate it, and is more happily expressive of his remembrance of his American friends, than any letters can convey. That the principles of America open the Bastille is not to be doubted; and therefore the key comes to the right place.
I returned from France to London, about five weeks ago; and I am engaged to return to Paris, when the Constitution shall be proclaimed, and to carry the American flag in the procession. I have not the least doubt of the final and complete success of the French Revolution. Little ebbings and flowings, for and against, the natural companions of revolutions, sometimes appear, but the full current of it is, in my opinion, as fixed as the Gulf Stream.
It is by thinking upon and talking subjects over that we approach towards truth.
You touch me on a very tender point when you say that my friends cannot be reconciled to the idea of my abandoning America. They are right. I had rather see my horse Button eating the grass of Bordentown than see all the pomp and show of Europe.
A thousand years hence, perhaps in less, America may be what Europe now is. The innocence of her character, that won the hearts of all nations in her favor, may sound like a romance and her inimitable virtue as if it had never been. The ruin of that liberty which thousands bled for or struggled to obtain may just furnish materials for a village tale or extort a sigh from rustic sensibility, whilst the fashionable of that day, enveloped in dissipation, shall deride the principle and deny the fact.
When we contemplate the fall of empires and the extinction of the nations of the Ancient World, we see but little to excite our regret than the mouldering ruins of pompous palaces, magnificent museums, lofty pyramids and walls and towers of the most costly workmanship; but when the empire of America shall fall, the subject for contemplative sorrow will be infinitely greater than crumbling brass and marble can inspire. It will not then be said, here stood a temple of vast antiquity; here rose a babel of invisible height; or there a palace of sumptuous extravagance; but here, Ah, painful thought! the noblest work of human wisdom, the grandest scene of human glory, the fair cause of Freedom rose and fell. Read this, and then ask if I forget America.
It is three weeks ago to-day that I was struck with a fit of an apoplexy that deprived me of all sense and motion. I had neither pulse nor breathing, and the people about me supposed me dead. I had felt exceedingly well that day, and had just taken a slice of bread and butter for supper, and was going to bed. The fit took me on the stairs, as suddenly as if I had been shot through the head; and I got so very much hurt by the fall that I have not been able to get in and out of bed since that day, otherwise than being lifted out in a blanket, by two persons; yet all this while my mental faculties have remained as perfect as I ever enjoyed them. I consider the scene I have passed through as an experiment on dying, and I find that death has no terrors for me.
Though my health has suffered my spirits are not broken. I have nothing to fear unless innocence and fortitude be crimes.
Death is not the monarch of the dead, but of the dying. The moment he obtains a conquest he loses a subject.
The man, that leads a just and moral life, and endeavors to do good, does not trouble himself about priests when his hour of departure comes, nor permits priests to trouble themselves about him. They are in general mischievous beings where character is concerned; a consultation of priests is worse than a consultation of physicians.
I know not if the Society of people called Quakers, admit a person to be buried in their burying ground, who does not belong to their Society, but if they do, or will admit me, I would prefer being buried there; my father belonged to that profession, and I was partly brought up in it. But if it is not consistent with their rules to do this, I desire to be buried on my own farm at New Rochelle.
The place where I am to be buried, to be a square of twelve feet, to be enclosed with rows of trees, and a stone or post and rail fence, with a headstone with my name and age engraved upon it, author of "Common Sense."
When a man prays, it is himself he is trying to serve; and as to hiring or paying men to pray, is, in my opinion, an abomination.
You, my dear and much respected friend, are now far in the vale of years; I have yet, I believe, some years in store, for I have a good state of health and a happy mind, and I take care of both by nourishing the first with temperance and the latter with abundance.
This, I believe, you will allow to be the true philosophy of life.
It would be agreeable to me to live, but if it is not to be so I can quit Life with as much tranquility as any man that ever passed that scene for I have done an honest part in the World.
I trouble not myself about the manner of future existence.
You, my friend, will find, even in your last moments, more consolation in the silence of resignation than in the murmuring wish of a prayer.
Our relation to each other in this world is as men, and the man who is a friend to man and to his rights, let his religious opinions be what they may, is a good citizen, to whom I can give, as I ought to do, and as every other ought, the right hand of fellowship, and to none with more hearty good will, my dear friend, than to you.
A Song, Written Early in the American Revolution
Tune -- The gods of Greece.
|In a chariot of light, from the regions of day,|
The Goddess of Liberty came,
Ten thousand celestials directed her way,
And hither conducted the dame.
A fair budding branch from the gardens above,
Where millions with millions agree,
She brought in her hand as a pledge of her love
And the plant she named Liberty Tree.
The celestial exotic stuck deep in the ground,
Beneath this fair tree, like the patriarchs of old,
But hear, O ye swains ('tis a tale most profane),
Hail Great Republic
Tune -- Rule Britannia
|Hail great Republic of the world,|
Which rear'd her empire in the West,
Where fam'd Columbus' flag unfurl'd,
Gave tortured Europe scenes of rest;
Be thou forever great and free,
The land of Love and Liberty!
Beneath thy spreading, mantling vine,
From thee may hellish discord prowl,
Where'er the Atlantic surges rave,
May ages as they rise proclaim
Let laureates make their birthdays known,
From the Castle in the
to the Little Corner of the World
|In the Region of clouds, where the whirlwinds arise,|
My castle of fancy was built;
The turrets reflected the blue from the skies,
And the windows with sunbeams were gilt.
The rainbow sometimes, in its beautiful state,
I had grottoes, and fountains, and orange tree groves,
But a storm that I felt not, had risen and rool'd,
It pass'd over rivers, and valleys, and groves,
At length it came over a beautiful scene,
I gazed and I envied with painful goodwill,
Like a lark from the sky it came fluttering down,
Delighted to find you in honor and ease,
To Sir Robert Smyth
What Is Love?
|'Tis that delightsome transport we can feel|
Which painters cannot paint. nor words reveal,
Nor any art we know of can conceal.
Canst thou describe the sunbeams to the blind,
When happy Love pours magic o'er the soul,
But are there not some other marks that prove,
When love's a tyrant, and the soul a slave,
What are the iron chains that hands have wrought?
If You Please, Confession
|O could we always live and love,|
And always be sincere,
I would not wish for heaven above,
My heaven would be here.
Though many countries I have seen,
The other half, as you may guess,
I'm then contented with my lot,
Then send no fiery chariot down
Let others choose another plan,