James Wilson - (1742 - 1798)

James Wilson Signature

Quotes by James Wilson

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In giving a definition of the simple kinds of government known throughout the world, I have occasion to describe what I meant by a democracy; and I think I termed it, that government in which the people retain the supreme power, and exercise it either collectively or by representation. This constitution declares this principle, in its terms an din its consequences, which is evident from the manner in which it is announced. "We, the People of the United States."

James Wilson: Pennsylvania Ratification Convention, November 26, 1787

Quote 858 details Share on Google+ - Quote 858 Linked In Share Button - Quote 858 Government, in my humble opinion, should be formed to secure and to enlarge the exercise of the natural rights of its members; and every government, which has not this in view, as its principal object,is not a government of the legitimate kind.

James Wilson: Lectures 1790-1791

Quote 856 details Share on Google+ - Quote 856 Linked In Share Button - Quote 856 The extension of the theory and practice of representation through all the different departments of the sate is another very important acquisition made, by the Americans, in the science of jurisprudence and government. To the ancients, this theory and practice seem to have been altogether unknown. To this moment, the representation of the people is not the sole principle of any government in Europe... The American States enjoy the glory and happiness of diffusing this vital principle throughout all the different divisions and departments of the government.

James Wilson: Lectures 1790-1791

Quote 950 details Share on Google+ - Quote 950 Linked In Share Button - Quote 950 How prevalent even among enlightened writers, is the mistaken opinion, that government is subversive of equality and nature! Is it necessarily so? By no means. When I speak thus, I speak confidently, because I speak from principle fortified by fact. Let the constitution of the United States -- let that of Pennsylvania be examined from the beginning to the end. No right is conferred, no obligation is laid on any, which is not laid or conferred on every, citizen of the commonwealth or Union -- I think I may defy the world to produce a single exception to the truth of this remark. Now, as I showed at large in a former part of my lectures, the original equality of mankind consists in an equality of their duties and rights.

James Wilson: Of the Natural Rights of Individuals, 1790-1791
Quoted Document: Of the Natural Rights of Individuals

Quote 857 details Share on Google+ - Quote 857 Linked In Share Button - Quote 857 Government, indeed, taken as a science, may yet be considered in its infancy; and with all its various modifications, it has hitherto been the result of force, fraud, or accident. For, after the lapse of six thousand years since the creation of the world, America now presents the first instance of a people assembled to weigh deliberately and calmly, and to decide leisurely and peaceably, upon the form of government by which they will bind themselves and their posterity.

James Wilson: Opening Address, Pennsylvania Ratifying Convention, Nov 14, 1787

Quote 845 details Share on Google+ - Quote 845 Linked In Share Button - Quote 845 For instance, the liberty of the press, which has been a copious subject of declamation and opposition: what control can proceed from the federal government, to shackle or destroy that sacred palladium of national freedom? ... the proposed system possesses no influence whatever upon the press; and it would have been merely nugatory, to have introduced a formal declaration upon the subject; nay, that very declaration might have been construed to imply that some degree of power was given, since we undertook to define its extent.

James Wilson: Address in Philadelphia, 1787

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After the lapse of six thousand years since the Creation of the world, America now presents the first instance of a people assembled to weight deliberately and calmly, and to decide leisurely and peaceably, upon the form of government by which they will bind themselves and their posterity.

James Wilson: Speech on Proposed Federal Constitution, November 24, 1787

Quote 842 details Share on Google+ - Quote 842 Linked In Share Button - Quote 842 Can we forget for whom we are forming a Government? Is it for man, or for the imaginary beings called States? Will our honest constituents be satisfied with metaphysical distinctions? ... The rule of suffrage ought on every principle to be shame as in the 2d as in the 1st branch. If the Government be not laid on this foundation, it can be neither solid nor lasting, any other principle will be local, confined, and temporary.

James Wilson: Constitutional Convention, June 30, 1787

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I am first to show, that a man has a natural right to his property, to his character, to liberty, and to safety.

James Wilson: Of the Natural Rights of Individuals, 1790-1791
Quoted Document: Of the Natural Rights of Individuals

Quote 843 details Share on Google+ - Quote 843 Linked In Share Button - Quote 843 In this system, it is declared that the electors in each state shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the state legislature. This being made the criterion of the right of suffrage, it is consequently secured, because the same Constitution guaranties to every state in the Union a republican form of government. The right of suffrage is fundamental to republics.

James Wilson: Pennsylvania Ratification Convention, November 26, 1787

Quote 946 details Share on Google+ - Quote 946 Linked In Share Button - Quote 946 Those rights result from the natural state of man; from that situation, in which he would find himself, if no civil government was instituted. In such a situation, a man finds himself, in some respects, unrelated to others; in other respects, peculiarly related to some; in still other respects, bearing a general relation to all. From his unrelated state, one class of rights arises: from his peculiar relations, another class of rights arises: from his general relations, a third class of rights arises. To each class of rights, a class of duties is correspondent; as we had occasion to observe and illustrate, when we treated concerning the general principles of natural law.

James Wilson: Of the Natural Rights of Individuals, 1790-1791
Quoted Document: Of the Natural Rights of Individuals

Quote 846 details Share on Google+ - Quote 846 Linked In Share Button - Quote 846 A State, I cheerfully admit, is the noblest work of Man: But Man, himself, free and honest, is, I speak as to this word, the noblest work of God.

James Wilson: Chisholm v. Georgia, February 18, 1793

Quote 844 details Share on Google+ - Quote 844 Linked In Share Button - Quote 844 To the constitution ... the term sovereign, is totally unknown. There is but one place where it could have been used with propriety. But, even in that place it would not, perhaps, have comported with the delicacy of those, who ordained and established the Constitution. They might have announced themselves "SOVEREIGN" people of the United Stats: But serenely conscious of the fact, they avoided the ostentatious defalcation.

James Wilson: Opinion in Chisholm v. Georgia, 1793

Quote 859 details Share on Google+ - Quote 859 Linked In Share Button - Quote 859 the consequence is, that the happiness of society is the first law of every government. This rule is founded on the law of nature: it must control every political maxim: it must regulate the legislature itself. The people have a right to insist that this rule be observed; and are entitled to demand a moral security that the legislature will observe it. If they have not the first, they are slaves; if they have not the second, they are every moment exposed to slavery.

James Wilson: Lectures 1790-1791

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Of municipal law, the rights and the duties of benevolence are sometimes, though rarely, the objects. When they are so, they will receive the pleasing and the merited attention.

James Wilson: Of the Natural Rights of Individuals, 1790-1791
Quoted Document: Of the Natural Rights of Individuals

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Does man exist for the sake of government? Or is government instituted for the sake of man?

James Wilson: Of the Natural Rights of Individuals, 1790-1791
Quoted Document: Of the Natural Rights of Individuals

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Upon the whole, therefore, man's natural liberty, instead of being abridged, may be increased and secured in a government, which is good and wise. As it is with regard to his natural liberty, so it is with regard to his other natural rights.

James Wilson: Of the Natural Rights of Individuals, 1790-1791
Quoted Document: Of the Natural Rights of Individuals

Quote 841 details Share on Google+ - Quote 841 Linked In Share Button - Quote 841 The idea of a constitution, limiting and superintending the operations of legislative authority, seems not to have been accurately understood in Britain. There are, at least, no traces of practice conformable to such a principle. The British Constitution is just what the British Parliament pleases.... To control the power and conduct of the legislature, by an overruling constitution, was an improvement in the science and practice of government reserved to the American Sates.

James Wilson: Speech in Pennsylvania Ratifying Convention, 1788

Quote 949 details Share on Google+ - Quote 949 Linked In Share Button - Quote 949 To his character, every one has a natural right. A man's character may, I think, be described as the just result of those opinions, which ought to be formed concerning his talents, his sentiments, and his conduct. Opinions, upon this as upon every other subject, ought to be founded in truth. Justice, as well as truth, requires, concerning characters, accuracy and impartiality of opinion.

James Wilson: Of the Natural Rights of Individuals, 1790-1791
Quoted Document: Of the Natural Rights of Individuals

Quote 945 details Share on Google+ - Quote 945 Linked In Share Button - Quote 945 If this view be a just view of things, the consequence, undeniable and unavoidable, is, that, under civil government, individuals have "given up" or "surrendered" their rights, to which they were entitled by nature and by nature's law; and have received, in lieu of them, those "civil privileges, which society has engaged to provide."

James Wilson: Of the Natural Rights of Individuals, 1790-1791
Quoted Document: Of the Natural Rights of Individuals

Quote 942 details Share on Google+ - Quote 942 Linked In Share Button - Quote 942 Freemen, who know and love their rights, will not exchange their armour of pure and massy gold, for one of a baser and lighter metal, however finely it may be blazoned with tinsel: but they will not refuse to make an exchange upon terms, which are honest and honorable -- terms, which may be advantageous to all, and injurious to none.

James Wilson: Of the Natural Rights of Individuals, 1790-1791
Quoted Document: Of the Natural Rights of Individuals

Quote 943 details Share on Google+ - Quote 943 Linked In Share Button - Quote 943 In a state of natural liberty, every one is allowed to act according to his own inclination, provided he transgress not those limits, which are assigned to him by the law of nature: in a state of civil liberty, he is allowed to act according to his inclination, provided he transgress not those limits, which are assigned to him by the municipal law.

James Wilson: Of the Natural Rights of Individuals, 1790-1791
Quoted Document: Of the Natural Rights of Individuals


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