Public trust

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Public office is a public trust

Public trust is a concept that relates back to the origins of democratic government and its seminal idea that within the public lies the true power and future of a society; therefore, whatever trust the public places in its officials must be respected. One of the reasons that bribery is regarded as a notorious evil is that it contributes to a culture of political corruption in which the public trust is eroded. Other issues related to political corruption or betrayal of public trust are lobbying, special interest groups and the public cartel.

Sourced[edit]

  • Government is a trust, and the officers of the government are trustees; and both the trust and the trustees are created for the benefit of the people.
  • Public officers are the servants and agents of the people, to execute laws which the people have made and within the limits of a constitution which they have established.
    • Grover Cleveland, Letter of Acceptance as Candidate for Governor (Oct. 7, 1882). See W. O. Stoddard's Life of Cleveland, Chapter IX.
  • Your every voter, as surely as your chief magistrate, under the same high sanction, though in a different sphere, exercises a public trust.
    • Grover Cleveland, Inaugural Address (March 4, 1885). See also speech in accepting the nomination to the Mayoralty of Buffalo. First Message as Mayor. Reply to the committee appointed by the National Democratic Convention to inform him of his nomination to the Presidency, July 28, 1884.
  • We must not in the course of public life expect immediate approbation and immediate grateful acknowledgment of our services. But let us persevere through abuse and even injury. The internal satisfaction of a good conscience is always present, and time will do us justice in the minds of the people, even those at present the most prejudiced against us.
    • Benjamin Franklin, letter to Joseph Galloway (December 2, 1772), in Jared Sparks, ed., The Works of Benjamin Franklin (1839), vol. 8, p. 23.
  • I am not influenced by the expectation of promotion or pecuniary reward. I wish to be useful, and every kind of service necessary for the public good, becomes honorable by being necessary.
    • Nathan Hale, remark to his friend, Captain William Hull, who attempted to dissuade him from volunteering for spy duty, early September 1776.—Isaac William Stuart, Life of Captain Nathan Hale, p. 94 (1856). While General Washington desperately needed someone to provide information on the strength and location of the enemy, he could not command someone to be a spy. He needed a paid spy or a volunteer. Hale was the sole volunteer. At the end of his mission, Hale was captured by the British and hanged on September 22, 1776. He was twenty-one years old.
  • When a man assumes a public trust, he should consider himself as public property.
    • Thomas Jefferson, to Baron Humboldt, reported in B. L. Rayner, Life of Thomas Jefferson (1834), p. 356. Rayner says the remark was made during a conversation in the president's office with Baron Alexander von Humboldt, the celebrated naturalist and traveler.
  • In government offices which are sensitive to the vehemence and passion of mass sentiment public men have no sure tenure. They are in effect perpetual office seekers, always on trial for their political lives, always required to court their restless constituents. They are deprived of their independence. Democratic politicians rarely feel they can afford the luxury of telling the whole truth to the people. And since not telling it, though prudent, is uncomfortable, they find it easier if they themselves do not have to hear too often too much of the sour truth. The men under them who report and collect the news come to realize in their turn that it is safer to be wrong before it has become fashionable to be right.
  • I made my mistakes, but in all of my years in public life, I have never profited, never profited from public service—I have earned every cent. And in all of my years of public life, I have never obstructed justice. And I think, too, that I could say that in my years of public life, that I welcome this kind of examination, because people have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I am not a crook. I have earned everything I have got.
    • Richard Nixon, televised question and answer session at the annual convention of the Associated Press Managing Editors Association, Orlando, Florida, November 17, 1973. Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Richard Nixon, 1973, p. 956.
  • A private Life is to be preferr'd; the Honour and Gain of publick Posts, bearing no proportion with the Comfort of it.
    • William Penn, Some Fruits of Solitude in Reflections & Maxims, no. 370, p. 73 (1903, reprinted 1976).
  • The weakling and the coward are out of place in a strong and free community. In a republic like ours the governing class is composed of the strong men who take the trouble to do the work of government; and if you are too timid or too fastidious or too careless to do your part in this work, then you forfeit your right to be considered one of the governing and you become one of the governed instead—one of the driven cattle of the political arena.
    • Theodore Roosevelt, address at the Harvard Union, Cambridge, Massachusetts, February 23, 1907.—"Athletics, Scholarship and Public Service," The Strenuous Life (vol. 13 of The Works of Theodore Roosevelt, national ed.), chapter 27, p. 563 (1926).
  • We believe above all else that those who hold in their hands the power of government must themselves be independent—and this kind of independence means the wisdom, the experience, the courage to identify the special interests and the pressures that are always at work, to see the public interest steadily, to resist its subordination no matter what the political hazards.
    • Adlai Stevenson, governor of Illinois, speech before the Colorado Volunteers-for-Stevenson dinner, Denver, Colorado, September 5, 1952.—Speeches of Adlai Stevenson, p. 23 (1952).
  • The phrase "public office is a public trust," has of late become common property.
    • Charles Sumner, speech in the United States Senate (May 31, 1872). According to Col. John S. Wolf, of Champaign, it originated in a decision of Justice Samuel D. Lockwood, of the Illinois Supreme Court, prior to 1840. He served from 1825 to 1848. Washington Star, May 5, 1891, assigns it to Thomas M. Cooley. See Constitutional Law (Pub. 1880), pg. 303. Charles James Fox. (1788). Sydney Smith in Edinburgh Review. (1825). Webster—Bunker Hill Address. (1825). President Andrew Johnson's Message. (1867). Abram S. Hewitt—Speech. (1883). Daniel S. Lamont. Motto of Pamphlet. (1884).
  • Our form of government does not enter into rivalry with the institutions of others. We do not copy our neighbours, but are an example to them. It is true that we are called a democracy, for the administration is in the hands of the many and not of the few. But while the law secures equal justice to all alike in their private disputes, the claim of excellence is also recognised; and when a citizen is in any way distinguished, he is preferred to the public service, not as a matter of privilege, but as the reward of merit. Neither is poverty a bar, but a man may benefit his country whatever be the obscurity of his condition.
    • Thucydides, "Funeral Speech of Pericles," Thucydides, trans. Benjamin Jowett, 2d ed., rev., vol. 1, book 2, section 37, p. 127–28 (1900).
  • Shortly after I was elected, in Nineteen Hundred and Forty-eight, I made up my mind that I would not seek another term. I have seen a great many men in public life, and one of their besetting sins is to stay in office too long. Nowadays, in such organizations as the Army and the civil service and industry, there is compulsory retirement, but no such regulations prevail in politics. I decided that I would not be guilty of this common failing, and that I should make way for younger men—and the Constitutional Amendment Number twenty-two, the two-term amendment, does not apply to me. The people responsible for the 22nd amendment thought I was not worth considering and that I'd be beaten in 1948—so I was exempted.
    • Harry S. Truman, speech to the Press and Union League Club, San Francisco, California, October 25, 1956.—Transcript, p. 30. The last sentence was added in longhand to the typewritten speech. Truman had made similar remarks at a political rally in John Hancock Hall, Boston, Massachusetts, September 29, 1956, as reported by The Boston Sunday Globe, September 30, 1956, p. 38: "There is an old girl called Anno Domini that catches up with us and she has been trying to catch up with me. It just seems to me to make sense to move on and make way for younger men. It seems to me to make sense to move out of the White House voluntarily without waiting to be carried out."
  • There is no cause half so sacred as the cause of a people. There is no idea so uplifting as the idea of the service of humanity.
    • Woodrow Wilson, governor of New Jersey, presidential campaign address, Madison Square Garden, New York City, October 31, 1912.—The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, ed. Arthur S. Link, vol. 25, p. 493 (1978). Wilson spoke to an audience estimated at between 12,000 and 16,000 persons. For two hours before he arrived, the crowd listened to various other speakers. Upon his arrival there was a "tumultuous ovation which lasted for more than an hour. Wilson was so moved that he forgot his prepared speech" (p. 493, footnote).
  • The office should seek the man, not man the office.
    • Attributed to Silas Wright in Edward Parsons Day, Day's Collacon (1884), p. 684. Reported as unverified in Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989). According to biographies, this is in character. Wright was a nineteenth century representative and senator from New York, and served as governor of New York. In 1844, he declined a Supreme Court appointment, refused to be considered for the presidential nomination and declined, when nominated, to be a candidate for the vice presidency. Dictionary of American Biography, vol. 10, part 2, p. 556.

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations[edit]

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 817-18.
  • All government is a trust. Every branch of government is a trust, and immemorially acknowledged to be so.
  • All persons possessing any portion of power ought to be strongly and awfully impressed with an idea that they act in trust, and that they are to account for their conduct in that trust to the one great Master, Author, and Founder of society.
  • To execute laws is a royal office; to execute orders is not to be a king. However, a political executive magistracy, though merely such, is a great trust.
  • The very essence of a free government consists in considering offices as public trusts, bestowed for the good of the country, and not for the benefit of an individual or a party.
  • The appointing power of the Pope is treated as a public trust, and not as a personal perquisite.
  • All power is a trust; that we are accountable for its exercise; that from the people and for the people all springs, and all must exist.
  • Public office is a public trust, the authority and opportunities of which must be used as absolutely as the public moneys for the public benefit, and not for the purposes of any individual or party.
    • Dorman B. Eaton, The "Spoils" System and Civil Service Reform, Chapter III. The Merit System.
  • If you use your office as you would a private trust, and the moneys as trust funds, if you faithfully perform your duty, we, the people, may put you in the Presidential chair.
    • Hon. R. P. Flower, on the night of Mr. Cleveland's election as Governor of New York.
  • It is not fit the public trusts should be lodged in the hands of any till they are first proved and found fit for the business they are to be entrusted with.

The Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904)[edit]

Quotes reported in James William Norton-Kyshe, The Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904), p. 214-5.
  • We are not to assume that public officers will do anything unjust or tyrannical.
    • Willes, J., Booking v. Jones (1870), L. R. 6 Com. PL Ca. 35.
  • A servant of the Crown ought not to be placed at a disadvantage in comparison with other subjects.
    • Field, J., Hennessy v. Wright (1888), L. R. 21 Q. B. D. 513.
  • If public officers will infringe men's rights, they ought to pay greater damages than other men, to deter and hinder other officers from the like offences.
    • Holt, C.J., Ashby v. White (1703), 2 Raym. 956.
  • We are bound to assume that the Crown in the exercise of its grace and favour, will be guided solely by constitutional considerations, by regard to merit, loyalty, and public services.
    • Coleridge, J., Brownlow v. Egerton (1854), 23 L. J. Rep. (N. S.) Eq. 372.
  • If the confidential communications made by servants of the Crown to each other, by superiors to inferiors, or by inferiors to superiors, in the discharge of their duty to the Crown, were liable to be made public in a Court of justice at the instance of any suitor who thought proper to say "fiat justitia mat caelum," an order for discovery might involve the country in a war.
    • Field, J., Hennessy v. Wright (1888), L. R. 21 Q. B. D. 512. This was an action for libel by a Colonial Governor against The Times for publishing articles alleging that members of the Council of Government of Mauritius had charged him with sending to the Colonial Office garbled reports of their speeches.
  • It is the principle of the common law, that an officer ought not to take money for doing his duty.
    • Wilmot, J., Stotesbury v. Smith (1759), 2 Burr. Part IV., p. 928.
  • It is proved that in passing . . . accounts, the accountant took his fees, while others did the business, which I fear is too often the case of public officers.
  • It is a disparagement of the Government, who put an ill man into office.
    • Holt, C.J., Regina v. Langley (1703), 2 Raym. 1029.
  • If a man accepts an office of trust and confidence, concerning the public, especially when it is attended with profit, he is answerable to the King for his execution of that office.
  • The Crown cannot ever be prejudiced by the misconduct or negligence of any of its officers.
    • Pollock, C.B., Reg. v. Renton (1848), 2 Exch. Rep. 220.
  • Men of honour will do their duty and will abide the consequences.
    • Eyre, B., Sutton v. Johnstone (1786), 1 T. R. 504.

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