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Purpose of government
- The chief duty of governments, in so far as they are coercive, is to restrain those who would interfere with the inalienable rights of the individual, among which are the right to life, the right to liberty, the right to the pursuit of happiness and the right to worship God according to the dictates of one's conscience.
- William Jennings Bryan, secretary of state, speech before the City Club, Baltimore, Maryland (April 24, 1915); in "Bryan's Ten Rules for the New Voter," rule 3, The Sun, Baltimore, Maryland (April 25, 1915), p. 16. Bryan prepared the ten rules as a synopsis of his speech so the newspapers might get the exact sense of it.
- The lessons of paternalism ought to be unlearned and the better lesson taught that while the people should patriotically and cheerfully support their Government its functions do not include the support of the people.
- Grover Cleveland, second inaugural address (March 4, 1893). A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789–1897, comp. James D. Richardson, vol. 9, p. 390 (1898).
- If, in my retirement to the humble station of a private citizen, I am accompanied with the esteem and approbation of my fellow citizens, trophies obtained by the bloodstained steel, or the tattered flags of the tented field, will never be envied. The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government.
- Thomas Jefferson, letter to the Republican Citizens of Washington County, Maryland (March 31, 1809). The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. H. A. Washington, vol. 8, p. 165 (1871).
- The main objects of all science, the freedom and happiness of man…. [are] the sole objects of all legitimate government.
- Thomas Jefferson, letter to General Thaddeus Kosciusko (February 26, 1810). The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Andrew A. Lipscomb, vol. 12, p. 369–70 (1904). A plaque inscribed with this quotation, lacking the first clause above, can be found in the stairwell of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.
- The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves—in their separate, and individual capacities.
In all that the people can individually do as well for themselves, government ought not to interfere.
The desirable things which the individuals of a people can not do, or can not well do, for themselves, fall into two classes: those which have relation to wrongs, and those which have not. Each of these branch off into an infinite variety of subdivisions.
The first—that in relation to wrongs—embraces all crimes, misdemeanors, and nonperformance of contracts. The other embraces all which, in its nature, and without wrong, requires combined action, as public roads and highways, public schools, charities, pauperism, orphanage, estates of the deceased, and the machinery of government itself.
From this it appears that if all men were just, there still would be some, though not so much, need for government.
- Abraham Lincoln, fragment on government (July 1, 1854?). The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, ed. Roy P. Basler, vol. 2, p. 220–21 (1953).
- The business of government is not directly to make the people rich, but to protect them in making themselves rich; and a government which attempts more than this is precisely the government which is likely to perform less. Governments do not and cannot support the people.
- Thomas Babington Macaulay, speech on parliamentary reform, March 2, 1831. The Complete Writings of Lord Macaulay, vol. 17, p. 39 (1900).
- The safety and happiness of society are the objects at which all political institutions aim, and to which all such institutions must be sacrificed.
- James Madison, The Federalist, ed. Benjamin F. Wright, no. 43, p. 316 (1961). Inscribed in the Madison Memorial Hall, Library of Congress James Madison Memorial Building.
- We all know of course that we cannot abolish all the evils in this world by statute or by the enforcement of statutes, nor can we prevent the inexorable law of nature which decrees that suffering shall follow vice, and all the evil passions and folly of mankind. Law cannot give to depravity the rewards of virtue, to indolence the rewards of industry, to indifference the rewards of ambition, or to ignorance the rewards of learning. The utmost that government can do is measurably to protect men, not against the wrong they do themselves but against wrong done by others and to promote the long, slow process of educating mind and character to a better knowledge and nobler standards of life and conduct. We know all this, but when we see how much misery there is in the world and instinctively cry out against it, and when we see some things that government may do to mitigate it, we are apt to forget how little after all it is possible for any government to do, and to hold the particular government of the time and place to a standard of responsibility which no government can possibly meet.
- Elihu Root, Experiments in Government and the Essentials of the Constitution, p. 13–14 (1913). The Stafford Little Lectures given at Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, 1913.
- It is customary in democratic countries to deplore expenditure on armaments as conflicting with the requirements of the social services. There is a tendency to forget that the most important social service that a government can do for its people is to keep them alive and free.
- John Cotesworth Slessor, marshal of the Royal Air Force, Strategy for the West (1954), chapter 4, p. 75.
- The ultimate aim of government is not to rule, or restrain, by fear, nor to exact obedience, but contrariwise, to free every man from fear, that he may live in all possible security; in other words, to strengthen his natural right to exist and work without injury to himself or others.
No, the object of government is not to change men from rational beings into beasts or puppets, but to enable them to develop their minds and bodies in security, and to employ their reason unshackled; neither showing hatred, anger, or deceit, nor watched with the eyes of jealousy and injustice. In fact, the true aim of government is liberty.
- Baruch Spinoza, "Tractatus Theologico-Politicus," Writings on Political Philosophy, ed. A. G. A. Balz, trans. R. H. M. Elwes, p. 65 (1937). Other translations vary.
- It is only the novice in political economy who thinks it is the duty of government to make its citizens happy.—Government has no such office. To protect the weak and the minority from the impositions of the strong and the majority—to prevent any one from positively working to render the people unhappy, (if we may so express it,) to do the labor not of an officious inter-meddler in the affairs of men, but of a prudent watchman who prevents outrage—these are rather the proper duties of a government. Under the specious pretext of effecting "the happiness of the whole community," nearly all the wrongs and intrusions of government have been carried through. The legislature may, and should, when such things fall in its way, lend its potential weight to the cause of virtue and happiness—but to legislate in direct behalf of those objects is never available, and rarely effects any even temporary benefit.
- Walt Whitman, "Duties of Government," editorial, Brooklyn Eagle (April 4, 1846). Whitman, The Gathering of the Forces, ed. Cleveland Rodgers and John Black, vol. 1, p. 56–57 (1920).
- Government should not be made an end in itself; it is a means only,—a means to be freely adapted to advance the best interests of the social organism. The State exists for the sake of Society, not Society for the sake of the State.
- Woodrow Wilson, The State; Elements of Historical and Practical Politics, rev. ed., chapter 16, section 1528, p. 636 (1911).