Select a Document from the Menu

Nicomachean Ethics


By Aristotle

c. 350 B.C.

Translated by Thomas L. Pangle

[Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by Thomas L. Pangle. Princeton, N.J.: The Witherspoon Institute. 2011. Book 5, 1129b12–30a6 and 1134b18–35a7.]


The laws pronounce publicly about everything, aiming either at the common advantage of all, or of those who are best, or of those who are sovereign on account of virtue or some other such thing. So we say that in one sense the things are just that make and preserve the happiness and the parts of happiness for the political community. For the law commands the doing of the deeds of a courageous man, . . . and those of a moderate man, . . . and those of a man who is in control of his anger, . . . and similarly with the other virtues and vices, commanding the former and forbidding the latter—correctly if laid down correctly, worse if randomly. It is in this sense that justice is perfect virtue, but not simply: rather, in relation to another. And on account of this justice is often held to be supreme among the virtues, so that neither the evening nor the dawn star is so wonderful; and speaking proverbially we say, “in justice is all of virtue taken together.” And this is perfect virtue especially, because it is the use of perfect virtue. And this is perfect, because the one possessing it is able to use virtue in relation to another also, and not only as regards himself. For many are able to use virtue in their homes, but are incapable of doing so in relation to another. And on account of this the saying of Bias seems good, that “ruling will reveal the man”: for he who rules is in community and relation with another. On account of this same thing justice alone of the virtues is held to be what is good for another. For the just person acts so as to advance what is advantageous to another, either a ruler or a partner. . . .


Of political justice there is on the one hand the natural and on the other hand the conventional, and natural is that possessing the same power everywhere, and not by being held or not, while conventional is that which to begin with makes no difference whether [it] is thus or otherwise, but when it is established, does make a difference—such as that a prisoner’s ransom is one mina, or that a goat ought to be sacrificed but not two sheep, and in addition as many matters as are legislated pertaining to one case, such as that sacrifice is to be made to Brasidas, and voted decrees. It seems to some that all are such, because that which is by nature is unchangeable as well as having everywhere the same power—even as fire burns here and among the Persians, but they observe that the just things change. But this does not thus obtain, though it does in a sense. Indeed, among the gods perhaps not at all; but among us, there is something by nature, though indeed it is all changeable. But nevertheless there is that which is by nature and that which is not by nature. And what sort of the things that can be otherwise are by nature, and what sort are not, but are conventional and by contract, given that both are similarly changeable, is manifest. And in other matters the same boundary fits: for by nature the right is stronger, though indeed it is possible for all to become ambidextrous. . . . the things not naturally just but humanly so are not the same everywhere, since the political regimes are not, but yet there is only one regime that is everywhere best according to nature. And of the just and conventional things in question, each is as a universal in relation to particulars.



By Cicero

54–51 B.C.

[Cicero. De Republica. Translated by Thomas L. Pangle. Princeton, N.J.: The Witherspoon Institute. 2011. Book 3, section 33.]


Laelius the Stoic speaking:

    True law is right reason congruent with nature, diffused in all, constant, sempiternal, which calls with commandments to duty and deters with prohibitions from wrongdoing; it is not ineffective in its commands and prohibitions to men of probity, but it does not move men without probity by its commands and prohibitions. It is not permitted either to try to alter this law or to derogate from it, and it is not possible to abrogate it. We cannot be freed from this law by senate or populace, and we need not seek anyone else to explain or interpret it; and there will not be a different law of Rome, a different law of Athens, or different laws now and different laws in time to come, but for all nations and all times one sempiternal and immutable law, and one god who is like a teacher and emperor for all in common, who is of this law the maker, promulgator and judge. He who disobeys flees himself, and, denying human nature, suffers thereby the worst punishments, even if he escapes what are supposed to be the other penalties . . .



By Cicero

51 BC

[Cicero. De Legibus. Translated by Thomas L. Pangle. Princeton, N.J.: The Witherspoon Institute. 2011. Book 1, sections 18–19.]


Cicero himself speaking:

    Now let us see the principles of justice. The most learned men have been pleased to begin with law, which is correct if it is defined in the way they do: law is the supreme reason inherent in nature, which commands those things which ought to be done and prohibits the contrary. This same reason, when it is confirmed and completed in the human mind, is law. And so they judge that law is prudence, whose strength is to command what it is right to do and forbid wrongdoing. . . . So if this is correctly said, as it usually seems to me for the most part, then the beginning of justice is from law, which is a force of nature, the mind and reasoning of the prudent, the standard of justice and injustice. But since this whole speech of ours now is directed to the reasoning of the populace, it will be necessary to speak popularly, and to name “law” as the vulgar do: that which is written and which decrees what it wishes, either commanding or prohibiting. But in constituting justice in truth let us take the beginning from that supreme law which was born before all the centuries and before any written law or any city was constituted.



By Plutarch

c. 90

[Plutarch. Lycurgus. The Translation Called Dryden's. In the Public Domain. The full version is available at MIT's Internet Classics Archive.]


    To the end, therefore, that he might expel from the state arrogance and envy, luxury and crime, and those yet more inveterate diseases of want and superfluity, Lycurgus obtained of them to renounce their properties, and to consent to a new division of the land, and that they should live all together on an equal footing; merit to be their only road to eminence, and the disgrace of evil, and credit of worthy acts, their one measure of difference between man and man.
    Upon their consent to these proposals, proceeding at once to put them into execution, he divided the country of Laconia in general into thirty thousand equal shares, and the part attached to the city of Sparta into nine thousand; these he distributed among the Spartans, as he did the others to the country citizens.  . . . A lot was so much as to yield, one year with another, about seventy bushels of grain for the master of the family, and twelve for his wife, with a suitable proportion of oil and wine. And this he thought sufficient to keep their bodies in good health and strength; superfluities they were better without. . . . Not contented with this, he resolved to make a division of their movables too, that there might be no odious distinction or inequality left amongst them; but finding that it would be very dangerous to go about it openly, he took another course, and defeated their avarice by the following stratagem: he commanded that all gold and silver coin should be called in, and that only a sort of money made of iron should be current, a great weight and quantity of which was but very little worth; so that to lay up twenty or thirty pounds there was required a pretty large closet, and, to remove it, nothing less than a yoke of oxen. With the diffusion of this money, at once a number of vices were banished from Lacedaemon; for who would rob another of such a coin? Who would unjustly detain or take by force, or accept as a bribe, a thing which it was not easy to hide, nor a credit to have, nor indeed of any use to cut in pieces? . . .
    In the next place, he declared an outlawry of all needless and superfluous arts; but here he might almost have spared his proclamation; for  . . . there was now no more means of purchasing foreign goods and small wares; merchants sent no shiploads into Laconian ports; no rhetoric-master, no itinerant fortune-teller, no harlot-monger or gold or silversmith, engraver, or jeweler, set foot in a country which had no money; so that luxury, deprived little by little of that which fed and fomented it, wasted to nothing, and died away of itself. . . .
    The third and most masterly stroke of this great lawgiver, by which he struck a yet more effectual blow against luxury and the desire of riches, was the ordinance he made, that they should all eat in common, of the same bread and same meat, and of kinds that were specified, and should not spend their lives at home, laid on costly couches at splendid tables, delivering themselves up into the hands of their tradesmen and cooks, to fatten them in corners, like greedy brutes, and to ruin not their minds only but their very bodies, which, enfeebled by indulgence and excess, would stand in need of long sleep, warm bathing, freedom from work, and, in a word, of as much care and attendance as if they were continually sick. . . .
    They used to send their children to these tables as to schools of temperance; here they were instructed in state affairs by listening to experienced statesmen; here they learnt to converse with pleasantry, to make jests without scurrility, and take them without ill humor. . . .
    In order to the good education of their youth (which, as I said before, he thought the most important and noblest work of a lawgiver), he went so far back as to take into consideration their very conception and birth, by regulating their marriages. . . . he ordered the maidens to exercise themselves with wrestling, running, throwing the quoit, and casting the dart, to the end that the fruit they conceived might, in strong and healthy bodies, take firmer root and find better growth, and withal that they, with this greater vigor, might be the more able to undergo the pains of child- bearing. And to the end he might take away their over-great tenderness and fear of exposure to the air, and all acquired womanishness, he ordered that the young women should go naked in the processions, as well as the young men, and dance, too, in that condition, at certain solemn feasts, singing certain songs, whilst the young men stood around, seeing and hearing them. . . .
    These public processions of the maidens, and their appearing naked in their exercises and dancings, were incitements to marriage, operating upon the young with the rigor and certainty, as Plato says, of love, if not of mathematics. But besides all this, to promote it yet more effectually, those who continued bachelors were in a degree disfranchised by law; for they were excluded from the sight of those public processions in which the young men and maidens danced naked, and, in wintertime, the officers compelled them to march naked themselves round the market-place, singing as they went a certain song to their own disgrace, that they justly suffered this punishment for disobeying the laws. Moreover, they were denied that respect and observance which the younger men paid their elders; . . .
    The master used to stay a little with the youths after supper, and one of them he bade to sing a song, to another he put a question which required an advised and deliberate answer; for example, Who was the best man in the city? What he thought of such an action of such a man? They used them thus early to pass a right judgment upon persons and things, and to inform themselves of the abilities or defects of their countrymen. If they had not an answer ready to the question Who was a good or who an ill-reputed citizen, they were looked upon as of a dull and careless disposition, and to have little or no sense of virtue and honor; besides this, they were to give a good reason for what they said, and in as few words and as comprehensive as might be; he that failed of this, or answered not to the purpose, had his thumb bit by his master. Sometimes the Iren did this in the presence of the old men and magistrates, that they might see whether he punished them justly and in due measure or not; and when he did amiss, they would not reprove him before the boys, but, when they were gone, he was called to an account and underwent correction, if he had run far into either of the extremes of indulgence or severity. . . .
    Nor was their instruction in music and verse less carefully attended to than their habits of grace and good breeding in conversation. And their very songs had a life and spirit in them that inflamed and possessed men's minds with an enthusiasm and ardor for action; the style of them was plain and without affectation; the subject always serious and moral; most usually, it was in praise of such men as had died in defense of their country, or in derision of those that had been cowards; the former they declared happy and glorified; the life of the latter they described as most miserable and abject. . . .
    Their education continued still after they were full-grown men. No one was allowed to live after his own fancy; but the city was a sort of camp, in which every man had his share of provisions and business set out, and looked upon himself not so much born to serve his own ends as the interest of his country. Therefore, if they were commanded nothing else, they went to see the boys perform their exercises, to teach them something useful, or to learn it themselves of those who knew better. And, indeed, one of the greatest and highest blessings Lycurgus procured his people was the abundance of leisure, which proceeded from his forbidding to them the exercise of any mean and mechanical trade. Of the money-making that depends on troublesome going about and seeing people and doing business, they had no need at all in a state where wealth obtained no honor or respect. The Helots tilled their ground for them, and paid them yearly in kind the appointed quantity, without any trouble of theirs. . . .
All their time, except when they were in the field, was taken up by the choral dances and the festivals, in hunting, and in attendance on the exercise-grounds and the places of public conversation. Those who were under thirty years of age were not allowed to go into the marketplace, but had the necessaries of their family supplied by the care of their relations and lovers; nor was it for the credit of elderly men to be seen too often in the marketplace; it was esteemed more suitable for them to frequent the exercise-grounds and places of conversation, where they spent their leisure rationally in conversation, not on money-making and market-prices, but for the most part in passing judgment on some action worth considering; extolling the good, and censuring those who were otherwise, and that in a light and sportive manner, conveying, without too much gravity, lessons of advice and improvement. Nor was Lycurgus himself unduly austere; it was he who dedicated, says Sosibius, the little statue of Laughter. Mirth, introduced seasonably at their suppers and places of common entertainment, was to serve as a sort of sweetmeat to accompany their strict and hard life. To conclude, he bred up his citizens in such a way that they neither would nor could live by themselves; they were to make themselves one with the public good, and, clustering like bees around their commander, be by their zeal and public spirit carried all but out of themselves, and devoted wholly to their country. . . .
However, it was not the design of Lycurgus that his city should govern a great many others; he thought rather that the happiness of a state, as of a private man, consisted chiefly in the exercise of virtue, and in the concord of the inhabitants; his aim, therefore, in all his arrangements, was to make and keep them free-minded, self-dependent, and temperate. And therefore all those who have written well on politics, as Plato, Diogenes, and Zeno, have taken Lycurgus for their model, leaving behind them, however, mere projects and words; whereas Lycurgus was the author, not in writing but in reality, of a government which none else could so much as copy; and while men in general have treated the individual philosophic character as unattainable, he, by the example of a complete philosophic state, raised himself high above all other lawgivers of Greece. And so Aristotle says they did him less honor at Lacedaemon after his death than he deserved, although he has a temple there, and they offer sacrifices yearly to him as to a god.

Summa Theologiae


By Thomas Aquinas

[Aquinas, Thomas. The Summa Theologica. Translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Second and Revised Edition. 1920. Revised slightly by Thomas Pangle. 2011. Excerpts from the Treatise on Law and the Treatise on Justice.]


The Treatise on Law (In the First Part of the Second Part)

Ques. 90, art. 3
    Reply OBJ 2: A private person cannot lead another to virtue efficaciously: for he can only advise, and if his advice be not taken, it has no coercive power, such as the law should have, in order to prove an efficacious inducement to virtue, as the Philosopher says (Ethic. x, 9). But this coercive power is vested in the whole people or in some public personage, to whom it belongs to inflict penalties, as we shall state further on (Q92, A2, ad 3; SS, Q64, A3).

Ques. 92, art. 1
    Virtue is twofold, as explained above (Q63, A2), viz. acquired and infused. Now the fact of being accustomed to an action contributes to both, but in different ways; for it causes the acquired virtue; while it disposes to infused virtue, and preserves and fosters it when it already exists. And since law is given for the purpose of directing human acts; as far as human acts conduce to virtue, so far does law make men good. Wherefore the Philosopher says in the second book of the Politics (Ethics ii) that “lawgivers make men good by habituating them to good works.” . . . Since then every man is a part of the state, it is impossible that a man be good, unless he be well proportionate to the common good: nor can the whole be well consistent unless its parts be proportionate to it. Consequently the common good of the state cannot flourish, unless the citizens be virtuous, at least those whose business it is to govern. But it is enough for the good of the community, that the other citizens be so far virtuous that they obey the commands of their rulers. Hence the Philosopher says (Politics ii, 2) that “the virtue of a sovereign is the same as that of a good man, but the virtue of any common citizen is not the same as that of a good man.”

Ques. 92, art. 2
    Reply OBJ 4: From becoming accustomed to avoid evil and fulfill what is good, through fear of punishment, one is sometimes led on to do so likewise, with delight and of one's own accord. Accordingly, law, even by punishing, leads men on to being good.

Ques. 95, art. 1
. . . the perfection of virtue consists chiefly in withdrawing man from undue pleasures, to which above all man is inclined, and especially the young, who are more capable of being trained. Consequently a man needs to receive this training from another, whereby to arrive at the perfection of virtue. . . . Now this kind of training, which compels through fear of punishment, is the discipline of laws. Therefore in order that man might have peace and virtue, it was necessary for laws to be framed.

Ques 100, art. 8
    Precepts admit of dispensation, when there occurs a particular case in which, if the letter of the law be observed, the intention of the lawgiver is frustrated. Now the intention of every lawgiver is directed first and chiefly to the common good; secondly, to the order of justice and virtue, whereby the common good is preserved and attained. If therefore there be any precepts which contain the very preservation of the common good, or the very order of justice and virtue, such precepts contain the intention of the lawgiver, and therefore are indispensable. . . . But if other precepts were enacted, subordinate to the above, and determining certain special modes of procedure, these latter precepts would admit of dispensation, in so far as the omission of these precepts in certain cases would not be prejudicial to the former precepts which contain the intention of the lawgiver. . . .
    Now the precepts of the decalogue contain the very intention of the lawgiver, who is God. For the precepts of the first table, which direct us to God, contain the very order to the common and final good, which is God; while the precepts of the second table contain the order of justice to be observed among men, that nothing undue be done to anyone, and that each one be given his due; for it is in this sense that we are to take the precepts of the decalogue. Consequently the precepts of the decalogue admit of no dispensation whatever.


The Treatise on Justice (Second Part of the Second Part)

Ques. 78, arts. 1 and 2
    To take interest for money lent is unjust in itself, because this is to sell what does not exist, and this evidently leads to inequality which is contrary to justice. . . . money, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. v, 5; Polit. i, 3) was invented chiefly for the purpose of exchange: and consequently the proper and principal use of money is its consumption or alienation whereby it is sunk in exchange. Hence it is by its very nature unlawful to take payment for the use of money lent . . .. The Jews were forbidden to take interest from their brethren, i.e. from other Jews. By this we are given to understand that to take interest from any man is evil simply, because we ought to treat every man as our neighbor and brother, especially in the state of the Gospel, whereto all are called. Hence it is said without any distinction in Ps. 14:5: "He that hath not put out his money to interest," and (Ezech. 18:8): “Who hath not taken interest.” . . . Moreover the Philosopher, led by natural reason, says (Polit. i, 3) that “to make money by interest is exceedingly unnatural.” . . . it is a sin against justice, to take money, by tacit or express agreement, in return for lending money or anything else that is consumed by being used . . .

Preface to the Frame of Government of Pennsylvania

By William Penn


[Penn, William. Preface to the Frame of Government of Pennsylvania. 1682. The Avalon Project. Accessed 31 March 2017. In the Public Domain.]

When the great and wise God had made the world, of all his creatures it pleased him to choose man his deputy to rule it, and to fit him for so great a charge and trust he did not only qualify him with skill and power, but with integrity to use them justly. This native goodness was equally his honour and his happiness, and whilst he stood here, all went well; there was no need of coercive or compulsive means; the precept of divine love and truth in his bosom was the guide and keeper of his innocency. But lust prevailing against duty, made a lamentable breach upon it, and the law that before had no power over him, took place upon him and his disobedient posterity, that such as would not live conformable to the holy law within, should fall under the reproof and correction of the just law without, in a judicial administration.

This the apostle teaches us in divers of his epistles. The law (says he) was added because of transgression; in another place, knowing that the law was not made for the righteous man but for the disobedient and ungodly, for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers, for whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, and for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, etc. But this is not all. He opens and carries the matter of government a little further: let every soul be subject to the higher powers for there is no power but of God. The powers that be are ordained of God: whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil; wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same. He is the minister of God to thee for good. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but for conscience’ sake.

This settles the divine right of government beyond exception, and that for two ends: first, to terrify evil-doers; secondly, to cherish those that do well, which gives government a life beyond corruption and makes it as durable in the world as good men shall be. So that government seems to me a part of religion itself, a thing sacred in its institution and end. For if it does not directly remove the cause, it crushes the effects of evil, and is as such (though a lower yet) an emanation of the same Divine Power that is both author and object of pure religion; the difference lying here, that the one is more free and mental, the other more corporal and compulsive in its operations, but that is only to evil-doers; government itself being otherwise as capable of kindness, goodness and charity as a more private society. They weakly err that think there is no other use of government than correction, which is the coarsest part of it; daily experience tells us that the care and regulation of many other affairs more soft and daily necessary make up much the greatest part of government and which must have followed the peopling of the world had Adam never fell, and will continue among men on earth under the highest attainments they may arrive at, by the coming of the blessed second Adam, the Lord from heaven. Thus much of government in general, as to its rise and end.

For particular frames and models it will become me to say little, and comparatively I will say nothing. My reasons are: first, that the age is too nice and difficult for it, there being nothing the wits of men are more busy and divided upon. ‘Tis true, they seem to agree in the end, to wit, happiness, but in the means they differ as to divine, so to this human felicity, and the cause is much the same, not always want of light and knowledge, but want of using them rightly. Men side with their passions against their reason, and their sinister interests have so strong a bias upon their minds that they lean to them against the good of the things they know.

Secondly, I do not find a model in the world that time, place, and some singular emergences have not necessarily altered; nor is it easy to frame a civil government that shall serve all places alike.

Thirdly, I know what is said by the several admirers of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, which are the rule of one, a few, and many, and are the three common ideas of government, when men discourse on that subject. But I choose to solve the controversy with this small distinction, and it belongs to all three: any government is free to the people under it (whatever be the frame) where the laws rule, and the people are a party to those laws, and more than this is tyranny, oligarchy, and confusion.

But lastly, when all is said, there is hardly one frame of government in the world so ill designed by its first founders that in good hands would not do well enough, and story tells us the best in ill ones can do nothing that is great or good; witness the Jewish and Roman states. Governments, like clocks, go from the motion men give them, and as governments are made and moved by men, so by them they are ruined too. Wherefore governments rather depend upon men than men upon governments. Let men be good, and the government cannot be bad; if it be ill, they will cure it. But if men be bad, let the government be never so good, they will endeavour to warp and spoil to their turn.

I know some say, let us have good laws and no matter for the men that execute them. But let them consider that though good laws do well, good men do better; for good laws may want good men, and be abolished or invaded by ill men; but good men will never want good laws, nor suffer ill ones. ‘Tis true, good laws have some awe upon ill ministers, but that is where they have not power to escape or abolish them, and the people are generally wise and good; but a loose and depraved people (which is to the question) love laws and an administration like themselves. That, therefore, which makes a good constitution, must keep it; viz., men of wisdom and virtue, qualities that because they descend not with worldly inheritances, must be carefully propagated by a virtuous education of youth, for which after ages will owe more to the care and prudence of founders, and the successive magistracy, than to their parents for their private patrimonies.

These considerations of the weight of government, and the nice and various opinions about it, made it uneasy to me to think of publishing the ensuing frame and conditional laws, foreseeing both the censures they will meet with from men of differing humours and engagements, and the occasion they may give of discourse beyond my design.

But next to the power of necessity (which is a solicitor that will take no denial) this induced me to a compliance that we have (with reverence to God and good conscience to men) to the best of our skill, contrived and composed the FRAME and LAWS of this government to the great end of all government, viz., to support power in reverence with the people and to secure the people from the abuse of power, that they may be free by their just obedience, and the magistrates honourable for their just administration; for liberty without obedience is confusion, and obedience without liberty is slavery. To carry this evenness is partly owing to the constitution, and partly to the magistracy; where either of these fail, government will be subject to convulsions; but where both are wanting, it must be totally subverted: then where both meet, the government is like to endure. Which I humbly pray and hope God will please to make the lot of this of Pennsylvania.

A Letter Concerning Toleration 




By John Locke




[Locke, John.  The Works of John Locke in Nine Volumes. (London: Rivington, 1824 12th ed.). Vol. 5. Accessed 5/23/2017. < In the Public Domain.]



The commonwealth seems to me to be a society of men constituted only for the procuring, preserving, and advancing their own civil interests. Civil interest I call life, liberty, health, and indolency of body; and the possession of outward things, such as money, lands, houses, furniture, and the like. . .


Now that the whole jurisdiction of the magistrate reaches only to these civil concernments; and that all civil power, right, and dominion, is bounded and confined to the only care of promoting these things; and that it neither can nor ought in any manner to be extended to the salvation of souls; these following considerations seem unto me abundantly to demonstrate. First, Because the care of souls is not committed to the civil magistrate, any more than to other men. . . .    


But besides their souls, which are immortal, men have also their temporal lives here upon earth; the state whereof being frail and fleeting, and the duration uncertain, they have need of several outward conveniencies to the support thereof, which are to be procured or preserved by pains and industry; for those things that are necessary to the comfortable support of our lives, are not the spontaneous products of nature, nor do offer themselves fit and prepared for our use. This part, therefore, draws on another care, and necessarily gives another employment. But the pravity of mankind being such, that they had rather injuriously prey upon the fruits of other men's labours than take pains to provide for themselves; the necessity of preserving men in the possession of what honest industry has already acquired, and also of preserving their liberty and strength, whereby they may acquire what they farther want, obliges men to enter into society with one another; that by mutual assistance and joint force, they may secure unto each other their properties, in the things that contribute to the comforts and happiness of this life; leaving in the mean while to every man the care of his own eternal happiness, the attainment whereof can neither be facilitated by another man's industry, nor can the loss of it turn to another man's prejudice, nor the hope of it be forced from him by any external violence. But forasmuch as men thus entering into societies, grounded upon their mutual compacts of assistance, for the defence of their temporal goods, may nevertheless be deprived of them, either by the rapine and fraud of their fellow-citizens, or by the hostile violence of foreigners: the remedy of this evil consists in arms, riches, and multitudes of citizens: the remedy of others in laws: and the care of all things relating both to the one and the other is committed by the society to the civil magistrate. This is the original, this is the use, and these are the bounds of the legislative, which is the supreme power in every commonwealth. I mean, that provision may be made for the security of each man's private possessions; for the peace, riches, and public commodities of the whole people, and, as much as possible, for the increase of their inward strength against foreign invasions.

Second Treatise of Government


By John Locke



[Locke, John. Treatise of Government, Book 2. 1690. In the Public Domain. Available at the Online Library of Liberty.]



123. If man in the state of nature be so free, as has been said; if he be absolute lord of his own person and possessions, equal to the greatest, and subject to no body, why will he part with his freedom? Why will he give up this empire, and subject himself to the dominion and control of any other power? To which it is obvious to answer, that though in the state of nature he hath such a right, yet the enjoyment of it is very uncertain, and constantly exposed to the invasion of others. For all being kings as much as he, every man his equal, and the greater part no strict observers of equity and justice, the enjoyment of the property he has in this state is very unsafe, very unsecure. This makes him willing to quit this condition, which, however free, is full of fears and continual dangers: and it is not without reason, that he seeks out, and is willing to join in society with others, who are already united, or have a mind to unite, for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties, and estates, which I call by the general name, property.


124. The great and chief end, therefore, of men's uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property. To which in the state of nature there are many things wanting.

The Spirit of the Laws


By Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu


Translated by Thomas L. Pangle

[Montesquieu, Charles de Secondat, Baron de. L’Ésprit des Lois. 1748. Translated by Thomas L. Pangle.]


Bk. 3, chap. 1

The Greek political thinkers, who lived in governments of the people, recognized no other force which could sustain them except that of virtue. Today’s political thinkers speak to us solely of manufactures, of commerce, of finances, or riches, and even of luxury. When that virtue ceases, ambition enters the hearts of those who can receive it, and avarice enters the hearts of everyone.

Bk. 4, chap. 5

It is in republican government that one has need of the complete power of education. . . . the honor that animates monarchies is favored by the passions, and favors them in return; but political virtue is a self-renunciation, which is always something very unpleasant. One can define that virtue, as the love of the laws and the fatherland. This love, demanding a continual preference of the public interest to one’s own interest, gives all the individual virtues; they are nothing but that preference.

Bk. 4, chap. 6

The ancient Greeks, penetrated by the necessity that peoples who live under a government of the people were raised to virtue, made, in order to inspire it, singular institutions. . . . Lycurgus seemed to take away from the city all resources, all arts, commerce, money, walls; there one had ambition, without hope of bettering oneself; one had natural feelings, and one was neither child, nor husband, nor father: shame itself was taken away from chastity. . . .

It is extraordinary that what one sees in the institutions of Greece, we have seen in the dregs and the corruption of our modern times. An honest lawgiver has formed a people where probity would appear as natural as bravery among the Spartans. Mr. Penn is a true Lycurgus; and, although the first had peace for his object, as the other had war, they resemble one another in the singular path they put their people on, in the ascendancy they obtained over free men, in the prejudices that they vanquished, in the passions that they dominated. . . .

Those who would wish to make comparable institutions, would establish the community of property of the Republic of Plato, that respect that he demanded for the gods, that separation from strangers in order to preserve the morals, with the city carrying on the commerce, rather than the citizens; they would give our arts without our luxury, and our needs without our desires.

Bk. 11, chap. 4

Democracy and aristocracy are not free States by their nature. Political liberty is found only in moderate governments. . . . it an eternal experience that every person who has some power is carried away to the abuse of it; he goes on until he finds limits. Who would declare it! Virtue itself has need of limits.

Bk. 20, chap. 1

Commerce cures destructive prejudices; and this is almost a general rule—that wherever there are soft morals, there is commerce; and that wherever there is commerce, there are soft morals.

Let no one be astonished at all then if our morals are less ferocious than they were in earlier times. Commerce has made it so that the knowledge of the morals of all the nations has penetrated everywhere: they have been compared one with the other, and there has resulted great good.

One can say that the laws of commerce perfect the morals, for the very same reason that these same laws destroy the morals. Commerce corrupts pure morals: this was the subject of the complaints of Plato; commerce polishes and softens barbarian morals, as we are seeing everyday.

“Of the Absolute Rights of Individuals”


By William Blackstone


[Blackstone, William. “Of the Absolute Rights of Individuals.” Chapter 1 of Book 1 in Commentaries on the Laws of England in Four Books. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co. 1893. Volume 1. In the Public Domain. Accessed 5/23/2017.]


By the absolute rights of individuals, we mean those which are so in their primary and strictest sense; such as would belong to their persons merely in a state of nature, and which every man is entitled to enjoy, whether out of society or in it. But with regard to the absolute duties, which man is bound  to perform considered as a mere individual, it is not to be expected that any human municipal law should at all explain or enforce them. For the end and intent of such laws being only to regulate the behaviour of mankind, as they are members of society, and stand in various relations to each other, they have consequently no concern with any other but social or relative duties. Let a man therefore be ever so abandoned in his principles, or vicious in his practice, provided he keeps his wickedness to himself, and does not offend against the rules of public decency, he is out of the reach of human laws. . . . But, with respect to rights, the case is different. Human laws define and enforce as well those rights which belong to a man considered as an individual, as those which belong to him considered as related to others.

The Anti-Federalist Papers, Brutus No. 2


Nov. 1, 1787

[Brutus No. 2.  November 1, 1787. The Complete Anti-Federalist. Edited by Herbert J. Storing. 7 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981. Accessed 11 May 2017.]

. . . When a building is to be erected which is intended to stand for ages, the foundation should be firmly laid. The constitution proposed to your acceptance, is designed not for yourselves alone, but for generations yet unborn. The principles, therefore, upon which the social compact is founded, ought to have been clearly and precisely stated, and the most express and full declaration of rights to have been made--But on this subject there is almost an entire silence.

If we may collect the sentiments of the people of America, from their own most solemn declarations, they hold this truth as self evident, that all men are by nature free. No one man, therefore, or any class of men, have a right, by the law of nature, or of God, to assume or exercise authority over their fellows. The origin of society then is to be sought, not in any natural right which one man has to exercise authority over another, but in the united consent of those who associate. . . . In a state of nature every individual pursues his own interest; in this pursuit it frequently happened, that the possessions or enjoyments of one were sacrificed to the views and designs of another; thus the weak were a prey to the strong, the simple and unwary were subject to impositions from those who were more crafty and designing. In this state of things, every individual was insecure; common interest therefore directed, that government should be established, in which the force of the whole community should be collected, and under such directions, as to protect and defend every one who composed it. The common good, therefore, is the end of civil government, and common consent, the foundation on which it is established. To effect this end, it was necessary that a certain portion of natural liberty should be surrendered, in order, that what remained should be preserved: . . . But it is not necessary, for this purpose, that individuals should relinquish all their natural rights. Some are of such a nature that they cannot be surrendered. Of this kind are the rights of conscience, the right of enjoying and defending life, etc. Others are not necessary to be resigned, in order to attain the end for which government is instituted, these therefore ought not to be given up. . . . The same reasons which at first induced mankind to associate and institute government, will operate to influence them to observe this precaution. If they had been disposed to conform themselves to the rule of immutable righteousness, government would not have been requisite. It was because one part exercised fraud, oppression, and violence on the other, that men came together, and agreed that certain rules should be formed, to regulate the conduct of all, and the power of the whole community lodged in the hands of rulers to enforce an obedience to them. But rulers have the same propensities as other men; they are as likely to use the power with which they are vested for private purposes, and to the injury and oppression of those over whom they are placed, as individuals in a state of nature are to injure and oppress one another. It is therefore as proper that bounds should be set to their authority, as that government should have at first been instituted to restrain private injuries.

“An Examination into the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution”


By Noah Webster

October 10, 1787

[Webster, Noah. “An Examination into the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution.” In Friends of the Constitution: Writings of the “Other” Federalists, 1787–1788, edited by Colleen A. Sheehan and Gary L. McDowell (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1998). 5/11/2017. Online Library of Liberty. Used with permission of the Online Library of Liberty.]

To assist the struggle for liberty, commerce has interposed, and in conjunction with manufacturers, thrown a vast weight of property into the democratic scale. Wherever we cast our eyes, we see this truth, that property is the basis of power; and this, being established as a cardinal point, directs us to the means of preserving our freedom. Make laws, irrevocable laws in every state, destroying and barring entailments; leave real estates to revolve from hand to hand, as time and accident may direct; and no family influence can be acquired and established for a series of generations--no man can obtain dominion over a large territory--the laborious and saving, who are generally the best citizens, will possess each his share of property and power, and thus the balance of wealth and power will continue where it is, in the body of the people. . . .

Virtue, patriotism, or love of country, never was and never will be, till mens’ natures are changed, a fixed, permanent principle and support of government. But in an agricultural country, a general possession of land in fee simple, may be rendered perpetual, and the inequalities introduced by commerce, are too fluctuating to endanger government. An equality of property, with a necessity of alienation, constantly operating to destroy combinations of powerful families, is the very soul of a republic--While this continues, the people will inevitably possess both power and freedom; when this is lost, power departs, liberty expires, and a commonwealth will inevitably assume some other form. 

Virginia Declaration of Rights


June 12, 1776 

[Virginia Declaration of Rights. 12 June 1776. In the Public Domain. Full version available at The Founders' Constitution.]


1. That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

6. That elections of members to serve as Representatives of the people, in Assembly, ought to be free; and that all men, having sufficient evidence of permanent common interest with, and attachment to, the community, have the right of suffrage, and cannot be taxed or deprived of their property for publick uses without their own consent or that of their Representative so elected, nor bound by any law to which they have not, in like manner, assented, for the publick good.

15. That no free Government, or the blessing of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.

16. That Religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and, therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practise Christian forbearance, love, and charity, towards each other.

Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776, Declaration of Rights



[Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776, Declaration of Rights. 1776. In the Public Domain. Full Version available at the Founders' Constitution.]

I. That all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain natural, inherent and inalienable rights, amongst which are, the enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

II. That all men have a natural and unalienable right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences and understanding: And that no man ought or of right can be compelled to attend any religious worship, or erect or support any place of worship, or maintain any ministry, contrary to, or against, his own free will and consent: Nor can any man, who acknowledges the being of a God, be justly deprived or abridged of any civil right as a citizen, on account of his religious sentiments or peculiar mode of religious worship: And that no authority can or ought to be vested in, or assumed by any power whatever, that shall in any case interfere with, or in any manner controul, the right of conscience in the free exercise of religious worship.

XIV. That a frequent recurrence to fundamental principles, and a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, industry, and frugality are absolutely necessary to preserve the blessings of liberty, and keep a government free: The people ought therefore to pay particular attention to these points in the choice of officers and representatives, and have a right to exact a due and constant regard to them, from their legislatures and magistrates, in the making and executing such laws as are necessary for the good government of the state. 

Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, Declaration of Rights



[Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, Declaration of Rights. 1780. In the Public Domain. Full version available at The Founders’ Constitution.]

Art. I.--All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.

II.--It is the right as well as the duty of all men in society, publicly, and at stated seasons, to worship the SUPREME BEING, the great creator and preserver of the universe. And no subject shall be hurt, molested, or restrained, in his person, liberty, or estate, for worshipping GOD in the manner and season most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience; or for his religious profession or sentiments; provided he doth not disturb the public peace, or obstruct others in their religious worship.

III.--As the happiness of a people, and the good order and preservation of civil government, essentially depend upon piety, religion and morality; and as these cannot be generally diffused through a community, but by the institution of the public worship of GOD, and of public instructions in piety, religion and morality: Therefore, to promote their happiness and to secure the good order and preservation of their government, the people of this Commonwealth have a right to invest their legislature with power to authorize and require, and the legislature shall, from time to time, authorize and require, the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies-politic, or religious societies, to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the institution of the public worship of GOD, and for the support and maintenance of public protestant teachers of piety, religion and morality, in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily. And the people of this Commonwealth have also a right to, and do, invest their legislature with authority to enjoin upon all the subjects an attendance upon the instructions of the public teachers aforesaid, at stated times and seasons, if there be any on whose instructions they can conscientiously and conveniently attend.

XVIII.--A frequent recurrence to the fundamental principles of the constitution, and a constant adherence to those of piety, justice, moderation, temperance, industry, and frugality, are absolutely necessary to preserve the advantages of liberty, and to maintain a free government: The people ought, consequently, to have a particular attention to all those principles, in the choice of their officers and representatives: And they have a right to require of their law-givers and magistrates, an exact and constant observance of them, in the formation and execution of the laws necessary for the good administration of the Commonwealth.  


Virginia Ratifying convention, Proposed Amendment


June 27, 1788

[Virginia Ratifying Convention, Proposed Amendments. June 27, 1788. In the Public Domain. Full version available at The Founders' Constitution]

That there be a declaration or bill of rights asserting, and securing from encroachment, the essential and unalienable rights of the people, in some such manner as the following:-- 1st. That there are certain natural rights, of which men, when they form a social compact, cannot deprive or divest their posterity; among which are the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

North Carolina Ratifying Convention, Proposed Declaration of Rights Amendments


August 1, 1788

[North Carolina Ratifying Convention, Proposed Declaration of Rights Amendments. 1 August 1788. In the Public Domain. Full version available at The Founders' Constitution.]

    1. That there are certain natural rights, of which men, when they form a social compact, cannot deprive or divest their posterity, among which are the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

The U.S. Bill of Rights


March 4, 1789


(Ratified December 15, 1791)


[The Bill of Rights: A Transcription. The U.S. National Archives. In the Public Domain.]


The Preamble to The Bill of Rights

Congress of the United States
begun and held at the City of New-York, on
Wednesday the fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine.

THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.

RESOLVED by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, two thirds of both Houses concurring, that the following Articles be proposed to the Legislatures of the several States, as amendments to the Constitution of the United States, all, or any of which Articles, when ratified by three fourths of the said Legislatures, to be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of the said Constitution; viz.

ARTICLES in addition to, and Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, proposed by Congress, and ratified by the Legislatures of the several States, pursuant to the fifth Article of the original Constitution.

[Note: The following text is a transcription of the first ten amendments to the Constitution in their original form. These amendments were ratified December 15, 1791, and form what is known as the “Bill of Rights.”]


Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.


Amendment II

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.


Amendment III

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.


Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.


Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.


Amendment VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.


Amendment VII

In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.


Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.


Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.


Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.