1) George Washington (1789-1797):
"The Citizens of America, placed in the most enviable condition, as the sole Lords and Proprietors of a vast tract of Continent, comprehending all the various Soils and Climates of the World and abounding with all the necessaries and conveniences of life, are now, by the late satisfactory pacification, acknowledged to be possessed of absolute freedom and Independency. They are from this period to be considered as the Actors, on a most conspicuous Theatre, which seems to be peculiarly designated by Providence for the display of human greatness and felicity. Here they are not only surrounded with every thing which can contribute to the completion of private and domestic enjoyment, but Heaven has crowned all its other blessings by giving a fairer opportunity for political happiness, than any other Nation has ever been favored with. Nothing can illustrate these observations more forcibly than a recollection of the happy conjuncture of times and circumstances under which our Republic assumed its Rank among the Nations—the foundation of our Empire was not laid in the gloomy Age of ignorance and superstition, but at an Epocha when the rights of Mankind were better understood and more clearly defined, than at any former period—The researches of the human Mind after social happiness have been carried to a great extent, the treasures of knowledge acquired by the labors of Philosophers, Sages and Legislators, through a long succession of years, are laid open for our use and their collected wisdom may be happily applied in the establishment of our forms of Government. The free cultivation of letters, the unbounded extension of Commerce, the progressive Refinement of manners, the growing liberality of sentiment, and, above all, the pure and benign light of Revelation, have had a meliorating influence on Mankind and increased the blessings of Society. At this Auspicious period the United States came into existence as a Nation, and if their Citizens should not be completely free & happy, the fault will be entirely their own.
Such is our situation, and such are our prospects: but notwithstanding the Cup of blessing is thus reached out to us, notwithstanding happiness is ours if we have a disposition to seize the occasion and make it our own, yet it appears to me there is an option still left to the United States of America; that it is in their choice and depends upon their conduct, whether they will be respectable and prosperous or contemptible and Miserable as a Nation. This is the time of their political probation: this is the moment when the eyes of the whole World are turned upon them—This is the moment to establish or ruin their National Character for ever—This is the favorable moment to give such a tone to our federal Government, as will enable it to answer the ends of its institution—or this may be the ill fated moment for relaxing the powers of the Union, annihilating the cement of the Confederation and exposing us to become the sport of European Politics, which may play one State against another, to prevent their growing importance and to serve their own interested purposes; for according to the System of Policy the States shall adopt at this moment, they will stand or fall, and by their confirmation or lapse, it is yet to be decided whether the Revolution must ultimately be considered as a blessing or a curse: a blessing or a curse, not to the present Age alone, for with our fate will the destiny of unborn Millions be involved.
With this conviction of the importance of the present Crisis, silence in me would be a crime; I will therefore speak to your Excellency the language of freedom and sincerity without disguise. I am aware, however, that those who differ from me in political sentiment may perhaps remark I am stepping out of the proper line of my duty, and they may possibly ascribe to arrogance or ostentation what I know is alone the result of the purest intention; but the rectitude of my own heart, which disdains such unworthy motives; the part I have hitherto acted in life; the determination I have formed of not taking any share in public business hereafter; the ardent desire I feel and shall continue to manifest of quietly enjoying in private life, after all the toils of War, the benefits of a wise and liberal Government, will, I flatter myself, sooner or later convince my Country men that I could have no sinister views in delivering, with so little Reserve, the opinions contained in this address.
There are four things, which I humbly conceive are essential to the well being, I may even venture to say to the existence, of the United States as an Independent Power.
1st An indissoluble Union of the States under one federal Head.
2ndly A sacred regard to public Justice.
3dly The adoption of a proper Peace Establishment—and
4thly The prevalence of that pacific and friendly disposition among the people of the United States, which will induce them to forget their local prejudices and policies, to make those mutual concessions which are requisite to the general prosperity, and, in some instances, to sacrifice their individual advantages to the interest of the community.
These are the pillars on which the glorious fabric of our Independency and National Character must be supported —Liberty is the basis—and whoever would dare to sap the foundation or overturn the Structure under whatever specious pretexts he may attempt it, will merit the bitterest execration and the severest punishments which can be inflicted by his injured Country.
On the three first Articles I will make a few observations, leaving the last to the good sense and serious consideration of those immediately concerned.
Under the first head, although it may not be necessary or proper for me in this place to enter into a particular disquisition of the principles of the Union and to take up the great question which has been frequently agitated, whether it be expedient and requisite for the States to delegate a larger proportion of Power to Congress or not, yet it will be a part of my duty, and that of every true Patriot; to assert without reserve and to insist upon the following positions—That unless the States will suffer Congress to exercise those prerogatives they are undoubtedly invested with by the Constitution, every thing must very rapidly tend to Anarchy and confusion—that it is indispensable to the happiness of the individual States that there should be lodged somewhere, a supreme power to regulate and govern the general concerns of the confederated Republic, without which the Union cannot be of long duration—That there must be a faithful and pointed compliance on the part of every State with the late proposals and demands of Congress, or the most fatal consequences will ensue; that whatever measures have a tendency to dissolve the Union, or contribute to violate or lessen the Sovereign Authority, ought to be considered as hostile to the Liberty and Independency of America and the Authors of them treated accordingly; and lastly, that unless we can be enabled, by the concurrence of the States, to participate of the fruits of the Revolution, and enjoy the essential benefits of civil Society, under a form of Government so free and uncorrupted, so happily guarded against the danger of oppression as has been devised and adopted by the Articles of Confederation, it will be a subject of regret that so much blood and treasure have been lavished for no purpose; that so many sufferings have been encounter’d, without a compensation and that so many sacrifices have been made in vain.
Many other considerations might here be adduced to prove, that without an entire conformity to the spirit of the Union we cannot exist—as an independent Power. It will be sufficient for my purpose, to mention but one or two which seem to me of the greatest importance. It is only in our United Character, as an Empire, that our Independence is acknowledged, that our power can be regarded or our Credit supported among foreign Nations—the Treaties of the European Powers with the United States of America will have no validity on a dissolution of the Union. We shall be left nearly in a State of Nature, or we may find by our own unhappy experience, that there is a natural and necessary progression from the extreme of Anarchy to the extreme of Tyranny, and that arbitrary power is most easily established on the ruins of Liberty abused to Licentiousness.
As to the Second Article, which respects the performance of public justice, Congress have in their late address to the United States almost exhausted the Subject, they have explained their ideas so fully and have enforced the obligations the States are under to render complete justice to all the public Creditors, with so much dignity and energy, that in my opinion no real friend to the honor and Independency of America, can hesitate a single moment respecting the propriety of complying with the just and honorable measures proposed. If their Arguments do not produce conviction, I know of nothing that will have greater influence, especially when we recollect that the System referred to, being the result of the collected wisdom of the Continent, must be esteemed, if not perfect, certainly the least objectionable of any that could be devised, and that if it shall not be carried into immediate execution, a National Bankruptcy, with all its deplorable consequences, will take place before any different plan can possibly be proposed and adopted, so pressing are the present circumstances! And such is the alternative now offered to the States!
The ability of the Country to discharge the debts which have been incurred in its defence, is not to be doubted, an inclination I flatter myself will not be wanting: the path of our duty is plain before us—honesty will be found on every experiment to be the best and only true policy—let us then as a Nation be just—let us fulfill the public Contracts which Congress had undoubtedly a right to make for the purpose of carrying on the War, with the same good faith we suppose ourselves bound to perform our private engagements; in the mean time let an attention to the cheerful performance of their proper business as individuals and as members of Society be earnestly inculcated on the Citizens of America—then will they strengthen the hands of Government and be happy under its protection, every one will reap the fruit of his Labors, every one will enjoy his own acquisitions without molestation and without danger.
In this state of absolute freedom and perfect security, who will grudge to yield a very little of his property to support the common interests of Society and ensure the protection of Government? Who does not remember the frequent declarations at the commencement of the War that we should be completely satisfied, if at the expense of one half, we could defend the remainder of our possessions! Where is the Man to be found who wishes to remain indebted for the defence of his own person and property to the exertions, the bravery and the blood of others, without making one generous effort to repay the debt of honor and of gratitude? In what part of the Continent shall we find any Man or body of Men who would not blush to stand up and propose measures purposely calculated to rob the Soldier of his Stipend and the public Creditor of his due and were it possible that such a flagrant instance of injustice could ever happen, would it not excite the general indignation and tend to bring down upon the authors of such measures the aggravated vengeance of Heaven?
If after all, a spirit of disunion or a temper of obstinacy and perverseness should manifest itself in any of the States; if such an ungracious disposition should attempt to frustrate all the happy effects that might be expected to flow from the Union; if there should be a refusal to comply with the Requisitions for funds to discharge the annual Interest of the public Debts and if that refusal should revive again all those jealousies and produce all those evils which are now happily removed, Congress, who have, in all their transactions, shewn a great degree of magnanimity and justice, will stand justified in the sight of God and Man and the State alone which puts itself in opposition to the aggregate wisdom of the Continent and follows such mistaken and pernicious councils, will be responsible for all the Consequences..."
Text in Picture/Back of Shirt:
“There is an option still left to the United States of America; that it is in their choice and depends upon their conduct, whether they will be respectable and prosperous or contemptible and miserable as a Nation. This is the time of their political probation: this is the moment when the eyes of the whole World are turned upon them—this is the moment to establish or ruin their National Character forever—this is the favorable moment to give such a tone to our Federal Government, as will enable it to answer the ends of its institution—or this may be the ill fated moment for relaxing the powers of the Union, annihilating the cement of the Confederation and exposing us to become the sport of European Politics, which may play one State against another, to prevent their growing importance and to serve their own interested purposes; for according to the System of Policy the States shall adopt at this moment, they will stand or fall, and by their confirmation or lapse. Liberty is the basis—and whoever would dare to sap the foundation or overturn the Structure under whatever specious pretexts he may attempt it, will merit the bitterest execration and the severest punishments which can be inflicted by his injured Country.”
Circular to the States
June 8, 1783
2) John Adams (1797-1801):
"A native of America who cannot read and write is as rare an appearance, as a Jacobite or a Roman Catholic, i.e. as rare as a Comet or an Earthquake. It has been observed, that we are all of us, lawyers, divines, politicians and philosophers. And I have good authorities to say that all candid foreigners who have passed thro’ this country, and conversed freely with all sorts of people here, will allow, that they have never seen so much knowledge and civility among the common people in any part of the world. It is true, there has been among us a party for some years, consisting chiefly not of the descendants of the first settlers of this country but of high churchmen and high statesmen, imported since, who affect to censure this provision for the education of our youth as a needless expense, and an imposition upon the rich in favor of the poor—and as an institution productive of idleness and vain speculation among the people, whose time and attention it is said ought to be devoted to labor, and not to public affairs or to examination into the conduct of their superiors. And certain officers of the crown, and certain other missionaries of ignorance, foppery, servility and slavery, have been most inclined to countenance and increase the same party. Be it remembered, however, that liberty must at all hazards be supported. We have a right to it, derived from our Maker. But if we had not, our fathers have earned, and bought it for us, at the expense of their ease, their estates, their pleasure, and their blood. And liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right from the frame of their nature, to knowledge, as their great Creator who does nothing in vain, has given them understandings, and a desire to know—but besides this they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible divine right to that most dreaded, and envied kind of knowledge, I mean of the characters and conduct of their rulers. Rulers are no more than attorneys, agents and trustees for the people; and if the cause, the interest and trust is insidiously betrayed, or wantonly trifled away, the people have a right to revoke the authority, that they themselves have deputed, and to constitute abler and better agents, attorneys and trustees. And the preservation of the means of knowledge, among the lowest ranks, is of more importance to the public, than all the property of all the rich men in the country. It is even of more consequence to the rich themselves, and to their posterity. The only question is whether it is a public emolument? And if it is, the rich ought undoubtedly to contribute in the same proportion, as to all other public burdens, i.e. in proportion to their wealth which is secured by public expenses. But none of the means of information are more sacred, or have been cherished with more tenderness and care by the settlers of America, than the Press. Care has been taken, that the art of printing should be encouraged, and that it should be easy and cheap and safe for any person to communicate his thoughts to the public. And you, Messieurs Printers, whatever the tyrants of the earth may say of your paper, have done important service to your country, by your readiness and freedom in publishing the speculations of the curious. The stale, impudent insinuations of slander and sedition, with which the gormandizers of power have endeavored to discredit your paper, are so much the more to your honor; for the jaws of power are always opened to devour, and her arm is always stretched out if possible to destroy, the freedom of thinking, speaking and writing. And if the public interest, liberty and happiness have been in danger, from the ambition or avarice of any great man or number of great men, whatever may be their politeness, address, learning, ingenuity and in other respects integrity and humanity, you have done yourselves honor and your country service, by publishing and pointing out that avarice and ambition. These views are so much the more dangerous and pernicious, for the virtues with which they may be accompanied in the same character, and with so much the more watchful jealousy to be guarded against.
“Curse on such virtues, they’ve undone their country.”
Be not intimidated therefore, by any terrors, from publishing with the utmost freedom, whatever can be warranted by the laws of your country; nor suffer yourselves to be wheedled out of your liberty, by any pretenses of politeness, delicacy or decency. These as they are often used, are but three different names, for hypocrisy, chicanery and cowardice. Much less I presume will you be discouraged by any pretenses, that malignants on this side the water will represent your paper as factious and seditious, or that the Great on the other side the water will take offense at them. This Dread of representation, has had for a long time in this province effects very similar to what the physicians call an hydropho, or dread of water. It has made us delirious. And we have rushed headlong into the water, till we are almost drowned, out of simple or phrensical fear of it. Believe me, the character of this country has suffered more in Britain, by the pusillanimity with which we have borne many insults and indignities from the creatures of power at home, and the creatures of those creatures here, than it ever did or ever will by the freedom and spirit that has been or will be discovered in writing, or action. Believe me my countrymen, they have imbibed an opinion on the other side the water, that we are an ignorant, a timid and a stupid people, nay their tools on this side have often the impudence to dispute your bravery. But I hope in God the time is near at hand, when they will be fully convinced of your understanding, integrity and courage. But can any thing be more ridiculous, were it not too provoking to be laughed at, than to pretend that offense should be taken at home for writings here? Pray let them look at home. Is not the human understanding exhausted there? Are not reason, imagination, wit, passion, senses and all, tortured to find out satyr and invective against the characters of the vile and futile fellows who sometimes get into place and power? The most exceptionable paper that ever I saw here, is perfect prudence and modesty, in comparison of multitudes of their applauded writings. Yet the high regard they have for the freedom of the Press, indulges all. I must and will repeat it, your Paper deserves the patronage of every friend to his country. And whether the defamers of it are arrayed in robes of scarlet or sable, whether they lurk and skulk in an insurance office, whether they assume the venerable character of a Priest, the sly one of a scrivener, or the dirty, infamous, abandoned one of an informer, they are all the creatures and tools of the lust of domination.
The true source of our sufferings, has been our timidity."
Text in Picture/Back of Shirt:
“It is true, there has been among us a party for some years, consisting chiefly not of the descendants of the first settlers of this country, but of high churchmen and high statesmen imported since, who affect to censure this provision for the education of our youth as a needless expense, and an imposition upon the rich in favor of the poor, and as an institution productive of idleness and vain speculation among the people, whose time and attention, it is said, ought to be devoted to labor, and not to public affairs, or to examination into the conduct of their superiors. And certain officers of the crown, and certain other missionaries of ignorance, foppery, servility, and slavery, have been most inclined to countenance and increase the same party. Be it remembered, however, that liberty must at all hazards be supported. We have a right to it, derived from our Maker. But if we had not, our fathers have earned and bought it for us, at the expense of their ease, their estates, their pleasure, and their blood. And liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right, from the frame of their nature, to knowledge, as their great Creator, who does nothing in vain, has given them understandings, and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean, of the characters and conduct of their rulers. Rulers are no more than attorneys, agents, and trustees for the people; and if the cause, the interest and trust, is insidiously betrayed, or wantonly trifled away, the people have a right to revoke the authority that they themselves have deputed, and to constitute abler and better agents, attorneys, and trustees. And the preservation of the means of knowledge among the lowest ranks, is of more importance to the public than all the property of all the rich men in the country. It is even of more consequence to the rich themselves, and to their posterity.”
“A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law” No. 3
September 30, 1765