The 7th Day of Christmas: Madison on “the most noble of all ambitions” which a government can have, of promoting peace on earth (1816)

In an address to the Senate and House of Representatives as his second term as President was drawing to a close, James Madison (1751-1836) summed up the achievements of the U.S. in the 40 years of its existence. One of the things he was most proud of was that he had led “a Government which avoids intrusions on the internal repose of other nations”:

The 6th Day of Christmas: Vicesimus Knox on the Christian religion and peace on earth (1793)

The English anti-war minister Vicesimus Knox (1752-1821) reminded his parishioners in 1793 that the motto of Christianity was the exhortation from the gospel of Saint Luke “Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will towards men”:

The 5th Day of Christmas: Samuel Cooper on the Articles of Confederation and peace on earth (1780)

The Massachusetts clergyman Samuel Cooper (1725-1783) gave a patriotic sermon in 1780 to celebrate the adoption of the Articles of Confederation. He concludes by urging his listeners to help build “the new city” in America by making the wilderness fruitful, inviting the injured and oppressed to come to America, and to create a country which “breaths” the principles of “peace on earth, and good will towards men”:

The 4th Day of Christmas: Dante Alighieri on human perfectibility and peace on earth (1559)

The Florentine poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) believed in a universal monarch who would end the squabbling and bloodshed between rival kings and lords in Europe. Only under such a regime could peace be established under which humanity could thrive and prosper:

The 3rd Day of Christmas: Erasmus stands against war and for peace on earth (16th century)

In his polemic against war, the Dutch humanist scholar and theologian Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) denounces war for its destructiveness and its violation of fundamental Christian doctrine. He reminds Christians that at the birth of Christ “the angels sung not the glories of war, nor a song of triumph, but a hymn of peace”:

The 2nd Day of Christmas: Petrarch on the mercenary wars in Italy and the need for peace on earth (1344)

The Italian humanist poet Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374) was appalled at the use of mercenaries by the warring city states of Italy which ravaged his country in the 14th century. He urged his fellow Italians “from strife and slaughter cease” and instead “gather joy and peace on earth”:

The 1st Day of Christmas: Jan Huss' Christmas letters and his call for peace on earth (1412)

The Czech religious reformer Jan Huss (1372-1415) wrote two letters from exile to the people of Prague in celebration of Christmas in 1412. He emphasizes that Christ is the peacemaker and that his message was “peace be to you” (pax vobiscum):

The evangelist Luke “on earth peace, good will toward men” (1st century)

In the account by Luke of the birth of Christ there is a line which states that the angel which announced the birth was accompanied by a “heavenly host” (a large army of good angels) who urged that there be “peace on earth”:

Madison on “Parchment Barriers” and the defence of liberty II (1788)

In a letter to Thomas Jefferson in October 1788, James Madison expresses lukewarm support for the idea of a bill of rights since “repeated violations of these parchment barriers have been committed by overbearing majorities in every State.” He continues to believe the main threat to liberty comes from the legislative not the executive branch of government:

Madison on “Parchment Barriers” and the defence of liberty I (1788)

Although in the Federalist Papers (1787-88) James Madison (1751-1836) urged ratification of the U.S. Constitution he was also aware of the things it left undone. Here he worries about the weakness of “parchment barriers” such as the constitution in protecting the liberties of the people when the government increasingly “draw(s) all power into its impetuous vortex”:

Jasay on the superiority of “spontaneous conventions” over “legal frameworks” (2007)

The political economist Anthony de Jasay (1925-2019) concludes that a major reason in explaining differences between nations concerning respect for property and tolerance towards others has less to do with formal “legal frameworks” which may exist than with deeper “spontaneous conventions” or social customs which have evolved over long periods of time:

Benjamin Franklin on the “superstructure” of Good Government (1736)

Given Benjamin Franklin’s (1706-1790) technical bent as an inventor and scientist it is not surprising that he would compare government to the construction of a building, nor that he would have great faith in the people’s ability to construct a sound political edifice:

Molinari on the elites who benefited from the State of War (1899)

The French economist Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912) concluded in 1899 that wars would continue to be fought, in spite of their growing cost in terms of destruction wrought, lives lost, and high taxes, as long as powerful groups within society benefited personally from such a situation. To his mind, this meant the powerful political, bureaucratic, and military elites which controlled European societies at the end of the 19th century:

Benjamin Franklin on killing and cooking a turkey with electricity (1748)

The polymath Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) was not only a key figure in the founding of the American republic but an inveterate inventor. He was fascinated by the new science of electricity and spent much time trying to discover its properties. In 1748 he planned a series of “experiments” to amuse himself and some friends at a picnic on the banks of the Skuylkill river. This included killing and cooking a turkey for dinner:

Adam Smith on social change and “the man of system” (1759)

Adam Smith (1723-1790) contrasts two different ways by which the evils of society might be reformed: the man of humanity and benevolence who uses reason and persuasion and “the man of system” who imposes his own “ideal plan of government” on others by force:

John Bright calls British foreign policy “a gigantic system of (welfare) for the aristocracy” (1858)

The British MP John Bright (1811-1889) gave a speech to his constituents in the Birmingham Town Hall on October 29, 1858 in which he asked who benefitted from Britain’s foreign policy of constantly interfering in the affairs of other nations? His conclusion was that it served the needs of the “place-hunters”, those members of the ruling elite who sought jobs for themselves, their families, and their friends. In other words, a form of welfare for the aristocracy:

Plucknett contrasts the flexibility and adaptability of customary law with the rigidity and remoteness of state legislation (1956)

In his history of the English common law Theodore Plucknett (1897-1965) stresses how flexible and adaptable customary law was in the middle ages. Unlike modern legislation created by the state, medieval communities were constantly changing their “customs” to suit their changing needs:

Simeon Howard on liberty as the opposition to “external force and constraint” (1773)

In this sermon preached in Massachusetts in 1773 to a company of artillery soldiers Simeon Howard (1733-1804) defines what he means by “liberty” at a time when Americans in the British colonies were increasingly seeing the British as violators of their liberty. He defines this key word in very Lockean terms as the opposition to “external force and constraint” by other men:

Horace Say on “I, Pin” and the international division of labor (1852)

Horace Say (1794-1860), the son of Jean-Baptiste Say, took Adam Smith’s story of a domestic pin factory which he used to explain the productivity gains from the division of labor within the factory, to an international level. He showed that there was an international division of labor which took the argument to a whole new level of sophistication and complexity:

J.S. Mill on the wife as the “actual bondservant of her husband” in the 19th century (1869)

John Stuart Mill was one of the few classical liberals in the 19th century to object to the unequal nature of the so-called “marriage contract”. He questioned whether the consent of both partners to the contract was properly given, whether women were free to act on their own accord, or whether they had control of their own property. He concluded that a wife was no more than the “bondservant of her husband”:

Plucknett on the Renaissance state’s “war against the idea of law” (1956)

The English legal historian Theodore Plucknett (1897-1965) argues that a new concept of law emerged during the Renaissance, replacing the medieval notion of a king both enforcing and subject to divine or natural law, with that of “the modern State based upon force and independent of morality”:

Macaulay argues that “the main end” of government is the protection of persons and property (1839)

In a review of book by William Gladstone, Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay (1800-1859) provides a clear statement of the very limited powers of the state which was commonly held in Victorian England, namely that the state tend to “the protection of the persons and property of men” with very few exceptions:

Bentham on the liberty of contracts and lending money at interest (1787)

The English utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) defends the practice of lending money at interest (“usury”) as just another example of consenting adults engaging in their legal right to make contracts with each other:

James Madison on the necessity of separating the power of “the sword from the purse” (1793)

In the debate between “Pacificius” (Hamilton) and “Helvidius” ( Madison) on the proper powers of the executive (President) and legislative (Congress) branches of government Madison argued that the traditional “monarchical” powers of declaring and waging war had been separated in the American republic:

James Bryce on the Party Primaries and Conventions in the American political system (1888)

The British jurist and statesman Viscount James Bryce (1838-1922) tries to explain to a European audience how “voluntary and extra-legal associations of citizens,” i.e. American political parties, were nationalized by the state and turned into “public political institution(s)” regulated by statutory law: