Despite possessing a penetrating mind on matters relating to liberty and constitutional government, John Calhoun’s reputation will always bear the stain of his unflinching defense of the Southern slave society. Sharing the belief, almost as ubiquitous as it was wrong-headed, that white and black could not live freely together, he subscribed to the increasingly widespread view among slaveholders that slavery in the South was a neo-feudal, beneficent institution. This paternalism came out on the Senate floor in 1837.
The Scottish moral philosopher Adam Smith (1723–1790) was the author of two books, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). Among the best-known passages in his works is the following from Book I, Chapter 2 of Wealth of Nations:
This lengthy passage from the eighteenth chapter of Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia (1787) demands the serious scrutiny of every historian who genuinely wants to understand both the nature of human freedom and its historical meaning. Few paragraphs have delved so frankly and deeply into the effects of slavery to reveal as much as this encapsulation.
This quotation is taken from Smith’s Lectures on Jurisprudence and reflects his own disgust with what he saw as the immoral institution of slavery. It is a good example of the moral philosophy he expounds in his Theory of Moral Sentiments, in which our sympathy for our fellow human beings forms the basis for moral behavior.
On January 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Its limited scope, freeing slaves only in those states “in rebellion against the United States,” did not satisfy abolitionists but did infuriate many in the North who were pro-Union but not anti-slavery.
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland in 1818, escaped in 1838, and became a leader in the movement for the abolition of slavery. After the Civil War ended, he continued to advocate for the political rights of American Blacks.
Frederick Douglass, best known as a strong advocate of the abolition of slavery, was also an early and outspoken supporter for women’s rights in general and especially women’s right to vote.
This quote from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century thinker and journalist, James Mill (1773-1836) expresses the essential point, one that extends back to ancient historical times, that those who are entrusted with setting the rules and protecting the peace of a community, must themselves be kept within the laws of that community.
This quotation is one of the clearest formulations of the implications of what has been called Jeremy Bentham’s “Utility Principle,” which forms the foundation of his entire philosophical architecture.
In “Government” (1824) James Mill argued that the benefits of representative government would be lost if the pool of electors did not share the same interests as the general community and asked if a portion of the community could fairly reflect the interests of the whole.
James Mill wrote a dozen articles for the 1824 Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica, including one on “Government,” which is primarily concerned with the necessity of limiting government power. Before turning to his main theme, however, he offered a thumbnail sketch of the origins of government from a utilitarian perspective.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and associates (Lucretia Mott, Frederick Douglass, etc.) argued women should be allowed the right to vote during the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention held at Seneca Falls, New York. They all discussed the basis for the reason they believed that women should have the right to vote. They based it on Blackstone’s Commentaries. Specifically, they reference this quote:
Adam Smith (1723-1790) argues that justice is the only virtue which may be imposed by force:
The French economist Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912) was inspired by mankind’s never-ending struggle for liberty against their oppressors and concluded his book Les Soirées (1849) with this inspiring speech:
The Jesuit priest and political philosopher Edward Bellarmine constructs a dialogue between “the people” and “the Pope” in which the Pope thinks of Christ as the Lord who owns the flock of sheep, himself as the shepherd, the people as the “little sheep” at the very bottom, and the Kings who rule over the people are the “rams” who might at any time turn into “wolves”:
Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) argues that political and economic “dissenters” should have the same right as religious dissenters to have their different beliefs and practices respected by the state:
The English radical individualist Auberon Herbert (1838-1906) was a member of a group that called themselves “Voluntaryists” who believed in self-ownership and opposed the use of force in all its forms. This is part of an impassioned speech he gave explaining their views:
The British naval officer and later radical journalist Thomas Hodgskin (1878-1869) denounced the politicians in Westminster for tinkering endlessly with trying to patch and mend the laws when what was required was a fundamental change in thinking about what government should do:
The English moral philosopher William Paley (1743-1805) debunks the idea that there ever was a binding “contract” by which the inhabitants of a country ever “consented” to be ruled by their rulers:
The French economist Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) accused the socialists of wanting to create an “artificial” organisation by using coercion in which they would be the “Great Mechanic” who would run the “social machine,” and where ordinary people would be so many lifeless cogs and wheels to be manipulated (1848):
The French economist Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) argues that under socialism’s facade of nice-sounding terms like fraternity, solidarity, and equality lies the “monster” of legal plunder and state coercion:
The Austrian economist Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk (1851-1914) wrote a devastating crique of Marx’s economic theory shortly after the publication of the posthumous third volume of Das Kapital in 1894. Among many criticisms, he points out that Marx ignored the fact that the same amount of labor time should be rewarded differently depending upon where along the structure of production it took place:
The German socialist Karl Marx (1818-1883) was a much better journalist than he was an economist. Here is an example from The Communist Manifesto (1848) on how “capitalism” freed many people by breaking the crippling bonds of feudal society and ushering in free trade and free markets:
Gershom Carmichael (1672-1729) argued that the legitimacy of the government lay in the consent the people gave the civil authority when they transferred the rights they had in the state of nature to it:
The French jurist Jean Barbeyrac (1674-1744) argues that it “absolutely necessary” for a good man to disobey just civil laws when they conflict with the natural laws which are “written in our heart”: