Thomas Jefferson on Slavery and Liberty

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.

Adam Smith on Slavery

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.

Frederick Douglass on Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation

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 on the Ballot Box, the Jury Box, and the Cartridge Box

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 on Women’s Right to Vote

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.

James Mill on the Nature of Those Who Govern

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.

Jeremy Bentham on the Utility Principle

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.

James Mill on Women and Representative Government

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 on Government Power

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.

The Women of Seneca Falls and William Blackstone

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 on the legitimacy of using force to ensure justice (1759)

Adam Smith (1723-1790) argues that justice is the only virtue which may be imposed by force:

Molinari on mankind’s never-ending struggle for liberty (1849)

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 grapples with the problem of a subject’s obedience to kings or popes (1610)

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 on the right of political and economic “dissenters” to have their different beliefs and practices respected by the state (1842)

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:

Auberon Herbert’s aim is to destroy the love of power and the desire to use force against others (1897)

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:

Thomas Hodgskin on the futility of politicians tinkering with bad laws when the whole political system needed to be changed (1832)

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:

William Paley dismisses as a fiction the idea that there ever was a binding contract by which citizens consented to be ruled by their government (1785)

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:

Bastiat criticizes the socialists of wanting to be the “Great Mechanic” who would run the “social machine” in which ordinary people were merely so many lifeless cogs and wheels (1848)

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):

Frédéric Bastiat argues that socialism hides its true plunderous nature under a facade of nice sounding words like “fraternity” and “equality” (1850)

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:

Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk argues 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 (1898)

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:

Karl Marx on the necessary task the “bourgeoisie” was doing in putting an end to “feudal and patriarchal relations” (1848)

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 on the idea that civil power is founded on the consent of those against whom it is exercised (1724)

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:

Jean Barbeyrac on the need to disobey unjust laws (1715)

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”:

Algernon Sidney on not unquestioningly “rendering unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s” before checking to see if they legitimately belong to Caesar (1689)

The English radical republican Algernon Sidney (1622-1683) wants us to ask “who is this Caesar” and “what legitimately belongs to him” before we give Caesar anything:

Elisha Williams on the unalienable right every person has to think and judge for themselves (1744)

The American Congregational minister Elisha Williams (1694–1755) argues that every person has an unalienable right to read, think, argue, and speak about religious matters without outside interference or control: