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The United States Constitution
Quotations and Personalities

The preamble of the Federal Constitution says: We, the people of the United States ... It was we, the people, not we, the white male citizens, nor we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed this Union.

Susan B. Anthony


The role of the press and the protections which we afford it are today more important than ever before, because we dwell in a society where belief in our governments and in the strength of our institutions is declining.

Rose Bird
(first woman appointed to a state supreme court: California)


Without free speech no search for truth is possible, without free speech no discovery of truth is useful, without free speech progress is checked and the nations no longer march forward toward the nobler life which the future holds for man. Better a thousandfold abuse of speech than a denial of free speech. The abuse dies in a day, but the denial slays the life of the people, and entombs the hope of the race.

Charles Bradlaugh
(British social reformer)


Most faults are not in our Constitution, but in ourselves.

Ramsey Clark
(U.S. Attorney General)


The Constitution of the United States was made not merely for the generation that then existed, but for posterity - unlimited, undefined, endless, perpetual posterity.

Henry Clay
(U.S. Senator)


Freedom means the right to assemble, organize, and debate openly. It means not taking citizens away from their loved ones and jailing them, mistreating them, or denying them their freedom or dignity because of peaceful expression of their ideas and opinions.

Hillary Rodham Clinton


The Constitution is the sole source and guaranty of national freedom.


To live under the American Constitution is the greatest political privilege that was ever accorded to the human race.

Calvin Coolidge


The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people, equally in war and in peace, and covers with the shield of its protection all classes of men, at all times, and under all circumstances. No doctrine, involving more pernicious consequences, was ever invented by the wit of man than that any of its provisions can be suspended during any of the great exigencies of government.

David Davis
(judge, 1815-1886)


The Constitution of the United States knows no distinction between citizens on account of color. Neither does it know any difference between a citizen of a state and a citizen of the United States.

Frederick Douglass


Men talk of the Negro problem; there is no Negro problem. The problem is whether American people have loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough, to live up to their own Constitution.

Paul Laurence Dunbar
(poet, 1872-1906)


There is no question that under the Equal Rights Amendment there will be debates at times, indecision at times, litigation at times. Has anyone proposed that we rescind the First Amendment on free speech because there is too much litigation over it? Has anyone suggested the same for the Fourteenth Amendment (I don't suppose there has ever been a constitutional amendment with so much litigation)?

Sissy Farenthold
(Texas State House of Representatives)


Our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a Government of laws and not of men.

Gerald Ford


Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.


I confess that there are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them. For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise.


In these sentiments, sir, I agree to this Constitution, with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a General Government necessary for us, and there is no form of government, but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered; and believe further, that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.


Without Freedom of Thought, there can be no such Thing as Wisdom; and no such Thing as publick Liberty, without Freedom of Speech.

Benjamin Franklin


If America has a civic religion, the First Amendment is its central article of faith.

Henry Louis Gates Jr.
(Harvard Professor)


As the British Constitution is the most subtle organism which has proceeded from the womb and the long gestation of progressive history, so the American Constitution is, so far as I can see, the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.

William Ewart Gladstone
(Prime Minister of Great Britain, 1809-1898)


Our Constitution is colour-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful.

John Marshall Harlan
(Supreme Court Justice)


Our Constitution was not intended to be used by ... any group to foist its personal religious beliefs on the rest of us.

Katharine Hepburn


Freedom of religion; freedom of the press, and freedom of person under the protection of the habeas corpus, and trial by juries impartially selected. These principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us, and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation. The wisdom of our sages and the blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment. They should be the creed of our political faith, the text of civil instruction, the touchstone by which we try the services of those we trust; and should we wander from them in moments of error or alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety.


No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion.


In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.


Men by their constitutions are naturally divided into two parties: (1) Those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes. (2) Those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise depository of the public interests. In every country these two parties exist; and in every one where they are free to think, speak, and write, they will declare themselves.

Thomas Jefferson


It is the genius of our Constitution that under its shelter of enduring institutions and rooted principles there is ample room for the rich fertility of American political invention.

Lyndon B. Johnson


When that document was completed on the 17th of September in 1787, I was not included in that "We the people." I felt somehow for years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation, and court decision, I have finally been included in "We the people." My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete, it is total.


Today, I am an inquisitor. I shall not sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.

Barbara Jordan
(U.S. Representative)


I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute - where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote - where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference - and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish - where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical sources - where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials - and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end - where all men and all churches are treated as equal - where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice - where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind - and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.

That is the kind of America in which I believe. And it represents the kind of Presidency in which I believe - a great office that must neither be humbled by making it the instrument of any one religious group nor tarnished by arbitrarily withholding its occupancy from the members of any one religious group. I believe in a President whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the Nation or imposed by the Nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.

John F. Kennedy


When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir ... that all men ... would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Martin Luther King, Jr.


Don't interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties.


This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it.

Abraham Lincoln


The people made the Constitution, and the people can unmake it. It is the creature of their own will, and lives only by their will.

John Marshall
(U.S. Supreme Court Justice)


Our Constitution is the envy of the world, as it should be for it is the grand design of the finest nation on earth.


I do not believe that the meaning of the Constitution was forever "fixed" at the Philadelphia Convention.... The government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights, we hold as fundamental today.


Today's Constitution is a realistic document of freedom only because of several corrective amendments. Those amendments speak to a sense of decency and fairness that I and other Blacks cherish.


If the First Amendment means anything, it means that the state has no business telling a man, sitting alone in his own house, what books he may read or what films he may watch.

Thurgood Marshall
(first African American U.S. Supreme Court Justice)


The Constitution is an equally forthright piece of work and quite succinct ... giving the complete operating instructions for a nation of 250 million people. The manual for a Toyota Camry, which only seats five, is four times as long.

P.J. O'Rourke
(writer)


When it shall be said in any country in the world, 'My poor are happy; neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want, the taxes are not oppressive; the rational world is my friend, because I am the friend of its happiness': when these things can be said, then may that country boast of its constitution and its government.

Thomas Paine


The United States Constitution has proved itself the most marvelously elastic compilation of rules of government ever written.

Franklin D. Roosevelt


Free speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game. Free speech is life itself.

Salman Rushdie
(writer)


The American Constitution, one of the few modern political documents drawn up by men who were forced by the sternest circumstances to think out what they really had to face, instead of chopping logic in a university classroom.

George Bernard Shaw


It is too probable that no plan we propose will be adopted. Perhaps another dreadful conflict is to be sustained. If to please the people, we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can we afterwards defend our work? Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.


If in the opinion of the People, the distribution or modification of the Constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.

George Washington


... civil and religious liberty ... are so inseparably united, that there is little or no enjoyment of one without the other: ... in every human breast, God has implanted a principle, which we call love of freedom; it is impatient of oppression and pants for deliverance....

Phillis Wheatley
(first African American poet, 1753-1784)


I have always been among those who believed that the greatest freedom of speech was the greatest safety, because if a man is a fool, the best thing to do is to encourage him to advertise the fact by speaking. It cannot be so easily discovered if you allow him to remain silent and look wise, but if you let him speak, the secret is out and the world knows that he is a fool. So it is by the exposure of folly that it is defeated; not by the seclusion of folly, and in this free air of free speech men get into that sort of communication with one another which constitutes the basis of all common achievement.

Woodrow Wilson


Additional images courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division; reproduction numbers: LC-USZ62-83097, LC-USZ62-46641, LC-USZC2-5749, LC-USZ62-5243.

Robert Delaney, September 2005
robert.delaney@liu.edu

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