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.
(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.
(British social reformer)
Most faults are not in our Constitution, but in ourselves.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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)?
(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.
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
If America has a civic religion, the First Amendment is its central article
Henry Louis Gates Jr.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
(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.
(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.
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.
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
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
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
... 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....
(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
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