Quotations about   civil rights

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The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which other rights are protected. To take away this right is to reduce a man to slavery, for slavery consists in being subject to the will of another, and he that has not a vote in the election of representatives is in this case.

Thomas Paine (1737-1809) American political philosopher and writer
“Dissertation on First-Principles of Government” (1795)
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Added on 2-Aug-22 | Last updated 2-Aug-22
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After all, the true civilization is where every man gives to every other, every right that he claims for himself.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Interview, Washington Post (14 Nov 1880)
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Reprinted in The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll, Vol. 8 "Interviews" (1900).
Added on 13-Jul-22 | Last updated 13-Jul-22
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If we are to lend credence to our mourning, there are acknowledgements that must be made now, albeit belatedly. We must act on the altogether proper assumption that Martin Luther King asked for nothing but that which was his due. He demanded no special concessions, no favored leg up the ladder for his people, despite our impatience with his lifelong prodding of our collective conscience. He asked only for equality, and it is that which we denied him.

We must look beyond riots in the streets to the essential righteousness of what he asked of us. To do less would make his dying as senseless as our own living would be inconsequential.

Rod Serling (1924-1975) American screenwriter, playwright, television producer, narrator
Letter to the Editor, Los Angeles Times (8 Apr 1968)
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Reprinted in Anne Serling, As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling (2013).
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There is a bitter sadness and special irony that attends the passing of Martin Luther King. Quickly and with ease, we offer up a chorus of posthumous praise — the ritual dirge so time-honored and comfortable and undemanding of anything but rhetoric. In death, we offer the acknowledgement of the man and his dream that we denied him in life.

In his grave, we praise him for his decency — but when he walked amongst us, we responded with no decency of our own. When he suggested that all men should have a place in the sun — we put a special sanctity on the right of ownership and the privilege of prejudice by maintaining that to deny homes to Negroes was a democratic right.

Now we acknowledge his compassion — but we exercised no compassion of our own. When he asked us to understand that men take to the streets out of anguish and hopelessness and a vision of that dream dying, we bought guns and speculated about roving agitators and subversive conspiracies and demanded law and order.

We felt anger at the effects, but did little to acknowledge the causes. We extol all the virtues of the man — but we chose not to call them virtues before his death. And now, belatedly, we talk of this man’s worth — but the judgment comes late in the day as part of a eulogy when it should have been made a matter of record while he existed as a living force.

Rod Serling (1924-1975) American screenwriter, playwright, television producer, narrator
Letter to the Editor, Los Angeles Times (8 Apr 1968)
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Quoted in Anne Serling, As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling (2013).
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But we must recognize that democracies don’t stop just with elections; they also depend on strong institutions and a vibrant civil society, and open political space, and tolerance of people who are different than you. We have to create an environment where the rights of every citizen, regardless of race or gender, or religion or sexual orientation are not only protected, but respected.

Barack Obama (b. 1961) American politician, US President (2009-2017)
Speech, Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative Town Hall, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (27 Apr 2014)
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Added on 12-Apr-22 | Last updated 12-Apr-22
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No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
“Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom” (18 Jun 1779; enacted 16 Jan 1786)
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Added on 28-Mar-22 | Last updated 4-Jul-22
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Others again who say that regard should be had for the rights of fellow-citizens, but not of foreigners, would destroy the universal brotherhood of mankind; and, when this is annihilated, kindness, generosity, goodness, and justice must utterly perish; and those who work all this destruction must be considered as wickedly rebelling against the immortal gods. For they uproot the fellowship which the gods have established between human beings.

[Qui autem civium rationem dicunt habendam, externorum negant, ii dirimunt communem humani generis societatem; qua sublata beneficentia, liberalitas, bonitas, iustitia funditus tollitur; quae qui tollunt, etiam adversus deos immortales impii iudicandi sunt. Ab iis enim constitutam inter homines societatem evertunt.]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
De Officiis [On Duties; On Moral Duty; The Offices], Book 3, ch. 6 (3.6) / sec. 28 (44 BC) [tr. Miller (1913)]
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(Source (Latin)). Alternate translation:

Others there are, who are ready to confess that they ought to bear such a regard to fellow-citizens, but by no means allow of it in relation to strangers: now these men destroy that universal society of all mankind, which, if once taken away, kindness, liberality, justice, and humanity must utterly perish; which excellent virtues whoever makes void, is chargeable with impiety towards the immortal gods; for he breaks that society which they have established and settled amongst men.
[tr. Cockman (1699)]

They, too, who hold that a regard ought to be paid to our fellow-citizens, but deny it to foreigners, break asunder the common society of mankind, by which beneficence, liberality, goodness, justice, are entirely abolished. They who destroy these virtues, are to be charged with impiety towards the immortal gods. For, by such principles, they subvert established intercourse among men.
[tr. McCartney (1798)]

They, again, who say that a regard ought to be had with fellow citizens, but deny that it ought to foreigners, break up the common society of the human race, which being withdrawn, beneficence, liberality, goodness, justice are utterly abolished. But they who tear up these things should be judged impious, even towards the immortal gods; for they overturn the society established by them among men.
[tr. Edmonds (1865)]

Those, too, who say that account is to be taken of citizens, but not of foreigners, destroy the common sodality of the human race, which abrogated, beneficence, liberality, kindness, justice, are removed from their very foundations. And those who remove them are to be regarded as impious toward the immortal gods; for they overturn the fellowship established among men by the gods.
[tr. Peabody (1883)]

Others again who deny the rights of aliens while respecting those of their countrymen, destroy the universal brotherhood of mankind which involves in its ruin beneficence, liberality, goodness and justice. To destroy these virtues is to sin against the immortal gods. It is to subvert that society which the gods established among men.
[tr. Gardiner (1899)]

In the same way, those who say that one standard should be applied to fellow citizens but another to foreigners, destroy the common society of the human race. When that disappears, good deeds, generosity, kindness, and justice are also removed root and branch. We must draw the conclusion that people who do away with these qualities are disrespectful even against the immortal gods. They destroy the cooperation among men which the gods instituted.
[tr. Edinger (1974)]

Added on 17-Mar-22 | Last updated 11-Aug-22
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Wish they’d let us write about the Little Rock situation. Funny, there were about seven or eight dramatic treatments of the Hungarian uprising but the spectacle of adult whites taunting a couple of defenseless little Negro girls is considered controversial. Wrong? That’s not controversy. If anybody takes the pro side in that particular battle, they’d better change flags.

Rod Serling (1924-1975) American screenwriter, playwright, television producer, narrator
Comment (1957), in Anne Serling, As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling (2013)
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Serling frequently complained of TV commercial sponsors (and the networks that depended on them) refusing to allow any TV dramas that might offend viewers, especially Southerners -- in this instance, referring to the controversy over Arkansas school integration.
Added on 1-Mar-22 | Last updated 1-Mar-22
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Who are those who are really disloyal? Those who inflame racial hatreds, who sow religious and class dissensions. Those who subvert the Constitution by violating the freedom of the ballot box. Those who make a mockery of majority rule by the use of the filibuster. Those who impair democracy by denying equal educational facilities. Those who frustrate justice by lynch law or by making a farce of jury trials. Those who deny freedom of speech and of the press and of assembly. Those who press for special favors against the interest of the commonwealth. Those who regard public office as a source of private gain. Those who would exalt the military over the civil. Those who for selfish and private purposes stir up national antagonisms and expose the world to the ruin of war.

Henry Steele Commager (1902-1998) American historian, writer, activist
“Who Is Loyal to America?” Harper’s Magazine #1168 (Sep 1947)
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Reprinted in Freedom, Loyalty, Dissent (1954)
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The Bill of Rights was not written into the Constitution in order to protect governments from “trouble,” but so that the people might have a legitimate method of causing trouble to governments they no longer trusted.

Henry Steele Commager (1902-1998) American historian, writer, activist
Letter to the Editor, New York Times (17 Jun 1971)
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Added on 15-Dec-21 | Last updated 15-Dec-21
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Many of our moral and political policies are designed to preempt what we know to be the worst features of human nature. The checks and balances in a democracy, for instance, were invented in explicit recognition of the fact that human leaders will always be tempted to arrogate power to themselves. Likewise, our sensitivity to racism comes from an awareness that groups of humans, left to their own devices, are apt to discriminate and oppress other groups, often in ugly ways. History also tells us that a desire to enforce dogma and suppress heretics is a recurring human weakness, one that has led to recurring waves of gruesome oppression and violence. A recognition that there is a bit of Torquemada in everyone should make us wary of any attempt to enforce a consensus or demonize those who challenge it.

Steven Pinker (b. 1954) Canadian-American cognitive psychologist, linguist, author
Introduction to John Brockman (ed.), What is Your Dangerous Idea? (2007)
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Added on 11-Nov-21 | Last updated 11-Nov-21
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I am the world’s original gradualist. I just think ninety-odd years is gradual enough.

Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) American lawyer, US Supreme Court Justice (1967-1991)
Quoted in I. F. Stone’s Weekly (19 May 1958)
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In response to Eisenhower's speech to the National Newspaper Publishers Association, where the President called for "patience and forbearance" on civil rights reform.

Also that year, during the effort by Autherine Lucy to be admitted to the segregated University of Alabama, Marshall similarly quipped, "Maybe you can't override prejudice overnight, but the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1864, ninety-odd years ago. I believe in gradualism, and I also believe that ninety-odd years is pretty gradual."
Added on 21-Jul-21 | Last updated 21-Jul-21
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Democracy without respect for individual rights sucks. It’s just ganging up against the weird kid, and I’m always the weird kid.

Penn Jillette (b. 1955) American stage magician, actor, musician, author
“I don’t know, so I’m an atheist libertarian,” Interview, CNN (16 Aug 2011)
Added on 13-May-21 | Last updated 13-May-21
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Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. Modern tyranny is terror management. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that authoritarians exploit such events in order to consolidate power. The sudden disaster that requires the end of checks and balances, the dissolution of political parties, the suspension of freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. DO NOT FALL FOR IT.

Timothy Snyder (b. 1969) American historian, author
On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (2017)
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Added on 5-May-21 | Last updated 5-May-21
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As President of our country and Commander-in-Chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so.

Barack Obama (b. 1961) American politician, US President (2009-2017)
Speech, United Nations (25 Sep 2012)
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Added on 21-Apr-21 | Last updated 21-Apr-21
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The time to assert rights is when they are denied; the men to assert them are those to whom they are denied. The community which dares not protect its humblest and most hated member in the free utterance of his opinions, no matter how false or hateful, is only a gang of slaves.

Wendell Phillips (1811-1884) American abolitionist, orator
“Mobs and Education,” Speech, Twenty-Eighth Congregational Society, Boston (16 Dec 1860)
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As reported in the Liberator (21 Dec 1860).

Note: There is a synthetic quotation frequently attributed to Phillips that is a actually combination of this one, and these three others:

No matter whose lips that would speak, they must be free and ungagged. The community which dares not protect its humblest and most hated member in the free utterance of his opinions, no matter how false or hateful, is only a gang of slaves. If there is anything in the universe that can’t stand discussion, let it crack.

While Phillips often reused rhetorical elements (as most orators do), this particular combination appears to be combination not actually found in his speeches or writing.
Added on 24-Feb-21 | Last updated 24-Feb-21
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By the theory of our Government majorities rule, but this right is not an arbitrary or unlimited one. It is a right to be exercised in subordination to the Constitution and in conformity to it. One great object of the Constitution was to restrain majorities from oppressing minorities or encroaching upon their just rights. Minorities have a right to appeal to the Constitution as a shield against such oppression.

James K. Polk (1795-1849) American lawyer, politician, US President (1845-1849)
Inaugural Address (4 Mar 1845)
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Added on 21-Oct-20 | Last updated 28-Oct-20
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I can hardly believe that any person can be found who will not admit that every one of these provisions is just. They are all asserted, in some form or other, in our Declaration or organic law. But the Constitution limits only the action of Congress, and is not a limitation on the States. This amendment supplies that defect, and allows Congress to correct the unjust legislation of the States, so far that the law which operates upon one man shall operate equally upon all. Whatever law punishes a white man for a crime shall punish the black man precisely in the same way and to the same degree. Whatever law protects the white man shall afford equal protection to the black man. Whatever means of redress is afforded to one shall be afforded to all. Whatever law allows the white man to testify in court shall allow the man of color to do the same. These are great advantages over their present codes.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) US President (1881), lawyer, lay preacher, educator
Speech, House of Representatives (4 Apr 1871)
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On the proposed 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, which forbade to each state the ability to "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
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Although in our country the Chief Magistrate must almost of necessity be chosen by a party and stand pledged to its principles and measures, yet in his official action he should not be the President of a part only, but of the whole people of the United States. While he executes the laws with an impartial hand, shrinks from no proper responsibility, and faithfully carries out in the executive department of the Government the principles and policy of those who have chosen him, he should not be unmindful that our fellow-citizens who have differed with him in opinion are entitled to the full and free exercise of their opinions and judgments, and that the rights of all are entitled to respect and regard.

James K. Polk (1795-1849) American lawyer, politician, US President (1845-1849)
Inaugural Address (4 Mar 1845)
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Added on 14-Oct-20 | Last updated 28-Oct-20
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Every man of every color and description has a natural right to freedom.

John Jay (1745-1829) American statesman, diplomat, abolitionist, politician, Chief Justice (1789-1795)
Letter to J. C. Dongan (27 Feb 1792)
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But liberty is no negation. It is a substantial, tangible reality. It is the realization of those imperishable truths of the Declaration, “that all men are created equal”; that the sanction of all just government is “the consent of the governed.” Can these be realized until each man has a right to be heard on all matters relating to himself? The plain truth is, that each man knows his own interest best. It has been said, “If he is compelled to pay, if he may be compelled to fight, if he be required implicitly to obey, he should be legally entitled to be told what for; to have his consent asked, and his opinion counted at what it is worth. There ought to be no pariahs in a full-grown and civilized nation, no persons disqualified except through their own default.” I would not insult your intelligence by discussing so plain a truth, had not the passion and prejudice of this generation called in question the very axioms of the Declaration.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) US President (1881), lawyer, lay preacher, educator
“Suffrage and Safety,” speech, Ravenna, Ohio (4 Jul 1865)
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On extending the vote to newly-freed slaves.
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But in view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our Constitution is color-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. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved.

John Marshall Harlan (1833-1911) American lawyer, politician, Supreme Court Justice (1877-1911)
Plessy v. Ferguson 163 U.S. 537, 559 (1896) [dissent]
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Added on 1-Apr-20 | Last updated 1-Apr-20
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The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites or women for men.

Alice Walker (b. 1944) American writer, activist
Foreword to Marjorie Spiegel, The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery (1988; rev. ed. 1997)
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The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail — its roof may shake — the wind may blow through it — the storm may enter — the rain may enter — but the King of England cannot enter! — all his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement!

William Pitt the Elder (1708-1778) British statesman, orator [1st Earl of Chatham]
Speech on the Excise Bill, House of Commons (Mar 1763)
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It is a trite yet urgently true observation that if America is to remain a first-class nation, it cannot have second-class citizens.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“The Rising Tide of Racial Consciousness,” Speech, National Urban League, New York (6 Sep 1960)
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Negroes are not the only poor in the nation. There are nearly twice as many white poor as Negro, and therefore the struggle against poverty is not involved solely with color or racial discrimination but with elementary economic justice.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Speech to Shop Stewards, Local 815, Teamsters and the Allied Trades Council, New York City (2 May 1967)
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I’d be the first to say that some historical victories have been won by violence; the U.S. Revolution is certainly one of the foremost. But the Negro revolution is seeking integration, not independence. Those fighting for independence have the purpose to drive out the oppressors. But here in America, we’ve got to live together. We’ve got to find a way to reconcile ourselves to living in community, one group with the other. The struggle of the Negro in America, to be successful, must be waged with resolute efforts, but efforts that are kept strictly within the framework of our democratic society. This means reaching, educating and moving large enough groups of people of both races to stir the conscience of the nation.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Playboy interview (Jan 1965)
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Added on 24-Mar-19 | Last updated 24-Mar-19
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No free man shall be taken or imprisoned or dispossessed, or outlawed or exiled, or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him, no will we send against him except by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land.

(Other Authors and Sources)
Magna Carta, Clause 39 (1215)
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One hundred and eighty-eight years ago this week a small band of valiant men began a long struggle for freedom. They pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor not only to found a nation, but to forge an ideal of freedom — not only for political independence, but for personal liberty — not only to eliminate foreign rule, but to establish the rule of justice in the affairs of men. That struggle was a turning point in our history. Today in far corners of distant continents, the ideals of those American patriots still shape the struggles of men who hunger for freedom. This is a proud triumph. Yet those who founded our country knew that freedom would be secure only if each generation fought to renew and enlarge its meaning.

Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) American politician, educator, US President (1963-69)
Speech, Signing the Civil Rights Act (2 Jul 1964)
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In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“I Have a Dream,” speech, Washington, DC (28 Aug 1963)
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True liberty shows itself to best advantage in protecting the rights of others, and especially of minorities.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) US President (1901-1909)
“Biological Analogies in History,” Romanes Lecture, Oxford University (7 Jun 1910)
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Where after all do universal human rights begin? In small places, closes to home — so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: The neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
Speech, United Nations (27 Mar 1958)
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We must show by our behavior that we believe in equality and justice and that our religion teaches faith and love and charity to our fellow men. Here is where each of us has a job to do that must be done at home, because we can lose the battle on the soil of the United States just as surely as we can lose it in any one of the countries of the world.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
India and the Awakening East (1953)
Added on 25-Mar-15 | Last updated 6-Jun-15
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In its main features the Declaration of Independence is a great spiritual document. It is a declaration not of material but of spiritual conceptions. Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man — these are not elements which we can see and touch. They are ideals. They have their source and their roots in the religious convictions. They belong to the unseen world. Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish. We can not continue to enjoy the result if we neglect and abandon the cause.

Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) American lawyer, politician, US President (1925-29)
“Speech on the Occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence” (5 Jul 1926)
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Added on 8-Oct-14 | Last updated 8-Oct-14
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The doctrine of the Declaration of Independence predicated upon the glory of man and the corresponding duty to society that the rights of citizens ought to be protected with every power and resource of the state, and a government that does any less is false to the teachings of that great document — false to the name American.

Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) American lawyer, politician, US President (1925-29)
Equal Rights (1920)
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We must never cease to proclaim in fearless tones the great principles of freedom and the rights of man which are the joint inheritance of the English-speaking world and which through Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, the Habeas Corpus, trial by jury, and the English common law find their most famous expression in the American Declaration of Independence.

Winston Churchill (1874-1965) British statesman and author
“The Sinews of Peace,” speech, Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri (5 Mar 1946)
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The right to be heard would be, in many cases, of little avail if it did not comprehend the right to be heard by counsel. Even the intelligent and educated layman has small and sometimes no skill in the science of law. If charged with crime, he is incapable, generally, of determining for himself whether the indictment is good or bad. He is unfamiliar with the rules of evidence. Left without the aid of counsel he may be put on trial without a proper charge, and convicted upon incompetent evidence, or evidence irrelevant to the issue or otherwise inadmissible. He lacks both the skill and knowledge adequately to prepare his defense, even though he have a perfect one. He requires the guiding hand of counsel at every step in the proceedings against him. Without it, though he be not guilty, he faces the danger of conviction because he does not know how to establish his innocence. If that be true of men of intelligence, how much more true is it of the ignorant and illiterate, or those of feeble intellect.

George Sutherland (1862-1942) Anglo-American jurist, Supreme Court Justice (1922-1938)
Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45, 53 (1932) [majority opinion]
Added on 27-Aug-14 | Last updated 27-Aug-14
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By liberty I mean the assurance that every man shall be protected in doing what he believes his duty against the influence of authority and majorities, custom and opinion. The State is competent to assign duties and draw the line between good and evil only in its immediate sphere. Beyond the limits of things necessary for its well-being, it can only give indirect help to fight the battle of life by promoting the influences which prevail against temptation, — religion, education, and the distribution of wealth.

John Dalberg, Lord Acton (1834-1902) British historian
“The History of Freedom in Antiquity,” Speech, Bridgenorth Institute (28 Feb 1877)
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Convinced that the republican is the only form of government which is not eternally at open or secret war with the rights of mankind, my prayers & efforts shall be cordially distributed to the support of that we have so happily established.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to William Hunter (11 Mar 1790)
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All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Inaugural Address (4 Mar 1801)
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The clergy, by getting themselves established by law, & ingrafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil & religious rights of man.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Jeremiah Moor (18 Aug 1800)
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Our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
“Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom” (18 Jun 1779; enacted 16 Jan 1786)
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Practical equality of opportunity for all citizens, when we achieve it, will have two great results. First, every man will have a fair chance to make of himself all that in him lies; to reach the highest point to which his capacities, unassisted by special privilege of his own and unhampered by the special privilege of others, can carry him, and to get for himself and his family substantially what he has earned. Second, equality of opportunity means that the commonwealth will get from every citizen the highest service of which he is capable. No man who carries the burden of the special privileges of another can give to the commonwealth that service to which it is fairly entitled.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) US President (1901-1909)
“The New Nationalism,” speech, Osawatomie, Kansas (31 Aug 1910)
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It is more important that innocence be protected than it is that guilt be punished, for guilt and crimes are so frequent in this world that they cannot all be punished. But if innocence itself is brought to the bar and condemned, perhaps to die, then the citizen will say, “whether I do good or whether I do evil is immaterial, for innocence itself is no protection,” and if such an idea as that were to take hold in the mind of the citizen that would be the end of security whatsoever.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
(Attributed)

Cited in some cases as the closing argument while defending the British Soldiers accused of killing 5 colonists in the "Boston Massacre" (usually given as "Argument in Defense of the Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials" (Dec 1770)), but I did not find it in accounts of that defense.
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Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

Jefferson - a wall of separation between church & state - wist.info quote

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to the Danbury Baptists (1 Jan 1802)
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Addressed to "messrs. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut."
Added on 3-Dec-10 | Last updated 3-Aug-22
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Whenever there is in any country, uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right. The earth is given as a common stock for man to labour & live on. If, for the encouragement of industry we allow it to be appropriated, we must take care that other employment be furnished to those excluded from the appropriation. If we do not the fundamental right to labour the earth returns to the unemployed. It is too soon yet in our country to say that every man who can not find employment but who can find uncultivated land, shall be at liberty to cultivate it, paying a moderate rent. But it is not too soon to provide by every possible means that as few as possible shall be without a little portion of land. The small landholders are the most precious part of a state.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to James Madison (28 Oct 1785)
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It seems to me that the distinctions separating the social classes are false; in the last analysis they rest on force.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) German-American physicist
“What I Believe,” Forum and Century (Oct 1930)
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This phrase is not found in the parallel "The World As I See It [Mein Weltbild]" the next year.
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The First Amendment is often inconvenient. But that is beside the point. Inconvenience does not absolve the government of its obligation to tolerate speech.

Anthony Kennedy (b. 1936) US Supreme Court Justice
International Society for Krishna Consciousness v. Lee, 505 U.S. 672 (26 Jun 1992) [concurring[
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The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.

John Dalberg, Lord Acton (1834-1902) British historian
“The History of Freedom in Antiquity,” Speech, Bridgenorth Institute (28 Feb 1877)
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Liberty is the only thing you cannot have unless you are willing to give it to others.

William Allen White (1868-1944) American writer and journalist
“A Free Press in a Machine Age,” speech, U. of Pennsylvania (2 May 1938)
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Liberty then I would say that, in the whole plenitude of it’s extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will: but rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will, within the limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’; because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Isaac H. Tiffany (4 Apr 1819)
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