James WilsonJames Wilson, (1742-1798) Member of Continental Congress, signed Declaration of Independence; U.S. Supreme Court Justice and delegate from Pennsylvania

James Wilson Quote

“Liberty and happiness have a powerful enemy on each hand; on the one hand tyranny, on the other licentiousness [anarchy]. To guard against the latter, it is necessary to give the proper powers to government; and to guard against the former, it is necessary that those powers should be properly distributed.”

James WilsonJames Wilson
~ James Wilson

The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution, 15 vols, Pub By, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1984, 2:403

Ratings and Comments

E Archer, NYC

Yes -- the challenge is to check Executive power...

Mike, Norwalk

One of the problems with today's government is that all 3 branches legislate and enforce their personal unconstitutional prejudices while the forth branch (the press) presents it oh so justified.


Too bad the present administration does not consider the balance of government just and valid. The citizen must be constantly on guard to preserve their right to liberty.

Vanroose, NYC

No offense to this man, but in all the quotes I've looked up (and I have researched many) he continues to use the word licentiousness... I looked it up and it means promiscuous and unprincipled in sexual matters. ???? But I guess he makes a good point...if it weren't for all his references to sex

Clarence Wilson, Philadelphia, PA

@ Vanroose, NYC You're criticism of Wilson's use of the word 'licentiousness' has no basis in merit. There are 3 listings for this word on Google's dictionary: 1. sexually unrestrained; lascivious; libertine; lewd. 2. unrestrained by law or general morality; lawless; immoral. 3. going beyond customary or proper bounds or limits; disregarding rules Commonly speaking in 18th Century America certainly is different than that of today. It makes perfect sense for Wilson to use the word 'licentiousness' when applying the second & third definitions. In reality, I doubt 'sex' had anything to do with it. Furthermore, most of his fellow delegates at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 considered James Wilson to be the "most learned" of ALL the delegates, and Wilson certainly had a higher education than his peers. He taught Latin and later founded the first Law School in the nation at the College of Phila.. which is now the Uni. of PA. Wilson also is 'the true architect of the constitution as opposed to Madison. Chief Justice John Marshall INTERPRETED what Wilson had penned in ink regarding the Judicial Branch and the Law. Wilson's lectures on the law were attended by many of the founding fathers, including Washington, who asked Wilson to mentor his nephew Bushrod Washington, who replaced Wilson on the Supreme Court when Wilson died. These are the facts, and they are undisputed. You stated you've 'researched' before, but I don't know where you got your information. I just wanted to clarify for the readers. Thanks.

E Archer, NYC

2020, the year of licentiousness  i.e. anarchy.

Ronw13, Idaho

Google is a bit shallow, although, Wilson, well schooled. Licentious liberty, going outside the bounds of the then current orthodoxy lends itself to economic liberty, physical liberty, spiritual liberty. The Nadiyb liberal, libertine grandee, sometimes a tyrant found to be a churl, vile in nature, shows itself to be nothing more than a Qadesh prostitute bidding for a place in government. Though men must be governed, it is not the point to rule, but to guard the wholesome liberties of a freed people from the encroachment of licentious liberty without moral restraint. 


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