Quotation about setting up U.S. government

I’m trying to find a quotation from early, or relatively early, in American history, about how once the Constitution was adopted, if everyone did their part and the checks and balances were allowed to play out, the U.S. government would run indefinitely. I thought Madison or Hamilton might’ve said it, but Bartlett’s and Google have failed me. Also came up empty for Washington, Marshall or (later) Clay or Lincoln.

Anyone remember this quotation?

I believe the US Patent Office has a long-standing rule against accepting claims for constitutional perpetual motion. :slight_smile:

Are you thinking of poet James Russell Lowell’s 1888 warning that too many had come to see the Constitution as a “machine that would go of itself?”

Leave it to a Canadian…

That’s sort of it, but not quite. The quotation I had in mind was praising it for its ingenious self-executing nature, IIRC.

Probably not what you’re looking for:

“The way to have good and safe government, is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to every one exactly the functions he is competent to. Let the national government be entrusted with the defense of the nation, and its foreign and federal relations; the State governments with the civil rights, law, police, and administration of what concerns the State generally; the counties with the local concerns of the counties, and each ward direct the interests within itself. It is by dividing and subdividing these republics from the great national one down through all its subordinations, until it ends in the administration of every man’s farm by himself; by placing under every one what his own eye may superintend, that all will be done for the best. What has destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government which has ever existed under the sun? The generalizing and concentrating all cares and powers into one body.” (Thomas Jefferson, letter to Joseph C. Cabell, February 2, 1816)

No, but thanks.

Anyone else?

You had me searching for a while because I have a vague recollection of some such thing, but I never found anything that matched it. I did run across this fascinatingarticleabout the evolution of the concept of self-sustaining government based on principles of checks and balance. You might find some clues to the quote you are looking for in there. I would have thought this was something from Madison who was the major defender and expositor of the principle, but the way you phrased it seems overly optimistic and in contrast to his “If men were angels…” philosophy. In reading more about this subject I see a general doubt about the ability of checks and balances to maintain in perpituity that surprises me. I guess I should have studied this in more detail before. Anyway, good luck with your search, and if you find this quotation, don’t forget to share it with us.

Bumping this thread…

I just came across this quotation, which is similar to what I had in mind in the OP, but not exactly:

“[A] Constitution is framed for ages to come, and is designed to approach immortality as nearly as human institutions can approach it. Its course cannot always be tranquil. It is exposed to storms and tempests, and its framers must be unwise statesmen indeed if they have not provided it, as far as its nature will permit, with the means of self-preservation from the perils it may be destined to encounter…” – Chief Justice John Marshall, Cohens v. Virginia, 19 U.S. 264 (1821)

Thought I’d give it a shot:

The regular distribution of power into distinct departments; the introduction of legislative balances and checks; the institution of courts composed of judges holding their offices during good behavior; the representation of the people in the legislature by deputies of their own election… They are means, and powerful means, by which the excellences of republican government may be retained and its imperfections lessened or avoided.

Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 9, 1787

Not bad. I also found this:

“At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it?-- Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never!–All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years. At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide…” - Abraham Lincoln, Lyceum Address, 1838