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Erica Galindo
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Last edited on: October 11, 2013.

Did Plato foretell the future of democracy?

The Greek philosopher Plato wrote in his Republic, 380 BC (Book 8):

“Excess of liberty, whether in States or individuals, seems only to pass into excess of slavery…

And so tyranny naturally arises out of democracy.”

Was this what John Adams referred to, OCTOBER 11, 1798, in his address to the 1st Brigade, 3rd Division of Massachusetts’ Militia:

“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion.

Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net…

Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Plato continued in his Republic, 380 BC (Book 8), discussing how democracy without virtue ends in chaos out of which a tyrant arises:

“A tyrant…when he first appears above ground he is a Protector…

Hinting at the abolition of debts and partition of lands… he…begins to make a party against the rich…

In the early days of his power, he is full of smiles, and he salutes every one whom he meets…

making promises in public and also in private, liberating debtors, and distributing land to the people and his followers, and wanting to be so kind and good to every one…”

Plato explained his next steps:

“Having a mob entirely at his disposal, he is not restrained from shedding the blood of kinsmen; by the favorite method of false accusation he brings them into court and murders them…

Then comes the famous request for a bodyguard, which is the device of all those who have got thus far in their tyrannical career…

The overthrower of many, standing up in the chariot of State with the reins in his hand, no longer Protector, but Tyrant…”

He is always stirring up some war or other, in order that the people may require a leader…”

Plato noted the Tyrant’s strategy:

“Has he not also another object, which is that they may be impoverished by payment of taxes, and thus compelled to devote themselves to their daily wants and therefore less likely to conspire against him?…

And if any of them are suspected by him of having notions of freedom, and of resistance to his authority, he will have a good pretext for destroying them…”

Plato goes on:

“Now he begins to grow unpopular…

Then some of those who joined in setting him up…speak their minds…

The tyrant…must get rid of them…

Who is valiant, who is high-minded, who is wise, who is wealthy…he is the enemy…until he has made a purgation of the State…

The more detestable his actions are…the greater devotion in them will he require…”

Plato concluded:

“The parent will discover what a monster he has been fostering in his bosom; and, when he wants to drive him out, he will find that he is weak and his son strong…

What! beat his father if he opposes him?…Yes, he will, having first disarmed him.

Then he is a parricide, and a cruel guardian of an aged parent; and this is real tyranny…

People who would escape the smoke…have fallen into the fire which is the tyranny of slaves.

Liberty, getting out of all order…passes into the harshest and bitterest form of slavery…the transition from democracy to tyranny?”

Did America’s founders understand Plato’s warning that democracy without virtue would end in chaos out of which a tyrant would arise?

This may explain their emphasis on virtue, morality, piety and religion.

Massachusetts’ Constitution, 1780, drafted by John Adams, is the world’s oldest functioning written constitution. It stated in PART 1, ART. 3:

“Good order and preservation of civil government, essentially depend upon piety, religion and morality…

The legislature shall… require… suitable provision… for the institution of the public worship of God, and for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion and morality.”

New Hampshire’s Constitution, 1784, stated (PART 1, ARTICLE 6):

“As morality and piety, rightly grounded on evangelical principles will give the best and greatest security to government…

The people of this state…empower the legislature…to make adequate provision…for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion and morality.”

Vermont’s Constitution, 1777, stated (CH. 2, SEC. 41):

“Laws for the encouragement of virtue and prevention of vice and immorality, shall be made and constantly kept in force…

All religious societies…incorporated…for the advancement of religion and learning, or for other pious and charitable purposes, shall be encouraged and protected in the enjoyment of the privileges.”

New York’s Supreme Court stated in People v. Ruggles, 1811:

“We stand equally in need, now as formerly, of all the moral discipline, and of those principles of virtue, which help to bind society together.

The people of this State, in common with the people of this country, profess the general doctrines of Christianity, as the rule of their faith and practice;

and to scandalize the Author of these doctrines…is a gross violation of decency and good order.

Nothing could be more injurious to the tender morals of the young.”

New York’s Legislature stated in 1838:

“Our Government depends for its being on the virtue of the people, – on that virtue that has its foundation in the morality of the Christian religion; and that religion is the common and prevailing faith of the people.”

South Carolina’s Supreme Court stated in City of Charleston v. S.A. Benjamin, 1846:

“Christianity is a part of the common law of the land, with liberty of conscience to all. It has always been so recognized…

Christianity has reference to the principles of right and wrong…

It is the foundation of those morals and manners upon which our society is formed…

Remove this and they would fall.”

Thomas Jefferson, as Virginia’s Governor, November 11, 1779, proclaimed a day for:

“Prayer to Almighty God…that He would establish the independence of these United States upon the basis of religion and virtue.”

Calvin Coolidge stated October 15, 1924:

“The government of a country never gets ahead of the religion of a country. There is no way by which we can substitute the authority of law for the virtue of man.”

John Bouvier’s Law Dictionary, 1856, stated:

“In the state, the REPUBLIC is the proper governmental form, and VIRTUE is the mainspring (support).”

George Washington stated in his Farewell Address, September 19, 1796:

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports.

In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great Pillars…

Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

Tis substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government…

Can it be, that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a Nation with its virtue?”

Dr. Benjamin Rush, who signed the Declaration, wrote in Thoughts Upon the Mode of Education Proper in a Republic, 1786:

“The only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid on the foundation of religion.

Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments…

The religion I mean to recommend in this place is that of the New Testament…All its doctrines and precepts are calculated to promote the happiness of society and the safety and well-being of civil government.”

Noah Webster wrote in A Collection of Papers on Political, Literary and Moral Subjects, New York, 1843:

“The virtue which is necessary to preserve a just administration and render a government stable, is Christian virtue, which consists in the uniform practice of moral and religious duties, in conformity with the laws of both of God and man.”

U.S. Speaker of the House Robert Winthrop stated, May 28, 1849:

“Men, in a word, must be controlled either by a power within them, or a power without them; either by the word of God, or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or by the bayonet.”

Samuel Adams wrote to John Scollay, April 30, 1776:

“Public liberty will not long survive the total extinction of morals. ‘The Roman Empire,’ says the historian, ‘must have sunk, though the Goths had not invaded it. Why? Because the Roman virtue was sunk.'”

Samuel Adams, as Governor of Massachusetts, wrote February 12, 1779:

“A general dissolution of the principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy.

While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued;

but once they lose their virtue, they will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader.

If we would enjoy this gift of Heaven, let us become a virtuous people.”

What did the British think about America’s experiment of self-government?

British Statesman Edmund Burke told the National Assembly, 1791:

“What is liberty without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils…madness without restraint.

Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites…

Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without.”

Britain’s Lord Thomas MacCauley wrote to Henry S. Randall, the Democrat Secretary of State for New York, May 23, 1857:

“Institutions purely democratic must, sooner or later, destroy liberty, or civilization, or both…

France is an example…a pure Democracy was established there.

During a short time there was…
a general spoliation,
a national bankruptcy,
a new partition of the soil,
a maximum of prices,
a ruinous load of taxation laid on the rich for the purpose of supporting the poor in idleness…

You may think that your country enjoys an exemption from these evils…I am of a very different opinion. Your fate I believe to be certain, though it is deferred…”

Lord Thomas MacCauley continued:

“The time will come when…distress everywhere makes the laborer mutinous and discontented,

and inclines him to listen with eagerness to agitators who tell him that it is a monstrous iniquity that one man should have a million while another cannot get a full meal.

In bad years there is plenty of grumbling…and sometimes a little rioting…

Your Government will never be able to restrain a distressed and discontented majority…

The day will come when, in the State of New-York, a multitude of people, none of whom has had more than half a breakfast, or expects to have more than half a dinner, will choose a Legislature…

On one side is a statesman preaching patience, respect for vested rights, strict observance of public faith.

On the other is a demagogue ranting about the tyranny of capitalists and usurers, and asking why anybody should be permitted to drink champagne and to ride in a carriage, while thousands of honest folks are in want of necessaries.

Which of the two candidates is likely to be preferred by a working man who hears his children cry for more bread?

I seriously apprehend that you will, in some such season of adversity…devour all the seed-corn, and thus make the next year, a year not of scarcity, but of absolute famine…

When a society has entered on this downward progress, either civilization or liberty must perish.

Either some Caesar or Napoleon will seize the reins of government with a strong hand;

or your Republic will be as fearfully plundered and laid waste by barbarians in the twentieth century as the Roman Empire was in the fifth;

with this difference, that the Huns and Vandals, who ravaged the Roman Empire, came from without, and that your Huns and Vandals will have been engendered within your country by your own institutions.”


Harry S Truman, stated April 3, 1951:

“Without a firm moral foundation, freedom degenerates quickly into selfishness and…anarchy.

Then there will be freedom only for the rapacious and those who are stronger and more unscrupulous than the rank and file of the people.”

Benjamin Franklin wrote April 17, 1787:

“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”




William J. Federer is a nationally known speaker, best-selling author, and president of Amerisearch, Inc., a publishing company dedicated to researching America’s noble heritage.

To learn more about the author please visit  William Federer






Photo: Italy Rome Vatican School of Athens Close up Plato and Aristotle

One Response


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