The federal government, America's Founders held, must be strong enough to accomplish the limited ends for which it was established, yet not so strong that it would transgress the rights of individuals. Without constitutional limitations like enumerated powers, federalism, elections, and the separation of powers, those in power will aggrandize their rule at the expense of liberty. Even with these structural limits, however, freedom is fragile and citizens must always be vigilant.
Progressives believed that government should not be limited and that a living constitution—as opposed to a fixed one—responds to the alleged and real deficiencies of private institutions and individuals by setting up bureaucratic agencies, staffed by scientifically trained "neutral" experts, to address social and economic problems.
"In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself."—James Madison, Federalist 51
"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."—The Constitution of the United States
"We have seen that in the new government, as in the old, the general powers are limited; and that the States, in all unenumerated cases, are left in the enjoyment of their sovereign and independent jurisdiction."—James Madison, Federalist 40
"The reason why men enter into society, is the preservation of their property; and the end why they choose and authorize a legislative, is, that there may be laws made, and rules set, as guards and fences to the properties of all the members of the society."—John Locke, Second Treatise of Government
"If the public safety be provided, liberty and propriety secured, justice administered, virtue encouraged, vice suppressed, and the true interest of the nation advanced, the ends of government are accomplished."—Algernon Sidney, Discourses Concerning Government
"Tyranny of all kinds is to be abhorred, whether it be in the hands of one, or of the few, or of the many."—James Otis, "Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved"
"To what purpose are powers limited, and to what purpose is that limitation committed to writing, if these limits may, at any time, be passed by those intended to be restrained?"—John Marshall, "Marbury v. Madison"
"In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem: government is the problem."—Ronald Reagan, "First Inaugural Address"
"Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice. Society is a living organism and must obey the laws of life, not of mechanics; it must develop."—Woodrow Wilson, "What is Progress?"
"All that progressives ask or desire is permission—in an era when 'development,' 'evolution,' is the scientific word—to interpret the Constitution according to the Darwinian principle; all they ask is recognition of the fact that a nation is a living thing and not a machine."—Woodrow Wilson, "What is Progress?"
"The government must have the power to determine the Law instead of being circumscribed by the Law."—Herbert Croly, Progressive Democracy
"While insistence on individual rights may have been of great advantage at a time when the social organization was not highly developed, it may become a menace when social rather than individual efficiency is the necessary prerequisite of progress."—Frank Goodnow, The American Conception of Liberty
"In face of such circumstances, must not government lay aside all timid scruple and boldly make itself an agency for social reform as well as for political control?"—Woodrow Wilson, "Socialism and Democracy"
"In fundamental theory socialism and democracy are almost if not quite one and the same. They both rest at bottom upon the absolute right of the community to determine its own destiny and that of its members. Men as communities are supreme over men as individuals."—Woodrow Wilson, "Socialism and Democracy"
"The thesis of the state socialist is, that no line can be drawn between private and public affairs which the State may not cross at will; that omnipotence of legislation is the first postulate of all just political theory."—Woodrow Wilson, "Socialism and Democracy"
"They would have known that as economic relations became dominantly controlling forces in setting the pattern of human relations, the necessity of liberty for individuals which they proclaimed will require social control of economic forces in the interest of the great mass of individuals."—John Dewey, Liberalism and Social Action
"I declined to adopt the view that what was imperatively necessary for the Nation could not be done by the President unless he could find some specific authorization to do it."—Theodore Roosevelt, "The Presidency: Making an Old Party Progressive"
"There is scarcely a single duty of government which was once simple which is not now complex; government once had but a few masters; it now has scores of masters."—Woodrow Wilson, "The Study of Administration"
"The realization of a genuine social policy necessitates the aggrandizement of the administrative and legislative branches of the government."—Herbert Croly, Progressive Democracy
"We seek not merely to make Government a mechanical implement, but to give it the vibrant personal character that is the very embodiment of human charity."—Franklin D. Roosevelt, "Democratic Convention Address"
"But freedom is not enough.... Thus it is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates."—Lyndon B. Johnson, "Commencement Address at Howard University"