"Nothing can be politically right that is morally wrong” was an important quotation in the 1700s and 1800s (often in regard to the slave trade), but the quotation is hardly remembered today. This was written in the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1775: “I have heard that it was a favourite sentiment of a gentleman of the congress, that ‘what was morally wrong could not be politically right.’” That “gentleman of the congress” was most likely Benjamin Rush (1745-1813), who wrote this in a book published in 1793: “Nothing can be politically right, that is morally wrong.”
Irish political leader Daniel O’Connell (1775-1847) made frequent use of the saying, and is often incorrectly given credit for its coinage.
Wikipedia: Benjamin Rush
Benjamin Rush (December 24, 1745 – April 19, 1813) was a Founding Father of the United States. Rush lived in the state of Pennsylvania and was a physician, writer, educator, humanitarian and a devout Christian, as well as the founder of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
Rush was a signatory of the Declaration of Independence and attended the Continental Congress. He was also a staunch opponent of Gen. George Washington and worked tirelessly to have him removed as the Commander-In-Chief of the Continental Army. Later in life, he became a professor of medical theory and clinical practice at the University of Pennsylvania. Despite having a wide influence on the development of American government, he is not as widely known as many of his American contemporaries. Rush was also an early opponent of slavery and capital punishment.
Despite his great contributions to early American society, Rush may be more famous today as the man who, in 1812, helped reconcile the friendship of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams by encouraging the two former Presidents to resume writing to each other.
Wikipedia: Daniel O’Connell
Dónal Ó Conaill (6 August 1775 – 15 May 1847; English: Daniel O’Connell), known as The Liberator, or The Emancipator, was an Irish political leader in the first half of the 19th century. He campaigned for Catholic Emancipation—the right for Catholics to sit in the Westminster Parliament, denied for over 100 years—and repeal of the Act of Union which combined Ireland and Great Britain.
18-26 January 1775, Norwich (CT) Packet, pg. 1:
I have heard that it was a favourite sentiment of a gentleman of the congress, that “what was morally wrong could not be politically right.”
(From the Pennsylvania Gazette, by “An Anxious By-Stander”—ed.)
28 April 1792, Providence (RI) Gazette, “Abolition of the Slave Trade” by James Huband, pg. 1:
They do not esteem themselves judges in questions of mere policy and finance, but they hesitate not to declare, that what is morally wrong cannot be politically right, and that the righteouness which exalteth a nation disdains all considerations of interest or revenue, as an apology for injustice, cruelty, and blood.
19 September 1792, Baltimore (MD) Evening Post, “Belfast, July 14, 1782,” pg. 2:
“Can the African Slave Trade, though morally wrong, be politicially right?”
The Analytical Review, For March, 1794.
MEDICINE. SURGERY. MIDWIFERY.
ART. VI. Medical Inquiries and Observations. By Benjamin Rush, M. D. Professor of the Institutes of Medicine, and Clinical Practice in the University of Pennsylvania. Vol. II. 8 vo. 321 pages. Philadelphia. 1793.
Pg. 55. Nothing can be politically right, that is morally wrong; and no necessity can ever sanctify a law, that is contrary to equity. Virtue is the soul of a republic.
29 June 1795, North-Carolina Journal, pg. 3:
DIED. About the 15th ult. at this seat at Pleasant Garden, in Burke county in this state, JOSEPH McDOWELL, jun. Esq. He had for eight years past represented the county of Burke in the General Assembly of this state—and having adopted and pursued the principles of the maxim, “That what was morally wrong, could never be politically right,” he was no less admired for his abilities than esteemed for his integrity;...
An enquiry, concerning the liberty, and licentiousness of the press, and the the uncontroulable nature of the human mind
By John Thomson
New York, NY: Johnson & Stryker
A maxim has been by them promulgated, ”That what is MORALLY wrong, may often be POLITICALLY right.”
Hints towards forming the character of a young princess
By Hannah More
London: T. Cadell and W. Davies
On the whole, we need not hesitate to assert, that in the long course of events, nothing, that is morally wrong, can be politically right. Nothing, that is inequitable, can be finally successful. Nothing, that is contrary to religion, can be ultimately favourable to civil polity.
American slave trade; or, An Account of the manner in which the slave dealers take free people from some of the United States of America, and carry them away, and sell them as slaves in other of the states; and of the horrible cruelties practised in the carrying on of this most infamous traffic: with reflections on the project for forming a colony of American blacks in Africa, and certain documents respecting that project.
By Jesse Torrey
London: Reprinted by C. Clement and published by J.M. Cobbett
It was a wise sentiment of the late Dr. Benjamin Rush, that “Nothing can be politically right that is morally wrong; and that no necessity can sanctify a law that is contrary to equity.”
The works of Hannah More
By Hannah More
New York, NY: Harper & Brothers
On the whole, we need not hesitate to assert, that in the long course of events, nothing, that is morally wrong, can be politically right. Nothing, that us inequitable, can be finally successful. Nothing, that is contrary to religion, can be ultimately favourable to civil policy.
A dictionary of quotations
By Suzy Platt; Library of Congress.
New York, NY: Dorset Press
Nothing is politically right which is morally wrong.
Attributed to DANIEL O’CONNELL.—Wendell Phillips, speech on the 100th anniversary of O’COnnell’s birth, August 6, 1875, Speeches, Lectures, and Letters, 2d series, p. 398 (1891). Unverified.
New York City • Government/Law/Politics/Military • (1) Comments • Saturday, June 12, 2010 • Permalink
Who came up with “Nothing is politically right which is morally wrong”; has never been in Norway!