William Ellery – The Road to Liberty is strewed with Thorns

My Notes

From the quotes below I see that Mr. Ellery seemed to be opposed to amendments to the Constitution. This is an idea I appreciate. We do not need more written laws; we need a people with self government.

William Ellery started his career in the Law and practiced successfully for 20 years. He ended up as a judge on the Rhode Island Supreme Court in 1785. While a part of the first Congress he was influential in gaining war relief in Rhode Island. He cared deeply for his state.

Quotes I like from William Ellery

The Road to Liberty, Like the Road to Heaven is strewed with Thorns. Virtue lives in Exertion. But thank Providence, altho’ our Northern Army hath been unsuccessful, our Southern Forces under Gen. Lee have been successful.

Phil Webster. 1776 Faith. Pg. 98. www.xulonpress.com. 2009.

It is probable whenever amendments are proposed some degree of ill humour may take place of that harmony which I am told, prevails, and I hope will prevail in Congress.

William Ellery to Benjamin Huntington. 25 April 1789. Benjamin Huntington Papers. Rhode Island State Archives.

I don’t hear a word about amendments. Money is indeed the first and most important object. Neither civil nor military wheels can turn easily without it. But it had seemed to me that the Delegates from those States which had ordered them to move and urge amendments, would have started them as soon as a Congress was formed. I am glad that a matter of much greater consequence has been brought upon the tapis; and perhaps it would not be amiss to try whether the new government would not do without any alteration.

William Ellery to Benjamin Huntington. 25 April 1789. Benjamin Huntington Papers. Rhode Island State Archives.

Brief Biography

William Ellery, a Delegate from Rhode Island; born in Newport, R.I., on December 22, 1727; taught by private teachers; was graduated from Harvard College in 1747; naval officer of Rhode Island in 1754; clerk of the court of common pleas of Newport County in 1768 and 1769; studied law; was admitted to the bar in 1770 and commenced practice in Newport, R.I.; elected a Member of the Continental Congress to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Samuel Ward and served from May 14, 1776, to 1785; signer of the Declaration of Independence; chosen to the newly constituted board of admiralty in 1779; appointed chief justice of Rhode Island in 1785; appointed by the Continental Congress commissioner of the Continental Loan Office in 1786; collector of the port of Newport from 1790 until his death in Newport, R.I., February 15, 1820; interment in the Common Cemetery.


  1. If you know of anyone that can use my services, please let me know. I appear in character as John Jay and have the following Powerpoints presentations:
    -1776 Faith- The Christian Worldview of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence
    -Constitutional Faith: The Christian Worldview of the Signers of the Constitution.
    -What Shaped the Founders: The Great Awakening, the Christian Colleges of the era and the music of the era
    -African American Contributions to the Founding

  2. Steven Shaw /

    I am not sure what is behind the idea of “No Amendments.” I definitely think they should be few (and usually) far between, but there must be room for adjustments as time goes on. I think about the amendments our constitution has so far. Though I hardly know them all, the ones I am aware of are pretty good. The Bill of Rights comes to mind. Also, without the amendments we have, wouldn’t we still have slavery and wouldn’t only free white men be permitted to vote.

    So I am wondering why you seem to be generally opposed to amendments. Or have I misunderstood you? Fewer laws I agree with, but I don’t see how Constitutional Amendments get in the way of Self-government.

  3. Billy /

    Steven – good points!

    Indeed it is important to be able to amend the constitution and the founders put the means in place to allow for it.

    In my studies it seems to me that many of the founders thought even the Bill of Rights was not needed. The constitution as it was written, already allowed for those freedoms. They were just not specifically written out. As with laws today, the Bill of Rights was added to get some of the members to vote for ratification.

    Originally the constitution was an implied powers document. If the document did not give a power to the government then that power remained with the states or the people.

    I think many, not all but many, of the amendments were done in a reaction to an evil that was seen. So they wrote a law to try and correct matters of the heart.

    If we can get the heart of men changed with moral character, we will not need laws. (Lofty goal, I know)