Home  »  Respectfully Quoted  »  Sir James Mackintosh (1765–1832)

Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations. 1989.

NUMBER: 1038
AUTHOR: Sir James Mackintosh (1765–1832)
QUOTATION: The commons, faithful to their system, remained in a wise and masterly inactivity.
ATTRIBUTION: SIR JAMES MACKINTOSH, Vindiciae Gallicae, section 1, p. 14 (1838). Originally published in 1791.

The phrase “a wise and masterly inactivity” was used in America by Representative John Randolph of Roanoke: “We ought to observe that practice which is the hardest of all—especially for young physicians—we ought to throw in no medicine at all—to abstain—to observe a wise and masterly inactivity.”—Register of Debates in Congress, January 25, 1828, vol. 4, col. 1170.

The phrase was mostly associated, however, with John C. Calhoun, who used it during the nullification crisis and later during the Oregon controversy in 1843. While vice president, Calhoun spoke to the people of South Carolina by addressing the legislature at the close of the session of 1831: “If the Government should be taught thereby, that the highest wisdom of a State is, ‘a wise and masterly inactivity,’—an invaluable blessing will be conferred.”—The Works of John C. Calhoun, vol. 6, p. 143 (1859). See Hans Sperber and Travis Trittschuh, American Political Terms, pp. 263–64 (1962).
SUBJECTS: Legislature