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Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations. 1989.

AUTHOR: Walt Whitman (1819–92)
QUOTATION: It is only the novice in political economy who thinks it is the duty of government to make its citizens happy.—Government has no such office. To protect the weak and the minority from the impositions of the strong and the majority—to prevent any one from positively working to render the people unhappy, (if we may so express it,) to do the labor not of an officious inter-meddler in the affairs of men, but of a prudent watchman who prevents outrage—these are rather the proper duties of a government. Under the specious pretext of effecting “the happiness of the whole community,” nearly all the wrongs and intrusions of government have been carried through. The legislature may, and should, when such things fall in its way, lend its potential weight to the cause of virtue and happiness—but to legislate in direct behalf of those objects is never available, and rarely effects any even temporary benefit.
ATTRIBUTION: WALT WHITMAN, “Duties of Government,” editorial, Brooklyn Eagle, April 4, 1846.—Whitman, The Gathering of the Forces, ed. Cleveland Rodgers and John Black, vol. 1, pp. 56–57 (1920).
SUBJECTS: Government—purpose of