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The Founders on Gambling
10/12/1778


Continental Congress

Whereas true religion and good morals are the only solid foundations of public liberty and happiness: Resolved, That it be, and it is hereby earnestly recommended to the several states, to take the most effectual measures for the encouragement thereof, and for the suppressing theatrical entertainments, horse racing, gaming, and such other diversions as are productive of idleness, dissipation, and a general depravity of principles and manners.

Journals of the American Congress: From 1774 to 1788 (Washington: Way and Gideon, 1823), Vol. III, p. 85. This resolution passed on October 12, 1778.



Laws of Connecticut

Gaming is an amusement, the propensity of which is deeply implanted in human nature. Mankind in the most unpolished state of barbarism and in the most refined periods of luxury and dissipation, are attached to this practice with an unaccountable ardor and fondness. To describe the pernicious consequences of it, the ruin and desolation of private families, and the promotion of idleness and dissipation, belong to a treatise on ethics.

Zephaniah Swift, A System of Laws of the State of Connecticut (Windham, CT: John Byrne, 1796), Vol. II, p. 351.



James Iredell

But there are two very dangerous vices, against which I must particularly caution you-gaming and drinking. The incitement to the first is the hope of gain. What incitement the other had, God knows-I know not. Now, how many men have made fortunes by gaming? Or have any? And how many have been ruined by it? Millions? God forbid any friend of mine should add to the number. Between two persons of equal skill the chance is equal, and one must infallibly lose. And when we again consider the innumerable harpies to be met with in all disguises, I would point at a gaming house as a place of utter destruction.

The Papers of James Iredell (Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Division of Archives and History, 1976), Vol. I, p. 68. This is in a letter to his brother, Francis Iredell, Jr. on June 15, 1771.



Thomas Jefferson

In a world which furnishes so many employments which are useful, so many which are amusing, it is our own fault if we ever know what ennui [weariness; heaviness] is, or if we are ever driven to the miserable resources of gaming, which corrupts our dispositions, and teaches us a habit of hostility against all mankind.

S.E. Forman, The Life and Writings of Thomas Jefferson, (Indianapolis: Bowen-Merrill Company, 1900), p. 266, in a letter to Martha Jefferson, 1787.


Any person who shall bet or play for money, or other goods, or who shall bet on the hands or sides of those who play at any game in a tavern, racefield, or other place of public resort, shall be deemed an infamous gambler, and shall not be eligible to any office of trust or honor within this state.

The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950), Vol. 2, p. 306. From "A Bill to Prevent Gaming," part of series of bills proposed in a comprehensive effort led by Jefferson to revise the laws of Virginia.



Benjamin Rush

[Gaming] This disorder seizes gentlemen in some instances before breakfast in the morning, and continues with only short intervals for meals, till 11 o'clock at night. It affects some people in the night as well as the day, and on Sundays as well as week days. . . . This madness is of a destructive tendency, and often conducts persons afflicted with it to poverty, imprisonment, and an ignominious death.

The Selected Writings of Benjamin Rush (New York: Philosophical Library, 1947), p. 215, "On the Different Species of Mania."



George Washington

I have always, so far as it was in my power, endeavored to discourage gaming in the camp; and always shall so long as I have the honor to preside there.

The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1756 (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1931), Vol. 1, p. 297, in a letter to Robert Dinwiddie, February 2, 1756.


All officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers are positively forbid playing at cards, and other games of chance. At this time of public distress, men may find enough to do in the service of their God, and their Country, without abandoning themselves to vice and immorality.

The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799 (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1931), Vol. 4, p. 347. These were Washington's General Orders for his army issued on February 26, 1776.


As few vices are attended with more pernicious consequences, in civil life; so there are none more fatal in a military one, than that of GAMING; which often brings disgrace and ruin upon officers, and injury and punishment upon the soldiery: And reports prevailing, which, it is to be feared are too well founded, that this destructive vice has spread its baneful influence in the army, and, in a peculiar manner, to the prejudice of the recruiting Service,-The Commander in Chief, in the most pointed and explicit terms, forbids ALL officers and soldiers, playing at cards, dice or at any games, except those of EXERCISE, for diversion; it being impossible, if the practice be allowed, at all, to discriminate between innocent play, for amusement, and criminal gaming, for pecuniary and sordid purposes. . . . The commanding officer of every corps is strictly enjoined to have this order frequently read, and strongly impressed upon the minds those under his command. Any officer, or soldier, or other person belonging to, or following, the army . . . presuming, under any pretence, to disobey this order, shall be tried by a General Court Martial.

The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799 (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1933), Vol. 8, pp. 28-29. These were Washington's General Orders for his army issued on May 8, 1777.


The last thing I shall mention, is first of importance and that is, to avoid gaming. This is a vice which is productive of every possible evil, equally injurious to the morals and health of its votaries. It is the child of avarice, the brother of inequity, and father of mischief. It has been the ruin of many worthy families; the loss of many a man's honor; and the cause of suicide. To all those who enter the list, it is equally fascinating; the successful gamester pushes his good fortune till it is overtaken by a reverse; the losing gamester, in hopes of retrieving past misfortunes, goes on from bad to worse; till grown desperate, he pushes at everything; and loses his all. In a word, few gain by this abominable practice (the profit, if any, being diffused) while thousands are injured.

The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799 (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1938), Vol. 26, p. 40, in a letter to his nephew on January 15, 1783.

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