Jefferson's democracy

Franklin Jefferson's thoughts on the world

Thursday, April 06, 2006

In Favor of Freedom

Today, many politicians are telling us that to preserve "freedom," we have to be prepared to give away our liberty

In the blog Unclaimed Territory
"Hume's Ghost" recently posted quotes from the Founding Fathers about liberty. (I won't repeat the whole list of quotes-- find them here: Many of the quotes warn in the strongest way against giving excessive power to the government, and to the chief executive.

I can think of no more eloquent defenses of liberty.

James Madison in Federalist #47:
"The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."

George Washington, in his Farewell Address (1796):
"The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position.
"...let there be no change by usurpation; for although this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit, which the use can at any time yield."

Thomas Paine in Dissertation on the First Prinicples of Government (1795) said:
"An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty. It leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws. He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself."

Thomas Jefferson, in "Bill for a More General Diffusion of Knowledge" (1778) :
"Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny."

Jefferson expands on this in the "Kentucky Resolutions" (1798):
"... In questions of powers, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution."

John Adams, in Notes for an Oration at Baintree (1772):
"There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty."

James Madison wrote in 1798 to Thomas Jefferson:
"Perhaps it is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad."

In the Federalist #8 Alexander Hamilton recognized that external threats can erode liberty:
"Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct. Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates. The violent destruction of life and property incident to war, the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free."

All of these quotes are doing little more than amplifying on what was attributed to Benjamin Franklin in 1759, and often misquoted:
"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

"Humes Ghost" ends with an appeal from Patrick Henry, telling us that it is not worth sacrificing our freedom in the name of security:

"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"


Blogger Franklin Jefferson said...

And one more quote:
"Dangerous laws created by well intentioned people today can be used by dangerous people with evil intentions tomorrow."
- Alan Eppers

4/06/2006 6:04 PM  

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