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Quotations about Freedom & Liberty



To put the issue as simply as possible: we maintain freedom not in order to indulge error but in order to discover truth... ~Henry Steele Commager, "Free Enterprise in Ideas," Freedom, Loyalty, Dissent, 1954  [This essay was originally published in The Saturday Review, but I'm not sure if it was 1947 or 1952. —tg]


Freedom begins between the ears. ~Edward Abbey


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 himself. ~Thomas Paine, 1795


The object of liberty is to give men and women a chance to be their best selves. That is its first and last purpose. ~Dorothy Thompson, Political Guide: A Study of American Liberalism and Its Relationship to Modern Totalitarian States, 1938


If freedom is really the organizing principle of our society, then we cannot forget that it is not illusion, propaganda and sedatives, but truth, and truth alone, that makes us free. ~Adlai Stevenson, in LIFE, "Eloquent Guides to America's National Purpose," 1960


      The first world war altered not only our position in the world but our attitude toward ourselves and toward our business as a people. Having won a war to "make the world safe for democracy," we began to act as though democracy itself had been won — as though there was nothing left for us to do but enjoy ourselves: make money in the stock market, gin in the bathtub and whoopee in the streets...
      The effect of the second war was different — and the same. The second war estranged us from our genius as a people. We fought it because we realized that our dream of human liberty could not survive in the slave state Hitler was imposing on the world... After the war, we acted again as though freedom were an accomplished fact. We no longer thought of it as safe but we made a comparable mistake: we thought of it as something which could be protected by building walls around it, by "containing" its enemy.
      But the truth is, of course, that freedom is never an accomplished fact. It is always a process... The only way freedom can be defended is not by fencing it in but by enlarging it, exercising it. ~Archibald MacLeish, in LIFE, "Eloquent Guides to America's National Purpose," 1960  [a little altered —tg]


Freedom is strangely ephemeral. It is something like breathing; one only becomes acutely aware of its importance when one is choking. ~William E. Simon


LIBERTY, n.  One of Imagination's most precious possessions.
      The rising People, hot and out of breath,
      Roared round the palace: "Liberty or death!"
      "If death will do," the King said, "let me reign;
      You'll have, I'm sure, no reason to complain."
                  Martha Braymance.
~Ambrose Bierce, The Cynic's Word Book, 1906


Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it. ~Abraham Lincoln, 1859


My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular. ~Adlai Stevenson, 1952


In this epoch of ours, many of us are watching with a distressed heart the evidence of a flight from freedom. Most people take liberty for granted, when they enjoy it, and do not realize that they have to relentlessly fight for preserving it. ~Author unknown, c. 1964


It is easy to take liberty for granted, when you have never had it taken from you. ~Dick Cheney


For what avail the plough or sail,
Or land or life, if freedom fail?
~Ralph Waldo Emerson


Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it. ~Thomas Paine


In the truest sense, freedom cannot be bestowed; it must be achieved. ~Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1936


We have to call it "freedom": who'd want to die for "a lesser tyranny"? ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook, 1963


Liberty is just a mixture of freedom, restraint, and protection. ~Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw, 1818–1885)  [spelling standardized —tg]


Liberty has as many chains as slavery, but the golden chains of liberty decorate, and the iron chains of slavery degrade. ~Austin O'Malley (1858–1932), Thoughts of a Recluse, 1898


Freedom is beyond the price of any earthly cheer... ~Lucy Larcom, "The Nineteenth of April," 1861


Life hangs as nothing in the scale against dear Liberty! ~Lucy Larcom, "The Nineteenth of April," 1861


Though hearts be torn asunder, for Freedom we will fight... ~Lucy Larcom, "The Nineteenth of April," 1861


Most people want security in this world, not liberty. ~H. L. Mencken


We feel free when we escape — even if it be but from the frying pan into the fire. ~Eric Hoffer


Here, he could exist; "but mere existence is not enough," he sighed; "to live, one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower!" ~Hans Christian Andersen, "The Butterfly," translated by Caroline Peachey


Liberty is fragile and little things matter because they lead to big things. ~Evan McMullin, @Evan_McMullin, tweet, 2017


Men fight for freedom; then they begin to accumulate laws to take it away from themselves. ~The Waterbury American, 1920s


But freedom is not enough. ~Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965


Liberty has never come from the government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of the government. The history of liberty is a history of resistance. The history of liberty is a history of the limitation of governmental power, not the increase of it. Do these gentlemen dream that in the year 1912 we have discovered a unique exception to the movement of human history? Do they dream that the whole character of those who exercise power has changed, that it is no longer a temptation? Above all things else, do they dream that men are bred great enough now to be a Providence over the people over whom they preside? ~Woodrow Wilson


I catch, through the mists of life's river,
A glimpse of the time to be,
When the chain from the bondman rusted,
Shall leave him erect and free...
~Alice Carey, "The Time to Be," c.1847


The sound of tireless voices is the price we pay for the right to hear the music of our own opinions. ~Adlai Stevenson


Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. ~Benjamin Franklin, 1755


O Liberty... is it well
To leave the gates unguarded?...
~Thomas Bailey Aldrich, "Unguarded Gates," c.1891


To make a pledge of any kind is to declare war against nature; for a pledge is a chain that is always clanking and reminding the wearer of it that he is not a free man. ~Mark Twain


No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow-man, without at last finding the other end of it about his own neck. ~Frederick Douglass, 1883


Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth. ~George Washington, 1788


Since the general civilization of mankind, I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people, by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpations: but on a candid examination of history, we shall find that turbulence, violence and abuse of power, by the majority trampling on the rights of the minority, have produced factions and commotions, which, in republics, have more frequently than any other cause, produced despotism. If we go over the whole history of ancient and modern republics, we shall find their destruction to have generally resulted from those causes. If we consider the peculiar situation of the United States, and what are the sources of that diversity of sentiments which pervades its inhabitants, we shall find great danger to fear, that the same causes may terminate here, in the same fatal effects, which they produced in those republics. This danger ought to be wisely guarded against. ~James Madison, 1788


No people can permanently remain free unless it possesses the stern self-control and resolution necessary to put down anarchy. Order without liberty and liberty without order are equally destructive; special privilege for the few and special privilege for the many are alike profoundly anti-social; the fact that unlimited individualism is ruinous, in no way alters the fact that absolute state ownership and regimentation spells ruin of a different kind. All of this ought to be trite to reasonably intelligent people — even if they are professional intellectuals — but in practice an endless insistence on these simple fundamental truths is endlessly necessary. ~Theodore Roosevelt, 1918


The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure. ~Thomas Jefferson, 1787


Men fight for liberty, and win it with hard knocks.
Their children, brought up easy, let it slip away again, poor fools.
And their grandchildren are once more slaves.
~D. H. Lawrence, "Liberty's Old Old Story," Pansies, 1929


Power is duty; freedom is responsibility. ~Marie Dubsky, Freifrau von Ebner-Eschenbach (1830–1916), translated by Mrs Annis Lee Wister, 1882


Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it. ~Bernard Shaw (1856–1950)


Most will give up an acre of freedom for a closet of security. ~Dr. Idel Dreimer, lumpenbangenpiano.com


First, freedom is never free; in fact, it has always been bought at great cost, whether on the battlefield, in the legislative assembly, in the law courts, in the schoolroom, or in synagogues, temples or churches. Also, it is never self-perpetuating, but has had to be rewon again and again... ~Author unknown, 1960s


Many politicians of our time are in the habit of laying it down as a self-evident proposition, that no people ought to be free till they are fit to use their freedom. The maxim is worthy of the fool in the old story, who resolved not to go into the water till he had learnt to swim. ~Thomas Babington Macaulay, "Milton," 1825





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