Tuesday, August 21, 2007

“Those Who Would Give Up A Little Liberty To Gain A Little Security”

August 21, 2007

At one time or another and in one variation or another, we have all had the above quote attributed to one our Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, thrown at us. In all variants it ends, “are deserving of neither,” or similar words.

Since the horrific attacks against us on September 11, 2001, it has been continually misused to justify opposition to the programs President George W. Bush has implemented to interfere with plans of and capture terrorists within our own midst. There is no real need to cover these programs as they have been discussed ad nauseam across the political spectrum.

What I am going to address is the quote itself and how it has been misused, misinterpreted and presented totally out of context, primarily by the left to justify their paranoia and opposition.

To begin with, the variation of the quote most presented is misinterpreted and somewhat revised. Due to the meticulous research of one Richard Minsky, Author and Book Artist, we know that the actual quote was, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety,” as expressed in a 1755 Pennsylvania Assembly Reply To The Governor letter.

The omission of the words “essential” before Liberty and “temporary” before Security, as well the revising of the word “purchase” and replacing them with “little” and “gain” is important. An “essential liberty” is far different than a “little liberty.” Likewise, “temporary” and a “little security.” By revising the words slightly, one could be led to believe that Franklin thought Liberty was so precious that there was to be absolutely no compromising it, even for our security.”

To support their claim, opposers often cite Abraham Lincoln as being a Republican Villain who robbed citizens of their liberty during the U.S. Civil War when he suspended the right of Habeas Corpus. This is equated to President Bush’s imprisoning suspected terrorists indefinitely for interrogation.

Critics neglect to see or state that in 1996, then President Clinton placed the first limitations on Habeas Corpus since the Civil War when, after the Bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City that left 168 dead and over 800 injured, signed into law the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.

Undeterred by this and still wagging their tongues about Ben Franklin’s infamous quote, the claim is made that Republican Presidents, Lincoln and Bush have violated our Constitution with their suspension of Habeas Corpus. How they know it has been violated when apparently they have never read it escapes me. Under Article 1, Section 9, clause two is, “The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.”

As I read it, all 3 Presidents acted appropriately in regards to Habeas Corpus, given the time and reasoning, Public Safety, behind their actions.

That leaves us with Ben Franklin and the notion that he felt no amount of liberty should ever be given up for some security, as claimed by opposers. Returning to the context of the original quote, though, we will find that their notion is just wrong!

Reading before and after the single sentence quoted, we see that frustration was being expressed towards the “Freemen of Pennsylvania,” members of the religion of Quakers, most noted for their pacifist stance. 1755 was early into the French and Indian War and forts were being erected along the then frontier to protect settlers, who were spread out miles apart.

Being Pacifists, Quakers were trying to make friends with the marauders of that time by trading with them. Their religious beliefs prevented them from taking up arms against others and thusly; the frontier was being left fairly unprotected from bands of roving marauders. From the letter we read towards the end,

“In fine, we have the most sensible Concern for the poor distressed Inhabitants of the Frontiers. We have taken every Step in our Power, consistent with the just Rights of the Freemen of Pennsylvania, for their Relief, and we have Reason to believe, that in the Midst of their Distresses they themselves do not wish us to go farther. Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. Such as were inclined to defend themselves, but unable to purchase Arms and Ammunition, have, as we are informed, been supplied with both, as far as Arms could be procured, out of Monies given by the last Assembly for the King’s Use; and the large Supply of Money offered by this Bill, might enable the Governor to do every Thing else that should be judged necessary for their farther Security, if he shall think fit to accept it. Whether he could, as he supposes, “if his Hands had been properly strengthened, have put the Province into such a Posture of Defence, as might have prevented the present Mischiefs,” seems to us uncertain; since late Experience in our neighbouring Colony of Virginia (which had every Advantage for that Purpose that could be desired) shows clearly, that it is next to impossible to guard effectually an extended Frontier, settled by scattered single Families at two or three Miles Distance, so as to secure them from the insiduous Attacks of small Parties of skulking Murderers: But thus much is certain, that by refusing our Bills from Time to Time, by which great Sums were seasonably offered, he has rejected all the Strength that Money could afford him; and if his Hands are still weak or unable, he ought only to blame himself, or those who have tied them.”

As I read this, the frustration was due to an “essential liberty,” the right to bear arms, was being denied voluntarily in an attempt to “purchase a temporary security” from the band of murderers.

To my un-scholastic mind, this actually means that we should not give up our arms thinking we would gain security, as often recommended by portions of the anti-war left and liberals today. The quote, in context, tells me we are to be responsible for our own security and safety as well as that of our neighbor, who would be defending us as well.

I also see that certain liberties might have to be infringed upon, from time to time, to ensure our safety and security. We willfully accepted infringement upon liberty during World War Two to give the Troops what they needed to win as well as to ensure the public remained safe and separated from the war zone.

This time, the war zone has already landed around us and if we don’t allow our security forces some leeway in capturing and intervening with the plans of suspected terrorists and their cells, we won’t need to worry about either security or liberty. Both will be taken away by invading Jihadists setting up their Sharia Caliphate.

Ignore the left as they misquote and quote Ben Franklin out of context. Recall that he too signed the Declaration of Independence.



u∃∃l!∃ said...


I won't ignore the Left,
But I won't ignore what you are saying, (and/or what the Right is saying) either.

I am of the belief that we ALL give up SOME "liberty", in return for SOME "security"; and it is just the specifics of which "liberties" we are willing to give up, in return for what level of "Security" that is not agreed upon.
So I often debate with those who throw out that quote.
(And a few of my friends throw it out a lot, and have a strong belief in it.)

Each time a law is established, to protect us from the behavior of others, our "Liberty" to engage in that behavior is taken away.
In return we get some "Security" against others behaving in that way.
So unless people are for complete lawlessness, they have already decided that giving up some "Liberty" is o.k.

So maybe the quote should be given a lot less credence than it is given, so the debate can focus more on exactly which liberties should be given up, and how much security will be gained in return.

LewWaters said...

Hi Coboble. I have to agree that discovering the true meaning of the quote, in context, greatly reduces it's impact as presented today.

I laugh at those who cry about losing liberty and freedom over the Patriot Act and the NSA Eavesdropping programs, espcially when those crying the loudest haven't lost anything.

In the meantime, they support smoking bans, seat belt laws, emminent domain, helmet laws, food laws, ever increasing taxes (especially on others), gun control (which is one of the few rights listed in the Bill of RIghts), hate speech laws, fairness doctrines, abortions (shouldn't an unborn that is expected to be a live human have a right to life as well?), and a host of other every day things we allow ourselves to be herded around, all for the good of all, supposedly.

In the case of this quote, however, it is apparent to me that the "security" sought was much like the "security" preceived to be availabe today if we allow them to take our "essential liberty" of gun ownership by responsbile adults away. We are told we awere under attack because we are too strong, too well armed and such. If we only give it all up, they tell us, we will be secure in knowing that others in other countries will simply leave us alone.

September 11 showed us what is in store. If we continue allowing our libertioes to be stripped away ever so gradually as they have been, we deserve to lose them and the security we sought.

As you say, the quote is misused by many and in actuality, not what it is made out to be. I agree we need to reign in some "liberties," but can't say just which ones, that is up to a majority. Total freedom would mean anarchy, so we need laws to encroach upon some liberties. I'd be curious to see what others feel would be appropriate to give up.

Unknown said...

The way I read this, in context, the whole letter was beseeching the Governor to sign the bill to raise money to purchase weapons. And knowing that the Quakers were voluntarily giving up the right to purchase arms, the specific "essential Liberty" was specified in the next clause "to purchase a little temporary safety"! So what Franklin was actually saying is, If the Quakers give up the essential right to purchase arms, to protect themselves until the Indians can be subdued, then screw them. In Franklin's correspondence archives, a few weeks after this on 18 Dec 1755 he wrote a "dialogue" between a Mr X, Mr Y and Mr Z. In that dialogue Mr Z said, "For my part, I am no coward; but hang me if I fight to save the Quakers"