For which we stand:
A Lexicon of Liberty

The word "Liberty" was once universally understood as the centerpiece of the American way of life. Its icons, most notably The Statute of Liberty, the Liberty Bell, and the Liberty Tree, are deeply embeded and interwoven into the cultural and historical and political traditions of the United States: The word "Liberty" was placed on every American coin to proclaim its central importance for all time, so that subsequent generations would always remember that it was Liberty that defined our social and political nature and created a climate in which the significant and unique achievements of Americans became possible: It was placed there so that we might ever remember the sacrifices and deaths of the many brave patriots, of so many generations, to whom we owe our Liberty.

However, the history of recent decades has been been a story of the continual erosion of the personal Liberty and privacy of Americans. That erosion has been so complete that few Americans now ever ponder or consider the meaing of the word "Liberty". Those who have chipped away at Liberty have always have seemed to have some compelling reason for the destruction of one more aspect of personal liberty and the further intrusion of government control, regulation, and oversight in matters long considered to be appropriate for personal choice and privacy: The war on drugs, the war against terrorism, the war against crime, or a compelling crusade to establish or maintain someone's notion of morality by government force: There always seems to be a compelling reason in the minds of some to take away more of the basic freedoms and blessings of Liberty.

In an era increasingly hostile to the notion that Liberty is a positive good in its own right that needs no excuse
, it is fitting to remind ourselves of what our political and societal forebears wished us to understand about Liberty.

Proclaim Liberty in the land for all its inhabitants. Lev. XXVI: 10

The idea of Liberty has ultimately a religious root; that is why men find it so easy to die for and so difficult to define. G. K. Chesterton: A Miscellany of Men


Give me Liberty or Give me death! Patrick Henry

Eternal vigilance is the price of Liberty. Wendell Phillips, 1852.

Liberty will not descend to a people; a people must raise themselves to Liberty; it is a blessing that must be earned before it can be enjoyed. Charles Calen Colton

We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of Liberty. John F. Kennedy, Inauguration Speech, 1961

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, One Nation, under God, with Liberty and Justice for All. Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag.

Liberty is not a matter of words, but a positive and important condition of society. Its greatest safeguard after placing its foundations on a popular base, is in the checks and balances imposed on the public servants, and all its real friends ought to know that the most insidious attacks are made on it by those who are the largest trustees of authority, in their efforts to increase their power. James Fenimore Cooper: The American Democrat. On Distinctive American Principles.

The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil constitution, are worth defending at all hazards; and it is our duty to defend them against all attacks. We have received them as a fair inheritance from our worthy ancestors: they purchased them for us with toil and danger and expense of treasure and blood, and transmitted them to us with care and diligence. It will bring an everlasting mark of infamy on the present generation, enlightened as it is, if we should suffer them to be wrested from us by violence without a struggle, or be cheated out of them by the artifices of false and designing men. Samuel Adams: Article, 1771.

The history of civilized man is the history of the incessant conflict between Liberty and authority. Charles T. Sprading, Introduction, Liberty and the Great Libertarians.

Liberty - not Communism - is the most contagious force in the world. It will permeate the Iron Curtain. It will eventually abide everywhere. For no people of any race will long remain slaves. Our strength is in our diversity. Our power is in freedom of thought and research. Earl Warren, Address, Columbia University, 1954.

The only sure bulwark of continuing Liberty is a government strong enough to protect the interests of the people, and a people strong enough and well enough informed to maintain its sovereign control over its government. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Fireside Chat, April 14, 1938

Liberty exists in proportion to wholesome restraint; the more restraint on others to keep off from us, the more liberty we have. Daniel Webster, Speech, Charleston, S.C., May 10, 1847.

Live free or die. State Motto of New Hampshire


Thomas Alva Edison in San Franciso with the Liberty Bell Pan American Exhibition, 1916

Extremism in the defense of Liberty is no vice. And let me remind you that moderation in the pursuit of Justice is no virtue. Senator Barry Goldwater, July 14, 1964


By Liberty I mean the assurance that every man shall be protected in doing what he believes his duty against the influence of authority and majorities, customs, and opinion. Lord Acton, The History of Freedom in Antiquity, 1877.

Liberty has never come from government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of government. The history of Liberty is the history of resistance. . . The history of Liberty is a history of the limitations of governmental power, not the increase of it. . . When we resist . . . concentration of power, we are resisting the powers of death, because concentration of power is what always precedes the destruction of human liberties. Woodrow Wilson, Address, New York Press Club, May 9, 1912.

The condition upon which God hath given Liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude, is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt. John Philpot Curran, Speech upon the Right of Election of the Lord Mayor of Dublin, July 10, 1790.

Freedom of thought and freedom of speech in our great institutions of learning are absolutely necessary for the preservation of our country. The moment that either is restricted, Liberty begins to wither and die and the career of a nation after that time is downwards. Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld: to George H. Shipley, September 25, 1897.


It behooves every man who values Liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others. Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Dr. Rush,1803.

He who opposes the public Liberty overthrows his own. William Lloyd Garrison, William Lloyd Garrison: The History of His Life.

It is a common observation here [Paris] that our cause is the cause of all mankind, and that we are fighting for their Liberty in defending our own. Benjamin Franklin, Letter to Samuel Cooper, 1777.


Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect Liberty when the government's purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil minded rulers. The greatest dangers to Liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding. Louis D. Brandeis, dissenting,
Olmstead v. U.S. 277 US 438 (1928)


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.


The true danger is, when Liberty is nibbled away, for expedients, and by parts. Edmund Burke.

L'Arbe de la Liberte' par le sang des tyrants. Bertrant Barere de Vienzac, Speech, National Assembly, 1792

The love of Liberty is the love of others; the love of power is the love of ourselves. William Hazlitt, Political Essays.

The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion. Edmund Burke, Speech, 1784.



Liberty and good government do not exclude each other; and there are excellent reasons why they should go together. Liberty is not a means to a higher end. It is itself the highest political end. Lord Acton, The History of Freedom in Antiquity, 1877.

And ye were now turned, and had done right in my sight, in proclaiming liberty every man to his neighbour; and ye had made a covenant before me in the house which is called by my name. Jer. XXXIV:15