IR Folks from Times Past

IR Folks from Times Past

Saturday, October 5, 2013


Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof. Leviticus, xxv, c. 700 B.C. (The inscription on the Liberty Bell at Philadelphia.)

O sweet name of liberty. (O nomen dulce libertatis.) Cicero, Oration Against Verres, c. 60 B.C.

A love of liberty is planted by nature in the breasts of all men. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Antiquities of Rome, iv, c. 20 B.C.

No favor produces less permanent gratitude than the gift of liberty, especially among people who are ready to make a bad use of it. Livy, History of Rome, xxxix, c. 10

Brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. Galatians v, 13, c. 50

Thou inquirest what liberty is? To be slave to nothing, to no necessity, to no accident, to keep fortune at arm's length. Seneca, Epistulæ morales ad Lucilium, c. 63

Only in states in which the power of the people is supreme has liberty any abode. Cicero, De republica, I, c. 50 B.C.

Liberties and masters are not easily combined. Tacitus, History, iv, c. 100

Nature gives liberty even to dumb animals. Ibid.

I tell you true, liberty is the best of all things; never live beneath the noose of a servile halter, William Wallace, Address to the Scots, c. 1300

Every subject's duty is the king's; but every subject's soul is his own. Shakespeare, Henry V, iv, c. 1599

Liberty is the power that we have over ourselves. Hugo Grotius, De jure belli ac pacis, i, 1625

Civil or federal liberty is the proper end and object of authority, and cannot exist without it; and it is a liberty to that which is good, just and honest. John Winthrop, Journal, 1635

Liberty, which appears so dear, is often only an imaginary good. Pierre Corneille, Cinna, II, 1639

Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties. John Milton, Areopagitica, 1644

By liberty is understood the absence of external impediments; which impediments may take away part of a man's power to do what he would, but cannot hinder him from using the power left him, according as his judgment and reason shall dictate to him. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, I, 1651

Above all things—liberty.  Motto of John Selden (1584-1654)

Lean liberty is better than fat slavery, John Ray, English Proverbs, 1670

Liberty is a great pleasure. William Wycherley, The Country Wife, iv, c. 1673

Freedom of men under government is to have a standing rule to live by, common to every one of that society, and made by the legislative power vested in it; a liberty to follow my own will in all things, when the rule prescribes not, and not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another. John Locke, Second Treatise on Government, 1690

Liberty should reach every individual of a people, as they all share one common nature: if it only spreads among particular branches, there had better be none at all, since such a liberty only aggravates the misfortune of those who are deprived of it, by setting before them a disagreeable subject of comparison. Joseph Addison, The Spectator, Jan. 29, 1712

A day, an hour of virtuous liberty,
Is worth a whole eternity in bondage
Joseph Addison, Cato, ii, 1713

Give me again my hollow tree,
 A crust of bread, and liberty.
 Alexander Pope, The Sixth Satire of the Second Book of Horace, 1714

Liberty of conscience is nowadays not only understood to be the liberty of believing what men please, but also of endeavoring to propagate that belief as much as they can. Jonathan Swift, Sermon on the Testimony of Conscience, c. 1715

Liberty is the right to do what the laws allow. If a citizen had a right to do what they forbid it would no longer be liberty, for everyone else would have the same right. Charles Secondat, de Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, xi, 1748

In constitutional states liberty is but a compensation for the heaviness of taxation. In despotic states the equivalent for liberty is the lightness of taxation. Ibid, xiii

In those very few places where men enjoy what they call liberty, it is continually in a tottering situation, and makes greater and greater strides to that fault of despotism which at last swallows up every species of government. Edmund Burke, A Vindication of Natural Society, 1756

Liberty is obedience to the law which one has laid down for oneself. J.-J. Rousseau, Du contrat social, i, 1761

Liberty is not a fruit that grows in all climates, and so it is not within the reach of all people. Ibid, iii.

They make a rout about universal liberty without considering that all that is to be valued, or indeed can be enjoyed by individuals, is private liberty. Political liberty is good only so far as it produces private liberty. Samuel Johnson, Boswell's Life, May, 1768

The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time. Thomas Jefferson, A Summary View of the Rights of British America, 1774

Natural liberty is a gift of the beneficent Creator to the whole human race, and . . . civil liberty is founded in that, and cannot be wrested from any people without the most manifest violation of justice. Alexander Hamilton, The Farmer Refuted, 1775

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. Patrick Henry, Speech in the Virginia Convention, March 23, 1775

Liberty must be limited in order to be possessed. Edmund Burke, Letter to the sheriffs of Bristol, April 3, 1777

Where liberty dwells, there is my country. Benjamin Franklin, Letter to Benjamin Vaughan, March 14, 1783

The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion. Edmund Burke, Speech at a meeting in Buckinghamshire, 1784

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, Letter to W. S. Smith, Nov. 13, 1787

The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground. Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Edward Carrington, 1788

Political liberty consists in the power of doing whatever does not injure another. The exercise of the natural rights of every man has no other limits than those which are necessary to secure to every other man the free exercise of the same rights; and these limits are determinable only by law. Declaration of the Rights of Man by the French National Assembly, 1789

But what is liberty without wisdom, and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint. Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790

We are not to expect to be translated from despotism to liberty in a featherbed. Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Lafayette, 1790

O Liberty! what crimes are committed in thy name! Ascribed to Mme. Roland, On passing a statue of liberty on her way to the guillotine, Nov. 8, 1793

The ball of liberty is now so well in motion that it will roll round the globe. Thomas Jefferson,  Letter to Tench Coxe, 1795

Liberty in England is a sort of idol; people are bred up in the belief and love of it, but see little of its doings. They walk about freely, but it is between high walls. George Washington, To John Bernard (Quoted in Bernard, Retrospections of America, 1811, v, c. 1798)

How did mankind ever come by the idea of liberty? What a grand thought it was! G. C. Lichtenberg, Reflections, 1799

The fetters imposed on liberty at home have ever been forged out of the weapons provided for the defence against real, pretended, or imaginary dangers from abroad. James Madison, Political Reflections, 1799
Our liberty depends on our education, our laws, and habits to which even prejudices yield; on the dispersion of our people on farms and on the almost equal diffusion of property. Fisher Ames, Oration in Boston, 1800
I have from my first outset in public life been deeply affected by the charms of liberty, and from that early period to my old age been without fee or reward an advocate for her slandered righteous cause. John Dickinson, Letter to Thomas McKean, March 4, 1801

The lightning of the nations. P. B. Shelley, Ode to Liberty, 1819

Liberty here means to do each as he pleases; to care for nothing and nobody, and cheat everybody. William Faux, Memorable Days in America, 1823

If liberty produces ill-manners and want of taste, she is a very excellent parent with two very disagreeable daughters. William Hazlitt, Covent Garden Theatre, 1829, (The Atlas, 4)

Liberty and Union, now and for ever, one and inseparable! Daniel Webster, Speech in the Senate, Jan. 26, 1830

Men of future generations will yet win many a liberty of which we do not even feel the want. Max Stirner, The Ego and His Own, 1845

While I trust that liberty and free institutions, as we have experienced them, may ultimately spread over the globe, I am by no means sure that all people are fit for them; nor am I desirous of imposing or forcing our peculiar forms upon any other nation that does not wish to embrace them. Daniel Webster, Speech at Springfield, Mass., Sept. 29, 1847

[To the power of government] there must ever be allotted, under all circumstances, a sphere sufficiently large to protect the community against danger from without and violence and anarchy within. The residuum belongs to liberty. More cannot be safely or rightly allotted to it.  John C. Calhoun, Disquisition on Government, 1849

No more parties, no more authority, absolute liberty of man and citizen — that is my political and social confession of faith. P. J. Proudhon, Confessions d'un r√©volutionaire, 1849

By civil liberty is meant, not only the absence of individual restraint, but liberty within the social system and political organism — a combination of principles and laws which acknowledge, protect, and favor the dignity of man. Francis Lieber, Civil Liberty and Self-Government, 1852

Liberty is the sovereignty of the individual. Josiah Warren, Equitable Commerce, 1852

Liberty — precious boon of Heaven — is meek and reasonable. She admits that she belongs to all — to the high and the low; the rich and the poor; the black and the white — and that she belongs to them all equally. Gerrit Smith, Speech in the House of Representatives, June 27, 1854

I am for the people of the whole nation doing just as they please in all matters which concern the whole nation; for that of each part doing just as they choose in all matters which concern no other part; and for each individual doing just as he chooses in all matters which concern nobody else. Abraham Lincoln Speech, Oct. 1, 1858

The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited: he must not make himself a nuisance to other people. J. S. Mill, On Liberty, iii, 1859

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, Nov. 19, 1863

The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty. Abraham Lincoln, Speech in Baltimore, April 18, 1864

A natural right to liberty, irrespective of the ability to defend it, exists in nations as much as and no more than it exists in individuals. J. A. Froude, The English in Ireland in the Eighteenth Century, I, 1872

The liberty of the citizen to do as he likes so long as he does not interfere with the liberty of others to do the same, which has been a shibboleth for some well-known writers, is interfered with by school laws, by the Post Office, by every state or municipal institution which takes his money for purposes thought desirable, whether he likes it or not. Mr. Justice O.W. Holmes, Dissenting opinion in Lochner vs. New York, 1904

Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end. J.E.E. Dalberg (Lord Acton), Lectures on Modern History, 1906

Mankind is tired of liberty. Benito Mussolini, In the Gerarchia, April, 1923

The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding. Mr. Justice Louis D. Brandeis, Opinion in Olmstead vs. United States, 1928

You have set up in New York harbor a monstrous idol which you call Liberty. The only thing that remains to complete that monument is to put on its pedestal the inscription written by Dante on the gate of Hell: "All hope abandon, ye who enter here." George Bernard Shaw, Address in New York, April 11, 1933

Liberty is the only thing you cannot have unless you are willing to give it to others. William Allen White, In the Emporia (Kansas) Gazette, Oct. 24, 1940

Liberty is ancient; it is despotism that is new. French Proverb

Dear is country, but liberty is dearer still. (Patria cara, carior libertas.) Latin Proverb

Liberty is the best of all things. (Libertas optima rerum.) Medieval Latin Proverb.

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Source: A New Dictionary of Quotations On Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources, selected and edited by H. L. Mencken (Alfred A. Knopf, 2001). This is my all time favorite book; these entries are about a third of Mencken's.