Quotations about   freedom

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A free America, democratic in the sense that our forefathers intended it to be, means just this: individual freedom for all, rich or poor, or else this system of government we call “democracy” is only an expedient to enslave man to the machine and make him like it.

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) American architect, interior designer, writer, educator [b. Frank Lincoln Wright]
The Future of Architecture (1953)
Added on 17-Jun-14 | Last updated 17-Jun-14
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I may stand alone,
But would not change my free thoughts for a throne.

George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) English poet
Don Juan, 11.90 (1819-1824)
Added on 13-May-14 | Last updated 13-May-14
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Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the right which they first of all strike down. They know its power.

Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) American abolitionist, orator, writer
“A Plea for Freedom of Speech in Boston,” speech (9 Dec 1860)
Added on 12-May-14 | Last updated 12-May-14
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But we ask neither for power nor for riches, the usual causes of wars and strife among mortals, but only for freedom, which no true man gives up except with his life.

[At nos non imperium neque divitias petimus, quarum rerum causa bella atque certamina omnia inter mortales sunt, sed libertatem, quam nemo bonus nisi cum anima simul amittit.]

Sallust (c. 86-35 BC) Roman historian and politician [Gaius Sallustius Crispus]
Catiline’s War [Bellum Catilinae] pt. 33 (42 BC) [tr. Loeb (1921)]
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Alt. trans.: "But at power or wealth, for the sake of which wars, and all kinds of strife, arise among mankind, we do not aim; we desire only our liberty, which no honorable man relinquishes but with his life."
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To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.

Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) American abolitionist, orator, writer
“A Plea for Freedom of Speech in Boston,” speech (9 Dec 1860)
Added on 30-Apr-14 | Last updated 30-Apr-14
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Mankind are apt to be strongly prejudiced in favor of whatever is countenanced by antiquity, enforced by authority, and recommended by custom. The pleasure of acquiescing in the decision of others is by most men so preferred to the toil and hazard of inquiry, and so few are either able or disposed to examine for themselves, that the voice of law will generally be taken for the dictates of justice.

Robert Hall (1764-1831) English Baptist minister
“Fragment on Village Preaching,” sec. 2
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Added on 22-Apr-14 | Last updated 22-Apr-14
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I believe in an America where the rights that I have described are enjoyed by all, regardless of their race or their creed or their national origin — where every citizen is free to think and speak as he pleases and write and worship as he pleases — and where every citizen is free to vote as he pleases, without instructions from anyone, his employer, the union leader or his clergyman.

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) US President (1961-63)
Speech, Philadelphia (31 Oct 1960)
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Added on 21-Apr-14 | Last updated 21-Apr-14
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It was not the mere matter of the separation of the colonies from the motherland; but something in the Declaration giving liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but hope to the world for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance. This is the sentiment embodied in that Declaration of Independence.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) American lawyer, politician, US President (1861-65)
Speech, Independence Hall, Philadelphia (22 Feb 1861)
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A slave is one who waits for someone else to free him.

Ezra Pound (1885-1972) American expatriate poet, critic, intellectual
“Gists,” Impact: Essays on Ignorance and the Decline of American Civilization, ed. Noel Stock (1960)
Added on 27-Mar-14 | Last updated 27-Mar-14
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You get to say the world is flat because we live in a country that guarantees your free speech, but it’s not a country that guarantees that anything you say is correct.

Neil deGrasse Tyson (b. 1958) American astrophysicist, author, orator
Interview, “The Colbert Report, (10 Mar 2014)
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Added on 21-Mar-14 | Last updated 21-Mar-14
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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, custom and opinion. The State is competent to assign duties and draw the line between good and evil only in its immediate sphere. Beyond the limits of things necessary for its well-being, it can only give indirect help to fight the battle of life by promoting the influences which prevail against temptation, — religion, education, and the distribution of wealth.

John Dalberg, Lord Acton (1834-1902) British historian
“The History of Freedom in Antiquity,” Speech, Bridgenorth Institute (28 Feb 1877)
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Added on 11-Mar-14 | Last updated 11-Mar-14
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The public use of a man’s reason must be free at all times, and this alone can bring enlightenment among men.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) German philosopher
“An Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment? Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung?]” (1784)
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Added on 6-Mar-14 | Last updated 25-Sep-15
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If the people cannot govern themselves, they must be governed by somebody.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) British playwright and critic
Annajanska (1919)
Added on 11-Feb-14 | Last updated 11-Feb-14
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We are convinced that liberty without socialism is privilege, injustice; and that socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality.

Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876) Russian anarchist, political theorist
“Federalism, Socialism, Anti-Theologism” (Sep 1867)
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Added on 24-Jan-14 | Last updated 24-Jan-14
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Force can overcome force, but a free society cannot long steel itself to dominate another people by sheer force.

Dean Acheson (1893-1971) American statesman
Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department (1969)
Added on 21-Jan-14 | Last updated 21-Jan-14
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Our discontent begins by finding false villains whom we can accuse of deceiving us. Next we find false heroes whom we expect to liberate us. The hardest, most discomfiting discovery is that each of us must emancipate himself.

Daniel J. Boorstin (1914-2004) American historian, professor, attorney, writer
The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, 6.5 (1961)
Added on 15-Jan-14 | Last updated 15-Jan-14
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America wasn’t founded so that we could all be better. America was founded so that we could all be anything we damn well pleased.

P.J. O'Rourke (b. 1947) American humorist, editor
(Attributed)
Added on 8-Jan-14 | Last updated 8-Jan-14
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Whenever a single definite object is made the supreme end of the State, be it the advantage of a class, the safety of the power of the country, the greatest happiness of the greatest number, or the support of any speculative idea, the State becomes for the time inevitably absolute. Liberty alone demands for its realisation the limitation of the public authority, for liberty is the only object which benefits all alike, and provokes no sincere opposition.

John Dalberg, Lord Acton (1834-1902) British historian
“Nationality,” Home and Foreign Review (Jul 1862)
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Added on 7-Jan-14 | Last updated 7-Jan-14
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Do the people of this land — in the providence of God, favored, as they sometimes boast, above all others in the plenitude of their liberties — desire to preserve those so carefully protected by the First Amendment: liberty of religious worship, freedom of speech and of the press, and the right as freemen peaceably to assemble and petition their government for a redress of grievances? If so, let them withstand all beginnings of encroachment. For the saddest epitaph which can be carved in memory of a vanished liberty is that it was lost because its possessors failed to stretch forth a saving hand while yet there was time.

George Sutherland (1862-1942) Anglo-American jurist, Supreme Court Justice (1922-1938)
Associated Press v. National Labor Relations Board, 301 U.S. 141 (1938) [Dissent]
Added on 30-May-13 | Last updated 19-Jul-14
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Freedom for the pike is death for the minnow.

R. H. Tawney (1880-1962) English writer, economist, historian, social critic [Richard Henry Tawney]
Equality (1931)

Sometimes cited an English proverb, or attributed to Isaiah Berlin.
Added on 11-Jan-13 | Last updated 4-Sep-16
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We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Letter from Birmingham Jail (16 Apr 1963)
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See Gladstone.
Added on 24-Feb-12 | Last updated 7-Dec-15
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When we lose the right to be different, we lose the right to be free.

Charles Evans Hughes, Sr. (1862-1948) American statesman, politician, Supreme Court Justice (1910-1916, 1930-1941)
Speech, 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill, Faneuil Hall, Boston (17 Jun 1925)
Added on 4-Jan-12 | Last updated 14-Jun-16
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Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
(Spurious)

A common "inspirational" quote, frequently attributed to Twain, but not found in writings. Earliest found is in H. Jackson Brown, P.S. I Love You (1990), attributed to Brown's mother. More info here.

Added on 13-Jun-11 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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I conceive of God, in fact, as a means of liberation and not a means to control others.

Baldwin - God liberation - wist_info

James Baldwin (1924-1987) American author [James Arthur Baldwin]
“In Search of a Majority,” Speech, Kalamazoo College (Feb 1960)
Added on 10-Dec-10 | Last updated 17-Nov-15
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If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought — not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935) American jurist, Supreme Court Justice
United States v. Schwimmer, 279 U.S. 644 (1929) [Dissent]
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Added on 20-Jul-10 | Last updated 14-Jun-16
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Freedom is not a gift received from a State or a leader but a possession to be won every day by the effort of each and the union of all.

Camus - freedom is not a gift received - wist_info quote

Albert Camus (1913-1960) Algerian-French novelist, essayist, playwright
“Bread and Freedom” (1957), Resistance, Rebellion, and Death [tr. O’Brien (1961)]
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Bear with the faults and frailties of others, for you, too, have many faults which others have to bear. If you cannot mold yourself as you would wish, how can you expect other people to be entirely to your liking? For we require other people to be perfect, but do not correct our own faults.

Thomas à Kempis (c. 1380-1471) German monk, author
The Imitation of Christ, Book 1, ch. 16 (c. 1418) [tr. L. Sherley-Price (1952)]
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Alt trans.: "Try to bear patiently with the defects and infirmities of others, whatever they may be, because you also have many a fault which others must endure. If you cannot make yourself what you would wish to be, how can you bend others to your will? We want them to be perfect, yet we do not correct our own faults. We wish them to be severely corrected, yet we will not correct ourselves. Their great liberty displeases us, yet we would not be denied what we ask. We would have them bound by laws, yet we will allow ourselves to be restrained in nothing."

Alt trans.: "Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be."
Added on 2-Jun-10 | Last updated 14-Sep-16
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I am unalterably opposed to communism because it exalts the state over the individual and the family, and because of the lack of freedom of speech, of protest, of religion, and of the press, which is the characteristic of totalitarian states. The way of opposition to communism is not to imitate its dictatorship, but to enlarge individual freedom, in our own countries and all over the globe. There are those in every land who would label as Communist every threat to their privilege. But as I have seen on my travels in all sections of the world, reform is not communism. And the denial of freedom, in whatever name, only strengthens the very communism it claims to oppose.

Robert Francis Kennedy (1925-1968) American politician
“Day of Affirmation,” address, University of Capetown, South Africa (6 Jun 1966)
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I will not attack your doctrines nor your creeds if they accord liberty to me. If they hold thought to be dangerous — if they aver that doubt is a crime, then I attack them one and all, because they enslave the minds of men.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
“The Ghosts” (1877)
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Added on 14-Aug-09 | Last updated 2-Feb-16
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My own belief is no rule for another.

John Wesley (1703-1791) English cleric, Christian theologian and evangelist, founder of Methodism
Sermon #39, “Catholic Spirit,” 1.11
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Added on 3-Aug-09 | Last updated 17-Jul-15
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It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Henley - master of my fate - wist_info quote

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903) English poet, critic, editor
“Invictus” (1875)
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Let the human mind loose. It must be loose. It will be loose. Superstition and dogmatism cannot confine it.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
Letter to John Quincy Adams (13 Nov 1816)
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We must not conclude merely upon a man’s haranguing upon liberty, and using the charming sound, that he is fit to be trusted with the liberties of his country. It is not unfrequent to hear men declaim loudly upon liberty, who, if we may judge by the whole tenor of their actions, mean nothing else by it but their own liberty, — to oppress without control or the restraint of laws all who are poorer or weaker than themselves.

Samuel Adams (1722-1803) American revolutionary, statesman
Essay, The Advertiser (1748)
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Added on 16-Jul-08 | Last updated 29-Sep-16
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Cities may be rebuilt, and a People reduced to Poverty, may acquire fresh Property: but a Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
Letter to Abigail Adams (17 Jul 1775)
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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.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
Journal, notes for an oration at Braintree (Spring 1772)
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You cannot change the conclusion of the brain by torture; nor by social ostracism. But I will tell you what you can do by these, and what you have done. You can make hypocrites by the million. You can make a man say that he has changed his mind; but he remains of the same opinion still. Put fetters all over him; crush his feet in iron boots; stretch him to the last gasp upon the holy rack; burn him, if you please, but his ashes will be of the same opinion still.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
“The Liberty of Man, Woman, and Child” (1877)
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Added on 29-Feb-08 | Last updated 4-Feb-16
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There is only one success … to be able to spend your life in your own way, and not to give others absurd maddening claims upon it.

Christopher Morley (1890-1957) American journalist, novelist, essayist, poet
Where the Blue Begins, ch. 8 (1922)
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What is this liberty that must lie in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not the freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty and leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no check on their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few — as we have learned to our sorrow.

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
“The Spirit of Liberty,” speech, “I Am an American Day,” New York (21 May 1941)
Added on 31-Oct-07 | Last updated 18-Dec-15
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Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism:

The right to criticize.
The right to hold unpopular beliefs.
The right to protest.
The right of independent thought.

The exercise of these rights should not cost one single American citizen his reputation or his right to a livelihood, nor should he be in danger of losing his reputation or livelihood merely because he happens to know someone who holds unpopular beliefs. Who of us doesn’t? Otherwise none of us could call our souls our own. Otherwise thought control would have set in.

Margaret Chase Smith (1897-1965) American politician (US Senator, Maine)
“Declaration of Conscience” (1 Jun 1950)
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Added on 27-Sep-07 | Last updated 14-Nov-17
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I know a number of highly sensitive and intelligent people in my own communion who consider as a heresy my faith that God’s loving concern for his creation will outlast all our willfulness and pride. No matter how many eons it takes, he will not rest until all of creation, including Satan, is reconciled to him, until there is no creature who cannot return his look of love with a joyful response of love […] Some people feel it to be heresy because it appears to deny man his freedom to refuse to love God. But this, it seems to me, denies God his freedom to go on loving us beyond all our willfulness and pride. If the Word of God is the light of the world, and this light cannot be put out, ultimately it will brighten all the dark corners of our hearts and we will be able to see, and seeing, will be given the grace to respond with love — and of our own free will.

Madeleine L'Engle (1918-2007) American writer
The Irrational Season (1977)
Added on 19-Sep-07 | Last updated 14-Nov-15
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We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Declaration of Independence, “Original Rough Draught” (Jun 1776)
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The idea that any kind of free society can be constructed in which people will never be offended or insulted is absurd. So too is the notion that people should have the right to call on the law to defend them against being offended or insulted. A fundamental decision needs to be made: do we want to live in a free society or not? Democracy is not a tea party where people sit around making polite conversation. In democracies people get extremely upset with each other. They argue vehemently against each other’s positions. (But they don’t shoot.)

Salman Rushdie (b. 1947) Indian novelist
“Do we have to fight the battle for the Enlightenment all over again?” The Independent (22 Jan 2005)
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Added on 11-Feb-05 | Last updated 7-Mar-18
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At Cambridge University I was taught a laudable method of argument: you never personalise, but you have absolutely no respect for people’s opinions. You are never rude to the person, but you can be savagely rude about what the person thinks. That seems to me a crucial distinction: people must be protected from discrimination by virtue of their race, but you cannot ring-fence their ideas. The moment you say that any idea system is sacred, whether it’s a religious belief system or a secular ideology, the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.

Salman Rushdie (b. 1947) Indian novelist
“Do we have to fight the battle for the Enlightenment all over again?” The Independent (22 Jan 2005)
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Added on 11-Feb-05 | Last updated 7-Mar-18
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Many politicians are in the habit of laying down as self-evident the proposition that no people ought to be free till they are fit to use their freedom. This maxim is worthy of the fool in the old story who resolved not to go into the water till he had learned to swim. If men are to wait for liberty till they become wise and good in slavery, they may indeed wait forever.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
“John Milton,” Edinburgh Review (Aug 1825)
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We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) US President (1961-63)
“Remarks on the 20th Anniversary of the Voice of America” (speech), Washington, DC (26 Feb 1962)
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History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Inaugural Address (20 Jan 1953)
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[T]he price of freedom of religion or of speech or of the press is that we must put up with, and even pay for, a good deal of rubbish.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
United States v. Ballard, 322 U.S. 78 (1944) [dissent]
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We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) German-American psychologist, writer
Man’s Search for Meaning, Part 1 (1959)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 12-Nov-19
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Only free men can negotiate; prisoners cannot enter into contracts. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated.

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) South African revolutionary, politician, statesman
Letter from prison to Zindzi Mandela, given in Soweto speech (10 Feb 1985)

On refusing to bargain for freedom after 21 years in prison. Quoted in Time (25 Feb 1985).
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If the First Amendment means anything, it means that a State has no business telling a man, sitting alone in his own house, what books he may read or what films he may watch.

Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) American lawyer, US Supreme Court Justice (1967-1991)
Stanley v. Georgia 394 U.S. 557 (1969) [Unanimous Opinion]
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The first measure of a free society is NOT that its government performs the will of the majority. That’s what we had in 1930s Germany, 1950s Georgia, and 1980s Iran. The FIRST measure of a free society is that its government protects the just freedoms of its minorities AGAINST the preferences, will and caprice of the majority.

Jim Warren (b. 1936) American mathematician, computer scientist, journalist, activist
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 27-May-19
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Freedom is not free.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Speech, Institute on Nonviolence and Social Change, Bethel Baptist Church (3 Dec 1959)
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By liberty I mean the assurance that every man shall be protected in doing what he believes to be his duty against the influences of authority and majorities, custom and opinion.

John Dalberg, Lord Acton (1834-1902) British historian
“The History of Freedom in Antiquity,” Speech, Bridgenorth Institute (28 Feb 1877)
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The history of liberty is the history of the observances of procedural safeguards.

Felix Frankfurter (1882-1965) US Supreme Court Justice, jurist and teacher
McNabb v. United States (1943)
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Liberty is the only thing you cannot have unless you are willing to give it to others.

William Allen White (1868-1944) American writer and journalist
“A Free Press in a Machine Age,” speech, U. of Pennsylvania (2 May 1938)
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