Quotations about   liberty

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Conscience and the press ought to be unrestrained, not because men have a right to deviate from the exact line that duty prescribes, but because society, the aggregate of individuals, has no right to assume the prerogative of an infallible judge, and to undertake authoritatively to prescribe to its members in matters of pure speculation.

William Godwin (1756-1836) English journalist, political philosopher, novelist
Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Book 2, ch. 5 (1793)
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Added on 20-Nov-17 | Last updated 20-Nov-17
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Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage.

Richard Lovelace (1617-1657) English poet
“To Althea, from Prison,” l. 25 (1649)
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Added on 19-Jun-17 | Last updated 19-Jun-17
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The English, of all ranks and classes, are at bottom, in all their feelings, aristocrats. They have some concept of liberty, & set some value on it, but the very idea of equality is strange & offensive to them. They do not dislike to have many people above them as long as they have some below them.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
Letter to Giussepe Mazzini (15 Apr 1858)
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Added on 9-May-17 | Last updated 9-May-17
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Civilization begins with order, grows with liberty, and dies with chaos.

William James (Will) Durant (1885-1981) American historian, teacher, philosopher
(Attributed)
Added on 13-Mar-17 | Last updated 13-Mar-17
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Only the tiniest fraction of mankind want freedom. All the rest want someone to tell them they are free.

Irving Layton (1912-2006) Romanian-Canadian poet [b. Israel Pincu Lazarovitch]
The Whole Bloody Bird, “Obs II” (1969)
Added on 7-Feb-17 | Last updated 7-Feb-17
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One major and fundamental guarantee of protracted freedom is the unfettered right of the man to write as he sees fit, as his conscience indicates, as his mood dictates, as his cause cries out for. The moment you begin to censor the writer — and history bears this out in the ugliest of fashions — so begins a process of decay in the body politic that ultimately leads to disaster. What begins with a blue pencil — for whatever reason — very often ends in a concentration camp.

It has forever been thus: So long as men write what they think, then all of the other freedoms — all of them — may remain intact. And it is then that writing becomes a weapon of truth, an article of faith, an act of courage.

Rod Serling (1924-1975) American screenwriter, playwright, television producer, narrator
Speech (1975)
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Added on 2-Feb-17 | Last updated 2-Feb-17
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Comfort and habits let us be ready to forgo, but I am not ready for a creed which does not care how much it destroys the liberty and security of daily life, which uses deliberately the weapons of persecution, destruction and international strife. How can I admire a policy which finds a characteristic expression in spending millions to suborn spies in every family and group at home, and to stir up trouble abroad?

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) English economist
“A Short View of Russia” (1925)
Added on 24-Jan-17 | Last updated 24-Jan-17
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This is the affirmation on which democracy rests … [W]e can all be responsible … We become what we do. So does the world we live in, if enough of us do it — whether “it” be good or detestable. This is the burden of freedom: that it is all our fault or our credit.

Herbert Agar (1897-1980) American journalist and historian
“The Perils of Democracy” (1966)
Added on 7-Nov-16 | Last updated 7-Nov-16
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This hand, to tyrants ever sworn the foe,
For Freedom only deals the deadly blow;
Then sheathes in calm repose the vengeful blade,
For gentle peace in Freedom’s hallowed shade.

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) US President (1825-29)
Written in an Album (1842)
Added on 24-Oct-16 | Last updated 24-Oct-16
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Individual liberty is individual power, and as the power of a community is a mass compounded of individual powers, the nation which enjoys the most freedom must necessarily be in proportion to its numbers the most powerful nation.

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) US President (1825-29)
Letter to James Lloyd (1 Oct 1822)
Added on 3-Oct-16 | Last updated 3-Oct-16
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He always pictured himself a libertarian, which to my way of thinking means “I want the liberty to grow rich and you can have the liberty to starve”. It’s easy to believe that no one should depend on society for help when you yourself happen not to need such help.

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Russian-American author, polymath, biochemist
I, Asimov: A Memoir (1994)
Added on 9-Aug-16 | Last updated 9-Aug-16
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The jaws of power are always open to devour, and her arm is always stretched out, if possible, to destroy the freedom of thinking, speaking, and writing.

Adams - jaws of power - wist_info quote

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
“A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law” (1765)
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Added on 27-Jul-16 | Last updated 27-Jul-16
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One hundred and eighty-eight years ago this week a small band of valiant men began a long struggle for freedom. They pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor not only to found a nation, but to forge an ideal of freedom — not only for political independence, but for personal liberty — not only to eliminate foreign rule, but to establish the rule of justice in the affairs of men. That struggle was a turning point in our history. Today in far corners of distant continents, the ideals of those American patriots still shape the struggles of men who hunger for freedom. This is a proud triumph. Yet those who founded our country knew that freedom would be secure only if each generation fought to renew and enlarge its meaning.

Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) American poltician, educator, US President (1963-69)
Speech, Signing the Civil Rights Act (2 Jul 1964)
Added on 13-Jul-16 | Last updated 13-Jul-16
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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.

Madison - gradual and silent encroachments - wist_info quote

James Madison (1751-1836) American statesman, political theorist, US President (1809-17)
Speech, Virginia Ratifying Convention (6 Jun 1788)
Added on 20-Jun-16 | Last updated 20-Jun-16
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Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right, from the frame of their nature, to knowledge, as their great Creator, who does nothing in vain, has given them understandings, and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean, of the characters and conduct of their rulers.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law (1765)
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Paraphrase: "The people have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge -- I mean of the character and conduct of their rulers."
Added on 16-Jun-16 | Last updated 16-Jun-16
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Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.

Milton - above all liberties - wist_info quote

John Milton (1608-1674) English poet
Areopagitica: a Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing (1644)
Added on 14-Jun-16 | Last updated 14-Jun-16
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We are willing enough to praise freedom when she is safely tucked away in the past and cannot be a nuisance. In the present, amidst dangers whose outcome we cannot foresee, we get nervous about her, and admit censorship.

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) English novelist, essayist, critic, librettist [Edward Morgan Forster]
Two Cheers for Democracy, “The Tercentenary of the Areopagitica” (1951)
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The known propensity of a democracy is to licentiousness, which the ambitious call, and the ignorant believe to be, liberty.

Fisher Ames (1758-1808) American politician, orator
“The Dangers of American Liberty” (1805)
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Added on 26-May-16 | Last updated 26-May-16
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Freedom is worth paying for.

[La liberté vaut qu’on la paye.]

Jules Verne (1828-1905) French novelist, poet, playwright
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Part 2, ch. 8 “Vigo Bay” (1870)
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Because, therefore, we are defending a way of life, we must be respectful of that way of life as we proceed to the solution of our problem. We must not violate its principles and its precepts, and we must not destroy from within what we are trying to defend from without.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Speech, NATO Council (26 Nov 1951)
Added on 29-Mar-16 | Last updated 29-Mar-16
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The first thing to learn in intercourse with others is non-interference with their own peculiar ways of being happy, provided those ways do not assume to interfere by violence with ours.

James - non-interference - wist_info quote

William James (1842-1910) American psychologist and philosopher
“What Makes a Life Significant,” Lecture, Harvard (1899)

Reprinted in Talks to Teachers on Psychology, Part 2, Lecture 3.
Added on 7-Jan-16 | Last updated 19-Apr-18
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In vast stretches of the earth, men awoke today in hunger. They will spend the day in unceasing toil. And as the sun goes down they will still know hunger. They will see suffering in the eyes of their children. Many despair that their labor will ever decently shelter their families or protect them against disease. So long as this is so, peace and freedom will be in danger throughout our world. For wherever free men lose hope of progress, liberty will be weakened and the seeds of conflict will be sown.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Speech, Tenth Colombo Plan Meeting, Seattle (10 Nov 1958)
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The conflict to different approaches to the liberty of man and mind or between different views of human dignity and the right of the individual is continuous. The dividing line goes within ourselves, within our own peoples, and also within other nations. It does not coincide with any political or geographical boundaries. The ultimate fight is one between the human and the subhuman. We are on dangerous ground if we believe that any individual, any nation, or any ideology has a monopoly on rightness, liberty, and human dignity.

Dag Hammarskjöld (1905-1961) Swedish diplomat, author, UN Secretary-General (1953-61)
“The Walls of Distrust,” speech, Cambridge University (5 Jun 1958)
Added on 29-Dec-15 | Last updated 29-Dec-15
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While democracy must have its organization and controls, its vital breath is individual liberty.

Charles Evans Hughes, Sr. (1862-1948) American statesman, politician, Supreme Court Justice (1910-1916, 1930-1941)
Speech (4 Mar 1939)
Added on 4-Dec-15 | Last updated 4-Dec-15
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Equality, rightly understood, as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences. Wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism.

Barry Goldwater (1909-1998) American politician
Speech, accepting the GOP Presidential Nomination, San Francisco (16 Jul 1964)
Added on 19-Nov-15 | Last updated 19-Nov-15
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Of what use is political liberty to those who have no bread?

Jean-Paul Marat (1743-1793) French physician, political theorist, scientist, journalist
Letter to Camille Desmoulins (24 Jun 1790)
Added on 22-Oct-15 | Last updated 22-Oct-15
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Whatever crushes individuality is despotism, by whatever name it may be called and whether it professes to be enforcing the will of God or the injunctions of men.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
On Liberty, ch. 3 (1859)
Added on 22-Sep-15 | Last updated 22-Sep-15
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Trading privacy for security is stupid enough; not getting any actual security in the bargain is even more stupid.

Cory Doctorow (b. 1971) Canadian-British blogger, journalist, activist, author
Little Brother (2008)
Added on 17-Sep-15 | Last updated 17-Sep-15
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In America we can say what we think, and even if we can’t think, we can say it anyhow.

Charles F. Kettering (1876-1958) American inventor, engineer, researcher, businessman
(Attributed)
Added on 11-Sep-15 | Last updated 11-Sep-15
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If we cannot trust woman with the knowledge of her own body, then I claim that two thousand years of Christian teaching has proved to be a failure.

Margaret Sanger (1879-1966) American birth control activist, sex educator, nurse
“The Morality of Birth Control,” speech, Park Theatre, New York (18 Nov 1921)
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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.

Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) US President (1913-20), educator, political scientist
Speech, New York Press Club (9 Sep 1912)
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True liberty shows itself to best advantage in protecting the rights of others, and especially of minorities.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) US President (1901-1909)
“Biological Analogies in History,” Romanes Lecture, Oxford University (7 Jun 1910)
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I believe any man who takes the liberty of another into his keeping is bound to become a tyrant, and that any man who yields up his liberty, in however slight the measure, is bound to become a slave.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
“Why Liberty?” Chicago Tribune (30 Jan 1927)
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Individualism in one sense the only possible ideal; for whatever social order may be most valuable can be valuable only for its effect on conscious individuals.

George Santayana (1863-1952) Spanish-American poet and philosopher [Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruíz de Santayana y Borrás]
The Life of Reason, 2.2 (1905-06)
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The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in
the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with evil in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him must be calculated to produce evil in someone else. The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
On Liberty, ch. 1 (1859)
Added on 5-Aug-15 | Last updated 24-Feb-16
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The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.

Edmund Burke (1729-1797) Anglo-Irish statesman, orator, philosopher
Speech, Buckinghamshire (1784)
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A brave people will certainly prefer liberty, accompanied by virtuous poverty, to a depraved and wealthy servitude.

Edmund Burke (1729-1797) Anglo-Irish statesman, orator, philosopher
Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)
Added on 22-Jul-15 | Last updated 22-Jul-15
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Our liberty cannot be taken away unless the people are themselves accomplices.

Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke (1678-1751) English politician, government official, political philosopher [Lord Bolingbroke]
A Dissertation upon Parties (1735)
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Liberty, like charity, must begin at home.

James Bryant Conant (1893-1978) American chemist, academic, diplomat
“Our Fighting Faith, Our Unique Heritage,” address, Harvard (20 Jun 1942)
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There is one characteristic of the present direction of public opinion peculiarly calculated to make it intolerant of any marked demonstration of individuality. The general average of mankind are not only moderate in intellect, but also moderate in inclinations; they have no tastes or wishes strong enough to incline them to do anything unusual, and they consequently do not understand those who have, and class all such with the wild and intemperate whom they are accustomed to look down upon.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
On Liberty, ch. 3, “Of Individuality, as One of the Elements of Well-Being” (1859)
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In addition to all the weaknesses, dilemmas and temptations that impede every pilgrim’s progress, the Catholic who holds political office in a pluralistic democracy — who is elected to serve Jews and Muslims, atheists and Protestants, as well as Catholics — bears special responsibility. He or she undertakes to help create conditions under which all can live with a maximum of dignity and with a reasonable degree of freedom; where everyone who chooses may hold beliefs different from specifically Catholic ones — sometimes contradictory to them; where the laws protect people’s right to divorce, to use birth control and even to choose abortion. In fact, Catholic public officials take an oath to preserve the Constitution that guarantees this freedom. And they do so gladly. Not because they love what others do with their freedom, but because they realize that in guaranteeing freedom for all, they guarantee our right to be Catholics: our right to pray, to use the sacraments, to refuse birth control devices, to reject abortion, not to divorce and remarry if we believe it to be wrong.

Mario Cuomo (1932-2015) American politician
“Religious Belief and Public Morality,” John A. O’Brien Lecture, U. of Notre Dame (13 Sep 1984)
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We have abundant reason to rejoice, that, in this land, the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition, and that every person may here worship God according to the dictates of his own heart. In this enlightened age, & in this land of equal liberty, it is our boast, that a man’s religious tenets will not forfeit the protection of the laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining & holding the highest offices that are known in the United States.

George Washington (1732-1799) American military leader, Founding Father, US President (1789-1797)
Letter to the New Church (22 Jan 1793)
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Unhappy it is though to reflect, that a Brother’s Sword has been sheathed in a Brother’s breast, and that, the once happy and peaceful plains of America are either to be drenched with Blood, or Inhabited by Slaves. Sad alternative! But can a virtuous Man hesitate in his choice?

George Washington (1732-1799) American military leader, Founding Father, US President (1789-1797)
Letter to George William Fairfax (31 May 1775)
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When things get so balled up that the people of a country got to cut loose from some other country, and go it on their own hook, without asking no permission from nobody, excepting maybe God Almighty, then they ought to let everybody know why they done it, so that everybody can see they are not trying to put nothing over on nobody. All we got to say on this proposition is this: first, me and you is as good as anybody else, and maybe a damn sight better; second, nobody ain’t got no right to take away none of our rights; third, everyman has got a right to live, to come and go as he pleases, and to have a good time whichever way he likes, so long as he don’t interfere with nobody else. That any government that don’t give a man them rights ain’t worth a damn; also, people ought to choose the kind of government they want themselves, and nobody else ought to have no say in the matter. That whenever any government don’t do this, then the people have got a right to give it the bum’s rush and put in one that will take care of their interests.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
“Essay in American,” Baltimore Evening Sun (7 Nov 1921)
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I loved coming to the US in 1992, mostly because I loved the idea that freedom of speech was paramount. I still do. With all its faults, the US has Freedom of Speech. The First Amendment states that you can’t be arrested for saying things the government doesn’t like. You can say what you like, write what you like, and know that the remedy to someone saying or writing or showing something that offends you is not to read it, or to speak out against it. I loved that I could read and make my own mind up about something.

Neil Gaiman (b. 1960) British fabulist
Neil Gaiman’s Journal, “Why defend freedom of icky speech?” (1 Dec 2008)
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Added on 22-Jan-15 | Last updated 22-Jan-15
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This country was founded by slave owners who wanted to be free.

George Carlin (1937-2008) American comedian
What Am I Doing in New Jersey? (1988)
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The welfare of the people in particular has always been the alibi of tyrants, and it provides the further advantage of giving the servants of tyranny a good conscience. It would be easy, however, to destroy that good conscience by shouting to them: if you want the happiness of the people, let them speak out and tell what kind of happiness they want and what kind they don’t want! But, in truth, the very ones who make use of such alibis know they are lies; they leave to their intellectuals on duty the chore of believing in them and of proving that religion, patriotism, and justice need for their survival the sacrifice of freedom.

Albert Camus (1913-1960) Algerian-French novelist, essayist, playwright
“Homage to an Exile” (1955)

Published as an essay in Actuelles III, originally a speech (7 Dec 1955) at a banquet in honor of President Eduardo Santos, editor of El Tiempo, driven out of Columbia by a dictatorship". Reprinted in Resistance, Rebellion, and Death (1960).
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I think the most un-American thing you can say is, “You can’t say that.”

Garrison Keillor (b. 1942) American entertainer, author
(Attributed)
Added on 18-Dec-14 | Last updated 18-Dec-14
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All Politeness is owing to Liberty. We polish one another, and rub off our Corners and rough Sides by a sort of amicable Collision. To restrain this, is inevitably to bring a Rust upon Men’s Understandings.

Anthony Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (1671-1713) English politician and philosopher
Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, Vol. 1, “Sensus Communis” (1711)
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That all history shows the necessity, in order to the preservation of liberty, of every subjects having a watchful eye on the conduct of Kings, Ministers, and Parliament, and of every subjects being not only secured, but encouraged in alarming his fellow subjects on occasion of every attempt upon public liberty.

James Burgh (1714-1775) British politician and writer
Political Disquisitions, Book 1 “Of Government, briefly,” ch. 9 “Of the Liberty of Speech and Writing on Political Subjects” (1774)
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There once was a time in history when the limitation of governmental power meant increasing liberty for the people. In the present day the limitation of governmental power, of governmental action, means the enslavement of the people by the great corporations who can only be held in check through the extension of governmental power.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) US President (1901-1909)
Speech, San Francisco (14 Sep 1912)
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That government only can be pronounced consistent with the design of all government, which allows to the governed the liberty of doing what, consistently with the general good, they may desire to do, and which only forbids their doing the contrary. Liberty does not exclude restraint; it only excludes unreasonable restraint. To determine precisely how far personal liberty is compatible with the general good, and of the propriety of social conduct in all cases, is a matter of great extent, and demands the united wisdom of a whole people. And the consent of the whole people, as far as it can be obtained, is indispensably necessary to every law, by which the whole people are to be bound; else the whole people are enslaved to the one, or the few, who frame the laws for them.

James Burgh (1714-1775) British politician and writer
Political Disquisitions, Book 1 “Of Government, briefly” (1774)
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Added on 20-Nov-14 | Last updated 20-Nov-14
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More quotes by Burgh, James

One ship sails East,
And another West,
By the self-same winds that blow,
‘Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales,
That tells the way we go.

Like the winds of the sea
Are the waves of time,
As we journey along through life,
‘Tis the set of the soul,
That determines the goal,
And not the calm or the strife.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919) American author and poet.
“‘Tis the Set of the Sail” (1916)
Added on 12-Nov-14 | Last updated 12-Nov-14
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More quotes by Wilcox, Ella Wheeler

If our nation had done nothing more in its whole history than to create just two documents, its contribution to civilization would be imperishable. The first of these documents is the Declaration of Independence and the other is that which we are here to honor tonight, the Emancipation Proclamation. All tyrants, past, present and future, are powerless to bury the truths in these declarations, no matter how extensive their legions, how vast their power and how malignant their evil.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Emancipation Proclamation Centennial Address, New York City (12 Sep 1962)
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Added on 12-Nov-14 | Last updated 12-Nov-14
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More quotes by King, Martin Luther

So long as governmental power existed exclusively for the king and not at all for the people, then the history of liberty was a history of the limitation of governmental power. But now the governmental power rests in the people, and the kings who enjoy privilege are the kings of the financial and industrial world; and what they clamor for is the limitation of governmental power, and what the people sorely need is the extension of governmental power.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) US President (1901-1909)
Speech, San Francisco (14 Sep 1912)
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Added on 10-Nov-14 | Last updated 10-Nov-14
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