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What does this quote mean: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little...

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djtrack | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 8, 2010 at 3:37 PM via web

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What does this quote mean: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."?

What does this quote mean: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."?

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kapokkid | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 8, 2010 at 3:43 PM (Answer #2)

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To me, it would suggest that, according to whomever made the statement, those who are willing to sacrifice their civil liberties to gain safety from some kind of threat are not deserving of those liberties in the first place or the safety they think they are gaining by giving them up.

Concrete example:  Those who think that allowing the CIA or the FBI to read everyone's emails in the hopes of catching suspected terrorists don't deserve the privacy they used to have or safety from those suspected terrorists.

Another one:  Those who think that the absurd and demeaning system of airport security will protect them from terrorists deserve neither the dignity of being treated like non-criminals or the supposed safety that comes with everyone being treated like a criminal.

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brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 8, 2010 at 4:36 PM (Answer #3)

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The quote is of Benjamin Franklin, in a reply to the Pennsylvania Governor in 1755, and is often taken out of context.  We were a part of the British Empire at the time, fighting alongside them in the French and Indian War, and in no way considering independence or a Constitution.  Franklin was quite serious in arguing that the colonies needed to unite themselves in common defense against the French and native tribes, however.

In the modern day, the quote is usually used as a clever warning against sacrificing individual freedoms for more security, as often times, the security is an illusion and the freedom valuable.  So you lose in the exchange.

You can also find the quote inscribed on a plaque inside the stairwell of the Statue of Liberty (little trivia for you there).

 

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krishna-agrawala | College Teacher | Valedictorian

Posted September 8, 2010 at 4:44 PM (Answer #4)

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I do not know from where this quotation is taken, but I totally disagree with the thoughts expressed by it. Everyone in the world deserve liberty and safety, including the people who are too timid or weak to defend themselves from oppressors.

But I do agree with some similar statements, I read elsewhere. I do not remember the exact words or the source, but the sentiment expressed in it were that those who give up liberty for safety get neither liberty nor safety. This means that when a person submits to the demand of oppressor, he or she may postpone some harsher treatment from the oppressor. But by doing so the person clearly displays to the oppressor his lack of determination to fight for his liberty. This makes him or her the favourite choice of the oppressor for further oppression in future. As a result in the long run the person gets neither liberty nor safety

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dbello | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted September 8, 2010 at 6:38 PM (Answer #5)

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This philosophical quote belongs to Benjamin Franklin. The earliest record dates from 1738 in Franklin's own publication Poor Richard's Almanac, this was not isolated 'lip service' from Franklin, it was his political belief. This is why the quote appears in several of Franklin's public speeches. However, by 1775 Franklin's own philosophical political quote became his torch. After being humiliated by the British Parliament his quote did not only have a philosophical meaning, it became a 'reality check'. He definitely attributed its meaning to the defense for independence.

By 1775 Franklin believed that those in the colonies who blindly accepted the dictates of Lord Grenville's Proclamation of 1763, the dismissal of the colonial Declaration of Grievances 1766, and the long list of Parliamentary acts towards the colonies without their consent between 1770-1774 did not deserve liberty. To accept the tyrannical actions of the Parliament because it was easier than the alternative was the poorest of excuses. Those who were willing to exchange their liberty for the easy way out do not deserve either.

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akannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 9, 2010 at 1:25 AM (Answer #6)

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This is a great quote that testifies to the power of intangible rights.  I like the idea that is present suggesting that the notion of individual rights is something that goes beyond individual comfort.  Implied is the idea that personal liberties cannot be sacrificed and are non- negotiable.  Any vitiation demonstrates a disrespect that cannot be tolerated in a liberal democratic order.  The other idea that is present in the quote that is fascinating is to counter the idea that safety and liberty are two incompatible realities.  In this light, it refutes the assertion that has gained traction in America since the attacks of September 11 that one is safer with the sacrifice of safety.  The reality is that when one is willing to forego their individual liberties under the guise of safety, the blank check given to the individuals in the position of power goes very far in starting the process of vitiating one’s own sacred entitlements that should be pristine and intact regardless of temporary condition.  The transcendental quality of individual rights cannot be negotiated away by temporary cleaves to safety.

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geosc | College Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

Posted September 9, 2010 at 6:11 AM (Answer #7)

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What does the quote mean: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."?

If We The People would have liberty, we must have a government that is strong enough to keep our liberties from being taken away from us by foreign predators, but at the same time constituted so that it is not itself able to take away our liberties.

Such constitutional restraints upon the federal government in Washington (or the imperial government in London) may be 1) The federal government may not tax the people directly for any purpose but defense against foreign predators.  All other monies must be raised by requisitions upon the states (which the states can reduce or delay or deny all together).  2) Any state government may veto any commerce regulation that it does not want to be under.  3) The federal government may not use its armed forces against any American citizen and it may use the state militia against American citizens only if it has the permission of the governor(s) of the state(s) from which the militia are coming and the permission of the governor(s) of the state(s) into which the militia are going.  4) Any state may seceed from the union if it finds the federal government to be too oppressive.  And other such restraints upon federal power.

Restraints upon the government, which make it too weak to take the liberties of We The People, also make it to weak to protect us from every criminal or rebel that might arise within our country.  Ocassionally we will have to protect ourselves, that is to say, ocassionally we we be at risk of injury or death.  If we the people decide to make our government strong enough to keep us completely secure, then it will also be strong enough to take our liberties, and what can happen, sooner or later will happen.

The speaker meant that people who give government this power, are either fools or ignoramuses who have no appreciation of liberty so they don't deserve either liberty or security.

I like the answer by debllo above.

 

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted October 24, 2010 at 8:12 PM (Answer #8)

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What a timely reminder that some things should not be compromised.  If we want to be worthy of the rights we have, we must take care not to give them up too easily--even in the face of our national security.  I appreciate the editors above who placed this quote in its proper context. 

Lori Steinbach

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quiannajason | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 2, 2011 at 1:00 PM (Answer #9)

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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,

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quiannajason | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 2, 2011 at 1:01 PM (Answer #10)

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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.

I'm curious as to what the context is for the quote.

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jojo56 | College Teacher | Honors

Posted February 2, 2011 at 6:53 PM (Answer #11)

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The quote is of Benjamin Franklin, in a reply to the Pennsylvania Governor in 1755, and is often taken out of context.  We were a part of the British Empire at the time, fighting alongside them in the French and Indian War, and in no way considering independence or a Constitution.  Franklin was quite serious in arguing that the colonies needed to unite themselves in common defense against the French and native tribes, however.

In the modern day, the quote is usually used as a clever warning against sacrificing individual freedoms for more security, as often times, the security is an illusion and the freedom valuable.  So you lose in the exchange.

You can also find the quote inscribed on a plaque inside the stairwell of the Statue of Liberty (little trivia for you there).

 

If I have no individual freedoms, what security do I have? If I surrender my freedom, am I but a slave? And for the enslaved, both security and freedom simply do not exist.

And the Second Amendment was passed along with the rest of the Bill of rights on December 15, 1791. The French and Indian War took place between 1754 and 1763.

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jojo56 | College Teacher | Honors

Posted February 2, 2011 at 8:49 PM (Answer #12)

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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.

I'm curious as to what the context is for the quote.

Context and deconstruction at your service. :-)

This comes from a 1775 letter Franklin wrote as the French and Indian escalated.

For me, the key to understanding this quote lies with understanding the root meaning of the word “essential.” Here, essential refers to that which is part of an individual’s fundamental nature or, in other words, to some element which forms the individual’s essence. That which is essential, of course, readily transfers to a society, especially if that society is in equipoise.

Perhaps the most classic example of the power of the essential can be found in Rousseau’s conception of the social body. In order for the social contract to function, each man had to surrender all of his natural rights and come under the discipline of his fellows. Rousseau was quite comfort with the idea that the proper punishment for not surrendering one’s natural rights was death.

Both Franklin and Rousseau obviously believed that those who broke the social contract were considered to be entirely responsible for any misfortunate they suffered. Franklin had an additional concern. He wrote the letter from which this quote was taken because of his concern that the Pennsylvanians, who were Quakers, and, thus, essentially non-violent, were, by their unwillingness to protect their borders, endangering the other members of the social body. He had to hold them accountable.

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jojo56 | College Teacher | Honors

Posted February 2, 2011 at 8:54 PM (Answer #13)

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He did so by suggesting that any harm the Quakers had suffered was entirely a result of their refusal to act. I believe that is why Franklin excuses both those who attacked the Quakers and the rest of the social body for not providing more assistance. In effect, Franklin was forced to disenfranchise the Quakers in order to keep the social contract viable. In doing so, Franklin also had to minimize the harm down to the Quakers. While Franklin speaks only of weak hands, he is also choosing to ignore rapes, beatings, and the killing of those who chose to die themselves rather than engage in violence.

Franklin’s words have been taken up, and, in my mind, misused, as meaning the need to carry guns and to be willing to inflict harm is essential and that Franklin was thinking of the Second Amendment. But the Second Amendment had only been in place for some four years and was already proving to be problematic. For example, its wording lacked the clarity found in the Fourth Amendment. And no-one, including Franklin, could readily legitimate the idea that one man should be coerced into killing another. The contradiction in ordering a free man to kill another would be rehearsed again and again as the politics of hegemony developed.

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jojo56 | College Teacher | Honors

Posted February 2, 2011 at 8:56 PM (Answer #14)

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Finally, I am aware that women are completely absent from this situation. That is because women were specifically excluded from the social contract. Their only role was that of Republican Motherhood. In other words, a woman’s only role was to produce sons who would join the social body. In a very subtle way, this exclusion was an exercise in horizontal rather than vertical violence. The Rodney King riot was horizontal violence on a huge stage, just as were the pogroms against European Jewry. In all cases, the wealthy were safely not present and those who had little money, rights, or hopes were pitted against each other. It is this type of thing that makes me wonder what white women gained when the USA claimed its independence.

I know this is a very long, dense answer. I hope it gives you something to ponder, especially as I make no claim that I have reached any correct conclusions.   

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sandydd | Student , Grade 9 | eNoter

Posted November 22, 2011 at 7:36 AM (Answer #15)

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Finally, I am aware that women are completely absent from this situation. That is because women were specifically excluded from the social contract. Their only role was that of Republican Motherhood. In other words, a woman’s only role was to produce sons who would join the social body. In a very subtle way, this exclusion was an exercise in horizontal rather than vertical violence. The Rodney King riot was horizontal violence on a huge stage, just as were the pogroms against European Jewry. In all cases, the wealthy were safely not present and those who had little money, rights, or hopes were pitted against each other. It is this type of thing that makes me wonder what white women gained when the USA claimed its independence.

I know this is a very long, dense answer. I hope it gives you something to ponder, especially as I make no claim that I have reached any correct conclusions.   

I think I am slightly dumb for still not understanding what Franklin actually means when he wrote that quote "Those who would give up essential Libery to purchase a little tempory Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

According to you, "those" refers to the the Quakers, and "giving up essential Liberty" means giving up social contract? self-government?, or giving up its ability to fight alone?

"To purchase a little temporty safety"  Does that safety means protection from Indians/French?

Why will giving up self-governemnt to obtain protection from Indians/French make the people undeserving of Liberty nor Safety?

 

I did read your dense explanation above, but I just need more clarification. Thank you!

 

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