Speech Upon The Right Of Election Quotes

John Curran

"The Condition Upon Which God Hath Given Liberty To Man Is Eternal Vigilance"

Context: John Curran, an Irish politician and judge, was admitted to the Irish bar in 1775 and entered the Irish House of Commons in 1783. There he vigorously supported Catholic emancipation, attacked the ministerial bribery which prevailed, and defended the leaders of the Irish insurrection of 1798. One of his most memorable addresses is the speech successfully defending the right of election of Mr. Howison as Lord Mayor of Dublin, delivered before the Lord Lieutenant and Privy Council of Ireland in 1790. Although he has been elected by the citizens of the city, Howison has been challenged by the aldermen of Dublin as ineligible for the office. Mr. Curran charges that the aldermen have in past years so encroached upon the prerogative of the citizens freely to elect their Lord Mayor that they have at length succeeded in "engrossing to themselves the double privilege of eligibility and election," of being the only body out of which the Lord Mayor could be chosen. The following remark is commonly quoted: "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." In a similar fashion Demonsthenes (c.385-322 B.C.) stated: "There is one safeguard known generally to the wise, which is an advantage and security to all, but especially to democracies as against despots. What is it? Distrust (Philippic 2, Section 24). Striking both at the insidious methods of those in office to achieve greater power and at the common people who lose their freedom because of failure to defend it properly, Curran puts it in this form:

. . . It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active.–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.