What did Benjamin Franklin mean when he said, "One who gives up a little bit of freedom for a little bit of safety, deserves neither"?

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dbello's profile pic

dbello | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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Ben Franklin was not only extremely intelligent, he was blessed with a quick wit and a keen sense of foresight. These attributes allowed Franklin the ability to capture the complexities and essence of political philosophy into a sentence or two, while never reducing its meaning. The quote in your question is a fine example of how Franklin took lofty political theory and served it to the public in a way they could understand it.  The quote had two purposes; to educate and to warn.  Franklin believed that liberty had to be used by those who possessed it and that takes alot of work. People who possess liberty must always have one eye on the actions of the many arms of government.  In addition, his quote warns of the potential consequences to anyone who trades a portion of their liberty because it is an easier to let the government 'take care' of liberty than to do it themselves. For Franklin that was dangerous territory.   

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Franklin's quote makes the argument that civil liberties cannot be sacrificed for anything, including the perception of feeling safe.  At times, individuals make critical decisions to sacrifice individual freedoms under the guise of security. Franklin's quote makes the argument that individuals who make this "corrupt bargain" end up creating a precedence where the invocation of the constant need for security will result in the eradication of rights.  Franklin's closing thought here is that the individual who will make such a bargain deserves neither the rights given to them in the Constitution nor the ability to feel safe.  A quote such as this reflects the intense commitment many of the framers had towards individual rights and civil liberties.

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ako6777 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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"Civil liberties are rights and freedoms that protect an individual from the state. Civil liberties set limits on government so that its members cannot abuse their power and interfere unduly with the lives of private citizens."

To give up one of our civil liberties is allowing the government to have more control of us than they need.  Franklin didn't want to see people giving into the higher powers and letting them have more control over us.  The more power an individual gives up the more he loses. 

I agree and disagree with Franklin.  The state we live in requires us to live with more protection. I agree with this, but I don't want to give up my rights to privacy or any other civil liberty.   

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Ben Franklin, our most charismatic forefather and a very true American to boot, originated the gist behind the phrase "freedom is NOT free".

This being said, what he meant by "one who gives up a little bit of freedom for a little bit of safety" was a way to reinstate that, in order for any community, group, country, or nation to be given the benefit of safety and peace, one must have the heart and soul to be willing to do WHATEVER IT TAKES to produce it, and keep it.

Freedom is not free. And half freedoms or half safety is simply put a 50% that gives space to another 50% of lack of safety and lack of freedom. In the times of Ben Franklin things were quite rough and shaky. There was no way that the new Americans could have given that little to attain something so great as freedom of speech, religion, creed, and activity- something they never saw in England.

So, if you take yourself back to the origins of this message, it was basically a call for action to people who had never experienced the possibility of being TRULY and RIGHTFULLY free to be who they were without the paradigms and limitations of a government that did not understand them.

Therefore, his message was a strong appeal to those who were still doubtful as to the importance of what was about to happen: The complete separation from an Empire, and the amazing risk it will take to begin a new one on nearly no foundation.

I believe that his words are still valid in the 21st century. For, if this world shall ever again experience the ruthlessness of a world leader that wants to enslave a certain race or ethnicity, those affected  MUST step up to the plate and be willing to give up their lives even, iif they must, to ensure that their dignity , freedom (and those of their families) are preserved . Most importantly, that the strength of their character is forever marked in the pages of history as warriors in search of defending what is humanly due to are, which is freedom and safety.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

What that means refers back to an earlier question you asked -- the one about the danger of letting law enforcement have a lot of power.  Franklin is saying here that people who are willing to let the police have more power in hopes of being safer from crime (or in this case terrorism) do not deserve to be safe or free.

I think that this is a bit harsh of a thing to say.  I think everyone in the world deserves to be safe and so I can't agree with that part of it at all.  I do think that if we give up lots of power to law enforcement we do not deserve to be free.  That's because we would voluntarily be given our freedom away.  But I think we'd still deserve to be safe since we would not be voluntarily giving that up.

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krishna-agrawala | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

Posted on

It appears to me that when Benjamin Franklin Franklin said "one who gives up a little bit of freedom for a little bit of safety" his intention was to caution people that those who avoided action to protect their freedom in the belief that the likely cost or damage of trying to protect and preserve their freedom was more than the the immediate material gains, would in the long run find that their oppressor encouraged by their meekness will become more and more bolder in violating their freedom. This would lead to the meek person losing more and more of physical possessions and safety as the oppressor becomes stronger and bolder over time. This would also make it progressively difficult for the oppressed to protect his or her freedom. This loss of of physical possessions and safety will be so much that in the end almost nothing worthwhile will remain. And when this happens the person, weakened by actions of oppressor will become completely incapable of protecting or regaining freedom, thus loosing both freedom and safety.

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