Although there are several variants of the phrase scattered among different authors, perhaps the best known within the context of the United States is from a speech by Wendell Phillips (1811–1888), a lawyer, abolitionist, and advocate of rights for women and Native Americans. In a speech to the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, he stated:
Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty; power is ever stealing from the many to the few. . . . Only by continued oversight can the democrat in office be prevented from hardening into a despot
This speech warns people that one must preserve liberty actively rather than assume that it will be sustained without attention. For example, people who do not vote are, in a sense, giving away their democratic liberty to choose leaders to those who do vote. Even more worrisome is that people can elect strongmen such as Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey or Viktor Orbán in Hungary who promote policies reducing the independence of the judiciary and the freedom of the press. Often this loss of liberty begins with leaders who stoke paranoia to persuade people to give themselves increasing amounts of power, a stance often associated with nativism and hostility towards immigrants and minorities.
In the United States, gerrymandering of election districts reduces liberty by essentially depriving people of representation. Limits on voting rights make it more difficult for many people to exercise their rights, as when many Native Americans must drive over a hundred miles to the nearest polling place, or, in Alaska, actually take airplanes.