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

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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).

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team