What was the background behind this quote: "they that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

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mrkirschner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This quote is from a letter that Benjamin Franklin is believed to have written on behalf of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. It is actually written about a tax dispute between the General Assembly and the governor William Penn. It was written as a pro-defense and pro-taxation argument. The Penn family was asked to pay a tax to help defend the frontier during the French and Indian War and the Penn family did not feel it should be subject to tax. He actually felt that the legislature should be permitted to govern for the good of all the people in order to provide for collective security.

This quote is often misinterpreted in modern times. Today it is translated to mean that citizens should not be quick to forfeit their civil liberties and privacy to government surveillance, particularly during times of war or heightened threat of terrorism.

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