Quotes on Liberty

Appeasers believe that if you keep on throwing steaks to a tiger, the tiger will turn vegetarian.

— Heywood Brown

Liberty, therefore, must defend the right of individuals to make contracts involving usury, rum, marriage, prostitution, and many other things which are believed to be wrong in principle and opposed to human well-being. The right to do wrong involves the essence of all rights.

— Benjamin Tucker, Right and Individual Rights

A civilized society is one which tolerates eccentricity to the point of doubtful sanity.

— Robert Frost

The history of Liberty is a history of the limitations of governmental power not the increase of it.

— Woodrow Wilson

Democracy and liberty are not the same. Democracy is little more than mob rule, while liberty refers to the sovereignty of the individual.

— Walter Williams

I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.

— Thomas Jefferson

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their consciences.

— C.S. Lewis

Let every nation know…whether it wishes us well or ill… that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty.

— John F. Kennedy

I believe that any man who takes the liberty of another into his keeping is bound to become a tyrant, and that any man who yields up his liberty, in however slight the measure, is bound to become a slave.

— H. L. Mencken

We can foresee a time when . . . the only people at liberty will be prison guards who will then have to lock up one another.

— Albert Camus

Politics is the business of getting power and privilege without possessing merit. A politician is anyone who asks individuals to surrender part of their liberty — their power and privilege — to State, Masses, Mankind, Planet Earth, or whatever. This state, those masses, that mankind, and the planet will then be run by … politicians.

— P.J. O’Rourke

All that is good is not embodied in the law; and all that is evil is not proscribed by the law. A well-disciplined society needs few laws; but it needs strong mores.

— William F. Buckley, Jr.

Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.

— William Pitt, To the House of Commons, November 18, 1783

The policy of the American government is to leave its citizens free, neither restraining them nor aiding them in their pursuits.

— Thomas Jefferson

Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.

— Thomas Jefferson

When your response to everything that is wrong with the world is to say, ‘there ought to be a law,’ you are saying that you hold freedom very cheap.

— Thomas Sowell

If we consider that each person owns his own body and can acquire ownership of other things by creating them, or by having ownership transferred to him by another owner, it becomes at least formally possible to define “being left alone” and its opposite, “being coerced”. Someone who forcibly prevents me from using my property as I want, when I am not using it to violate his right to use his property, is coercing me. A man who prevents me from taking heroin coerces me; a man who prevents me from shooting him does not.

— David Friedman

Let the people decide through the marketplace mechanisms what they wish to see and hear. Why is there this national obsession to tamper with this box of transistors and tubes when we don’t do the same for ‘Time’ magazine?

— Mark Fowler

Freedom is the right to choose: the right to create for oneself the alternatives of choice. Without the possibility of choice and the exercise of choice a man is not a man but a member, an instrument, a thing.

— Archibald Macleish

Bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.

— Thomas Jefferson, 1801

Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.

— Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas

The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedience, and by parts.

— Edmund Burke

It is seldom that liberty of any kinds is lost all at once.

— David Hume

The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant.

— John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, Chapter 1

Liberty is always dangerous, but it is the safest thing we have.

— Harry Emerson Fosdick

Liberty is the only thing you cannot have unless you are willing to give it to others.

— William Allen White

Why doesn’t everybody leave everybody else the hell alone?

— Jimmy Durante

Truth resides in every human heart, and one has to search for it there, and to be guided by truth as one sees it. But no one has a right to coerce others to act according to his own view of truth.

— Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

After 20 years on the bench I have concluded that federal drug laws are a disaster. It is time to get the government out of drug enforcement.

— Judge Whitman Knapp, New York Times; May 14, 1993

A people who extend civil liberties only to preferred groups start down the path either to dictatorship of the right or the left.

— Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas

The authority of government … can have no pure right over my person and my property but what I concede to it.

— Henry David Thoreau

If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought — not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.

— Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Freedom is not something that anybody can be given; freedom is something people take and people are as free as they want to be.

— James Baldwin

The individual can never escape the moral burden of his existence. He must choose between obedience to authority and responsibility to himself. Moral decisions are often hard and painful to make. The temptation to delegate this burden to others is therefore ever-present. Yet, as all of history teaches us, those who would take from man his moral burdens–be they priests or warlords, politicians or psychiatrists–must also take from him his liberty and hence his very humanity.

— Thomas S. Szasz

A way of life that is odd or even erratic but interferes with no rights or interests of others is not to be condemned because it is different.

— Chief Justice Warren E. Burger

The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.

— Edmund Burke

Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burned women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.

— Louis D. Brandeis

Do what’s right for you, as long as it don’t hurt no one.

— Elvis Presley

The Constitution is an instrument, above all, for limiting the functions of government… Throughout history, government has proved to be the chief instrument for thwarting man’s liberty. Government represents power in the hands of some men to control and regulate the lives of other men.

— Barry Goldwater

Liberty not only means that the individual has both the opportunity and the burden of choice; it also means that he must bear the consequences of his actions and will receive praise or blame for them.

— Friedrich Hayek

Each has freedom to do all that he wills provided that he infringes not the equal freedom of any other.

— Herbert Spencer

A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement.

— Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, 1801

Before the tribunal of nature a man has no more right to life than a rattlesnake; he has no more right to liberty than any wild beast; his right to pursuit of happiness is nothing but a license to maintain the struggle for existence…

— William Graham Sumner, Earth-hunger, and Other Essays

We are not to expect to be translated from despotism to liberty in a feather bed.

— Thomas Jefferson

The whole of the Bill [of Rights] is a declaration of the right of the people at large or considered as individuals… It establishes some rights of the individual as unalienable and which consequently, no majority has a right to deprive them of.

— Albert Gallatin

Next to the right of liberty, the right of property is the most important individual right guaranteed by the Constitution and the one which, united with that of personal liberty, has contributed more to the growth of civilization than any other institution established by the human race.

— William Howard Taft

If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquillity of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsel nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen.

— Samuel Adams

They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

— Benjamin Franklin

No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another, and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him. …the idea is quite unfounded that on entering into society we give up any natural rights.

— Thomas Jefferson

No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent.

— Abraham

Ultimately, the only power to which man should aspire is that which he exercises over himself.

— Elie Wiesel

The love of liberty is the love of others; the love of power is the love of ourselves.

— William Hazlitt

The dilemma … is between the democratic process of the market in which every individual has his share and the exclusive rule of a dictatorial body. Whatever people do in the market economy is the execution of their own plans. In this sense every human action means planning. What those calling themselves planners advocate is not the substitution of planned action for letting things go. It is the substitution of the planner’s own plan for the plans of his fellowmen. The planner is a potential dictator who wants to deprive all other people of the power to plan and act according to their own plans. He aims at one thing only: the exclusive absolute preeminence of his own plan.

— Ludwig von Mises

Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom.

— Albert Einstein

In framing a government, which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed, and in the next place, oblige it to control itself.

— James Madison

Being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.

— John Locke, Second Treatise on Government

I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.

— Patrick Henry

Put no constrictions on the people. Leave ’em ta Hell alone.

— Jimmie Durante

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free … it expects what never was and never will be.

— Thomas Jefferson

The average man doesn’t want to be free. He wants to be safe.

— H. L. Mencken

Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.

— John F. Kennedy

Natural justice is a symbol or expression of usefullness, to prevent one person from harming or being harmed by another.

— Epicurus

To save a man’s life against his will is the same as killing him.

— Horace

No loss by flood and lightning, no destruction of cities and temples by hostile forces of nature, has deprived man of so many noble lives and impulses as those which his intolerance has destroyed.

— Helen Keller

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty – power is ever stealing from the many to the few.

— Wendell Phillips, Speech to the Massachusetts Antislavery Soceity in 1852

No man can have a right to begin to interrupt the happiness of another, yet every man has a right to defend himself and his against violence, to recover what is taken by force from him, and even to make reprisals, by all the means that truth and prudence permit.

— William Wollaston, The Religion of Nature Delineated

There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences.

— P.J. O’Rourke

It’s easy for people to assume that the Bill of Rights will be, as somebody once called the Constitution, a machine that runs itself. I disagree. I think eternal vigilance is the price of keeping it in working order.

— Judge Lawrence Tribe

Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and passed on … or we will spend our sunset years telling our children’s children what it was like in the United States when men were free.

— Ronald Reagan

The first thing to learn in intercourse with others is non-interference with their own particular ways of being happy, provided those ways do not assume to interfere by violence with ours.

— William James

Among the absolute duties, i.e., of anybody to anybody, the first place belongs to this one: let no one injure another. For this is the broadest of all duties, embracing all men as such.

— Samuel von Pufendorf

When we lose the right to be different, we lose the privilege to be free.

— Chief Justice Charles Evan Hughes

Liberty exists in proportion to wholesome restraint; the more restraint on others to keep off from us, the more liberty we have.

— Daniel Webster, 1847

When men yield up the privilege of thinking, the last shadow of liberty quits the horizon.

— Thomas Paine

Liberty without learning is always in peril and learning without liberty is always in vain.

— John F. Kennedy

All government, of course, is against liberty.

— H. L. Mencken

I am mortified to be told that, in the United States of America, the sale of a book can become a subject of inquiry, and of criminal inquiry too.

— Thomas Jefferson

[The Bill of Rights is] designed to protect individuals and minorities against the tyranny of the majority, but it’s also designed to protect the people against bureaucracy, against the government.

— Judge Lawrence Tribe

He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression.

— Thomas Paine, 1795

The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or to impede their efforts to obtain it.

— John Stuart Mill

If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.

— George Orwell

Liberty must at all hazards be supported. We have a right to it, derived from our Maker. But if we had not, our fathers have earned and bought it for us, at the expense of their ease, their estates, their pleasure, and their blood.

— John Adams

I am for the First Amendment from the first word to the last. I believe it means what it says.

— U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black

God forbid that any book should be banned. The practice is as indefensible as infanticide.

— Rebecca West

Every time that we try to lift a problem from our own shoulders, and shift that problem to the hands of the government, to the same extent we are sacrificing the liberties of our people.

— John F. Kennedy

To preserve the freedom of the human mind then and freedom of the press, every spirit should be ready to devote itself to martyrdom.

— Thomas Jefferson, June 18, 1799

There is no slavery but ignorance. Liberty is the child of intelligence.

— Robert G. Ingersoll

Freedom and the power to choose should not be the privilege of wealth. They are the birthright of every American.

— George Bush

Property must be secured or liberty cannot exist.

— John Adams

So long as a man rides his hobbyhorse peaceably and quietly along the King’s highway, and neither compels you or me to get up behind him —pray, Sir, what have either you or I to do with it?

— Laurence Stern, 1759

Prohibition will work great injury to the cause of temperance. It is a species of intemperance within itself, for it goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes. A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.”

— Abraham Lincoln, Speech to the Illinois House of Representatives; 18 Dec. 1840

The true test of one’s commitment to liberty and private property rights doesn’t come when we permit people to be free to do those voluntary things with which we agree. The true test comes when we permit people to be free to do those voluntary things with which we disagree.

— Walter Williams

Force, violence, pressure or compulsion with a view to conformity, are both uncivilized and undemocratic.

— Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

A Bill of Rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse to rest on inference.

— Thomas Jefferson, Letter to James Madison December 20, 1787

The right to be left alone is indeed the beginning of all freedoms.

— Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas

Every man may claim the fullest liberty to exercise his faculties compatible with the possession of like liberty to every other man.

— Herbert Spencer

You can protect your liberties in this world only by protecting the other man’s freedom. You can be free only if I am free.

— Clarence Darrow

The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as they are injurious to others.

— Thomas Jefferson

A free press is not a privilege but an organic necessity in a great society.

— Walter Lippman

Government is necessary, but the only rights we can delegate to government are the ones we possess. For example, we all have a natural right to defend ourselves against predators. Since we possess that right, we can delegate authority to government to defend us. By contrast, we don’t have a natural right to take the property of one person to give to another; therefore, we cannot legitimately delegate such authority to government.

— Walter Williams

It is not the business of the law to make anyone good or reverent or moral or clean or upright.

— Murray Rothbard

It is asserted by the most respectable writers upon government, that a well regulated militia, composed of the yeomanry of the country, have ever been considered as the bulwark of a free people. Tyrants have never placed any confidence on a militia composed of freemen.

— John Dewitt

One difference between libertarianism and socialism is that a socialist society can’t tolerate groups of people practicing freedom, but a libertarian society can comfortably allow people to choose voluntary socialism.

— David Boaz, Libertarianism: A Primer

The argument for liberty is not an argument against organization, which is one of the most powerful tools human reason can employ, but an argument against all exclusive, privileged, monopolistic organization, against the use of coercion to prevent others from doing better.

— Friedrich Hayek

One does not encourage “responsibility” by forcibly restricting the range of people’s authority over their own lives.

— Butler Shaffer

I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.

— James Madison, In a speech at the Virginia Convention, 1788

Liberty is often a heavy burden on a man. It involves the necessity for perpetual choice which is the kind of labor men have always dreaded.

— Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly.

— Henry David Thoreau

It is not only vain, but wicked, in a legislator to frame laws in opposition to the laws of nature, and to arm them with the terrors of death. This is truly creating crimes in order to punish them.

— Thomas Jefferson, 1779

Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law,’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.

— Thomas Jefferson

What is ominous is the ease with which some people go from saying that they don’t like something to saying that the government should forbid it. When you go down that road, don’t expect freedom to survive very long.

— Thomas Sowell

Tolerance is the positive and cordial effort to understand another’s beliefs, practices, and habits without necessarily sharing or accepting them.

— Joshua Liebman

If we’ve learned anything in the past quarter century, it is that we cannot federalize virtue.

— George H.W. Bush, 1991

If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought— not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.

— Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

It gives me great pleasure indeed to see the stubbornness of an incorrigible nonconformist warmly acclaimed.

— Albert Einstein

If you support the war on drugs in its present form, then you’re only paying lip-service to the defense of freedom, and you don’t really grasp the concept of the sovereign individual human being.

— Neal Boortz

We love peace, but not peace at any price. There is a peace more destructive of the manhood of living man, than war is destructive to his body. Chains are worse than bayonets.

— Douglas Jerrold

We are so concerned to flatter the majority that we lose sight of how very often it is necessary, in order to preserve freedom for the minority, let alone for the individual, to face that majority down.

— William F. Buckley, Jr.

If we cannot end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.

— John F. Kennedy

If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism…The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is.

— Ronald Reagan, Interview with Reason magazine, 1975

We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.

— John F. Kennedy

Extremism in the defense of Liberty is no vice. And . . . moderation in the pursuit of Justice is no virtue.

— Barry Goldwater

He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.

— Thomas Paine

If there were in the world today any large number of people who desired their own happiness more than they desired the unhappiness of others, we could have a paradise in a few years.

— Bertrand Russell

The real freedom of any individual can always be measured by the amount of responsibility which he must assume for his own welfare and security.

— Robert Welch

Whenever they burn books, they will also, in the end, burn people.

— Heinrich Heine

The individual can never escape the moral burden of his existence. He must choose between obedience to authority and responsibility to himself. Moral decisions are often hard and painful to make. The temptation to delegate this burden to others is therefore ever-present. Yet, as all of history teaches us, those who would take from man his moral burdens–be they priests or warlords, politicians or psychiatrists–must also take from him his liberty and hence his very humanity.

— Thomas S. Szasz

A right, such as a right to free speech, imposes no obligation on another, except that of non-interference. The so-called right to health care, food or housing, whether a person can afford it or not, is something entirely different; it does impose an obligation on another. If one person has a right to something he didn’t produce, simultaneously and of necessity it means that some other person does not have right to something he did produce. That’s because, since there’s no Santa Claus or Tooth Fairy, in order for government to give one American a dollar, it must, through intimidation, threats and coercion, confiscate that dollar from some other American.

— Walter Williams

Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe — because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export. And with the spread of weapons that can bring catastrophic harm to our country and to our friends, it would be reckless to accept the status quo… The advance of freedom is the calling of our time; it is the calling of our country. From the Fourteen Points to the Four Freedoms, to the Speech at Westminster, America has put our power at the service of principle. We believe that liberty is the design of nature; we believe that liberty is the direction of history. We believe that human fulfillment and excellence come in the responsible exercise of liberty. And we believe that freedom — the freedom we prize — is not for us alone, it is the right and the capacity of all mankind.

— George W. Bush

Liberty has never come from government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of government. The history of liberty is a history of resistance. The history of liberty is a history of limitations of government power, not the increase of it.

— Woodrow Wilson

The precondition of a civilized society is the barring of physical force from social relationships. … In a civilized society, force may be used only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use.

— Ayn Rand, Man’s Rights

Private property was the original source of freedom. It still is its main bulwark.

— Walter Lippman

My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.

— Adlai Stevenson

What we call the market is really a democratic process involving millions, and in some markets billions, of people making personal decisions that express their preferences. When you hear someone say that he doesn’t trust the market, and wants to replace it with government edicts, he’s really calling for a switch from a democratic process to a totalitarian one.

— Walter Williams

True capitalism is based upon one simple principle: that all exchanges of property are made with the voluntary consent of all parties. Private ownership of property and competition — the other two components of capitalism in most traditional definitions — are actually results of this foundational principle. As all governments are institutions of coercion, there is no way for them to acquire property through voluntary exchange. Further, with all exchanges being voluntary, sellers must by definition compete with one another in order to sell their products. So, the foundation of “capitalism” is really the non-aggression principle applied to property. Capitalism requires that no one’s property can be taken from them without their consent.

— Tom Mullen

I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.

— Thomas Jefferson

Freedom is not worth having if it does not connote freedom to err. It passes my comprehension how human beings, be they ever so experienced and able, can delight in depriving other human beings of that precious right.

— Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

I hate people who are intolerant.

— Dr. Laurence J. Peter

The objection to Puritans is not that they try to make us think as they do, but that they try to make us do as they think.

— H. L. Mencken

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