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The meaning of this quote is obvious and has nothing to do with anarchy or licentiousness as you insist. If you hand over your liberty and the right to make responsible decisions for your own well-being then whatever power monger you bend over for is not likely to care much about your freedom or security. A lot of people, in the years since Franklin's letter of 1755, have viewed this sentiment with contempt- people like Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao and the current crop of useless communitarians now in charge of the United States.
The remarkable thing about the quote is that is authentic in meaning -even if the words tend to change in minor ways and that Benjamin Franklin really is the source. Bartlets could write a book filled with bogus quotations attributed to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and even George Carlin.

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

It's only "obvious" if you want to shoehorn what Ben Franklin said in the days before weapons of mass destruction and mass terrorism, and claim that he meant people should stop fighting terrorism because it *might* involve giving up liberties, or that somehow liberties have been sacrificed in the war on terror.

But this is ahistorical and out of context. Ben Franklin wasn't for *not* fighting the threat they faced in his day. He was for fighting it! He has "every concern" for those at the frontier!

He points out that "every step" was taken "consistent with rights" -- and they preferred protection from the King, not to fight for themselves. It's about independence and fighting for oneself with the arms given, rather than "giving up liberty" and accepting it from the King.

It's about HOW you arrange security, not WHETHER you arrange it.

He didn't discount or deny or ridicule the threat -- he said it's hard to guard a frontier with families scattered along it and "skulking murderers" threatening them.

He says:

"Such as were inclined to defend themselves, but unable to purchase Arms and Ammunition, have, as we are informed, been supplied with both, as far as Arms could be procured, out of Monies given by the last Assembly for the King’s Use; and the large Supply of Money offered by this Bill, might enable the Governor to do every Thing else that should be judged necessary for their farther Security, if he shall think fit to accept it."

So it's not about not fighting or not responding to a security threat with arms -- in fact, he says they were given sufficient arms. It's about blaming the Governor for not using what he had.

So he's saying he will have to "blame himself" -- not because he gave up liberty for security, but because he did this *instead of fighting for himself with the arms given him*.

Truly, you have to read the context. It's fairly plain.

SJ Levinsky

In all due respect, I think that the Franklin "letter" you are referring to was actually written in 1775 and not 1755. It does not show up at all in the 197 letters that Franklin wrote from 1737-1783. It does however show up in the 1775 “notes for a proposition at the Pennsylvania Assembly”, as published in “Memoirs of the life and writings of Benjamin Franklin” (1818). Although attributed to Franklin the actual citation in the notes was put in quotes - a strong indication that the material was being quoted and not original material. Finally, the quote “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety" is found on the title page of "An Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pennsylvania" which was published, by Franklin, in 1759 but was actually authored by Richard Jackson.

As for the meaning, I agree that it appears self evident. It is from the period where the sentiment that the government should be of, for and by the people had special meaning and that abdicating that responsibility would have its, um, "just reward": the loss of those freedoms.

Catherine Fitzpatrick

SJ Levinsky, not a single thing you've said here with literalist and picky Fisking is relevant at all.

It doesn't matter what year it was written. That's a minor detail. And it doesn't matter even whether Franklin said that actual line, or whether he quotes it to make a point in his statement. And it doesn't matter if this famous quote widely attributed to him in fact was something that he only published, but didn't write. Who cases about any of that? It doesn't change the substance of this story.

What's operative is that Ben Franklin was for security. He recognized that these settlers *needed* security. There wasn't some notion that they were hysterical and over-cautious. Their need for security was a given.

The point of his famous quote was whether they would get this security *from the King, or by relying on themselves*. That's really what it's about, in its historical context.

People today are definitely twisting the famous phrase out of the context and trying to turn what was once said to people for whom it was a given that they needed security to something that implies we shouldn't take any security measures at all, or things like X-rays at airports are overkill or don't work. It's completely ridiculous.

As for your "um, "just reward" stuff -- I don't know what your point is here -- you lurch from over-meticulous prissy points to some vague generalization about how government should be when it is "of" the people.

The "loss of freedoms" was a reference to relying on the King and not the new democratic state.

SJ Levinsky


You were given a citation and chose to ignore it in order to further restate your position. What a shame. The source was a report from the Pennsylvania Assembly to the King asking for help in assuring that the security of the inhabitants of the frontier be provided for by giving those inhabitants the means to defend themselves. In fact, as part of the document it goes on to say that funds were appropriated and, as much as possible, arms and munitions were purchased. The "loss of freedoms" is not, as you say, a reference to relying on the King and not the new democratic state (which at that time did not exist) it is the inability to be able to defend themselves rather than depend on a local bureaucratic system which did not much care for them.

I agree with your assessment that people are twisting the quote, but that includes you. You continue to attribute the quote to Franklin talking about security . . . about whether they would get that security from the King. The Pennsylvania Assembly wasn't asking the King for security, it was asking for the King's support in ensuring that they could defend themselves.

As far as X-ray machines and security posts, that's very diffeent from pat downs and strip searches of Senior Citizens and Children.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Literally: "Who will guard the guards themselves?"

And, in case you would like to read the source of the text, be my guest:

“If we are thus to be driven from Bill to Bill, without one solid reason afforded us; and can raise no Money for the King’s Service, and relief or security of our country, till we fortunately hit on the only Bill the Governor is allowed to pass, or till we consent to make such as the Governor or Proprietaries direct us to make, we see little use of Assemblies in this Particular; and think we might as well leave it to the Governor or Proprietaries to make for us what Supply Laws they please, and save ourselves and the Country the Expense and Trouble, All debates and all reasonings are vain, where Proprietary Instructions, just or unjust, right or wrong, must inviolably be observed. We have only to find out, if we can, what they are, and then submit and obey. But surely the Proprietaries conduct, whether as Fathers of their Country, or Subjects to their King, must appear extraordinary, when it is considered that they have not only formally refused to bear any art of our yearly heavy expences in cultivating and maintaining friendship with the Indians, tho’ they reap such immense Advantages by that friendship; but they now, by their Lieutenant, refuse to contribute any Part towards resisting an Invasion of the King’s Colony, committed to their care; or to submit Claim of Exemption to the Decision of their Sovereign.

In fine, we have the most sensible concern for the poor distressed Inhabitants of the Frontiers. We have taken every Step in our Power, consistent with the just Rights of the Freemen of Pensylvania, for their relief, and we have reason to believe, that in the midst of their distresses they themselves do not wish us to go farther. Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. Such as were inclined to defend themselves, but unable to purchase Arms and Ammunition, have, as we are informed, been supplied with both as far as Arms could be procured, out of monies given by the last Assembly for the King’s use; and the large supply of Money offered by this Bill, might enable the Governor to do every thing else that should be judged necessary for their further Security, if he shall think it fit to accept it.”

Catherine Fitzpatrick

No, I didn't "ignore it," I pointed out that it *is irrelevant* who said this famous phrase, and whether Ben Franklin, with his status as a beloved historical figure, invented it himself or published it or quoted it.

What matters is CONTEXT that you refuse to concede because you are literalizing like all geeks do on the Internet, without conceptual thinking.

No, the new democratic state did not exist -- but the colony that ultimately wished to free itself from the King *did* -- out of which that democratic state would come to be. These were important currents.

You're really, really splitting hairs when you say " The Pennsylvania Assembly wasn't asking the King for security, it was asking for the King's support in ensuring that they could defend themselves."

Obviously, the Penna Assembly wasn't literally asking for the King's troops for security or something, they were asking for arms. And so indeed it does amount to the same thing -- asking the King for security. That you would Fisk this in such a way lets me know you're incapable of looking at this conceptually and conceding the context which is most definitely one NOT repudiating the need for security.

In the hands of most forums-dwellers, this quote is used to discount any call for security of any kind whatsoever, i.e. to end the TSA, to dismantle the walk-in X-ray machines.

Senior cititzens, children, disabled people, nursing mothers, etc. etc. usually find themselves patted down when they refuse to go through the machine, or as a spot check.

Having now myself been patted down even going through the machine as a spot check, several times, I marvel at all the fuss made over this. It's insane. It is what has often been routinely done at the UN and at some foreign embassies abroad -- it's not intrusive. It's about security for all of us.

I already read the source of the text may times. And that's why I came to write this blog.

The line directly after the famous line in fact says it all -- it's about purchasing arms to protect themselves, not about not having arms at all.

And there's the additional expense of maintaining friendship with Indians i.e. so they don't invade -- it's like the later issue of "millions for defense but not one cent for tribute" problem.


The quotation is indeed from 1755. It was a response from the Pennsylvania Assembly to the governor. In can be found in the Assembly's minutes and was also reprinted in the November 13, 1755 issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette.

The western parts of Pennsylvania were being ravaged by Indian attacks (this was just after the beginning of the French and Indian War), and the Assembly was trying to pass a bill for a tax that would provide 60,000 pounds to supply troops that could be used to defend the west. The governor, appointed by the proprietor of the colony who lived in England, would not sign the bill unless the proprietor's estate was exempt from the tax. The Assembly refused to accept this amendment, arguing that the proprietor had no right to be exempt from a tax that all Pennsylvanians had to pay. The Assembly did not want to set a precedent by agreeing to that provision, even in the midst of war and with colonists being murdered in their homes by Indians in the frontier parts of the colony. Thus, the quotation: "Those who would give
up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."


I have no problem in principle with a TSA patdown. I do have a problem with them STEALING THINGS from me.What about Pythias Brown, who stole $800,000 worth of item from travelers when he worked for the TSA?


"before weapons of mass destruction and mass terrorism" EUPHEMISMS

TNT back when created was big enough to hurt what little world there was at the time.

Do you mean to say that inciting terror in others is an invention only after the last century? If I stick "-ism" onto any word it becomes a completely different concept? Retard much?

Robert O'Donnell

I just stumbled on this page. And read the comments that suggest anyone using this quote does not get its historical context and as such (based on the title of the post should not be taken seriously).

Some of the comments speak of PA frontier defending itself. But in reading Franklin's Memoirs where it states "As to the other two acts. The Massachusetts must suffer all the hazards and mischiefs of war, rather than admit the alteration of their charters and laws by parliament. "(Franklin Quotation Mark) They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety" "

It appears that Franklin is drawing on a quote to make the point that MA is choosing not give up its Liberty by altering their laws to conform to the wishes of parliament which in fact leaves them open to the "mischiefs of war".

I'm not sure what defending PA frontiers has to do with the quote from his Memoirs.

So it appears to me that Franklin used a quote from years earlier regarding the PA frontier to refer to what was happening in the MA colony. Presumably suggesting his support for their stance . MA was risking war to save what they believed was their essential Liberty.

In any event, I don't know why you have so much disdain for folks that draw upon that quote. It is a good one. You may want to argue about what is "essential" but that is the great thing about Freedom. What is essential to you may not be essential to me. And so long as you are not harming anyone else by exercising your Liberty you should not be subjected to another person or group of people's moral code.

Have a great day


The earliest known use of said quote was 1736.

Catherine Fitzpatrick

Robert, you're distracting from the main point again.

Most people misusing this quote are trying to make what they think is a historically-backed claim that if you have "too much" security (in their view) than you will "not get security" AND of course "lose your freedom".

Most of the people ahistorically misusing this quote are usually trying to battle the TSA's searches, or various Internet legislation that they think will "put a chill" on their freedom.

Usually, their arguments aren't persuasive anyway, as no one can reliably show how millions of people going through a metal detector, and a relative handful of people having to undergo some unpleasant (for them) intrusive searches is really the horror for freedom they imagine --- much less the ineffective action against terrorism -- given that several terrorists put bombs in shoes, etc. They even put them on cats. So they could put them on babies and people in wheelchairs, too. It's not personal.

They also imply that no measure for security is ever reasonable, and that always and everywhere it ruins freedoms and doesn't secure you. This is ridiculous -- and we'll start with Bruce Schneir, the "expert," who thinks even checking ID isn't a good security measure.

But as for Benjamin Franklin, he *did* believe in security. He had absolutely no problem with settlers -- with guns! hello! -- fighting Indians, as politically incorrect as that might have been, and certainly didn't have a problem with them fighting *other* settlers who were criminals or the King's soldiers who were bent on taking away their freedom.

Benjamin was a full-bore supporter of security, and effective security, and vigorous and active security. That's why using this quote is so ridiculous -- and I don't mind pointing this out again and again to those who think they've made a "discover" by using it.

Franklin, as we can see with the context, was talking about something else -- which was effective security. And by "effective," he didn't mean Bruce Schneir's nonsense, let me repeat:

"Franklin was urging that the colonies be able to defend themselves freely against attackers, rather than accepting the defense that came from the King -- which wasn't working. He wasn't saying that the threat of attack wasn't real, or was exaggerated; he not only conceded it but it was what was driving his whole discussion."

You have to read what the parliamentary acts were *about*, not merely that they were parliamentary acts (this is like these Internet "freedom fighters" who never met a piece of legislation they didn't oppose if it affected the Internet). And I think I've outlined it here.

What is essential is that those settlers got to take guns, and defend their property against all comers. That's what you're not hearing.

I actually am not for endless "gun rights" and "2nd amendment rights" so I'm actually more of a liberal on this than Ben Franklin -- but I'm not a libertarian like those who misquote him because I don't believe in endless gun rights and assault weapons for everyone.


I don't know how to say this delicately so I’ll just come out and say it.
Are you retarded?


^^the last two comments: I agree!

The author obviously needs to understand what the words she is saying even mean. She repeatedly states: "But as for Benjamin Franklin, he *did* believe in security. He had absolutely no problem with settlers -- with guns! hello! -- fighting Indians, as politically incorrect as that might have been, and certainly didn't have a problem with them fighting *other* settlers who were criminals or the King's soldiers who were bent on taking away their freedom."

While trying to prove that Franklin wanted security, she inadvertently disproved her point. From her own words, she says that they were fighting against those who would take their freedom. When you have liberty, you are free to defend yourself and to make yourself secure. When you have liberty, you will have security. If you begin to give up your rights so that the GOVERNMENT may protect you, then you will, without a doubt, lose both your freedom and security. Liberty must remain in the hands of the individual. Government cannot take away our rights. If we give up one, they will not stop until ALL of our rights are gone. The government will say that we just need to give up a *little* bit, for the public safety. NO! If we give them an inch, they'll take a mile.

LIBERTY creates SECURITY. Without first being free, we cannot hope to ever be secure.

Kevin Bacon

Those who are willing to become sheep, deserve to become sheep. Those who try to save the sheep from themselves, will be chastised by the sheep, and told to "not rock the boat." Those who refuse to become sheep will be labeled as "terrorists" and be dealt with accordingly.

BTW: The Boston tea party was a terrorist act, as was the massacre that occurred just after the famous Delaware river crossing.

jim morisseau

a good account of this story is given in Francis Parkman's book about that time, "Montcalm and Wolfe." After Braddock's defeat the frontier was wide open and the settlers were defenseless. They begged for help but the state government refused. The fight between the Proprietor and Non Proprietor factions is mentioned, they were so divided that they would do nothing, and di d not want to pay taxes; but there was also the matter of the Quaker make-up of the state, which was pacifist in nature. Many protested against any military action at all. Finally, the settlers brought a wagonload of bodies to Philadelphia and some help was eventually sent.

Government's primary duty is to protect its citizens, one which tells them they are on their own against a violent enemy is worthless, as is the real basis of this quote, however good it may sound.

In the context of the time and the actions that occurred, it is really a shameful and horrible thing.

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