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Sunday, June 09, 2013

And Lemme Say This About That Ben Franklin Quotation

While I'm neither surprised nor happy about the latest NSA developments, I'm am a bit tired of seeing Ben Franklin's observation abused yet again: He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security.

Yeah, about that...take it away, NTodd!

 Here's the context of the oft-(mis)quoted Ben Franklin quotation (early 1775):

As to the other two acts [presumably the Boston Port Act and Massachusetts Government Act, part of the Intolerable Acts of 1774]. The Massachusetts must suffer all the hazards and mischiefs of war, rather than admit the alteration of their charters and laws by parliament. "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

And a little later in Hints:

If we mean a hearty reconciliation, we must deal candidly, and use no tricks.

The assemblies are many of them in a state of dissolution. It will require time to make new elections; then to meet and chuse delegates, supposing all could meet. But the assembly of the Massachusetts Bay cannot act under the new constitution, nor meet the new council for that purpose, without acknowledging the power of parliament to alter their charter, which they never will do. The language of the proposal is, Try on your fetters first, and then if you don't like them, petition and we will consider.

Back then, the Colonials and Empire were still trying to reconcile, with we Americans just wanting what they viewed as the rights of British subjects:

On the 20th of February Lord North made what was called a specific motion in the House of Commons, which was carried by a large majority. Some of Franklin's ideas are to be found in it, but he thought, from its imperfect composition and general inadequate ness to the ends proposed, that it had been suddenly curtailed before it was brought down to the house.


His lordship seemed astonished to find that Lord North's motion was not satisfactory, whereupon the Doctor recurred to the old topic, the injustice of levying a tax on a people not represented in parliament; it being under the threat of exercising this affirmed right that the proposed grants were to be given. He could only compare this mode of getting money to that practised by a highwayman, who holds his pistol and hat at a coach window, and if you will give him your money freely, he will do you the honour to omit putting his hand into your pockets. He assured his lordship that the Americans would not grant a shilling on such terms. 

He also reminded him that another unjustifiable right had been assumed, that of altering the charters of the colonies, which the Americans would never submit to; and even if the first were given up, the breach would be as wide as ever, so long as this remained.

So it's a bit glib to call on Franklin when discussing what reasonable limits can be placed upon rights through the political process.  The American position was that they shouldn't have to accept Parliament's capriciously changing the rules of the game, particularly when Colonials had no representation.  

Let's discuss rights and government limitations on their own merits, not based on something said by a guy who had no representation in his country's legislative branch.


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June 9, 2013 | Permalink


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