Monday, May 25, 2009

The price of liberty

This Memorial Day was sunny and warm, the perfect occasion for a barbecue with neighbors and friends. Except for the parade downtown this morning and the day off from work, today seemed like just another weekend day.

That we could enjoy the day as we did, with hardly a care, is testimony to the men and women who have served the country, since before its inception, to help create and preserve our liberty. From their service — many losing their lives — we have the ironic privilege of taking our liberty for granted.

A statue outside the National Archives in Washington, DC, bears the inscription: Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. A Google search reveals sources that attribute the quote to either John Philpot Curran (1750-1817) or Wendell Phillips (1811-1884).

The citation for Wendell Phillips contains the quotation in a speech he gave to the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in Boston in 1852. His words seem as relevant today as they must have been in 1852:
Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty — power is ever stealing from the many to the few…. The hand entrusted with power becomes … the necessary enemy of the people. Only by continual oversight can the democrat in office be prevented from hardening into a despot: only by unintermitted Agitation can a people be kept sufficiently awake to principle not to let liberty be smothered in material prosperity.