The Price of Liberty

I’m back to inviting readers to submit quotations whose origins they want me to try to trace, using my book, The Yale Book of Quotations, and my more recent researches.

James Curran asked:

Could you try a question that is of some import to my family… The saying ‘Price of Liberty is eternal vigilance’ is generally attributed to Thomas Jefferson.  However, the original sentiment was phrased as ‘The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance’ by the Irish statesman John Philpot Curran (of whom a complete lack of evidence has never stopped my family from claiming as an ancestor).

So the question becomes, did Jefferson paraphrase Curran? Or is the modern wording the work of some nameless editor who can’t quote or attribute correctly?

The Yale Book of Quotations quotes Curran, and adds the following note:

Usually quoted as ‘Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,’ which has been attributed to Thomas Jefferson, but no one has ever found this in his writings. Atkinson’s Casket, Sept. 1833, has ‘The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.’

Since the publication of the YBQ, the monticello.org website has pushed “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” back to 1809, in Thomas U. P. Charlton‘s, The Life of Major General James Jackson (Augusta, Ga.: Randolph & Co., 1809).  If Google Books disappears because of courts disapproving the Google Book Settlement, quote-searchers will be left high and dry!

Do any readers have any other quotations whose origins they would like me to attempt to trace?

Leave A Comment

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

 

COMMENTS: 7

View All Comments »
  1. Doug says:

    Off topic but … Older books (like that of Thomas U.P. Charlton) would still be available as they are now part of the public domain, correct?

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  2. Eric M. Jones. says:

    I thought the quote was “Eternal vigilance is the price of bachelorhood.”

    But “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance.”
    is from, “Speeches of John Philpot Curran: To which is added Henry Gratten….”. – Page 5
    John Philpot Curran, Henry Grattan – 1805 -

    Google Books will never die….

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  3. Jamie says:

    “Take it with a grain of salt” ? This is a great column

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  4. nvguy66@gmail.com says:

    I have a blog I would like you guys to check out cause you have such a larger following and cause I would like to see you views on some of the topics I wrote on http://libertarianontheloose.blogspot.com/ Thank you so much

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1
  5. Steve says:

    May The Bridges I Burn Light The Way

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  6. Teresa Bodwell says:

    I’ve found several different attributions form Socrates to Oscar Wilde for the saying, “Moderation in all things, including moderation.”

    Can you trace the origins?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  7. fernando rl says:

    I am almost sure I read a very similar phrase in Monstequieu’s “The spirit of the laws”, but I couldn’t find it again, and google says nothing about it.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0