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?