Liberty is “freedom from” and freedom is the “power to.” Simply stated. Challenging to uphold. What I mean is: there is an enduring responsibility linked in each. We desire to be free to do what we want in life but our “free life” takes effort and lots of hard work. We also want liberty, being unbound from bureaucratic processes and bad leadership. In our liberty comes the responsibility to do our part and lead in better ways.
Such is the mix of liberty and freedom through our history. No easy path. Many sacrifices. Much opportunity. No one knows this better than the soldiers on the battlefield, fighting to free people from certain injustices and oppressions. No one knows this better than citizens in the streets and communities fighting for civil rights. Many have led through these times as best they could.
Presidents have led, too. It seems appropriate to discover the challenges and beauty of liberty and freedom through the words of past U.S. presidents. Read through each quote and listen for the opportunity and responsibility in what liberty and freedom bring.
Presidential Perspectives on Freedom and Liberty
1 – “Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth.” George Washington
2 -“Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.” Thomas Jefferson to Isaac H. Tiffany, 1819
3 – “Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among the people.” John Adams
4 – “The planter, the farmer, the mechanic, and the laborer… form the great body of the people of the United States, they are the bone and sinew of the country men who love liberty and desire nothing but equal rights and equal laws.” Andrew Jackson
5 – “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.” Abraham Lincoln
6 – “Every human being, of whatever origin, of whatever station, deserves respect. We must each respect others even as we respect ourselves.” Ulysses S. Grant
7 – “We were all found loyal to a common citizenship. The fundamental precept of liberty is toleration. We cannot permit any inquisition either within or without the law or apply any religious test to the holding of office. The mind of America must be forever free.” Calvin Coolidge, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1925
8 – “Order without liberty and liberty without order are equally destructive.” Theodore Roosevelt
9 – “Liberty does not consist, my fellow-citizens, in mere general declarations of the rights of man. It consists in the translation of those declarations into definite action. Therefore, standing here where the declaration was adopted, reading its businesslike sentences, we ought to ask ourselves what there is in it for us. There is nothing in it for us unless we can translate it into the terms of our own conditions and of our own lives.” Woodrow Wilson, Address at Independence Hall: “The Meaning of Liberty.” July 4, 1914
10 – “In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world.”
Franklin Roosevelt, The Four Freedoms, January 6, 1941
11 – “At this moment, America, along with her brave Allies, is paying again a heavy price for the defense of our freedom. With characteristic energy, we are assisting in the liberation of entire nations. Gradually, the shackles of slavery are being broken by the forces of freedom.” Harry S. Truman, Address Before a Joint Session of the Congress, April 16, 1945
12 – “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961
13 – “When the earliest settlers poured into a wild continent there was no one to ask them where they came from. The only question was: Were they sturdy enough to make the journey, were they strong enough to clear the land, were they enduring enough to make a home for freedom, and were they brave enough to die for liberty if it became necessary to do so?” Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at the Signing of the Immigration Bill, Liberty Island, New York, October 3, 1965
14 – “Above all, we must realize that no arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women. It is a weapon our adversaries in today’s world do not have.” Ronald Reagan, First Inaugural Address, January 20, 1981
15 – “We know what works: Freedom works. We know what’s right: Freedom is right. We know how to secure a more just and prosperous life for man on Earth: through free markets, free speech, free elections, and the exercise of free will unhampered by the state.” George H. W. Bush, Inaugural Address, Jan. 20, 1989
One More Perspective on Freedom: Margaret Chase Smith
Since the United States has not elected a woman president yet, it seemed appropriate to add a quote from Margaret Chase Smith. Margaret served four terms in the U.S. House and won election to the United States Senate in 1948. Margaret Chase Smith became the first woman elected to both houses of Congress.
More than this, she was one of the first U.S. Senators to stand up to Joseph McCarthy and his fear and intimidation tactics. On June 1, 1950, she delivered a pointed speech entitled “A Declaration of Conscience.” Highlighting a portion this speech seems appropriate when discussing liberty and freedom.
“Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism
The right to criticize;
The right to hold unpopular beliefs;
The right to protest;
The right of independent thought.
The exercise of these rights should not cost one single American citizen his reputation or his right to a livelihood nor should he be in danger of losing his reputation or livelihood merely because he happens to know someone who holds unpopular beliefs. Who of us doesn’t? Otherwise none of us could call our souls our own. Otherwise thought control would have set in.”
Margaret Chase Smith understands what liberty means and the dangers when freedom is defined by one person or a small group of people.
Freedom and Liberty: Your Turn
There is a gritty greatness to liberty and freedom. The grittiness comes when we need to stand up for ourselves and others. The grittiness comes when we speak up to protect and open new doors of positive thought and actions. When our grittiness is done right, greatness blooms.
How do you view freedom and liberty?