Selling Out

Probably doesn’t really matter all that much, unless you’re selling out your freedoms….then there’s actually a real problem.

“They who can give up Essential Liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

~Benjamin Franklin, notes for the Pennsylvania Assembly, February 1775

“WITHOUT Freedom of Thought, the(re) can be no such Thing as Wisdom; and no such Thing as publick Liberty, without Freedom of Speech; which is the Right of every Man, as far as by it, he does not hurt or control the Right of another.  And this is the only Check it ought to suffer, and the only bounds it ought to know.”

~ Benjamin Franklin, The New England Courant, 9 July 1722, published under Silence Dogood, (proofreading corrections added by me)


Few of the founding fathers can compare with Benjamin Franklin when it comes to both pithy summations of key ideas (hang together or hang separately) and length of service to the cause.  As the oldest of the founders, Franklin had been around for quite a long time, and for almost the entirety of his life, he had agitated for the cause of liberty.  Of all the founders, he alone was old enough to have witnessed the entire progression from having a lackadaisical, somewhat benevolent mother country to a fully independent nation built on the principle of liberty being fundamental.  These thoughts from Franklin were not just the idle meanderings of a philosophical mind, but someone who had seen the path travelled, and had the foresight to know where things were headed.  Which brings us to the part where we need to hold up the mirror and look at ourselves.  I find that lately, we, or at least our elected officials, are all too willing to sell out our liberties under the guise of making us a little bit safer.  And that Dear Reader, is just not what our Constitution is about.

This gradual foregoing of liberty takes a lot of forms; we could talk about the charming improved screenings we all undergo when trying to board an airplane.   Or the Patriot Act, which allows very questionable access into the communications of American citizens as well as altering and undermining the warrant process, all without much study (prior or presently) into how these matters relate to and affect our Constitutionally protected freedoms.  Or how about internet privacy in a day and age where a top former general and then director of the CIA has been toppled by having his private email read?  Under the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a warrant is not required for e-mails six months old or older.  In sharp contrast, traditional mail is protected against search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment.  That means they cannot be opened by law enforcement without a federal search warrant.  And that’s before we even begin to debate IP address tracing, information on web searches, and a vast variety of other tools law enforcement can much more easily access than more traditional, non-internet related items.  Now, I’m a big fan of catching terrorists before they act and shutting down criminal enterprises.  Believe me, I’m all about the CIA, FBI, and various other alphabet soup organizations doing their jobs and doing them well.  But doing it well doesn’t need to ride on the coattails of undermining freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution.  I also believe these organizations are better than that, and perfectly capable of conducting thorough investigations without having to lessen the liberties of the American people.  Far better that their job is a little harder than we lose a little more freedom.

Do we need more laws or more amendments to guarantee our liberty?  Not really.  The founding fathers did a pretty fine job of covering the matter.  As Franklin so aptly states, behind the Constitution, and most especially the Bill of Rights, there lies an idea so revolutionary that we still have trouble grasping it: freedom of thought.  When you protect free speech and freedom of assembly and freedom of religion, and protect against other things like unreasonable search and seizure, the real thing you are protecting is a citizen’s right to think and believe whatever they like, and for the most part, to act upon those thoughts and beliefs in daily life.  Sound frightening?  Certainly.  Sometimes people break other, very valid laws (which is why we have those other laws) because their thoughts are a level of insane that the rest of society just can’t begin to understand.  Terrorists connect with each other on the internet and spew jihadist ideals to encourage one another, and then blow things up.  Their thoughts are dangerous and poisonous, but our Constitution protects them anyways.  Because until the day they start actively trying to do something heinous, their thoughts and words are just that- thoughts and words.  I don’t think we are especially interested in becoming China or Iran or Saudi Arabia, where we start locking people up because they have ideas we don’t like just so that we are all maybe a little safer.  Besides doesn’t it also sound exhilarating?  The founding fathers built a society where you are entitled to be perfectly free to think and say, “hey, I love America, we are the best!” but also “eh, I’m not so sure about my government or this elected official” or “um, wait, that goes against the Constitution, we should fix that.”  We are great because we are different.  We are great because we are revolutionary.  And most importantly, we are great because our Constitution enshrines freedom over every other consideration.


Res Publica

Documentation Without Representation:

Benjamin Franklin’s Notes for the Pennsylvania Assembly, February 1775

It should also be noted that this quote and variants of it where popular and frequently used throughout pamphlets and publications during the Revolutionary Era, but it is generally established that the thought originates with Franklin.

Benjamin Franklin’s letter to the author of The New England Courant, 9 July 1722

Both a transcription and a scan of the original can be found via

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