Whose Liberty?

I just came across this quote from Lincoln who spoke these words in Baltimore one year before the end of the Civil War and his assassination (April 1864).  Timely indeed.

“The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatable things, called by the same name—liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatable names—liberty and tyranny.

The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep was a black one. Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty; and precisely the same difference prevails to-day among us human creatures, even in the North, and all professing to love liberty. Hence we behold the processes by which thousands are daily passing from under the yoke of bondage, hailed by some as the advance of liberty, and bewailed by others as the destruction of all liberty.”

Full text here (in which Lincoln also addresses the Fort Pillow massacre of Black soldiers)

3 Thoughts

  1. Great find, Chris.  Quite thoughtful.  As is definition:  

    lib·er·ty

    /ˈlibərdē/

    noun – 1.the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views:”compulsory retirement would interfere with individual liberty”synonymsindependence, freedom, autonomy, sovereignty, self government, … moreantonymsdependence, subjugation – 2.the power or scope to act as one pleases:”individuals should enjoy the liberty to pursue their own interests and preferences”synonymsfreedom, independence, free rein, freeness, license, … moreantonymsconstraint

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