Power Is Ever Stealing From the Many to the Few

Abby Zimet

Seen painted – not a bumper sticker, but PAINTED in large and graceful font – on a contractor's pick-up: "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." An ever-incisive reminder of hard reality, and one of many reasons I love living in Maine.

Turns out, though, that the quote often attributed to Thomas Jefferson, and less often to Patrick Henry, is in fact the work of abolitionist and orator Wendell Phillips (1811-1884) in an 1852 speech before the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. The part that follows is just as eloquent about vigilance toward power. 

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty – power is ever stealing from the many to the few...The hand entrusted with power becomes...the necessary enemy of the people. Only by continual oversight can the democrat in office be prevented from hardening into a despot; only by unintermitted Agitation can a people be kept sufficiently awake to principle not to let liberty be smothered in material prosperity.

Vigilance, oversight, agitation. Not bad words to live by.

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