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Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

The Boston minister Simeon Howard gave this very clear definition of liberty to a company of artillery soldiers in 1773 just before open hostilities broke out between the colonists and the British government. The sermon is interesting because of his combination of ideas drawn from the bible and from the Radical Whig or “Commonwealthman” tradition which existed in 18th century Britain. The latter drew upon 17th century radicals especially the work of John Locke, whose ideas of property rights, individual liberty, and the consent of the government were very influential. Howard provides a strong defence of a “negative” view of liberty, that is that a state of liberty is one where there is an absence of the use of “force and constraint” exercised by some men over others. Furthermore he argues, no other person can “restrain him in the exercise of this liberty” so long as he does not infringe upon the equal right to liberty of the people around him. To do anything else would be to establish of state of “temporal slavery” in the world.

Other quotes about Liberty:

22 October, 2012

SimeonHoward

Simeon Howard on liberty as the opposition to “external force and constraint” (1773)

Read the full quote in context here.

In this sermon preached in Massachusetts in 1773 to a company of artillery soldiers Simeon Howard (1733-1804) defines what he means by “liberty” at a time when Americans in the British colonies were increasingly seeing the British as violators of their liberty. He defines this key word in very Lockean terms as the opposition to “external force and constraint” by other men:

Though this word is used in various senses, I mean by it here, only that liberty which is opposed to external force and constraint, and to such force and constraint only, as we may suffer from men. Under the term liberty, taken in this sense, may naturally be comprehended all those advantages which are liable to be destroyed by the art or power of men; every thing that is opposed to temporal slavery.

This liberty has always been accounted one of the greatest natural blessings which mankind can enjoy. Accordingly, the benevolent and impartial Father of the human race, has given to all men a right, and to all naturally an equal right to this blessing.

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

A Sermon Preached to the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company in Boston, Boston, 1773

Though this word is used in various senses, I mean by it here, only that liberty which is opposed to external force and constraint, and to such force and constraint only, as we may suffer from men. Under the term liberty, taken in this sense, may naturally be comprehended all those advantages which are liable to be destroyed by the art or power of men; every thing that is opposed to temporal slavery.

This liberty has always been accounted one of the greatest natural blessings which mankind can enjoy. Accordingly, the benevolent and impartial Father of the human race, has given to all men a right, and to all naturally an equal right to this blessing.

In a state of nature, or where men are under no civil government, God has given to every one liberty to pursue his own happiness in whatever way, and by whatever means he pleases, without asking the consent or consulting the inclination of any other man, provided he keeps within the bounds of the law of nature. Within these bounds, he may govern his actions, and dispose of his property and person, as he thinks proper. Nor has any man, or any number of men, a right to restrain him in the exercise of this liberty, or punish, or call him to account for using it. This however is not a state of licentiousness, for the law of nature which bounds this liberty, forbids all injustice and wickedness, allows no man to injure another in his person or property, or to destroy his own life.

But experience soon taught that, either thro’ ignorance of this law, or the influence of unruly passions, some were disposed to violate it, but encroaching upon the liberty of others; so that the weak were liable to be greatly injured by the superior power of bad men, without any means of security or redress. This gave birth to civil society, and induced a number of individuals to combine together for mutual defence and security; to give up a part of their natural liberty for the sake of enjoying the remainder in greater safety; to agree upon certain laws among themselves to regulate the social conduct of each individual, or to intrust to one or more of their number, in whose wisdom and goodness they could confide, a power of making such laws, and putting them in execution.

In this state, the liberty which men have is all that natural liberty which has been mentioned, excepting what they have expressly given up for the good of the whole society; a liberty of pursuing their own happiness governing their actions, and disposing of their property and persons as they think fit, provided they transgress no law of nature, and keep within those restrictions which they have consented to come under.

This liberty will be different in different communities. In every state, the members will, probably, give up so much of their natural liberty, as they think will be most for the good of the whole. But different states will judge differently upon this point, some will give up more, some less, though still with the same view, the publick good. And every society have doubtless a right to act according to their own judgment and discretion in this matter, this being only an exercise of that natural liberty in which all are bound.

[More works on 18th Century Commonwealthmen]