From Abraham Lincoln, Address at Sanitary Fair, Baltimore, April 18, 1864:

           

            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 incompatible 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 incompatible 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 today among us human creatures, even in the North, and all professing to love liberty.  Hence we behold the process 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.  Recently, as it seems, the people of Maryland have been doing something to define liberty [abolishing slavery in the state]; and thanks to them that, in what they have done, the wolf’s dictionary, has been repudiated.

 

 

From letter by Saum Song Bo, American Missionary, October, 1885

 

            A paper was presented to me yesterday for inspection, and I found it to be specially drawn up for subscription among my countrymen toward the Pedestal Fund of the … Statue of Liberty… But the word liberty makes me think of the fact that this country is the land of liberty for men of all nations except the Chinese.  I consider it an insult to us Chinese to call on us to contribute toward building in this land a pedestal for a statue of Liberty.  That statue represents Liberty holding a torch which lights the passage of those of all nations who come into this country.  But are the Chinese allowed to come? As for the Chinese who are here, are they allowed to enjoy liberty as men of all other nationalities enjoy it? Are they allowed to go about everywhere free from the insults, abuses, assaults, wrongs, and injuries from which men of other nationalities are free?...

            And this statue of Liberty is a gift from another people who do not love liberty for the Chinese. [To} the Annamese and Tonquinese Chinese {colonial subjects of the French empire in Indochina], … liberty is as dear as to the French.  What right have the French to deprive them of their liberty?

            Whether this statue against he Chinese or the statue to Liberty will be the most lasting monument to tell future ages of the liberty and greatness of this country, will be known only to future generations.

 

 

From Petition of Committee in Behalf of the Freedmen to Andrew Johnson, 1865:

 

            We the freedmen of Edisto Island, South Carolina, have learned from you through Major General O. O. Howard… with deep sorrow and painful hearts of the possibility of [the] government restoring these lands to the former owners…

            Here is where secession was born and nurtured.  Here is where we have toiled nearly all our lives as slaves and treated like dumb driven cattle.  This is our home, we have made these lands what they were, we are the only true and loyal people that were found in possession of these lands.  We have been always ready to strike for liberty and humanity, yea to fight if need be to preserve this glorious Union.  Shall not we who are freedmen and have always been true to this Union have the same rights as are enjoyed by others? … Are not our rights as a free people and good citizens of these United States to be considered before those who were found in rebellion against this good and just government?...

            [Are] we who have been abused and oppressed for many long years not to be allowed the privilege of purchasing land but be subject to the will of these large land owners? God forbid.  Land monopoly is injurious to the advancement of the course of freedom, and if government does not make some provision by which we as freedmen can obtain a homestead, we have not bettered our condition…

            We look to you … for protection and equal rights with the privilege of purchasing a homestead—a homestead right here in the heart of South Carolina.

 

 

From speech of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Indians, in Washington, D.C., 1879

           

            I have heard talk and talk, but nothing is done.  Good words do not last long unless they amount to something.  Words do not pay for my dead people.  They do not pay for my country, now overrun by white men… Good words will not get my people a home where they can live in peace and take care of themselves.  I am tired of talk that comes to nothing.  It makes my heart sick when I remember all the… broken promises…

            If the white man wants to live in peace with the Indian he can live in peace.  There need be no trouble.  Treat all men alike. Give them the same law.  Give them all an even chance to live and grow.  All men were made by the same Great Spirit Chief.  They are all brothers.  The earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it.  You might as well expect the rivers to run backward as that any man who was born a free man should be contented when penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases…

            When I think of our condition my heart is heavy.  I see men of my race treated as outlaws and driven from country to country, or shot down like animals.  I know that my race must change.  We cannot hold our own with the white men as we are. We only ask an even chance to live as other men live…

            Let me be a free man—free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose, free to choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to think and talk and act for myself—and I will obey every law, or submit to the penalty.

 

 

From Eugene V. Debs’ speech to the jury before his sentencing under the Espionage Act

 

            In every age there have been a few heroic souls who have been in advance of their time, who have been misunderstood, maligned, persecuted, sometimes put to death… Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Paine, and their compeers were the rebels of their day.  …But they had the moral courage to be true to their convictions…

            William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Elizabeth Cady Stanton… and other leaders of the abolition movement who were regarded as public enemies and treated accordingly, were true to their faith and stood their ground… You are now teaching your children to revere their memories, while all of their detractors are in oblivion.

            This country has been engaged in a number of wars and every one of them has been condemned by some of the people.  The war of 1812 was opposed and condemned by some of the most influential citizens; the Mexican War was vehemently opposed and bitterly denounced, even after the war had been declared and was in progress, by Abraham Lincoln, Charles Sumner, Daniel Webster… They were not indicted; they were not charged with treason…

            I believe in the Constitution.  Isn’t it strange that we Socialists stand almost alone today in upholding and defending the Constitution of the United States?  The revolutionary fathers… understood that free speech, a free press and the right of free assemblage by the people were fundamental principles in democratic government… I believe in the right of free speech, in war as well as in peace.

 

 

From Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Women and Economics (1898)

 

            The spirit of personal independence in the women of today is sure proof that a change has come… The radical change in the economic position of women is advancing upon us… The growing individualization of democratic life brings inevitable change to our daughters as well as our sons… One of its most noticeable features is the demand in women not only for their own money, but for their own work for the sake of personal expression.  Few girls today fail to manifest some signs of this desire for individual expression.

            Economic independence for women necessarily involves a change in the home and family relation. But, if that change is for the advantage of individual and race, we need not fear it.  It does not involve a change in the marriage relation except in withdrawing the element of economic dependence, nor in the relation of mother to child save to improve it.  But it does involve the exercise of human faculty in women, in social service and exchange rather than in domestic service solely… [Today], when our still developing social needs call for an ever-increasing… freedom, the woman in marrying becomes the house-servant, or at least the housekeeper, of the man… When women stand free as economic agents, they will [achieve a] much better fulfillment of their duties as wives and mothers and [contribute] to the vast improvement in health and happiness of the human race.

 

 

Revised 08/25/2008  

 

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