Variations of Jefferson’s “When government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny” Quote:
- “When government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.”
- “When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.”
- “Does the government fear us? Or do we fear the government? When the people fear the government, tyranny has found victory. The federal government is our servant, not our master!”
- “When the people fear the government, that’s tyranny; when the government fears the people, that’s freedom.”
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All four of those versions of the famous Jefferson quote are given by the official Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia of Monticello.org. While I normally just use the most widely accepted version of a given quotation, in this case, I decided that it would be wise to include all four. Due to the fact that Jefferson is one of the most widely quoted of the Founding Fathers, he is also often one of the most incorrectly quoted Founders. To ensure that this article on the famous “When government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny” quote is correct, I included all four.
As an additional note, that quote and its variations come from later sources. So, it might not have ever been said by Jefferson and is likely apocryphal. Because the quotation is in dispute, I will write about what it means, whoever came up with it, rather than Jefferson’s saying it. Whatever its original source, the contention at the root of it is what matters and what is applicable to this article.
In any case, they are all similar and strike at the same message: tyranny exists when citizens fear their governments.
History largely holds that to be true. No early Americans feared the federal government; while it did occasionally use force to exercise its will, that was only in the most dangerous of cases, such as the Whiskey Rebellion. Otherwise, Americans were left free to do what they pleased; they never had to fear the malicious actions of a tyrannical government. Liberty existed because they did not have to live in fear of what a capricious government would do to them.
The rest of history is a series of tragedies caused by tyrants. The Roman Caesars persecuted rivals and enemies with a vengeance, burning Christians alive, slaughtering political opponents, and exiling those with whom they disagreed. The ancient Greeks, Macedonians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and Persians were defined by their relative levels of tyranny and cruelty. Just read The End is Always Near by Dan Carlin to see the horror that was the Bronze Age. In every one of those societies, the people feared their respective governments, not the other way around. Tyranny existed and was responsible for a host of evils that should shock and horrify the modern reader.
In more modern times, the communist world is point in proof to Jefferson’s (supposed) contention that “When government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.” Read The Gulag Archipelago, The Case Against Socialism, or Socialism Sucks. In case after case, communist regime after communist regime, tyranny permeated every level of society. Subjects of those totalitarian, brutal governments had to live in constant fear of the capricious vagaries of their often unstable rulers.
During the Cultural Revolution, Mao buried dissenters alive, tortured them to death, and starved tens of millions of peasants to death. Pol Pot murdered the entire intelligentsia of Cambodia. Stalin killed millions, almost always without any reason, in his Great Purge and the Holodomor. Che Guevara murdered thousands of innocent people in Central and South America.
All of that was able to happen because “fear” was felt in the wrong direction. The communist regimes, like the ancient despots, had nothing to fear; they had absolute control over their subjects. Those wretched subjects, meanwhile, had everything to fear from their governments. At any point, everything could be violently stripped from them.
The bright beacon of history is pre-Progressive Era America. Yes, it had flaws. Every society does. But, generally, America was a bright beacon of liberty. Americans were proudly independent and individualistic. They believed in the God-given nature of their natural rights and were willing to do anything to defend them.
The result, as could be predicted by the “When government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny” quote, whoever it comes from, was liberty. Americans did not fear their government and, as a result, were free.
This post is not, and should not be in any way construed as, a call for political violence. As I said in my review of Term Limits, along with many other articles, such as my discussion of Churchill’s “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” speech, political violence in a nation of laws such as America is reprehensible, counter-productive, and should never be considered.
What this post is is a call for Americans to return to their roots. We should not be in a position where we must live in fear of our government. Americans should be independent and live free.
How can we get back to that state? By deciding to live our lives as we see fit. What made the Civil Right movement so powerful is that it was non-violent and tapped into our better nature. We saw the plight of black Americans as morally wrong and were encouraged by their peaceful resistance to the tyrannical actions of segregationist states.
By emulating that, American patriots can return to a state of not living in fear of a capricious government. Peaceful protesting has power because, if properly framed and carried out with restraint, it puts the peaceful protesters morally above those whom they protest against.
What the US government, whether controlled by right or left, fears is a loss of legitimacy. It doesn’t fear some anti-government loner armed with a hunting rifle any more than it fears any other insignificant threat. Your local militia does not strike fear into any government entity because its capability to inflict harm is inconsequential when compared to the vast arsenal of the state.
But it does fear the loss of legitimacy that would come from a mass protest movement. If Americans want to remain a bright beacon of liberty in an otherwise tyrannical world, they need to remember the sage advice of this quotation: “When government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.”
Don’t live in fear of the government. Peacefully protest, key word PEACEFULLY, to defend your rights and defend against tyranny.
By: Gen Z Conservative
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