Our Basic Liberties…Senator Sam Ervin Defines A Heritage More Precious Than Security

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Sacramento Bee, Sunday, August 11, 1974

Our heritage is freedom. The Constitution makes this manifest by declaring in its preamble that George Washington and his colleagues in the Convention of 1787 framed that instrument to secure the blessings of freedom to all Americans of all generations.

freedomChainWhile love of freedom inspired the Constitution, it did not have its origin in our land.

The love of freedom was brought to our land before the Revolution by courageous men and women from the British Isles, Holland, the vine-clad hills of France, the Palatinate of Germany, and the mountains of Switzerland, who craved, above all things, the freedom denied them by the tyrannical civil and ecclesiastical rulers of the Old World.

Since so many men appear so anxious nowadays to swap the reality of freedom for the mirage of security, it would be well for us to ponder the choice our ancestors made when they forsook the comparative security of the Old World for the terrifying insecurity of the new.

It was not without many pangs of regret that they turned their backs for all time upon the scenes of their childhood, the graves of their beloved dead, and the comparative security of the then civilized world, and journeyed in tiny barks across a boisterous ocean to establish homes for themselves and their children and their children’s children in what was then a perilous wilderness in a new and strange land.

Why did they do this? Why did they exchange the comparative security of the Old World for the terrifying insecurity of the new? The answer is simply this: They preferred freedom to security.

While it is an indivisible whole, freedom does reveal herself in a fourfold guise as economic freedom, political freedom, religious freedom, and intellectual freedom.

The brave men and women who brought the love of freedom to our land did not learn economics sitting at the feet of t hose who promise “abundance for all by robbing Selected Peter to pay Collective Paul.”

They acquired their knowledge in the hard school of experience, which has the most dependable teachers. As a consequence, they had the hardihood to accept the economic truths plainly visible to all human beings who possess both the capacity and the willingness to accept reality.

They knew that earth yields nothing to man except the product of his own labor. They knew that Adam’s curse is an unchanging and unchangeable law of life: “In the sweat of thy face thou shalt eat bread till thou return unto the ground.”

They knew that man has but one choice in respect to this immutable economic fact, and that such choice is simply this: Whether the bread which he must eat in the sweat of his face shall be the bread of freedom or the bread of bondage.

They knew this unalterable decree of the Creator of the universe: Free men cannot be induced to produce things of value unless they are permitted to retain a fair share of the fruits of their labor for themselves, their families, and the causes they hold dear.

They knew, moreover, that man can be free only if he is willing to ac­cept responsibility for his own life.

They also knew the truth embodied in Michelangelo’s assertion: “It is only well with me when I have a chisel in my hand.”

As a consequence of these things, the valiant folks who made America realized not only that economic freedom is an absolutely necessary attribute of a free society, but also that it most effectively encourages men and women to make of themselves everything God gave them any possibility of becoming.

The men and women who made America believed that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. Moreover, they had absorbed the lessons taught by the history of the struggle of the people against arbitrary power for the right to be free from tyranny. Hence, they comprehended some eternal truths respecting men and government.

They knew that those who are entrusted with powers of government are susceptible to the disease of tyrants, which George Washington rightly diagnosed in his Farewell Address as “the love of power and proneness to abuse it.” For this reason, they realized that the powers of public officers should be defined by laws which they, as well as the people, are obligated to obey.

They also knew the truth subsequently embodied by Daniel Webster in this aphorism: “Whatever government is not a government of laws is a despotism, let it be called what it may.”

For this reason, they realized that liberty cannot exist except under a government of laws, i.e., a government in which the conduct of the people is controlled by certain, constant, and uniform laws rather than by the arbitrary, uncertain, and inconstant wills of the men who occupy public offices, and in which the laws accord to the people as much freedom as the commonweal permits.

They likewise knew that Thomas Hobbes had proclaimed an unalterable principle when he said: “Freedom is political power divided into small fragments.”

They knew, moreover, the political truth afterwards phrased by Woodrow Wilson in these words: “Liberty has never come from the government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of it. The history of liberty is a history of the limitation of governmental power, not the increase of it. When we resist, therefore, the concentration of power, we are resisting the processes of death, because concentration of power, is what always precedes the destruction. of human liberties.”

For these reasons, they realized that the powers of government should be diffused among different repositories, that “local processes of law are an essential part of any government conducted by the people,” and that “no national government that “all men have a natural and unalienable right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences,” and the corollary that this natural and unalienable right can be secured only by keeping the hands of the state out of religion and the hands of religion off the state.

While I divide freedom into parts for ease of discussion, the indivisibleness of freedom becomes manifest when we realize that intellectual freedom is inextricably intertwined with political and religious freedom, and that the full enjoyment of political, religious, and intellectual freedom is dependent upon economic freedom.

The greatest exponent of intellectual freedom among the men and women who made America a living reality was Thomas Jefferson, who said: “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

His contemporaries shared Jefferson’s abhorrence of tyranny over the mind, and for this reason they adopted the First Amendment. When this amendment is read in conjunction with the due-process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, it compels the governments of the states as well as the federal government to extend to every human being within our borders these intellectual, political, and religious freedoms:

1. Freedom to think whatever he pleases.

2. Freedom to speak and publish his thoughts with impunity, provided what he says or publishes is not obscene and does not falsely slander or libel another, or tend to obstruct the courts in their administration of justice, or create a clear and present danger that it will incite others to commit crimes.

3. Freedom to associate with others to accomplish any lawful objective.

4. Freedom to meet peaceably with others for consultation and protest, and to petition those invested with powers of government for redress of grievances, real or imagined.

5. Freedom to entertain such religious beliefs as appeal to his con­ science, to practice his religious beliefs in any form or worship not injurious to the rights of others, to endeavor by peaceful persuasion to convert others to his religious beliefs, and to be exempt from taxation for the support of any institution which teaches religion of any character.

These freedoms are exercisable by fools as well as by wise men, by agnostics or atheists as well as by the devout, by those who defy our Constitution and laws as well as by those who conform to them, and by those who hate our country as well as by those who love it.

We cannot over-magnify the value of these freedoms. This is so because they are the fundamental freedoms which make it possible for America to endure as a free society.

To be sure, the exercise of these freedoms may require us to put up with a lot of intellectual rubbish. But our country has nothing to fear from them, however much they may be abused, as long as it leaves truth free to combat error.

Freedom is hard to acquire or retain, but easy to lose, and freedom is certainly not free. Our freedom was bought for us by the blood, sweat, tears, and prayers of men and women past numbering.

As the preamble to the Constitution indicates, the most solemn obligation resting upon us is to preserve freedom for ourselves and our posterity.

This we must do if we and future generations of Americans are to enjoy its blessings. As Thomas Paine declared in Revolutionary days. “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”

This is necessarily so because God grants freedom only to those who love it and are always ready to guard and defend it. The brave men and women who made the America we love dedicated it to the proposition that men “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, the enjoyment of the fruits of their own labor, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Having done this, they bequeathed America to us in trust for ourselves and our children and our children’s children with knowledge of the unhappy truth that the conflict between tyranny and freedom never ceases, and that freedom always stands in peril at the hands of those which seek to dominate the lives of others.

To aid us in preserving freedom, they warned us that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom, and that we must recur to fundamental principles frequently to save it.

During recent years, the conflict between tyranny and freedom has intensified; and freedom is suffering many defeats.

I will specify what I conceive to be a few of them. In so doing I will undoubtedly offend powerful special interest groups which are not adverse to destroying the freedom of others to achieve their special objectives:

By concentrating ever-expanding power in itself, the federal government is substantially robbing the states and their political subdivisions of their right to regulate local and personal activities within their borders, and individuals of their freedom to contract with respect to their commercial and personal affairs and their private property.

By collecting and storing personal data concerning individuals for which it has no legitimate need, by placing under covert and overt surveillance individuals who dissent from its politics, and by branding the members of organizations obnoxious to it as intellectually or politically dangerous to the established order, the federal government is invading the privacy of individuals, and discouraging them to exercise their First Amendment rights to freedom of thought, speech, and the press, and their First Amendment rights peaceably to assemble and to petition government for redress of grievances.

By extravagant expenditures for domestic and foreign programs past numbering financed in part by exorbitant taxes and in part by unprincipled deficit financing, the federal government is confiscating an inordinate proportion of the fruits of the labors of the people, destroying the value of their past savings and the purchasing power of the earnings it permits them to retain, and mortgaging their economic future and that of their children.

By adopting “no-knock” laws and claiming for the president as an inherent power the authority denied him by the Fourth Amendment, the federal government is subjecting the persons, houses, papers, and effects of the people to unreasonable searches and seizures …

By demanding that all Americans be taxed to support educational institutions maintained by churches to teach their religious beliefs, federal officials are imperiling the right of every American to be exempt from taxation to finance a violation of the establishment and freedom-of-worship clauses of the First Amendment.

The freedom of the individual is life’s most precious value. If it is to endure in our land, we must renew our love for it, exercise eternal vigilance, recur, frequently to fundamental principles, and make manifest our determination to guard and defend it, cost what it may.

Samuel James “Samy” Ervin, Jr. (September 27, 1896 – April 23, 1985) was an U.S. Senator from North Carolina from 1954 to 1974.