Many times, nothing proves a point better than a good quote. Anything else—a paraphrase or an explanation—only dampens a literary passage’s verve or weakens an argument’s persuasiveness.
So with brief contextual background, here are four quotes from North Carolinians regarding the importance of liberty and the imperative to defend it against corrupt government.
Herman Husband, a leader of the Regulator Rebellion of the late 1760s and early 1770s, encouraged colonial Tar Heels to protest against excessive fees and corrupt government: “Are you not sensible, Brethren that we have too long groaned in Secret under the Weight of these crushing Mischiefs? How long will ye in this servile Manner subject yourselves to Slavery? Now shew yourselves to be Freemen, and for once assert your Liberty and maintain your Rights. This election let us exert ourselves, and show, that we will not through Fear, Favour or Affection, bow and subject ourselves to those who, under the Mask of Friendship, have long drawn Calamities upon us.”
In “Principles of an American Whig,” written in late 1775 or early 1776, James Iredell, then a practicing lawyer and later a leading proponent of the U.S. Constitution and justice on the first U.S. Supreme Court, wrote: “That government being only the means of securing freedom and happiness to the people, whenever it deviates from this end, and their freedom and happiness are in great danger of being irrevocably lost, the government is no longer entitled to their allegiance, the only consideration for which it could be justly claimed or honorably pledged being basely and tyrannically withheld.” Doubtless “Principles” influenced Thomas Jefferson when drafting The Declaration of Independence and thereby giving North Carolina a primary role in fostering and nurturing an American spirit of liberty.
Let’s fast-forward to 1937. Frustrated with corruption at the highest levels of government, North Carolina Sen. Josiah Bailey wrote to fellow Sen. Peter G. Gerry (RI): “We do not have a Government at Washington. It is a gift enterprise and the gifts are at the expense of those who earn and save.” In hopes of stopping what he considered the juggernaut of government intervention and FDR’s New Deal, Bailey exclaimed in the Senate chamber, “In God’s name, do not do nothing while America drifts down to the inevitable gulf of collectivism . . . Give enterprise a chance, and I will give you the guarantees of a happy and prosperous America.”
Here’s one of my favorites by Richard M. Weaver, a native Tar Heel often considered the founder of post-World War II conservatism. At a Young Americans for Freedom award banquet on March 7, 1962, the man from Weaverville said, “It is our traditional belief that man was given liberty to ennoble him. We may infer that those who would take his liberty away have the opposite purpose of degrading him. . . There can be no worth of man unless there is an inviolable area of freedom in which he can assume the stature of man and exercise choice in regard to his work, his associates, his use of earnings, his way of life. Little by little this area has been traded away in return for plausible gifts and subventions, urged on by slogans. . . . The past shows unvaryingly that when a people’s freedom disappears, it goes not with a bang, but in silence amid the comfort of being cared for.”
Liberty should be cherished, and its protectors should always be wary of political favors and promises. May we be at least half as bold as former Tar Heels and invoke their legacy of timeless wisdom to protect our cherished liberties from their enemies, wherever they may be found.
Dr. Troy Kickler is director of the North Carolina History Project.