Portrait of Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin on the trade off between essential liberty and temporary safety (1775)

Found in: The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. VII Letters and Misc. Writings 1775-1779

In January 1775 Benjamin Franklin (1796-1790) was part of an American delegation sent to Britain in an attempt to resolve the outstanding disagreements between the Crown and the colonies. Seventeen points were up for discussion of which several were rejected outright by the Crown while others were rejected by the colonies. Franklin’s comments regarding the last two points produced one of his most famous sayings from the period:


As to the other two acts, (i.e. 16. The American admiralty courts reduced to the same powers they have in England, and the acts establishing them to be reënacted in America; and 17. All powers of internal legislation in the colonies to be disclaimed by Parliament) the Massachusetts (sic) must suffer all the hazards and mischiefs of war rather than admit the alteration of their charters and laws by Parliament. ‘They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.’