Polls Show More Americans Value Freedom Over Safety


The spirit of Benjamin Franklin’s oft-quoted assertion that “[t]hose who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety” may be enjoying more currency among Americans in 2013 than it has since the days of Sept. 11 and the Patriot Act.

Two polls conducted in the wake of the recent Boston Marathon bombings reveal American attitudes may be shifting away from surrendering their personal freedoms in exchange for government’s assurance to keep everyone safe.

A FOX News poll conducted the day after the Boston bombings asked 619 people some of the same questions about the balance between liberty and security that a similar poll had asked immediately following the World Trade Center bombings; the results were very different this time around.

Back in 2001, in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, 71 percent of Americans polled by FOX News responded that they’d be willing to trade some freedom if it would help the U.S. government “reduce the threat of terrorism.” The poll was also repeated following terrorist incidents, both domestic and foreign, in 2002, 2005 and 2006, with the number only slightly declining as respondents’ vivid memories of the most spectacular incident, Sept. 11, slowly receded.

But after Boston, the same poll showed only 43 percent of respondents held that view. That’s the lowest number since before the 2001 attacks, when a May 2001 iteration of the poll turned up only 33 percent of respondents who thought it appropriate to hand over their liberties for the sake of protection.

Among those surveyed, people who identified themselves as political “independents” resisted the idea of giving up their freedoms at a lower rate (29 percent) than either Democrats (36 percent) or Republicans (47 percent).

In a similar poll, The Washington Post asked 588 people: “Which worries you more — that the government will not go far enough to investigate terrorism because of concerns about constitutional rights, or that it will go too far in compromising constitutional rights in order to investigate terrorism?”

Conducted April 17 and 18, the poll showed 48 percent of respondents felt the government would go too far in compromising their Constitutional rights, while 41 percent favored the alternate view. The same poll also showed that 66 percent believe terrorists will always find a way around the government’s most diligent efforts at preventing attacks on U.S. targets.

Personal Liberty

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.

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  • GALT

    Personal Liberty Digest cites ignorant poll to confirm that the ignorant
    remain ignorant and they are sticking to it.

    The words appear originally in a 1755 letter that Franklin is presumed to have written on behalf of the Pennsylvania Assembly to the colonial governor during the French and Indian War. The letter was a salvo in a power struggle between the governor and the Assembly over funding for security on the frontier, one in which the Assembly wished to tax the lands of the Penn family, which ruled Pennsylvania from afar, to raise money for defense against French and Indian attacks. The governor kept vetoing the Assembly’s efforts at the behest of the family, which had appointed him. So to start matters, Franklin was writing not as a subject being asked to cede his liberty to government, but in his capacity as a legislator being asked to renounce his power to tax lands notionally under his jurisdiction. In other words, the “essential liberty” to which Franklin referred was thus not what we would think of today as civil liberties but, rather, the right of self-governance of a legislature in the interests of collective security.

    What’s more the “purchase [of] a little temporary safety” of which Franklin complains was not the ceding of power to a government Leviathan in exchange for some promise of protection from external threat; for in Franklin’s letter, the word “purchase” does not appear to have been a metaphor. The governor was accusing the Assembly of stalling on appropriating money for frontier defense by insisting on including the Penn lands in its taxes–and thus triggering his intervention. And the Penn family later offered cash to fund defense of the frontier–as long as the Assembly would acknowledge that it lacked the power to tax the family’s lands. Franklin was thus complaining of the choice facing the legislature between being able to make funds available for frontier defense and maintaining its right of self-governance–and he was criticizing the governor for suggesting it should be willing to give up the latter to ensure the former.

    In short, Franklin was not describing some tension between government power and individual liberty. He was describing, rather, effective self-government in the service of security as the very liberty it would be contemptible to trade. Notwithstanding the way the quotation has come down to us, Franklin saw the liberty and security interests of Pennsylvanians as aligned.


    • GALT

      September 11, 2006

      Trading liberty for security? A misuse of Benjamin Franklin

      By Robert Meyer

      Since the commencement of the War on terror, we have heard various iterations of a famous statement by Ben Franklin from 1755.

      “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

      The basic assumption being promulgated by identifying with Franklin is that no tradeoffs of liberty for security are ever justified. Of course that idea is usually derived from using truncated versions of Franklin’s entire quote. Notice the phrase “essential Liberty.” I want to know what “essential liberty” anyone has lost via any measure to heighten security in the wake of 9-11? Perhaps people have been inconvenienced, but scarcely more than that.

      • $20888627

        Its only ignorant because yr stupid hypocritical ass disagrees w/ the result, Obumma zombie bootlicker.

        • GALT

          How timely……..evidence of ignorance…..and ignorance of
          the meaning of the word “ignorance”……..

      • Michael Shreve

        How about a “National Security Letter” instead of a warrant from a Court to VIOLATE our right to be secure in our persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures?

        • GALT

          For a nuclear device, what becomes “unreasonable”?

    • Michael Shreve

      Does THAT somehow change the veracity of the statement?

      • GALT

        Does context change meaning?

        What does: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” mean?

  • Ted Crawford

    The ONLY poll that has any validity, or has any meaningfull effect on this issue was conducted on November 6, 2012, and it came out just the opposite as this poll: 50.5% for Obama – 48% for America!
    Nostrum Fortunia Est Paro!

    • Jeff

      Pathetic. Did you feel the same way when W The Idiot “won”?

  • reatorefreedom

    Freedom is what Americans are all about. We want to live an exuberant life free from fear especially manufactured fear to take our liberties away and enslave us! Watertown was an outrageous example of where we are headed…..marshal law.

    • Robbie

      Ah, the freedom to blow away other peoples’ children. Golly, gosh, gee, you betcha. We need more of that and less of that martial law when police show up to stop the shooter.