— Wendell Phillips
Context: Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty — power is ever stealing from the many to the few…. The hand entrusted with power becomes … the necessary enemy of the people. Only by continual oversight can the democrat in office be prevented from hardening into a despot: only by unintermitted Agitation can a people be kept sufficiently awake to principle not to let liberty be smothered in material prosperity.
Speech in Boston, Massachusetts (28 January 1852), Speeches Before the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society (1853), p. 13. The memorable and oft-quoted phrase, "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty," was not in quotation marks in the printed edition of this speech. The Home Book of Quotations, ed. Burton Stevenson, 9th ed., p. 1106 (1964), notes that "It has been said that Mr. Phillips was quoting Thomas Jefferson, but in a letter dated 14 April, 1879, Mr. Phillips wrote: '"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty" has been attributed to Jefferson, but no one has yet found it in his works or elsewhere.' It has also been attributed to Patrick Henry."