Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty (Quotation)

From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

Quotation: "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."


  1. "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance."

Sources consulted: (searching on the phrase "eternal vigilance")

  1. Papers of Thomas Jefferson Digital Edition
  2. Ford's Works of Thomas Jefferson
  3. Lipscomb-Bergh Edition (via Google Books)
  4. UVA EText Jefferson Digital Archive: Texts by or to Thomas Jefferson from the Modern English Collection
  5. Thomas Jefferson Retirement Papers

Earliest known appearance in print: 1809 (in the form above)[1][2]

Earliest known appearance in print, attributed to Jefferson: 1838: " the language of Jefferson, 'Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty'..."[3]

Other attributions: Patrick Henry, Junius

Status: We currently have no evidence to confirm that Thomas Jefferson ever said or wrote, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty" or any of its variants.

Comments: This quotation was well-known in the nineteenth century, and was in fact used by a number of famous figures, including Frederick Douglass, James Buchanan, and William Henry Harrison. It is most often traced back, ultimately, to John Philpot Curran's statement, "The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt."[4] While the form in question, "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty," is most often attributed to Wendell Phillips[5], this form is in fact far older. The earliest appearance in print that we have been able to locate is 1809, and it is clear that this source is quoting yet an earlier (unnamed) source. Several nineteenth-century sources claim that this was a quotation from Junius, an anonymous political writer who wrote a series of letters to the London Public Advertiser between 1769 and 1772, but we have not found this exact statement in his writings, either.


  1. Thomas U. P. Charlton, The Life of Major General James Jackson (Augusta, Ga.: Randolph & Co., 1809), [ 85.
  2. To establish the earliest appearance of this phrase in print, the following sources were searched for the phrases, "eternal vigilance" and "price of liberty": Google Books, Google Scholar,, Internet Archive, America's Historical Newspapers, America's Historical Imprints, Eighteenth Century Collections Online, 19th Century U.S. Newspapers, 19th Century UK Newspapers, American Periodicals Series Online, 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.
  3. "The Union," Pennsylvania Inquirer and Daily Courier, January 4, 1838, Issue 4, column B.
  4. See Suzy Platt, ed., Respectfully Quoted (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1993), 200.
  5. Ibid., 205.