Who said eternal vigilance is the price of freedom?

This quote is often attributed to Thomas Jefferson, but even his estate, Monticello, denies any evidence that the Founding Father ever used these words.

Even if he had, Jefferson would not have been the originator. The phrase was, in fact, a simplified variant of a line from a 1790 speech by Irish orator John Philpot Curran: 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. The phrase was shortened to "eternal vigilance is the price of freedom" and similar sayings used throughout the 18th and 19th centuries by a variety of speakers and authors, including:

  • Ida B. Wells, in her 1970 autobiography, Crusade for Justice
  • Andrew Jackson, in his 1837 Farewell Address
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • abolitionist Wendell Phillips
  • Leonard Courtney
  • George Marshall