The notion of “eternal vigilance” is generally ascribed to Thomas Jefferson. Given Jefferson’s love for freedom, it’s an apt attribution. But it has been reported that John Philpot Curran expressed this same sentiment in a speech upon the Right of Election in 1790 (published in a book titled “Speeches on the late very interesting State trials” in 1808).
He said: “It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. 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.”
Whatever its origin, the sentiment is as timely today as it was two centuries ago. Through a process of “incrementalism,” we are seeing an increasing deterioration of individual rights (particularly property rights) by the regulatory state whereby our freedoms are worn away a bit at a time by the constant erosion of overreaching government. I am often amazed at how ideas that threaten our freedoms take root and grow seemingly without notice or comment by the general public.
When the EPA and Corps of Engineers were commissioned to oversee discharges into “navigable waters,” it was assumed they would regulate waters that would float a boat. But these agencies redefined their jurisdiction and now asserts control over virtually every pond, puddle and ditch in the Nation. And its getting worse. As a reminder to be on our guard against overreaching government, and hopefully a spur to eternal vigilance, see my op-ed in the Grand Forks Herald entitled Clean Water Act Can Generate Toxic Consequences.