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Barbara's Column
July 2003 #4

Quest for a quote:
Who was first to bid Legislature good riddance?

by Barbara Anderson


The Salem News
Thursday, July 24, 2003

No man's (life, liberty?) is safe while the Legislature is in session.

My quest for the source of this quote began last week when the Legislature adjourned for the summer and I was asked by an Eagle-Tribune reporter what I thought of its taking a long vacation.

While slightly resenting a $53,380 base salary that gives legislators more pay and more vacation than I get, I had to admit that "we're better off with them vacationing. When they are working, they're raising fees, killing voter-initiated petitions and spending our money. As someone once said, 'No man's life or property is safe when the Legislature is in session.'"

I knew that I had first heard that line from my former boss at Citizens for Limited Taxation, Don Feder. But I had no idea where he got it and didn't have time right then to ask.

Meanwhile, before the story appeared, my partner, Chip Ford, also used the quote in his daily e-mail update to CLT activists, but his version dropped "life," added "liberty" and cited Mark Twain.

I objected.

"It could have been Twain, but I'm sure it included life," I said.

I was thinking it might date back to the time of the Declaration of Independence, so I checked out quotes by Benjamin Franklin, and even Thomas Jefferson. But the "no man's safe" statement wasn't there.

Franklin did say that "in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes."

Chip did check the Internet, and found the "liberty and property" quote attributed to a "Samuel Clement," which he thought might be "Clemens" (Mark Twain's real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens). But he used the "Clement" reference in his e-mail nevertheless.

He then heard back from libertarian David Hudson, who said he thought Chip might have meant "Clemens," but went on to say he thought the quote might have come from Will Rogers, who did observe, in 1930, "This country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as we do when the baby gets hold of a hammer. It's just a question of how much damage he can do with it before you take it away from him."

Hudson also speculated that the "No man's life ..." quote might originally have come from a New York court case -- "Tucker something..." He was close.

Meanwhile, I was checking out Bartlett's and Mencken's books of quotations, but couldn't find it attributed to anyone.

Went to Mark Twain and Will Rogers on Google, but the quote wasn't there. Also tried H.L. Mencken himself, who did say, "I believe that all government is evil, and that trying to improve it is largely a waste of time," but made no comment regarding our safety while legislatures are in session.

So I e-mailed my old friend Feder, now a talk show host on AM-950, who responded that "no one knows for sure. It's been attributed to both Bastiat and Joseph Storey, a 19th century Supreme Court justice. One thing we know for certain -- it wasn't Hillary."

The thinking behind the quote is the theme of Bastiat's "The Law" (1850), but I couldn't find the quote itself there.

Another judge? Back to Google, and now this quest becomes local.

Justice Joseph Storey was from Marblehead, and he could easily have made the statement, having written in his "Commentaries" of 1833 that "Certain popular leaders often acquire an extraordinary ascendancy over the (legislative) body, by their talents, their eloquence, their intrigues, or their cunning. Measures are often introduced in a hurry, and debated with little care, and examined with less caution."

He foresaw Tom Finneran!

Then Chip got an e-mail from former state Rep. Royall Switzler, a Wellesley Republican, who suggested finding a New York legislator named Tucker.

It turns out that Judge Gideon Tucker did say, "No man's life, liberty or property is safe while the Legislature is in session" in 1866; he also was well-acquainted with the works of Justice Storey, and had probably read Bastiat.

And I'll bet Mark Twain quoted Tucker shortly after and started to get credit, though not in official anthologies.

Chip also found Judge Tucker recently cited by the Home School Legal Defense Association in support of home schooling. The jurist had observed that "the only long-term defense of liberty is to elect legislators who understand and support home schooling."

So now you know why we are glad the Legislature has gone home for the summer, and who, maybe, said it first.


Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News and the Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.


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