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Lincoln on Liberty - The Story of the Shepherd and the Wolf - Political Economy Project


“The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep's throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty…”

President Abraham Lincoln

April 18, 1864


The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the…people…are much in want of one.

We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing.

With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men's labor.

Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name---liberty.

And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names---liberty and tyranny.

The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep's throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty…

Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty; and precisely the same difference prevails today among us human creatures…all professing to love liberty.

Hence we behold the processes by which thousands are daily passing from under the yoke of bondage, hailed by some as the advance of liberty, and bewailed by others as the destruction of all liberty.

Recently, as it seems, the people…have been doing something to define liberty; and thanks to them that, in what they have done, the wolf's dictionary, has been repudiated.


President Abraham Lincoln

April 18, 1864

Address at Sanitary Fair, Baltimore, Maryland


Full Speech

Additional background


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