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The forms of liberty are not its essence

Words on spiritual freedom.

Winter 2007 11.1.07

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Our great error as a people is that we put an idolatrous trust in our free institutions: as if these, by some magic power, must secure our rights, however we enslave ourselves to evil passions. We need to learn that the forms of liberty are not its essence; that, whilst the letter of a free constitution is preserved, its spirit may be lost; that even its wisest provisions and most guarded powers may be made weapons of tyranny.

—William Ellery Channing (1780-1842)

The leading Unitarian minister of his day, Channing spoke these words in "Spiritual Freedom," an election-day sermon on political and spiritual values, in May 1830. Another excerpt appears in "Singing the Living Tradition" as reading 592, "The Free Mind."


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