Men who deny to others the right of speech are not fit to live with honest men.
I deny the right of any man, of any number of men, of any church, of any State, to put a padlock on the lips – to make the tongue a convict. I passionately deny the right of the Herod of authority to kill the children of the brain. A man has a right to work with his hands, to plow the earth, to sow the seed, and that man has a right to reap the harvest. If we have not that right, then all are slaves except those who take these rights from their fellow-men.
If you have the right to work with your hands and to gather the harvest for yourself and your children, have you not a right to cultivate your brain? Have you not the right to read, to observe, to investigate – and when you have so read and so investigated, have you not the right to reap that field? And what is it to reap that field? It is simply to express what you have ascertained – simply to give your thoughts to your fellow-men.
If there is one subject in this world worthy of being discussed, worthy of being understood, it is the question of intellectual liberty. Without that, we are simply painted clay; without that, we are poor, miserable serfs and slaves. If you have not the right to express your opinions, then no man ever walked beneath the blue of heaven that had the right to express his thought. If others claim the right, where did they get it? How did they happen to have it, and how did you happen to be deprived of it? Where did a church or a nation get that right? Are we not all children of the same Mother? Are we not all compelled to think, whether we wish to or not?
Can you help thinking as you do? When you look out upon the woods, the fields – when you look at the solemn splendors of the night – these things produce certain thoughts in your mind, and they produce them necessarily. No man can think as he desires. No man controls the action of his brain, any more than he controls the action of his heart. The blood pursues its old accustomed ways in spite of you. The eyes see, if you open them, in spite of you. The ears hear, if they are unstopped, without asking your permission. And the brain thinks in spite of you. Should you express that thought? Certainly you should, if others express theirs. You have exactly the same right. He who takes it from you is a robber.
I want you to understand what has been done in the world to force men to think alike. It seems to me that if there is some infinite being who wants us to think alike, he would have made us alike. Why did he not do so? Why did he make your brain so that you could not by any possibility be a Methodist? Why did he make yours so that you could not be a Catholic? And why did he make the brain of another so that he is an unbeliever – why the brain of another so that he became a Mohammedan – if he wanted us all to believe alike?
After all, maybe Nature is good enough and grand enough and broad enough to give us the diversity born of liberty. Maybe, after all, it would not be best for us all to be just the same. What a stupid world, if everybody said yes to everything that everybody else might say.
The most important thing in this world is liberty. More important than food or clothes – more important than gold or houses or lands – more important than art or science – more important than all religions, is the liberty of man.