Quote: your liberty ends just where my nose begins (1894)

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Mon Sep 26 13:33:22 UTC 2011

Yesterday, a Professor Emeritus at Hunter College asked me about the
following quote: "Your freedom ends at the tip of my nose."

Exact matches for this wording do not find much. But there are a large
number of "conceptual" matches. In recent decades the sentiment has
been attributed to a variety of luminaries:

Attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes: "The right to swing my fist ends
where the other man's nose begins."
Attributed to Judge Learned Hand: "Your right to swing your fist ends
where my nose begins."
Attributed to John Stuart Mill: "The right to swing my arms in any
direction ends where your nose begins."
Attributed to Abraham Lincoln "My right to swing my fist ends where
your nose begins."

I have not found any justification for these attributions.

The Yale Book of Quotations provides an excellent citation in 1919.
<Begin excerpt>
Zechariah Chafee, Jr.
U.S. legal scholar, 1885–1957
Each side takes the position of the man who was arrested for swinging
his arms and hitting another in the nose, and asked the judge if he
did not have a right to swing his arms in a free country. "Your right
to swing your arms ends just where the other man's nose begins."
Harvard Law Review, June 1919
<End excerpt>

There are multiple matches before 1919. Versions of the saying were
used by temperance campaigners and school administrators. The earliest
instance I have located so far is found within a pro-temperance joke
told in 1894:

Cite: 1894, Thirteenth International Christian Endeavor Convention,
[Held in Saengerfest Hall and Tent, Cleveland, Ohio, July 11-15,
1894], Heroes of Faith: Address of Rev. A.C. Dixon, Page 95, Published
by United Society of Christian Endeavor, Boston, Massachusetts.
(Google Books full view)


<Begin excerpt>
A drunken man was going down the street in Baltimore flinging his
hands right and left, when one of his arms came across the nose of a
passer-by. The passer-by instinctively clenched his fist and sent the
intruder sprawling to the ground. He got up, rubbing the place where
he was hit, and said, "I would like to know if this is not a land of
liberty." "It is," said the other fellow; "but I want you to
understand that your liberty ends just where my nose begins."
[Laughter and Applause.]
<End excerpt>

I would appreciate any earlier cites. Also, direct evidence of a
interesting/prominent person using the saying would be welcome.

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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