What does Jay-Walking have to do with Liberty?

What does Jay-Walking have to do with Liberty?

Actually, that’s the wrong question. The correct question is this:

Why do we refuse to teach our children personal responsibility?  Why make it a crime to cross the street wherever you choose?

I can hear the gasps of horror already and I’ve not even finished penning this article! But if everyone just crossed the road wherever they wanted, well, it would be anarchy!

Perhaps, but more importantly it would also be free. Free to learn what our Nanny State so diligently protects them from: the consequences of their own actions.

Today we think nothing of a myriad of laws dictating our every move including when, and how, we may do something as simple as cross the street. Those of us fighting for our precious Rights and Freedoms on so many fronts are often called crazy and much worse.

You’ve heard the terms before, uttered with the greatest of disdain…

Constitutionalist, freedom-lover, right-wing conspiracy theorist, anarchist… Christian.

Here then, is a letter written by J. Gresham Machen, one of those early freedom-loving men who dared speak out against the encroaching tyranny of his day: jay-walking.


These anti-pedestrian laws are intended either for the protection of the pedestrian, or for the convenience of the motorist. In either case . . . they are wrong.

If they are intended to protect the pedestrian from himself, they are paternalistic. I am opposed to paternalism. Among other far more serious objections to it is the objection that it defeats its own purpose.

The children of some over-cautious parents never learn to take care of themselves, and so are far more apt to get hurt than children who lead a normal life.

So I do not believe that in the long run it will be in the interests of safety if people get used to doing nothing except what a policeman or a traffic light tells them to do, and thus never learn to exercise reasonable care.

I am sorry when I see people taking foolish chances on the street. I believe in urging them not to do it. If they do it in outrageous and unreasonable fashion I should not be particularly averse to fining them for obstructing traffic. I rather think that might even be done under existing laws.

But I am dead opposed to subjecting a whole city because of the comparatively few incautious people to a treadmill regime like that which prevails in Western cities. I resent such a regime for myself.

I have tried it, and I know that it prevent me from the best, and simplest pleasure that a man can have, which is walking. But I resent it particularly because it is a discrimination against the poor and in favor of the rich.

That brings us to the real purpose of these laws, which is not that pedestrians should be spared injury but that motorists should be spared a little inconvenience.

I drive a car from the driver’s point of view. I know how trifling is the inconvenience which is saved thus at the expense of the liberty of the poorer people in the community. Indeed, I do not believe that in the long run it is for the benefit even of the motorist.

I think it is a dreadful thing to encourage in the motorist’s mind, as these laws unquestionably do, the notion that he is running on something like a railroad track cleared for his special benefit.

After all, the most serious objection to these doctrinaire, paternalistic laws is the bad effect which they have upon the mentality of people.

I do think we ought to call a halt to the excessive mechanization of human life. When I am in one of those over-regulated Western cities, I always feel as though I were in some kind of penal institution.
I should certainly hate to see Philadelphia make like those places.

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