This week, as we remember the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination in Dallas, it's also important to remember what he stood for, not only how he died.

The ACLU of Massachusetts unearthed an opinion piece he wrote to their members while campaigning for president in 1960. In it, he wrote about the hazards of fear taking away our liberty.

"By civil liberties, I mean an individual's immunity from governmental oppression," Kennedy wrote. "A society which respects civil liberty realizes that the freedom of its people is built, in large part, upon their privacy."

Today, with unending revelations of  government spying on ordinary Americans, Kennedy’s words seem prescient.

Noting that national security too often is used to justify government abuses of power, Kennedy warned, “I do not mean to condemn our central effort to protect the nation’s security. ...Yet there are few among us who do not share a portion of the blame for not recognizing soon enough the dark tendency towards excess of caution.”

As we look to Congress to curb these abuses with the USA Freedom Act, let's keep these words in mind.

The full text of JFK's statement:

In the Democratic platform the Party's principles with respect to civil liberties are set forth in a section separate from that in which civil rights are considered. The separation seems to me, as it does to my Party, to be significant.
The contrast which we have in mind is this. By civil rights we mean those claims which the citizen has to the affirmative assistance of government. In an age which insistently and properly demands that government secure the weak from needless dread and needless misery, the catalogue of civil rights is never closed. The obligation of government in the area of civil rights is never wholly discharged.
By civil liberties, I mean an individual's immunity from governmental oppression. A society which respects civil liberty realizes that the freedom of its people is built, in large part, upon their privacy. The Bill of Rights, in the eyes of its framers, was a catalogue of immunities, not a schedule of claims. It was, in other words, a Bill of Liberties. The immunities defined in this Bill of Liberties were set forth in order that the promise of individual freedom might be made explicit. The framers dreamed that if their hope were codified man's energies of mind and spirit might be released from fear.
When civil rights are seen as claims and civil liberties as immunities, the government's differing responsibilities become clear. For the security of rights the energy of government is essential. For the security of liberty restraint is indispensable.
From time to time our national history has been marred by forgetfulness of the Jeffersonian principle that restraint is at the heart of liberty. In 1789 the Federalists adopted Alien and Sedition Acts in a shabby political effort to isolate the Republic from the world and to punish political criticism as seditious libel. In 1865 the Radical Republicans sought to snare private conscience in a web of oaths and affirmations of loyalty. Spokesmen for the South did service for the Nation in resisting the petty tyranny of distrustful vengeance. In the 1920's the Attorney General of the United States degraded his office by hunting political radicals as if they were Salem witches. The Nation's only gain from his efforts were the classic dissents of Holmes and Brandeis.
In our own times, the old blunt instruments have again been put to work. The States have followed in the footsteps of the Federalists and have put Alien and Sedition Acts upon their statute books. An epidemic of loyalty oaths has spread across the Nation until no town or village seems to feel secure until its servants have purged themselves of all suspicion of non-conformity by swearing to their political cleanliness.
Those who love the twilight speak as if public education must be training in conformity, and government support of science be public aid of caution.
We have also seen a sharpening and refinement of abusive power. The legislative investigation, designed and often exercised for the achievement of high ends, has too frequently been used by the Nation and the States as a means for effecting the disgrace and degradation of private persons. Unscrupulous demagogues have used the power to investigate as tyrants of an earlier day used the bill of attainder.
The architects of fear have converted a wholesome law against conspiracy into an instrument for making association a crime. Pretending to fear government they have asked government to outlaw private protest. They glorify "togetherness" when it is theirs, and call it conspiracy when it is that of others.
In listing these abuses I do not mean to condemn our central effort to protect the Nation's security. The dangers that surround us have been very great, and many of our measures of vigilance have ample justification. Yet there are few among us who do not share a portion of the blame for not recognizing soon enough the dark tendency towards excess of caution.
It is an unhappy irony that the drift towards conformity has been encouraged by our faith in government. A Nation that extends the reach of public authority seems likely to forge that each extension endangers traditional immunities and privacies. A deep and proper concern for the public welfare seems to breed indifference to the significance for all of us of the individual's conscience, the personal conviction, the private effort. Trusting the legislature to secure our civil rights we have relied on courts to safeguard our civil liberty. We have too often asked the judges to save us from ourselves.
Judge Learned Hand, our most distinguished jurist, has told of his concern that we may "rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws and upon courts....Liberty," he tells us, "lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it."
If Judge Hand be right that in the last analysis it is not through law that civil liberty finds its security, are we who are engaged in the calling of government absolved of all responsibility for its protection? My Party and I have made it clear that we do not share the view of the present administration that leadership consists merely in the execution of the law.
In emphasizing the need for moral leadership from government, we are not asking for the birth of new authority. We seek the revival of American tradition—a tradition made explicit in the Constitution of Massachusetts. John Adams and the men of his time saw that qualities of mind and spirit that cannot be legislated into being may nonetheless be nourished by public authority. They therefore included the following provision in the- Constitution of the Commonwealth: "It shall be the duty of Legislatures and Magistrates, in all future periods of this Commonwealth…to countenance and inculcate sincerity, good humour, and all social affections, and generous sentiments among the people."
I firmly believe that a people blessed with the qualities of mind and heart that Adams thus enumerated need not fear for the condition of civil liberty. I mean to do my part as Chief Magistrate of the Nation to countenance and inculcate these ancient virtues.