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Liberty in the United States of America


            Philosophy in the political realms defines liberty as a condition of an individual in which s/he is free and has a right to act in accordance to their own will. Other conceptions view liberty in terms of freedom from external coercion or compulsion. These include concepts from classical and individualist liberals. The concept varies widely but there is a two fold generalization that constitutes a dual nature-negative and positive liberty. In this case, positive liberty considers freedom to be an ability of society to attain an end. Negative liberty is best described by Thomas Hobbes.

Hobbes postulates that a free man is one who is capable to achieve his will without hindrance. Therefore, in the negative sense liberty is the state of being able to do what you desire without being hindered by anyone. Stuart Mill was perhaps the first man differentiate the two concepts of liberty: these were the freedom to act and absence of external coercion or compulsion. In his view positive liberty was having equal opportunity/means and not as much as to do with restraint on the will of an individual. On the other hand, negative liberty has to do with protection from tyranny/compulsion. Thus, negative liberty defines a realm that falls under the zone of ‘silence of law’. Therefore, with these few views it is conclusive that liberty encompasses principles that span over a wide array of issues-economic, political, social and ideological.


            Liberty has held a general principle that concerns issues on freedom. However, the views about liberty have transformed over time, in meaning and practice. The principles of liberty have changed greatly with regard to economy, politics and social life. This has been due to the changes in society and life. Therefore, it can be conclusively said that, while; liberty still espouses the same concerns about freedom it has not been the same through time. Thus, it has changed with time mutatis mutandis. A look at the state of liberty in America between 1789 and 1876 shows that liberty was not in the same status as it is today. Though its establishment had begun in the 17th century, the lives of all American residents were not experiencing liberty equally.

 The View of Liberty in America through Time (1789-1876)

            During the feudal era, a liberty was considered as a place of alloidal land whose regalian rights are already waived. Upper colonies in America desired religious freedom for themselves in the early 17th century. They held a belief that the entire body of laws should be based on church edicts (Puritan version of religious liberty). Williams the founder of Rhode Island was bale to establish a full religious liberty and democratic government which were restricted to the Island. However, beginning 1789 Madison championed the constitutional amendments that were established based on the declaration of rights in Virginia. In the year 1791 full religious liberty was attained via a clause established in the ‘Bills of Rights. Liberty in those times of the past mostly highlighted religious issues and the practice of religion and its edicts. In later days liberty concerns shifted towards an individualistic focus. After the individualistic focus the concerns shifted to equality of opportunity and resource distribution. Therefore, liberty has had various connotative meanings along the lines of freedom about life, property and beliefs (John, 12-16).

 Realization of liberty for different groups

            The effort to realize liberty has been elusive for some groups. This is exemplified by the Baptists who were denied religious liberty and as a result they were imprisoned for making religious publications. Other Baptists were also jailed for refusing to pay taxes. The early 17th century was characterized with lack of religious liberty and as a result, many religious groups felt oppressed and persecuted (‘’, n.pag).

             Similarly, slaves all over America were not completely free until the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment of the United States Of America Constitution in 1865. Slavery had remained to exist as a legal institution even after the founding of the nation in 1776. Therefore, as liberty was being campaigned for the slaves had no liberty and even as other groups such as the Baptists got liberty along religious lines the slaves still remained enslaved. A large number of the slaves were blacks that were enslaved to the European settlers (‘13th Amendment’, n.pag).


            The journey to achieve liberty has been long and difficult as the meaning and focus of what liberty entailed kept on changing with time. However, these changes have not eroded the meaning of liberty, but rather; built it upon the various sectors and part of society that it defines. This can be exemplified by the fact that liberty now defines religious aspects, property aspects, economic opportunity aspects as well as social factors in life. It is also evident according to the timeline that not all American residents got liberated from oppression at the same time. Thus, the fruits of liberty reached different groups at different times; with the black slaves probably being the last lot.

 Works Cited

‘’, The Baptist Index: Outline of Baptist persecution in colonial America. 2010. Web. 3rd June 2010.

Cornell University Law site, The United States Constitution: The 13th amendment. 2010. Web. 3rd June 2010.

John, Stuart, James. Liberty and Utilitarianism, pp12-16. New York, NY: Bantam Books, 1993. Print.


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