On July Fourth, Americans celebrated. There were picnics, fireworks, ball games, patriotic music, and many other joyous activities. What is it exactly that we celebrate? While many people today use the terms freedom and liberty synonymously, the founders viewed them quite distinctly.
The Declaration of Independence proclaimed that the colonies “are and of right ought to be free.” The next sentence explains that they are no longer subject to the British Crown or to Parliament. We declared that we were free from Britain. The concept of freedom is consistently used in founding literature as the absence of oppression or restriction. When people are tyrannized, it is the removal of the tyrant’s control that results in freedom.
Secondly in understanding the founding concept of freedom is that it was always individual. References to a “free society” do not refer to a categorical freedom that passed to all within an existing group by edict, but rather the shared values exhibited by a group of individuals who have had individual oppression removed, andtherefore share the state of being free. A free society is a community of free individuals.
Liberty however is not a negative, but a positive term. While freedom indicates what we are loosed from, liberty is the result of freedom and states what we are going to. It tells what we can now do because we are free.
Eighteenth century writers commonly used the phrase “set at liberty.” This indicated that those in possession of liberty could do things they had previously been restricted from doing. Those who have liberty should be actively pursuing actions related to that liberty.
When the Declaration of Independence stated that the United States of America were “free,” that document immediately stated that because of freedom, the states “had full power to declare war, conclude peace, and …do all other acts and things which free and independent state may of right do.” Liberty is not the same as freedom, it is the result of freedom.
Next issue: What Rights are included in the Constitution