On July 4th 1776, 56 brave men sat down and signed what is known as the Declaration of Independence. This was the day that America declared its independence form Great Brittan. Well over 200 years later this struggle for freedom still exists today. People have different ideas about what freedoms are and should be granted to them. This is where the idea of liberalism comes in. This fundamental idea behind liberalism is granting liberty for every person regardless of race, religion, appearance or any other type of discriminative vernacular. Our liberties are based on the concept of free will, or having the right and power to do as we please. Liberties can range from the right to vote, speak, right to freedom of religion, or even the right to take a walk across America with nothing but the clothing on a person’s back. These liberties are import in a liberalistic society because liberalism is about making a life a person wants to live. People have the choices in life to become who they want. If a person fails the can only blame themselves not others. While people may be born in different classes, intelligence levels, and other advantages, it does not change a person potential. It is this “potential” that is granted in liberalism. With the freedom comes responsibility to not impede other’s rights to their own freedom. By violating another’s freedom we actually harm our own freedom. A person’s liberty is contingent on every other person granting these liberties towards one another, not the government saying we can have freedom. As long as each other’s liberties do not impede other’s freedoms we are free to express them. It is when our personal freedoms threaten the great good of the community that tells society to limit the freedom. In America we are a granted all of these liberties and are what I would call a liberalistic nation. However it was not always this way. America has evolved from the time our country was created, to equal racial rights, and eventually granting women rights. America is the perfect example of liberalism.
In America while people grant people liberties, the government mediates liberties that people can give each other. These limitations come in the form of law, acts and even the approval of social norms. As a citizen it is our right and obligation to live our life the way we choose to live it within the prescribed limitations. Such views coincide well with Mill’s view of liberty.
“The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs or attempt to impede it.” Mill.
Mill believes that people have the right to make their own choices, even if this means they are making the “wrong” choice. It is the shear ability to make that choice that is more important than the outcome. The only limitation Mill states is that a person can not harm another’s liberties. It is at this juncture that society has the right to take away that person’s freedom. Other than this society, no matter if the individual’s idea is completely unrealistic, has no grounds to stop a person’s choice. Without out this general respect for a person’s right to freedom, liberalism would not exist. As previously mentioned liberalism is about exercising personal aspirations. If we start limiting these aspirations towards things society views as right we destroy liberalism.
It is very interesting to see how liberty has change America into the place it is today. Back in 1776 we got our first taste of freedom when we broke away from Great Brittan. We did this for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. The major word there is liberty, what our country was founded upon. But the word liberty back in the Revolutionary War era is much different than the version of liberty today. When the word man was thrown around in every major document or anything that was of importance, the people actually meant man instead of mankind. The reason for this is that the men held the power, land, money and everything else worthwhile. The females were given little to no respect. When America won its freedom from Brittan, it was the men who really won. This type of mentality can be seen in a quote from John Adams,
“Yesterday the greatest question was decided which ever was debated in America; and a greater perhaps never was, nor will be, decided among men. A resolution was passed without one dissenting colony, “that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States.” Adams
The women of this era had no say in what was happening to them, but yet lived in a liberal nation. The view of women was not that they were not American, but it was rather view of inferiority. The Declaration of Independence was written by men for men. The men owned the land, property, the children, and the power, which meant they were the ones benefiting from the declaration. It is the idea that everyone was equal that drove the formation of our country, but it was the white males that were really benefiting. Liberalism worked because the idea of freedom unified the colonies. If this unification had not happened America may never have existed.
It was not just the women who were treated this way it was also the minorities that were view unequally. They were brought over from Africa and put into slavery to work in cotton fields as well as tobacco fields in the south. The worst part is that these same slaves fought for our country to be free and in return for helping us gain liberty we give them none back. That this time America had no liberties and not “men are created equal”. These words were just formalities. The only people who had liberty was the white male, and it stayed that way for many years until women’s rights movement as well as the civil rights movement came about.
The next major change in liberties started in America came in the 1840′s when the first women’s rights convention was held. But it was not until 1876 when the declaration of the rights of the women of the United States was written that change started to occur. The document outlined all of the grievances that had been committed upon women since the Declaration of Independence.
“The history of our country the past hundred years, has been a series of assumptions and usurpations of power over woman, in direct opposition to the principles of just government, acknowledged by the United States at its foundation, which are:
First. The natural rights of each individual.
Second. The exact equality of these rights.
Third. That these rights, when not delegated by the individual, are retained by the individual.
Fourth. That no person can exercise the rights of others without delegated authority.
Fifth. That the non-use of these rights does not destroy them” Women’s suffrage.
The women in our country were tired of being told in a document, that created the country they lived in, that they were equal but not being treated in that manner. This was the start of the change in thought. It is a combination of time and people’s mentality that brought about change. The idea of liberalism, equal rights for all, was prevailing. America as a whole was created by liberalism and people demanding liberty.
Another monumental change in the history of America is the civil rights movement of 1955-1968. This is the time in which America ended racial discrimination towards African Americans. Previously there was a segregated school, which means that Blacks and Whites could not attend the same school. The White schools were nicely furnished and got majority of the funding and were viewed as superior. Then the law of separate but equal came into effect in the Plessey V. Ferguson case. This was the government’s pitiful attempt at pretending to give African Americans liberties. When visionaries such as Martian Luther King came around people started taking civil rights more seriously. He fought for basic freedoms and eventually he did achieve his goal. This was the point in time where African Americans started seeing their liberties starting to form.
As shown by the previous examples in history, liberalism founded America. It started in 1776 with the signing of the Declaration of Independence and came all the way up to today, where in 2010 we had an African American and a woman run for high positions in government. As everyone knows we currently have a Barack Obama, an African American, as our president. This is simply not a victory for minorities and women, but rather a victory for America and its people. It shows just how far an idea such as liberalism can take a country and its people. We went from having minorities as slaves to one being the president. It has all been brought about by giving individuals equality in every aspect of life, and we have created a better world because of it. While I’m am not saying that all people feel as though equal rights is a good thing, but now a day’s most people do. This is a conformation change from in the past thinking that white males just deserved rights. It was not the government so much that influenced change, it was the people. It was the people give other people liberties and respect for one another. It is truly amazing that one idea can change a country in a little over 200 years. Liberalism is responsible for the way America is today.
Declaration of Rights of the Women of the United States by the National Woman Suffrage AssociationJuly 4th, 1876
Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan
Mill on Liberty