September 09, 2019 in Sociology


Freedom in the American context is a multifaceted concept just like equality and justice. According to Farmer there is no complete unanimity in American politics and history on exactly what are the meaning of freedom as different eras had freedom taking different meanings. However, the concept of self-determination is viewed as including political sovereignty, civil liberties, economic autonomy and other specific lack of restrictions listed in the US Constitution. In Heuvel observation, the American Founders viewed freedom as independence from political totalitarianism and monarchists with special treats from the crown. During the Great Depression, freedom was viewed from an economic sense that a new absolutism of commercial empires had formed within American borders that threatened freedom. At the onset of World War II freedom was viewed in the form of “four freedoms” with the war being fought to protect these four freedoms of speech, religion, from fear, and from want. These changing aspects of freedom bring out the question of what then is freedom in the modern American context? This paper seeks to answer this question though reviewing the changing nature of the concept of freedom throughout history.

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Freedom in American History to Date

The US boast of having a name as the shining example of liberty and diversity from the colonial age of its past. However, this was not the case as from the onset, self-determination in America was connected to a combination or religious and racial connections that advantaged some dwellers of North America above others. Although European notions of authorizations set the manner for what was conceivable, these liberties seemed different in colonial North America. In North America the indigenous and African peoples together with their cultures had some sway on matters. As such, the result was greater levels of freedom for some and extraordinary deprivation of self-determination for others. This inequality in freedoms made colonial America a better and worse of society for greater diversity than Europe. However, as the American culture started becoming more diverse, people of different ethnic and religious origins gradually gained rights that had been earlier a reserve of the Protestant English men of property. 

Foner views the definition of freedom in America as meaning sundry things under different past eras and still refer to unalike things to unalike Americans. As such the ways of thinking concerning freedom among many Americans is an alien concept on other developed democracies. In Foner opinion, the notion of free will is more fundamental to American’s view of themselves as individuals and as a nation. In essence, the freedom is an essential term in America’s political vocabulary and has always been used interchangeably with liberty. Freedom is deeply embedded in American’s history records, language, and day-to-day lives. In fact, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution lists freedom as among man’s inalienable rights of which its security is the Constitution’s main purpose.

In times of war, there has been an invoking of Freedom to mobilize support for the war. In fact, most of the wars fought in America and by America have always been under the pretext of protecting their freedom. For instance, the Civil War was fought to bring about “first-hand beginning of self-determination”, the Second World War was fought for the “Four Sovereignties” and the Cold War was fought to protect the “Free World”. More recent wars, like the Iraq invasion, were titled “Operation Iraqi Freedom” intended to secure Iraq’s freedom and ensure America’s freedom from terrorist attacks. Moreover, recent acts on terror through missile attacks on terrorist hideouts in offshore nations were on the premise of protecting the freedom of Americans. 

Throughout history, the American’s affection for sovereignty has been signified by liberty caps, poles, and statutes. This love for freedom has further been demonstrated by escaping from slave owners, scorching draft cards and stamps, and picketing for the right to vote for women and African-Americans or ex-slaves. It is true that other countries cherish freedom; however, the philosophies of sovereignty take a more conspicuous place in secretive and open discussions within the US than in these other nations. According to Ralph Bunche, every person in the American streets, white, yellow, red or black understands that America is the land-dwelling of the free and the birthplace of liberty. However, despite, or due to the ubiquity of freedom in America, sovereignty has never been a permanent grouping or notion. Rather, it has been and still is the question of stubborn conflicts in the history of America.

According to Farmer, freedom in America’s history is an account of differences, arguments, and brawls rather than a convention of undying groupings or an evolutionary chronicle towards a predetermined objective. As such, the meaning of freedom has been fashioned at all societal levels, not just in congressional discussions and party-political discourses but on farmsteads and picket lines and even in bedchambers.  If the definition of freedom was a ground of disagreement throughout history, then the meaning of those entitled to freedom too was a point of divergence. Having been founded on the assumption that liberty is menfolk’s entitlement, the US set out to unashamedly rob many of its people of self-determination. According to Fischer, efforts to delimit freedom enjoyed by peoples along lines of social being have been persistent in the history of the US.

According to Hakim, self-determination has time and again been demarcated by restrictions. The slave master’s self-government rested on the actuality of serfdom, the overhyped autonomy of menfolk on the subservient situation of females. As such, it has been through fights at the boundaries of autonomy that the determinations of women, ethnic minorities, workers, and other groups to acquire their freedom that the denotation of free will has expanded. This connotation of liberty has not only extended but has also changed and its notion has lengthened to levelheadedness for which it was not originally envisioned. Additionally, slavery helped shape freedom as a nous of personality and individuality for all Americans giving their nationhood from the onset a commanding exclusionary aspect. According to Fischer, as Americans celebrated their freedom the description of those eligible to delight in the “permissions of permission” sheltered by the Constitution came to be distinguished by race. It is worth noting that those privileged to enjoy freedom, excluded the Blacks, as the Constitution declared that no black person could ever become an American Citizen. However, through the struggles of these outcasts and outsiders the notion of freedom was revived as a worldwide legacy and a justly mortal epitome. As such, the meanings of freedoms and those entitled to enjoy freedom was enlarged to include women and Blacks.

The meaning of freedom in the current age is unlike the preceding years that entailed a push for voting rights, education, public health, and other civil rights. Freedom today demands the making of diversity a strength and the defending of women’s equality and the personal rights and liberties that have been won through great historical struggles. Freedom today entails not succumbing to a backlash against these hard-won personal rights. Freedom further entails, releasing the nation’s leaders from the corruptions of politics and big money.


There has been a change in how freedom is viewed throughout history, the Great Depression, saw freedom being seen in an pecuniary sense where a new absolutism of monetary empires was perceived as threatening the freedom of American from within its borders. The onset of the World War II had the war being fought to protect the “four freedoms”. The Civil War saw the fight for the rebirth of a new freedom. What is clear is that every era had its definition and limits of freedom. This changing aspect of freedom with each epoch brings out the question of what then is freedom in the modern American context. Presently, freedom is being viewed as not succumbing to a loss of the freedoms already attained. However, studies should be conducted on the meaning of Freedom in the present American context, especially in the political scene.

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