How Has Idea of Freedom Changed in America Essay

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Conceptions of American Freedom

Freedom is an extremely important aspect of American culture, history, and identity. The European settlers that sailed to what would later become the United States of America, came for key reasons, one of which was freedom of religion. The concept of freedom was in one way very important to the people of the United States. Certainly, the concept of freedom in America is fraught with conflict, tension, and paradox. It is common knowledge that the freedoms of one particular group of Americans was increased with the elimination of the freedoms of other groups in the United States. While white males enjoyed the most freedoms, and declared to have build a country heavily predicated on guaranteed freedoms, the freedoms of women, enslaved Africans, and the indigenous tribes of natives who lived in the country for thousands of years did not have many freedoms relative to theirs.

As American history persisted, a great deal of the most significant moments stem from the struggle of certain groups for certain freedoms. Though all groups of Americans were not granted or guaranteed rights and freedoms, many Americans have participated in the struggle for freedoms. Thus, if certain people who consider themselves Americans do not have the same rights as other Americans, what all Americans have in common is the freedom to fight for additional freedoms that they feel they justifiably need and deserve. The paper will consider how the idea of freedom in America has changed over the course of American history.

There is something fundamentally debatable about the concept of freedom as such. What people consider necessary freedoms change over time in some cases. The contexts within which people struggle for and deny freedoms are just as important as the freedoms themselves. Democracy Web explicates:

Freedom is a complex topic, so complex that it serves as a good example of what philosophers call an essentially contested concept. Particularly because freedom is something we value so highly, there is constant debate over exactly what the word means. These disputes are often politically charged, and they are not likely ever to be completely resolved. Analysis of the idea is also complicated because it is impossible to consider freedom without taking into account related concepts such as democ[footnoteRef:0]racy and constitutionalism, problems such as majority rule and minority rights, and the tension between liberty and equality. Nor is it possible to ignore the political and historical context in which ideas of freedom developed. (Democracy Web 2012) [0: Democracy Web -- Comparative Studies in Freedom. 2012. The Idea of Freedom. Web, Available from: ]

Freedom is not a new idea and neither is the debate over what it means as well as who gets it. Freedom in America is often associated with politics. Americans enjoy debating their politics as much as they enjoy their freedoms. To threaten the freedom of an American is a very serious gesture, as freedom is directly associated with democracy, and America proclaims to be the greatest example of democracy in existence. When we speak of freedom, we speak of restrictions and limitations indirectly. Thus, since freedom is such a significant topic in American culture, the inequities in areas such as class, education, and ethnicity are implied in the examination in the changes in the idea of American freedom. Democracy Web mentions other topics that are essential to freedom such as constitutionalism, knowing that the United States Constitution is one of the most important documents in United States history which details and specifically outlines the rights and freedoms of American citizens. XND Magazine (2012) concurs:

Freedom, or more accurately, liberty is an idea that has become inextricably linked to any discussion of American ideas. However, the idea of liberty as a political end in and of itself is a byproduct of the European Enlightenment. When Thomas Jefferson referred to the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness laid out so breathtakingly in the Declaration of Independence, he was embellishing on the philosophy of Englishman John Locke. (XND Magazine 2012)

The idea of American freedom is so fundamental to American identity and culture that to speak of freedom is to open a discussion on some of the core aspects of Am[footnoteRef:1]erican culture overall. The very foundations of America are intensely connected to freedom, specifically with regards to freedom of choice, freedom of ownership, and freedom for self-defense. [1: XND Magazine. 2012. American Freedom -- the idea. Web, Available from: ]

Early Americans desired the freedom to own property, whether it was land, people, animals, objects, or otherwise. Early Americans additionally valued the freedom to bear arms, which in the 21st century is a highly contested issue. This is what the paper referred to earlier with respect to the definition of freedom and the context in which freedom is fought for or denied. In the context of the 18th century, the right to own and use guns at will was a bit of a no-brainer. In the context of the 21st century, the freedom to purchase, own, and operate guns is often an intense debate on individual to national levels. Therefore, the idea of freedom changes over time as the context of the country changes, which means as the culture changes. The culture changes as a result of the loss or gaining of additional freedoms of certain groups.

Consider how the country changed when segregation became illegal. Consider how the country changed when alcohol was illegal. Further consider how the country changed when a great deal of minority groups gained additional rights as a result of the Civil Rights Movement/Era of the 1960s. Think to the turn of the 20th century, at the climax of industrialization, when laborers, women, and children gained additional rights in the workplace with respect to wages, safety, and the work week. All of the struggles for rights mentioned altered the course of American history in major ways in every case. Furthermore, one could argue that the idea of freedom in America is closely related to the course of American history and the expression of American culture, which is very influential around the whole world:

The American idea is no longer bound to a specific place on a map. It exists in many forms all over the world. There is still some distance to be traveled until all members of society experience the fruits of liberty. But one thing is for certain: American freedom grows, never shrinks. It expands rather than contracts. (X[footnoteRef:2]ND Magazine 2012) [2: XND Magazine. 2012. American Freedom -- the idea. Web, Available from: ]

The idea of freedom has changed over the course of American history, but at the same time, there are elements of the idea of American freedom that have remained the same. One the one hand, the kinds of groups and the specific freedoms that they fight for, do change over time. Women may want some kind of rights at one point in history, and another set of rights in another. Native Americans may have not fought for rights in a longer time, but then in other parts of history they fight a great deal. Where as in other points in history, middle class Americans did not have so much to fight for, but in the 21st century, they fight for rights of protection against big private business and a too lenient federal government.

The changing context and actual changes in American culture (such as the changing population of the course of American history) contribute directly to the kinds of struggles and the kind of freedoms struggled for. What does not change about the idea of freedom in America is that no matter the group, and no matter the right, Americans fight for the freedom to choose and for the freedom to access. 21st…[continue]

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