Freedom is a constant theme throughout American history. The country was founded on this theme and continues to define the ideas of freedom today. The American government is based off this theme. It was a debate and issue of conflict among the settlers, Colonies, slaves, and within the Union. However, many early Americans did not share the same vision of freedom. African slaves had a different vision of freedom that was literal. They sought relief from the life of bondage. The Europeans that settled and colonized in America defined freedom much differently. Their concept of freedom included religious freedom, economic freedom, and independence. Although their ideas differ, early Americans defined the new world constructed on their concept of freedom.
When Columbus began his journey, he wanted to explore the world to bring Christianity to foreign lands and cultures. This can be observed in his biography when describing his challenge to find a financial investor. However, this can also be observed in the writings of his diary when he landed on the shores of the Caribbean and thought he found India. When he meets the indigenous people of the island he calls them, “good servants and ready Christians”, (Columbus 1492). Columbus wanted to introduce Christianity to a free world. Although he did not land in America, his journey made a significant impact on what would become known as the United States of America. Columbus “discovery” helped to find a new nation based on freedom and liberty.
Many early settlers joined the Colonies to avoid religious persecution. This can be observed in the Puritans of New England. Puritans were former members of the Anglican Church of England. However, when groups wanted to separate from the Church, the English sought to imprison them. As a result, many joined the Colonies. Other separate groups include the Quakers. The Puritans were the first religious sect to join the colonies besides Anglicans. They came to the Colonies to avoid religious persecution therefore their vision of freedom was based on religious freedom. The Puritans and others sought freedom to practice their religion. This can be observed in the ordinances of the Mayflower Compact of 1620. “Having undertaken, for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith and honour of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern parts of Virginia”, (Mayflower Compact, 1620). As a result, many earlier settles found themselves in the New World for the freedom of religion.
A century later, the concept of freedom changed for some Americans. Their concept of freedom was based off ideas of independence. During the 1700’s there were tensions Colonialist and King Georgia III. The British monarchy was in debt from war and trade and began to tax the Colonist. While some Colonist thought the tax unfair, others pushed for democracy by representation in the English Parliament. These disagreements changed the concept of freedom for Colonist. They associated the New World with independence and freedom. Many left England for America to remove themselves from the rule of the English government. Colonists were independent. They developed trade, commerce, and a new society. They followed the rules of law established within their Colony and not the English government. This relationship between freedom and independence can be observed in the events of the Boston Tea Party and in the words of Thomas Paine. Thomas Paine authored the political pamphlet “Common Sense”. The article was popular throughout the Colonies and in England that expressed the concepts of freedom and independence. Paine declares himself independent from English rule promoting sovereignty and a balanced government. “Independency means no more than this, whether we shall make our own law or, whether the king, the greatest enemy which this continent hath, or can have, shall tell us there shall be no laws but such as I like”, (Paine, 1776).
Before the turn of the 19th century, America exercised their freedom and officially established the United States. The relationship between independence and freedom can be observed in government documents including the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. The Constitution states government is to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Prosperity”, (US Constitution, 1788). This directly express government concerns with individual freedom and the liberty to self-govern. The Declaration of Independence states that Americans have “unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. From the words expressed in these government documents, freedom is related to man’s independence. Without independence and the right to self-govern Americans would be unable to have liberty, prosperity, nor happiness.
After the end of the Revolutionary War and America gained independence, the concept of freedom changed. During the 1800’s the concept of freedom was based on the literal interpretation of free and freedom of enterprise. These interpretations of freedom were related to the institution of slavery. In the Letters from an American Farmer, the farmer expressed his love for the New World and his freedom. His freedom was associated with his enterprise. The farmer considered himself doing well. He prided himself on his pounds of meat in storage and owning land. The farmer also owned slaves. He considered them happy and fed. His freedom was his economic empire, his liberty to own livestock and farm land. The farmer lived during the first part of the 1800’s after the Revolutionary war. “The instant I enter on my own land, the bright idea of property, of exclusive right, of independence exalt my mind” (American Farmer 1818).
During the 1850’s and 1860’s there was much advocacy against slavery. Abolitionist rallied against slavery including former slave W.E.B Du Bois and other free Africans. They interpreted freedom literally. Throughout Colonialism and during the Civil War slavery was a practiced institution, specifically throughout the South. Africans were captured and forced to serve in the institution for life. Africans were born and died enslaved. Therefore, they sought literal freedom. Northern whites such as Quakers became abolitionist. They encouraged the public and the government to abolish the establishment. W.E.B Du Bois was also against the instruction of slavery. “ In the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible which are disregarded and trampled upon… everything that serves to perpetuate slavery the great sin and shame of America” (Du Bois 1850).
America was founded on the ideas of freedom. Although the concept of freedom changed from person to person freedom has become the foundation of America. The country was developed around this theme and today the government is based on the concept of freedom. Freedom shaped and influence American involvement in War and conflicts. This includes the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and WWII. The theme of freedom is evident in the Constitution which shapes the laws of our country. Today, many continue to take refuge in America against religious persecution, opportunity, liberty, or economy. America is freedom. She is a nation that represents freedom for many, despite the differing ideas and concepts.
Du Bois. (1850).The Meaning of fourth of july for a negro. Retrieved from: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h2927t.html
Letters from an american farmer. (1813). Retrieved from http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/letter_02.asp
Mayflower compact. (1620). Retrieved from http://www.ushistory.org/documents/mayflower.htm
Paine, T. (1791). Thomas paine’s common sense. Retrieved from http://www.earlyamerica.com/earlyamerica/milestones/commonsense/
The constitution. (1787). Retrieved from http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution.html