Discuss what happens when competing ideas about American freedom are evident.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There have not been many instances when competing ideas about American freedom presented itself.  One example would be at the Constitutional Convention.  Delegates were decidedly on two different planes regarding American freedom.  The delegates that favored a vision of freedom that emphasized the central government having power were called the Federalists.  They believed that freedom meant living in a setting where government could be seen to resolve problems as they arose and that freedom is not very effective when lawlessness and a lack of control results.  This is can be contrasted with the competing vision of freedom that presented itself at the Constitutional Convention in the form of the antifederalists.  These believers in freedom saw it as something that individuals needed to have in order to check the encroachment of the federal government.  In this particular context, the issue of competing ideas about American freedom were negotiated through the presence of the Bill of Rights in the new Constitution.

Another, more dour instance, where competing ideas about American freedom arose during the Civil War.  This time, the competing visions of American freedom held the North advocating one of two positions on freedom.  The first was that freedom can only be recognized in a coherent and unified nation.  Keeping the Union together was the critical element to a national expression of freedom.  The second, and more tangential articulation of freedom at the start of the war, was the idea that American freedom should apply to all of its citizens, and in this was the abolition of slavery.  The Northern position of freedom was contrasted with the Southern vision of freedom in which slavery was seen as an extension of one's own traditions and expressions, with which federal government should not interfere.  Slavery was seen as a tradition, something that Southerners did and its presence represented an expression of freedom that did not need to be interfered with from the North.  Compromises on both competing issues of freedom failed and the result was that there was an attempt to break America into two nations, setting the stage for the Civil War. In both of these, we see that different approaches can be taken when there are competing ideas about American freedom evident.

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