Where does the American idea of freedom or liberty originate?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There is no single correct answer to this question.  Different people can give different answers.  Therefore, I suggest that you consult your textbook or notes to see what answer your instructor expects.  One possible answer to this is that American ideas of liberty and freedom came originally from English ideas and were then modified by the colonial experience.

By the time that English people came to the American colonies, they had formed ideas about freedom and liberty.  England was seen at that time as the country with the greatest amount of liberty and freedom for its people.  This became even truer after the Glorious Revolution of 1688.  English people had had at least some ideas about limited governments and individual rights since the signing of Magna Carta in 1215.  These ideas had grown and expanded by the time the colonists arrived.

The English idea of freedom and liberty had also been enhanced by the Enlightenment.  Thinkers like John Locke argued for greater individual freedom and for more limited government.  Locke, for example, said that government was only legitimate if it ruled by the consent of the people and if it protected their life, liberty, and property.  This is clearly part of the origin of American ideas of freedom and liberty.

As the years went by in the Colonial Era, the English ideas of freedom and liberty were expanded.  Colonists were generally more independent and self-sufficient because there was so much empty (since the Indians had been pushed out) land to be had.  There was less intrusion from government.  The population was more diverse in terms of religious and national backgrounds.  All of these factors encouraged Americans to think of freedom and liberty in terms of being independent and being left alone by the government to be able to act as they wished.

Thus, I would argue that the American idea of liberty and freedom came originally from old English ideas, updated by the Enlightenment, and then modified by the particular circumstances in the American colonies. 

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