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The meaning of Liberty Was freedom from oppression by
fought because they liked the excitement, or to gratify a grudge against the tories. But for most it was not a selfish or an exciting experience. It was taking a desperate chance for a cause that they believed in. If we can look back and bring before us vividly the situation which the men gathered in Philadelphia on that 4th of July faced; if we can picture the terrible odds against success, the certain penalties of failure, the inevitable hardships, we begin to realize faintly how much was implied in the concluding words of the Great Declaration:
“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honour.”
The essential meaning of Liberty in the principles of '76 was evidently freedom from oppression by the government. There is not a word in them about oppression of one class by another. There is not a word about burdens of poverty or unfair contracts. Men felt that if the government would let them alone they could themselves get a living and pursue happiness. It was government that they were afraid of. They wanted to have a government that could not, if it wished, treat any of its subjects unjustly. So they would have it limited by law. To prevent it from being too strong they would divide it into three separate powers, and make each a sort of check upon the others. The best place to study this plan will be when we take up the meaning of the Constitution. We call attention now to the fact that it was incorporated in the Virginia Declaration of 1776.
DEVELOPMENT AND PRESENT PROBLEMS OF
To: principles which were expressed and fought
for in 1776 have remained as an important part of the American spirit ever since. When the Constitution under which our national government was reorganized in 1789 was first framed, many of the rights noted in the Declaration of Independence were not mentioned. It was provided that the writ of habeas corpus “shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the Public Safety may require it ’’; and, further, that “The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by jury.” But the other rights expressed in the Virginia Declaration are not explicitly mentioned. Many were fearful that the new government might be tyrannical if no provision was made concerning the rights for which the war had been fought. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The absence of expressed declaration insuring freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of the person under the uninterrupted protection of the habeas corpus, and trial by jury in Civil as well as Criminal cases, excited my jealousy; and the reeligibility of the President for life, I quite disapprove.” This feeling expressed by Jefferson was so general that ten amendments were adopted in the very first year, embodying essentially those rights which Englishmen had stated in the Petition of Right presented
ments to the Constitution as a bill of rights
Liberty and slavery
to Charles I in 1628, and again in the Bill of Rights drawn up by the House of Commons in 1689. They have a large place in our legal system.
It was because liberty to the men of '76 meant civil and political liberty that when they wrote “All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty,” it never occurred to them that this excluded slavery. It is a good illustration of what so often happens, namely, that we may hold views that are really inconsistent without noticing the fact. Yet almost as soon as the war was over Congress passed the famous ordinance of 1787 for the government of the territory northwest of the Ohio River, which provided
“Article the sixth. There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory otherwise than in the punishment of crimes, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”
and the astonishing thing is that this provision was
of "76 feared most. But it was not long before they began to see that fighting is not the most important way of securing freedom. A man who is ignorant is not free. He does not know how to protect himself. He does not know how to take advantage of opportunities. He is easily deceived. We have seen how the Peasants’ Revolt in England and the similar revolt in Germany failed largely because of the ignorance of the peasants. The colonists had had schools of various kinds, and in spite of their poverty had founded colleges. But these latter were chiefly intended for educating ministers. The ordinance of 1787, however, had a provision almost as significant as its article prohibiting slavery.
“Religion, morality and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”
In accordance with the spirit of this provision, a generous portion of all the public lands in the Northwestern States was set apart for the support of schools and universities. Usually when a new township was laid out, six miles square and including thirty-six sections, two sections were set apart as school sections. On this foundation great school systems have been built up, in which tuition is free from the elementary school to the university. Their purpose has been well stated by President Angell of the University of Michigan: “It has been my aim that every child in the state might see from his home a path open before him to the University.”
In the East, schools were established more largely by private contributions, but in many cases the states gave aid. In the early part of the nineteenth century
Liberation from disease
the academy was a favorite type of school and the thought of education as a means of preserving liberty was prominent. In one such academy, founded in 1804, the application for a charter reads:
“Considering the right condition of youths as the greatest security of free states, and the only means by which their independence can be maintained in purity, and there being no academical institution within thirty miles of this place, they believe that it would be of public utility to have an academy erected in the town of Monson.”
In the case of education, as in so many other instances, liberty was at first sought for a part of the community. Girls were not at first admitted to grammar schools. In one case they were allowed to sit on the steps. The writer’s grandmother was refused permission to attend school because in the judgment of the clergyman who conducted the school “the female mind is not capable of understanding grammar.”
The academies, however, were mainly co-educational; and in the West co-education has been the rule in elementary and high schools. Opportunities for higher education for women have now been provided in all parts of the country, so that we may properly say free education is a part of the American idea.
In a still larger sense education is necessary for freedom; only recently has this come to be realized. With the rapid growth of natural science and of invention it has become evident that freedom from disease, freedom from poverty, freedom from fears of many kinds all depend upon education. People die from many diseases which are now known to be entirely unnecessary. Smallpox, which used to be a dreadful scourge, attacking nearly half the people of the country and