The Meaning of Freedom in the Age of Emancipation Summary

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In the beginning of Eric Foner’s essay, he talks of how devoted Americans are to their freedom. Different titles, for example, on history textbooks suggest just this: Land of the Free and The Rise of American Freedom. People on the outside of America looking in find this astonishing. The pride that is shown by Americans is outrageous to people that do not know what freedom is or people who have some freedom don’t see what we Americans do. He then comes to the point that the use of the word ‘freedom’ has “literally hundreds of definitions.” He argues this not only because of the survey, but the fact that many different definitions are created and re-created through the eyes of different people.

The belief of many was that freedom was an English birthright and the British Empire as the world’s sole repository of freedom helped recast imperial wars against Catholic France and Spain as struggles between liberty and tyranny, a definition widely disseminated in the colonies as well as England itself. In the American Revolution, no word was more frequently invoked that “liberty.” There were liberty trees, liberty poles, and even the Sons and Daughters of Liberty. Liberty then was more than an idea; it was a passion for many. Thomas Paine put it best in his everlasting book, Common Sense: “O! ye that love mankind…stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia and Africa have long expelled her. Europe regards her as a stranger, and England hat given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.” During the time that Common Sense was published, the 1770s, about twenty percent of the colonial population were slaves. The colonists then described their relationship with England to that of enslavement. Foner also quotes John Dickinson who says that those who are taxed without their consent are slaves. Thomas Paine defined hereditary rule as “a...
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