Liberty and freedom: Americans agree that these values are fundamental to our nation, but what do they mean? How have their meanings changed through time? In this new volume of cultural history, David Hackett Fischer shows how these varying ideas form an intertwined strand that runs through the core of American life.
Fischer examines liberty and freedom not as philosophical or political abstractions, but as folkways and popular beliefs deeply embedded in American culture. Tocqueville called them "habits of the heart." From the earliest colonies, Americans have shared ideals of liberty and freedom, but with very different meanings. Like DNA these ideas have transformed and recombined in each generation.
The book arose from Fischer's discovery that the words themselves had differing origins: the Latinate "liberty" implied separation and independence. The root meaning of "freedom" (akin to "friend") connoted attachment: the rights of belonging in a community of freepeople. The tension between the two senses has been a source of conflict and creativity throughout American history.
Liberty & Freedom studies the folk history of those ideas through more than 400 visions, images, and symbols. It begins with the American Revolution, and explores the meaning of New England's Liberty Tree, Pennsylvania's Liberty Bells, Carolina's Liberty Crescent, and "Don't Tread on Me" rattlesnakes. In the new republic, the search for a common American symbol gave new meaning to Yankee Doodle, Uncle Sam, Miss Liberty, and many other icons. In the Civil War, Americans divided over liberty and freedom. Afterward, new universal visions were invented by people who had formerly been excluded from a free society--African Americans, American Indians, and immigrants. The twentieth century saw liberty and freedom tested by enemies and contested at home, yet it brought the greatest outpouring of new visions, from Franklin Roosevelt's Four Freedoms to Martin Luther King's "dream" to Janis Joplin's "nothin' left to lose."
Illustrated in full color with a rich variety of images, Liberty and Freedom is, literally, an eye-opening work of history--stimulating, large-spirited, and ultimately, inspiring.
English-speaking people have distinct words for the concepts of freedom and liberty. But that doesn't mean everyone agrees on what they mean, as Fischer (author of the bestselling Washington's Crossing) reveals in this exhaustive study of how the two have been defined in words and images from colonial times to the present. Short chapters supply the backstories of familiar symbols like the Liberty Bell, the Statue of Liberty and Uncle Sam, and also reintroduce forgotten figures like Brother Jonathan, an early 19th-century representation of America as a country bumpkin that was popular in Europe. In a precursor to today's "salad bowl" image of cultural diversity, artists of the Revolutionary era portrayed America as "a flight of birds, a flock of sheep, even a kettle of fish." As the modern age approaches, photography becomes increasingly important, as seen in a triptych of riveting images from the Civil Rights movement. But the record also becomes somewhat muddled, Fischer finds, with Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix appearing as images on nearly equal footing with Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. In the end, the oversize, beautifully illustrated book shifts subtly from a rich graphic survey, incorporating painting, flags and sculpture, to a broader chronicle of the many ways Americans have articulated their most cherished ideals. Over 400 illus., 250 in color.