Spheres of Liberty: Changing Perceptions of Liberty in American Culture

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Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2001 - History - 194 pages
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Liberty, one of the most consequential words in our language, is one of the most treasured concepts in American thought--and one of the most intensely debated. Its meaning is constantly shifting, changing not only from one culture to another but also, over time, within the same culture. No two definitions of liberty seem alike.

In this subtle and illuminating work Michael Kammen traces the evolving concept of liberty throughout American history and provides a solid framework for understanding the meaning of the term today. He shows that by the early seventeenth century a tension between liberty and authority was well recognized. Throughout the eighteenth century and especially during the American Revolution a bond between liberty and property was asserted. By the end of the eighteenth century this concept of liberty was so well established that it remained dominant throughout the nineteenth. By the early twentieth century, as the notion of social justice gained prominence, liberty and justice were paired frequently, and by midcentury the two had become allied to general American values. Since the 1960s the union of liberty and equality has been the prevailing notion, and achieving them has proved a major objective.

In a lively and learned manner Kammen also shows that Americans have subscribed to different definitions of liberty concurrently. Above all, there has been a steady expansion of what is embraced by the concept of liberty. This expansion has created difficulties in public discourse, causing groups to misunderstand one another. On the other hand, interpretations of liberty have broadened to include such concepts as constraints on authority, a right to privacy, and the protection of personal freedoms.

In a new preface for this Banner Books edition Kammen responds to evaluations of earlier editions and places his views within the context of more recent studies.

Michael Kammen, a professor of American history and culture at Cornell University, is the author of American Culture, American Tastes: Social Change and the 20th Century and In the Past Lane: Historical Perspectives on American Culture.

  

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Contents

Liberty Authority and Property in Early America
15
Ordered Liberty and Law in NineteenthCentury America
65
Liberty Justice and Equality in TwentiethCentury America
127
Notes on Liberty in American Iconography
175
Index
181
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Page 8 - The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep's throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act, as the destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep was a black one. Plainly, the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty...
Page 4 - First, the people of the colonies are descendants of Englishmen. England, Sir, is a nation, which still I hope respects, and formerly adored, her freedom. The colonists emigrated from you, when this part of your character was most predominant ; and they took this bias and direction the moment they parted from your hands. They are therefore not only devoted to hberty, but to liberty according to English ideas, and on English principles.

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About the author (2001)

Michael Kammen is the Newton C. Farr Professor of American History and Culture at Cornell University. His books include Spheres of Liberty: Changing Perceptions of Liberty in American Culture and A Season of Youth: The American Revolution and the Historical Imagination. He was awarded the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for People of Paradox: An Inquiry Concerning the Origins of American Civilization.

Michael Gedaliah Kammen was born in Rochester, New York on October 25, 1936. He received a bachelor's degree in history from George Washington University and master's and doctoral degrees in history from Harvard University. He was a professor of American history and culture at Cornell University since 1965. He wrote numerous books including A Season of Youth, A Machine That Would Go of Itself, Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture, Visual Shock, and Digging Up the Dead: A History of Notable American Reburials. He received the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for history for People of Paradox: An Inquiry Concerning the Origins of American Civilization. He died on November 29, 2013 at the age of 77.

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