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Today, the majority of Americans, and other citizens of democratic countries, take these principles of democracy for granted. In fact, these principles have been expanded and applied in every aspect of life. However, what did these principles mean to the people of the 18th century? How did they define them?

"I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" - Patrick Henry

Patrick Henry uttered these immortal words in a speech before the Virginia Assembly on March 23, 1775. It was a rallying cry to the cause of freedom and liberty. Freedom and liberty are the underlying ideas of Democracy and the rights of the individual.

Today, the majority of Americans, and other citizens of democratic countries, take these principles of democracy for granted. In fact, these principles have been expanded and applied in every aspect of life. However, what did these principles mean to the people of the 18th century? How did they define them?

The 18th century definitions of these principles, which are two of the foundations of democracy, can be found in the writings of the era. In them, we can discover how they became a reality in the later half of the 18th century.

Liberty 18th Century Style

"When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them"- Declaration of Independence

The basic aim of the founding fathers was to set the limits of the power of government. These limits would in effect protect the people from abuses of power in their everyday lives. Documents like the Bill of Rights, The Declaration of Rights of Man, The Virginia Bill of Rights, and The Declaration of Independence contain these principles of liberty and freedom.

Freedom and Liberty Defined

These quotes are but a sample of how these principles evolved and became a reality.

Leviathan
"LIBERTY, or freedom, signifieth properly the absence of opposition (by opposition, I mean external impediments of motion); and may be applied no less to irrational and inanimate creatures than to rational."-Thomas Hobbes (Leviathan 1651)

Concerning Human Understanding
"By liberty, then, we can only mean a power of acting or not acting, according to the determinations of the will; this is, if we choose to remain at rest, we may; if we choose to move, we also may. Now this hypothetical liberty is universally allowed to belong to every one who is not a prisoner and in chains. Here, then, is no subject of dispute."-David Hume (Concerning Human Understanding)

Second Treatise on Government
"The natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man, but to have only the law of nature for his rule."- John Lock (Second Treatise on Government)

Virginia Bill of Rights
"That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety."- Virginia Bill of Rights

Declaration of Independence
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." - Declaration of Independence

Documents found on this site: 

  1. Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes 1651
  2. An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding
  3. Second Treatise Of Government by John Locke
  4. The Virginia Declaration Of Rights
  5. The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America