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“The world has never had a good definition of liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in need of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing.” – Abraham Lincoln

Liberty is essential to the very fabric of America. People of other nations look to America as a beacon of liberty and hope, as an example to which they should aspire. The American dream promises that every person, regardless of race, class, or sex, has a chance to live a prosperous and good life for himself and his family through the recognition of man’s inherent liberty.

But what is liberty? How did the American Founders define it? And how should we think about it?

The second “self-evident” truth listed in Declaration of Independence is that all human beings “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Liberty is unalienable — it cannot be given away — and it is a natural right, a claim that every human being possesses by birth.

The understanding of liberty expressed in the Declaration is an inference from the equality all human beings share by nature. Since all people have the right not to be ruled without their consent, they have the right to defend themselves from violence

Essential Reading

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Quotes/Primary Sources

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Secondary Sources

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Lesson Plans/Curricula

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Chris Flannery, American Story
First Freedoms: Religious Liberty <div class="video-icon"></div>
Gordon S. Wood, Gilder Lehrman Institute for American History
Richard Brookhiser & Luke Thompson, National Review
Jeffrey Rosen, Elizabeth Clark, et al., National Constitution Center
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