To what extent did freedom shape the American historical experience in its initial centuries (from 1607 to 1800)? As you survey the politics, economics, and culture that developed from the settlement of Jamestown to the moment when the U.S. Constitution reshaped the federal system, consider how and when the concept of freedom impacted American values. Remember that you can argue that freedom shaped America from the beginning, or that freedom as a value was far less significant than slavery, or that there was a contradiction between these values from the beginning, or a contradiction that emerged over time. In short, you can argue for any pattern that you see taking shape.
FREEDOM VALUES VERSUS SLAVERY VALUES
The story of American freedom appears to be a tell-tale of disagreements, debates and struggles rather than a predetermined concept. Over time, the meaning of liberty has been shaped and reshaped many times by different factors such as the social and political factors which majorly entail equality and slavery abolition struggles. Slavery in America during the years that preceded independence is a proper illustration of home-grown nature of freedom significance and therefore, defined the America’s language and stood towards liberty during this colonial era. (Foner 2001) Taking a closer look, it is imperious to realize that freedom as a value was far less significant than slavery. Also, over time, there emerged a contradiction between these values although this was there since the beginning only that it was not well mapped out as it happened to be at the end of the colonial period with the drafting of the constitution.
For instance, looking at various scenarios in the 17th and 18th century, you realize that many factors made the freedom values downplayed and perceived as of lesser importance compared to slavery. Considering some cases quoted under Virginia laws on slavery, for example, we find that a ruling was made charging a certain Hugh Davis. He was sentenced to whipping for what was termed as abuse and dishonor to God and shaming the Christians for his lying with a Negro slave. (Hening, Virginia Laws on Slavery n.d.) This explicitly deprived and disrespected his rights to freedom since, as a free man, one has the freedom to choose their spouses.
Furthermore, in December 1662, Act 12 of the Virginia Law on slavery was created. It stated that the children borne by Negro mothers were to serve in relation to the condition of the mother. It further called for a double penalty to any fine imposed on any Christian who became intimate with any Negro man or woman. (Hening, Virginia Laws on Slavery n.d.) Apparently, the slavery values were taken more seriously in comparison to the freedom values. On the other hand, the values of freedom enacted even to the Christians contradict the actual rights to freedom. The Christians could not freely intermingle with the Negroes, since it wasn’t allowed.
Intuitively, the Virginia Law on Slavery disallowed the Negros rights to own anything. As a matter of fact, they were owned and were to get permission from their masters. An act 10 enacted in June 1680 saw to this. The aim of this law was to prevent Negroes’ insurrection, and as usual, deplored their rights to freedom. As illustrated above, the masters too had a limit of interaction with their slaves even though they were free. In September 1667, a law declaring that even through baptism, the slaves could not be set free. So, either way, the freedom virtue was downplayed, resulting to a contradiction in the initial code of conduct whereby, the free masters were Christians whereas the slaves were non-Christians. This clearly portrays that what mattered most was not the religion but rather the status of the individual, either a free person or a slave. Attaining freedom for a slave was far much curtailed by many obstacles that were put in place by the administrators. Therefore, the dominance of freedom values over those of slavery was implausible. (Hening, Virginia Laws on Slavery n.d.)
Notably, the drafting of the first United States of America’s Constitution, as expected, critically emphasized the liberty values among the people it governed. Its declaration among many other aspects talked about, “securing the blessings of liberty for the people and posterity.” In Article I Section 2, (1808) the constitution explicitly stated that the political and economical presentation and contribution were based on the number of free persons in each state. However, the rule of law regarding those under bondage still held even when they moved to another state. (Article IV, Section. 2. 1808)
In conclusion, it is imperative to understand that freedom values were taken less seriously in comparison to the slavery values. The administration came up with laws that deplored and overrun the boundaries of freedom as a right making it just a word for mentioning. Contradictions on these issues were always at play and came to the spotlight mainly during the ages of drafting the constitution and the end of the colonial era.
- “Article IV, Section. 2.” Constitution.
Foner, Eric. 2001. “American Freedom in a Global Age.” American Historical Association. Accessed September 17, 2015. http://www.historians.org/about-aha-and-membership/aha-history-and-archives/presidential-addresses/eric-foner.
Hening. n.d. “Virginia Laws on Slavery.” The Statutes at Large. Vol. 1. 146-226.
—. n.d. “Virginia Laws on Slavery.” The Statutes at Large. Vol. 2. 26-346.