Liberty has been on my mind, because of a book I’m reading, Beyond Liberty Alone by Howard Schwartz. I’m in the middle of the book at present. I wrote some preliminary thoughts in response. One thing is clear at this point. He has an atypical view of “liberty” (Kindle Locations 433-436):
There is something incredibly profound about this insight that liberty implies limitation and not just protection or privilege. This restrictive side of liberty is often overlooked, because the word “liberty” itself tends to be associated with the word “freedom.” Yet “liberty,” as is now evident, implies something more complex. It refers to both freedom and restriction, or, to put it another way, liberty refers to the freedoms that are made possible by living together under restrictions.
This is the second book by him that I’ve read. The earlier book is Liberty In America’s Founding Moment. I haven’t finished that book either, but I’ve been going back to it from time to time. In that book, he had his academic hat on. He was originally a religious studies professor, which gives him a grounding in dealing with historical texts and contexts.
His newer book feels more personal, although the notes in the back of the book show how thorough is his thought process. He says that Beyond Liberty Alone is a book he worked on for a long time. It is part of his own development as an individual, specifically in his career. The story of how he left academia is telling (Howard’s End by Jonathan Mahler):
A few days before Howard Eilberg-Schwartz was scheduled to launch the Jewish studies program at San Franisco State University, he was persuaded by the school’s director of human resources to attend an all-day seminar for select faculty members, students, and local Jewish leaders. It was to be Eilberg-Schwartz’s introduction to the school’s Jewish community, and, understandably, he was nervous. As part of the program, participants were asked to respond to a series of provocative questions by moving to a designated area of the room. When the question “How central is Israel to Judaism?” was posed, he self-consciously took a spot among the smallish group that answered “Not terribly.” And when attendees were asked if they thought the statement “Zionism is racism” was anti-semitic, Eilberg-Schwartz — who sees the movement to create a Jewish state within the broad context of European colonialism — shuffled over toward the corner designated “No.” This time he stood virtually alone.
“I remember people coming up to me afterwards and saying how disappointed they were that I had been named head of Jewish studies,” Eilberg-Schwartz realls now, more than two years later. “That’s when I knew i wasn’t in sync with the local Jewish community. From that moment on, I was branded.”
Indeed, that fateful morning in the summer of 1994 would set the stage for a year of conflict between Eilberg-Schwartz and the local Jewish community, one that would culminate in his preipitious departure from the university — and academia altogether — in the fall of 1995.
This offers some insight why liberty is a personal issue to him. He obviously is an advocate of liberty of conscience and liberty of free speech. He was willing to stand up for what he considered right, despite the very real costs.
I’ve interacted with Schwartz some this past year, including a recent discussion on his Facebook page. I was following his blog for quite a while and would comment there. I had forgotten that he was an author and that I owned one of his books, as I own more books than my memory can keep track of. He reminded me that I had written a comment to an Amazon review of his first book on liberty, a comment that I didn’t remember, as I leave more comments than my memory can keep track of. (There are many issues with my memory.)
It is an enjoyable experience to read a book while also interacting with the author. I did that while reading Corey Robin’s The Reactionary Mind, as he has an interesting blog as well. Corey Robin is one of the many authors that complement Schwartz’s writings. It is Robin who can help explain why the political right has its limited view of liberty, whereas Schwartz in his new book dissects that limited view and offers an alternative.
The alternative view presented by Schwartz has to do with a balance of values, a balance of rights and responsibilities. He is making an argument grounded both in common sense and in the nuanced understanding of the founding generation of American thinkers and leaders. He demonstrates how shallow and downright dysfunctional is the view of liberty on the right side of the spectrum, what he calls the liberty-first position. That right-wing view has come to prominence in recent decades, but it fails on many accounts, including its lack of principled application. More importantly, in their ideological dogmatism, liberty-first advocates ignore basic facts of human nature and human society.
In reading Beyond Liberty Alone, I became curious about what the author might have to say about the commons. As I had the Kindle version, I did a search for the term and found some references to it. He only directly speaks of the commons in one paragraph and a note to that paragraph. Here is the relevant part of the paragraph (Kindle Locations 4190-4193):
The way to address this problem is to seriously treat the ocean, water, air, and wildlife as property in common, in the sense that we are all tenants in common. Tenants in common does not mean it is a free -for-all, which is the supposition of the so-called “tragedy of the commons.” 45 There can be ownership in common and regulations about the use of the commons.
And here is the note (Kindle Locations 5579-5585):
45 . I take this to be one of the original points of Garrett James Hardin in his original essay on “The Tragedy of the Commons,” and one point I agree with. In my reading of Hardin’s original essay, his point is that the commons becomes a tragedy only if it is not regulated and that regulation is needed to protect it. One example he gives is the national parks, which are owned in common (public property) but must be regulated to protect them. His point is that without regulation, things cannot be owned in common successfully. It is beyond the present context to discuss the extensive subsequent scholarship and popular discussion of whether the commons always ends in tragedy or not, and I do not agree with some of Hardin’s subsequent moral conclusions, such as his moral conclusions about preventing immigration in his metaphor of “Living on a Lifeboat.”
Even though his direct mention of the “commons” is limited to this, he writes extensively about that which is held in common and that which offers common usage and benefit. The word “common” comes up a lot in the text. Much of this talk is about social capital, although he doesn’t use that term at all. He does talk about externalities quite a bit, which is about the cost to the commons or the costs held in common, although in reality it is usually the poor and minorities who bear the brunt of those costs.
Schwartz makes a strong argument for the commons, not just as natural resources, but as the entire inheritance of the human species. He makes it clear how much society invests in every individual and how this implies a responsibility of the individual toward society. It is overwhelming all that we take for granted. Everyone of us is the product of immense resources and opportunities given to us. We earned and deserved none of it, except as our shared inheritance in having been born.
In thinking of the commons, my mind always wanders to Thomas Paine. He came of age during the time when the land enclosure movement was having a major impact in England. It was the ending of the last vestiges of feudalism and in its wake it left a mass population of landless peasants. A peasant without the commons to live on is a very desperate person. The population of the unemployed and homeless grew as the commons were privatized or, from the perspective of the commoners, stolen.
This impoverished population flooded into London. Food riots followed. So did the early organizing of labor unions, which happened around the time Paine was in London. The lower classes became concentrated in numbers never before seen and London was where all the action was. The poor weren’t just desperate, for they were also feeling optimistic about new opportunities. Even though they were banned from the universities, the poor took what spare money they had and hired lecturers to teach them about various subjects. Paine joined in this new movement of education and it would set him on his path. He got a taste for the power of learning, the potential in reading and writing.
Paine knew about the commons and what the loss of the commons meant for most people. You can hear the echoes of the commons in some of his later writings. In “Agrarian Justice”, Paine gives a good definition of the commons:
It is a position not to be controverted that the earth, in its natural, cultivated state was, and ever would have continued to be, the common property of the human race. In that state every man would have been born to property. He would have been a joint life proprietor with rest in the property of the soil, and in all its natural productions, vegetable and animal.
He further on emphasizes the significance of public land being made private:
I have already established the principle, namely, that the earth, in its natural uncultivated state was, and ever would have continued to be, the common property of the human race; that in that state, every person would have been born to property; and that the system of landed property, by its inseparable connection with cultivation, and with what is called civilized life, has absorbed the property of all those whom it dispossessed, without providing, as ought to have been done, an indemnification for that loss.
The argument Paine makes is for a land tax that would have funded an early version of Social Security. The privatizing of land was a direct causal factor for impoverishing those forced into a landless condition. The public should be compensated for what was taken from the public:
I have made the calculations stated in this plan, upon what is called personal, as well as upon landed property. The reason for making it upon land is already explained; and the reason for taking personal property into the calculation is equally well founded though on a different principle. Land, as before said, is the free gift of the Creator in common to the human race. Personal property is the effect of society; and it is as impossible for an individual to acquire personal property without the aid of society, as it is for him to make land originally.
This is the basic framework also being used by Schwartz to make his own argument. The difference is that Schwartz has a wider focus on what is held in common, but in essence he is carrying forward Paine’s vision of America. However, he doesn’t mention Paine at all in his most recent book and only makes brief mentions of Paine in his other book on liberty. In neither book does he mention “Agrarian Justice”. So, it seems that Schwartz came to this view independent of Paine’s writings.
When thinking of Paine, I then also think of John Dickinson. Both were raised with Quaker influence, although neither became Quakers. Still, they each maintained close ties to Quakers, specifically in Pennsylvania. Dickinson had ties to the Quaker elite and Paine had ties to the radical Free Quakers. They shared a commitment to Quaker-influenced abolitionism (Dickinson having gone so far as to free the slaves he inherited). Most interestingly, these two great thinkers were also the greatest and most inspiring of the revolutionary pamphleteers. Their Quaker-tinged visions helped shape two separate traditions of political philosophy, Federalism and Anti-Federalism, Dickinson and Paine respectively. These were two major voices in the early debates about liberty and rights.
Schwartz does have a fair amount to say about Dickinson. The main purpose that Dickinson serves is as a foil to Thomas Jefferson. Throughout Liberty In America’s Founding Moment, Dickinson is brought up mostly in reference to Jefferson, as they had two competing views of rights (Kindle Locations 3954-3967):
To summarize, we have seen that within a year of Jefferson’s writing the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson and Dickinson offer their congressional colleagues two different versions of American rights. Neither of these versions of rights is what would be called a classical natural rights theory, like that adopted by the First Continental Congress and put forward by thinkers like James Wilson. Jefferson is still avoiding natural rights language and putting emphasis on the emigration of the ancestors as a justification for American rights. When he does allude to a broader conception of rights, which is buried in the body of his essay, he alludes to the “sacred deposit” provided by God and makes no allusion to reason or rights of nature. Dickinson’s language moves much closer to the natural rights tradition, though he evokes the religious and theological subtradition that places emphasis on God’s role in founding liberty. But Dickinson also appeals to common sense and reverence for the creator as justifications and foundation for liberty. It is arguable that Congress preferred Dickinson’s version not simply because it toned down the view of the colonies as “independent” entities, but also because it provided a broader justification of rights than did Jefferson’s, one closer to the Bill of Rights for which they had already fought so hard to achieve consensus in September 1774.
In any case, the point here is that while others were appealing to a classic version of a natural rights philosophy, Jefferson himself had not abandoned his argument based on emigration. Once again, Jefferson’s view was essentially rejected. Instead, the Congress endorsed a quasi-religious statement of rights, influenced by the natural rights thinking to be sure, but not quite Lockean in the way that some American writers including the First Congress would have articulated it.
It should be noted that Jefferson and Paine were close friends and political allies. They influenced each other’s thinking on many issues. To speak of the ideas of one is to speak of the ideas of the other. So, even though Schwartz speaks so little of Paine, he indirectly invokes Paine every time he mentions Jefferson. For example, the emigration view of rights fits into arguments Paine made. As he wrote in “Common Sense,” it was simply “absurd, in supposing a continent to be perpetually governed by an island,” especially when “Not one third of the inhabitants, even of this province, [Pennsylvania], are of English descent.”
As such, the contrasts and conflicts between Dickinson and Jefferson were also those between Dickinson and Paine. More specifically, this is also about the Quaker elite that governed Pennsylvania and those who sought to challenge that power. But this was also about the Quakers larger history and the traditions that developed from that.
Schwartz, in Liberty In America’s Founding Moment, dedicates an entire section of several pages to Dickinson’s views, “John Dickinson and the Avoidance of Natural Rights Arguments”. I want to tackle this section because there is a context missing that would add greatly to the analysis.
That missing context is of the Quakers. In neither book does he mention the Quakers. He also makes no mention of the Middle Colonies, at least not in those terms. The Middle Colonies had a different place and played a different role in the colonial scheme of the British territory in America, different that is from New England and the South, as I previously explained (The Root and Rot of the Tree of Liberty):
The Middle Colonies in general were what held together British Power on this side of the pond. This is why, during the French and Indian War, the British government spent so much money and effort defending the Middle Colonies. It is maybe understandable that those up in New England didn’t appreciate why they were paying higher taxes for the defense of the colonies when their region was never the focal point of that defense. Those New Englanders couldn’t appreciate that the defense of the Middle Colonies was the defense of all the colonies. They also couldn’t appreciate what it felt like to be in the Middle Colonies which had been the target of foreign empires.
Those in the Middle Colonies fully appreciated this which is why they were so reluctant to revolt. Plus, the Middle Colonies were filled with non-Englishmen who had no history with the British government and monarchy, no history of the English Civil War and Glorious Revolution. Even the Englishmen of the Middle Colonies who did have such history nonetheless had a very different view of it. I speak of the Quakers who had in some ways been given the greatest freedom for self-governance. The Monarchy was at times a better friend to the Quakers than their fellow colonial elites ever had been.
This is the world that Dickinson was born into. It was also the place that Paine. like Franklin before him, would adopt as his home. To understand Pennsylvania is to understand Dickinson and to understand why he came into conflict with the likes of Paine (and Franklin). The Quakers always found themselves in a precarious position, both back in England and in the colonies. Having experienced persecution and oppression as religious dissenters, they came to highly prize security and moderation, which they saw as the foundation of any genuine freedom.
I point to the word ‘freedom’ in contradistinction to ‘liberty’, the latter being the focus of Schwartz’s writings. This is important, as I noted in another post of mine (The Radicalism of The Articles of Confederation):
There were many contested understandings for all these terms. Liberty, in particular, always was a vague term with its origins in Roman slave society. As I’ve mentioned before, Jefferson’s Virginia was shaped by the Cavalier heritage of Roman values. The Declaration and the Constitution refer to liberty and freedom, often seemingly interchangeably, sometimes using freedom as the opposite of enslaved which is the Roman conception of liberty. Quite uniquely, the Articles use freedom as a touchstone while never mentioning liberty even once. That demonstrates a major difference, the Declaration having been written by a slave-owning, liberty-loving aristocrat from Cavalier Virginia and the Articles having been written by a Quaker-raised Pennsylvanian who freed the slaves he inherited.
As far as I know, Schwartz does not explore the origins of these terms. He discusses Dickinson without pointing out that word ‘liberty’ was not included in the Articles, the original constitution. That seems like a key detail to my mind. It signifies the importance of Quakerism to Dickinson. It was freedom, not liberty, that was the core value to be defended. The argument Schwartz makes, in Beyond Liberty Alone, by broadening liberty to include responsibility is actually more resonant with the Quaker worldview of freedom. It is interesting that he comes to this understanding, despite his primary focus on Jefferson.
In the specific section on Dickinson, Schwartz writes (Liberty In America’s Founding Moment, Kindle Locations 2352-2355),
Is it everywhere assumed or is Dickinson hedging his bets and avoiding the question of government’s origin and the validity of the social contract? That seems possible especially given Dickinson’s appeal to the ideas of philosopher David Hume in the above citation. Hume was a critic of Lockean natural rights theory and argued that Locke’s natural rights arguments were as much a political ideology as the divine right theory that justified kingship.
This is where knowing Dickinson’s Quaker background would have offered insight. Dickinson didn’t need Hume’s writings to be critical of natural rights. Quaker tradition itself was based on a mistrust of natural rights, and so this probably is the more fundamental influence. Hume’s ideas simply corresponded with the worldview Dickinson was raised in. Also, Hume’s criticisms of natural rights allowed for a non-religious formulation of that aspect of the Quaker tradition. Quakers had no use of Lockean social contracts and so that wasn’t an issue for Dickinson. Quaker constitutionalism was based on the belief in a personal relationship to God, a divine spark that existed within (see a fuller discussion in my post The Radicalism of The Articles of Confederation, in which I note that the historian Joseph Ellis also seems unaware of the Quaker position). A constitution was, as Quaker-influenced Paine described, “a compact between God and man” (from a footnote to Observations on the Declaration of Rights).
Let me continue with some more of Schwartz commentary from the section on Dickinson (Kindle Locations 2369-2384):
The only time that Dickinson offers a justification of colonial rights is when he quotes the resolves of the Stamp Act Congress, which he had earlier drafted but which avoided the use of natural rights. Quoting the third resolve of the Stamp Act Congress, and referring to these resolves as the “American Bill of Rights,” this is as close as Dickinson gets to offering a philosophical basis of liberty.
III. “That it is inseparably essential to the freedom of a people, and the undoubted right of Englishmen, that No Tax‡ be imposed on them, but with their own consent, given personally, or by their representatives.”13
We have no way of knowing in these letters how Dickinson grounded “the essential freedom of a people” and “undoubted right of Englishmen.” Only on one occasion (Letter Seven) does Dickinson quote Locke: “If they have any right to tax us—then, whether our own money shall continue in our own pockets or not, depends no longer on us, but on them. ‘There is nothing which’ we ‘can call our own; or, to use the words of Mr. Locke—what property have’ we ‘in that, which another may, by right, take, when he pleases, to himself?’”14 This quote from Locke is apropos. Locke here is talking about the duty of people to support government with taxes. Locke makes clear in this passage that paying taxes must be with their consent, as defined by the vote of the majority. While Dickinson brings Locke’s authority to bear in supporting the idea that there should be “no taxation without consent,” he does not invoke Locke’s notions of social contract or natural rights.
At least at one point Dickinson seems to assume a very different source of colonial rights than his colleagues. Specifically, he assumes that the rights of the colonies were granted by Great Britain in exchange for the benefits that the colonies brought the mother country. Strikingly, Dickinson includes the right of property as a privilege conferred by Great Britain on the colonies, rather than an inherent right.
Schwartz struggles here to pinpoint exactly where Dickinson is coming from. He is able to discern bits and pieces from Dickinson’s words, but the motivating vision behind those words eludes him. Further on, Schwartz does show he realizes the importance of the religious angle, even though not specifically in the context of Quakerism (Kindle Locations 2390-2394):
It is striking that the colonial right to property is here described not as a natural right, but as a “recompense” or payback from Great Britain to America for the benefits that accrued to the mother country. The colonies’ rights were the result of a trade or contract. No one arguing strictly from natural rights directly would ground the American right of property this way. Moreover, the religious overtones in Dickinson’s essays, though not frequent, are obvious here when he invokes scripture rather than Locke or reason to prove his point.
He then clarifies the importance of religion (Kindle Locations 2399-2405):
Quoting the New Testament, Dickinson appeals to freedom as a grant from God. The absence of natural rights language or at least a fully articulated rights theory in Dickinson would seem consistent with his ongoing commitment that the colonies remain part of Great Britain. Dickinson rejects any talk of the colonies as “independent states” which are part of a larger federated empire. “But if once we are separated from our mother country, what new form of government shall we adopt, or where shall we find another Britain to supply our loss? Torn from the body, to which we are united by religion, liberty, laws, affections, relation, language and commerce, we must bleed at every vein.”18 Dickinson, as is well known, would later refuse to sign the Declaration of Independence, believing in July 1776 that there was still some hope for reconciliation between the colonies and Great Britain.
Schwartz is touching upon so much here, but he can’t quite bring it together. The Quakerism piece is missing. All of this makes sense, though, when that Quaker piece is put into place. To the Quaker worldview, a constitution is a living agreement and expression of the Divine, a covenant of a collective people as a community. It is not a piece of paper or the words on them. To be separated from their mother country was quite the challenge to that worldview. The community needed to be redefined and the covenant needed to take new form.
Jane E. Calvert, in Quaker Constitutionalism and the Political Thought of John Dickinson, details what this means for Dickinson and how this differs from Jefferson (Kindle Locations 9708-9742):
For Dickinson, a polity must be and, in the case of America, was constituted otherwise than merely on paper. And his understanding of how man entered political society was largely the same as the way most Americans understood it, but with subtle differences in process and emphases. While most political thinkers of the day agreed that joining society, forming a union, was “primarily a matter of reason,”13 Dickinson believed that to unite was to obey a divine command, a “sacred law.”14 Like Locke, he held that society was first occasioned “by the command of our Creator.”15 God, said Dickinson, “designed men for society, because otherwise they cannot be happy.”16 But more than that, God “demands that we should seek for happiness in his way, and not our own,” which meant joining one another on specific terms and with a particular mode of engagement.17 Moreover, reason was not man’s primary impetus for joining; the “common sense of mankind,” Dickinson explained, merely “agrees.”18 This original constitution ordained by God was prior to and independent of any written documents codifying that union. “[T]hose corner stones of liberty,” he wrote, “were not obtained by a bill of rights, or any other records, and have not been made and cannot be preserved by them.”19 Rather, ten years before Jefferson wrote that “all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” Dickinson asserted that “Rights are created in us by the decrees of Providence.”20
On the surface, Jefferson and Dickinson seem to agree, but as we have seen from our earlier discussion, Quaker thinkers did not usually speak of natural rights. While many thinkers of all persuasions, including Penn and Dickinson on occasion, conflated the languages of rights and referred interchangeably to natural or God-given rights, for Quakers, who more often spoke in terms of providence, there was ultimately a difference. If the divine and the natural were the same (an idea many Quakers rejected outright), they were much more closely related in Quaker thought than in Jefferson’s, with nature not overshadowing divinity. Dickinson clearly did not subscribe to the deist theology of other Founders. He explained that “[w]e claim [rights] from a higher source, from the King of kings, and Lord of all the earth…They are born within us; exist with us; and cannot be taken from us by any human power, without taking our lives.”21 Because they came from God rather than nature, man, or his history of established institutions, “rights must be preserved by soundness of sense and honesty of heart. Compared with these, what are a bill of rights, or any characters drawn upon parchment, those frail rememberances?”22 If this seems to us an overly fine distinction, that Dickinson made it was in keeping with Quaker thinking about rights. Such subtleties caused contemporary and historical criticism that his work consisted of “fine-spun theories and hair-splitting distinctions”23 and that he had the “Vice of Refining too much.”24 But if his thought has been misunderstood, it is because his critics did not care to understand these distinctions or the complex theories and arrangement to which they gave rise. It is mainly this difference between the natural or human and the divine that distinguished the Quaker theory of government and their process of legal discernment from others.
From my perspective, this additional insight strengthens the case Schwartz is making.
The Quakers, more than any other early Americans, embodied the balance between rights and responsibilities, between freedom and obligation. Schwartz wants to place the emphasis on the social reality. Quaker constitutionalism could have given him an alternative view to throw light on what it means to have rights in a community. Also, to return to Paine, the pamphlet “Agrarian Justice” could have given Schwartz a stronger foundation in American tradition for a progressive understanding of the commons.
When put together, all of these pieces form a greater vision of what America has been and could be. Schwartz’s writings are part of a larger conversation. No single voice can capture every aspect and nuance. What matters is the broadening of debate. It is an exciting time to add one’s voice to the chorus, even if at times it sounds more like cacophany, something the founders could sympathize with.
The historical context is important for a deeper understanding. Even so, any given fact and detail isn’t what matters most. Studying such things should serve the purpose of helping to see what was hidden, to remember what has been forgotten, to revive the senses that became numb. The disappearance of the commons is a profound loss. It isn’t just the loss of public land and their resources. As Schwartz makes clear, it is a loss of shared identity and meaning, loss of a unifying set of values. We are made small as our vision of rights narrows. We are made weaker.
When we lose the knowledge of what we lost, we lose the knowledge that something is lost. That is not a good place for a people to find themselves. It is to be lost without a map. Fortunately, those who came before us left markers for the path we are on and the paths we might take.
23 thoughts on “Where Liberty and Freedom Converge”
Benjamin: Citing an earlier post of yours, you say: “The Declaration and the Constitution refer to liberty and freedom, often seemingly interchangeably. . .” Until now, I had always thought of the two concepts as being more or less synonymous. Thanks to your meditations, however, I’ve gone back to these two documents and taken a closer look. And it seems to me that they are NOT used interchangeably there.
The term liberty occurs most notably in the expression, “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”; also in the 5th and 14th Amendments (“shall not be deprived of life, liberty, or property”). In those contexts I see it containing the connotation of limited, socially responsible freedom that Schwartz points to. The term freedom occurs only, I think, in the First Amendment (“freedom of speech, or of the press,” etc.) and seems to be a much less socially constrained concept.
I don’t know if Schwartz digs into this distinction, having not (yet) read his book, but I think YOU should. Because that’s the distinction that American rightwingers today are totally blurring — a conflation that gives them a powerful yet unwarranted rhetorical tool.
Let me quote the full paragraph for context:
“A number of scholars have questioned Thomas Jefferson’s relation to Lockean natural rights. It is far from certain that Jefferson, in writing the Declaration of Independence, was referring to Locke when he wrote about “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. Locke’s own formula included “life, liberty and estate”. There is a vast difference depending upon what the final emphasis is placed, estate or pursuit of Happiness. That is “Happiness” with a capital “H”, in case a mere lowercase wasn’t emphasis enough.
“In previously discussing this, I concluded that,
“As for Jefferson’s personal view, a fundamental right related to happiness had to do with consent. A government earned consent by ensuring the happiness of citizens. When that happiness abated, so did the requirement of consent. This puts “pursuit of Happiness” in a whole other context.
“The Constitution certainly didn’t require the people’s consent, much less happiness. As far as that goes, the Constitution makes only one mention of property and that in referring to public property. Commerce gets discussed twice, but only in stating its being regulated. This is hardly a document of laissez-faire capitalism. This is made clear by the early use of tariffs made by the federal government, “the main source of all Federal revenue from 1790 to 1914″. Tariffs made markets heavily regulated, some might say manipulated even.
“The Articles of Confederation did speak of property while even going so far as putting it into context of trade and commerce. However, the preceding Declaration of Independence didn’t mention property (or estate) at all and yet mentioned happiness twice. The second mention of Happiness placed it in relation to Safety. This is something Quakers of the time would have approved of as they knew through direct experience the relation between freedom for minorities and protection of minorities. As minorities, many Quakers resisted severing their ties with the protection offered by the Crown and Quakers like Dickinson hoped to quickly reestablish protections with a government powerful enough to enforce them.
“There were many contested understandings for all these terms. Liberty, in particular, always was a vague term with its origins in Roman slave society. As I’ve mentioned before, Jefferson’s Virginia was shaped by the Cavalier heritage of Roman values. The Declaration and the Constitution refer to liberty and freedom, often seemingly interchangeably, sometimes using freedom as the opposite of enslaved which is the Roman conception of liberty. Quite uniquely, the Articles use freedom as a touchstone while never mentioning liberty even once. That demonstrates a major difference, the Declaration having been written by a slave-owning, liberty-loving aristocrat from Cavalier Virginia and the Articles having been written by a Quaker-raised Pennsylvanian who freed the slaves he inherited.”
And let me put it in further context:
“The distinction between ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ as words is their origins in Northern and Southern Europe respectively. An important difference in early Europe is that most people were born free in Northern Europe whereas in the areas ruled by the Roman Empire most people were born enslaved and/or without self-rule, a difference that resonates with the separate traditions of common law in Northern Europe and civil law in Southern Europe. These origins play out in the meanings of the words.
“Freedom (etymologically related to friendship) implies social connection in terms of community and kinship. A free person is a member of a free people. Freedom goes hand in hand with rights, another word that has origins in Northern Europe. Rights are what a person has who is born into a free society.
“Liberty (along with similar words in the Hellenistic world) implies separation and independence. Liberty is about a hierarchy of privileges where there are no universal, inborn rights. Privileges are bestowed upon an individual by a government or other institutions of authority. Having the privilege of liberty is simply the negation of being a slave (i.e., the state of existence prior to being given privileges and following having privileges taken away).
“In the earliest sense, a person is only free to the degree he is part of a free society. Freedom isn’t possessed by an individual; rather, it is participated in. Liberty, however, doesn’t require a free society. The Stoics went so far as to see liberty as a state of mind that even a slave could have. So, one can have liberty without freedom. Having based their society on the slave-holding republics of the ancient Mediterranean, privileged aristocrats in the American South correctly saw no conflict or hypocrisy in upholding the value of liberty while enslaving others.
“Some mistakenly see the fundamental distinction as between positive and negative freedom. The negative means freedom from and the positive freedom toward. It does seem that negative freedom fits liberty, but positive freedom doesn’t fit the original meaning of freedom. To be a free person among a free people, isn’t so much freedom toward as it is freedom with. A lone person in the wilderness has perfect liberty, although not freedom for social values don’t mean much without a social context. This social factor is almost entirely ignored or else forgotten by mainstream American society, especially on the right (E.J. Dionne discusses this well in Our Divided Political Heart).”
“Until now, I had always thought of the two concepts as being more or less synonymous.”
The complication is that they have come to have overlapping meanings. They originated in separate languages and socio-political traditions. But both were adopted into the English language and culture. They retain traces of their original contexts, although the distinction has become confused or even conflated at times.
“And it seems to me that they are NOT used interchangeably there.
The term liberty occurs most notably in the expression, “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”; also in the 5th and 14th Amendments (“shall not be deprived of life, liberty, or property”). In those contexts I see it containing the connotation of limited, socially responsible freedom that Schwartz points to. The term freedom occurs only, I think, in the First Amendment (“freedom of speech, or of the press,” etc.) and seems to be a much less socially constrained concept.”
Let me break it down. Then I’ll try to analyze how the words are being used, what is there context and intent.
* * * *
Declaration of Independence
“certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”
“free System of English Laws”
“A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”
“Free and Independent States”
“Free and Independent States”
* * * *
Articles of Confederation – Dickinson’s Draft
“firm League of Friendship with each other, for their common Defence, the Security of their Liberties, and their mutual and general Welfare, binding the said Colonies”
“The Inhabitants of each Colony shall henceforth always have the same Rights, Liberties, Privileges, Immunities and Advantages, in the other Colonies”
“The Inhabitants of each Colony shall enjoy all the Rights, Liberties, Privileges, Immunities, and Advantages, in Trade, Navigation, and Commerce, in any other Colony”
“Principles of Liberty”
“previous and free Consent”
“full and peaceable Possession of, and the free and entire Jurisdiction”
* * * *
Articles of Confederation – Final Draft
“The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves”
“Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right”
“free ingress and regress”
“Freedom of speech and debate”
* * * *
Constitution of the United States
“secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”
“Number of free Persons”
* * * *
“nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”
“nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”
“prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”
“security of a free State”
First of all, my comment referred only to the Declaration and the Constitution, not to the Articles of Confederation. Still, all of your examples only reinforce the distinction I see. And in your attempt at analyzing them, you don’t address the grounds I laid out for that distinction.
“First of all, my comment referred only to the Declaration and the Constitution, not to the Articles of Confederation.”
I’ve just had great interest in the Articles. It is the first constitution of our country. It speaks most directly to the founding principles of our country. I’ve argued that it is still relevant, even though it was replaced, but most people probably don’t see it as relevant.
Part of my interest in it is that Quaker-raised Dickinson wrote the first draft. I’ve had a longtime interest in the Quakers and Middle Colonies and how they influenced American society. That is the context of my thoughts.
“Still, all of your examples only reinforce the distinction I see.”
I wasn’t disagreeing with you. I’m still in the process of thinking about it. I have no clear conclusions at the moment.
“And in your attempt at analyzing them, you don’t address the grounds I laid out for that distinction.”
Those were just initial thoughts, nothing more. I wrote them late at night while I was feeling sleepy. I wanted to get a first response down and then come back to it.
My purpose was mostly just present the evidence itself. I wanted to look at each use. But it will take some effort because there is a context.
In my own mind, what seems most relevant is the cultural context. That gives us the key to interpretation. That is what I saw Schwartz as lacking in his trying to make sense of Dickinson’s conflict with Jefferson.
The problem is that it isn’t easy to make direct connections between possible contexts of interpretation and specific situations where a word is used. This is the type of thing that will take me a while to think out. It does clear my thinking to write out each example, as I did. That is a good first step.
Give me some time. I promise to be careful in my analysis. You are bringing up some important points.
Maybe this will help, Benjamin. It’s from the Oxford-American Writer’s Thesaurus, 2004, p. 534: “While independence is usually associated with countries or nations, freedom and liberty more often apply to individuals. But unlike freedom, which implies an absence of restraint or compulsion (the freedom to speak openly), liberty implies the power to choose among alternatives rather than merely being unrestrained (the liberty to select their own form of government).”
In other words, as we linguists might say, freedom is the “unmarked” term connoting a pure condition, liberty is a “marked” term that qualifies that condition in certain ways.
This does get at something I’ve been emphasizing. The important part is the last sentence.
Yes, freedom “implies an absence of restraint or compulsion”. This fits perfectly with its cultural and linguistic origins. To be a member of a free people was to be able to act freely, in all aspects of one’s life and relationships. It was to be in a social condition of freedom. It wasn’t what you did, but what you were. You didn’t become free. You weren’t freed by someone else. You didn’t buy your freedom. You were born free as your natural inheritance, as an inalienable right.
Liberty, on the other hand, is about choices given by a particular social order. To have liberty is to have the power to act, in opposition to lacking that power. This is why an individual can have liberty in a slave society. It doesn’t require everyone in the society be individually free or collectively be a free people. It simply requires the individual to be free, which is to say to not be unfree.
A people through liberty can choose their own government. A free people, however, are simply born free in a free society with a free government. A free people means an inheritance, rather than a choice. That freedom isn’t chosen, but defended as a tradition and as a right. With freedom, the social aspect precedes the individual aspect. But with liberty, the social aspect (represented by government) is something that follows from individuals choosing to act collectively.
Do you see the value of this intepretation? I’m still discerning the significance of what I’m trying to articulate. But I sense it is an important piece of the puzzle.
Looking at it all more carefully, I must admit it is challenging to tease out the meaning of how these words are being used. The specific intended meaning seems more obvious in some places than others.
Two things stand out.
First, there is how often each word is used.
The Declaration refers to the ideal of freedom more than liberty. There is more of a balanced use of the two words in Dickinson’s draft of the Articles, but the final draft of the Articles (as filtered through Anti-Federalist thought) got rid of several mentions of liberty and increased the mentions of freedom. The Constitution and Amendments offer a perfect balance of the two terms.
Second, there is how these words are being used. In this regard, I don’t see as much to be said about the use of “liberty” and “liberties”. Greater insight, it seems to me, comes from focusing on how freedom is applied to these texts.
In the Declaration, things and people are free as in its an essence or characteristic, what is rather than is done. Dickinson, in his Articles draft, emphasizes more freedom as something that is done in terms of assent or consent, active intention rather than passive state. The final draft of the Articles, while putting great emphasis on freedom. doesn’t seem to emphasize one use or the other. The Constitution and Amendments also doesn’t seem to favor either, although it is interesting to note that only the Constitution seems to emphasize most the idea of free persons as opposed to enslaved persons, a separate issue from a free people which is a collective quality of a society.
I’m not what sure to conclude from all of that.
Let me try to clarify my thoughts more specifically to what you said. You were separating out what you saw as the respective meanings of liberty and freedom. About liberty, you wrote:
“The term liberty occurs most notably in the expression, “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”; also in the 5th and 14th Amendments (“shall not be deprived of life, liberty, or property”). In those contexts I see it containing the connotation of limited, socially responsible freedom that Schwartz points to.”
To be clear, I honestly don’t see a disagreement between you and I on this issue. It’s just that I would broaden the context.
Liberty has always had a social context going back to Roman society. It is a word that, in Anglo-American society, came from the Cavaliers (the descendants of the Romanized Normans). From Rome to the US, liberty was always mired in slavery. This is why it is natural for liberty-first libertarians and neoliberals to speak of liberty and freedom in a society that remains oppressive and unfree in so many ways. Liberty never required everyone be equally free or even be free at all.
In the founding documents of the United States, liberty was what a free person possessed and what an unfree person didn’t possess. Liberty did invoke social responsibilities, but it didn’t invoke a free society. The Romans never cared about democracy and yet were all about social responsibilities. Liberty is part of the republican tradition going back to Rome. These social responsibilities were about social order and social roles. A place for everyone and everyone in their place.
Some of the American founders were aristocracy, especially in the South. However, I would make a distinction. The Carolina colony was founded from the colonists of another colony, Barbados, the most oppressive slave society in the West. Carolina plantation owners didn’t have a tradition of speaking about liberty and demanding social responsibility. Virginia was different, as its society was formed by Cavaliers and their liberty tradition.
Virginia aristocracy took seriously the idea that with great power comes great responsibility (noblesse oblige), and so they aspired to be enlightened aristocrats. Washington took this deadly seriously, but so did Jefferson in his own way. Many Virginia elites didn’t see a contradiction in promoting a socially responsible vision of liberty while owning slaves. Paternalism was the dominant worldview of Virginia, although some like Washington took it far beyond mere rhetoric and rationalization.
Virginia plantation owners saw that a slave owner had a responsibility to everyone who was below him in society, including both poor whites and his own slaves. Unlike Carolina plantation owners, they tended to live close to their slaves and thought of them as their children of sorts, however demented that may sound to us. Virginia plantations were based on a model of family and so incurred the responsibility one had toward family. Because of this, Virginia slave owners were less brutal to slaves. In their own way, they tried to do right by their slaves.
Of course, we as a society have slowly broadened freedom. This has given liberty new meaning. Liberty took on new connotations when slavery was abolished. The word was put into a new context, but the old meanings still clung to it. This is why I think the liberty-first crowd are using the word in a way that isn’t entirely illegitimate. For most of our history, it was ultimately individual persons who were free or unfree. To speak of “a free people” was a great ideal, but not so much a reality, not that I’m dismissing ideals as something to aspire toward.
There has been a struggle for the soul of liberty for the entirety of American history. Will liberty live up to the ideal of a free people or will liberty remain the justification of a social hierarchy based on race and class. I’m on the same side as Schwartz in that struggle. I’m just pointing out that the struggle has always been part of our society. It is the struggle itself that is what defines us as a people.
This struggle is far from over.
I lived a good portion of my life in the Deep South, along with my family. My dad was a business management professor at the University of South Carolina. He also did consulting work for factories. In this capacity, he regularly interacted with the Southern elite. They still hold to that Cavalier tradition of liberty, as that tradition eventually spread across the entire South. My dad called it a plantation mentality. It is very paternalistic, elitist, and hierarchical. The mindset is that an elite needs to take care of the little people because the little people can’t take care of themselves. It is a genuine belief in noblesse oblige, no matter how self-serving and superficial it may seem to others.
One thing I try to do is take people on their own terms. The liberty-first position does make sense when you understand the cultural and historical context out of which it formed. The problem is that it was formed in and for a slave society. This is why liberty-first people remain so sensitive about acknowledging that a racial order exists and that their notion of liberty is dependent upon it. Nonetheless, it remains an authentic worldview grounded in American tradition.
We who disagree with this particular liberty tradition must hack at its deep roots, not just prune its more recent sproutings. We shouldn’t underestimate how deeply this worldview resonates in the American psyche, in American culture and history.
“The term freedom occurs only, I think, in the First Amendment (“freedom of speech, or of the press,” etc.) and seems to be a much less socially constrained concept.”
In the Constitution itself, the word “free” is mentioned just once. It is from Article 1. Section 2:
“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”
That is freedom defined according to the liberty tradition of the Romans, Normans, Cavaliers, and Southerners. It is freedom constrained by liberty. It doesn’t speak of a free people in the shared sense for, after all, it is a slave society. That is how much the world changed between the Declaration and the Constitution. The American Revolution was fought for and by a free people, but the constitutional founding of the country was accomplished for and by a paternalistic elite who were worried about social order and social control, following Shay’s Rebellion.
Freedom in a more idealistic sense only comes up in the Bill of Rights. That was promoted by the Anti-Federalists who were wary of the Cavalier vision of slave-based liberty, paternalism, noblesse oblige, and enlightened aristocracy.
The traces of struggle remain there in the texts.
The great irony here is that the libertarian right is arguing in favor of measures that would in effect, take away the freedoms of other people or those least in a position to fight back.
There’s a total ignorance of history on the part of the right. It will not lead to freedom. Quite the opposite.
I see that as a problem of empty rhetoric. Words get used so often and so carelessly that they lose their meaning and their moral force. Putting them back into their historical context is to put their roots back in the soil out of which they grew.
Yes, Benjamin (and Chris), but words change in meaning over time. And those documents were written more than 225 years ago.
That is what makes it so difficult. We are dealing with words with very long histories. They have been integral to our society for longer than our country has existed.
Here is another possibly useful insight.
In all cases but one, liberty or liberties is used to refer to something that is possessed. In none of these documents is persons or the people spoken as being libertied in the sense of being free. Neither is persons or the people spoken as acting libertly in the same ways as acting freely.
The one unique use of liberty is in Dickinson’s draft of the Articles. He writes about the “Principles of Liberty”. That doesn’t seem to imply liberty as a possession, but as standards we live by and ideals we aspire to. I’m not quite sure why Dickinson used it that way when the other documents don’t, not even the final draft of the Articles.
As for freedom, it does stand out to me that the Declaration includes a reference to “a free people.” It does so specifically with a very clear social implication. It is contrasted to a tyrant’s rule. It isn’t individuals who are free, but the collective. That goes back to the Germanic origins of the word. Freedom originally meant being a part of a free people, a member of a free society.
This is particularly important as this is still part of how we speak of freedom. We continue to think of ourselves as “a free people”. The Declaration said it was so and we have taken it seriously ever since. The reason it has such power, though, is because it is such a deep part of our culture with roots far older than the Declaration. This freedom isn’t just a political concept, but a way of being in the world and perceiving the world. It is a worldview.
The other uses of freedom in the Declaration might give us further clues.
One mention is of a “free System of English Laws”. I would interpret that as saying the social system is free.
That speaks of the rights of Englishmen and the common law tradition, which also has its origins in Northern European culture. This is the view that rights precede any particular form or example of government. Such rights are established through social custom and tradition. The rights supposedly remain, even as governments come and go. These rights are grounded not in government, but in society and community. The only way to destroy these rights is to destroy the people, to destroy the social fabric that makes them possible.
The other use of freedom is a phrase that is repeated twice: “Free and Independent States”. This obviously refers to freedom in a social. The states, in the Declaration, are symbolic of and representative of the people.
Nowhere in the Declaration is freedom ever spoken of as something to possess. It is always spoken of as a quality of a collective people or rather of the collective expression of a people. The context is of self-governance. The ‘system’ and ‘state’ in this context is something much more human and personal, not distant and legalistic.
I do find telling Dickinson’s phrasing of “free consent” and “freely assent”. It is something one personally does, but more important it is what one does in relation to others.
This is grounded in the Quaker notion of an established community and a covenant with God. We can act freely because a constitution is an expression of our being able to freely relate to God. Quakers believed everyone possessed a spark of the divine and could speak directly to God, no intercessors necessary or desired. It was a freedom that was simultaneously individual and collective, private and shared.
Dickinson’s wording is echoed in the final draft of the Articles. Freedom is spoken of in terms of “free ingress and regress” and “Freedom of speech and debate”. These are things a person does. Also, the social aspect is the framework. It states, along with two mentions of ‘freedom’, that “the free inhabitants of each of these States, paupers, vagabonds, and fugitives from justice excepted, shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of free citizens in the several States; and the people of each State shall free ingress and regress to and from any other State”. It is affirmed that free people act and relate freely.
It is interesting to note that, not in these exceptions or anywhere else in the text, it doesn’t refer to slaves. The mention of “free inhabitants” and “free citizens” doesn’t appear to imply a contrast to unfree people. It doesn’t even speak of slaves indirectly as does the Constitution’s reference to “three fifths of all other Persons.” The Constitution states this in the context of “free Persons” in order to the people who are ‘other’ than free.
The Constitution only speaks of “free Persons” and not of a free People. As such, “the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” does not declare or necessarily imply that we are a free people in the original meaning of freedom, as did the Declaration. Even the Amendments don’t speak of a free people. It is odd that the specifically phrased idea of “a free people” was lost from all the official documents following the Declaration of Independence. Only the final draft of the Articles states anything similar with its “free inhabitants” and
“free citizens”, but that doesn’t have quite the same broad meaning and resonance as “a free people”.
It makes me wonder about the origin of that phrasing. Did Jefferson write those words or were they added by someone else? How common was it back then for people to speak of themselves collectively as a free people?
I just noticed something. It occurred to me to use the Kindle search function in Schwarz’s books to search for the phrase “a free people” or simply “free people”.
In his earlier book on liberty, the phrase “free people” comes up several times, in reference to both Jefferson and Dickinson. But in his recent book on liberty, that phrase isn’t mentioned even once.
I’m not sure what to make of that.
Schwarz is arguing for a new expansive definition of liberty that includes both freedom and responsibility. Yet he never speaks of a “free people”.
Is he entirely subsuming freedom into liberty? Is he saying freedom doesn’t come from the people, as in natural rights (or something similar), but from the principle of liberty?
My view is different than some because I come from the cultural angle. The wording of these documents are just more info to be considered, but they can’t by themselves speak to us now. It is the culture that creates meaning and maintains traditions. It is the continuity of culture that makes the past relevant to the present.
This is what I sensed was somewhat lacking in Schwartz’s analysis. He is focusing very closely on language and texts, but not as much on the culture that surrounded them and gave them meaning. His emphasis on the social can’t, to my mind, replace the need for an understanding of culture.
The basic distinction between freedom and liberty is found in the distinction of regions.
On Mainland Europe, it is found in the differences between Northern Europe and Southern Europe. In England, it is found in the differences between the areas Northern Europeans settled (where Quakers and Puritans were concentrated) and where Southern Europeans settled (where the Cavalier aristocracy were concentrated). In America, it is found in the differences between the Northern states and the Southern states (because of migration and settlement patterns, along with the founding effect).
I sense these regional differences in the words themselves. The cultural dirt still clings to the roots. These aren’t ancient dead cultures. The differences remain very real in all these places, including America. There is a reason that to this day the word ‘liberty’ still resonates more strongly with Southerners than it does with Northerners. It isn’t just a word, but a word that represents an entire culture.
I admire what Schwartz is doing. He is trying to redefine a word. He is trying to reframe ‘liberty’ in terms of the cultural tradition of ‘freedom’, although he wouldn’t put it that way. The problem, though, is that he isn’t aware of the larger cultural context and so maybe doesn’t make as an effective argument as he could. What he is attempting to do without realizing it is to bridge the old conflict between Northern and Southern cultures, a divide that has plagued Western civilization for centuries.
I’m not sure the redefining of words is up to this task. It seems to me that we need to dig deeper to ensure our foundation is strong. If we are to find connections to bridge conflicts, they will be found by exploring how the concepts and cultural practices behind these words interacted and at times merged in English society and Anglo-American society. English is a special language in having such an old tradition that includes these two words and all that goes with them.
Schwarz knows a lot about political history. In that area, he is most interested in the concetpual. He wants to know how ideas relate to society.
I know a fair amount about political history, but no where near as much as Schwarz. I’ve been reading parts of his other book, Liberty in America’s Founding Moment. That is a great book. I’m learning a lot from it.
Ultimately, the strongest argument can be made by combining the political angle with the cultural angle. Where they can meet is in the conceptual, textual, linguistic/etymological, and historical.
Schwarz is looking for a shared vision. He wants a vision broad enough to encompass both liberty and freedom. I share that aspiration.
The challenge, as I see it, is that cultural traditions are stubborn toward change. For centuries, there have been those who sought unifying visions for America. Yet we are still a divided country, most clearly between Northern and Southern cultures.
Schwarz wants to create a common ideological language of shared values. That is important. Without the language to communicate, we will forever talk past each other.
In my continuing thoughts on the matter, two aspects stick in my mind.
First, as I made clear, the phrasing of “a free people” is quite intriguing and compelling. It is such a simple, bold statement. The entire sentence is interesting:
“A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”
The people aren’t free because they’ve freed themselves from a tyrant. No, it is that a tyrant isn’t worthy of ruling a free people. So, there is no implication of being free of government. As Jefferson well understood, the colonies had been governing themselves for a long time. Government wasn’t the issue.
What made the people free? For Jefferson, the context of his own thinking was historical. He knew how Anglo-American society developed. The American people were free because the English people were free, and they were free because the Anglo-Saxon people were free. This is what is implied by the following reference in the same document:
“free System of English Laws”
They were free by tradition. It was common law. Also, some thoughts about natural rights migh have been in the background, although it isn’t clear what Jefferson fully thought about natural rights.
Second, Quaker constitutionalism does offer insight, especially when placed next to other thinking at the time.
For Quakers, a constitution was a living constitution, not words written on a piece of paper, but words written on the hearts of people. A constitution was living for God was a living God with which one had a living experience. A constitution was the living soul of a people, of a community, of a society.
No written constitution was ever perfect. Our relationship to God and to society was always evolving. Written constitutions are only ever approximations. The striving was for a more perfect union, a neverending quest.
This touches on Jefferson’s Anti-Federalism. He thought that no single constitution could or should last for all time. In fact, he went so far as to say every generation should make its own constitution. It was the ideal of the consent of the governed. The dead had no right to rule over the living. So, the constitution of a dead generation loses its moral force. A living constitution requires a living generation who consented to it by free choice.
When combined together, a free people and a living constitution offer a powerful vision.