Peter Onuf on Jefferson and America’s concepts of liberty

University of Virginia’s Peter S. Onuf writes in a recently syndicated op-ed piece about the fluid nature of American concepts of liberty and the contributions of those concepts to the American Revolution. Liberty is an idea at the heart of both the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War, and Onuf does a excellent job of outlining both the qualities of the idea and the contradictions of those who claimed liberty as their motivation in both the document and the war. Particularly strong are his descriptions of the nature of liberty in American history: “The fundamental tension, according to students of modern liberalism, is between a negative conception of liberty — the freedom from outside interference or encroachment — and a positive conception — to participate on equal terms in the civic life of the commonwealth.”  The article is an excellent brief overview of fundamental ideas shared by Jefferson and many Americans that led to not only independence, but the formation of American political identity.

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Filed under History of the Declaration of Independence, Scholarship and Historians

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