This fourth of July marks the two hundred and forty-third anniversary of the declaration of independence from Great Britain by the Thirteen American Colonies in 1776. One of the central themes of American independence is liberty. Or is it freedom? Or both? The English language is a fascinating mix of languages and cultures that has given certain synonymous pairs of words different nuance. These word pairs come from two sources: words that originally come from Old English and those that came from Norman and French that entered English by the Norman Conquest of England in 1066.
The words freedom and liberty are basically synonymous; there is no big difference between both. However, freedom is a more general concept, often meaning the quality of being free and the ability to do what one pleases. Liberty is generally seen as a type of freedom, or the power to exercise one’s freedom; for example, liberty may imply social, political, and religious freedoms. Freedom is a native English word that is related to the German Freiheit, Danish frihed, and Dutch vrejheid. Liberty entered the English language in the 14th century from Old French liberte, which was inherited from the Latin, libertas. The same Latin word gave form to Italian libertà, Spanish libertad, and Portuguese libertade.
At the root of it all, freedom and liberty is what unites us as Americans, we are the nation that created the notion of freedom of expression to all citizens without government interference; and we are the nation that proclaimed in the United States Declaration of Independence that liberty, along with life and the pursuit of happiness, is the right of every human being. Freedom and liberty are not unique to the United States. A decade after the U.S. Declaration of Independence, the people of France overthrew its monarchy demanding for greater equality, opportunity, and freedom. It was amid the French Revolution that Maximilien Robespierre, a French politician, coined the expression liberté, égalité, fraternité—liberty, equality, fraternity. This is the national motto of both the French Republic and the Republic of Haiti.
We are lucky that we live in a Western democracy, where it is engrained in our culture that all human beings are created equal, and thus deserve to live as one pleases with freedom. Unfortunately, not many places in the world have that luxury, and many suffer for not having economic and personal freedoms. This Fourth of July, let us celebrate that in the United States we are still able to enjoy freedom, whether it be to express oneself, to love, and to protest. Happy Independence Day!
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