Voices of Freedom documentary

Voices of Freedom is a documentary history of American freedom from the earliest days of European
exploration and settlement of the Western Hemisphere to the present. I have prepared it as a
companion volume to Give Me Liberty!, my survey textbook of the history of the United States
centered on the theme of freedom. This sixth edition of Voices of Freedom is organized in chapters
that correspond to those in the sixth edition of the textbook. But it can also stand independently as a
documentary introduction to the history of American freedom. The two volumes include more than
twenty documents not available in the fifth edition.
No idea is more fundamental to Americans’ sense of themselves as individuals and as a nation than
freedom, or liberty, with which it is almost always used interchangeably. The Declaration of
Independence lists liberty among mankind’s inalienable rights; the Constitution announces as its
purpose to secure liberty’s blessings. “Every man in the street, white, black, red or yellow,” wrote the
educator and statesman Ralph Bunche in 1940, “knows that this is ‘the land of the free’ . . . ‘the
cradle of liberty.’ ”
The very universality of the idea of freedom, however, can be misleading. Freedom is not a fixed,
timeless category with a single unchanging definition. Rather, the history of the United States is, in
part, a story of debates, disagreements, and struggles over freedom. Crises like the American
Revolution, the Civil War, and the Cold War have permanently transformed the idea of freedom. So
too have demands by various groups of Americans for greater freedom as they understood it.
In choosing the documents for Voices of Freedom, I have attempted to convey the multifaceted
history of this compelling and contested idea. The documents reflect how Americans at different
points in our history have defined freedom as an overarching idea, or have understood some of its
many dimensions, including political, religious, economic, and personal freedom. For each chapter, I
have tried to select documents that highlight the specific discussions of freedom that occurred during
that time period, and some of the divergent interpretations of freedom at each point in our history. I
hope that students will gain an appreciation of how the idea of freedom has expanded over time, and
how it has been extended into more and more areas of Americans’ lives. But at the same time, the
documents suggest how freedom for some Americans has, at various times in our history, rested on
lack of freedom—for example, slavery, indentured servitude, the subordinate position of women—
for others.
The documents that follow reflect the kinds of historical developments that have shaped and
reshaped the idea of freedom, including war, economic change, territorial expansion, social protest
movements, and international involvement. The selections try to convey a sense of the rich cast of
characters who have contributed to the history of American freedom. They include presidential
proclamations and letters by runaway slaves, famous court cases and obscure manifestos, ideas
dominant in a particular era and those of radicals and dissenters. They range from advertisements in
colonial newspapers seeking the return of runaway indentured servants and slaves to debates in the
early twentieth century over the definition of economic freedom, the controversy over the proposed
Equal Rights Amendment for women, and recent Supreme Court decisions dealing with the right of
gay Americans to marry one another.
I have been particularly attentive to how battles at the boundaries of freedom—the efforts of racial
minorities, women, and others to secure greater freedom—have deepened and transformed the
concept and extended it into new realms. In addition, in this sixth edition I have included a number
of new documents that illustrate how the very definition of American identity—answers to the
question “Who is an American?”—have affected the evolution of the idea of freedom. These include
Benjamin Franklin’s argument in 1751 for restricting immigration to English men and women; J.
Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur’s observations at the time of the War of Independence on the
emergence of the American, a “new man,” from the diverse peoples of European descent in the new
nation; Frederick Douglass’s remarkable “Composite Nation” speech soon after the Civil War;
Randolph Bourne’s 1916 essay “Trans-National America”; and historian Oscar Handlin’s critique of
the law adopted in 1924 that severely restricted immigration from southern and eastern Europe.
All of the documents in this collection are “primary sources”—that is, they were written or spoken
by men and women enmeshed in the events of the past, rather than by later historians. They therefore
offer students the opportunity to encounter ideas about freedom in the actual words of participants in
the drama of American history. Some of the documents are reproduced in their entirety. Most are
excerpts from longer interviews, articles, or books. In editing the documents, I have tried to remain
faithful to the original purpose of the author, while highlighting the portion of a text that deals
directly with one or another aspect of freedom. In most cases, I have reproduced the wording of the
original texts exactly. But I have modernized the spelling and punctuation of some early documents
to make them more understandable to the modern reader. Each document is preceded by a brief
introduction that places it in historical context and is followed by two questions that highlight key
elements of the argument and may help to focus students’ thinking about the issues raised by the
A number of these documents were suggested by students in a U.S. history class at Juniata College in
Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, taught by Professor David Hsiung. I am very grateful to these students,
who responded enthusiastically to an assignment by Professor Hsiung that asked them to locate
documents that might be included in Voices of Freedom and to justify their choices with historical
arguments. Some of the documents are included in the online exhibition “Preserving American
Freedom” created by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
Taken together, the documents in these volumes suggest the ways in which American freedom has
changed and expanded over time. But they also remind us that American history is not simply a
narrative of continual progress toward greater and greater freedom. While freedom can be achieved,
it may also be reduced or rescinded. It can never be taken for granted.
Eric Foner

A New World
1. 1. Adam Smith, The Results of Colonization (1776)
2. 2. Giovanni da Verrazano, Encountering Native Americans (1524)
3. 3. Bartolomé de las Casas on Spanish Treatment of the Indians, from History of the Indies
4. 4. The Pueblo Revolt (1680)
5. 5. Father Jean de Bré beuf on the Customs and Beliefs of the Hurons (1635)
6. 6. Jewish Petition to the Dutch West India Company (1655)
1. Adam Smith, The Results of
Colonization (1776)
Source: Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (London,
1776), vol. 2, pp. 190–91, 235–37.
“The discovery of America,” the Scottish writer Adam Smith announced in his celebrated work The
Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, was one of “the two greatest and most important events
recorded in the history of mankind.” Smith is regarded as the founder of modern economics. It is not
surprising that looking back nearly three centuries after the initial voyage of Christopher Columbus
in 1492, Smith focused primarily on the economic results of the conquest and colonization of North
and South America. The influx of goods from the New World, he insisted, greatly increased the
“enjoyments” of the people of Europe and the market for European goods. Nonetheless, Smith did
not fail to note the price paid by the indigenous population of the New World, who suffered a
dramatic decline in population due to epidemics, wars of conquest, and the exploitation of their
labor. “Benefits” for some, Smith observed, went hand in hand with “dreadful misfortunes” for
others—a fitting commentary on the long encounter between the Old and New Worlds.
OF THE ADVANTAGES which Europe has derived from the Discovery of America, and from that of a
Passage to the East Indies by the Cape of Good Hope
What are [the advantages] which Europe has derived from the discovery and colonization of
The general advantages which Europe, considered as one great country, has derived from the
discovery and colonization of America, consist, first, in the

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