Critics & Crusaders: A Century of American Protest

By Charles A. Madison | Go to book overview

PREFACE

THE QUEST FOR FREEDOM has been a basic characteristic of the American people from the very beginning. The Pilgrims braved the dangers of a hostile shore in order to worship God in their own way. Roger Williams founded the colony of Rhode Island to practise the freedom of thought denied him in Massachusetts. Puritans without number preferred the hardships of the wilderness to an oppressive conformity.

This assertion of conscience has shaped our national development ever since: there were always enough bold spirits ready to fight for the greater freedom of all. When the British tried to curb the liberties of the colonists, the happy consequences were revolution and independence. The Founding Fathers made the "self-evident truths "our rallying cry. The Bill of Rights, forced upon a reluctant gentry, became the lifeblood of the young nation and the faith of its greatest heroes.

Freedom is not, of course, a simple or static good. In its noblest aspects it reflects man's loftiest aspirations; hypocrites and knaves have sometimes flaunted it to their immediate gain; always it is the prize for which the subservient many join the powerful few in everrenewed combat. Equally remarkable is its chameleon-like quality. Roger Williams called it religious liberty; to Sam Adams it was political independence; William Lloyd Garrison believed it synonymous with emancipation of the Negro; Thoreau extolled it as the absence of coercion; Eugene V. Debs defined it as economic equal-

-vii-

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