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Liberalism in Early American Literature

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Liberalism is the foundation of America. This ideology is found in the country’s early fledgling literature and in the very document that made America free. Both the selected works of Phyllis Wheatley and Thomas Jefferson are actively working for the ideology of liberalism, which is a political ideology that is against any system that threatens the freedom of the individual and his natural rights and prevents the individual from becoming all the individual can be, specifically the importance of human individuality and the freedom of humanity from subservience to another group. The natural rights of man, in the words of John Locke, are “life, liberty and property.” These passages compliment each other because they are both in the support of the ideology of liberalism and support the freedom of all members of the human race. The big picture that is at stake is that the ideology of liberalism was the principle founding ideology in America and it was presence was felt in the social context via literature.

The importance of human individuality and the freedom of humanity from subservience to another group was a crucial point in the ideology of liberalism. Therefore, when liberalism is found in literature, it carries the same determining factors. In a section of the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson, Jefferson writes “He has incited treasonable insurrections in our fellow-subjects, with the allurements of forfeiture and confiscation of our property.” This language supports liberalism because Jefferson makes it clear that the “treasonable insurrections” were not caused by the people themselves but by King George III, i.e. an overbearing government and therefore it places the “fellow-subjects” in a subservient position. Another support of liberalism by this quote is the mentioning of the “confiscation of our property” which is, by way of John Locke, an infringement of natural rights and therefore an infringement of human individuality. Since Jefferson is condemning these infringements, he is then supporting the opposing view, which is liberalism. Jefferson also writes “He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people…” This statement is actively working for the ideology of liberalism by stating the life’s most sacred rights are life and liberty, which goes back to the statement by John Locke. By using the term sacred, Jefferson has created a sense of religiousness in his argument. This sense makes these rights divine and therefore places his ideology above the king’s because, in a Christian context, there is no authority higher than that of the divine. Even further in the passage, Jefferson writes “the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain” [sic], which places great emphasis on the faith of the king and makes the previous sense of religiousness even stronger because if the king is Christian then the king must appeal to divine will, which by Jefferson’s use of sacred is the will of liberalism and really strengthens Jefferson’s argument. Jefferson has been, of course, discussing the nature and practice of slavery, which he condemns via his liberalist ideology. But what of the slaves themselves? What do they feel? One can find the answer to this in the poetry of Phyllis Wheatley.

The poetry of Phyllis Wheatley gives us support of liberalism in literature, specifically the notion that all men are created equal. Phyllis Wheatley was a slave who was born in Africa and was brought to Boston. She was purchased by a tailor named John Wheatley for his wife, where she was taught to read and write. This is crucial in understanding the context and tone in which Phyllis Wheatley was writing. She is, by virtue of her poetry, a supporter of liberalism by her tone and her language choice. The second stanza of her poem “To Mжcenas” discusses why Terence, a slave from North Africa who came to Rome and received great fame as a writer

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