Richard BrookhiserMay 4, 2021
Give Me Liberty
A History of America's Exceptional Idea
Basic Books 2019
In Give Me Liberty: A History of America's Exceptional Idea (Basic Books, 2019), Richard Brookhiser has written a history of an idea, liberty, using an unconventional format of a review of documents from America’s past that touch upon different understandings of liberty. Brookhiser reviews thirteen documents from each era of America’s past. He starts with the 1619 document noting the beginning of representative and deliberative self-government in Jamestown, Virginia. He includes a review of notable, well known documents, from the Seneca Falls Declaration from 1848 to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address from 1863 to William Jennings Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” speech in 1896 to Ronald Reagan’s Berlin Wall speech in 1987. Yet, Brookhiser also analyzes some “hidden history,” covering documents that are less well known. For example, he reviews the Flushing Remonstrance of 1657, wherein common people in New York publicly demanded liberty of conscience, not for themselves, but for a religious minority and for religious beliefs they did not personally embrace. Instances such as these reveal the widespread and deeply felt sense that liberty is endemic to humans and should be recognized by positive law and protected by government.
Ian J. Drake is Associate Professor of Jurisprudence, Montclair State University.