Liberalism in the United States

Liberalism in the United States is a broad political philosophy centered on what many see as the unalienable rights of the individual. The fundamental liberal ideals of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion for all belief systems and the separation of church and state, right to due process and equality under the law are widely accepted as a common foundation across the spectrum of liberal thought.

Modern liberalism in the United States includes issues such as same-sex marriage, reproductive and other women's rights, voting rights for all adult citizens, civil rights, environmental justice and government protection of freedom from want.[1] National social services such as equal education opportunities, access to health care and transportation infrastructure are intended to meet the responsibility to promote the general welfare of all citizens as established by the Constitution. Some American liberals, who call themselves classical liberals, fiscal conservatives, or libertarians, support fundamental liberal ideals, but diverge from modern liberal thought, holding that economic freedom is more important than equality and that providing for the general welfare exceeds the legitimate role of government.[2]

Since the 1930s, the term liberalism (without a qualifier) usually refers in the United States to social liberalism, also known as modern liberalism, a political philosophy exemplified by Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal and later Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society. It is a form of social liberalism, whose accomplishments include the Works Progress Administration and the Social Security Act in 1935, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It is also known as left liberalism in Germany,[3][4][5] modern liberalism in the United States[6] and new liberalism in the United Kingdom,[7][8] which is a political ideology and a variety of liberalism that endorses a regulated market economy and the expansion of civil and political rights.

According to Louis Hartz, liberalism in the United States differs from liberalism elsewhere in the world because the United States never had a resident hereditary aristocracy[9] and as such avoided much of the class warfare that swept Europe.[10] According to Ian Adams, all American parties are "liberal and always have been. Essentially, they espouse classical liberalism—that is, a form of democratized Whig constitutionalism, plus the free market. The point of difference comes with the influence of social liberalism".[11]

18th and 19th century liberalism

The origins of American liberalism lie in the political ideals of the Age of Enlightenment.[12] The Constitution of the United States of 1787 set up the first modern republic, with sovereignty in the people (not in a monarch) and no hereditary ruling aristocracy. However, the Constitution limited liberty, in particular by accepting slavery. The Founding Fathers recognized the contradiction, but they needed a nation strong enough to survive in the world.[13]

In the late 18th and 19th centuries, the United States extended liberty to ever broader classes of people. The states abolished many restrictions on voting for white males in the early 19th century. The Constitution was amended in 1865 to abolish slavery and in 1870 to extend the vote to black men.[14]

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