OPINION – America! For more than 250 years the word has represented hope, opportunity, a second chance, and freedom. In America the accident of a man’s birth did not have to serve as an inescapable weight that dictated a person’s fate or that of his family. The American identity is shaped, not predetermined. We are a society of the free.
Once a newcomer – the immigrant – stepped on American soil he left the political tyrannies and economic barriers of the “old world” behind. A willingness to work hard and to bear the risks of one’s own decisions, the possession of a spirit of enterprise, and a little bit of luck were the keys to the doors of success in their “new world” home.
Visitors from Europe traveling to America in the nineteenth century, Frenchmen like Alexis de Tocqueville and Michel Chevalier, marveled at the energy and adaptability of the ordinary American. An American paid his own way, took responsibility for his actions, and showed versatility in the face of change, often switching his occupation, profession, or trade several times during his life, and frequently moving about from one part of the country to another.
American Ideals Don’t Need Regulating
What’s more, individual Americans demonstrated a generous spirit of charity and voluntary effort to assist those who had fallen upon hard times, as well as to deal with a wide variety of common community services in their cities, towns, and villages.
Those foreign observers of American life noted that no man bowed to another because of the hereditary accident of birth. Each man viewed himself as good as any other, to be judged on the basis of his talents and abilities as well as his character and conduct as a human being.
Even the scar of slavery that blemished the American landscape through more than half of the nineteenth century stood out as something inherently inconsistent and untrue to the vision and conception of a society of free men laid down by those Founding Fathers. The logic of liberty meant that slavery, and all other denials of equal rights before the law, would eventually have to end, in one way or another, if the claim of freedom for all was not to remain confronted with a cruel hypocrisy to the ideal.
A Free America’s Wondrous Fruits
What a glorious country this America was. Here was a land of free individuals who were able to pursue their dreams and fulfill their peaceful desires. They were free men who could put their own labor to work, acquire property, accumulate wealth, and fashion their own lives. They associated on the basis of freedom of exchange, and benefited each other by trading their talents through a network of division of labor that was kept in order through the competitive processes of market-guided supply and demand.
In this free marketplace, the creative entrepreneurial spirit was set free. Every American was at liberty to try his hand, if he chose, to start his own business and devise innovative ways to offer new and better products to the market, through which he hoped to earn his living. No man was bond to the soil upon which he was born or tied to an occupation or profession inherited from his ancestors. Every individual had an opportunity to be the master of his own fate, with the freedom to move where inclination led him and choose the work that seemed most profitable and attractive.