There was a land mine present in our founding. We could not base a country on the ideas of the Declaration of Independence and forever maintain a system of chattel slavery. Even the slave-owning founders knew that. (By the end of his life, James Madison got positively gloomy at what he saw as an inexorable dilemma.) We preached universal freedom but practiced a version of it that could not abide. Freedom becomes free. That’s the undeniable truth of it. You cannot forever hem it in with nuance and exception, with carefully crafted compromises that say that freedom is one thing in Wisconsin, but another thing in Tennessee, and maybe both things in Kansas and Missouri. And it was not merely over the gigantic issue of slavery in which this most basic American conundrum was contested and resolved, Americans also found their freedom bounded by class, by a structured social system in which higher education remained pretty much the province of the well-to-do, and pretty much glued to the eastern part of the country. Freedom, however, will make itself more free because people, together, through the free government that is the clearest expression of the political commonwealth, will make it so.
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