Originally posted at the Scholar’s Stage, 15 September 2013.
| “The Freedman”
John Quincy Adam Ward. 1863. Displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The phrase “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” is a truism long accepted. I do not question the general truth this phrase attempts to convey, but I sometimes find it obscures more than it reveals. Men on opposing lines of battle may both fight in the name of freedom yet be fighting for very different things. “Freedom” comes in all shapes and sizes; when a Pashtun elder uses a word like freedom he may not be thinking anything close to the thoughts expressed at the average American Independence Day parade.
The freedom fighters of the American revolution fought in the name of liberty. The liberty they battled for came in two distinct flavors, each reflecting an esteemed political tradition inherited from their brothers across the sea. The first is the classical liberal tradition; the second the classical republican. In many ways the political history of the republic they founded was an attempt to reconcile these two traditions.