1/29/13 - the meaning of freedom and liberty

In today's selection -- for Americans in the twentieth century, the words freedom and liberty came to mean freedom from foreign powers -- Hitler and his ilk. But that was not the meaning of those words to the founding fathers, for their mission was to gain liberty from their own government -- Parliament and the King. The Constitution they wrote to build a new government was designed to prevent that government from having too much power, and the accompanying Bill of Rights further enhanced the freedom of the people from that government. The power of that early meaning is reflected vividly in a letter written in 1847 by the German immigrant Phillip Best trying to persuade his relatives to leave Germany and join him in Milwaukee. (Best was one of the founders of Pabst Brewery, which later grew to be the largest in the world). He further marveled at the fact that -- unlike in Germany -- politicians and priests/preachers were not paid high salaries. And he reassured his family about the Mexican American War then underway -- war was a constant scourge in fragmented Europe -- telling them "in keeping with liberty there is no compulsion to join the war." Why, America did not even require a passport!:

"Milwaukee, May 10, 1847

"Dear Mother-in-law, Brother-in-law and Sisters-in-law,

"It is now high time that I reach for the pen myself ... One beholds here how the farmer lives without worries. ... In Germany no one knows how to appreciate the liberty to which every human being is entitled by birth, only here in America can he experience it. Here the farmer may speak as freely as the nobleman and the scholar, everyone may express his opinion in accordance with his knowledge and judgment, for all the laws depend upon the people, and all the officials as well; that is, the people get together and elect them the way the burgomasters are elected in Germany, and they receive no more remuneration than they need for a reasonably good living. There is a tremendous dif­ference, here the officials and priests are dependent upon the people, and in Germany the people are dependent upon the officials and priests. The preachers' trade is a poor business here, they have to toil at it in the sweat of their brows.

"I also want to write something to you about the Mexican War, it might frighten you somewhat if you should hear something about it and that without any definite basis. It is just about as far from here as it is from here to you, in keeping with liberty there is no com­pulsion to join in the war, only those who join voluntarily for pay. There were recently recruited again in the United States ten regi­ments, in the course of which two companies were shipped out from here also, one German and one American, they go directly to the capture of the capital of Mexico. Everyone receives nine dollars and board, and when he comes back again 160 acres of land, or if he is shot to death and has wife and children or parents they get it, if these are in Germany then they get half the value of the land sent to Germany. They believe that the Americans will win the war against the Mexicans very soon, for they have already conquered some of the major fortresses, whereby the American armies, which include many Germans, proved themselves very valiant. Many a German has lost his life in this wonderful region of Mexico. A great deal of money has been collected in the United States (and still is) to give partial support to the unfortunate poor Europeans. 

"You cannot imagine how much flour and wheat is already being produced in this young state [of Wisconsin]. A great deal of this flour (packed in light barrels) goes to Europe, I believe most of it remains in the Netherlands, Ireland and France. For here there is most excellent wheat land, and it will be­come one of the best states in America, and Milwaukee is and re­mains the first city in the state, for it already numbers 12,000 in­habitants. The property of people who bought places for themselves here three years ago and built thereon rises tremendously in value and likewise the land. ...    

"Well dear friends, if you want to decide upon this important step, then the sooner you do it the better. ... You do not need any passports." 


Thomas C. Cochran


The Pabst Brewing Company: The History of an American Business


Literary Licensing, LLC


Copyright 1948 by New York University


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