liberté which in turn came from the Latin libertas. It means: the condition of being free from restriction or control, the capacity to exercise choice, free will, the right of enjoying all the privileges of membership or citizenship and the right to enjoy all the privileges or special rights of membership in a community.
liberté into English, you get "freedom." Men and women have fought to obtain or maintain freedom for eons. Young people have been moved to travel far in the cause of freedom. I am thinking now about a wealthy young French orphan, who was passionate about the ideals of freedom and at 20 years of age, disguised as a woman so he could leave his country, chartered a vessel to go to America and fight. His name was Gilbert du Motier de la Fayette, known as Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834.) He did help this young country secede from the British Empire (but lost a great part of his fortune doing so.) Below is his portrait painted by French painter Joseph D. Court (1787-1865.)
Marquis de Lafayette leading American Troops (courtesy Library of Congress)
As written in Wikipedia "French money, munition, soldiers and naval forces proved essential to America's victory over the Crown, but France gained little except large debts. French aid proved vital in the victory of the Americans seeking independence from Britain. However the high debt France accumulated was a major cause of the French Revolution in 1789." Below is a painting by John Trumbull (American, 1753-1843) (who was present at the battle) showing the surrender of the British at Yorktown, Virginia on October 19,1781, with American and French troops on both sides. This battle ended the Revolutionary War.
Without French help I understand that the Patriots rebels and George Washington would have been defeated. I read that even though Americans think that the War of Independence was a revolution, it mostly was a civil war because American Loyalists or "Tories" opposed the war and fought against the American rebel Patriots. Within the 13 American colonies there were at least 500,000 Loyalists or more (up to 30% of the population then.) The Patriots were mostly farmers without military knowledge, equipment and weapons. In all probality, without France's support and financing, the colonies would have remained British, like Ireland or maybe Canada. But would have this been bad? Look at Canada - it is a great and free country with better healthcare, a life expectancy of 82.5 years (US is below Slovenia at 79.8) more openness to immigration and diversity. The people of France gave the Statue of Liberty to the USA "Liberty Enlightening the World" in 1886 as a gift in celebration of the 100th anniversary of America's Independence.
Is the poem on the Statue of Liberty still relevant today?
The postcard below says "The Liberty we claim in 1776 is the same we enjoy today." Well, not quite. In 1776 women could not even vote, and let's not mention slavery ...
At least the Civil Rights Act, enacted on July 2, 1964 - 50 years ago - outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origins. So are we all free now in the USA, free to enjoy all the benefits of citizenship? almost, but not yet. Franklin Roosevelt said "True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security." Look at the chart below, dated 2010 (in 2014 wealth inequality is getting even worse.)
"Freedom from want" - twenty percent of US children live in poverty - and almost 50% of black children (among industrialized countries only Romania has a higher poverty rate.) For every $100 a white family has, a black family has $2. For every $100 a single white woman has, a single black or Hispanic woman has 25 cents. How about freedom to receive a free education in good public schools and affordable colleges? From 1982 to 2007 US median family income rose by 147% and college tuition and fees rose by 439%. For example tuition at the University of Chicago was $45,945 in 2013 and in Canada, tuition at the University of Winnipeg was $11,115. Most college tuitions in Canada are half as those of the USA. The minimum wage in the US is still $7.25 and hour and is trailing most industrialized countries (France minimum wage is $12.68 and Australia is $16.87.)
The vintage postcard above shows the US "Plege of Allegiance" as it was originally composed by Francis Bellamy in 1892. It was re-written during the McCarthy era to add the mention "one Nation under God." So what is "Freedom of Religion" ? It also requires freedom from religion. Nowadays US citizens can attend any church, synagogue, and mosque of their choice but what about citizens who are not religious and just follow other spiritual philosophies, or are agnostics or just atheists? The government should not endorse any religious doctrine over others or take sides or even pass laws based on religious doctrines (as per the recent Hobby Lobby decision where the Supreme Court voted in favor of a corporation freedom of religion to ban contraception for women (while leaving contraception for men - vasectomy) against the 21,000 Hobby Lobby employees' freedom of religion or freedom from religion.) In addition, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed in 1948, does not mention sexual orientation - gay rights do not stop religious freedom, because gay rights are human rights.
What about the "Right to Equal Justice" ? Just as the gap between rich and poor has widened, incarceration rate between blacks and whites has also widened. In 2010 the rate of incarceration for whites was 678 inmates per 100,000 versus 4,347 black men incarcerated per 100,000 (Bureau of Justice Statistics.) Black men are 6 times more likely to be incarcerated than white men and for many of the same violations. This starts in preschool, really, as black kids are punished more frequently and harshly for the same offenses as whites, as shown in the graph below. A Department of Education reports that "Black children represent 18 percent of preschool enrollment, but 42 percent of the preschool children suspended once, and 48 percent of the preschool children suspended more than once."
These are grim statistics for a 4th of July. I enjoy the celebration and I am proud that a French citizen, marquis de Lafayette, helped the US get its independence and freedom, but I would like it to be, in 2014, freedom and equal rights for all.
I feel that every US man and woman is part of this country and also part of the world. Any friend, neighbor or anyone of us is diminished when a man, a woman and/or a child is unable to enjoy the fruits of freedom and equal rights. We should be foot soldiers to retain the freedom - the liberty - achieved on July 4th, 1776, and truly let the Liberty Bell toll not just for some of us but for all citizens and humankind. Happy 4th of July!