What 'Liberal' Means


J. Hilber – April 1, 2013
The term ‘liberal’ has several usages. The most usable definition of ‘liberal’ in regard to government and politics is found in our Declaration of Independence:[i]
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
In order to institute a government in our country that meets these ideals, our founders designed a democracy (an ancient form of government) constrained by these principles. There are many types of democracies. Many governments claim to be democracies but ours is best classified as a “constitutional democratic republic”. That is; (1) Rights of citizens are  protected and government power is constrained by a constitution , (2) the legislative function is  carried out by democratically elected representatives (Representative and Senators),  (3) The Executive leadership is chosen using the republic form of democracy.(regional electors are elected democratically and they elect the President and Vice President.)[ii]
I sometimes hear democracy and capitalism equated or that the US Constitution specifies laissez-faire capitalism as our economic system. In a 2010 article, in the University of Richmond Law Review, clarifies those distortions.
The Framers of the United States Constitution were passionate about the protection of individual property rights and the right of private parties to form and enforce contracts, both rights essential to the functioning of a market economy, but they did not intend to enshrine laissez-faire capitalism in the new republic’s basic law.”[iii]
Another term that is used to describe our form of democracy is ‘Liberal Democracy’.
“It is characterized by fair, free, and competitive elections between multiple distinct political parties, a separation of powers into different branches of government, the rule of law in everyday life as part of an open society, and the equal protection of human rights, civil rights, civil liberties, and political freedoms for all persons.”[iv]
In the beginning only land owning men were allowed to vote and voting was controlled by state, not federal law. Eventually all states permitted all male citizens 21 years of age and older to vote.  Since the Civil War several amendments to the US Bill of Rights specified voting rights that all states must honor.  [v]
                15th Amendment – 1876 - Granted voting rights to African American men
                17th Amendment – 1912 – Provided for direct election of US Senators.
                19th Amendment - 1920 – Granted voting rights to women.
                26th Amendment – 1978 – Lowered voting age to eighteen.
Each of these amendments expanded the voting rights of the citizens thus making our democracy more and more liberal.

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