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Authors

Albert Thomas

Abstract

Current libertarian understandings of individual rights are assumed by many to have been a fundamental part of our American culture since the nation’s founding. Yet our understanding of American individualism and its ideals is a modern one; though the Bill of Rights speaks of individual liberties which are to be protected against the federal government, local "police" powers took priority over individual rights through much of U.S. history. The police powers were predicated on a community-centered interpretation of liberty, which resembles the philosophy of Rousseau. In this thesis, I argue that 19th-century America exhibits a remarkably French understanding of religious freedom that has, over time, evolved into our present-day libertarian understanding of constitutional freedoms. Consequently, this seeks to alter our contemporary conceptualization of American legal history

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