A really interesting debate has been going on between a couple of the contributors from Reason. It started with an article by Future of Freedom Foundation founder Jacob Hornberger where he laments the loss of freedom since the country's founding. In response, Cato executive Vice President David Boaz, writes about the great strides in freedoms that women, minorities, and non-property owners. Hornberger responds that while he certainly should have mentioned slavery and Jim Crow, the federal government had little to no role in most activities by citizens in say the 1880s. Boaz responds that because the antebellum South based its entire economy on slavery, it can't just be a caveat to a celebration of the freedom, and that women and minorities still weren't very free in those 1880s. That's where it stands right now, but I hope it goes a couple more rounds.
It's a great debate to have, and it's the kind of substantive civil debate that seems to only happen among great libertarian minds. Were we freer as a whole when only white men were completely free and the government was less oppressive? Or are we freer as a whole today with a more oppressive government, but with de jure discrimination almost completely eliminated? I don't know where I stand completely, except that I firmly believe that the fact that the United States were founded on the idea of liberty and justice for all led to the abolition of slavery in the West. I think that should be remembered when we try to judge the founding fathers.