In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson based the colonists’ right to separate on the king’s denial of their freedom—their “inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Yet for over 225 years, the principle of freedom and our understanding of its implications have evolved. The debates, decisions, and battles of our past shape the United States in which we live today. The exhibition invites the modern-day viewer into the lives of the men and women who forged this nation, whether they arrived in this land by choice or in chains. Their words and images provide insight into the complexity of the past. Documents and photographs from the Civil War, a pivotal period in the nation’s history, will illustrate how Americans succeeded in redefining the meaning of freedom. We hope that the legacy of their struggle will resonate for Americans as they face the challenges of today and of the future.

This panel exhibition documents and illustrates critical figures and events while tracing the evolving concept of freedom from founding until 1968. Among the highlights are: a rare 1776 printing of the Declaration of Independence, a secretly printed draft and the official copy of the US Constitution, Lincoln’s handwritten notes for speeches, and letters by leading figures such as Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, and Martin Luther King Jr. Some of the more poignant descriptions of the meaning of freedom to the common man are found in the personal letters of Civil War soldiers, which speak to the pain and pride of fighting for national ideals.

Supplementary Materials

  • Site Resource Notebook
  • Educator’s Guide, including teaching supplements and lesson plans
  • Multimedia CD with images from the exhibition and additional content
  • Color brochures that summarize the exhibition content and present a brief bibliography for visitors to explore the subject further

Exhibition materials are drawn from the Gilder Lehrman Collection and from the Kunhardt Collection. The exhibition comes in six free-standing sections and is 60–70 running feet. The loan period for this exhibition is four weeks.

For more information, email Stephanie Krom or call (646) 366-9666, ext. 17. To request Freedom: A History of US, please complete our online Application Form.

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