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Speaking to a Baltimore audience in 1864, Abraham Lincoln made an observation that remains ­uncomfortably true today. “The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty,” he said, “and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing.”

Lincoln had two ideas of liberty in mind. The first, true liberty, is man’s freedom to choose in accord with the moral law. Lincoln contrasted this true liberty with its corruption, “license”—of a most peculiar sort. In his day the license that some called liberty had come to mean the right “for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor.”

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