Liberty has a history that shows that it varies with time and place. In England prior to the Habeas Corpus Act (1679) a person could be seized and kept in prison indefinitely without trial or hearing. The common-law prohibition of conspiracy as dangerous to domestic peace and order was invoked far into the 19th cent. to limit the right of association in labor unions. Specifically political liberties, such as the general right to vote and to hold public office, were practically unknown before the 19th cent., when they were achieved by the liberal movement in England. The same is true of such civil liberties as freedom of speech and of the press. Freedom of conscience, the right of private judgment in religious matters, and the right to worship with groups of one's own choosing were nonexistent prior to the Protestant Reformation and still limited in most places for a long time afterward.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.