Liberalism, another word that has been taken hostage by political factions these days, or Classical Liberalism, Libertarianism and Individualism, or Anarchy, has roots in America going back 400 years.
The early Americans who we are told left England to find “religious freedom” created the exact opposite. The Puritans in Massachusetts had set up a religious oligarchy that was more oppressive than anything they had left. Not only was the Puritan theology forced on you from the church, but the civil government also enforced all the Puritan edicts. If you didn’t come to church, you were whipped. Nothing could be said against either the church or the civil government, (which were one and the same) or you were whipped, banished, or put to death. You were free to believe what they wanted you to, but it ended there. The regulations put on the people were so extreme you could hardly move without violating a law (sounds oddly familiar). The Oligarchy saw the brainwashing of the youth as its best protection of its power, so it instituted the first mandatory public schools in America, with the stated intent of training “obedient” subjects.
Not all subjects were allowed to join the church, and only church members were allowed to vote for the rulers, another way to solidify their power.
The Reverend Urian Oakes gave the thought of the rulers of that day: “The loud outcry of some is for Liberty of conscience …I look upon this unbounded toleration as the firstborn of abominations.” So here is what was faced by the settlers of the new world.
But I would submit that wherever there is Tyranny, there is a Resistance, and these Puritans leaders suffered from an inner contradiction: their own protestant tenant of the Individual being able to interpret the Bible without ecclesiastical decree. And that Spirit of Individualism would soon spread not only to religion, but to civil society as well.