ETYMOLOGY: Middle English liberte, from Old French, from Latin lībertās, from līber.
lib·er·ty (l b r-t ) NOUN: pl. lib·er·ties
1. a. The condition of being free from restriction or control.
b. The right and power to act, believe, or express oneself in a manner of one’s own choosing.
c. The condition of being physically and legally free from confinement, servitude, or forced labor.
2. Freedom from unjust or undue governmental control.
3. A right or immunity to engage in certain actions without control or interference: the liberties protected by the Bill of Rights.
–American Heritage Dictionary
We Americans may have acquired the word liberty from Old French, but that’s no reason to forget it. Our country and system of government is based on it.
Today, people mistake its meaning for freedom. The two words, though similar to the uneducated, are anything but synonymous. Where liberty is generally a right or immunity, freedom is generally an exemption granted.
I prefer to think of the difference this way:
Liberty is the act of performing a right.
Freedom is the act of performing a privilege.
For instance, Americans have the liberty to engage in their inalienable rights, while aliens (foreign visitors) have the freedom to engage in the privileges granted by the Americans. Also, government officials have the privilege to protect the rights and liberties of the American Citizens, but do not have the right to infringe upon those liberties.