Confronted with lack of permission, Americans sometimes reflexively claim that "it's a free country". Obviously, the truth is more nuanced, with degrees of freedom, competing definitions of freedom, and so on.

Where did this meme come from, and what was it first used to justify?

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    Itching to close-vote as opinion-based because the answer seems to entirely depend on who you ask. To an American, the answer will likely be the moment they declared their independence. (Never mind slavery, women's rights, segregation, etc.) To someone living outside of the US, the answer could be that they're still not, because puritanism, political correctness, etc. – Denis de Bernardy Aug 26 '17 at 22:23
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    @DenisdeBernardy The question is "start saying" not "when became free". This is not opinion. – axsvl77 Aug 27 '17 at 1:45
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    I wonder if people in England really thought of themselves as less free than Americans. – Jeff Aug 29 '17 at 10:09
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    This phrase is also very widely used in England and has been for the entirety of my lifetime. – bikeman868 Sep 8 '17 at 2:03

Google suggests as early as 1848 Stray Subjects, arrested and bound over,

That chap as went in fust thar ain t nobuddy ef he has got a swaller tailed coat on My money's as good as his n and it's a free country to day This young

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