The term "liberal" has been thrown around lately as a label that is selected to describe some of my loved ones and some of my own political positions on issues. It sounded negative to me, and I didn't care for it. Then I realized I didn't really know what the term means in American politics. So I started some research. Here's what Wikipedia had to say. It's nice, actually. I can see the liabilities, but overall, it is a good political perspective. I was pleasantly surprised. I don't totally trust Wikipedia, but that is an easy place to start.
Liberalism emphasizes individual rights and equality of opportunity. Within liberalism there are various streams of thought which compete over the use of the term "liberal" and may propose very different policies, but they are generally united by their support for a number of principles, including freedom of thought and speech, limitations on the power of governments, the rule of law, an individual's right to private property, free markets, and a transparent system of government. All liberals, as well as some adherents of other political ideologies, support some variant of the form of government known as liberal democracy, with open and fair elections, where all citizens have equal rights by law.
Modern liberalism has its roots in the Age of Enlightenment and rejected many foundational assumptions that dominated most earlier theories of government, such as the Divine Right of Kings, hereditary status, established religion, and economic protectionism.
The first modern liberal state was the United States of America, founded on the principle that "all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to insure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Pioneers of liberalism such as Adam Smith conceptualized free markets, free trade, invisible hand, spontaneous order, and how they lead to prosperity. Liberals argued that economic systems based on free markets are more efficient and generate more prosperity.