This article examines the origins and transformations of the political concept liberal/ liberalism in France, Germany, Italy and Britain from the late 18th to the early 19th century. The comparative analysis aims at reconstructing similarities and distinctions, ambivalences and turning-points within this European transformation by contrasting the different histories of liberalism in different political contexts. The premise of this approach results from the idea of specific historical experiences and expectations which determined the semantic structure of any socio-political concept. Methodologically this is based on the coupling of conceptional history with a comparative analysis of European liberalism. Its aim is to avoid a trap of semantic nominalism, that is an un-considered transfer of a concept from the contemporary political language of one country to the political discourse of another. This implicit equating of contemporary meanings in different contexts conceals the possibility of replacing the paradigm of an universal idea of European Liberalism with a spectrum of contemporary meanings of liberalism and its change over time.