‘All men are created equal’ explained


By Guzi He, Columnist

People have been questioning the sincerity of the phrase “all men are created equal” ever since its debut in the U.S. Declaration of Independence. British poet Samuel Johnson lamented its irony, writing in 1775 “we hear the loudest yelps for liberty coming from the drivers of” black individuals.

It is almost as if the Founding Fathers crafting the phrase were selfish hypocrites who reserved equality only for men in their own likeness. The truth is far detached.

First, the Founding Fathers were not hypocrites. They knew very well slavery is wrong. In a letter to Roger C. Weightman, Thomas Jefferson wrote “the palpable truth (is) that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.” The idea that no one is born a slave suggests slavery must have been an artificial institution.

If man made slavery possible, man can also abandon it. George Washington never lived to read Jefferson’s letter in 1826. Yet, he knew its truths all along when he freed his own slaves. So were Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin who both condemned slavery through civil society groups.

Some of the founders despised slavery. But they were also pragmatists. Supporting emancipation would have prompted Southern states like Georgia and the Carolinas, which relied heavily on slave labor, to leave the union.

The United States would have fractured had the founders been too vocal about their views. Worst still, slavery would have lasted for much longer had the South been an independent country unhindered by U.S. restrictions on importing Africans and enslaving them in newly settled territories in North America. Setting an example that slavery was becoming a thing of the past was all one could do.

Furthermore, the Founding Fathers were not selfish, for “all men are created equal” was their gift to the world. Everyone being equal implies that no person — not even the a king atop his golden throne — had the right to tell a lowly peasant to obey him. Just because God made some men princes while others paupers does not change the fact that they all have the same dignity.

When two entities are as equals, all agreements between them must be made with mutual consent because neither have the right to demand something by claiming oneself inherently superior.

Therefore, while the Chinese emperor could demand absolute loyalty from his subjects as the “Son of Heaven,” an American president can only govern with the approval of those who elected him.

Equality as a concept rose from a world where the strong subjugate the weak. Yet, its allure drove American colonists to take up arms against Britain in 1775, Russians to overthrow their Czar in 1917 and Venezuelans today to risk their lives fighting the regime of Nicolas Maduro.

Without equality, no men would be free.

Guzi is a freshman in LAS.

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