All Men Are Created Equal

Happy Canada Day!  In a few days the US will be celebrating their Independence Day.  On this July 4th, they are closer to Independence for all of their citizens thanks to the Supreme Court ruling in favor of more freedom for marriage.

Some of the most famous words from Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence are “all men are created equal.”  Do you think he meant all people?  Men is often used to indicate people collectively, whether you agree with the usage or not, but in this case I don’t even think he meant all males in the sense of how we understand the word today.

In the 1790 census of the new United States, the population was about 3.9 million.  Only white, male property owners were given the right to vote.  The estimates are that only 10 – 16% of the population could vote.  Equality was not offered to African-Americans, non-property owners or women.  In fact, Jefferson himself was a slave owner.  He did in fact free a handful of his slaves during his lifetime and was in favor of abolishing slavery, though he thought African-Americans intelligence was less than white males (from his Notes published in 1785).  The fact that he freed a few slaves and favored abolition gets more press it seems than the fact that he still owned 130 slaves at his death.  These were sold to pay his debts.  He relied on his slaves for the free labor at the same time that he was calling for an end to slavery.  It does not seem to me that these humans were included in the phrase “all men are created equal.”

I think the Declaration of Independence led that country to where it is now.  It is getting closer to equality each year.  It may seem like a snails pace to some, but it is much faster than plenty of other countries.  The Declaration of Independence should be celebrated this July 4th, it and what it stands for is a big part of recent human history and has provided opportunities for millions of oppressed people through the years.  I think it is also important not to take for granted where the country came from to get where it is now.  There is no need to look through rose colored glasses at the founding fathers.  Look at them for who they were and look at how we can improve upon what they started.

Just for kicks, here is a very abbreviated timeline of voting rights in the US:

1790 – Only white male property owners can vote

1850 – Almost all adult white males can vote

1870 – Adult male citizens of any race can vote

1920 – Women can vote

One interesting note – When an amendment to the US Constitution is made it grants rights (or takes them away in the case of Prohibition) but is not enforceable until laws are passed.  The above dates are when the rights were granted, these rights were not universally enforceable until the 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed to protect the rights of minority voters.  That is only 50 years ago!  All people are created equal, maybe one day we will quit trying to divide them up into unequal categories at birth.