Equality in the Eyes of the Revolutionary Leaders

Many unique concepts and theories of equality directed the ultimate actions of the Revolutionary leaders. Despite the phrase “All men are created equal” being etched early on into the Declaration of Independence, the authors of this document were driven by concepts far different that today’s culture might assume. Due to certain influences that showed equality to include some people groups but not others, the effect of the Declaration of Independence was somewhat limited, and some Americans were left out of this new-forged concept of equality altogether. {Ethical Perspective: Does equal really mean equal?}

Enlightenment Influence
While the American Declaration of Independence was being pieced together, there was a period that was of great influence to the Revolutionary leaders. This period was known as the Enlightenment, and it was crucial in determining the goals of America. The Enlightenment served as a basis for the documents that they leaders were putting together. Many thoughts of the Revolutionary leaders were influenced by John Locke. From Locke, the leaders were able to grasp concepts like freedom of oppression, natural rights, social contract, limited government, consent of the governed, and separation of powers. The Enlightenment brought not only the concepts discussed above, but it brought about a new way of thinking which led to the new America (Smith, 2010).

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Thomas Jefferson (far left) was the person most responsible for the wording of the Declaration of Independence; Benjamin Franklin (far right) and Samuel Adams (middle right) played lesser, yet still important roles as editors.

Equality According to the Declaration of Independence
While the ideas of individual equality were relatively new in the new and old world alike, Thomas Jefferson, with help from John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston, penned one of the most important and famous phrases in American history:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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.”
~ United States Declaration of Independence, 1776
{ANCEDOTE: Declaration of Independence}

While Jefferson and other great thinkers of the American Revolution clearly favored the opinion that men were created equal, they just as clearly did not believe that men were to be made, by other men, equals to each other, as the Founders did believed that there was, indeed, differences among all men. This is one reason why such great equalities never known to humanity were present in America, yet greater inequalities still persisted for a long duration (Til, 1978) {Vignette: //Old Habits Die Hard//}.

Counter – Argument/Rebuttal

In 1776 the Declaration of Independence was written. The declaration stated that there would be equal rights for all and that “all men are created equal…” The purpose of the declaration was to set up a government that supported the ideas of “….life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The decision was made that any government that did not support the concepts listed in the Declaration of Independence should be overthrown. Therefore, the intensions of the Declaration of Independence were to create a government that supported equality for all. However, in reality, the document created male tyranny and inequality.
The first example of inequality was women’s rights. Women were kept out of jobs, denied political rights, limited to education beyond elementary grades, and also denied control over their own property once they were married. It wasn’t until 1848, 72 years later, that women’s rights were even considered into the Declaration of Independence. It was finally considered in 1848 when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott held a conference about it in Seneca Falls, New York where they were joined by roughly one hundred supporters.
Another example of inequality was slavery. The legal definition of slavery is when a person has absolute power over another including life and liberty. Slaves were not allowed to marry, have a family, testify in court, or legally own property. If any of the above was disobeyed threats and punishment were not uncommon. Unfortunately, this cruel inequality was spread quickly and by 1860, slave states had over four million slaves. Thankfully in 1833, 57 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, the American Anti Slavery Society was found. However, slavery was not abolished until 1865. Therefore, there were a sad 89 years of inequality in between.
Last but not least, there was inequality when it came to civil rights, otherwise known as racism. As stated before, all men were to be created equal according to the declaration of Independence, but when it came to African Americans, they were thought of as property rather than as men. Over time the situation improved and in 1866-1867 African Americans could finally vote and attend school. This was all possible because if the Civil Rights Act that was passed in 1866. Like all of the other inequalities discussed, this particular one was taken care of at a much later date compared to when the declaration was written. In fact, the Civil Rights Movement didn’t happen until almost 100 years after the declaration was written.
Although these inequalities were a work in progress, there was finally independence and it was definitely better than being ruled by the King of Great Britian. Also, it could be said that the Declaration of Independence supported the movements that came about. With all thoughts in consideration, I must point out that if the declaration was followed in the beginning, movements like those discussed above would not have been necessary.


U.S. A Narrative History vol 1: to 1877 (our textbook)



Concepts of Equality
There are several reasons that lead to concepts of equality that directed the actions of revolutionary leaders. Among them were taxation without representation, lack of free trade, unlimited search and seizure, destruction of colonial government, and no guarantee of trial by jury (Head, 2011).

According to the text, U.S. A Narrative History, Volume 1, authored by J. Davidson, B. DeLay, C. Heyrman, M. Lytle, & M. Stoff, the era in which the Founders lived also directed the actions of the early Congress. To be specific, men viewed woman as inferior. For example, women were not allowed to work outside the house. They were meant to keep up with the house and run the family. However, as history progressed, women were allowed to work outside of the house, yet they were paid less than the men. This was yet another sign of women being inferior.{**Vignette**: //Ignorance is Bliss?//} In addition to women being inferior, slaves were considered property. Southern plantation owners fought hard to keep their property rights because they thought that the economy was dependent upon the labor provided by the slaves.

Counter: Argument & Rebuttal
“To be specific, men viewed woman as inferior”. Did they really view women as inferior or just as women? It states in the Declaration of Independence,
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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.”
-United States Declaration of Independence, 1776
it clearly states all men. It does not state all men and women or all human beings. One must take a minute to consider the authors, their background, their actual words and how they viewed humans based on their experiences and the world at the time. Today, we are able to compare our world to theirs but we have the advantage of being able to review history. We can make judgements as to how they were guilty of inequalities but they did not have that luxury of history or anything to compare it too. What were their words of all men based on? They were based on their lives in England and then the colonies. They only saw the fight for equality to extent to white, free males. They had been held under tyranny from England but demanded they be treated as equals. What in the world at that time would have us believe that they meant all human beings? Were women and blacks free anywhere that they would have lived? Women had never held an equal role to men. Women didn’t come to the new world and lose rights, did they? Same goes for slaves. The children born to slaves were considered slaves. They were not born free and then enslaved. In order to be fair when judging how the Declaration was upheld we must not let our knowledge gained through history prejudice our opinions. We must use only the knowledge that the authors of the Declaration and those in public office had at that time.
Even if we believe that all men meant literally all men why would they consider the unalienable rights given by The Creator to be theirs exclusively? When it came time to fight for freedom from England women and slaves, when bribed, supported the mission to gain freedom. If they were good enough to support why not be given benefits of that freedom gained in the same way? Was it just too much change at one time for the country to consider? Did the process of equality need to be accomplished in small baby steps rather then huge giant leaps? If women and the slaves had taken a firm stand for equality during such a fragile time would it have derailed any progress our country made?

Davidson, J.W., DeLay, B., Heymann, C.L., Lyte, M.H. & Stoff, M.B. (2009). U.S. A NARRATIVE HISTORY, Volume 1. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Britannica Concise Encyclopedia. (n.d.) Retrieved April 10, 2011 from answers.com: http://www.answers.com/topic/united-states-declaration-of-independence
Debra Beer Hist-103-W3

Property was a driving force behind equality. If one owned property than one was eligible; eligible to vote, eligible to hold public office and partake in the new government, eligible to be equal. It did not matter from which bloodline one were born (Davidson, 2009).

The Founding Fathers were looked down upon by the British elite; they were not considered equal in the eyes of the aristocrats. No matter how wealthy, how prestigious, and how educated they became-the men from the ‘New World’ would never be considered equal to the men that were sent by the King to govern them. Without a voice to object to the rules being forced upon them in this land by a far away King, the boiling point was met, and history would remain changed forever (Davidson, 2009).

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Goals of the Founders
The Declaration of Independence was merely a list of grievances to King George III; grievances from men who felt as if they were being treated inferior. The Constitution that was later drafted is the actual law of the land, and this is where equality actually stems in the eyes of the law. The Articles of Confederation were drafted by the original Colonies to present a record to compare when the people felt their ‘government’ was treating them as inferiors (West's Encyclopedia of American Law).

Works Cited

Britannica Concise Encyclopedia . (n.d.). Retrieved March 2, 2011, from answers.com: http://www.answers.com/topic/united-states-declaration-of-independence

Davidson, J. W., DeLay, B., Heyrmann, C. L., Lytle, M. H., & Stoff, M. B. (2009). U.S. A NARRATIVE HISTORY, Volume 1. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Head, T. (2011). Why the Founders Founded-Top 10 Civil Liberties Violations That Helped Cause the American Revolution. Retrieved March 2, 2011, from about.com: http://civilliberty.about.com/od/historyprofiles/tp/independence.htm

Jefferson, T. (1776, July 4). The Declaration of Independence. Retrieved March 2, 2011, from ushistory.org: http://www.ushistory.org/Declaration/document/

Kelly, M. (2011). Causes of the American Revolution. Retrieved March 4, 2011, from about.com: http://americanhistory.about.com/od/revolutionarywar/a/amer_revolution.htm

Smith, N. (2010). The Influence of the Enlightenment on the Formation of the United States. Retrieved March 4, 2011, from articlemyriad.com: http://www.articlemyriad.com/enlightenment_america.htm

Til, L. J. (1978, May). The Idea of Equality in America, Volume: 28 , Issue: 5 . Retrieved March 2, 2011, from thefreemanonline.org: http://www.thefreemanonline.org/featured/the-idea-of-equality-in-america/

West's Encyclopedia of American Law. (n.d.). Retrieved February 24, 2011, from answers.com: http://www.answers.com/topic/united-states-declaration-of-independence

Pamela Johnson
Hist. 103
Counter Argument and Rebuttal
Equality according to the Declaration of Independence did not include all men during this time in American history. The famous phrase "we hold these truths to be self-evident, 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." The authors of one of the most famous documents in American history only included men who were similar to them. Native American Indians and African slaves were not looked upon as men with equal rights as whites. Many of the authors of the Declaration of Independence owned slaves, therefore, verifying that the document did not include all men. The document declares America's independence from England. It lists many of the injustices committed by the British government. The document also encouraged and rallied men to stand up and fight against these injustices, because they considered themselves as men who deserved equality. One noticable problem that can be seen today in America is segragation. Although the article encourages many moral truths, the leaders during the time of the article's did not live by these moral truths. The article says "all men," not certain men. This alone takes away so much from the article and makes it seem hypocritical. In the eighteenth century ninety five percent of the Africans imported to America were slaves and were considered only property. The Native Indians were being pushed toward the west and their land either was taken or bought from them. Many of these Indians also experienced slavery, either by way of indentured servants or prisoners of war. The Declaration of Independence was written for a particular group of people during the 1800s.

U.S. Narrative History Vol 1: to 1877