All men are created equal

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The quotation "All men are created equal" has been called an "immortal declaration", and "perhaps [the] single phrase" of the United States Revolutionary period with the greatest "continuing importance".[1][2] Thomas Jefferson first used the phrase in the Declaration of Independence. It was thereafter quoted or incorporated into speeches by a wide array of substantial figures in American political and social life in the United States. The final form of the phrase was stylized by Benjamin Franklin.[3]

Origin of Jefferson's use of the phrase[edit]

Thomas Jefferson, age 33, may have also borrowed the expression from an Italian friend and neighbor, Philip Mazzei,[4] as noted by Joint Resolution 175 of the 103rd Congress as well as by John F. Kennedy in "A Nation Of Immigrants."[5][6]

In 1776 the Second Continental Congress asked Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman to write the Declaration of Independence. The five men voted to have Thomas Jefferson write the document. After Jefferson finished he gave the document to Franklin to proof. Franklin suggested minor changes, but one of them stands out far more than the others. Jefferson had written, "We hold these truths to be sacred and un-deniable..." Franklin changed it to, "We hold these truths to be self-evident."

The opening of the United States Declaration of Independence states as follows:

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. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed;[7]

The Virginia Declaration of Rights, authored by George Mason and approved by the Virginia Convention on June 12, 1776, contains the wording:

"all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights of which . . . they cannot deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety."[8]

The Massachusetts Constitution, chiefly authored by John Adams in 1780, contains in its Declaration of Rights the wording:

Article I. All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.[9]

The plaintiffs in the cases of Brom and Bett v. John Ashley and Commonwealth v. Nathaniel Jennison argued that this provision abolished slavery in Massachusetts.[10] The latter case resulted in a "sweeping declaration . . . that the institution of slavery was incompatible with the principles of liberty and legal equality articulated in the new Massachusetts Constitution".[11]

The phrase has since been considered a hallmark statement in democratic constitutions and similar human rights instruments, many of which have adopted the phrase or variants thereof.[12]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ See, e.g., Jack P. Greene, All Men Are Created Equal: Some Reflections on the Character of the American Revolution (1976). p. 5: "Perhaps no single phrase from the Revolutionary era has had such continuing importance in American public life as the dictum 'all men are created equal'".
  2. ^ John Wynne Jeudwine, Pious Phrases in Politics: An Examination of Some Popular Catchwords, their Misuse and Meanings (1919), p. 27, quoting Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois, author of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, as referencing the "immortal declaration that all men are created equal".
  3. ^ Peterson, Merrill. "Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation: A biography". p90. Oxford University Press, 1970.
  4. ^ Philip Mazzei, The Virginia Gazette, 1774. Translated by a friend and neighbor, Thomas Jefferson:

    Tutti gli uomini sono per natura egualmente liberi e indipendenti. Quest'eguaglianza è necessaria per costituire un governo libero. Bisogna che ognuno sia uguale all'altro nel diritto naturale.

    Jefferson may also have been influenced by Thomas Paine's Common Sense.

    All men are by nature equally free and independent. Such equality is necessary in order to create a free government.
    All men must be equal to each other in natural law

  5. ^ According to Joint Resolution 175 of the 103rd Congress, "the phrase in the Declaration of Independence 'All men are created equal' was suggested by the Italian patriot and immigrant Philip Mazzei. http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=103_cong_bills&docid=f:hj175eh.pdf
  6. ^ "The great doctrine 'All men are created equal' incorporated into the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson, was paraphrased from the writing of Philip Mazzei, an Italian-born patriot and pamphleteer, who was a close friend of Jefferson." by John F. Kennedy, A Nation of Immigrants pp. 15-16
  7. ^ s:United States Declaration of Independence
  8. ^ Virginia Declaration of Rights
  9. ^ Article I, Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (1780)
  10. ^ John J. Patrick, Founding the Republic, pp. 74–75 
  11. ^ The Massachusetts Constitution, Judicial Review and Slavery — The Quock Walker Case, Massachusetts Judicial Branch (2007).
  12. ^ UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Preamble: Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world & Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. - http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/

External link[edit]

Letter Addressed to the Commonalty of Scotland by John Knox, 1558 - possibly the earliest historical occurrence of the phrase "all men are equal"