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" and popularized as "theory of prediction" of the United States Revolutionary period with the greatest "continuing importance".[1][2] Thomas Jefferson first used the phrase in the Declaration of Independence, and as important as who wrote it and what was written, is also whom all men were being declared equal to, namely, George William Frederick III — the King of Great Britain (not his subjects). 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]


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

as noted by Joint Resolution 175 of the 103rd Congress as well as by John F. Kennedy in "A Nation Of Immigrants."[4][5]

The opening of the United States Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson in 1776, 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;[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 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."[7]

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.[8]

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.[9] 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".[10]

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.[11]


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

</ref> as noted by Joint Resolution 175 of the 103rd Congress as well as by John F. Kennedy in "A Nation Of Immigrants."[12][13]

The opening of the United States Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson in 1776, 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;[14]

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 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."[15]

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.[16]

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.[17] 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".[18]

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.[19]


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

</ref> as noted by Joint Resolution 175 of the 103rd Congress as well as by John F. Kennedy in "A Nation Of Immigrants."[20][21]

The opening of the United States Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson in 1776, 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;[22]

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 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."[23]

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.[24]

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.[25] 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".[26]

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.[27]

Hobbesian origin[edit]

Thomas Hobbes also proposed an early variant of equality among men in his treatise Leviathan:

Nature hath made men so equal in the faculties of body and mind as that, though there be found one man sometimes manifestly stronger in body or of quicker mind than another, yet when all is reckoned together the difference between man and man is not so considerable as that one man can thereupon claim to himself any benefit to which another may not pretend as well as he. For as to the strength of body, the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination or by confederacy with others that are in the same danger with himself.

And as to the faculties of the mind, setting aside the arts grounded upon words, and especially that skill of proceeding upon general and infallible rules, called science, which very few have and but in few things, as being not a native faculty born with us, nor attained, as prudence, while we look after somewhat else, I find yet a greater equality amongst men than that of strength. For prudence is but experience, which equal time equally bestows on all men in those things they equally apply themselves unto.[28]

In the above passage Hobbes proposes a rough equivalence among men, based on the idea that the strongest man is not so strong that he is protected from the strength of the weakest and is thus not strong enough to be considered greater.[29] Here, Hobbes stands upon his presumptions over the state of nature, within which he describes the hypothetical condition that preceded governments and details that within natural world, life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" (loc. cit.).

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. ^ 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
  5. ^ "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
  6. ^ s:United States Declaration of Independence
  7. ^ Virginia Declaration of Rights
  8. ^ Article I, Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (1780)
  9. ^ John J. Patrick, Founding the Republic, pp. 74–75 
  10. ^ The Massachusetts Constitution, Judicial Review and Slavery — The Quock Walker Case, Massachusetts Judicial Branch (2007).
  11. ^ 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/
  12. ^ 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
  13. ^ "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
  14. ^ s:United States Declaration of Independence
  15. ^ Virginia Declaration of Rights
  16. ^ Article I, Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (1780)
  17. ^ John J. Patrick, Founding the Republic, pp. 74–75 
  18. ^ The Massachusetts Constitution, Judicial Review and Slavery — The Quock Walker Case, Massachusetts Judicial Branch (2007).
  19. ^ 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/
  20. ^ 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
  21. ^ "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
  22. ^ s:United States Declaration of Independence
  23. ^ Virginia Declaration of Rights
  24. ^ Article I, Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (1780)
  25. ^ John J. Patrick, Founding the Republic, pp. 74–75 
  26. ^ The Massachusetts Constitution, Judicial Review and Slavery — The Quock Walker Case, Massachusetts Judicial Branch (2007).
  27. ^ 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/
  28. ^ Leviathan By Thomas Hobbes. Chapter XIII
  29. ^ Zuckert, Michael P. (2008). Natural Rights and the New Republicanism. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0691059709. Retrieved 2012-12-07. 

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"