I hope the debate over the nation’s founding documents continues for a good while. We need, as Americans, to remind ourselves of what the founders wrote and try to parse what they meant when they wrote these words.
While steering away from specific mention of the current controversy swirling around the nation, I feel a need to examine briefly this particular passage from the Declaration of Independence.
“All men are created equal.”
I suppose you can look at that phrase and take it one of several ways. Yes, all “men” were “endowed with … certain unalienable rights.” That, of course, excludes women, who were left out of that formula. They couldn’t vote; indeed, it took the United States of America until the early 20th century to get around to granting women that right.
There’s a discrepancy worth noting here. “All men” didn’t really mean “all.” You see, we had this portion of our population at the time the Declaration of Independence was written that wasn’t even considered fully human. They were the slaves. They were kept in bondage by many of the men responsible for founding the nation.
I will try to insert myself into Thomas Jefferson’s skull for a moment. The principal author of the Declaration perhaps intended for it to mean “all.” Whatever his intent or his idea at the time he put that thought down on paper, it doesn’t negate for one instant its fundamental truth.
All men — and eventually all women — are endowed by the rights laid out in the Declaration of Independence.
Fast-forwarding to the 21st century, it is preposterous in the extreme to accept the presence of those who pretend to be members of a “superior race” of human beings.
We’re in the midst of yet another national discussion about hate groups, about so-called “white supremacists” and those who adhere to a political philosophy against which we entered a world war.
They will insist that they are the patriots among us. That they know the meaning of our nation’s founding.
They … know … nothing.
The founders didn’t get everything quite right when they penned those cherished words. Those who came along later have sought to amend and improve that high-minded language.
We’re not quite at the point of pure perfection. But we’re a lot closer to it now than we were at our nation’s beginning.
The preamble to the U.S. Constitution declares our intention to “form a more perfect Union.” I read that to mean that we’ll never quite reach the finish line. That does not mean we should stop reaching for it.