- All men are created equal
The quotation "All men are created equal" is arguably the best-known phrase in any of America's political documents, as the idea it expresses is generally considered the foundation of American government.
Thomas Jeffersonfirst used the phrase in the Declaration of Independence as a rebuttal to the going political theory of the day: the Divine Right of Kings. Jefferson borrowed the expression from an Italian friend and neighbor, Philip Mazzei, [Philip Mazzei, The Virginia Gazette, 1774. Translated by a friend and neighbor, Thomas Jefferson:
cquote|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 John F. Kennedy in "A Nation Of Immigrants." [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] ["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]
The opening of the Declaration of Independence written by Thomas Jefferson in 1776, states as follows:
The same sentiment appears in the
Massachusetts Constitutionof 1780, which predates the U.S. Constitutionby seven years, and was the first of its kind in the world.
The year 1780 also marks the first time in America that such wording was used to successfully argue against slavery in a court of law: Brom and Bett vs. Ashley.
SomeFact|date=May 2008 feel these statements illustrate the idea of
natural rights, a philosophical concept of the Enlightenment; many of the ideas in the Declaration were borrowed from the English liberal political philosopher John Locke. Locke, however, referred to " life, libertyand Property" rather than the pursuit of happiness.
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.
Applications in American history
Declaring the equality of all men did not, however, prevent the United States from continuing the widespread practice of
slavery. However, President Abraham Lincolnrelied on the Declaration of Independence when making the case that slavery went against the deepest commitments of the American nation. Though he did so throughout the 1850s and into his presidency, the most famous example can be found in the Gettysburg Address:
Elizabeth Cady Stantonand others convened in Seneca Falls, New Yorkin July 1848, they drafted and signed a document titled the Declaration of Sentiments. The opening sentence alludes to this phrase:
The phrase was also quoted by
Martin Luther King, Jr.in his famous I Have a Dreamspeech, as the "creed" of the United States:
* John Ball (1381), "When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the nobleman?"
Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen(1789), article 1: "Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can be founded only on the common utility."
Universal Declaration of Human Rights(1948), article 1: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights..."
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