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The most famous line in the Declaration of Independence is “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. . . . ” But the Founders meant something very different by that phrase than most of us have been taught to believe.

It was written, of course, by a slaveholder—by Thomas Jefferson—and politically correct historians mock him, for that very reason, as a hypocrite. But they do so by ignoring what he meant.

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When the Founders talked about liberty and equality, they used definitions that came to them from their heritage within English culture. Liberty was one of the most commonly used terms in the Founding generation. When Patrick Henry thundered, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” in 1775, no one asked Henry to define liberty following his speech. Similarly, when the Founders talked about equality, they thought in terms of all men being equal under God and of freemen being equal under the law. But the distinction of freemen was important. The founders believed in a natural hierarchy of talents, and they believed that citizenship and suffrage required civic and moral virtue. Jefferson wrote,“ If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and what never will be.” To that end, restricting the status of freemen was essential, in the Founders’ view, to the liberty of the republic, which is why some states initially had property qualifications for voting, and why equality did not extend to slaves (or for that matter to women or children). Most of the Founding generation favored a “natural aristocracy” consisting of men of talent and virtue. They believed that these men would be, and should be, the leaders of a free society.

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"“All Men Are Created Equal” – What Is The Meaning of This Term?" History on the Net
© 2000-2024, Salem Media.
June 12, 2024 <https://www.historyonthenet.com/all-men-are-created-equal>
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