How Should We Interpret the Concept of "All Men Created Equal" Historically?

News & SocietyEvents

  • Author Alejandro Smith
  • Published December 8, 2023
  • Word count 1,894

​ When the US became a country, the government said that everyone would be equal, and everyone would have rights, but only rich white men ended up having rights. However, women, Native Americans, and black people weren’t equal to rich white men because they didn’t have to say, own property in most cases, or vote.

 In the 1780s, it was a rule that women could not go to conventions that ratified the constitution, and they couldn’t vote either, according to the document, “Women and the Constitution”, it says, “As a rule, women did not participate in the conventions that framed and ratified the Constitution. Women did not vote for convention delegates. And women -as women - did not publicly participate in constitutional debates in the press, in pamphlets, and so on.” This states that women couldn’t vote or have any say in what was in the Constitution. In 1807, a New Jersey law passed that took away the right for women to vote. Also, Dower rights should have been addressed, instead, they were ignored, making it hard for women to own property. Then in the 1840s, women’s rights advocates started happening to help them get rights. According to the document, “US Constitutional History: Sex Discrimination,” it says, “ While right after the Constitution was adopted, New Jersey accepted voting rights for women, even those had been lost by a bill in 1807 that rescinded the right of both women and black men to vote in that state.” This states that women’s rights to vote were taken away in 1807 because of a law that passed. During this time, men were the head of the household and women had to do what they were told. They were denied a voice and the right to vote. Married women and their daughters were viewed as “lower rank” just because they were part of households. So they were left out of the constitution because they were meant to be at home. According to the document, “The Constitutional Status of Women in 1787,” it says, “Each household had a male head, who controlled the household's property, directed its activities, fulfilled its obligations to the community through militia service or political participation, and was regarded by the law as the ruler of his own "little commonwealth," to use John Winthrop's words.” This states that men were in charge of the women and that they were just meant to be at home doing cooking and cleaning, or whatever they were supposed to be doing at home.

 Native Americans were mentioned in the Constitution and were a significant part of the development of the US. Native Americans have their own society and government, and they have helped the US as a country. They’ve also had a say in things, which is good because not everyone did during these times. However, they’re land, rights, and animals have been taken away by the US government which is terrible because they don’t deserve this. Even though the US tried keeping the peace with them, the US still interfered and caused wars and unfortunate events. Today, the native Americans are still sovereign and are still close to the US government. According to Doc A, it says, “These millions of people lived under governments of varying sophistication and complexity. These native governments were viable and fully operational political bodies which controlled their citizens and their territories and were an important factor in the development of the United States government we live under today.” This states that the Native Americans were part of developing the US as a country and that they were sovereign at the time, and they still are. When the Declaration of Independence was written, Thomas Jefferson said that everyone is equal and deserves to have rights and that they shouldn’t be taken away. However, the Native Americans are described as savages, which is saying that they aren’t humans and that they’re animals, which is not what Thomas Jefferson said. According to Doc B, it says, “ The last of these complaints, however, is one that reads: He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.” This states that Native Americans are referred to as savages and that they’re not even human to them, but they are human, and that they shouldn’t be treated like that. Since the time the Constitution was written, Native American tribes have been sovereign, and they have stayed that way. Even though they are sovereign and still self-governed, they still have laws by the US that they have to live by even though they are sovereign. For example, they can’t make war, engage in foreign relations, and they can’t print or issue their own currency, they have to use American currency. According to Doc C, it says, “Tribes, therefore, possess the right to form their own governments; to make and enforce laws, both civil and criminal; to tax; to establish and determine membership (i.e., tribal citizenship); to license and regulate activities within their jurisdiction; to zone; and to exclude persons from tribal lands. Limitations on inherent tribal powers of self-government are few, but do include the same limitations applicable to states, e.g., neither tribes nor states have the power to make war, engage in foreign relations, or print and issue currency.” This states that even though Native American tribes are sovereign and self-governed, they still have to follow these laws that the US put in place for them, and it’s been like that for years.

 When the Constitution was written, the people writing the constitution said that everyone was equal and that everyone should have rights. Even though slavery wasn’t abolished in the Constitution, people used that to their advantage causing slavery to start, especially in the South. According to Doc A, “the founders compromised their morals (many were recorded as being opposed to slavery), and power (in some cases, states bowed to slaveholding counterparts to ensure the Constitution would be ratified), in the name of economics. Slavery, when all was said and done, was both profitable and convenient for many white Americans—and not just in the South…” This states that when the Constitution was written, slavery was left out probably because the writers thought slavery wouldn’t happen, but it did, especially in the southern states. The Fugitive Slave Cause, in Article V Section II of the constitution, states that slaves escaping to free states would have to be sent back to their owners if caught. This caused tension between the North and South states because there wasn’t as much slavery in the North, and the South had a lot of slavery. According to Doc A, it says, “If an enslaved person crosses state lines into a state where slavery has been abolished, citizens of that state are obligated to return the slave to their owner.” This states that slaves were free, until they were caught by people in the North, they had to return the slaves to their owners or they could be arrested. Black people, whether enslaved or free, faced severe discrimination by white people because they were black. This caused them to lack their rights in property ownership, movement, and education. According to Doc C, it says, “ in New Jersey, newly emancipated African Americans struggled to achieve independence in the face of significant limitations on their economic opportunities.” This states that slaves who were free still struggled in society because of their skin color, and it was hard for them to get basic rights. The Three-Fifths Clause States that black people were only 3/5 human because black people were slaves, so society didn’t see them as human, but people still gave them somewhat of citizenship so they could use them to raise their population, but they still weren’t considered human. According to Doc A, it says, “When a state’s population is counted for purposes of representation in government, and for direct taxation, the enslaved population will be counted as three-fifths of its overall number. Untaxed Native Americans would not figure into this number.” This states that black people were only seen as somewhat human, but they were still registered as US citizens so the states with slaves could have a higher population.

 When America first became a country, men were the only people bringing in money, voting, and the people having a say in anything, which is why they were some of the only people who could own property. For example, women were dependent on the men because they were the ones who gave them a home, and they were stuck there all day doing housework, the only way they could own property was if they were widows. According to Doc A, it says, “Only people who had freehold landed property sufficient to ensure that they were personally independent and had a vested interest in the welfare of their communities could vote. That qualification normally applied to men who were heads of households, since women were almost by definition dependent, but the right could extend to widows who had become responsible for the family property.” This states that men were the only people who could do anything since they were the people running the government, bringing in money, they were in charge of households, and they could vote because America thought that only white men were capable of this. During this time, when America was first a country, the government thought that the only people that were capable of having rights to vote or own property. Thus, not giving anyone who wasn’t a rich white man equal rights because they thought that they were lazy and poor, and they didn’t deserve any rights because they weren’t a good fit, and some people were not even seen as humans during this time, which is why they didn’t have equal rights. According to Doc A, it says, “even the Pennsylvania radicals of 1776 still associated representation with taxation: Only ‘free men having a sufficient evident common interest with and attachment to the community’ deserved the privilege of voting in a republican polity. There was no desire to enfranchise the poor, who were commonly identified as profligate or idle” This states that in 1776, when the US first became a country, rich white men were the only people who were given the right to vote, own property, and having say in such things because they didn’t want to include other people like women, blacks, and native Americans because they thought they were lazy and they didn’t deserve equal rights. As a result, rich white men were the people running the government, owning property, and being able to vote, and they were the people with the most amount of power during this time.

In conclusion, America didn’t implement “all men created equal” because rich white men were the only people who had the right to vote, or own property. Meanwhile, women, native Americans, and black people were not equal to the rich white men because they weren’t equal to them. The white men had the most power and say during this time, as they were also running the government.

Hey i hope you like this article I wrote on the status of different groups of people when the constitution was written

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