Complicating the Declaration of Independence: An Analysis of Three Case Studies

Justice Delayed, is Justice Denied

                                                                               – Martin Luther King jr

“All men are created equal.” Thomas Jefferson famously wrote in the Declaration of Independence and declared on the famous date of July 4th, 1776 to the American people. Although this was a promising goal for American society, it is critical to recognize that these values were not always implemented in the reality of society’s situation. In fact, it was a complete falsity of reality. I believe that the foundation of our democracy was hiding under a veneer that everyone had equal rights. One has to see the injustice in our country in order to create justice.

In the 1800s, women were mostly seen as a man’s maids. Many were denied educational opportunities in math, science, and politics. In addition, the only “job” they could pursue was having children and taking care of them. All in all, women were denied fundamental rights that everyone should receive.  At a young age, Elizabeth Cady Stanton became involved with the abolitionist movement. The abolitionist movement was a social and political push for the immediate liberation of all enslaved people and the end of racial discrimination.(1) Her efforts reached out to help women as well, and soon Stanton  started advocating for enslaved people’s rights and women’s rights. She famously said,  “We hold these truths to be self evident that all men and women are created equal.”(1)  Being brought up in a white household, Stanton was still disregarded since she was a women. She was engrossed in history and science and stayed up late reading her father’s English books although she knew she could never advance in any of those subjects. Opportunities in politics were also very rare because politicians and other men in power told Stanton there was no place for a lady in men’s work.(1) This symbolizes that this statement was catering to a very select few and was glossing over the truth of society.

In addition to being a woman, Harriet Tubman was also a slave. Enslaved individuals labored day and night facing extremely harsh environments and people. Harriet Tubman was one of those enslaved African – Americans who helped many escape by the Underground Railroad to where there was no enslavement in the North. Tubman was enslaved most of her life in the cotton fields of the South.(3) At a young age, Tubman decided to escape from the plantation and race to freedom. However, she was afraid that her family would continue to suffer more severity and went back for them during the mid – 1800s. She used a series of underground safe houses known as the Underground Railroad to later free hundreds of slaves and bring them safely to the North. Just when Tubman thought she was safe, the Fugitive Slave Law was put into action requiring that any escaped slave from the South had to be recaptured and sent back regardless of the North’s views. (1) When Tubman found out, she rerouted the Underground Railroad and brought people to Canada instead. Looking back Tubman describes her experience, “I grew up like a neglected weed – ignorant of liberty, having no experience of it.”(3) This does not only reflect the experiences regarding slavery, it displays inequality on a whole other level. In a way which is incomprehensible in modern day.

Meanwhile, Abraham Lincoln, the American president at that time was not struggling with oppression. The fact that he became president confirms that he was granted an education and with that, opportunities in politics. However, Lincoln started off poor, living it a log cabin in Kentucky. As President he turned his attention to the issue of inequality in America. He especially detested slavery. However, in his political opinion he was a moderate.(2) This meant that he was neither for, nor against slavery. At the start of the Civil War, many abolitionists were irate about the situation in the South. Lincoln’s strategy was to take small steps to accomplish what  he wanted (to keep the Union and abolish slavery). He knew that this would infuriate much of the North even more, but he was a wise man and he knew what he had to do. He described this as, “I walk slowly, but I never walk backward”.(2) He thought that the country would either end up abolishing slavery as a whole, or keep it everywhere. Of course he wanted abolition of slavery but he was president, and he had to recognize everyone’s opinion if he wanted to keep the Union together as well. Lincoln was faced with many important decisions but even he knew that America suffered greatly with inequality. He was one of the first American presidents to acknowledge that.

Today in modern society it is necessary to acknowledge that even though we have made great progress we are still struggling with this leading claim of “all men are created equal.” For example, the leading faces in politics of our country currently are intolerant and dismissive to equal treatment of people in America. The fact that our president wants nothing to do with immigrants when our country was built from immigration shows a level of inequality amongst many other derogatory views on different cultures and races in America .(4) In addition, there are still women’s rights marches for equal treatment. An example of this is the march in Washington after our president was elected. Even though, women now have the right to vote and many more  job opportunities, they still experience inequality especially in the workplace.(5)  Women get paid less than men would for the same job. There is also a risk of inappropriate behavior from men leading to sexual harassment. Adding on, African Americans still have a higher risk of being stopped by police and have a higher frequency of being misjudged due to their skin color.(6) This shows that there is still racism and sexism in this country.

It is vital to note that even though all people still don’t have have equal rights, we have certainly made considerable progress that Stanton, Lincoln and Tubman would have all been very proud of. Nowadays there is so much more activism for equality and other issues that are important to people. Even in popular culture to be “woke” meaning advocating for what one believes in, is considered cool. For example, the Black Lives Matter movement promotes awareness for racial injustices and ways we can come closer to equality. In addition, women can vote and express their opinions freely. The Declaration of Independence set an aspirational goal for our society in a time of great inequality.  Even though we haven’t achieved perfect equality, we’ve made a lot of progress which nurtures the hope that one day all people will feel that they are created equal.








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