No other document in American history has more profoundly shaped our nation’s sense of identity than the Declaration of Independence. Not only did our founding fathers declare independence from Great Britain with it, but the reasons they gave to legitimize such a radical declaration later came to shape our nation in the years to come.
One line in that declaration holds such gravitas that we Americans find our hearts stirred anew every time we hear it: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Neither the man who originally penned those words nor many of our founders succeeded to live fully up to those words. Nevertheless, the profundity of those words helped shape governance and jurisprudence in the infant years of our country.
But where did our founders get that idea that “all men are created equal” and that this truth was “self-evident”? One well-known rabbi said: “The striking thing about this sentence is that ‘these truths’ are anything but self-evident. Most societies at most times have held as self-evidently true that we are created unequal. […] Plato held that society was stratified into three classes: guardians (philosopher-kings), auxiliaries (soldiers), and the rest; and that whether or not these distinctions were given by birth, people should be taught that they were. Aristotle believed that some people were born to be slaves. Gradations of class were written into the structure of reality. The strong, powerful, wealthy, and highborn were meant (whether by nature or by God) to exercise supremacy over others.” Neither would Nietzsche nor the Hindu caste system hold the truth that all men are created equal to be self-evident.Continue reading