Today, many of us gathered with friends and family to celebrate our nation’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence, and subsequent struggle for freedom. The impact of this world-reverberating document are still being felt today, 238 years after its signing. As I write this I can hear the crackle of late-night fireworks symbolizing the “bombs bursting in air” of a bloody revolution.
So momentous was this document that it rallied the first Americans to risk their lives to secure our independence from the world’s strongest empire. But it doesn’t take much observation to realize that the Declaration’s pivotal claim appears to be false: all men are NOT created equal. Different talents, varying intellects, wide-ranging interests and achievements, to say nothing of our outward appearances or station in life. We are anything but equal. So why did the Founders make such a claim, even going so far as to call it self-evident?
America, more than anything, is an idea. For nearly the whole of human history, man lived under tyranny. Whether warlords, caesars, kings or dictators the long arc of the human story is one of oppression, injustice, and poverty. Self-rule was never attempted nor even deemed possible. It was assumed that a society would devolve into barbarism if left to themselves, without a strong leader to rule over them (ordained by God, of course).
When our founders penned the Declaration, they were proposing a new idea; that man was not only capable of self-rule but that such a right was God-given. In this way we are all equal: our rights come from God, not men. This was the idea that rocked the world. Our rights are not granted by men and cannot be taken away by men. No king, government, majority vote or supreme court decision can deny what is granted by God.
Our right to life and liberty is guaranteed regardless of whether we are rich or poor, young or old, able or disabled. It is not our condition that is equal, but our inalienable rights.