The Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, was written to establish the basis of the revolution that the colonists were planning, and enacting. It expressed the reasons that the colonists claimed as factors for their wants to be independent. A famous line from the Declaration of Independence reads, We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. [Jefferson 175] Many argue over what Jefferson meant when he said, that all men are created equal but it becomes quite evident, based on his actions in life, and the positions he takes during debates, that he meant that all rich, white, land owning males are created equal, and guaranteed to the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Benjamin Banneker wrote to Jefferson in 1791 in response to Jefferson s Notes on Virginia . He discussed how all men in the late 1700s were most definitely not equal. Even if he wasn t born a slave, being the son of free African American parents, he knew of the pain and suffering his fellow African Americans were dealing with. In his letter, he managed to give evidence that African American mental abilities were equal to whites, and sometimes even above. [Banneker 189]. Differences between blacks and whites were less than Jefferson, and most white American males thought, and Banneker was most definitely the person who could be used to show such a fact. In his letter to Jefferson, he writes, Sir I freely and cheerfully acknowledge, that I am of the African race, and in that color which is natural to them of the deepest dye, and it is under a Sense of the most profound gratitude to the Supreme ruler of the universe, that I now confess to you, that I am not under that state of tyrannical thralldom, and inhuman captivity, to which too many of my brethren are doomed; but that I have abundantly tasted the fruition of those blessings which proceed from that free and unequaled liberty with which you are favored and which I hope you will willingly allow you have received from the immediate hand of that Being from whom proceedeth every good and perfect gift. ([Banneker 190) His admittance that he was not enslaved, and that he was not under the oppression of the rich, white man, was important to the power of the letter, which was most definitely had an important impact on Jefferson. To the slave, in America, the celebration of freedom was absent. There was no liberation. There was no release from the oppression that they were dealt with. There was no reason to celebrate the Fourth of July like any other white American would, because it meant nothing to them. Frederick Douglass wrote about this in his What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July? piece. Unlike Banneker, Douglass was born a slave in Maryland. He first hand experienced the unjust treatment of African Americans which made Jefferson s All men are created equal part of the Declaration totally seem false in the All men sense. How could Jefferson mean this, when he was in fact the owner of slaves; people just like Frederick Douglass, and other potential brilliant minds. Douglass wrote, The fact is, ladies and gentlemen, the distance between this platform and the slave plantation, from which I escaped, is considerable and the difficulties to be overcome in getting from the latter to the former, are by no means slight. That I am here today is, to me, a matter of astonishment as well as of gratitude This, for the purpose of this celebration is the Fourth of July. It is the birthday of your National Independence, and of your political freedom. This, to you, is what the passover was to the emanicapted people of God. [Douglass 209] Douglass knew that the Fourth of July meant nothing to his African American brothers. Why would he give an oration to Americans about indepence , when his own brothers were suffering from the trials of slavery? And right behind his back, Jefferson is claiming all men to be created equal? George Fitzhugh was a small plantation owning lawyer from Virginia, who had held some small political offices, before beginning to publish. [Eds. 239] He claims in his Sociology for the South, or the Failure of Free Society that slavery is just part of society, and is necessary for the sustaining of major economic actions in the South, just as industry workers are important to the businesses of the North. Fitzhugh gets right at the point, by saying Men are not born entitled to equal rights ! It would be far nearer the truth to say that some were born with saddles on their backs, and others booted and spurred to ride them, and the riding does them good. The need the reins, the bit and the spur. No two men by nature are exactly equal or exactly alike .. Life and liberty are not inalienable ; they have been sold in all countries, and in all ages, and must be sold so long as human nature lasts. [Fitzhugh 241] As Fitzhugh bluntly put it, he, along with many Americans saw that all men were definitely not created equal. The idea of this was definitely seen by the majority of people, and definitely the meaning of the Declaration was based on that, not the true dictionary definition of all men are created equal. The Declaration of Independence was most definitely intended to set standards for the revolution against the British, by describing the reasons for the need of independence, and stating general principles that people in the Colonies believed in. When Jefferson wrote that all men are created equal , he was most definitely referring to the rich, white, landowning male who had a say in the government. Although this may be interpreted totally different in modern times, the meaning at the times was definitely not in favor of minorities, and females. (who were not really minorities, but might as well have been in the 18th century) The place of blacks and other minorities were not to be in very important places until more white leaders began to see the viewpoints of Banneker and Douglass.
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