Its second sentence is one of the most famous in the English language, and rightfully so. Draughted by Thomas Jefferson and edited by the Committee of Five, it reads:
'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.'It was recognised by Sojourner Truth, by Harriet Tubman, by the masterful Frederick Douglass, by the heroic John Brown, and by our great old President Abraham Lincoln that, so long as black humans were subject to the cruelties, the whippings, the beatings, the murders, and the absolute denial of humanity that was slavery, these unalienable rights were not real.
It was recognised by Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, by Ida B. Wells, by Julia Ward Howe, by Margaret Fuller, by Ernestine Rose, by Abby Kelley Foster, by Lucy Stone, by Alice Paul, and by hundreds of thousands more that, so long as women were mere subjects of men, these unalienable rights were not real.
Eugene V. Debs, Big Bill Haywood, and Joe Hill fought for the 'Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness' of workers; Angela Davis, Rosa Parks, Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, Stokely Carmichael, Huey P. Newton, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X struggled that, as 'all men are created equal', segregation was a denial of this statement to be overcome; Stormé DeLarverie, Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, Harry Hay, Allen Ginsberg, and Larry Kramer fought for LGBTQ+ people to be granted their unalienable rights.
Yet all of these fights remain unfinished.
When the Great Seal of the United States was first proposed, Benjamin Franklin, a member of the First Committee for the Seal, proposed this design:
The scene is one from the Book of Exodus, of God leading the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to freedom in Canaan. It is a scene commemorated every year at Pesach, or Passover. And the lesson I learn nearly every year at Pesach is this: That so long as there is one suffering, we all suffer; that so long as there is one oppressed, none of us are liberated; that so long as one is enslaved, none of us are free; that so long as one is poor, none of us are rich; that so long as there is a single human being hungry, homeless, and naked, none of us are fed, sheltered, or clothed.
If 'all men are created equal,' if 'they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,' if 'among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness', then why is there such a great disparity between the wealth of the wealthy and that of the rest? (Jefferson had changed the Lockean phrase from 'life, liberty, and property' because he realised, as did Proudhon later, that property, when not in the service of liberty, becomes theft and the foundation of despotism!) Why does there still seem to be one law for the poor and another for the rich, one law for our brothers and sisters of colour and another for white people, one for women and non-binary people and another for men? Why do our police kill the innocent; why do we send our citizens abroad to kill and be killed? Why do we spy on all under the Sun, and assault the rights of people to freedom of speech, of assembly, of religion? Why do we leave so many without food, without shelter, without healthcare, without clean water, even without clothing?
Are these not denials of the rights which our Creator granted us? Is this the decree of He Who is the 'death of Death and Hell's destruction'? No! To say such would be the highest blasphemy! This is the will of the Adversary, the result of the worship of Mammon!
Throughout all of the history of Humanity, there has been a striving for the realisation of these principles, an impulse in the heart that the bounties of Creation must belong to all, that the hungry must be fed, that the widow and the orphan are to be comforted.
If we are to understand the words of Jefferson in their truth, we must allow their radical implications to be realised. Then, and only then, can we see it fulfilled, that
'with righteousness shall he judge the poor, And decide with equity for the meek of the land;
'And he shall smite the land with the rod of his mouth,
'And with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.
'And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins,
'And faithfulness the girdle of his reins.
'And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
'And the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
'And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
'And a little child shall lead them.
'And the cow and the bear feed;
'Their young ones shall lie down together;
'And the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
'And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp,
'And the weaned child shall put his hand on the basilisk’s den.
'They shall not hurt nor destroy
'In all My holy mountain;
'For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD,
'As the waters cover the sea.'