By Raymond Palma

Declaration of Independence and Revolutionary America

When Thomas Jefferson wrote The Declaration of Independence, the words “all men are created equal,” had a broad meaning to Jefferson in his own mind according to the era that he lives in.  However, on closer dissection, by today’s standards and meanings, we can clearly see that it was a narrower term looking at its relevance and implication back when it was first written.

Women played an important role in fighting for the freedom of the colonies from the UK.  The daughters of liberty, as they were known by, contributed to the effort by taking up arms against the British.  Some, such as Deborah Sampson, dressed a man so she could be enlisted in the Continental army.  Sarah Franklin Bache, the daughter of Benjamin Franklin, organized a Ladies’ Association to raise funds to assist American soldiers.  Yet, women were seen as part of a men’s property.  Women had little rights absent of their men.  They had no religious rights so when Jefferson writes about “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” he is not referring to women.  Women were seen as a second-class citizen, they had no voting rights. In fact, their voting rights only came along in in the 19th century in the United States, nearly 200 years after the Declaration of Independence was written.   These same women during WW II helped the war effort by working on the front lines in factories making armor and planes, here there they known as ‘Rosie the Riveter.’

Other groups of people were not equally thought of when Jefferson wrote the Declaration.  Slaves were not part of his lexicon as his muse nudged him along with impassioned words that spoke to a great freedom for all on the continent where the colonies were started.  Slaves at most, were give 3/5 of a person mathematically equaling a person so that each state in later years could ‘count’ them in determining the number of legislators in a district.  Yet, ten years before, these same people were not thought of as being part of what we now call the American Experiment.  As Jefferson write the Declaration, these slaves, even the men, did not have inalienable rights.  They had no rights.  Whereas women had some rights, slaves had no rights.  They were actual property; they could be bought, sold or simply done away with.  Certainly, the words, ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ was not a part of the experience of slave in the colony.  They did not have a life to live by their own terms, in turn, they did not have liberty to live their live as they sought fit, and certainly, they could not pursuit happiness because of society’s constraints on them.

Native Americans were not inherently included in the imagination when Jefferson inked-out with his twill God the Declaration of Independence.  These people were seen as savages and even though many of them converted to Christianity, they were still seen as barbaric people who could not be trusted.  Since many of them remained faithful to their own religion, they would not be considered by Jefferson to be “endowed by their Creator” because to Jefferson there was only one Creator.  So, if Native-Americans did not believe in Jefferson’s’ Creator one could make the assumption that Native Americans were not part of his greater thought process as he penned out the Declaration of Independence.  They were used many times during the revolutionary war and during the French/Indian to help defeat the British yet; they were not seen as being part of the colonies as full-fledged citizens.  They were treated as neighbors who we sometimes would need and sometimes we would not need and we consider them a bothersome at those times as well sometimes.

I believe that when Thomas Jefferson wrote The Declaration of Independence, he essentially had white men in mind.  Even if a man was white, I think his status also to Jefferson played a role in how he envisioned the people leading this country.   As land owners or business people, men had more affluence in the simple society in the mid seventeen-hundreds.  Thomas Jefferson associated himself with echelon.  The circles he traveled in and the men who influenced him were scholars and people who had the most to gain if the revolution was successful.  While I don’t think he discounted the average citizen, I believe he had men of importance in his mind when he thought out the ramifications of what his reactionary document might cause.

Sadly, I feel in today’s society that rights that we assume all citizens have today, are also ‘felt’ more than others.  Two-hundred plus years later I still feel that white men are given more rights and freedoms whether intentional or not.  The numbers of minorities who are in prison or who have legal issues far out-weight white men.  Also, people who have fewer financial means are more in the court system then richer people.  They don’t have the money to pay for ‘better’ lawyers to help defend themselves.

Our Declaration of Independence, followed by our Constitution is sadly in need of protection.  Constant challenges to these documents are heard each year by the Supreme Court.  While we as Americans hope that our basic principles will be realized with new laws or amended laws, in the end we are counting on mere mortals who have their own political agenda and who have been influenced by their own upbringing.

Organizations such as the ACLU have sprung up because the average citizen has felt at times that their rights given by the documents that govern the principles of this country have been violated.