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Equality
There are no words more familiar in the lexicon of democracy than, "All men are created equal." Yet Thomas Jefferson's now world-famous expression is both controversial and confusing. Yes, there's that "men" thing. Did he mean to exclude women in the cry for equality? Or, as a man of his time, did he only mean guys like Adams, Franklin and himself with money and property? Perhaps he might have said, "All gentleman are created equal." But that simply didn't sound quite right. Then there is the problem of what equality means. Surely he did not believe that everyone is born with equal abilities. Maybe he wanted to establish that people are equal before the law, or equal before god. Or that everyone, with the exception of slaves, of course, should be given an equal chance to succeed in life. And did he stop to consider just how complicated it would be to put his eloquent words into practice. Not just how difficult it would be to achieve equality for British colonists, in the eyes of King George, but how to live up to such beautiful sentiment in a world which anyone could see was characterized by rampant inequality. We struggle today with all of these questions. In Canada, we take for granted that "men" really should mean women as well, but recognize that this view is not shared around the world. We mostly forgive Jefferson that he owned slaves, but we are still troubled to learn that slavery has continued into the 21st century. We still argue about what equality means and, over the years since 1776, we have added any number of wrinkles to the question. For example, should the dream of equality apply only to individuals or be extended to groups. Not just women, but also people identified by the color of their skin, their culture and language or by their sexual orientation. And we still are not sure how to make it possible for people, who have lived their lives in a state of inequality, to share the dream of equitable status with every other human.

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Last Updated: 29-Mar-2004