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.
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.