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Lincoln's opening statement reminds readers of the nation’s establishment, citing that the government is founded on ideals of freedom, liberty, and quoting Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, that 'all men are created equal.' But is the American Constitution really based on equality? The 1787 Constitution does not declare that all men are created equal; in fact, the word “equal” is never even mentioned at all. To answer this question, it may be useful to examine the meaning of equality, its limitations, and business as practiced in 1787 to better understand thoughts on equality in the U.
The concept of equality is fundamental to the country’s philosophy, yet the word only appears in the Declaration of Independence: a political document that carries no legal authority. Its purpose was to formalize America’s split from Britain, and while it presents an almost universally accepted rhetoric, it does not possess the legal power embodied by law or judicial precedents. The Declaration provided the groundwork for the United States as a nation, not its government.
However, the ideology preached by the Declaration structured the government framed by the Constitution. Some of the political philosophies included that no individual is born with an exclusive right to govern others, and that universal equality is America’s core principle. The purpose of the government has been and will always be to protect citizens’ rights equally. The Constitution lays the framework for the nation’s government, but it is evident that equality found in the Declaration remains at the base of that same government.
The closest thing to egalitarianism in the Constitution is likely the 14th Amendment. Ratified in 1868, the amendment explains that states must provide equal treatment under the law. The timing of this ratification perhaps is affected by American business as practiced in 1787: an economy, at the time, dominated by slavery. This fact only further pushes the idea that the Constitution at its inception may not have been fully founded on the concept of equality. Nevertheless, the government can still exercise its power to create law that accompanies the Constitution. The document is not the sole law of the land; it simply describes a framework. It does not forbid or encourage Congress and the states to enact legislation that preach equality.
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