The Founding Fathers and Equality
JULY 01, 1993 by HAVEN BRADFORD GOW
What is “equality”? What did the Founding Fathers mean by the phrase “all men are created equal”?
Any inquiry into the meaning of equality must include an examination of the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration begins with an appeal to “the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” and maintains that the proposition “all men are created equal” is a self-evident truth. Furthermore, all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
What the Founding Fathers meant by equality is this: All men share a common human nature. The assertion that all men are created equal means that all persons are the same in some respect; it does not mean that all men are identical, or equally talented, wise, prudent, intelligent, or virtuous; rather, it means that all persons possess the inherent capacity to reason.
In his fine work Religion and Capitalism: Allies, Not Enemies, Edmund Opitz explains that “the writers of our Declaration believed it axiomatic that ‘all men are created equal.’ They did not say ‘are equal’ or ‘born equal,’ which would deny the obvious; they said ‘created equal.’ Equality before the law appeared to follow from this premise the idea of one law for all men because all men are one in their essential humanness.”
—Haven Bradford Gow
I place economy among the first and important virtues, and public debt as the greatest of dangers. To preserve our independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our choice between economy and liberty or profusion and servitude. If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of caring for them, they will be happy.
Good intention will always be pleaded for every assumption of power . . . . It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.
Property is surely a right of mankind as really as liberty . . . . The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence.
People frequently call socialism a religion. It is indeed the religion of self-deification. The State and Government of which the planners speak, the People of the nationalists, the Society of the Marxians and the Humanity of Comte’s positivism are names for the gods of the new religions. But all these idols are merely aliases for the individual reformer’s own will. In ascribing to his idol all those attributes which the theologians ascribe to God, the inflated Ego glorifies itself. It is infinitely good, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, eternal. It is the only perfect being in this imperfect world.
—Ludwig von Mises
Letter to the Editor
In your November 1992 edition of The Freeman, John Hood represented that the state of Wyoming has only five or six occupational licensing and regulatory boards, regulating only professions like doctors, lawyers, and dentists. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Wyoming currently has 27 licensing and regulatory boards to protect the public from the evils of unregulated professional geologists and unlicensed hunting guides, for example. Several other threats to the public, such as dance hall operators, are licensed and governed by the board of county commissioners in each county.
Clinton D. Beaver
Protecting Life, Liberty, and Property
If the way we currently conduct the “war on drugs” means that agents will be gunning down innocent civilians in their own houses, perhaps it is time for a change in the laws regarding property confiscation.
The proper way to raise revenue is not through police-state tactics but only through the consent of the governed, by means of democratically passed laws. Government officials at all levels need to remember that under the American Constitution, the government exists to protect our God-given rights of life, liberty, and property, not to deprive innocent civilians of all three.
—K. L. Billingsley
Editor’s note: For more on this subject, see Jarret Wollstein’s “The Government’s War on Property,” pp. 244-252, and Bruce Benson’s “Highway Robbery,” pp. 253-255. Additional commentary by K. L. Billingsley appears on pp. 247 and 249.