On the Fourth of July, the people of the United States of America celebrate the country’s Declaration of Independence from the government in England. It is only to be expected that many are thinking of the words of Jefferson that “all men are created equal”. Contemplating those words, a very little investigation finds their promise not fully met.
In saying the promise is not met, I do not mean that I subscribe to theories which find in these words an aspirational goal. I use the word “promise” in the sense of a sign of further good. It might be more accurate to say the premise has not been worked out to its conclusion. All persons share equally in humanity, and deserve respect as human and the equably applied protections of law and social order. It would be absurd to suppose that all will make equal use of such equal protections, even as those with similar upbringing may reach very different places in society due to natural talents or their lack. But it is quite another matter where we find these protections not in fact equally applied.
There are a great many such injustices perpetrated still in the United States. I can hardly claim Frederick Douglass’s eloquence, though I borrow the style of my title from him. I can hardly claim, as he could, to speak for an oppressed class. The only case for injustice that might be found in my life is one common to most American teachers: a feeling that perhaps the profession is underpaid. That particular complaint I doubt as a general thesis – teaching is a common human activity, however worthy: little wonder that teachers historically and currently have been found among slaves, lower classes, and the ill-rewarded – and in my particular case I have by any reasonable standard enough and more than enough to live on.
Similarly, before I go on to examine national faults, I may as well state what I believe: that in no other country, despite all American failings, is the general case of the population notably better. Certainly some other nations – mainly those which have been brought also to subscribe to the ideals of liberty – equal or surpass the United States in various meritorious accomplishments: health, peace, general wealth, cheerfulness, or artistry accomplished and valued. But – though it may change on the moment, and will change with years as these things do – accounting for extent and variety, I do not all in all find the United States second to any, for which I thank God and His Providence.
But to say the faults do not, in the end, ruin the case of a country is not to excuse those faults. I may not speak as one who has been strongly affected by them, but I can observe. What unequal treatment do I observe? I will mention three classes briefly.
I observe, even before coming to men, that we enforce our laws very unevenly and with little honor. Those holding power emphasize the punishments for breaking laws they find useful for their own purposes, and let others lapse. Laws found unjust are ignored or explained away – or excused despite their indecency – as seems fit to those responsible for their execution. Little effort is made to change unjust laws, and ineffective ones are rarely replaced with anything better. The Constitution itself is widely ignored, particularly those parts which would put any stay on the power of government. I put this first because our theory of government is – or was – built on the rule of law.
When I do turn to observe men, I notice several states of inequality, though perhaps in importance I rate them differently from the picture commonly presented. If the system of government is built on rule of law, and I put that first, then the extent of the country was built largely by the sword – or rather the rifle. This is no more than most other nations have done, so is perhaps not a greatly notable public wickedness except in that it contradicts the principles of liberty. But it is the remaining state of the people conquered which, when considered, becomes a great charge of injustice. Various island territories – with a total population of over four million persons, though the great majority of that is in only one, Puerto Rico – have been held by the United States, some of them for over a century, and with little change. Perhaps they are not badly off materially, but their status hardly can be held to meet our ideals. And we cannot pass over the native American peoples who were neither left to their independence nor fully integrated into American society once conquered: the remaining reservations seem at times by the nature of their administration little more than interior colonies.
If the system was built on law, and the country was taken from others, much land was worked by slaves. Now slavery is illegal; now racial discrimination has been outlawed; but in fact race seems to muddle society as much as ever – though confusion is better than outright oppression. But consider the situation. Some still harbor resentment, distrust and disdain – either for those ingrained social habits make seem inferior, or for those who can be associated with oppressors. Certain protections and favoritism are shown by some laws and policies – yet these have not, on the whole, seemed to make a great deal of difference to the relative standing of “the races”, but have (that I can tell) mainly created resentment. Politically, the assent of black persons is treated as a trophy for a platform – or else their blind following of one party is assumed, and dissenters from that party often treated with disbelief.
We have, as I have traced here, three injustices, three major failures to pursue equality of station, that pursue us from the faults in the founding of the country, however understandable those faults were at the time. Given time and space I might detail others: for example, the spread of time and money as punishments and its effect on the poor. But whatever I detailed, if I looked for reform I would find little interest in ending any of these oppressions. The levers of government have been bound in most states tightly to the major parties, and the major parties accept, more or less, the tight binding of persons – in the form of regulations, taxes, and high public spending – by the mechanisms of the government. It is difficult to make effective changes without subscribing to this system, and the system is not made now to promote those who promote justice.
What are our priorities? Today, we find the chief figures of one major party, although they pay public attention to the problems of the black population and other minorities, mainly committed to the furthering of the murder of children and the celebration of perversion. Meanwhile the chief figures of the other major party, although they may decry the abuse of laws and Constitution from the party platform, appear wrapped up mainly in the preservation of their privileges and wealth. As far as I can tell, neither party gives any attention, however fleeting, for the residue of American conquests.
Pleasures made rabid on the one hand, and wealth gained by curious means on the other, and in the middle – very little interest in this proclamation of equality, or in any real reform to achieve the other stated goals of the American government. Justice, domestic tranquility, and the blessings of liberty all are strained; and as for that liberty – liberty is held in less esteem than the maintenance of a machinery of national aggrandizement.