We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Thomas Jefferson penned these words more than two hundred and forty years ago in the document that helped found our nation. In time, these principles would become the basis for the U.S. Constitution and the first ten amendments, known as the Bill of Rights.
What exactly did Jefferson mean when he said that “all men are created equal”? Jefferson, a slave owner, wrestled with this question and came under no shortage of criticism, especially from our cousins across the sea, for what many see as his gross hypocrisy. When he referred to “men” it’s not likely that he meant this as a gender-neutral term.
Ours is not a perfect union. We have somehow survived the shame of slavery, racial discrimination, genocide, and gender inequality. And, over the past two centuries, we have, hopefully, gained a better understanding of what Jefferson’s words can and do mean in a modern society.
Jefferson and many of his colleagues, including Ben Franklin, were not what we’d consider terribly religious men. Neither of them were members of any organized church, and Jefferson went so far as to edit the Bible to take out all the miracles, which he regarded as preposterous.
Yet he refers to the “Creator” as the source of all human rights. The founders of this country represented many religious denominations, both Protestant and Catholic. Blessed with fresh memories of the wars that had divided Europe, they scrupulously avoided creating any official national religion. Jefferson’s creator is a non-denominational reference to a higher intelligence.
If you believe, as I do, that all human beings are children of that same creator, then the true meaning of the Declaration of Independence is unambiguous. We all have the same rights, regardless of skin color, religion, national, political affiliation, or sexual identity. There are no special privileges that attach to any of those things, and the belated recognition of those rights does not constitute a sudden granting of such privileges.
The unalienable rights Jefferson mentions are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” He adapted this from previous writers who referred to “life, liberty, and property,” in recognition that the ownership of property is an essential human right. In other words, the Marxist notion that “all property is theft” is nothing short of a lie spread by those who have no regard for individual liberties.
Jefferson substituted “pursuit of happiness” to include anything you choose to do that doesn’t harm anyone else. Notice that he makes no mention of any unalienable protection against being offended by something someone else says or does. As icky as others may seem, they have a right to be the way they are, and the rest of us have a right to get over it.
The broader versions of these rights include the freedom to vote, to express yourself as you see fit, and the right to keep and bear arms in the defense of your home, family and property. We also have the right to enjoy the fruits of our labors, no matter what better uses someone else might find for them. And, yes, we all have the right to immigrate to this country as our ancestors did, provided we’re willing to respect the rights of others.