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|America: Myth of Equality
To many, the Unites States serves as the ideal model of democracy for the modern world. Yet, how truly worthy is America of this status? Although it has been said that, “Equality is as American as baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie,” one must be extremely critical when analyzing such a statement. By taking a historical perspective to the question of how “equal” American equality actually is, it is simple to recognize how problematic the “Land of the Free” mentality can be. The early America’s most prominent thinkers have been sensationalized and given credit for developing a free and equal system. However, one can recognize that their manner of thinking was far from this idea of “all men are created equal” by critical examination of their literature.
When analyzing equality, a sociological and legal approach must be made. In the case of the United States, the sociological stratification, or division of power, of minority groups had adversely affected the development of the legal system. Especially in the 1600s and 1700s, legal and social equality of those not of the Caucasian persuasion, the less fortunate, and of the female gender was almost nonexistent. This inequality is a direct result of the early American society’s ranking system. Equality was not perceived in the minds of such individuals as John Winthrop, John Adams, and James Madison, and as a result, their significant accomplishments towards the development of the American system have tainted the institution itself.
One of the earliest American social groups was the 17th Century Puritans. This society had an extremely unique and strict manner of thinking that was entirely based on inequality. This is clearly represented by the writings of the Puritan leader John Winthrop. In “A Model of Christian Charity,” Winthrop outlines the societal rationale, and in turn, the disparity of equality in his society. The gist of the Puritan way of life is that, by the grace of God, certain individuals were empowered with the ability to be enlightened and the capability of achieving much within the society itself. However, by the same reasoning, some individuals were also destined to take the lesser roles in society, and as a result, had no power to move up within the ranks because of this inescapable predetermination. This is represented by the following Winthrop passage: “God Almighty…..hath so disposed of the condition of mankind as in all times some must be rich, some poor; some high and eminent in power and dignity, others mean and in subjection” (Winthrop, 79). To further inequality, Winthrop stressed the need for each to take their place for the good of society:
“…hold conformity with the rest of His (God’s) works, being delighted to show forth the glory of His wisdom in the variety and difference of the creatures and the glory of His power, in ordering all these differences for the preservation and good of the whole” (Winthrop, 79).
The Puritans did not believe in equality, and any problems resulting from this mindset was silenced by Winthrop’s pleads for those unhappy souls, assigned by the Almighty to be subordinate, to take their place for the preservation of society.
Although inequalities may not been less evident later on in the 1700s, societal stratification was a factor during the formation of the American political system. One leader at this time was the nation’s second president, John Adams. Previous to the release of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, which Adams had a significant role in developing, a set of correspondences between Adams and his wife, Abigail, show readers the role of women during this age. Abigail wrote to her husband suggesting that the Declaration of Independence be modified to include provisions for increasing women’s rights (Adams, 65). John Adams’ response to this letter is incredibly grating:
“As to your extraordinary Code of Laws, I cannot but laugh. We have been told that our Struggle has loosened the bands of Government everywhere. That Children and Apprentices were disobedient - that schools and Colledges were grown turbulent – that Indians slighted their Guardians and Negros grew insolent to their Masters. But your letter was the first Intimation that another Tribe more numerous and powerful then all the rest were grown discontented” (Adams, 66).
Adams goes further to say his wife’s ideas were a result of her “saucy” personality (Adams, 66). Not only was this “Founding Father” clearly sexist, but he also saw minority groups as lessors. This, however, is not taught in the history books. Popular knowledge is that Adams devoted his life to politics, participating with distinction first in the revolutionary activities of Boston and Philadelphia, and later in the founding of the republic.
At the time the Constitution was being analyzed for possible ratification, a set of published writings proved to be invaluable support toward the future framework for the American “democratic” governmental system. The Federalist Papers, written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, helped change the tide toward support for ratification. Although these individuals have been credited with the formation of this free and equal system for which America prides itself, one must question whether they had any alternative motives in forming this particular system.
In Federalist Paper No. 10, James Madison details his thoughts on how dangerous factions can be towards the future form of government. In actuality, Madison says that almost nothing is more important in this proposed system is, “its tendency to break and control the violence of faction” (Madison, 107). Later, in Madison’s Federalist No. 51, he describes how the Constitution’s separation of powers clauses are invaluable because it makes domination by such “factions” virtually impossible. Yet, whom is Madison depicting by the term “factions?” He writes in No. 10 that:
“By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community,” (Madison, 108).
This is quite an ambiguous definition. However, if one were examines the backgrounds of those who wrote the Federalist Papers and of those who developed the Constitution, it is very clear who they were trying to protect the government from.
Madison was born to a large slave-holding family in the estate of Montpelier, Virginia. After graduating from Princeton, he rose through the ranks of Virginian politics until he was selected to represent the state in the Continental Congress (http://www.jmu.edu/madison /madisonb.htm). Madison was no common vagrant. He was born into power, money, and a good education, which at the time, was the typical stereotype of the American politician. As a result, it was the goals and aspirations of this group that were manifested in the initial American system. The factions that Madison concerns himself with were the population’s majority, otherwise known as the lesser classes. As a result, the establishment of division of power and checks and balances clauses would give the populace a lesser chance of gaining much authority over the already established aristocracy.
If this is the case, why is America perceived to be relatively fair and equal today? Fortunately the early American politicians did develop framework to allow the Constitution to evolve, and combined with the political movements in both minority and women’s rights of the end of this century, much of this unjust stigma has been eliminated from the system. Still, racial discrepancies in the courts occur more frequently then not, and the social makeup of American politicians continues to follow a predetermined “mold.” Is this a direct result of the discrepancies formed in the earlier stages of American history? It is hard for anyone to tell. What is indisputable is that the Declaration of Independence’s statement, “All men are created equal,” was far from the truth during early American history.