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What does "all men are created equal" mean?

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The creed "all men are created equal" means that people hold certain inalienable rights that are innate in all human beings, according to the Constitutional Rights Foundation. This stems from the idea of natural rights, meaning humans are naturally free to make their own choices and prosper. Natural rights was a popular notion during the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century.

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Full Answer

The Constitutional Rights Foundation notes that "all men are created equal" can be found in the Declaration of Independence of 1776. Thomas Jefferson authored the document and stated that the contents of the document reflected popular notions of the day. The idea of natural freedom stems from the writings of Enlightenment pioneers such as John Locke, a philosopher who wrote that people hold natural rights along with the right to "life, liberty and property."

Locke also wrote that people should be free to make their own choices as long as they do not affect anyone else. Jefferson also read the writings of George Mason and Tom Paine. However, Jefferson, along with the founding principles of the United States, has come under criticism for not recognizing the rights of women, other minorities and slaves, as noted by the Constitutional Rights Foundation. Even though Jefferson opposed slavery later in life, he owned slaves. The Constitutional Rights Foundation also mentions that Jefferson simply did not know how to end slavery and feared blacks would be exterminated by whites if they were all freed at once. He also favored such reforms as educating the children of slaves at the expense of the taxpayer.

Even though "all men are created equal" and the Declaration of Independence have no legal authority, the Constitutional Rights Foundation notes that these ideas have served as an inspiration in such movements as the abolitionist movement of the 19th century and the civil rights movement of the 1960s, which affirms its continued relevance and meaning.

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