Toward a More Perfect Union
in an Age of Diversity

American Beliefs about Equality

The following are statements of American beliefs about equality made over the course of time and from different perspectives. Assembled in the "National Conversation Kit," by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Excerpt from the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, theat they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Abraham Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863:

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate--we can not consecrate--we can not hallow--this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain--that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom--and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Robert Yellowtail, Address before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, September 9, 1919:

Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the committee, the American Indian, also a creature of God, claims, as you yourselves do, to be endowed with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. He further maintains as his inherent right to choose the manner in which he shall seek his own happiness....

I hold that the Crow Indian Reservation is a separate semisovereign nation in itself, not belonging to any State, nor confined with the boundary lines of any State of the Union, and that until such proper cessions, as had been agreed to and as expressed in our covenant, have been duly complied with no Senator, or anybody else, so far as that is concerned, has any right to claim the right to tear us asuner by the continued introduction of bills here without our consent and simply because of our geographical proximity to his State or his home, or because his constituents prevail upon him so to act; neither has he the right to dictate to us what we shall hold as our final homesteads in this our last stand against the ever-encroaching hand, nor continue to disturb our peace of mind by a constant agitation to deprive us of our lands, that were, to begin with ours, not his, and not given to us by anybody. This Nation should be only too ready, as an atonement for our treatment in the past, to willingly grant to the Indian people of this country their unquestionable and undeniable right to determine how much of their own lands they shall retain as their homes and how much they shall dispose of to outsiders.

Martin Luther King, "I Have A Dream," August 20, 1963:

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity.

But one hundred years later, we must fact the tragic fact that the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination....

In a sense we have come to our nation's Capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check; a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." We we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great valuts of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice....

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal." ...

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today....

Plan de Delano, Proclamation issued by La Causa, when Cesar Chavez's National Farm Workers Association voted to join the Filipino grape pickers who were on strike, 1965:

We, the undersigned, gathered in Pilgrimage to th capital of the State in Sacramento in penance for all the failings of Farm Workers as free and sovereign men, do solemnly declare before the nation to which we belong, the propositions we have formulated to end the injustice that oppresses us.

We are conscious of the historical significance of our Pilgrimage. It is clearly evident that our path travels through a valley well known to all Mexican farm workers. We know all of these towns of Delano, Fresno, Modesto, Stockton and Sacramento, because along this very same road, in this very same valley, the Mexican race has sacrificed itself for the last hundred years. Our sweat and our blood have fallen on this land to make other men rich. This Pilgrimage is a witness to the suffering we have seen for generations.

The Penance we accept symbolizes the suffering we shall have in order to bring justice to these same towns, to this same valley. The Pilgrimage we make symbolizes the long historical road we have travelled in this valley alone, and the long road we have yet to travel, with much penance, in order to bring about the Revolution we need, and for which we present the propositions in the following PLAN:

1. This is the beginning of a social movement in fact and not in pronouncement. We seek our basic, God-given rights as human beings. Because we have suffered--and are not afraid to suffer--in order to survive, we are ready to give up everything, even our lives, in our fight for social justice. We shall do it without violence because that is our destiny. To the ranchers, and to all those who oppose us, we say, in the words of Benito Juárez, "EL RESPETO AL DERECHO AJENO ES LA PAZ" -- "Respect for the rights of others is the way to peace"....

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