America has always been seen as the land of the free. Everyone wanted (and still wants) to live the American dream: freedom, opportunity, and equal rights. However, this freedom didn’t occur until the Declaration of Independence in 1776 in which Thomas Jefferson stated that “all men are created equal”.
I believe that the way Jefferson composed this famous line was not exactly right because many people saw this as a way of saying that only men are equal, excluding women. This caused the creation of a second declaration, namely the Declaration of Sentiment which was ratified in 1848; this represents the voice of oppressed women who were not treated equally. That is why, 72 years later, women had the same rights as men regarding their race, ethnicity, etc.
However, all these are purely theoretical aspects. After the Declaration of Sentiments, things didn’t change so fast with the help of a signature. Even today, in the 21st century, even in 2020, women are still not seen as equal to men. It is true that women are way better off today, but things are still far from equal. For example, if we are to take the 500 largest corporations in the US, only 23 of these have a female chief executive officer, and that represents only 4,6%.
It is true that many women are starting to climb the ladder in the political domain; for example a record number of women are serving in Congress. However, I believe that these changes are still very small considering the era in which we live in. Women still suffer because of their gender. For every dollar made by an white man, a woman makes 77 cents. For women of colour, things are even worse: they make 64 cents for every dollar made by a white man.
The Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of Sentiments can be seen as a fairytale considering the status of women nowadays. It is true that it had very noble intentions, but it is very hard to change the mentality of an entire nation. The world of 1776 was hierarchical. Today, we tend to imagine that everyone in history has always believed equality is the right goal. Yet many people in the18th century thought the only way for society to function was by having a king. Monarchy didn’t just mean one person above everyone else, but a great chain of inequality, down to nobility, to gentry, to yeoman, and finally enslaved people who didn’t even have possession of their bodies. This hierarchal society is one that many in the Revolutionary Generation grew up thinking was inevitable.
History is not linear. It’s not always progressing toward the light. It disappoints after periods of hope. There’s this hope and this bitter disappointment that the country just dug in on slavery for a long time. In 1776, there were half a million enslaved people. In 1861, there were 4 million.
This is a story that’s not just going upward. It’s not linear. It’s not, unfortunately, always arcing toward the light. It has to be made to bend that way. People have to fight for it and work and talk and come to some kind of solutions. It doesn’t just happen.
We continually face the question of how well we are living into the promises set forth in the Declaration. Each generation must look at itself and ask, are we making progress?
The Declaration did not immediately apply to all people. What we’re seeing today is an outgrowth of repeated failures over time to live up to its aspirations. The question is, what can we do differently this time? That’s what every new generation has to decide.
Armitage, David The Declaration of Independence: A global History, HARVARD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2008