Equality in America
Since becoming an independent nation in 1776, people have been attempting to define the United States of America. This task is extremely difficult as it is near impossible to establish a concrete definition. However, certain terms and documents are able to represent America and what it means to be an American. Themes such as patriotism, liberty, democracy, diversity, and progress all serve as American qualities. Another interesting term that is relevant throughout the history of America is equality. Similarly, historical documents like The Declaration of Independence, The Bill of Rights, and The Monroe Doctrine are indicators of America’s state of the nation at a certain period of time. Also putting certain documents and poems together can be important markers for change and progress. After closely examining and analyzing The Declaration of Independence, The Declaration of Sentiments, and Langston Hughes’s “Let America Be America Again”, America can be defined as a country constantly striving for equality, but never fully achieving it completely.
The Declaration of Independence is an early example of America attempting to establish equality but failing to do so after overlooking several groups of people. The Declaration of Independence’s prime purpose was to sever the ties to Britain and become and independent nation. In America at this time, Americans were not being treated equal by the ruling Britain. Thomas Jefferson cites several occasions on which Americans are treated as inferior and unequal such as not being represented in Parliament. This document has since become a trademark of equality and freedom. In a famous and important line Jefferson writes, “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.” In the line, Jefferson is saying that every single person, no matter what background, is equal and have the same basic human rights. In theory, this statement alone should instill complete equality to all Americans. However, in reality, this was far from true at this time. The fact that slavery was still prevalent, women were heavily discriminated against, and poor men had almost no voice, prove that America denied equality and basic rights to several populous groups of people. Although, the Declaration of Independence declares equality, the American government essentially did not practice this and left many people inferior to rich white men.
The Declaration of Sentiments is a document announcing the inequalities for women present in America in the 1850’s and demanding change for these problems. The declaration, presented in 1848, brilliantly mirrors the structure of the Declaration of Independence to clearly reveal the inequalities women are faced with in America and very similar to the unfairness displayed by Britain towards Americans. The women even manipulate the famous equality line to account for their presence in America and show how they have been overlooked. The Declaration of Sentiments reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and woman are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” This document is also similar to The Declaration of Independence in that they are both addressing a problem and calling for equality. Although, The Declaration of Sentiments shows no intentions of breaking away from America and forming an equal, independent country, it definitely sparked a movement for change and women’s rights. The women who are writing this are basically challenging American leaders as being hypocrites and ignoring the basic pillars such as equality and freedom in which this country was founded upon. They are, like the founding fathers, striving for equality. The Declaration of Sentiments points out that despite The Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights ensuring equality, that it is actually not present for women in the United States.
In his poem “Let America Be America Again”, Langston Hughes describes how several less fortunate people are not granted equality. The poem was written 1939 prior to the civil rights movement and during the Great Depression by an African-American poet. This was a tough time for Americans and a period where inequalities were very evident. Rich people were still prospering where the working class and other racial groups were suffering heavily. This poem describes how the American dream of equal opportunity and freedom for everyone does not totally exist in America. Similar to The Declaration of Sentiments addressed women being viewed and inferior, and Americans looked down upon by Britain in The Declaration of Independence, Hughes describes other groups that are not granted equality. African-Americans, immigrants, Native Americans, and the poor don’t have a fighting chance to become successful and equal in America despite the amount of strength and hope they possess, according to Hughes. Hughes’s focus in the poem is to the idea of American equality is just that, an idea. It is not reality in 1939 or any time prior. He writes, “The land that never been yet-And yet must be-the land where every man is free.” This poem is not directed to any particular person or group of people as the Declarations are, this poem is simply promoting awareness of inequality and that something must be done, that America has to become the America that is envisioned. This powerful poem addresses and calls for issues of inequality and discrimination that not only will end up contributing to the civil rights movement but also related to other inequality issues of the past described in documents such as The Declaration of Independence and The Declaration of Sentiments.
Analyzing The Declaration of Independence, The Declaration of Sentiments, and Langston Hughes’s “Let America Be America Again” make it possible to define America as a nation constantly working to gain complete equality for everyone despite the vast differences of the citizens. Defining America in general is a terribly difficult task, but defining the nation looking through the lens of equality may be even more difficult. America is such a vast country, composed of millions of people from different backgrounds and experiences. No two people have the same viewpoints concerning the country so it is near impossible to come up with a definition taking account of all these people. However, putting these three documents into consideration it can be concluded that the journey to equality is long and grueling. By viewing the documents you can see an imaginary timeline of equality. The Declaration of Independence of 1776 marked equality for all wealthy white men, abolishing the rule of a monarchy in America. The Declaration on Sentiments written in 1848 marked women fighting for their and eventually helped lead to gender equality in the early 1900’s. Similarly, “Let America Be America Again” written by Langston Hughes in 1939, marks the time period in which African-Americans and other people of color were gaining momentum towards equality. After the conclusion of the civil rights movement a few decades later, this equality was granted. Unfortunately, this equality timeline continues as groups of people are still not completely equal today. For example, members of the gay community are still fighting for equality in areas such as marriage. It is possible that this trend of inequality will continue forever, but there is hope that one day every American will be completely equal. In his poem, Hughes agrees, “America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath-America will Be!”