The Pursuit of Equality in American History

The Pursuit of Equality in American History

The Pursuit of Equality in American History

The Pursuit of Equality in American History

Excerpt

"A nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal"—Lincoln's words are a masterly fusion of the two central commitments of the American Republic.The equal legal and moral status of free individuals was America's reason for independent existence.Yet only at comparatively rare—and then generally stormy—intervals has the idea of equality dominated American debates on major questions of policy.Equality is normally the language of the underdog, and habitually loses some of its magnetism on the attainment of a sufficient degree of success—a conclusion no less true of groups than of individuals. But the discrepancy between the public commitment and the public concern to translate commitment into policy can hardly be explained on the comfortable ground of an achievement that had at any particular period left little room for further advance. My aim in this book has been to explore the historical sources and character of this discrepancy, together with the circumstances in which ideas of equality have come to the surface, the meanings of equality in American ideology, and the operative effect of egalitarian ideas in American history.In all this, a work of history, not of philosophy and still less of advocacy, I have tried to be true to the intellectual context of each period and to the meaning and intention of each contributor, on all sides, to a continuing debate whose intellectual interest certainly loses nothing from the intense seriousness of its subject.

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