Our Secret Constitution: How Lincoln Redefined American Democracy

By George P. Fletcher | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
EQUALITY

“Democracy arises out of the notion that those who are equal in any respect are equal in all respects.”

—Aristotle

The genius of the Gettysburg Address is that it took the words of the Declaration of Independence and found in them a crystallization of a meaning suitable for the refounding of American democracy. In 1776, the idea that “all men are created equal—for all purposes” had no precedent in the declarations of political leaders. Even the great French Declaration of the Rights of Man, issued thirteen years after the French Revolution, preached a more limited version of equality—“All men are born and remain equal under the law.” 1 In its original context, the famous five words “all men are created equal” had a limited function. They undermined the pretension of King George III to rule under the divine right of kings. If all men were of equal stature under God, then no one could claim to have been anointed as ruler by supernatural authority. At the same time, however, the famous maxim could also be understood as referring to “men” as collective entities: “all peoples have equal status.” It was not particularly novel to argue that all nations, all states, had an equal claim to govern themselves. The principle of national self-determination, urged so adamantly in the twentieth century, derives from the same source: every nation is entitled to preserve its own culture, cultivate its language, and

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Our Secret Constitution: How Lincoln Redefined American Democracy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Preface ix
  • Introduction - The Argument for the Secret Constitution 1
  • Chapter 1 - Redemption Under Law 15
  • Chapter 2 - Radical Gettysburg 35
  • Chapter 3 - Nationhood 57
  • Chapter 4 - Loyalty and Betrayal 75
  • Chapter 5 - Equality 91
  • Chapter 6 - The Revolution That Never Was 113
  • Chapter 7 - Equality Without Vision 141
  • Chapter 8 - A Maxim of Justice: Its Birth and Rebirth 165
  • Chapter 9 - The Secret Constitution Resurgent 189
  • Chapter 10 - Government as Partner Against the Past 211
  • Chapter 11 - Neither Blue nor Gray 225
  • Afterword - Election Blues 2000 231
  • Notes 261
  • Index 285
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