The scope of ‘all men’

Editor’s note. This appears on the blog of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life.

The Declaration of Independence, issued on July 4, 1776, includes this famous affirmation of human dignity: “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.”

Randy Alcorn reflects:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident.” There are certain truths so basic, so foundational that we must hold to them if the social fabric of this country is to endure. What are those truths?

First, “That all men are created equal.” Flowing out of that it says, “That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Note the order: the cornerstone is that all are created equal, then that there are certain rights given by God that you and I are not free to ignore. Then, that the first and most basic unalienable right is the right to life. The exercise of our right to liberty and our right to the pursuit of happiness are secondary to respecting the right to life. Our pursuit of happiness must not compromise any other person’s right to live. So, the right to life is not some modern anti-abortion slogan. It is the most fundamental assertion of the document upon which this nation was founded.

The three most significant moral issues in American history have each hinged on an understanding of what it means that “all men are created equal.”

The first question: Does “all men” mean only the white race or does it include blacks? The second question: Does “all men” mean males, or does it mean all mankind, male and female? Laws were changed as our nation came to a correct answer to these questions.

The question before us today is a third one, with as much moral significance as the first two. Does “all men” include not only the bigger and older, but also the smaller and younger? Does it include our preborn children?

Or, as Francis Beckwith puts it, the question before us is whether the project that began centuries ago — having its metaphysical roots in the biblical notion of the imago dei (image of God) that provided the intellectual scaffolding for the Declaration of Independence, the abolitionist movement, Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial — can be, and ought to be, extended to include the true wideness of our human community, that is, to include the unborn.

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