Today is the 4th of July, and we celebrate this Declaration of Independence. Within the Declaration is this statement “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.”
Eleven years later, on September 17, 1787 the Constitution of the United States was signed. We get goosebumps with the words of the Preamble “We the People.” It makes us feel as if we are family with the whole United States, and all those who came before us. It is a powerful statement.
Today that sentence includes you and me, and all citizens of the United States, but that was not the original intent.
“We the People” meant white males and it was understood that while they brought with them wives, children and servants, those wives, children and servants were not part of “We the People.” Only white males could vote; only white males could make laws; only white males could enforce those laws; and only white males could run for offices in the governing body.
It wasn’t until February 3, 1870 that black males got the right to vote by the 15th Amendment to the Constitution. Women were seeking their right to vote, but it was felt that the fight should be for black men to be able to vote rather than for women to vote. It would be another 50 years, 133 years after the statement “We the People,” before women got the right to be part of “We the People” with the 19th Amendment on August 26, 1920.
What began with the Declaration of Independence, led to “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union.” When you read those words, remember that it took 133 years before that union accepted all its people as equal, and that did not come easily as Americans fought against each other in the Civil War, and in the courts, for the rights that should have come with “We the People.”
Well, did they just not know better, were they just responding to the culture of white males, and this caused the United States to leave out out women until 1920? You don’t think they knew better until 1920? This is a country that thought outside the box and decided that this new country would not be led by kings who had power over them, but by a man that would be the President elected by an electoral college. Certainly not what other countries were doing.
Did the founding fathers not have women anywhere to give a voice? You need to read this book by Cokie Roberts Founding Mothers, and that will change your idea that it was the men only who founded this new country.
Founding Mothers, an intimate and illuminating look at the fervently patriotic and passionate women whose tireless pursuits on behalf of their families — and their country — proved just as crucial to the forging of a new nation as the rebellion that established it.
While much has been written about the men who signed the Declaration of Independence, battled the British, and framed the Constitution, the wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters they left behind have been little noticed by history. Roberts brings us the women who fought the Revolution as valiantly as the men, often defending their very doorsteps. While the men went off to war or to Congress, the women managed their businesses, raised their children, provided them with political advice, and made it possible for the men to do what they did. The behind-the-scenes influence of these women — and their sometimes very public activities — was intelligent and pervasive.
Today, remember that our equality begins in the Declaration “And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Like everthing else that women get, we will have to fight for true equality for women. Nobody is just going to hand it to us.
We will continue this new series “Let Freedom Ring” during the month of July.