Several generations after his lifetime Jefferson became best known, as he still is, of course, for these words “All men are created equal, and they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Here is another important lesson in understanding history. The American Founders tend to be treated as demigods who handed down the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as universal, eternal, and sacred bequests to all mankind. This makes the words of the Founders both mystical and highly manipulatable. When Jefferson wrote this famous passage, he was not a guru who was passing out divine wisdom designed to revolutionise the world. And he was certainly not launching a crusade in favour of equality. Such a way of looking at the Declaration is mystification perpetrated by people with an agenda. Jefferson believed in reason and despised vague, reverential thinking, which he believed had most often been used throughout history to cover up oppression. As he himself said, the American Founders were good men who enjoyed a unique opportunity, but they were men, not gods or prophets, and their work was subject to examination by other men in the light of reason. John C. Calhoun, and the other spokesmen of the Old South, by the way, held the same view, contrary to the false description of their Constitutional thought which has become standard.
The Declaration was not Jefferson’s unique wisdom.
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