Richard D. Brown's new book Self-Evident Truths: Contesting Equal Rights from the Revolution to the Civil War
(Yale University Press, 2017) offers a deft examination of the idea enshrined in the Declaration of Independence that "All men are created equal" and how it worked out practically in the young republic based on a vision of a new democratic order in which superior merit would mark the difference among citizens. From the beginning the nation struggled with the ideal and the reality of social inequality based on religion, nationality, ethnicity, race, gender, age and social class. Americans debated the vision of equality as reserved before God alone, equality before the law and equality of opportunity. Brown demonstrates how these debates played out in criminal trials and punishment, divorce cases, and among immigrants and African Americans. Seeking to distinguish themselves from the inherited class structure of England, Americans retained a feature that would make equality difficult to realize, namely inherited private property and patriarchal coverture. Brown gives us a thorough understanding of the myth of a classless society that has held sway since the founding of the nation.
Richard D. Brown
is the Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of History, Emeritus, at the University of Connecticut.
This episode of New Books in American Studies was produced in cooperation with the Society for U.S. Intellectual History
Lilian Calles Barger is a cultural, intellectual and gender historian. Her current book project is entitled
The World Come of Age: An Intellectual History of Liberation Theology forthcoming in 2018 from Oxford University Press.