The Declaration of Independence: for whom?

I am in the midst of a really interesting on going discussion with Gellieman about the nature of art, political agendas, and representation of historical figures in media… and we’re debating L.M. Miranda’s Hamilton. And (because, of course) we’ve both said we didn’t want to post any more on this… but (forgive me Gellieman) but another question from the theme of the musical has worked its way into my mind, and I want to ask it to see what answers I get.

The Declaration of Independence was written, for the Continental Congress in 1776. It was primarily written by Thomas Jefferson (of Virginia), and reviewed in committee by Benjamin Franklin (of Pennsylvania), and John Adams (of Massachussetts). Presidents or bank note denizens, all. And also all very prodigious writers and thinkers on philosophical and political matters. (And, I am obliged to note, all White men.)

It, famously, states, most eloquently, that classic liberal maxim:

“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.”

A phrase which was not met in equal in American rhetoric, I would say, until Lincoln composed the Gettysburg Address.

But Lincoln had to compose the Gettyburg address, because the American project launched by Jefferson, Franklin and Adams, was not completed through the Constitution, and Lincoln led his country to civil war on the premise that Black men too were men, and meant to be equal beneficiaries of the philosophy in the Declaration of Independence.

And it’s a fight that Americans continued in the following decades, when they added women to the great American project as equal citizens.

So… here’s my question:

When Jefferson, Adams and Franklin presented the words of the declaration to Congress: who did they have in mind with the phrase “All men?”

Is it reasonable for Liberal Republicans to stretch the definition of those words to encompass everybody? Can we read more into the intent of words than the authors may have specifically had in mind?

(And, as a final note for those who have not seen Hamilton, the only criticism presented of the declaration is by Angelica Schuyler (Church) who we know was a correspondent with Jefferson, who comments that she “hope[s] Thomas Jefferson includes women in the sequel”)

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