Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How did the framers understand equality?

I always find it interesting when I stumble across oft quoted concepts in older writings.

Listen to conservative talk radio or read “right” leaning opinion for any amount of time, and you will likely come across the phrase, “The founders were talking about equality of opportunity, not equality of outcomes.”

I’ve been reading View of the Constitution of the United States by St. George Tucker, a prominent patriot and jurist. His writing on the Constitution was considered vital reading for law students and legal thinkers in the early 1800s, and provides valuable insight into the original meaning of the Constitution and the thinking of the framers.

Tucker explains the idea of equality as the framers understood it. His understanding meshes nicely with the modern view expressed by most libertarians and conservatives.

By equality, in a democracy, is to be understood, equality of civil rights, and not of condition. Equality of rights necessarily produces inequality of possessions; because, by the laws of nature and of equality, every man has a right to use his faculties in an honest way, and the fruits of his labor, thus acquired, are his own. But some men have more strength than others; some more health; some more industry; and some more skill and ingenuity, than others; and according to these, and other circumstances the products of their labor must be various, and their property must become unequal. The rights of property must be sacred, and must be protected; otherwise there could be no exertion of either ingenuity or industry, and consequently nothing but extreme poverty, misery and brutal ignorance.

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