A Bunch of White Guys Got Together in Philadelphia and Guess What Happened?

I got thinking about the Declaration of Independence in the course of human events in the course of talking with Sarah Hoyt about the USAian religion. (In her Darkship books, the memory of the United States has been suppressed, but an underground preserves it as the basis of their own religious beliefs.)

This is one of their holy texts, written by a man named Jefferson a long time ago:

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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Let's start with the first clause:

We hold these truths to be self-evident

Jefferson, along with most well-educated people at the time, was given a "classical education" -- the trivium and quadrivium, along with languages and history. In particular, it almost always included Euclid's Geometry; Jefferson we know read Locke and others, and almost certainly read Spinoza, who constructed his books very much like a geometry text. The point is that Jefferson, as one of the perfect examples of men of the Enlightenment, believed wholeheartedly in science and in, above all, reason, and Euclid was considered the epitome of reason.

If you read Book One of Euclid's Elements you see some definitions and "common notions," and then the five Postulates. Postulates, or axioms, are the starting point in a logical system; they are statements that are considered universally acceptable — or at least are accepted as statements from which deductions can be made. To Euclid, these are universal truths that are held to be self-evident and thus require no proof. (In modern logic, they no longer have to be self-evident, and can merely be interesting. But that's a topic for another time.) So, we start out with "We state these basic beliefs so that our reasoning can be seen to be well-founded."

The first of these is "that all men are created equal." Remember that this is an axiom and not something that, in this context, is debatable. But what does this mean?

First of all, the word man, we must remember, was strictly understood in a generic sense as referring to the species. English speakers below a certain age don't really grasp this, I think; there has been a whole lot of argument about it in the last few years.