Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/349

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.






IT has been maintained that all men are born free and equal. Shall we accept this very broad statement as it stands? or shall we repudiate it as a palpable untruth, an absurd exaggeration of the actual state of things?

There can be no doubt that from certain points of view, abundant objection can be brought against it. Is a baby free to go where it pleases? Or a child of five to discipline its parents, and control the key to the pantry? Is a boy free to vote? Or to raise money on a note? Is a lady free to play poker on the curb-stone? Or a clergyman to supplement his insufficient salary by serving during the week as end-man in the performances of a minstrel troupe? Is a banker free to close his establishment every time that there is a football game between Yale and Harvard? Freedom! Where is freedom? We are all of us hedged about by restrictions of a thousand sorts, and we are not hedged about by the same restrictions. What I am free to do, another is not free to do; and what he may do is forbidden to a third. Where is this freedom attributed to all men? Some men incarcerated in cells by legal process appear to be conscious that they are not free. The larger number not thus provided for talk much about their freedom, especially at certain seasons of the year, but when we subject them to critical inspection, we find that they only seem to be free to do certain things determined by such circumstances as age, character, sex, station in life, official position, and a multitude of others. Each human being is certainly not free to do what every other is free to do. What a droll world it would be if he were!

And as for equality—talk not of it! Would any man in his senses maintain that a baby not yet "shortened" is equal in size, weight and intelligence to a senator or a college president? Is a boy equal in foresight and power of self-restraint to a man of forty? Are all school-children equal in mathematical ability or in artistic skill? Are all women equally beautiful and equally talkative? The man who really believed in the equality of human beings would make the candidates for the presidency of the United States pull straws, or would toss up a copper to decide whom he should marry. Even if we confine ourselves to men as "born," as still in the cradle, we can not regard them as