Equal Rights and Unequal People

Richard D. Brown

in Self-Evident Truths

Published by Yale University Press

Published in print March 2017 | ISBN: 9780300197112
Published online September 2017 | e-ISBN: 9780300227628 | DOI:
Equal Rights and Unequal People

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Though Americans have favored the idea of equal rights and equal opportunity, they recognize that differences in wealth and social advantage, like differences in ability and appearance, influence the realization, or not, of equal rights, including equality before the law. In the generations after 1776 the rights of creditors, for example, often overrode the rights of debtors. And criminal trials demonstrate that in courtrooms equal treatment was most often achieved when defendant and victim came from the same social class. Otherwise if they came from different classes social realities, including ethnicity, color, and gender could shape court officials and public opinion. And when a woman’s sexual virtue was compromised, her credibility was almost always discounted. In principle officials paid homage to the ideal of equality before the law, but in practice unequal rights often prevailed.

Keywords: gender; class; ethnicity; race; murder; debtors

Chapter.  18958 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas

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