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Self-Evident TruthsContesting Equal Rights from the Revolution to the Civil War$
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Richard D. Brown

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780300197112

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300197112.001.0001

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Equal Rights and Unequal People

Equal Rights and Unequal People

(p.243) Seven Equal Rights and Unequal People
Self-Evident Truths

Richard D. Brown

Yale University Press

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

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