About the Equal Rights for All, Special Privileges for None Quote

Thomas Jefferson is credited with having said, “equal rights for all, special privileges for none,” a slogan that other progressive Democrats like Williams Jennings Bryan embraced. Although it is hard to find any evidence that Jefferson said this that isn’t second hand, we can confirm the slogan was used by Bryan as it was enshrined in the 1908 Democratic party platform (a rather progressive populist platform).[1]

The New Deal doesn’t start with FDR. Bryan and Teddy should be noted, as should other figures from both historic parties.

The origin of the quote aside, it does a good job at illustrating an underlying American principal held by Jeffersonian as well as Jacksonian Democrats, the idea that the government is meant to protect the common man as an equal to the elite. It is not meant to treat a privileged elite class with “special privilege.” There should be no special interests for businesses and the elite, but rather equality of all sexes, classes, races, creeds, etc.

Factions like the Solid South “Liberty for White Men” factions, Cleveland’s “Pro-Gold” Gilded Age factions, and progressive “really everyone is equal” populist factions of the Democratic party would probably not have agreed on specifics throughout American history. Still, the more progressive populist wings of the Democratic Party (the “liberal Democrats” and even some of the less liberal ones) have generally agreed on the maxim on paper even if not in-action for ALL.

Equality for ALL has been a problematic concept all along for both parties, but where the maxim doesn’t align with reality in practice, at least it speaks to the liberal ideals and Democratic upon which the country was founded (and which later Democrats like Bryan took seriously).

Equality is the ideal of some of our great progressive-left Presidents and politicians like Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Bryan. To be fair, except for their pro-slavery stance, some of the ideology of Jackson and Calhoun rests here too. Likewise, we can see how race and social issues aside, even some of what today we consider “populist conservatives” could see this message being one that resonates with them.

“The conscience of the nation is now aroused to free the Government from the grip of those who have made it a business asset of the favor-seeking corporations. It must become again a people’s government, and be administered in all its departments according to the Jeffersonian maxim, “equal rights to all; special privileges to none.” “Shall the people rule?” is the overshadowing issue which manifests itself in all the questions now under discussion.” – Democratic Party platform 1908 which Democrat Bryan helped to write.

“We hold with Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln that the people are the masters of their Constitution, to fulfill its purposes and to safeguard it from those who, by perversion of its intent, would convert it into an instrument of injustice. In accordance with the needs of each generation the people must use their sovereign powers to establish and maintain equal opportunity and industrial justice, to secure which this Government was founded and without which no republic can endure. This country belongs to the people who inhabit it. Its resources, its business, its institutions and its laws should be utilized, maintained or altered in whatever manner will best promote the general interest. It is time to set the public welfare in the first place.” – Progressive Party Platform of 1912 which Ex-Republican Theodore Roosevelt helped to write.

Progressive Presidents: Crash Course US History #29

Citations

  1. Equal Rights for All, Special Privileges for None: Principles of American Populism


"Equal Rights for All, Special Privileges for None" is tagged with: American Politics, Left–right Politics, Liberalism and Conservatism, Thomas Jefferson, United States of America

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