All men* are created equal.
This is a loaded sentence, and unfortunately it's also an ambiguous one. People tend to misunderstand what was meant with it. This is what was not meant:
All men are created identical.
The statement is not about people being identical, but unfortunately quite a number of people think it is. This false understanding can lead to two things:
- You can accept the misunderstood statement and think that everybody is indeed identical (at least at the core). Or that everybody ought to be identical. The result is lots of conformism, often of the enforced kind.
- You can refute the misunderstood statement (which is quite easy to do) and throw out the baby with the bathwater - along with the misunderstood, stupid statement you also throw away the real meaning, which is
All men are created equal in worth. (...equal in value, in importance, and therefore, in rights and duties.)
This is what the statement really is about: It means to say that all persons have the same value - that there are no people inherently more important than others. This is in sharp contrast with the older belief that, for example, a nobleman is an inherently more important human being than a peasant.
It says that the attributes of a human being do not change his or her worth. So while one person may be stronger, richer, more intelligent than another they are still equal in worth.
Similar statements, for example about the equality of men and women, suffer from similar interpretation problems, as you can see here.
* It looks strange that the sentence reads "All men..." and not "All persons...". Inevitably the question is raised whether the statement is only about men in the sense of male human beings. This would imply that the authors did not consider men and women of equal value. Perhaps, however, this is simply yet another misunderstanding due to a change in language. "Man" originally meant "human being", not "male human being", as the first definition of "man" in Webster 1913 attests.
However the statement was meant, it was certainly only applied to white men at the time.