The Founders believed that all people, of both sexes and all races, are born with an equality of natural rights. This does not mean that all groups of people had the same political, civil, and economic rights at the time of the Founding: slaves, women, and in many cases, men without property lacked many rights.

Many of the Founders, including Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, James Otis, and Benjamin Rush, spoke out about the injustice of slavery before the Revolution and continued to work for abolition for the rest of their lives. Others, including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington wished to see slavery end but feared that immediate and forced emancipation would break apart the new nation.

Abigail Adams asked her husband, John Adams, to “remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors” when framing a government for the new nation. Mercy Otis Warren also urged that equal rights for women be included in the Constitution. Throughout American history, people including Angelina Grimke, Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Chapman Catt, and Alice Paul have worked for women’s equality under law.

Through the free speech, writings, and petitions of these and others, the Declaration of Independence‘s promise that “all men are created equal” has been extended to more and more groups of people through constitutional amendments including the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Nineteenth Amendments.