All men are created equal

The Declaration of Independence of the United States was drafted by Thomas Jefferson. His original draft was, however, reviewed and edited by the Second Continental Congress before it was approved, printed and signed. What changed between the final draft by Jefferson and the approved version provide a fascinating insight in to American society and politics at the time of the War of Independence.

As a rousing text, Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence has few equals. The second paragraph features the famous introduction:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Signing of the Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

They are fine words which continue to reverberate down the centuries. But its universal application was somewhat limited – it was drafted by a slave-owner and adopted by many Congressmen who also owned slaves. The irony, if not hypocrisy, of this unambiguous statement set against the realty for hundreds of thousands of slaves in the America of the 1770s, was not missed. Samuel Johnson pithily observed in 1775:

“How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of Negroes?”

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The shield that started the Hundred Years’ War

In the middle ages, heraldry was a potent and respected form of state propaganda and individual projection of power. A man (and it was almost invariably a man) could proclaim his status, his wealth, influence and pedigree in a seemingly simple blend of colours, shapes, beasts and designs. Heraldry was taken so seriously that it could signal a claim to a kingdom, the start of a war, a declaration of peace or dynastic marriage. But what was its role in the opening phases of the Hundred Years’ War?

On 26 January 1340, Edward III gathered with his supporters in the marketplace of Ghent. One of the most powerful rulers in Europe, Edward was not only King of England but also boasted a clutch of other titles that together made up the Angevin Empire. Angevin control extended over a thousand miles, from as far north as Edinburgh to the Mediterranean territories of Toulouse.

King Edward III - By See description on linked site [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Edward had summoned this host in Flanders in an audacious bid to extend his power and become the undisputed champion of Europe. He planned to augment his complicated collection of kingdoms, lordships, dukedoms, counties, principalities, fiefs, towns and castles with the most glittering prize of all: the Kingdom of France.

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