From various quarters we hear the query, "Do these reformers really mean what they have put forth as their platform, or have they willfully perpetrated a large joke?" Had the inquirers been present in Apollo Hall and taken note of the sort of material that constituted the convention which constructed the platform, there would have been no need of making this inquiry. If there ever were serious people, meaning every word they said, those to whom we refer were such. And although the enthusiasm of the occasion raised, at times, to a high degree, it never ruled, at the expense of wisdom and discretion.
Hence, we may safely assure everybody that every word which appears either in platform or resolutions which that convention formed, was intended in dead earnest. Some brainless editors who have never grasped an idea or had the capacity to entertain a principle, but who, from a continuous practice of lines of policy, bring all their natural capacities to do either, may talk of its being childs play and nonsense; but they will live long enough, if they live only till next November to learn that their wisdom is indeed foolishness.
Many imagine because, in reality, they have never stopped to think about it, that our systems of law, organism and execution, are consistent with the theory laid down in the Declaration of Independence. There could be no greater error than this supposition. There is not even the faintest shadow of truth in it, unless, perhaps, it may be said that the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment may be an exception; and whatever of salvation there was in that, they attempted to defeat, by the next section, fearing to let a single grain of real freedom and equality stand free from the tares of despotism.
The declaration that the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, is inalienable in the individual was the first expression of the great change in the uses of government, which is but just now beginning to be understood. We say beginning to be understood, for there is no law upon the statute books of any country, whose first purpose is to establish and protect human rights, but they, one and all, are for the purpose of establishing and protecting property rights, to the utter ignoring of those of the higher sort.
If the right to life were, by law held to be, as the declaration maintains it to be, inalienable, there could be no law providing for the death penalty. In the abstract sense, the taking of life, whether by the individual or by the State, is equally murder, and there is no sort of logic that can controvert this fact. If it were necessary that a murderer should be hung to save the lives of members of the community, there might be a reasonable argument in favor of capital punishment; but nobody pretends that any such proceeding is necessary in these days of safety asylums like our prisons. Therefore, when the community commits murder, the crime is multiplied from the individual into the whole number who constitute the community, each one of whom is equally guilty with the person whom they murder for having murdered, and there is no way of escaping the inevitable law of divine compensation and justice, which is administered without regard to any arbitrary distinctions.
The same rule is applicable in the same way when persons are deprived of their liberty for any purpose except for the protection of the community. The present imprisonment of criminals is to carry out the idea of punishment. Nothing that is thus administered can by any possibility be just, since justice exists alone in the immutable laws of the universe, while human laws ought to be so founded upon principles as not to militate in any manner whatever against their prerogatives.
But if in our systems, the inalienable rights to life and liberty are infringed, how much more so is that to the pursuit of happiness. This right is hedged upon every possible side by all conceivable forms of law and standards of public opinion. Instead of being formulated to protect this inalienable right, our laws could not have been better constructed if prohibition were their purpose.
The right to the pursuit of happiness means that every individual has the right to seek his or her happiness, as he or she may determine; and as a corollary the necessary implication follow that in whatever manner the individual shall choose to seek that happiness, all other individuals should respect and the community as a whole protect.
But, says the objector, if everybody shall be permitted to follow his or her own inclinations in the pursuit of happiness and there should be no law to prevent it, what assurance is there that such pursuit will not interfere with the rights of others. Now this is the great stumbling-block everywhere raised to oppose the spread of the new interpretation of individual freedom, but at the same time the most fallacious one possible to be conceived of. Nobody denies the right of community to erect and maintain a government; but it is demanded that government be restricted to its legitimate uses, the protection of individual rights. If this idea be properly conceived of, the objection named will vanish before is as mist before the noon-day sun.
Up to, and including this time, governments have not been maintained to protect the inalienable rights of individuals, but to enforce the edicts of one class of the community upon its other classes; and no better illustration of this statement could be had than the manner in which one-half of all the people are denied a right freely exercised by the other half, this other half being the denying power. This is a self-evident exemplification of the various theories which our governments, national and State, vitalize; and which are declared by the platform of the Equal Rights Party, to be far behind our present civilization.
It is the mission of this party to reconstruct the government so that the theories it shall give vitality to shall be those set forth in the Declaration of Independence, which are in strict accordance with the theory which involves all other theories; the theory that there are such things as human rights, all-sided freedom, equality, justice and equity; not only in one specific department of life, but in all departments; in the political, the social, the industrial and the educational departments; which then include all that can properly be brought within the legitimate limit and sphere of government; since it has not jurisdiction over those things that necessarily are matters of individual thought and conscience.
At least seven-tenths of all the people, whether conscious of it or not, naturally and inevitable belong to the Equal Rights Party. Not a person who is not constitutionally opposed to freedom and equity, can deny a single proposition of principle laid down as its platform. It is too true, however, that, heretofore the people generally have had no considerable realization of the theories laid down by the founders of our government. But it may safely be assumed that they require only to be presented to be apprehended, appreciated and accepted; and in this fact rests the certain success of the Equal Rights Party.