Emma Goldman: A New Declaration of Independence

In an essay published in July 1909 in Mother Earth, Goldman—a lifelong radical—reminds readers that all humans were created equal.

Emma Goldman July 4, 2018

Emma Goldman (Photo courtesy of Bettmann/Getty Images)

When, in the course of human devel­op­ment, exist­ing insti­tu­tions prove inad­e­quate to the needs of man, when they serve mere­ly to enslave, rob, and oppress mankind, the peo­ple have the eter­nal right to rebel against, and over­throw, these institutions.

A vast country, rich enough to supply all her children with all possible comforts, and ensure well-being to all, is in the hands of a few, while the nameless millions are at the mercy of ruthless wealth gatherers, unscrupulous lawmakers, and corrupt politicians.

The mere fact that these forces – inim­i­cal to life, lib­er­ty, and the pur­suit of hap­pi­ness – are legal­ized by statute laws, sanc­ti­fied by divine rights, and enforced by polit­i­cal pow­er, in no way jus­ti­fies their con­tin­ued existence.

We hold these truths to be self-evi­dent: that all human beings, irre­spec­tive of race, col­or, or sex, are born with the equal right to share at the table of life; that to secure this right, there must be estab­lished among men eco­nom­ic, social, and polit­i­cal free­dom; we hold fur­ther that gov­ern­ment exists but to main­tain spe­cial priv­i­lege and prop­er­ty rights; that it coerces man into sub­mis­sion and there­fore robs him of dig­ni­ty, self-respect, and life.

The his­to­ry of the Amer­i­can kings of cap­i­tal and author­i­ty is the his­to­ry of repeat­ed crimes, injus­tice, oppres­sion, out­rage, and abuse, all aim­ing at the sup­pres­sion of indi­vid­ual lib­er­ties and the exploita­tion of the peo­ple. A vast coun­try, rich enough to sup­ply all her chil­dren with all pos­si­ble com­forts, and ensure well-being to all, is in the hands of a few, while the name­less mil­lions are at the mer­cy of ruth­less wealth gath­er­ers, unscrupu­lous law­mak­ers, and cor­rupt politi­cians. Stur­dy sons of Amer­i­ca are forced to tramp the coun­try in a fruit­less search for bread, and many of her daugh­ters are dri­ven into the street, while thou­sands of ten­der chil­dren are dai­ly sac­ri­ficed on the altar of Mam­mon. The reign of these kings is hold­ing mankind in slav­ery, per­pet­u­at­ing pover­ty and dis­ease, main­tain­ing crime and cor­rup­tion; it is fet­ter­ing the spir­it of lib­er­ty, throt­tling the voice of jus­tice, and degrad­ing and oppress­ing human­i­ty. It is engaged in con­tin­u­al war and slaugh­ter, dev­as­tat­ing the coun­try and destroy­ing the best and finest qual­i­ties of man; it nur­tures super­sti­tion and igno­rance, sows prej­u­dice and strife, and turns the human fam­i­ly into a camp of Ishmaelites.

We, there­fore, the lib­er­ty-lov­ing men and women, real­iz­ing the great injus­tice and bru­tal­i­ty of this state of affairs, earnest­ly and bold­ly do here­by declare, That each and every indi­vid­ual is and ought to be free to own him­self and to enjoy the full fruit of his labor; that man is absolved from all alle­giance to the kings of author­i­ty and cap­i­tal; that he has, by the very fact of his being, free access to the land and all means of pro­duc­tion, and entire lib­er­ty of dis­pos­ing of the fruits of his efforts; that each and every indi­vid­ual has the unques­tion­able and unabridge­able right of free and vol­un­tary asso­ci­a­tion with oth­er equal­ly sov­er­eign indi­vid­u­als for eco­nom­ic, polit­i­cal, social, and all oth­er pur­pos­es, and that to achieve this end man must eman­ci­pate him­self from the sacred­ness of prop­er­ty, the respect for man-made law, the fear of the Church, the cow­ardice of pub­lic opin­ion, the stu­pid arro­gance of nation­al, racial, reli­gious, and sex supe­ri­or­i­ty, and from the nar­row puri­tan­i­cal con­cep­tion of human life. And for the sup­port of this Dec­la­ra­tion, and with a firm reliance on the har­mo­nious blend­ing of man’s social and indi­vid­ual ten­den­cies, the lovers of lib­er­ty joy­ful­ly con­se­crate their uncom­pro­mis­ing devo­tion, their ener­gy and intel­li­gence, their sol­i­dar­i­ty and their lives.

Emma Gold­man (18691940) was a nurse, anar­chist, lec­tur­er and rev­o­lu­tion­ary, who was twice arrest­ed for vio­lat­ing the Com­stock Law, which pro­hib­it­ed the dis­tri­b­u­tion of birth-con­trol lit­er­a­ture. The pre­ced­ing answers” first appeared, respec­tive­ly, in Woman’s Suf­frage” (1914), The Traf­fic in Women” (1910) and Mar­riage and Love” (1916).
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