James Fenimore Cooper, America’s first national novelist, lived during our first great groundswell of political populism during the Jacksonian era. Egalitarian language and imagery fanned enthusiasm for democracy. Cooper saw serious dangers from this impulse toward majority rule as a panacea for every complaint, and that without strict limits on what majorities were allowed to decide, it was inconsistent with the equality of unalienable rights our founders proclaimed.
Cooper devoted much of The American Democrat (1838) to the appropriate understanding of equality under our Constitution. It is ignored today, in the swelling cacophony of pleas for special treatment in the name of equality. However, his understanding, based on the insight that ‘The denial of a favor is not an invasion of a right,’ merits renewed attention.
Among Cooper’s many insights are these:
All men are not ‘created equal’…unless we limit the signification to one of political rights. As regards all human institutions, men are born equal.
This post was published at Ludwig von Mises Institute on Sept. 9, 2016.