For America's Founders, human beings were obviously unequal in many ways, such as talent, ability, and virtue. But in the decisive way—in possession of natural rights—individuals are equal. No individual may be deprived justly of life, liberty, or property, unless following due process.
Denying the existence of natural rights, Progressives understood equality as a status to be granted to individuals by government legislation. Economic equality as a result thus becomes the prerequisite of true equality, even if achieving complete equality of material conditions means that some individuals are treated differently than others.
"The mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God."—Thomas Jefferson, "Letter to Roger Weightman"
"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."—The Declaration of Independence
"There being nothing more evident, than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection."—John Locke, Second Treatise of Government
"All that is or can be inherited by everyone is that exemption from the dominion of another, which we call liberty, and is the gift of God and nature."—Algernon Sidney, Discourses Concerning Government
"In a state of nature men are equal, exactly on a par in regard to authority: each one is a law to himself, having the law of God, the sole rule of conduct, written on his heart."—Gad Hitchcock, "An Election Sermon"
"The exalting one man so greatly above the rest cannot be justified on the equal rights of nature."—Thomas Paine, "Common Sense"
"If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions."—Calvin Coolidge, "The Inspiration of the Declaration"
"We seek not just... equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result."—Lyndon B. Johnson, "Commencement Address at Howard University"
"They put forward their ideas as immutable truths good at all times and places; they had no idea of historic relativity, either in general or in its application to themselves."—John Dewey, Liberalism and Social Action
"It blinded the eyes of liberals to the fact that their own special interpretations of liberty, individuality and intelligence were themselves historically conditioned, and were relevant only to their own time."—John Dewey, Liberalism and Social Action
"For too many of us the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality."—Franklin D. Roosevelt, "Democratic Convention Address"
"Today we stand committed to the proposition that freedom is no half-and-half affair. If the average citizen is guaranteed equal opportunity in the polling place, he must have equal opportunity in the market place."—Franklin D. Roosevelt, "Democratic Convention Address"
"We know, now, that these economic units cannot exist unless prosperity is uniform, that is, unless purchasing power is well distributed throughout every group in the Nation."—Franklin D. Roosevelt, "Commonwealth Club Address"
"A glance at the situation today only too clearly indicates that equality of opportunity as we have known it no longer exists."—Franklin D. Roosevelt, "Commonwealth Club Address"