In 1776, the idea of self-evidence was used to ground the argument that "all men are created equal." Historically, however, equality has often proven less of a guarantee and more of a promise. Beginning with the "Declaration of Independence," the recognition of a person as fully human in the United States has depended on assumptions regarding race, class and gender. In this course we will read stories of people who found their humanity challenged by federal law. Through their stories we will examine how these writers used words to resist historical circumstance. We will also consider how different kinds of writing -- legal, scientific, autobiographical and fictional -- employ different strategies to affect their reader and the world. Course requirements include three essays, active class participation and weekly listserve postings. Authors we will consider include Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, William Apess, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, Mark Twain, Monica Sone and Ann Petry.