The phrase ” Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness ” is found in the Declaration of Independence. The writers listed these as three unalienable rights given us by our creator that government is to protect. So what did the signers of the Declaration of Independence mean when they penned this phrase?
Life and Liberty are pretty straightforward, or we would like to think it is. In today’s political and social climate in the U.S. the understanding of these two concepts is in question. When coupled with ” the pursuit of happiness ” the meaning is completely lost as our educational system no longer teaches what the original meaning and intent was. Instead, they like to say the Constitution, Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence are living documents that the meaning changes over time.
Happiness comes from the old English word haepic which means equal. In 1725 Francis Hutcheson brought us a political definition of happiness in his treatise ” An Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue. “. His political philosophy was that action is best which accomplishes the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers; and that the worst, in like manner occasions misery. Hutcheson’s political philosophy became very popular and greatly influenced the thinking of the founding fathers.
According to the Webster’s New World Law Dictionary the legal definition of the pursuit of happiness is: An inalienable right enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, in addition to life and liberty; the right to pursue any legal activity as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others.
Given these two definitions we see that ” the pursuit of happiness ” means the ability to seek equality in a manner that is legal and does not infringe on the rights of others. That brings up the question of what is it to be equal?
Being equal does not mean we are all equal in circumstance, education and finances but we are all equal in the eyes of God, government and justice. We are to have the ability to not be infringed upon by government or others in pursuing life and business. Happiness is not defined as the feeling of being happy. The emotion of happiness is different for everybody and every group. Trying to make one group bend to the wills of another group does not result in happiness but oppression, the very thing America was founded to avoid.
When government fails to protect us in our pursuit of happiness we get situations like we have today. Governments forcing people to engage in activities that are against their deeply held religious beliefs while allowing others to refuse to engage in the exact same activities.
When government fails to protect these rights you get certain groups given special treatment over the majority. Forcing the majority to bend to the minority sacrificing their own liberties.
It’s well past time that we learn accurate history and the founding documents and hold government accountable.