What comes after the phrase, “and the pursuit of happiness ...”?
Last week, we Americans celebrated the Declaration of Independence. Our focus is what the document meant — creation of a new nation.
But what the document itself says about the Founders and about what they intended for us is just as important, in many ways.
“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 ...” That single sentence is familiar to many Americans, as well as to freedom-seeking people the world over.
After that, the Founders proceeded to explain just what they meant. The Declaration is very specific about grievances against England. The Founders were listing behavior no free people can tolerate.
Much of the Declaration emphasizes the people’s right to having a voice — and authority — in how they are ruled. Other sections point out the dangers of big, powerful government. One complaint, that the English had “erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people and eat out our substance,” resonates today among lovers of liberty. In some ways, King George III and the Parliament of 1776 would have been astonished at the power, reach, and intrusiveness of our government today.
Note that now, as well as then, every new power assumed by government is justified with the claim that we, the people, need to be safeguarded against some real or imagined threat to our freedom, prosperity and security.
Recognize, also, that the Founders wanted only freedom to engage in the pursuit of happiness. They never intended that government would guarantee it to us.