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.

(5) comments

hagansan

When the sum total of one’s philosophies adds up to an absurdity, it is not unreasonable to re-evaluate the basic premises. One does not need to look far to see how the distribution of wealth in America is tilted irrationally to the privileged. “Members of the Forbes 400 own more wealth than all the Black Families in America” and “The three richest Americans own more than the bottom 50% of the country” spring forth with just a few keystrokes from my laptop. We can save the argument for taxing windfall incomes for another day, but there is NO justifiable argument for carrying the fortunes of elite dynasties down through the generations. Wealth is a virtual commodity, and there should be strict limits on allowing dead people to indulge their heirs in obscene riches. Every society has to decide what these limits should be, and in the words of Robert Reich: "The pertinent issue is ... how to design the rules of the market so that the economy generates what most people would consider a fair distribution on its own ...The vast majority of the nation's citizens do have the power to alter the rules of the market to meet their needs. But to exercise that power, they must understand what is happening and where their interests lie, and they must join together. We have done so before. If history is any guide and common sense has any sway, we will do so again.”

hagansan

Former labor secretary Robert Reich speaks of meeting a young man detailing an exotic sports car. When asked how he came about possession of such an expensive car, the young man explained "I don't work for a living-- my Great Grandfather invented cellophane tape!" Reich proceeds to ask why one such unqualified citizen of society should benefit so lavishly from wealth generated before he was even born, when so many other citizens must not only make sparse assets meet but must also answer the call to war and bear the burdens of other social crises. What was the value of the young soldiers who died for their flag? What compensation was given to the policemen, the firemen, the teachers and nurses and workers who maintained society? Assuring a level playing field for industry and enterprise is a moral obligation for the State. Our forefathers shed blood to free us from the oppression of royalty. Any society, whether it is the Pharaohs of Egypt, the Industrial Captains of the Gilded Age, or the anointed super-wealthy of the 1% today should require an accounting from it's most affluent citizens on a generational basis. To fail to do so not only resurrects the insouciant air of privileged elitism but creates a moral vacuum which inevitably would bring to our society the specter of corruption, despair and revolt.

Eredmon

Many would assume that telling the soldiers, police, firemen and all of those who protect and serve, that if they won a 150 million dollar lottery they would not be allowed by some authority to someday pass that wealth to their own loved ones. Their luck, hard work, or good fortune should not be penalized by a government whose own spending is out of control. Estates are already taxed on the super wealthy. Perhaps change some of the estate loopholes. The people who fight for our country also fight for freedom from an overreaching government and pursuit of the dream that citizenship in the greatest country should continue to offer. There are already very many wealthy people who spread their good fortune to others, probably much more effectively and generously than our government would. Our government also has a way of taking what seems like a really great idea and using that money someday for something else that it was never intended for. Kind of like taxing peoples Social Security benefits....

hagansan

Another danger of a big, resourceful and inquisitive government is that it may begin to snoop into the mechanisms that produced the accumulated wealth of the elite. It strains credulity to think that the likes of Rupert Murdock, Roger Ailes, and Shawn Hannity are taking a stand for anything other than the accumulation of obscene wealth and the security of their personal dynasties. And if the gullible masses will buy into their chauvinistic screed, why not? The elite have used their influence to mold the rules for estates, bankruptcies, tax laws and enforcement and contract law all to their own advantage. It's the greatest concentration of wealth since the Pharaohs. The 1% now account for 40% of the wealth of our country while working people cringe in terror from unanticipated illness, income insecurity and the threat of financial ruin. Our forefathers are rolling in their graves! Patriots gave their lives to free us from the tyranny of foreign royalty, but consider: what makes one a prince more than if Daddy wills you a BILLION dollars??

Eredmon

Taking Daddy’s billion away from his family due to the life event of dying seems like theft to me. Whether a billion or a thousand, what right does the government (others) have to earned money? Our constitution provides freedom for all to make their own way in our country, but as Starr Parker states today, the path to wealth in our country is open to anyone who can/will try. If that does not seem fair to you, fairness was not necessarily guaranteed to any human in this world. Rather than demonizing Fox News, I see that entire organization from the owner down as providing a completely different view for the American public than they receive from the more traditional and extremely liberally biased mainstream, which of late, has walked in a lock-stream of bias, hate, and deceit.

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