An occasional criticism of Thomas Jefferson’s edited Declaration of Independence is the substitution of ‘pursuit of happiness’ for that of ‘property.’ Both are Lockean terms well-suited for our Lockean Declaration. While we may never know precisely why this was done, the pursuit of happiness conceptually encompasses a wider universe of unalienable right, and thus governmental responsibility for protection thereof. Along with the unalienable rights to life and liberty, government is charged with securing The Pursuit of Happiness. But, what is the Framers’ concept of happiness and why must government protect our right to pursue it?
While related, happiness is not to be confused with the selection of pleasure over pain, or simply one sensation as being more immediately desirable than another. Compared to happiness, pleasure is shallow and fleeting. Simple pursuit of sensory pleasure is done without consideration of future consequences.
Since man is God’s creation, our Maker has a special right to demand we do His bidding. Being set by God above beasts, man is capable of, and is expected by Him to pursue a higher order pleasure, that which our Founders knew as happiness, or equivalently, fulfillment. In the pursuit of happiness, we control our destructive passions and desires to seek this ennobling sense of satisfaction. As John Locke wrote,
As therefore the highest perfection of intellectual nature lies in a careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness, so the care of ourselves, that we mistake not imaginary for real happiness is the necessary foundation of our liberty.
Constant pursuit of “happiness is the necessary foundation of our liberty.”
Being imperfect, man is prone to error and may misapply his intellect in the choice of pursuits that lead to happiness. Here, God provided guideposts along the way of life that point us toward fulfillment; they are the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God as cited in our Declaration. From them, we find that happiness is found in living the plan that God has for each of us. To find our place necessitates freedom of worship. From Locke, “God has not created this world for nothing and without purpose, for it is contrary to such great wisdom to work with no fixed aim.” Common to all in the pursuit of happiness is to be productive, raise our families and obey God.
Since happiness is found when one lives the life planned by God, and government is charged with securing our pursuit of happiness, reason demands that manmade statutes ease and facilitate finding the plan that God has for each of us. The facilitation expressed in our Declaration is found in the Preamble of our Constitution as well. Through promotion of the general welfare, society’s compact commands the government of its creation to take active measures that keep civil society and free government.
Government is to sustain an environment through its institutions that encourage us all to find our place, our happiness in God’s world. It isn’t to be a brake, a dead weight that burdens and prevents its citizens from honest employment of one’s faculties, religion and labor that do not violate the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God. THIS is promoting the general welfare. Few laws are necessary to regulate personal behavior when government encourages and protects the unalienable right of all to pursue happiness. A content society doesn’t immerse itself in widespread sensual pleasure and its attendant self-destructive behavior.
Our increasingly centralized government not only doesn’t keep the Constitutional compact; it works towards ends that are in opposition to its purpose. Presidential elections are not to select the man or woman who can best enrich themselves and their cronies, but rather to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. Among the President’s Constitutional duties are to promote the general welfare and the people’s pursuit of happiness.
We are the many; our oppressors are the few. Be proactive. Be a Re-Founder. Join Convention of States. Sign the COS Petition.
Reference: Huyler, J. (1995). Locke in America. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas.