Two of my Facebook friends, PJM writer Charlie Martin and sci-fi writer Sarah Hoyt, recently had a conversation regarding the Declaration of Independence and the men involved in crafting and ratifying the foundation of our liberties and freedoms. Please read Charlie’s entire reflection on the men and the document that began the founding of our representative republic. But for now here is a piece…
In any case, Jefferson added his own bit to this with “pursuit of Happiness.” Figuring this one out is a debate that apparently started sometime in June 1776. Still, I’m confident that Jefferson meant something definite here, if only we could figure out what it is.
In later years, Jefferson would declare himself an Epicurean, and I think there is a clue in that. The Epicureans were one of several branches of Greek philosophy that were also popular among educated Romans. To an Epicurean, “happiness” was a state the Greek Epicureans called ataraxia, (ἀταραξία). Ataraxia is a state of not being disturbed: Wikipedia has a nice definition, saying ataraxia is a “state of robust tranquility.” If I’m right, what Jefferson had in mind was that everyone had a right to pursue their own state of robust tranquility, and to make their own choices to pursue that, that no one else could gainsay.
“But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid.”
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,…
This was, very literally, a revolutionary statement: in fact, it’s the core of the argument. No Divine Right of Kings, no Subjects of the Crown: Free men and women consenting to grant certain powers to a government.
That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it
… and free to withdraw this consent whenever they feel the government is no longer acting to secure their rights.
and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
The rest of the Declaration, really, just expands on this by laying out the way that the Crown had ceased to ensure the rights of the Americans, and so had lost the consent of the governed.
It seems to me now that a lot of people in the government have forgotten this: that the reason the government exists is to secure our rights to Life, Liberty, and to order our own lives in the pursuit of Happiness. On this Fourth of July, we should remind them. It is time to treat the Constitution as the founders intended, to remind government they’re servants, not masters, and to return to our foundational document in such a way that it permits us best to ordain our life and liberty and pursue our happiness. For this we work, and thereunto we pledge our life, our fortune, and our sacred honor.”
And what people fail to understand today, in all their faux outrage over our Founding Fathers and their current perceived ‘inequalities’ in our society, is that while back a couple and a half centuries ago the ruling class was ‘white’, but that nobody of race, color, creed, gender, etc. would ever have the rights they do today to insist they are not equal and demand more to make them feel as they are. This is the beauty of our founding documents and government … that it is NOT open for changes on the fly, but resistant to mutation and morphing into something that would make everyone equally non-free and wholly miserable and oppressed. Those demanding a more socialist collective existence would have us return to the dictatorial rule of government, removing all power from our own hands.