In 1689 John Locke published Two Treatises of Government. Within those pages he detailed a theory of Natural Rights. Rights which are Man’s from birth, Rights which are not bestowed by government but which are to be secured and protected by governments established by Man. Those Rights he summed up as, “Life, Liberty and Estate”. Our forerunners in the 1st Continental Congress restated these in the Declaration of Colonial Rights as “life, liberty and property”.
These ideas of Natural Rights, Rights “endowed by their Creator”, are the cornerstone of the Declaration we celebrated this week on the Fourth of July.
However, the author of that famous document, Thomas Jefferson, made a curious choice in his final drafting of this letter to King George. He opted for an alternate ending…
“… certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS.”
For a long time I saw this as watered down language, flowery rhetoric that had lost the meat of the earlier formulations if Man’s Rights. Man’s Right to be secure in both his person and his legally obtained possessions, his property, are the foundations on which rest all of the remainder of our Freedoms.
As Vladimir Lenin is quoted, “Let them have freedom of speech, how will they print their papers when we own all the presses?” Freedom of association and religion likewise are meaningless if we cannot have a secure place to meet. We see this throughout the world where political opponents, churches and artists have been driven into hiding in countries with laws on the books proclaiming “protection” for freedoms of speech, expression, etc. but NOT securing the rights to own and use property.
Thus it disappointed me that in our first founding document was absent a positive, direct grant of this most important of Natural Rights.
I struggled with this for years, assuming “happiness” was in some way a lower calling, a lesser sentiment, than others that could have filled this prominent place. Happiness? That’s the best Jefferson could do?
But then I looked at my daughter and thought about how great it was watching her grow up (she’s doing so awesome). I looked at my football team and how much fun it was to coach, year after year, in good seasons and bad. I went hiking and looked out over the beautiful Tucson valley from the top of Wasson’s peak. I felt the accomplishment of success as I grew my business, the wonder of life as I dug and planted and nurtured and grew my gardens, the love and companionship I felt as I met and courted and married my wife.
It kind of came on me suddenly a few years ago and I just stood and laughed… I was pursuing my happiness… and that opportunity makes all the difference in the world.
I thank God to live in a country where my life’s work can be the pursuit of happiness.
My and all of our hearts and prayers should go out for those on our Earth who do not yet live in nations which protect this Right and hold tight to cultures which lift up this ideal.
It is not a Right to happiness, but instead that we are each free to pursue what is in our own mind’s eye. To succeed but also to lose, to choose right or left, to reap the rewards of our victories but also pay the costs of our failures.
To me, MY right to pursue MY happiness by MY own means, for better or worse, without interference from my neighbor or my government, is the highest value described and embodied in the founding principles of our nation.
It takes effort, imagination, cooperation and sometimes a little luck doesn’t hurt, but the results of hundreds of millions of people FREE to pursue their dreams as they see them is absolutely and simply awe inspiring.
I hope you ALL had a very happy 4th of July and pray you all find fabulous, fun, productive, enlightening, fulfilling, educational, profitable, engrossing and creative ways of pursuing your happiness in the upcoming year!
Yours Truly, Taylor