Celebrating “Life, Liberty, And The Pursuit Of Happiness”


Every person who calls him/herself an “American” knows, or should know, that the Declaration of Independence was drafted principally by Thomas Jefferson, with a little help from his friends: Benjamin Franklin and John Adams.

That Declaration lays out a series of grievances against the king of England, while also stating what some historians have called the “American creed”: the natural right to political independence and self-governance based on the consent of the governed – which right, in turn, is founded on the individual human rights to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Years later, Jefferson wrote that these principles were the common-sense “expression of the American mind” – an expression clearly unique to its time and place, yet ultimately transcendent of both.

Two hundred thirty-eight years later, those principles still serve as the cornerstone of our republican form of government, embodied in a Constitution that has required the sustenance of only 27 amendments, 10 of which form the Bill of Rights enacted within two years of the Constitution’s ratification.

This country’s Founders were not without personal flaws, most of which have already been well-documented and critiqued. For example, although the initial draft Declaration presented to the Continental Congress by the “Committee of Five” (Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston) included a condemnation of Britain for introducing the slave trade to the colonies, that passage was rejected by a combination of northern and southern representatives – the former because of economic interests in the slave trade itself, the latter because of the use of slaves to maintain their agricultural economies.

But despite their flaws, they were exceptional men who fortuitously came together at the same time and in the same place to chart a new course of human existence, growth and development unequalled before or since. And they did it at mortal risk to themselves, their families and their friends.

How many of us, finding ourselves in a sultry Philadelphia during the summer of 1776, would have pledged “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor” in support of the Declaration’s principles?

How many of us would do so today?

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