This is going to be a short post, but one that is hopefully encouraging and empowering.
One of the fundamental building blocks of the American system of government is the idea that we declared independence and that we all have a right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
The interesting thing about this Jefferson quote is that this quote is a John Locke quote that he tweaked. The original quote was “life, liberty and property”.
Most historians will tell you that the reason Jefferson changed the language a bit was simple. For Jefferson the “pursuit of happiness” encompassed property in all its forms. The ability to use your ideas, freedom of expression, and anything original to you freely and unhindered by government. He basically took the idea of “property” which Locke defined as anything labored for and one’s body, and extrapolated it to mean any unique part of you, including your own ideas, art, writing, and creations.
This is beautiful because it also implies that happiness is not guaranteed, but rather the ability to pursue that happiness by using the tools unique to us to do so is and should be guaranteed, or at least, unhindered by government interference.
And that is the basis of what we have here in America under the Constitution. The Constitution doesn’t list out for us our rights, instead it protects our liberty by listed out for government its powers. Thus, under the liberty protected by the Constitution, we the people get to pursue and innovate and produce our own happiness.
The founders thought of Americans as free, independent and responsible people. In other words, Americans were responsible for their own lives, liberty, and choices, even if they didn’t handle that life, liberty or choice responsibly.
Americans had a right to their property, which means their bodies and the work of their hands. So, Americans didn’t need government for anything more than to simply protect that property and provide a peaceable, lawful environment in which to succeed.
This means that “rights” are hard to innumerate. Why? Because the “rights” that Americans had were indefinable. They had a right to life, and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That meant they had a right to pursue their own choices, unfettered by government.
The rights that government must not violate are innumerable because they are inherent in a person’s being. They had a “right” to make their own decisions.
It is a right to one’s own body and one’s own property.
A right to one’s own education as he or she sees fit, a right to one’s own type of housing, a right to take care one’s own health as he or she sees fit—-and the list goes on and on.
Key difference here. It’s not a right to healthcare, it’s a right to choose one’s own healthcare as they wish—unhindered by government. It’s not a right to education, but rather a right to pursue education as they wish—unhindered by government.
Unfortunately, because many legal scholars, judges and justices have gotten so caught up in the specific application or the specific rights the government ought to protect rather than the heart—the right to freely live—behind life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Perhaps the American citizens need to remember the heart of Jefferson’s statement in order to compel government to also remember the heart of it.
Because, at this point, the government has trampled all over the “right” to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the “right” to live freely without government inference, the right to make our own decisions. And the sad part?
Government has done so because the people have demanded it. People are lazy, careless and selfish and if they don’t have to take responsibility for things, they won’t.
Perhaps it’s time we start taking responsibility for our own lives again. We don’t need so much government. If we stop demanding so much law, government will stop providing so much law.
Let’s not forget what Madison says about our responsibility as citizens; “All power is originally vested in, and consequently derived from, the people.”
The Liberty Belle