THE core American principle: Happiness:)

Posted on February 20, 2011


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The concept of an America came out of the age of enlightenment, when men like Jefferson conceived of a society where people were not born with saddles on their backs, beholding to a government that strangled their freedom to create, determine their own paths, to pursuit livelihood and happiness. These notions written into Jefferson’s assertion that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are among the unalienable rights. Happiness went from being a dream in all other countries to a reality here. It is written into our law. George Mason declared it in Section 1 of the Virginia Bill of Rights: “ That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.” John Adams made reference to happiness 5 times into the Constitution of Massachusetts, article 7 states: “Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity and happiness of the people; and not for the profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family or Class of men: Therefore the people alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government and to reform, alter, or totally change the same, when their protection, safety, prosperity and happiness require.” In other countries, like France, Germany, and Italy-these ideas came to the surface, but cooled and never took hold.

How do we define happiness and what role does government play in the pursuit of such? If we use Jefferson’s life and writings as an example to understand his and the other founder’s concept we might conclude that government provides freedom for people to reach the heights of finding the best part of ourselves. Jefferson and many of our founders pursued many areas of knowledge in science, gardening, architecture and history. Jefferson gathered and recorded data from his gardens and 13 farms and shared many of his findings with his friends including John Adams, George Washington, Lafayette, and neighbor James Madison. He planned and built the University of Virginia to be a place where not only higher learning would take place, but with an emphasis on science and philosophy. And more importantly, that higher learning be available to all classes of men. In Europe, most higher learning was only available to the privileged few. Madison put it this way, “a popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy.” So much the importance of education to our country. I look at happiness as not only an end product, but as the journey towards it as well. As we lead our lives, should we not have the opportunity to seek experience and knowledge in as many areas that interest us, better our lives, increase our understanding of our world, our place in it? Shouldn’t we be able to pursue a livelihood in a field we are passionate about, to seek achievements as high as our talent, skills and our efforts will allow? Two key words emerge; pursuit and opportunity. It is in having the opportunity to pursuit that which makes one happy is the central role of an enlightened government. No where is it written that happiness should be guaranteed or ensured. It is in having the right and freedom to seek that happiness that happiness is found.

The unique wisdom in this understanding of human nature enabled men like Jefferson, Adams, Mason, Franklin, and others to create the basis for our government, to write our Constitution with such clarity. And this is why such documents have weathered the test of time thus far. Government’s role it to provide opportunity, not guarantees of happiness. Happiness can only be achieved under our own power. As parents, for instance, are we not stealing from our children if we do everything for them? Don’t they miss out on self discovery, realizing their own success and understanding of their own abilities? If a government guarantees everyone a house, a job, a certain amount of material processions, does it not hamper or intrude on or inhibit innovation, creativity, pursuit of excellence? Isn’t in need that produces invention?

At the beginning of this country, we were without the protection of a crown for the 1st time. It was hard. We had no army, treasury or currency, no guidelines in how to govern. In the absence of these we formed an opportunity for our people to achieve the highest standard of living in the world. The opportunity for happiness was in the blood spilt on our soil. Fast forward to today. Do we have leaders in place with understanding of the role of government as put forth in our beginning? I see a president who goes against what Adams wrote in the Massachusetts Constitution-he has orchestrated a class warfare pitting workers and unions against corporations. He is like a drug dealer facilitating the dependence of people on entitlements. If much of what we earn goes to pay for benefits of others who have not contributed to their own pensions and healthcare, to provide for those who have not worked for 99 months-then we are putting constraints on our government’s ability to provide freedom for any of us to provide for ourselves. And government should not support unions, they steal power from the individual to negotiate their own benefits based on their own merits and performance. Without entitlements, people are forced to be responsible for their own livelihoods and yes, their happiness.

My hope is that we find leaders with deep understanding of human nature and what role government should play in providing for our pursuit of happiness. I don’t think I have met him or her yet.

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