“Pursuit of Happiness”

Ever wonder the source for the phrase “the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence? Just for context, the Founders stated in the Declaration that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

The first two unalienable rights come from John Locke and his Second Treatise on Government. “[T]hough men when they enter into society give up the equality, liberty, and executive power they had in the state of Nature in the hands of the society… yet it being only with an intention in every one the better to preserve himself, his liberty and property…” Second Treatise at ¶ 131.

Obviously, Locke’s list does not contain the phrase “Pursuit of Happiness” or anything like it. Instead, you can find this phrase in Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, Volume I. “For [the Creator] has so intimately connected, so inseparably interwoven the laws of eternal justice with the happiness of each individual, that the latter cannot be attained but by observing the former; and, if the former be punctually obeyed, it cannot but induce the latter.” In consequence of which mutual connection of justice and human felicity [happiness], He has not perplexed the law of nature with a multitude of abstracted rules and precepts, referring merely to the fitness or unfitness of things, as some have vainly surmised; but has graciously reduced the rule of obedience to this one paternal precept, ‘that man should pursue his own happiness.’ This is the foundation of what we call ethics, or natural law.” 1 Blackstone’s Commentaries § 2, pp. 40-41.

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