Wednesday, October 17, 2012


By Michael David Rawlings

Thomas Jefferson is not the father of the phrase pursuit of happiness, and it's not merely a poetic turn  or an allusion to something new or different. It's a construct with a great deal of history behind it. That very terminology was used by John Locke and other classical liberals before Jefferson. Jefferson's terminology regarding the third element of Locke's triadic formulation of natural law—life, liberty and property—was used to emphasize the meaning of property in its entirety.

Neither Locke nor the Founders held that one's personal property was merely the material possessions or assets that one might own. Personal property in the political sense begins with the ownership of one's own self, the ramifications of which are (1) the right to be secure in one's material possessions, (2) the right of personal well-being and (3) the right of freedom of opportunity. Those familiar with the terminology of the emerging political theory of natural law understood why Jefferson used that phrase.

Hence, pursuit of happiness refers to the ownership of one's own self and to everything that entails.

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