The Founders of this nation set forth the beliefs and values that moved a nation to arms, to victory, and to form a more perfect union:
“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.”
Their magnificent vision and the greatness of the nation they created cannot be maintained unless we adhere to these most essential truths. Much of the political turmoil of today reflects a dispute between those who continue to hold to these truths and those who deny and defy them.
The first of these self-evident truths is that we were created. We exist because of the conscious act of a Creator. Throughout history almost all of humanity has accepted this truth. In America today the overwhelming majority still believe it. If, to the contrary, we are the accidental, unintended, mischance of random nature then there is no real basis for our values and form of government. Instead, we are left with “survival of the fittest” as a replacement philosophy leading, in some cases, to the horrific misdeeds of atheistic governments such as Nazi Germany and Communist Russia.
The second is that our Creator created us equal. Obviously we are not equal in talents or achievements. But our Creator values us all equally. Our Government, based on that principle, is expected to be equally even handed. It was a starkly revolutionary idea in 1776 and still is today. When the Declaration of Independence was penned almost all of humanity was divided between rulers and ruled, aristocrats and peasants, stratified castes, owners and slaves—all with vastly different political rights. To found a nation on the premise that all are equal was completely out of harmony with the political reality of the day. This disharmony led to the Civil War because slavery is impossibly inconsistent with this core principle. That principle is the base on which democracy is built—that every citizen is equal and has the same right to vote and, thereby, to choose governors and policies for the nation.
Third, our Creator endowed us with unalienable rights. Unalienable (now usually “inalienable”) means something that cannot be alienated—sold, given away, or taken by any legitimate process. Unfortunately inalienable rights can be disregarded, or seductively degraded, as we see on a daily basis. But we always have a right to reclaim them.
First among these inalienable rights was the gift of life. Without life there is no consciousness. As a gift from an all-powerful Creator, life should always be treasured. The threat of death has always been the chief tool of tyrants to force their subjects to surrender their other inalienable rights.
Our Creator gave us liberty—the ability to make choices and to act. Liberty is essential because without liberty we cannot be held responsible for ourselves. Our welfare becomes the responsibility of the aristocrat or slave owner or government that is claiming the right to control our lives. It is interesting that some deny the existence of a Creator because of the terrible things people have done to each to other by misusing their liberty. Rather than disproving the existence of a Creator such misdeeds provide irrefutable existence of liberty and that the Creator will tolerate, at least for now, the misuse of our liberty. We cannot be truly free without risking the harmful results that follow from some using their liberty to do evil. But where the liberty of a nation is curtailed, so is the ability to pursue happiness.
The final inalienable right is not an endowment by our Creator of a right to happiness. To restate it: this nation was not founded on the notion that everyone was entitled to happiness. Rather we based our Declaration of Independence on a belief that all are endowed only with a right to pursue happiness. Whether we, as a nation or as individuals,
attain happiness depends upon the choices we make. If we choose poorly, our happiness and sometimes our liberty will be curtailed. If wisely, the goals we pursue will lead to real happiness not only for ourselves but also for our posterity.
Unfortunately, many federal programs are based on a competing and opposing philosophy: that government should provide an equal share of housing, education, medical care, employment, promotions, and many other components of happiness (= benefits) to every citizen. They demand a redistribution of benefits from those more successful to those who have not been so successful at pursuing happiness. If this is done we strongly incentivize people to transfer responsibility for their welfare to others and to continue making bad decisions for themselves and their families. Ultimately it will result in equally shared poverty when nothing remains to be redistributed.
Are all entitled to happiness? It is obvious that the Founding Fathers, who proclaimed their belief in a Creator, did not expect that Creator to provide them with life, liberty or happiness until they had made huge sacrifices to win a war against one of the most powerful countries in the world. They did claim, however, that those were their rights to earn. We, like them, are expected to bear the primary burden of providing for ourselves and families. This is not to say there is no role for government in helping the truly needy. But providing basic food, clothing, shelter and medical care for those who, for whatever reason, cannot provide it for themselves is a far cry from asking the government to equalize the outcomes in life. The government cannot achieve that without taking liberty and property—a significant component of happiness—in violation of our inalienable rights.
As Americans, we need to ponder these gifts from our Creator. We need to remind ourselves and others that our country was founded upon truths that we cannot ignore or defy without undermining both our liberty and our form of government. There is no
rational source of inalienable rights except a Creator. Belief that all of us are equal, and that all inherently enjoy rights to life and liberty and that the pursuit of happiness is the intended object for which we were created—these ideas are priceless treasures, self-evident truths essential to both personal and national success. Laws and policies made in harmony with these truths are in harmony with reality and this nation’s founding principles. Anything else will, ultimately, fail.