Excellent op-ed in the LA Times about what Jefferson’s famous phrase means in the modern era:
Do we believe that Jefferson’s felicitous phrase now, in 2018, has economic implications? Does the self-evident right to pursue happiness entail the right to a living wage? Or affordable healthcare? Does the decline of the middle class mean that our collective happiness as a people is at risk?
I think that answering yes to these questions is part of what it means to seek social justice, and to be a liberal. The right to happiness is self-evident; being poor, ill health, exploited, marginalized, and powerless all are unjust states of being, the drivers of our misery, the enemies of our happiness.
The phrase is actually derived from John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government, whiich stated instead “life, liberty, and property.” By replacing “property” with “happiness”, Jefferson was making an anti-slavery statement, and laying the seed for millions of immigrants to pursue the American Dream.
That Dream is of happiness. It is enshrined in the Statue of Liberty, whose full name is “The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World” – broadcasting the Dream to the rest of the world, a call, a summons.
The plaque at the base of the Status of Liberty Enlightening the World reads, in part, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Those masses, those unhappy masses, who are unhappy because they are poor, because they yearn to breathe free, are drawn to American because here is where we have the Dream, that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are self-evident rights.