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Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness is a popular phrase among the US citizens. This phrase introduces the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. As such, the phrase guarantees every American citizen the right to liberty, life and the pursuit of happiness (Malloch & Scott 2). According to Thomas Jefferson, one of the authors of the Declaration of Independence, every government should allow its citizens the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The right to life entitles all Americans the abilities to pursue all the actions essential for the protection and satisfaction of their lives.
Equally, the right to liberty allows all Americans the abilities to conduct themselves, work, and think in accordance with their judgments. This implies that the government is forbidden from interfering with an individual’s life and affairs. In the same way, the right to pursue happiness ensures that all individuals are given freedom to transform the nation’s physical resources, their energy, and their knowledge into good things in life for their satisfaction. Generally, the phrase Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness is the driving force behind our democratic systems of government. In this regard, this paper seeks to investigate whether the nation has achieved the goals envisioned by Jefferson.
After these words were written, American activists and citizens of that time adopted the phrase immediately. Prior to the writing of this phrase, the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness were not acknowledged by the political systems of the day. Instead, the goal of the monarchical government was to pursue happiness for those in power and to pursue unhappiness for the masses. For instance, the nation lacked economic systems that could guarantee the masses their basic needs. Similarly, during Jefferson’s time his goals as illustrated in the above phrases were only defined within the contexts of the whites. Over the last two centuries, the American societies have struggled through several wars and social upheavals with the aim of ensuring that all individuals regardless of their color, race, ethnicity, and social status enjoy these rights. Currently, these rights are not only enjoyed by all men, but also enjoyed by all women.
The right to life
The first objective of the Declaration of independence was to champion the right to life for every individual. What this means is that no government or an individual is allowed to take the lives of its people. In the current American society, Jefferson’s vision of the right to life has been achieved. Currently, Americans respect their lives and the lives of other citizens. As compared to other countries, individuals in America are free to exercise their morals and beliefs thus enhancing the right to life. Equally, the current American societies have become more diverse than during the 17th century. Currently, different individuals from different races and ethnicity live side by side without confrontation. This has been possible through the Americans’ value for life. If the right to life was not valued in the US as it is in other countries, different communities and religions living side by side could be in disputes.
Before the abolition of slavery in the US, during the 18th century, slaves’ right to life was being violated. Masters often mistreated their slaves. Occasionally, the slaves’ lives were not given priority as compared to the settlers’ lives. This was illustrated from the disparities in their living conditions and healthcare services. However, through several struggles and movements slavery was later abolished. Over time, human rights were able to champion for the right to life for every individual in the US. Through these struggles, every individual is guaranteed the right not to be killed and to be rescued from impending danger. The fact that US government offers its citizens with favorable working conditions and the right to clothing, housing, and education, implies that it upholds the right to life.
The right to liberty
Despite of the words emphasized in the Declaration of Independence, the right to liberty in the US was a distant dream during Jefferson’s era. During this time, a few individuals were allowed to exercise the right to liberty. As such, the framers of the US constitution allowed slavery to continue during the early years. Similarly, women were also excluded from exercising their right to liberty. However, towards the end of the 18th century a new group of reformers emerged in the American societies. The groups were determined to enlarge the circle of liberty and freedom to include all Americans who had been discriminated. These reformists were determined in ensuring that all the slaves and the minorities regained their right to liberty. Out of these initiatives, the American society was divided into two groups.
During the early 19th century, the US government had extended civil rights to white males who owned no land. However, the Native Americans and the minority groups were still restricted from exercising these rights. Prior the mid 20th century, the struggle for equal treatment in the southern parts of the US had gained prominence. Even though slavery had been abolished, the minority groups were not allowed to exercise their full liberty rights. Civil rights and civil liberty activists of the mid 20th century organized peaceful campaigns and protests with the aim of enhancing equal representations within the American societies. Generally, the struggle for the right to liberty of every American resulted in an enduring revolution to minority groups in America.
Currently, the right to liberty is entitled to every American regardless of his or her race, nationality, and social background. In this regard, the current American society has achieved the liberty rights as envisioned by Jefferson. Unlike other western countries, individuals in the US enjoy excess liberty rights. For instance, in the US freedoms of speech and worship have little restrictions that some individuals suggest that they should be restrained for security purposes. Equally, with the election of Barack Obama as the first African American in the year 2009 signifies a huge transformation in the American societies. During Jefferson’s era, no one could have ever imagined that African Americans would one day be entitled equal civil rights with the whites as it is today.
The right to pursue happiness
Currently, the right to pursue happiness has become an essential part of American culture. This declaration has a strong connection with economic liberty, religious liberty, and political liberty. Regarding this, the three rights envisioned by Jefferson are interlinked and need to be understood in terms of one another (Rus 110). In this regard, liberty is necessary for happiness, and happiness is necessary for liberty.
During Jefferson’s era, the right to pursue happiness was only enjoyed by the few individuals who were in leadership positions. As such, the political leaders were allowed to use the public resources, and workers’ energy and knowledge for their satisfaction at the expenses of the poor. Over time, human rights activists championed for equal rights and liberties in the American societies. With these struggles, the slave trade, racial discriminations, social discriminations, and other forms of discriminations were abolished. These initiatives have enhanced happiness in American societies.
At the present, the US politics, economics, and culture have undergone through enormous transformations to embrace the pursuit of happiness as its central drive and value. As envisioned by Jefferson, the present American government and institutions support each individual’s definitive rights to live freely and happily. From the mid 20th century, American governments have redefined its economies, government structures, laws, and cultural expressions towards continuous improvements of human life. Currently, it is estimated that the America’s GNP per person ranges from $40000 to $50000. With these figures, America is considered one of the wealthiest nations on earth. Similarly, these figures illustrate that the pursuit of happiness among the Americans is a reality. Equally, in the US the society and the government are so favorable that all individuals are allowed to nurture their dreams or talents for their happiness.
Despite the fact that the current Americans have achieved the goals envisioned by Jefferson, we should be weary of the fact that these goals are now facing emerging ethical challenges. Notably, the right to life has raised several controversies among scholars, religious leaders, and the public. For instance, religious leaders argue that government is not supposed to take a life of a condemned criminal, as doing so implies that the criminal’s right to life would be violated. Similarly, by allowing a pregnant woman to terminate her pregnancy implies that the right of the unborn child to life would be violated. On the other hand, the right to pursue happiness is facing several ethical challenges. Currently, recession, disparities in wealth, war, and religious conflicts are compromising on the gains gained so far in the pursuit of happiness.
In conclusion, we should all acknowledge the fact that Jefferson’s goal has been achieved in the US. The US constitution emphasizes that every individual is entitled to indisputable rights to life, liberty, and the right to pursue happiness. As required by the constitution, all American citizens and immigrants across the US enjoy these rights. Similarly, several countries around the world that embrace human rights have adopted and implemented these rights in their constitutions. Despite the benefits of these rights, many citizens in the US do not exploit these rights to their full potential. Instead, the rights are taken for granted by most individuals. For instance, some Americans have not learned how to pursue happiness. More often, these individuals associate happiness with material wealth rather than attainment of self-actualization.
Equally, we should acknowledge the challenges facing these inalienable rights and start working on a framework that would reduce these challenges (Moyers & Betty 45). For instance, Americans should focus on new technologies that will increase their pursuit of happiness rather than reduce it. Through this, they should explore new projects that will increase job creation, job satisfaction and wealth creation. By doing so, we would ensure that our future generations also have a chance to pursue their happiness.
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Malloch, Theodore R., and Scott T. Massey. Renewing American culture: the pursuit of happiness . Salem, MA: M & M Scrivener, 2006. Print.
Moyers, Bill D., and Betty S. Flowers. A world of ideas : conversations with thoughtful men and women about American life today and the ideas shaping our future. New York: Doubleday, 1989. Print.
Rus, M. “Architectural Digest.” The Pursuit of Happiness 09.01 (2011): 108-119. Shatford Library. Web.