In his book Defending the Declaration, Gary Amos succinctly spells out the agreements of the founding document:
First, the laws of nature and of nature’s God regulate the lives and relations of all men and nations. Second, these laws make clear that all men are created equal and are endowed with “unalienable rights”. Third, the purpose of government is to secure those rights. Fourth, men institute government through consent, or compact. And they consent on to the exercise of just powers. Fifth, tyranny and despotism on the part of the government break the compact, so that the people are free to alter or abolish the form of government and institute a new one (Gary T. Amos, 1989, Defending the Declaration, p. 128).
The phrase in the Declaration of Independence…
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,
…establishes three critical features of the Great Experiment and the foundation, which the Constitution would eventually articulate. Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The order of these critical features is deliberate and purposeful. Life is first because without life the rest are of no avail. And Life is the divine gift from God. Liberty follows Life, for the reason previously stated, and with the divine gift of Life one is now able to follow and develop their God-given gifts and talents. Libertyis aligning one’s self to God’s specific purpose for you. God created us for His purpose, so Liberty is the means of fulfilling God’s specific purpose for you. And, thirdly, the Pursuit of Happiness is being obedient to God and His Laws. Happiness is larger than, but includes private property. John Locke taught the right to life, liberty and property. By changing that last word to "happiness", property was not detracted from but rather expanded upon.
Our Founding Fathers and our Forefathers understood that Happiness was behaving in obedience to our Creator, who gave us Life, and desires us to live in Liberty, in order for us to follow His Laws which is the direction and vessel to achieve His purpose (Happiness) which He gives specifically to each one of us – His most favored creation (see Genesis 1:26-31, Matthew 10:30, and Luke 12:7).
The words of Declaration were foreshadowed the year prior during the Second Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia in 1775. On November 3 the Congress resolved, “to call a full and free representation of the people, and that the representatives, if they think it necessary, establish such a form of government, as, in their judgement, will best produce the happiness of the people, and most effectually secure peace and good order in the province, during the continuance of the present dispute between G Britain and the colonies (The Second Continental Congress, 1905, Journals of The Continental Congress: 1774-1789, Vol. III, p. 319, also listed on p. 326-327 (November 4, 1775) and p. 404 (December 4, 1775)).”
These truths of liberty and biblical truths continued after July 1776 to be the foundational underpinning of many of the New England clergy as momentum built for a new constitution. The moral compact must underprop the structural compact. The Colonial ministers knew this and their pulpits continued upholding these truths. In 1783 Reverend Isaac Backus wrote, “The American revolution is wholly built upon this doctrine, that all men are born with an equal right to what Providence gives them, and that all righteous government is founded in compact or covenant, which is equally binding upon the officers and members of each community (Alice M. Baldwin, 1928, The New England Clergy and the American Revolution).” Pastor Backus is clearly reiterating the source of the Preamble of the Declaration articulating our Fundamental Rights.
As John Locke eloquently states, “If man in the state of nature be so free, as has been said; if he be absolute lord of his own person and possessions, equal to the greatest, and subject to no body, why will he part with his freedom? Why will he give up this empire, and subject himself to the dominion and control of any other power? To which ‘tis obvious to answer, that though in the state of nature he hath such a right, yet the enjoyment of it is very uncertain and constantly exposed to the invasion of others. For all being kings as much as he, every man is equal…[he] is willing to join in society with others who are already united, or have a mind to unite for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties and estates, which I call by the general name, property (John Locke, 1690, Second Treatise of Government).”
In fact, Charles Montesquieu also ties Natural Law and all men created equal together. Montesquieu argues that under the law – Natural Law – men are created, by their Creator, to be equal; and, that by organizing into a society they can become unequal through their talents and skills gifted to them, but remain equal under natural law; or equal in opportunity under the societal law founded on natural law. Montesquieu powerfully writes:
In the state of nature, indeed, all men are born equal, but they cannot continue in this equality. Society makes them lose it, and they recover it only by the protection of the laws (Charles de Montesquieu, 1748, The Spirit of the Laws).
Especially influenced by Locke the Colonial pulpits, years before the Revolution, preached the fiery message of the colonists falling back into the state of nature due to the Crown breaking their Compact. This philosophy was critical to them as justification to also becoming independent. This was Scriptural to the Colonial clergy. Dr. Baldwin writes, “the sermons applied this doctrine to the right of the majority and to the making and changing of constitutions. Compacts and their sacredness were a constant theme…the King in permitting the charters to be broken had been guilty of breaking the compact and therefore released the colonies from allegiance.” As a result of the breaking of the Compact, many pastors preached and declared that “the colonists were necessarily thrown back into a state of nature and resumed all rights which they had originally possessed (Alice M. Baldwin, 1928, The New England Clergy and the American Revolution).” This was a direct acknowledgement of fundamental rights bestowed upon the people by God the rightful King.
This breaking and return to the state of nature biblically allowed for independence. “There is scarcely a sermon of these and later years,” wrote Dr. Baldwin, “which does not emphasize the necessity of union, and many newspaper articles urging it were written by ministers.” Many of these pastors, at a prophetic level, saw “America of the future, a great free country, a refuge to the oppressed of all nations, a golden land of Liberty (Alice M. Baldwin, 1928, The New England Clergy and the American Revolution).” “From this day,” preached Reverend Jonas Clark on the anniversary of the battle of Lexington, “will be dated the Liberty of the World (Alice M. Baldwin, 1928, The New England Clergy and the American Revolution).” Reverend Clark was prolific, as that day became known as the shot heard around the world. This shot continues to be heard to this day.
“Life” is manifested in freedom. While Thomas Jefferson’s intention was not necessarily the freedom that Christ gave us, the reference of Life in the Declaration of Independence does represent this freedom. Christ sacrificed Himself to free us from our sin. Man is incapable of reconciling himself from sin, so he was enslaved to sin. Christ’s redemption gave man his freedom from sin, so that he was now at Liberty to pursue his God-given gifts – the pursuit of Happiness – gifts of his body, minds and his property.
God so loved His children that he sent His son to redeem their sin so that they could have the choice to live in freedom. His children, more times than not, chose, and often continue to choose, not to live in freedom. God also values freedom so highly, that even though He sacrificed His son for the freedom from sin for His children, He also gave His children the freedom to reject Him. God, our Father and our Creator, out of Love for us, gave us the freedom to choose Him and freed us from our sin by sacrifice (James Robison and Jay W. Richards, 2012, Indivisible: Restoring Faith, Family, and Freedom Before It’s too Late, p. 319). God and Christ are the only avenue to freedom, and are the core of America’s freedom.
Forgiveness of sin unleashes the freedom of man so he is at liberty – his independence – to learn, build, think, and manifest the gifts that his Creator has bestowed on him. This freedom was the freedom the clergy of the colonies had been preaching to the American colonist for many years prior to the American Revolution and Declaration of Independence. It was the source of our individual rights, freedom, and individualism of the American experiment. “Only Christianity grounds the rights of the individual in God, and also realizes that since God doesn't force anyone to adhere to one set of religious beliefs, neither should the government (Frank Turek, October 31, 2010, “Jesus, Christians and Politics.”).”
This cause of the pursuit of happiness, as described above, manifests in virtue. Taking God’s gifts and using them in a productive way illustrates virtue. This is exactly what the Founding Fathers meant and saw in their fledgling country; in essence, the shining that beamed out from the Shining City. This beam of light was virtue shining out onto the world. And this shining virtue was from God; Americans manifesting their God-given gifts into productive activities. “What our Founding Fathers meant by “the pursuit of happiness” was the pursuit of virtue, not the pursuit of pleasure…To our Founding Fathers, then, happiness was the result of living a morally excellent life. To them, the “pursuit of happiness” was the pursuit – in a very real, ethical, and religious sense – of living virtuously (Bradley Abramson, April 11, 2013, “The Pursuit of Happiness, the Pursuit of Virtue, and he Right of Conscience.”).”
Our history of American prosperity traces back to the rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness (including private property), which traces back to colonial preaching about providence and forgiveness of sin. Our economic strength comes from these ideas.
Jim Huntzinger is the President and Founder of Lean Frontiers, Inc., which develops knowledge and learning communities on the Lean Enterprise for business and industry. With a background and experience in manufacturing and operations, he has also extensively researched the history and development of American manufacturing and also published several books on the lean business model, manufacturing history, and economics.