The Pursuit of Happiness in the Democratic Creed: An Analysis of Political Ethics

By Ursula M. von Eckardt | Go to book overview
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Introduction

"Most ov the happiness in this world konsists in possessing what others kant git." This bit of Josh Billing's earthy wisdom may serve as the true American counterpart to the lofty sentiments of The Declaration of Independence, whose European antecedents are here fully explored. In this book Dr. von Eckardt clearly shows and fully documents the oft-suspected fact that the "right to happiness" did not get into the Declaration on the spur of the moment or as an afterthought, but that it represents a central theme of Jefferson's complex political thought. Carl Becker's fine study of the Declaration clearly suggests this fact: even the very first draft by Jefferson contains the phrase. Yet Professor Becker did not explore the Declaration's insistence upon the right to happiness; to him, as to most men today, the Declaration seemed "founded upon a superficial knowledge of history" and "upon a naive faith in the instinctive virtues of human kind." "Yet it was a humane and engaging faith," he felt. Merely that? More recent experience has inclined us to be somewhat more affirmative. In the present work we read: "The pursuit-of-happiness doctrine is modest enough to contain the fact of human ignorance and the consequent diversity and multiplicity of attitudes, opinions

-xiii-

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