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Independence Day, 'The Pursuit of Happiness,' and 'Our Sacred Honor'

declaration of independence

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Wednesday, 03 July 2019 04:44 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Our July 4, 1776, Declaration of Independence proclaimed to the world, "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."

The July 4, 1776, German language version of our Declaration of Independence, copies of which are readily available on-line, provides insight into the original meaning of Thomas Jefferson’s phrase, "pursuit of Happiness." In the simultaneously released German version, this same phrase is translated into German as, “Bestreben nach Glückseligkeit.”

In case you don’t speak German, the following explanation of our Founding Fathers’ choice of words, both English and German, for "the pursuit of Happiness" might be interesting.

By the way, the reason why our Founding Father’s published their July 4, 1776, Declaration of Independence in both English and in German was likely practical: many if not most of the farmers around Philadelphia at the time spoke German, and concerned about a potential British Naval blockade of Philadelphia, our Founding Fathers did not want to starve.

In my 2017 article about our Declaration of Independence’s expression, "the pursuit of Happiness," which article is posted hereI wrote:

"Ever wonder what Thomas Jefferson meant in 1776 when he penned the words, 'pursuit of Happiness'? In the first American dictionary published by Noah Webster in 1806, the word 'happiness' is defined as 'blessedness, content, good fortune.' In the same dictionary, Noah Webster defined the word 'blessedness' as 'happiness, content, joy, holiness.'"

Based on these contemporaneous dictionary definitions by America’s most famous expert on our American English language, it is apparent that the three words in our Declaration of Independence, "pursuit of Happiness," were synonymous with, "pursuit of Blessedness."

At a recent dinner in Washington D.C., a visiting Bavarian government official referred to "the Pursuit of Happiness" as "the core of the European and American way of life."

Another German friend of mine that same night suggested that the German version of these words in our 1776 Declaration, "Bestreben nach Glückseligkeit," could be translated today as, "active aspiration towards perfect happiness (or happiness of the soul), what the ancient Greeks called "Eudaimonia."

The on-line Encyclopedia Britannica explains the difference between "Eudaimonia" and the common understanding of the English word "Happiness":

"Eudaimonia, also spelled eudaemonia, in Aristotelian ethics, the condition of human flourishing or of living well. The conventional English translation of the ancient Greek term, “happiness,” is unfortunate because eudaimonia, as Aristotle and most other ancient philosophers understood it, does not consist of a state of mind or a feeling of pleasure or contentment, as “happiness” (as it is commonly used) implies. For Aristotle, eudaimonia is the highest human good, the only human good that is desirable for its own sake (as an end in itself) rather than for the sake of something else (as a means toward some other end). . . "

This explanation comports with my 2017 article’s conclusion that, "the three words in our Declaration of Independence, 'pursuit of Happiness,' were synonymous with, 'pursuit of Blessedness'."

In this light, it is no surprise that our Founding Fathers concluded their July 4, 1776, Declaration of Independence, "with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."

Have a great American Independence Day full of Aristotle-Jeffersonian “Happiness”!

Joseph E. Schmitz served as a foreign policy and national security advisor to Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign. The opinions expressed in this article are his personal opinions. Schmitz served as Inspector General of the Department of Defense from 2002-2005 and is now Chief Legal Officer of Pacem Solutions International. He graduated with distinction from the U.S. Naval Academy, earned his J.D. degree from Stanford Law School, and is author of "The Inspector General Handbook: Fraud, Waste, Abuse, and Other Constitutional ‘Enemies, Foreign and Domestic.’" Read more reports from Joseph E. Schmitz — Click Here Now.  

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Based on these contemporaneous dictionary definitions by America’s most famous expert on our American English language, it is apparent that the three words in our Declaration of Independence, "pursuit of Happiness," were synonymous with, "pursuit of Blessedness."
jefferson, webster, founding fathers
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2019-44-03
Wednesday, 03 July 2019 04:44 PM
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