What Happened to Our Right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness?

by | Jul 6, 2000

On Independence Day we commemorate the birth of America as a free nation. But even more than that, we commemorate the birth of Americans as free men. At a single stroke, the Declaration of Independence and its ideals set America free from England, and set Americans free from their own government. The Founding Fathers instituted […]

On Independence Day we commemorate the birth of America as a free nation. But even more than that, we commemorate the birth of Americans as free men. At a single stroke, the Declaration of Independence and its ideals set America free from England, and set Americans free from their own government.

The Founding Fathers instituted America’s government to protect the freedom of its citizens, and to secure their rights to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

These rights were created to secure freedom of thought and action for all Americans.

Freedom of thought is the freedom of an individual to use his mind: to educate and inform himself; to make his own judgments; to reach his own conclusions; to set his decisions; to hold his beliefs; to choose the whole course of his life.

Freedom of action is the freedom of an individual to act on his own judgment: to pursue his values; to strive for his goals; to work and to keep the product of his work; to associate and trade with others; to act for the attainment of his happiness.

The implementation of individual rights had revolutionary effects. The freedom and progress that followed were unprecedented. Individuals, free from government interference, pursued their happiness restlessly and produced tremendous amounts of wealth in the process. Individuals took responsibility for their lives: for their education, their health care, their jobs, their retirement, and their money. While individuals acted by right, government acted by permission. In 150 years America became the greatest nation on Earth.

Before the turn of the century, however, while America still prospered from its founding ideals, a set of opposite ideals surged and gradually took over the old ones. In 1863, the institution of the military draft set the principle that individuals did no longer have a right to their own lives: the state did. From that day on every American no longer owned his life, but held it by permission.

In 1913, the federal income tax was created and set the principle that individuals did not have a right to their productive effort — their earnings. Government’s role reversed from protector to usurper of our rights. From that day on every American no longer owned his income, but held it by permission.

Along with people’s money, government took responsibility for their lives. Government assumed the task of providing the people with education, health care, housing, employment, and much more. The greater the share of people’s lives the government undertook to provide for, the more it taxed the people. To appease the masses, the richest were taxed the hardest. But all paid the price in the loss of our rights. Government became a devouring beast, and most of the American people approved of it.

Regrettably, individual rights have been eroded to a point where we already lost much of the freedom they once secured us. The American people, once independent and free from government control, are now subject to all kinds of taxation and regulation.

Now we need government’s permission to drive, to work, to open and to run a business, and even to own and hold property. The government is no longer our servant; it became our master. The government, once established to ban the use of force among men, now is the greatest aggressor of all. In the name of helping the needy, it assaults the productive and strips them of their rights and property. But if productive Americans have no rights then no American has them either. America, born as a free country, has been transfigured into a welfare state, where the needs of some became a blank check on the fortunes of others.

But we are still in time to regain our rights if only we understand better their meaning, their value and their power. If Americans are to be the free again, and America is to remain the greatest nation on Earth, we must hold sacred our individual rights to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

America was founded on the noblest of ideals: the right of every individual to his life. America will only live as long as its ideals live in our hearts and in our minds. Long live America!

David Holcberg, a former civil engineer and businessman, is now a writer living in Southern California. He is a former writer for the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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