In the pages of A&E, I posed the following question to a fellow contributor:
Do you agree or disagree with the following?
"...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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..."
Fearing it was trying to trap him, he refused to answer. I thought it fitting and fair that I provide my own personal answer to the same question. Actually, I have two answers, one simple and one that requires more detail.Simple Answer
While I would not have chosen the language or wording of Mr. Jefferson, I understand its historical context and wholeheartedly agree with its sentiment and principle.Complex Answer
If I were to rewrite the first half of the first clause, it would read, "... all people are born equal, possessing unalienable Rights..."
The use of the term "all men" must be taken to mean all people. Indeed, at the time this was written, this was not necessarily the case. After all, it was written by a slave owner. But in the 21st century, I think we can agree that "all men" includes every human and not just white male landowners.
The invocation of a Creator is unnecessary, but understandable given the time it was written. After all, the founders did not know of evolution (or DNA, nuclear fusion, etc.) and did not have the language to speak of the origin of the human race in any other terms. I just think of it as poetic license. Atheists like myself do not require a deity to dole out morality and human rights. I am perfectly comfortable saying what is right and wrong without appealing to a divine (and imaginary) authority.
Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness is also poetry. It beautifully summarizes what most of us want out of life and no one should be denied these except through their own actions. Note that Happiness itself is not a Right, but only its pursuit. And yes, some pursuits should be restricted or outlawed if they interfere with someone else's life, liberty, etc. Laws that restrict some pursuits simply because the lawmakers found them distasteful (for example, anti-sodomy or restrictive marriage laws) are counter the ideals of this founding document.
The second clause is fairly straightforward (substituting "people" for "Men" again). The purpose of government is to secure those unalienable rights we were just talking about. Anarchy (or radical libertarianism) does a lousy job at making sure people have rights. Of course, there are other functions of government ("...establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity..."), but if it can't secure the basic rights of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness, then it should be replaced. Which is what Mr. Jefferson and those American revolutionaries did.
Of course, there are governments that rule by force, "divine right," and/or historical momentum, but governments should be an institution created and ruled by the people it governs. That's what a (representative) democracy is all about. The Congress, President, and the Supreme Court only have power because we, the people, allow it to. If we disagree, we can change it with a vote. Or we could revolt, and some people insist on keeping that option open, but I'd prefer if we didn't.