It has been said that it is unfortunate that the Founding Fathers did not include the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the Constitution because if they had, we would not be having many of the debates dividing the country today. That statement is true on the surface, but reflects a complete misunderstanding of the words and philosophy embodied in the Declaration and of the nature and purpose of the Constitution.
The Declaration states, "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. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men…"
Almost everyone knows the words of that portion of the document by heart. And almost no one stops to think about what those words actually are telling us.
The men who wrote and signed the Declaration listed three unalienable rights which they said were endowed by a Creator. They were saying that those rights were beyond the authority of any government to abridge or deny. Every human person came into existence in full possession of his unalienable rights, and no government had any business whatsoever acting in any way that did not recognize that fact.
The same basic group of men came together to write the Constitution – the document that would tell the government how to act in accordance with the philosophy described in the Declaration. The Constitution was the "owner’s manual" for those employed to carry out the Declaration’s philosophy of government.
The Constitution COULD NOT include a listing of the unalienable rights of human persons because the existence of those rights was beyond the scope of a government "how to" manual. If we remember that the Constitution is an amendable document, it is easier to recognize why unalienable rights cannot be included inside it. If we can remove an "unalienable right" by amending a Constitution, then that "right" is no longer "unalienable". It is conditional.
The Bill of Rights lists the particular rights that citizens must be accorded to enable them to preserve and protect their "unalienable" ones. We are not endowed by our Creator with the unalienable right to free assembly, we are endowed with the unalienable right to liberty, and the ability to freely assemble gives us one of the tools we need to preserve the unalienable right.
That is not saying that the Bill of Rights is not critically import ant. It is. But it is so important because it helped to ensure that America’s citizens would always have the tools they needed to keep the government from reaching beyond its authority and invading the realm of personal unalienable rights.
It is one of the saddest commentaries on the decline of our understanding of and adherence to America’s founding principles that we no longer recognize that such things as unalienable rights – rights beyond the scope of any government – even exist. It’s as if we have ceded our lives, our liberty, and ability to pursue happiness to the state without a single shot being fired.
One wonders if our Founding Fathers would be ashamed of us.