Life, Liberty, and _______

February 16, 2010

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.

You know the words.  They’re in the Declaration of Independence.  Sometimes people get confused and say that they’re in the Constitution—but did you know that they are in constitutions?  Many of our country’s state constitutions reiterate, in one form or another, some of those same timeless truths.

I remember hearing somewhere that a previous draft of the Declaration would have guaranteed the right to “Life, Liberty, and Property”, and that it was changed to “pursuit of Happiness” partly to avoid implicitly blessing the evil of slavery (slaves being considered “property” at the time, at least by slave holders).  I still don’t know whether that’s true, but I did just take a look through the state constitutions of the fifty states, and I find that just over half (26 out of 50) of them contain, more or less, just such a “life, liberty, and property” formulation.  Of course, even many of the ones that don’t nonetheless echo the Constitution’s Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments:  No one shall be deprived of “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;” “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

In short, not only our cultural heritage but our legal foundations as well place great importance on property rights.  It’s something to remember when arguing about big government and human liberty.

The twenty-six states whose constitutions explicitly aim to protect the right to life, liberty, and property are Arkansas (article 2, section 2), California, Colorado, Delaware (click on the preamble), Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachussetts, Montana (article 2, section 3), Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico (article 2, section 4), North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.

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4 Responses to “Life, Liberty, and _______”

  1. Glenn Beck Says:

    Right, everyone is created equally except for homosexuals.

    • to onoma mou Says:

      Dear Glenn Beck,

      I’m not sure what your comment has to do with the above discussion about private property (to which it is a reply), but I’m interested in the idea that homosexuals are not created equally.

      Of course, as homosexuals are indeed part of mankind, we may claim with our Declaration of Independence that they are with all others created in some sense equal. That is, as created beings, we are all equal in our natures, in our inherent worth, etc.

      But your use of an adverb there is fascinating. Not to be created *equally* speaks not to the condition of the creature once created, but to the manner in which it is created, or perhaps the degree to which it is created. Alternatively, I suppose it could refer to the creation of equal numbers of each specimen. I am not created equally with identical twins, or clones, say, because they are twice as created as I am?

      Your comment is sarcastic. But I’ll admit, I have never heard the view that homosexuals are somehow more or less created than other humans. So as it is currently phrased, your disapproving comment does not have an actual referent of which I am aware.

      Oh, unless you mean to refer to a particular theologian who argued that the acceptance of Christ as our salvation effects an ontological change (first positing that we are created ex-nihilo), switching our essence from nothingness to existence and thereby allowing us to reach our full stature as created beings, no longer threatened by sin or death. In that sense I guess you really could say that not all of us will be created equally. And perhaps, if we assume that homosexuality is a sin, and that unrepentant sinners do not so accept their salvation, and that some homosexuals will remain unrepentant, then, well, sure. But there are still all those other sins.

      Although, in the end, I feel a thing can only be either created or not created. If homosexuals are uncreated, perhaps they are god.

      Chillingworth, feel free to delete me. I’m just being “snarky.”


  2. Again, for the sake of transparency, I note here that I just deleted two more “comments” by the poster calling himself, variously, “Glenn Beck” and other names that don’t bear repeating. You crossed the line, sir.


  3. […] (See also rights to life, liberty, and property in our state constitutions.) […]


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