What are two rights in the Declaration of Independence?
- pursuit of happiness
While not a governing document, the Declaration of Independence, drafted by Founding Fathers John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston, is important for America. Namely, it highlights important rights given to not only people in America but also those all around the world.
What are those rights? Let’s delve into that.
The Right to Life
Life is the ability to be alive and to create life without restriction. In terms of how this applies to the government, the right to life means no one can cause you harm or bring your life to an end. Without this distinction, the government (or whoever else wished to harm someone) could decide that certain people weren’t allowed to exist in America.
But this doesn’t just mean the government can’t kill you. It also applies to forced sterilization or other methods to keep people from having children. Unfortunately, this right was not afforded to people of color or even disabled people in the past. They were forced into sterilization and sometimes not even told that it was happening.
We’ve now come to understand that this dark history of racist and ableist policies was in direct conflict with what our country is supposed to stand for.
Many have used the right to life as a justification for things like the pro-life movement or universal healthcare. The former’s argument is rather obvious (if a person has the right to life, why are unborn fetuses not given the same?), but let’s examine the latter a little closer.
Universal healthcare (also known as Medicare for all, subsidized healthcare, etc.) is the political concept that everyone should have access to quality healthcare regardless of their ability to pay. But how does this apply to the right to life?
Well, if someone has an illness that could become terminal without treatment, it makes sense that they will pass away if they can’t get the treatment. By invoking the right to life, advocates of universal healthcare claim that allowing this type of situation to happen is against our country’s principles. The ability to access life-saving treatment should not be limited to those who can afford to pay the exorbitant costs or to those that have the insurance to cover it.
The Right to Liberty
Fairly straightforward, the right to liberty is the right to exist in America without any unnecessary restrictions. What would count as a necessary restriction? Anything that keeps people from infringing on the individual rights of others (murder or slavery, for example). The idea of liberty is fairly broad and, as such, has been debated in the courts since the conception of our government.
The simplest definition would be that everyone is allowed to have their own opinions (even if they’re harmful), associate with whoever they want, and choose to be whatever type of person they want.
While a person can hold harmful or hateful beliefs, it’s important to note that they cannot use these beliefs to harm others or to incite others to commit violence in their stead.
Everyone has a right to liberty as long as they’re not taking that right away from someone else.
The Right To Pursue Happiness
Probably the least concrete of our rights, the right to pursue happiness essentially means you have the right to live your life in the way that makes you happy. While the use of the word ‘pursuit’ implies a seeking of happiness, a 1964 essay by Arthur Schlesinger reminds us that in the time period of the Declaration of Independence’s conception, the pursuit of happiness meant that anyone had the right to be happy, not just to try to be happy.
This provides a much more optimistic outlook on our right to happiness. The contemporary understanding of pursuit means no one’s guaranteed happiness, but it’s actually the opposite! It’s a very utopian ideal that fits right in with the other rights included in the Declaration of Independence.
Why Are These Rights Important?
It would be fair to wonder why we need these rights considering we already have the United States Constitution. Not only is the Constitution our governing document, but it also outlines our rights in a more specific way.
These rights in the Declaration of Independence are not just good ideals to champion, but they also form the basis of what we commonly know as human rights.
Human rights are given to every person regardless of where they live or whether these rights are recognized by the government the person’s in. America often uses these principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness when standing up for oppressed peoples, not just in the US but all over the world.
The principles introduced in the Declaration of Independence helped form the basis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Without these essential rights, there wouldn’t be much basis to hold a country’s leaders responsible for any human rights violations they commit.
Do these condemnations always work? It’s unfortunate to say, but no, there isn’t a guaranteed way to keep people in power from taking advantage of people, but having some standard is better than not having any.
Can These Rights Be Taken Away?
Yes. If someone attempts to infringe on another’s rights, the government can take the offender’s rights away. The most common method is to put the person in jail.
While it may seem contradictory to give the government the ability to take people’s rights away, it’s important to note that there has to be some way to protect the innocent. It’s great to give people freedom, but once they start hurting others, they lose some of their rights, sometimes permanently.
The Declaration of Independence is an important document in our country’s history. Not only did it assert our autonomy from King George III and Great Britain, but it also created the basis for basic human rights that were given to all and cemented by the American Revolution. Our basic rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness may not always be recognized. Still, just by stating those rights, we can advocate for not only people within America but also those all around the globe.