Many have heard the phrase “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," being
commonly associated with America. Unbeknownst to most people, the phrase commonly associated with America took inspiration from another phrase "life, liberty, and property," which originated from an Enlightenment philosopher, John Locke. The Enlightenment was a movement in the 18th Century in which philosophers such as Locke, had revolutionary ideas centered around individualism and reason rather than tradition. The Enlightenment ideals from Locke, and other Enlightenment philosophers like him, molded the structure of America through inspiration. However, America has not lived up to the Enlightenment ideals, which has founded it's beliefs in modern day society, an example being the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, with the Founding Fathers taking inspiration from Locke and Beccaria, respectively.
The phrase "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.” (“Declaration of Independence,” para. 2) is an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence. When compared to Locke, the lines "...certain unalienable rights... life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" are very similar to Locke's belief that men were born with three natural rights, life, liberty and property. When the Founding Fathers created the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the Founding Fathers took inspiration from the Enlightenment philosophers in order to create an ideal government. It is therefore that the Enlightenment, in a sense, speaks through these sources which Americans base their government and beliefs upon. However, Americans have not met these beliefs, and therefore have not met Locke and Beccaria's ideals of an ideal government because Americans frequently disregard these important documents in favor of their own goals.
By viewing the Declaration of Independence in affiliation with Locke and the
Enlightenment, that all men are created equal, and that the government should protect the rights of its people, it will be proven that America has not met the Enlightenment ideals in which it was founded on. To prove America has fallen short on "all men are created equal with unalienable rights" ever since the beginning of the Declaration of Independence. Whilst the founding fathers advocated for equal rights, many owned hundreds of slaves, including George Washington. In modern day society as well, some are unable to experience these "unalienable rights." From Obama's Farewell Address, he stated,
1% has amassed a bigger share of wealth and income, too many families, in
inner cities and rural counties, have been left behind - the laid-off factory worker; the waitress and healthcare worker who struggle to pay the bills - convinced that the game is fixed against them, that their government only serves the interests of the powerful.
("President Obama's Farewell Address," CNN, 2016)
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This is an example of an economic issue, where equality does not necessarily mean equal wealth for all Americans but equal opportunities to achieve wealth. When Americans do not have equal opportunities, "the pursuit of happiness" is not fulfilled. As evidenced by America's citizens, some people's lives are more difficult and it is harder to achieve success compared to the wealthiest, most powerful people in the country.
America has fallen short through how the government protects the people. In modern day society, many violent attacks toward other races by white Americans have occurred. For example, around the years of 2014 to 2015, large news coverages of police attacking and killing unarmed African-Americans were frequently reported. Based on data collected from attacks, it was found that more 100 unarmed African-American people were killed in the year of 2015, and
statistics show that in the case of when a police officer had killed an unarmed black person, only 10 of the 102 cases were charged with a crime ("Mapping Police Violence," n.d.). In the cases in which the offenders were tried, only 10% were appropriately punished. This is an example of injustice, where the law did not appropriately protect the people. The Declaration states, "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it." It implies that the purpose of the government is to serve and protect its people, and if the government fails to do so, then the people have the right to change the government.
When events in 2015 transpired, it is clear that the government is not trying it's best interests to protect it's people, which goes against Beccaria's beliefs of laws and punishments. Beccaria believed that laws are used to preserve social order, and that punishments resulting from crimes should be more than the benefit gained from the crime in order to deter people from committing them. In the information listed, there was little to no punishment for the crimes committed. If the police officers could commit the crime without the fear of the law, then their exemption from punishment makes them and others more likely to
In the founding of America, it is obvious that many of the Founding Fathers took inspiration from the Enlightenment, especially from that of John Locke, who had a great deal of significance to the creation of America. However, America has yet to improve in order to satisfy the Enlightenment ideals with which it was created upon, such as its natural rights. Examples can be seen of how modern day society has become increasingly more lenient towards others than to some minorities, and how some races are discriminated against and are unprovided with the same rights as other Americans. Though the future appears bleak and the possibility of achieving
all of the Enlightenment ideals America was founded on improbably, given enough time, it is possibility for some of the Enlightenment ideals to be achieved resulting in a better country.
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