Meaning: The three most important rights as defined in the Declaration of
Background: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created
equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights,
that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" - Thomas
Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.
They, the Founding Fathers, must have debated on the structure, the wording, and
above all the message. Life and liberty are straightforward but 'the pursuit of
happiness' is ingenious. Happiness is slippery, ephemeral, and a bottomless pit.
As soon as a desire is satisfied, the mind at once craves for more or something
different. The pursuit itself cannot be more real and perennial, however, and
the collective wealth is a byproduct of this burning call for fulfillment. The authors
must have been keenly aware that the new nation they were bringing upon the
earth stands on the strength of the story alone.
The Scientific Revolution, and particularly Newton’s work, taught men that the universe wasn’t willful or chaotic, but governed by rules of order. Once you knew the rules, the physical universe became predictable. The physical world was, in 18th-century parlance, a “mechanical” place.
So be it: 1776–present
Much of the final Constitution resembles an interlocked and finely tuned machine. As Charles Carroll of Carrollton wrote:
“The three distinct powers of the federal Govt. are skilfully [sic] combined so as to balance each other, by that reciprocal check & counterpoise, which the most approved writers on Govt. consider as its chief perfection … [T]he several State-Governments will always keep it within its own & proper sphere of action: [T]hus while it restrains the State-Governments within their orbits, it is by them retained within its own; acting, & acted upon it will produce that order, that stability in the civil, which we see exists in the physical world, where if I may compare great things to small, every planet, every center of each system attracting & attracted, repelling, & repelled keeps that station, & rolls within those spheres, which the great Author of all being has prescribed to each.”
Further exemplifying the intricate and balanced structure is the Constitution’s Article V, which sets forth the amendment process. Madison was its principal draftsman, and it shows that he shared his generation’s “mechanical” mode of thought: