The Herald Bulletin

Afternoon Update

Columns

November 19, 2013

Primus Mootry: Of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

The Constitution of the United States of America undoubtedly is one of the greatest documents in the history of the written word. I constantly marvel at how its conceptualizers and writers could have produced such a document nearly 250 years ago and it still stands, still lights the dark, twisting pathway to freedom.

Obviously, I do not pretend to be a constitutional scholar, but I have read and heard its words since the time I was a school boy. I also know a bit about the historical context in which it was written — the era when men enslaved other men; women could not vote; only propertied elites could hold elective office; and Native Americans were on the way to near extermination.

Still, I marvel. In so doing, as I recall the words from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech: “When the architects of this great Republic wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution they were making a promise to which every American ... was to fall heir.” I understand that.

The U.S. Constitution is not merely a set of principles, it is a sacred promise or, as Dr. King phrased it, a “promissory note.” The fulfillment of that promise, as I understand it, is still unfolding, still worth fighting for, still up to each of us. But the promise cannot be realized if we insist on selective interpretation or complete misrepresentation of the meaning of the words behind it.

Understanding the words and all their nuances may be fine fodder for legal scholars, but I am not one of them. I’m just a guy trying my best to understand what the Founding Fathers meant when they wrote of our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. A promise, yes, but not a privilege, the right undergirding the very reason for our system of government.

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