The Pursuit of Happiness: Jeffrey Rosen, President and CEO of the National Constitution Center
What did “the pursuit of happiness” mean to our nation’s founders and how did that famous phrase become the foundation of our democracy?
The Declaration of Independence identifies “the pursuit of happiness” as one of our unalienable rights, along with life and liberty. In a new book, National Constitution Center President and CEO Jeffrey Rosen profiles six of the most influential founders—Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton—to show what pursuing happiness meant in their lives.
By reading the classical Greek and Roman moral philosophers who inspired the Founders, Rosen uncovers how they understood the pursuit of happiness as a quest for being good, not feeling good—the pursuit of lifelong virtue, not short-term pleasure. Among those virtues were the habits of industry, temperance, moderation and sincerity, which the Founders viewed as part of a daily struggle for self-improvement, character development and calm self-mastery. They believed that political self-government required personal self-government. For all six Founders, the pursuit of virtue was incompatible with the enslavement of African Americans—though the Virginians betrayed their own principles on that issue.
Join us as Rosen not only elucidates the meaning of the Declaration’s famous phrase, but also takes us on a revelatory journey into the minds of the Founders, providing a deep, rich and fresh understanding of the foundation of our democracy.
A Humanities Member-led Forum program. Forums at the Club are organized and run by volunteer programmers who are members of The Commonwealth Club, and they cover a diverse range of topics. Learn more about our Forums.
This program is part of our Good Lit series, underwritten by the Bernard Osher Foundation.
Speaker photo by Bill Fraser.
The Commonwealth Club of California
President and CEO, National Constitution Center; Professor of Law, George Washington University Law School; Contributing Editor, The Atlantic; Author, The Pursuit of Happiness: How Classical Writers on Virtue Inspired the Lives of the Founders
In Conversation with George Hammond
Author, Conversations With Socrates