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Introductory American Government and Politics

Introductory American Government and Politics

The first draft of the Declaration of Independence (4 July 1776) said we have a right to life, liberty and PROPERTY, but “property” was replaced with “pursuit of happiness”. What do you think of this? Here’s the paragraph it’s mentioned in:

When it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them . . . and to assume . . . the . . . equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them . . . they should declare the causes. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . . endowed by their Creator with . . . unalienable Rights . . . Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. To secure these rights, Governments are instituted . . . from the consent of the governed. Whenever any . . . Government becomes destructive . . . it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.


“Life, Liberty and Property” (John Locke, 1690s)


“Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” (Thomas Jefferson, 7/4/1776)

How could a government that protects your property rights be different from one that protects your right to pursue happiness? Which one would be a better government?

Things to think about:

  • Does our government do a bad job of protecting your property? How so?
  • Would your answer be different if you were a billionaire? (money is property too!). Why?
  • Give one personal example of when the government/police took away your property unfairly.
  • If a government raises taxes on the rich to give more money to the poor, is it respecting property rights? Why or why not?
  • Would you rather have the government protect your property rights or your right to pursue happiness?
  • CAN the government protect a right to pursue happiness? How so? Give one example of how the government has protected your right to pursue happiness.
  • Give an example of when it’s impossible for the government to protect a right to pursue happiness.
  • Some people say that if government focuses on protecting people’s private property, then it’s favoring rich people too much. Do you agree? Why or why not? Why would someone say this? Why might a rich person disagree?
  • What if protecting one person’s pursuit of happiness requires blocking a different person’s pursuit of happiness? Can you think of an example of this?
  • So, should government focus more on protecting property rights or protecting the pursuit of happiness?

My suggestion is to choose around 2 or 3 of these questions and write a 2 pages answer.

Use standard essay structure (Introduction, transitions, examples to back up 2-3 main points, Conclusion).

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