Declaration of Independence

I'm Bored, so I am going to try do something original: explain the declaration of indepedence and show two things
1) The founders transcend Locke
2) That they, at the very least, are aware of the necessity of classical virtue

The paragraph in question reads:

"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. --That to secure these rights, 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, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes"

The declaration is claiming that there are 4 self-evident truths accessible to reasonable men

1) All Men are Created Equal
2) Because all men are created equal, we possess certain rights: namely life liberty and pursuit of happiness
3) That in order to secure these rights, governments are instituted to protect them
4) The people retain the "right of revolution" (based on prudence) to alter or abolish a government that becomes destructive of these ends

On first glance, this seems like a standard restatement of John Locke's second treatise. In fact, you could probably use the declaration to explain Locke's philosophy better than you could by actually reading Locke (Locke is a fairly dry writer, and I am being kind in saying that)

However, I do think (and I am going to ignore any debates on whether or not Locke was a closet Hobbesian as it is irrelevant to my points) that the founders were using these Lockean principles in a fairly classical way.

Here is why

1) Locke claimed that men by nature have the right to life, liberty, and property. Jefferson, who authored the declaration, changed the word property to happiness and claimed all people have the right to pursue it. I think it is because the founders were convinced that man pursued happiness and not just simply material gain. Washington said in his first inanugural )hat "there is no truth better established than the truth that virtue and happiness go hand in hand" (I am paraphrasing). Thus, the United State's founding document asserted that governments exist to secure the "pursuit of happiness" which includes the pursuit of virtue (since virtue is necessary to the happy life).

2) But someone like an Aristotle would claim that government exists for happiness, not simply to pursue it. True, the Declaration is lowering the aims of political life, but not nearly as much as someone who is a closet Hobbesian would like. In the readings I am doing for my Publius fellowship, I came across this interesting interpreation of the declaration. Namely, the reading asserted the second reformulation of the doctrine, the rights of people become the ends. "Whenever Governemnt becomes destructive of these ends." Therefore, the end of humanity is the pursuit of happiness. It is not simply a weak "right" that can be ignored.

3) I think the founders recognized the value of prudence. It is the job of the people and the government to pursue happiness (which includes virtue). But the founders realized that you can't force people to be virtuous. You can teach them it, encourage it, and incentivise it, but you cannot force it. Thus, to grant government the power to make people virtuous (especially in today's age) can only lead to totalitarianism. Just look at the Islamic States.

4) Besides, with the dawning of Christianity some sort of reformulation of political life needed to happen. If we are to assert that there is a universal principle to which we owe our primary allegiance, then government cannot be the ultimate end of our existence. So there has to be some sort of limitation on the political life because human's trascend the here and now, namely they owe their primary allegiance to God, second allegiance to the city.

These are just my thoughts. I am not political philosopher, but I think I am close to being correct here.