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Among these truths is the "pursuit of Happiness," a phrase frequently bantered about but not necessarily discussed or even honored. That said, here is my July 4th mini-rant, memory, and music!

Remember that Jefferson intentionally substituted “happiness” for “property” in John Locke’s famous “pursuit of life, liberty, and property.” And by “happiness,” the founders meant more than a hedonistic, subjective approach to personal satisfaction; that term--as noted by Justice Kennedy in his speech on citizenship--carried with it a “feeling of self-worth and dignity you acquire by contributing to your community and to its civic life.”  We know from volumes of contemporary writings that by 1776, this social dimension of happiness was well-ensconced in early American political philosophy.

In An inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue, Francis Hutcheson (the Irish philosopher) laid out the cornerstone and some of the foundation for our subsequent understanding of happiness as being what is best for the most number of those consenting to be governed. Somehow I think this dimension of our mutual pursuit is diminished when we shift from “happiness” for individuals within a community to “success, wealth, and power” as markers of happiness in everyday life.

Rome's Spanish Steps
Rome's Spanish Steps
One of the happiest Fourth of July memories I have is from 1979 and explains why I have a picture of the Spanish Steps in Rome nestled in this pablum of patriotic perspicuity. Down to my last few thousand lire, I found myself in Rome on that July 4th making my way to Brindisi as a jumping off point to Greece.

Wandering around the grounds of the Villa Borghese, through those of the Villa Medici, I ended up near the top of the Spanish Steps; there I ran into a small group of Americans I had previously known from the train ride in a couple days before.  It was mid-afternoon and the Fourth of July—I think all of us were missing home in one way or another, each on extended and long-from-over treks around the continent.

We shared bread, cheese, and wine aplenty—like having only a few dollars left and no job, we were determined to live it up. Because eating on the steps is forbidden, we cloistered in the shadows of the Trinata dei Monti until the angle and color of the sun’s rays made everyone look beautiful.

We moved to the steps and, without discussion, one person unpacked his hammer dulcimer, another a guiro sort of instrument, and me a harmonica. We began to play, softly and shyly at first and then a bit more boldly; American songs, some patriotic, many just old road songs from Wood Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and others.  We were awful—I have no doubt whatsoever (although the dulcimer player was amazing, it was the accompaniment that really sucked)—but we played with spirit and heart and a sense of wanting. Passing Italians and tourists alike engaged us and we brought some happiness to that place at that moment.

It was close to midnight by the time we had exhausted ourselves. We collected our things, including a bundle of bills dropped in the dulcimer case, and wandered off to find a place to sleep. It was a magical time, if short lived, of sharing a sense of community with what felt like the entire world.

And now, in the pursuit of happiness, the promised music!

Woody Guthrie, from The Asch Recordings, "This Land is Your Land"


Bruce Springsteen, from Born in the USA, "Born in the USA"


Simon & Garfunkel, from Bookends, "America"


Aretha Franklin, at Robert Kennedy's Memorial Mass, "America the Beautiful"


Grab a cup of coffee and join us. What's on your mind this July 4th?


Originally posted to MOT - Morning Open Thread on Fri Jul 04, 2014 at 03:30 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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