Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: Britain and the American Dream (Peter Moore)

The concept of “liberty” as part of political practice had been an evolving process in England going back to the Magna Carta in the 13th Century. Philosophers and politicians ebbed and flowed with the idea of rights, particularly for white men with property but also gradually extending through the various classes of English society. Liberty became a cause for those coming to America in the 17th and 18th Centuries, whether to seek religious freedom or economic liberty through charting a new course in life. This “export” from Britain to America gradually shaped the concepts of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as espoused in the Declaration of Independence. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: Britain and the American Dream, by Peter Moore, shows how those concepts evolved in America over the decades preceding its revolution.

Moore’s book centers around Benjamin Franklin’s relationship with English publisher William Strahan, as well as Strahan’s relationships with English philosophers and writers such as Samuel Johnson, Catharine Macaulay, and John Wilkes. These individuals, in many respects, helped shape the cause of liberty that the American colonies gradually adopted as their justification for breaking away from England. Interspersed with plenty of correspondence, the book artfully weaves in political events that help shape the gradual deterioration of relations between England and America. While Jefferson ultimately put those famous words to paper in 1776, it was the concept of these philosophers and writers that ultimately shaped American (and even English) thinking in the late 18th Century.

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness was a wonderful read – well-researched and full of insight.