The Pursuit of Happiness: How Classical Writers on Virtue Inspired the Lives of the Founders and Defined America

The Pursuit of Happiness: How Classical Writers on Virtue Inspired the Lives of the Founders and Defined America

by Jeffrey Rosen
The Pursuit of Happiness: How Classical Writers on Virtue Inspired the Lives of the Founders and Defined America

The Pursuit of Happiness: How Classical Writers on Virtue Inspired the Lives of the Founders and Defined America

by Jeffrey Rosen

Hardcover

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Overview

A New York Times bestseller and an “enriching...brilliant” (David W. Blight, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Frederick Douglass) examination of what “the pursuit of happiness” meant to our nation’s Founders and how that famous phrase defined their lives and became the foundation of our democracy.

The Declaration of Independence identified “the pursuit of happiness” as one of our unalienable rights, along with life and liberty. Jeffrey Rosen, the president of the National Constitution Center, 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, and to give us the “best and most readable introduction to the ideas of the Founders that we have” (Gordon Wood, author of Power and Liberty).

By reading the classical Greek and Roman moral philosophers who inspired the Founders, Rosen shows us 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 enslavement of African Americans, although the Virginians betrayed their own principles.

“Immensely readable and thoughtful” (Ken Burns), The Pursuit of Happiness is more than an elucidation of the Declaration’s famous phrase; it is a revelatory journey into the minds of the Founders, and a deep, rich, and fresh understanding of the foundation of our democracy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781668002476
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 02/13/2024
Pages: 368
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author

Jeffrey Rosen is President and CEO of the National Constitution Center, where he hosts We the People, a weekly podcast of constitutional debate. He is also a professor of law at the George Washington University Law School and a contributing editor at The Atlantic. Rosen is a graduate of Harvard College, Oxford University, and Yale Law School. He is the author of eight books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Pursuit of Happiness: How Classical Writers on Virtue Inspired the Lives of the Founders and Defined America and Conversations with RBG: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life, Love, Liberty, and Law. His essays and commentaries have appeared in The New York Times Magazine; on NPR; in The New Republic, where he was the legal affairs editor; and in The New Yorker, where he has been a staff writer.

Read an Excerpt

Notes on Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations
Notes on Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations

This morning haze obscures the firmament

Sunlight and clouds in serried blue alloy

A narrow clearing opens, fortune sent

I glimpse a sparkling sun beam and feel joy

Stoics praise calm joy without elation

Its motion placid and to reason aligned

When it transports with wanton exultation

It fires the perturbations of the mind

The four disordered passions are emotions

That lack the moderation reason brings

Elation, lust, fear, grief are their commotions

Prudence and temperance are their golden rings

The soul that’s tranquil, calm, restrained, at rest

The happy soul, the subject of our quest

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