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In this video, Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson talks to Sal about  the Declaration of Independence. Created by Sal Khan and Aspen Institute.
Video transcript
Man 1: "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." It's this amazing second sentence of the Declaration of Independence that Jefferson and Adams and Franklin wrote as part of a committee and we were looking at that sentence. Let's go on to look at that phrase, "they are endowed "by their Creator." It's interesting, they don't really mention Jesus Christ and not even God. They talk about the laws of nature and of nature's god and a creator. These are deists, people who believe in the notion that there's some grand creator of the universe, but they don't get into the specifics of any particular religious dogma. The other thing is they're balancing where do our rights come from? In an earlier draft, and we'll talk about how they edit the earlier drafts in a later video, but in an earlier draft it just says they're endowed with certain unalienable rights and you see that John Adams, probably, is the one who wants to insert the phrase "their Creator" and that was because they started the sentence with "We hold these truths to be sacred," but they changed that to "self-evident." They're trying to say to what extent is it rationality that gives us these rights, to what extent are these rights endowed by God and I think what they finally come down to is that we all had a creator and that creator made us all. So, to a certain sync, we're created equal. Our creator must love us all, we are all created by the same creator, therefore there's a certain equality that we have and in creating us, he gave us certain unalienable rights. Man 2: Unalienable just means can't be taken away. It can't be separated. Man 1: It can't be separated. You can't take these rights away. The king can't take these rights away. In other words, it's not as if we could give up these rights and in particular, they are talking about this theory of government that John Locke had, who was one of the philosophers that they read, an English philosopher of that period, who said that when you created government or there is a government, you give up some of your rights. For example, if we all agree that we're part of a government, we may give up our right to take somebody else's property or whatever it may be. These are rights you can give up, but there are certain rights that are unalienable, that you just can't give up or the king can't take it away. Once again, you've got to look at Thomas Jefferson, who actually owned slaves at this point and he's saying among those unalienable rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. There's this inherent conflict still, between rights, such as liberty, that you can't take away from a person and yet, Jefferson's writing this phrase when he owns slaves. The phrase "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness" is also something that derives from John Locke and these philosophers of the Enlightenment that were writing in England. At one point, John Locke uses the phrase "Life, Liberty, "and the pursuit of property," because Locke believed that owning property was an important right you had and the government couldn't just take your property away. However, you can see that they change it to a more elevated phrase (laughter) that we each get to pursue our own notion of what we want to do in our lives, our happiness. I don't think they just mean happiness like joy and frivolity. I think they mean pursuit of meaning in life, what gives our life meaning and these are the unalienable rights. Then they go on and this gets to what's called the contract notion of government, is that why do we have governments? Whether it's John Locke or the other philosophers we've talked about, they say the reason we have government is that we all had these rights, but we decided to get together. We instituted governments. Governments are instituted and the reason those governments have their power is because of the consent of the governed. It's like if you and I and 20 people got together and formed a group and we said, "We're going to form "a group, we'll give up some of our rights, "because the group itself will have certain powers, "but we're consenting to do that." It's not because of the divine right of kings. It's the consent of the governed. The consent of the people says we will institute a government amongst ourselves and that's not to take away our rights, that's to secure our rights. Man 2: Right. I might ... The 20 of us might give up our right to enforce things, police each other, to the government, so that we could have our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. We're more likely to have it secured. Man 1: Once you get to that theory, you have to say, "What are the type of rights we would give up?" Such as, maybe, the right to decide the traffic laws or the policing of the thing, or how property contracts are made, but there are certain things that, no matter what you did, if you were instituting a government among men, you would not give up the right to life, you would not give up the right to liberty, and you would not say, "I'm going to give up "my right to pursue my own life ends, "my own happiness." You would say, "We want to secure those rights. "We're not going to give those up to government."