Letter From My Dad On Jefferson, Thoreau, and MLK

Dad wrote this letter to me when I was in Peace Corps. I always love the way Dad writes. I feel so fortunate that he is my Dad and I can receive guidance such as this. Love you Dad and thinking about you on Father’s Day!

July 8th, 2012

Ryan,

We have just celebrated the 4th of July and I am reminded about Thomas Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Originally he had written it to be life, liberty, and property. Why change property to pursuit of happiness? For one thing ownership does not preclude happiness. For another, I have found that Thomas Jefferson had five Latin volumes in his library of a book entitled, “On the Nature of Things.” Along with those volumes he had translations of the book in English, Italian, and French. It was one of his favorite books and was written by the Epicurean Lucretius. Basically Epicureans believed life should be pleasurable and pain should be reduced whenever possible. Jefferson took hold of the philosophy, called it his own, and sent our whole society out on the pursuit of happiness. Jefferson died on July 4th, 1826.

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At Jefferson’s Rock, in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. In Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson wrote, “The scene is worth a trip across the Atlantic.”

Nineteen years later on July 4th 1845 Henry Thoreau set out to pursue happiness at Walden Pond. By and large, he thumbed his nose at his Harvard education to set an example on how to live simply and be at one with nature. He later wrote “Civil Disobedience.” The essay was a result of his refusal to pay taxes for slavery and the Mexican-American war. He died in obscurity during the Lincoln administration, 1862.

101 years later, at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial Martin Luther King gave the inaugural address for the Civil Rights Movement and not only was the figure of Lincoln in the background, but King was an admirer and had been deeply influenced by the words of Henry Thoreau.

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At the Martin Luther King memorial in Washington, D.C. with his son, MLK III, and other Shriver Peaceworker Fellows.

The pursuit of happiness transcends through time and is with every American no matter where they are or what they think.

Godspeed to the philosophies of Jefferson, Lincoln, Thoreau, and King. Pursue happiness in Indonesia.

Love,

Dad

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