The Pursuit of Happiness in the Founding Era: An Intellectual History

Scholars have long debated the meaning of the pursuit of happiness, yet have tended to define it narrowly, focusing on a single intellectual tradition, and on the use of the term within a single text, the Declaration of Independence. In this insightful volume, Prof. Carli N. Conklin considers the pursuit of happiness across a variety of intellectual traditions and explores its usage in two key legal texts of the Founding Era, the Declaration and William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England.

For Blackstone, the pursuit of happiness was a science of jurisprudence, by which his students could know, and then rightly apply, the first principles of the Common Law. For the founders, the pursuit of happiness was the individual right to pursue a life lived in harmony with the law of nature and a public duty to govern in accordance with that law. Both applications suggest we consider anew how the phrase, and its underlying legal philosophies, were understood in the founding era. With this work, Conklin makes important contributions to the fields of early American intellectual and legal history.

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Carli N. Conklin

University of Missouri Press, March 2019


Carli N. Conklin joined the law faculty at University of Missouri in 2011 and currently serves as Associate Professor at the Law School. After completing a B.S. in English and an M.A. in Education at Truman State University, she studied law and history at the University of Virginia through a joint J.D./Ph.D. program in American Legal History. Her dissertation at UVA was an intellectual history of the meaning of the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence. Professor Conklin’s research interests are in American legal history, with a focus on dispute resolution and rights dialogues in early America. At the MU School of Law, she teaches Lawyering, Negotiation, International Human Rights Law, Law & Social Science, and Non-Binding Methods of Dispute Resolution. Professor Conklin also serves as Kinder Institute Associate Professor of Constitutional Democracy and Director of Undergraduate Studies, coordinating, among other things, the Society of Fellows program and the Constitutionalism and Democracy Honors College course series.