Cross Posted from the Pennsylvania Tenth Amendment Center.

In this Glenn Beck interview,

Rick Santorum tells us that the 18th century definition of happiness is, “to do the morally right thing”.  When I heard this, I was surprised and fascinated, but also suspicious, so I decided to see if I could confirm that.  First, I checked the Dictionary of the English language by Samuel Johnson (1768, 3rd edition), where I found this…

Next, I checked an online etymology dictionary, where I found this

happy Look up happy at
late 14c., “lucky, favored by fortune, prosperous;” of events, “turning out well,” from hap (n.) “chance, fortune” + -y (2). Sense of “very glad” first recorded late 14c. Ousted O.E. eadig (from ead “wealth, riches”) and gesælig, which has become silly. Meaning “greatly pleased and content” is from 1520s. O.E. bliðe “happy” survives as blithe. From Greek to Irish, a great majority of the European words for “happy” at first meant “lucky.” An exception is Welsh, where the word used first meant “wise.”Used in World War II and after as a suffix (e.g. bomb-happy, flak-happy) expressing “dazed or frazzled from stress.” Happy medium is from 1778. Happy ending in the literary sense recorded from 1756. Happy as a clam (1630s) was originally happy as a clam in the mud at high tide, when it can’t be dug up and eaten. Happy hunting ground, the reputed Indian paradise, is attested from 1840, Amer.Eng. Related: Happier; happiest.

And just to be thorough, I thought I’d check to see if maybe “glad”, in the second definition could have meant “to do the morally right thing”

glad Look up glad at
O.E. glæd “bright, shining, joyous,” from P.Gmc. *glada- (cf. O.N. glaðr “smooth, bright, glad,” Dan. glad “glad, joyful,” O.S. gladmod “glad,” O.Fris. gled “smooth,” Du. glad “slippery,” Ger. glatt “smooth”), from PIE *ghel- “to shine” (see glass). The modern sense is much weakened. Slang glad rags “one’s best clothes” first recorded 1902.

Apparently, not.  I went on to look around and see whether anyone else had written about this interview, and came across this, from Thomas DiLorenzo.  I have to say that I’m put off by the intolerant tone of DiLorenzo’s article, and I especially don’t support his uncalled for criticism of Santorum’s private decisions for his family, but I do think the substance of his argument is on target.

Santorum first claimed to have read an eighteenth-century dictionary that defined happiness as “to do the morally right thing.”  This is how the founding fathers defined happiness, he said.  This is Santorum’s definition of “happiness,” not the founding fathers.  It’s a good bet he is lying when claiming to have read an eighteenth-century dictionary. (my bold)

But the founding fathers are known as champions of freedom, are they not?  But what kind of freedom?  According to Santorum, who apparently fancies himself as an historian, freedom in America means “the freedom to do what you ought to do – what you are properly ordered to do [by a politician like himself] – as someone living a good, decent, and ordered life” (emphasis added). “That’s the differentiation that I believe Ron Paul and I have with respect to what liberty is,” said Santorum. To Rick Santorum, “freedom” means doing what government “properly” orders you to do, as long as government is controlled by good, proper, moral people like himself, the K-Street lobbyist for the Pennsylvania coal mining industry (and anyone else who will pay his huge fees for influence peddling).

This is not the view of the American founding fathers, as Santorum claims. It is more likely to have been the mindset of the founders of the Soviet Union, not the American union. It is the mindset of the neoconservatives whose founding members were, after all, Trotskyite communists. This includes the self-described “godfather” of neoconservatism, the late Irving Kristol, who reveled in talking about his youthful Trotskyite roots.

If Santorum really wanted to know how the founding fathers defined freedom he would not make up imaginary, two-century old dictionary entries but would read what the founders actually said. A good place to start would be Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural address where he stated: “[A] wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government . . .” It is hard to imagine that Jefferson, the author of the 1786 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom that strongly opposed the governmental imposition of any religious views on anyone while defending religious liberty in general, would have admired an Uber-Catholic Theocrat like Santorum. For government to compel a man to support a religious cause with which he disbelieves, wrote Jefferson, is “sinful and tyrannical.” (my bold)

When Ron Paul says that such victimless crimes as prostitution or smoking pot should be decriminalized, says Santorum, “that’s not the moral foundation of our country,” once again pretending to be The Expert on the thinking of the founding fathers. There’s one problem with Santorum’s historical revisionism, however. Prostitution was in fact pervasive in Colonial America. Prostitutes traveled with George Washington’s army, serving as nurses and cooks as well as prostitutes. In fact, there were no laws in America banning prostitution until Massachusetts enacted the first one in 1917. (The 1910 “Mann Act,” named after Congressman James Mann, prohibited “white slavery” for the purpose of prostitution). Federal laws against prostitution were first enacted after women got the right to vote and immediately outlawed prostitution in the vicinity of military bases when their husbands and boyfriends were off serving in the military. In other words the founding fathers agreed with Ron Paul, not Rick Santorum, on personal liberty issues.

So, after a couple hours of web searching, my conclusion is that the words “pursuit of happiness” in 1776 (and even in the 1300s) meant more or less what they do today, pursuing prosperity or pursuing a state of satisfaction.  I also disagree with Santorum’s claim that the Declaration of Independence carves out a role for the federal government in regulating morality — that Liberty means that we have the “freedom to do … what you are properly ordered to do”.  If the founders had intended for the federal government to regulate morality, why would they have depended on a tenuous link to the Declaration of Independence, when they could have simply inserted the language into the Constitution and made it clear and unambiguous?

In my opinion, Santorum takes our individual responsibility to be virtuous and tries to use smoke and mirrors to establish the power for the federal government to enforce morality.  The two things are not equivalent.  I agree with him that Liberty is only practicable in conjunction with virtue, but I vigorously disagree with him that the federal government can create virtue through legislation.  You can’t be free to live a moral life unless you’re also free to choose badly.  Just like compulsory spending on social services is not charitable; neither is it virtuous to do a moral act, if the decision to act is mandated.  Follow Santorum’s argument to its logical conclusion, and you’ve got the federal government enforcing a 10% tithe and daily prayers.  In short, the federal government is not God’s enforcement arm.


Steve Palmer

The 10th Amendment

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”



Featured Articles

On the Constitution, history, the founders, and analysis of current events.

featured articles


Tenther Blog and News

Nullification news, quick takes, history, interviews, podcasts and much more.

tenther blog


State of the Nullification Movement

232 pages. History, constitutionality, and application today.

get the report


Path to Liberty

Our flagship podcast. Michael Boldin on the constitution, history, and strategy for liberty today

path to liberty


Maharrey Minute

The title says it all. Mike Maharrey with a 1 minute take on issues under a 10th Amendment lens. maharrey minute

Tenther Essentials

2-4 minute videos on key Constitutional issues - history, and application today


Join TAC, Support Liberty!

Nothing helps us get the job done more than the financial support of our members, from just $2/month!



The 10th Amendment

History, meaning, and purpose - the "Foundation of the Constitution."

10th Amendment



Get an overview of the principles, background, and application in history - and today.