Roosevelt House is pleased to present a lecture by legal scholar and president of the National Constitution Center Jeffrey Rosen on his new book The Pursuit of Happiness: How Classical Writers on Virtue Inspired the Lives of the Founders and Defined America. In this philosophical exploration of early American political thought, Rosen examines what “the pursuit of happiness” meant to the nation’s Founders—and how that famous phrase defined their lives and became the foundation of American democracy.

Through a new reading of classical Greek and Roman moral philosophers who inspired the Founders, Rosen shows how the Founders 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 industry, temperance, moderation, and sincerity, all of which the Founders viewed as part of a daily struggle for self-improvement and character development. As Rosen writes, the Founders believed that political self-government required personal self-government.

Insightful and original, The Pursuit of Happiness seeks to illuminate the Founders’ reasons for identifying “the pursuit of happiness,” along with life and liberty, as an unalienable right. To do so, Rosen profiles six of the most influential Founders—Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton—to uncover what pursuing happiness meant to each of them. Much more than an elucidation of the historic phrase, The Pursuit of Happiness takes readers on a revelatory journey into the minds of the Founders at the nation’s inception.

As previous Roosevelt House guest Jon Meacham says: “To understand who we are, we must begin at the beginning—which is precisely what Jeffrey Rosen does in this remarkable and timely book. By exploring how the American Founders viewed virtue and the fabled (and often misunderstood) ‘pursuit of happiness,’ Rosen offers us a much-needed reminder of the centrality of civic and personal virtue.”

Jeffrey Rosen is the 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 of The Atlantic. He appears regularly on MSNBC and CNN to discuss the constitution and the law. He was previously the legal affairs editor of The New Republic and a staff writer for The New Yorker. His books include biographies of Louis Brandeis and William Howard Taft and the New York Times bestseller Conversations with RBG: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life, Love, Liberty, and Law, which he appeared at Roosevelt House to discuss.

Jeffrey Rosen — The Pursuit of Happiness: How Classical Writers on Virtue Inspired the Lives of the Founders and Defined America | Posted on February 20th, 2024 | Book Discussions, Public Programs