Great American Stories: ‘Pursuit of Happiness’
Switching gears, 20 years ago today, George H.W. Bush, the retired 41st president of the United States, sent a poignant email to a White House correspondent he'd met only once. Tweet
Switching gears, 20 years ago today, George H.W. Bush, the retired 41st president of the United States, sent a poignant email to a White House correspondent he’d met only once. The journalist was writing a magazine story exploring what American presidents thought about when they invoked Thomas Jefferson’s famous phrase “the pursuit of happiness.”
Those words, found in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, are iconic — but also ambiguous. The reporter’s assignment was to divine what the concept meant to the chief executives who used it in times of national import.
Bush, along with Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton, and Bush’s son George W. — who occupied the Oval Office at the time — all agreed to engage in this exercise. But after the reporting was done, and before the essay was published, the nation was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. Tomorrow, I’ll relate what George H.W. Bush told me when I asked if that horrific event made him want to alter what he’d written.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.