Some of the basic principles that define the meaning in the founding documents of America assert the idea of individual rights and freedom to define one's narrative. Jefferson's writing is rooted in this notion. The idea of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" is critical to the meaning of The Declaration of Independence. Jefferson makes the argument that individual can only find happiness when they are able to envision a life where there are not external obstacles imposed on an individual. When there is happiness, there is usually the absence of external impediments to it. Jefferson's idea is emphasized in the basic premise of the Constitution and its Bill of Rights. Both documents emphasize a concept of positive and negative liberty. Positive liberty is seen as the ability to actively go out in the world and do great things. Individuals who wish to interact freely in the world to make it a better setting are encouraged to do so. This "positive" notion of freedom is matched with the idea of "negative" liberty, which is the ability to be left alone. The meaning of the Bill of Rights enhances this idea, with rights such as the First Amendment that encourages personal expression in the world and amendments like the Third and Fourth, which establish a right to be left alone and be free from interference. In these documents, the ability to be happy on political and personal levels are critical principles that help to construct each document's meaning.
These principles have been evident in the historical evolution of the United States. When women at Seneca Falls wished to construct what they saw as individual rights and one of the earliest examples of the Feminist movement, they did so by constructing a new version of the "Declaration" as "The Declaration of Sentiments." Women like Cady Stanton and Anthony used Jefferson's ideas that applied to America in their own predicament of being women in America. When Dr. King speaks of a "promissory note" that is owed to people of color, the descendants of slaves, he invokes the historical premises of the Constitution and Jefferson's work. Dr. King stressed that these principles are vital to understanding the Civil Rights Movement. America has historically advanced through the understanding that the principles in its founding documents are not merely "words on a parchment," as President Obama said, but rather elements embedded on our collective and national expressions of consciousness.