Blackstone's - The Legal Foundation of the Declaration

Jefferson's strongest argument that the colonists were entitled to independence was that the British had violated the most important principles of their own law and government. Jefferson would have found those principles in Blackstone's, as Lawrence Friedman makes clear in A History of American Law:

"In one sense, colonial legal literature is quickly disposed of: there was no such thing worthy of the name before 1776. Law libraries were scarce, small, and scattered. In the 17th century, few people who called themselves lawyers owned many lawbooks at all. Lawbooks were more common in the 18th century. But a lawyer's library was not full of books about American law; the books were English law books, with perhaps a few local statutes thrown in. Most popular were English practice manuals. Native lawbooks were few and utterly insignificant. No substantial body of case law was in print until after the Revolution. When Blackstone's Commentaries were published (1765-69), Americans were his most avid customers. At last there was an up-to-date shortcut to the basic themes of English law. An American edition was printed in 1771-72, on a subscription basis, for sixteen dollars a set; 840 American subscribers ordered 1,557 sets - an astounding response. Not all subscribers were lawyers and judges, but many were; and Blackstone's text became ubiquitous on the American legal scene."

Lawrence M. Friedman, A History of American Law, 2d ed., 102 (Simon & Schuster 1985)

Blackstone was the philosophical heir of John Locke, thus it is not incorrect to say the Declaration reflects Locke's philosophy. But the phrase the right to the "Pursuit of Happiness" is unique to Blackstone (Locke listed the fundamental rights as life, liberty, and property) and, as we'll see in a moment, makes it beyond dispute that the Jefferson did not stop with Locke but continued on to Blackstone's particular explanation of the source and nature of man's rights and the principles that limit government.