It’s right there near the top of the Declaration of Independence. “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” are the unalienable rights bestowed on us by our creator.

As we approach Independence Day, let’s not think too hard on whether Thomas Jefferson should have written “inalienable” instead of “unalienable.”

Instead, what the heck did America’s most famously flawed founder mean by the pursuit of happiness? I asked Gov. Wes Moore, food historian Joyce White, Baltimore Orioles owner David Rubenstein, nonprofit leader and teacher Tatiana Klein and artist Jeff Huntington what it means to them.

Here’s what they said.

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When I talked to Gov. Wes Moore on Sunday afternoon, he was still in Wisconsin campaigning for Joe Biden. It was three days after the Democratic president appeared frail in the first debate of the 2024 election with former President Donald Trump. There was an undeniable amount of freaking out among Democrats.

“I think that they are,” Moore said. “I think, you know, it’s on people’s minds. But I think that the way that they’re responding is by working, which is actually pretty, you know, pretty refreshing. But it’s not like, handwringing, it’s like, all right, let’s get to work, guys.”

Better than any of his predecessors, Moore understands Jefferson’s flawed understanding of the concept that “all men are created equal.” Jefferson was a slaveowner who fathered enslaved children.

As Maryland’s first black governor, Moore knows Jefferson’s vision, as approved in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, did not include people who looked like him.

And yet, that is the greatness of the ideals Jefferson wrote down. They were more than the man who authored them, or the ones who signed their names to them. That holds true for the least well-known of them, the pursuit of happiness.

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“It just means making sure that everybody has the ability to be able to fulfill a God-honored destiny. It means that we all have a fair shot at being able to live out a life of success however you define that,” Moore said.

The governor’s personal story is an argument for the idea. His family fled the Ku Klux Klan when his grandfather was 6, but he returned from Jamaica to become a prominent clergyman in the Bronx. Moore has written about the events in his life that kept him from becoming another example of a Black man without much chance of happiness.

“I think it shows that, despite being remarkably uneven and despite having a system that has been unquestionably tested, the hope and the aspiration of the Founding Fathers — even though I’m not sure if they specifically had me in mind when they were putting this together — that their ideals have actually worked.”

Joyce White is a food historian, studying how what we eat helps tell the story of who we are. In September, she’ll release her latest book, “Cooking Maryland’s Way: Voices of a Diverse Cuisine.”

It’s a companion to the 1963 classic, “Maryland’s Way: The Hammond-Harwood House Cook Book.” The original included more than 700 recipes from centuries-old manuscripts and Marylanders across the state. White’s update builds on new research but also the contributions of others previously silenced, from indigenous Marylanders to African American people and German immigrants.

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Jefferson traveled to Annapolis before and after writing the Declaration of Independence. During one stay at the mansion of William Paca, one of four Maryland signers of the declaration, he enjoyed the rarity of ice cream.

“Certainly ice cream would have been aspirational if you were having it in summer, especially because that meant you had to have access to ice before the construction of the Erie Canal, which was able to bring ice down from the far north,” White said.

“Aspirational” is a key to understanding what Jefferson meant by the pursuit of happiness.

“It was sort of the break from that Old World, pre-Enlightenment concept of predestination or predetermination based on who your father was,” White said. “What I think the Founding Fathers were trying to do with that was trying to shake off those constraints of the old order and that forced people into certain stations in life, right?”

Even though Jefferson’s understanding was flawed — his concept only applied to white men — individual determinism is at the root of the American definition of happiness. It’s what we want to be true and gives us the means to achieve it.

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“It would revolve around that right to assemble and debate issues and rulers, the people who enforce those rules without fear of being charged with treason or something like that,” White said.

Baltimore Orioles owner David Rubenstein sure looked happy Friday night, dancing to “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” with the Oriole Bird atop the dugout during a home game against Texas.

But he is far more likely to understand the pursuit of happiness through something else he owns, a dozen rare copies of the Declaration of Independence.

“The declaration is more or less the birth certificate of the United States,” Rubenstein said Saturday. “As an American, I’m proud of what the country has done even though we’ve had lots of problems and still have lots of challenges. But I’m proud of my country. I think a document that is historic is one that people should see because when you see a historic document — and all my documents are on display, people can see them — you kind of get more interested in learning about the history of the country.”

No one really paid much attention to the opening words of the declaration when it was written, approved and distributed. It was a list of grievances and the founders’ plan to deal with them through independence that brought the heat. But today, most of us can recite it with various degrees of stumbling familiarity.

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Jefferson was building on the language of others, English ideas on “life, liberty, health and possessions” or Scottish talk about the pursuit of virtue. The month before Jefferson started writing, George Mason drafted the Virginia Declaration of Rights — complete with “certain inherent rights” that included “pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”

But Jefferson’s version is the one that stuck in our collective minds because it is so expansive.

“It meant the pursuit of things that make a more complete human: a moral code, a fulfillment in life, a personal satisfaction with what you’ve achieved in education,” Rubenstein said. “So it meant many different things.”

For Tatiana Klein, the pursuit of happiness meant leaving her native Costa Rica.

A teacher who founded the nonprofit Marshall Learning Center, she immigrated to the United States to study flute at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore.

“I came to this country because I was frustrated with my beautiful country,” Klein said of her Central American homeland. “I love Costa Rica. But I couldn’t read a book there. I had no access to books. If you didn’t have money, you can’t buy a book. If you couldn’t buy a book, the bookstores had the books in plastic, so you couldn’t even open the book.”

After arriving in New York, she discovered great generosity from people who wanted to help her with her pursuit.

“I wish Americans will understand that people are amazing here,” Klein said. “I received so much help. I ended up taking lessons with the principal piccolo player of the New York Philharmonic. Then I was summer studying with the piccolo player of the Chicago Symphony. Then I went to Tanglewood Music Festival. I played with [Leonard] Bernstein.”

There were few opportunities in Costa Rica, but she found them everywhere in the United States.

“Here you have space to grow. You have kind people if you work very hard, and you don’t have any addictions, you can actually accomplish your goals and then even much better.”

Better for Klein means being part of a nonprofit network dedicated to helping the immigrant community in Annapolis.

“We find a way to help and that is so beautiful for me,” she said. “I will say happiness is to be in a place that you feel that you can contribute and you can help. When somebody comes to you, then you can actually be helpful to them.”

Jeff Huntington’s art illustrates Annapolis. But it’s not about sailboats or osprey or crabs.

Huntingon’s complicated, colorful murals and paintings are about ideas. Untold stories. Unique perspectives. So, it’s not a surprise that he’s actually thought about the meaning of happiness. Is it success? Is it money?

Does happiness even exist?

“It’s become even more complex because of social media in the perceptions,” he said. “So people just have these distorted perceptions now of happiness when in fact, like most of the happiness you might see on social media, it is really a mask. It’s an illusion, you know?”

Maybe finding happiness involves being true to yourself.

Huntington tells the story of being just out of art school and meeting film director Gary Allison in Washington, D.C. In a visit to Huntington’s studio, the director quickly went through the abstract works everywhere. It was only when he discovered some of Huntington’s realist oil paintings in the basement that Allison got excited.

“He said, ‘You should really, maybe think about what you’re good at and maybe pursue and practice what you’re actually good at.’ He said, ‘Your abstract work is just garbage.’”

Huntington went back to portraits, following his skills to find what he could do well.

It’s taken him from a mural that fronts a building where Thomas Jefferson once stayed, to teaching children in the Himalayas with his wife and collaborator Julia Gibb, to capturing the world as seen through his father’s Alzheimer’s disease and, most recently, telling the story of a health center for Black people in a once-segregated neighborhood of Annapolis.

“I think in pursuing happiness or success, you know, it should be more about pursuing what one is good at or interested in. Pursuing those things. Then everything else sort of follows that.”

Perhaps Jefferson — who lived another 50 years after the Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776 — never explained what he meant by the pursuit of happiness because it is better left unsaid.

It can be philosophical, political and personal. This is America. We can define and redefine life, liberty and, yes, the pursuit of happiness for ourselves.

Happy Fourth of July.