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Herman Cain
stated on May 21, 2011 in in a speech announcing his presidential run:
In the U.S. Constitution, "there’s a little section in there that talks about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
true false
By Willoughby Mariano May 25, 2011

Cain mistakes Declaration of Independence language for Constitution

In case you had doubts, Herman Cain left no room for interpretation. He is running for president.

Cain said it twice during his Saturday rally at Centennial Olympic Park announcing his run. Videos on the large television screen repeated it. And the celebration had all the fixin’s of a presidential bid.

There were American flags. Red, white and blue balloons sailed into the air. A video of Cain, wearing a cowboy hat and striding past a farm, recounted his humble upbringing.

There was also a requisite reference to the words of our Founding Fathers:

"We don’t need to rewrite the Constitution of the United States," Cain said. "We need to reread the Constitution and enforce the Constitution."

"And I know that there’s some people that are not going to do that. So, for the benefit for those that are not going to read it because they don’t want us to go by the Constitution, there’s a little section in there that talks about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

"You know, those ideals that we live by, we believe in, your parents believe in, they instilled in you. When you get to the part about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, don’t stop right there, keep reading.

"’Cause that’s when it says that when any form of government becomes destructive of those ideals, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it. We’ve got some altering and some abolishing to do."

Cain’s exhortation sent your PolitiFact Georgia team scrambling for a closer look at the U.S. Constitution.

The bit about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness wasn’t there. We did a computer search of its text to make sure. Nada.

Constitutional history scholar and University of Pennsylvania professor Richard R. Beeman came to our assistance via email. That phrase is in the second paragraph of the preamble of the Declaration of Independence, which was written in 1776, 11 years before the Constitution was drafted during the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

Beeman agreed with Cain that we don’t need to rewrite the Constitution and it’s more important that Americans read it.  

"It might be a good thing if Mr. Cain would undertake that task," Beeman said.  

That language about abolishing government? It’s in the third paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution, Beeman added.


We asked Cain’s campaign to respond. A spokeswoman said he sometimes mentions the Constitution and Declaration of Independence at the same time.

"Quite often, he references them together when speaking of his appreciation for the work of our Founders," she said.

The language of the two documents can be easy for your average Joe to confuse.

But confusing the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence is no small mistake, especially for a candidate for president, said Donald E. Wilkes Jr., a University of Georgia law professor.  

The Declaration is a statement of beliefs. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land.

"No court makes a legal decision based on the Declaration of Independence," Wilkes said.

With his first speech as a bona fide candidate, Cain joins a long, bipartisan line of presidential hopefuls who have succumbed to foot-in-mouth disease.

They include Cain’s foe, President Barack Obama, who accidentally said there were 57 states during the 2008 campaign and U.S. Sen. John McCain, who said in an interview he was unsure how many houses he owned.  

Welcome to the 2012 presidential election season, folks.

Cain earns a False. 

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Herman Cain, presidential campaign announcement rally, May 21, 2011

National Archives, transcript of the Declaration of Independence, accessed May 24, 2011

National Archives, transcript of the U.S. Constitution, accessed May 24, 2011

Email interview, Ellen L. Carmichael, communications director, Friends of Herman Cain, May 24, 2011

Email interview, Richard R. Beeman, John Welsh Centennial Professor of History, department of history, University of Pennsylvania, May 24, 2011

Interview, Robert Schapiro, professor of law, Emory Law School, May 24, 2011

Interview, Donald E. Wilkes Jr., professor of law, University of Georgia, May 24, 2011

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Cain mistakes Declaration of Independence language for Constitution

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