Unalienable Rights

Deborah Venable



Ask the average American to define “unalienable rights” and you might be surprised at how many can’t give an accurate definition.  The ability to break down unknown language and get in the ballpark of an accurate definition for specific words is becoming a lost art.  Once again, thank the education system.


Take for example, defining the difference between unalienable and inalienable rights, which one do you hear the most about?  Or do you incorrectly use them or hear them used interchangeably? 


Does that famous line in the Declaration Of Independence ring a bell now?  Ask yourself, does that line mention unalienable or inalienable rights?


Hope you have your thinking caps on for this one, because it’s really deep! 


Look in a modern dictionary and you may find the words are interchangeable, with one even being used to define the other.  Sad but understandable in the modern world of disintegrating language. 


The Declaration Of Independence states:


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.


With very little research we can find that Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration, initially used the word, “inalienable” to describe the rights to be secured by the Founders’ efforts.  There exist, in fact, drafts of the Declaration to prove this.  But remember, the signers, who pledged their “sacred honor” when they affixed their names to the document debated it first.  Jefferson willingly changed his first draft to reflect the different wording.  (It is sad to note here that the Jefferson Memorial incorrectly reflects the final wording as “inalienable.”)  


This "history" site is blatant in its insistence that the two words mean exactly the same thing.  The truth, however, is that they don’t.  To put it in the simplest terms possible, neither unalienable nor inalienable rights may be taken away by another, but only unalienable rights may not be given up by the owner of those rights.  There is a difference.


The importance of that difference may escape some, but remember that the purpose of the Declaration was to establish the unequivocal right to be free of the ruling monarchy of England, and free from the tyranny of any government that would replace it.  If any of the signers had been willing to give that up at any time, the document would have been essentially meaningless, and our country could have never survived.


In order for the “all men are created equal” part of the statement to be true, the rights had to be unalienable.  If they could be “given up” by anyone, (inalienable) then they could easily be taken away from all. 


This source discusses the dictionary bastardization of the two terms, unalienable and inalienable and raises a good point:


. . . human beings are imbued with unalienable rights which cannot be altered by law whereas inalienable rights are subject to remaking or revocation in accordance with man-made law. Inalienable rights are subject to changes in the law such as when property rights are given a back seat to emerging environmental law or free speech rights give way to political correctness. 


Arguments have been made since the beginning of time that natural law, such as that defined by the declaration, only exists as a tool of religion – that it is man’s attempt to define his relationship with his Creator and with his fellow man.  But those who would argue most strenuously against any natural law over man-made law seem to be the very ones who would wish to bend the will of others to their own beliefs. 


This little discrepancy between unalienable and inalienable rights is perhaps the most serious problem not currently being dealt with today.  It is probably the very reason that our Constitution and especially the Bill Of Rights has been under almost constant assault for a very long time.  Look at how easily inattention to language and true knowledge of meaning began to set us up for so many things that would lead to our current crisis.


In Franklin Roosevelt’s 11th State of the Union address, just 6 days before D-Day, he said:


This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.




As our Nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.


He went on to put forth his proposal for a “second bill of rights.”  If you are not familiar with what those were, look it up in the link provided and read his whole speech.


Our current crisis has the modern American public debating the difference between rights and privileges.  Thought processes, foreign to those that formed and defended the greatest form of government the world has ever known, have been allowed to infiltrate every major system in this country and continually work to “bend the will” of the American people.  We should be able to pay homage to a government that protects our unalienable rights, but are now both suspect and mistrusting of a behemoth government that seeks to control us through relinquished inalienable rights! 


If your thinking caps are still on, respond to this little essay and tell me if it helped at all.   



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