Several years ago, I had a wonderful opportunity to bring my older children to hear Michael Farris speak. His leadership is key to so many great things – Home School Legal Defense, Patrick Henry College, Convention of States, and the list goes on and on. He is involved in so many important fights for this country. His presentation was great, but honestly the most memorable time from that evening to me was before the event, we had opportunity to meet him. He spoke to my children in a fun way about the famous words from the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self evident…” I will never forget, he told my children in 1776, people used language like this, whereas today, we would just say… “Duh!” We laughed and laughed about that, but the truth is – that is exactly what that phrase means! These truths need no proof – they are abundantly clear. I mean really… “Duh”!
In 1776, the truths of the Declaration were very well understood, and universally accepted as unquestioned truth across society. In fact, if you go to the top of the page of the Declaration, it clearly identifies this document as “The unanimous Declaration of the United States of America”. So, the truths given to us there need no proof, they are self-evident, and they are unanimous across the United States. I like to point out the Declaration of Independence has never been repealed or amended to say something less than unanimous, so as far as I’m concerned, this is still the unanimous declaration of all the states.
As we have discussed in other articles like “Foundational Principles of the U.S – What are They?”, and “The Birth of a Nation”, the purpose of government in this nation is to secure Unalienable rights of the people, given to us – not by government – but by God Himself. The Declaration says it like this:
“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. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men…”– Declaration of Independence, 1776
In this article, I want to talk more about these “Unalienable Rights.” It is very important for us all to understand this principle. Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines “unalienable” as:
UNALIENABLE – adjective. Not alienable; that cannot be alienated; that may not be transferred; as unalienable rights.
That’s a good definition, but I also found it valuable to look up “alienable”, so we will know what it is NOT. Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines “alienable” as”
ALIENABLE – adjective. That may be sold, or transferred to another; as, land is alienable according to the laws of the State.
“[Human governments] could not give the rights essential to happiness… We claim them from a higher source – from the King of kings and Lord of all the earth. They are not annexed to us by parchments and seals. They are created in us by the decrees of Providence, which establish the laws of our nature. They are born with us; exist with us; and cannot be taken from us by any human power, without taking our lives.”– John Dickinson, Signer of the Constitution
“The Supreme Being gave existence to man, together with the means of preserving that existence. He invested man with an inviolable right to personal liberty and personal safety.”– Alexander Hamilton
“An unalienable right is a right to which we are entitled by our all wise and all beneficent Creator.”– James Wilson, signer of the Declaration and Constitution
So, we can learn from our founders that God gave us unalienable rights and there is no way we can legitimately be separated from them. They were given to us by God Himself and we cannot sell them, or transfer them to someone else. Please understand, no level of government has ANY claim to presume to take away our unalienable rights. Those rights were given to us by God before there ever was any human government, and in the United States, we instituted government for the very purpose of securing these rights.
There are a couple ways I like to explain to help people better understand “unalienable” rights. First, have you ever been at an event, or in a conversation and things go wrong? You may have suddenly felt separated from everyone. In these situations, you might say you felt “alienated”. Well, we might feel alienated from time to time – but not from our God-given rights! They are not able to be alienated – they are “unalienable”.
Secondly, if you borrow money for something expensive for your home – maybe the addition of a swimming pool – the lender may place a “lien” against your home. So if you don’t uphold your end of the deal and pay the payments, then the lien will allow your home to be separated from you in order to pay the debt. Your home is “lien-able” because it can have a lien like this placed against it and it could be separated from you. Your God-given rights are UN-a”lien”able… they cannot have liens placed against them and cannot be separated from you. They were given to you by God Himself and they cannot be separated from you.
We don’t tend to hear much about unalienable rights anymore. If people talk about rights, they tend to use different descriptors. Most often, we talk about “Constitutional” rights. Or maybe we talk more specifically about our “First Amendment Rights”, or maybe “Second Amendment Rights”. This concerns me. I understand that generally speaking, the Constitution, or more particularly, the individual amendments protect specific unalienable rights. However, those amendments, or even the Constitution as a whole does not grant us these rights! For example, if the Second Amendment gave us the right to self-defense, then a Constitutional amendment could take that right away. If the First Amendment gave us the right to free speech, or free exercise of religion, then a change to that amendment would change our rights. This cannot be! The Constitution does not grant any right to us. Our rights were given by God, and they are Unalienable!
Dare I add another term to this conversation?? Think about the term, “Civil rights”. What does “Civil rights” mean? A check of the 1828 Dictionary gives us the definition of “Civil”:
CIVIL– adjective. 1. Relating to the community, or to the policy and government of the citizens and subjects of a state; as in the phrases, civil rights, civil government, civil privileges, civil war, civil justice.
I understand that unalienable rights of certain Americans were denied for a long time in this country and I would never want to make light of that fact. But I also worry that we are being conditioned to think of our rights as “Constitutional”, as if they are granted by the Constitution, or worse, as “Civil”, which is simply the policy of the community or government, and very easily changed. I worry we are losing visibility and familiarity with the truly American idea that we have “unalienable” rights from God that cannot be separated from us or changed.
May we all remember and refocus on the Unalienable rights endowed upon us by our Creator. May we also remember the purpose of government, the reason governments (at all levels) are instituted in this country. This purpose is found in the charter of our form of government, the Declaration of independence, when it says governments are instituted “to secure these rights…” I find government officials at all levels frequently need to be reminded of these self-evident, unanimous truths.