Unalienable Vs Inalienable

Posted: September 8, 2012 in Category - A Commentary From Bo, Unalienable Vs Inalienable

By Bo Perrin

During the drafting of the Declaration’s language an interesting philological conflict took place. That same conflict is still raging among us today, raging since 1776.

Interestingly, everyone today is involved in this conflict but for different reasons. In some cases, some of those involved are because of they have not been taught any different. On the other hand, some of those involved are because they honestly do not see a definitional difference in the words used. The spelling differs by one mere vowel. How can that make such a difference? Some are involved because they believe the words, even though they differ by a mere vowel, make all the difference in the world. What is extraordinary about this group is that it is divided into groups each accepting one form of the word and rejecting the other. The difference of the word chosen leads to a emphatically different form of political theory and government structure.

The words are inalienable and unalienable. During the drafting of the Declaration both words were used. (1) This website claims that inalienable and unalienable are definitionally the same. Who made the change is unknown although a number of scholars believe it was John Adams. Interestingly, this fact shows that even during the drafting process there was a question over which word to use. The Center For Civic Education uses the words interchangeably without explanation assuming they are defintionally equivalent. (2) Despite these claims or the implication of the claim these two words although they are divided by a single vowel differ from each significantly.

There is significant evidence that inalienable “. . . is defined as incapable of being surrendered or transferred; at least without one’s consent.” [Morrison v. State, 252 S.W.2d 97, 101 (Mo. Ct. App. 1952)]. This means that an inalienable right is a right that is incapable of being surrendered unless one consents. This is very Hobbesian. Keep this in mind.

There is significant evidence that unalienable means exactly the same thing with one caveat, a caveat which changes the whole picture. A number of people turn to Black’s Law 6th Edition but lets start with the Virginia Declaration of Rights (June 12, 1776). George Mason wrote:

“That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”

Mason penned this Declaration just days before the national Declaration was completed. Mason did not use unalienable but rather inherent. For Mason an inherent right is something that is embedded with humans as natural law or the laws of nature. Those who possess these rights, everyone, cannot deprive or divest their posterity of these by any compact. In other words, unlike the word inalienable which permits the individual to divest his rights through contract, an inherent right is undivestable by any means. This is the heart of Hobb’s Leviathan. Each individual originally lived in a state of nature but Hobb believed that the state of nature was violent. But humans are incapable of governing themselves so they would enter into a compact with other men and promise to give up their rights to this or that sovereign if others gave up their rights to this sovereign as well.

Mason believed that inherent rights could not be given up even through contact. The individual does not have the authority to give up that which they do not own and therefore, the government cannot take these rights away since the government cannot do what the people are incapable of permitting it to do.

Scholars argue that Mason’s inherent rights is synonymous with the Declaration’s unalienable rights. Therefore, unalienable refers to rights which are inherently the individuals’ through the Creator which they do not own and therefore, cannot give away without permission. We have not been given permission. Interestingly, one reason our forefathers went to war was because they believe not only could these rights not be given away by contact but because the Creator made the individual the stewards of these rights they have a responsible to oppose anyone who believed they had the authority to take these rights away. But this is not all.

According to Black’s Law, “Unalienable: incapable of being alienated, that is, sold and transferred.” (P. 1523) So, the one vowel changes the entire definition and political outlook. An unalienable right is a right which is incapable (absolutely under no conditions) of sold or transferred. The word transferred is important. There are many ways to transfer something and one way is through contract. An unalienable right cannot be transferred through a contract because it is unalienable from the individual who possesses them. This is a political significant. This is Lockean. The citizen of a nation can make a social contract or compact with the government but not to contract away their unalienable rights. Rather, the citizen can made a contract with the government only that the government protect the individual’s unalienable rights which they do not have the authority to give nor the government the authority to take away.

Now, you might be asking what in the world is this all about? First, this discussion means nothing to groups 1 and 2. Group 3 is different. Each group within this group chooses the word they do to signify the political theory and structure they espouse.

Inalienable: The use of inalienable means the individual believes in Hobb’s political theory and that each individual ought to contract away their rights to a single sovereign who can never be questioned or removed. Tyranny.

Unalienable: The use of unalienable means the individual believes in Lockean political theory and that each individual in a society ought to contract with the government to protect their unalienable rights. The people are sovereign.

Please listen to our present President:

Obama’s use of this one word tells us everything we need to know about him. He is a Hobbesian who believes every American ought to contract away their rights to a single sovereign, no doubt himself. The sovereign cannot be removed nor questioned but has absolute authority to govern because the people voluntarily contracted their rights to him for him to govern. Hobbesian political theory is the basis for every modern tyranny.

Just some thoughts.

1) Unalienable/Inalienable, http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/unalienable.htm
2) Center For Civic Education, From the Declaration of Independence, http://new.civiced.org/resources/curriculum/911-and-the-constitution/terms-to-know

  1. Mark Pitrone says:

    Unalienable, pronounced un-a-leen-able = noone may place any encumbrance on your rights, as a contractor may place a lien against your house if you refuse to pay a bill for his services.

    Inalienable, pronounced in-ay-lee-en-able = noone may alienate you from your rights, may not take them awayh.

    Both are true, but unalienable is a stronger guarantee that assumes inalienable rights, which also may not be in any way be encumbered, abridged or infringed. What our present day political system is trying to do is lay as many encumbrances as they can against our rights without specifically depriving us of them. Our present political system is engaging in deception in everything it does.

  2. UNalienable rights are from god/nature and cannot be removed – INalienable rights are from man/govt. and can be removed.
    That is a distinction the Founders were aware of and intended at the time. Jefferson had written INalienable in his original draft which was corrected to UNalienable in the other drafts.
    Tom Lingenfelter, discoverer of the only true copy of the Original Declaration of Independence.
    see http://www.Heritagecs.com

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