Skip to comments.THOSE UNALIENABLE RIGHTS
Posted on 02/22/2003 10:39:59 AM PST by forest
When he wrote the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson took a little editorial liberty with the phrase "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Consequently, if we modern Americans are to fully understand our own personal rights and liberties, this requires a little explanation.
Back in the days of the Founding Fathers, every family was said to have two well studied books in their library. The most important best seller around 1775, of course, was "The Bible." The second best seller in the Colonies was "Blackstone's Commentaries on The Law," then a new three volume set on English common law.
For the Founding Fathers, "Blackstone's Commentaries" was the law book of the day. Of course, the writings of John Locke and others were freely quoted too. But, they were theory. "Blackstone's" was an accurately written description of our Common Law. Since then, "Blackstone's Commentaries" has been used for over two-hundred years in every English speaking law school in the world. Even today, a well read copy of "Blackstone's" can be found in any American law library.
Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin all studied "Blackstone's" at length, as did all of the Founders. That is very obvious in their writings. They quote and paraphrase the text extensively.
So, it is no surprise that the phrase written by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence originated in Chapter One of Book One of Blackstone's, titled "Absolute Rights of Individuals." Blackstone describes the absolute rights of individuals as being our right to life, liberty and property. Jefferson took the editorial liberty of changing "property" to "pursuit of happiness," knowing full well that all Colonial Americans would understand exactly what was meant.
It is us, today's Americans, who seem to have a problem with that meaning. We Americans have lost the concept of true freedom because we no longer know exactly what our rights are. In today's United States, the word "rights" has been corrupted so completely that few Americans any longer know the difference between the terms procedural rights and civil rights, and our unalienable rights and liberties. However, the basics can be learned in less than a minute, so let's examine a little of Blackstone's original text.
Sir William Blackstone defines our absolute rights as "those which are so in their primary and strictest sense; such as would belong to their persons merely in a state of nature, and which every man is entitled to enjoy, whether out of society or in it." These rights have also been called natural rights by some.
Blackstone then breaks these rights down into three basic categories:
LIFE -- The Right of Personal Security: "This right consists of a person's legal and uninterrupted enjoyment of his life, his limbs, his body, his health and his reputation." Herein can also be found your right of self defense.
LIBERTY -- The Right of Personal Liberty: "This consists in the power of locomotion, of changing situation, of moving one's person to whatever place one's own inclination may direct, without imprisonment or restraint, unless by course of law." We find this right protected, to a limited extent, within the body of our Constitution, and further guaranteed within the Bill of Rights.
PROPERTY -- The Right of Private Property: "This is the third absolute right, and consists in the free use, enjoyment and disposal by a man of all his acquisitions, without any control or diminution, save only by the laws of the land."
Our Founding Fathers called these absolute rights "unalienable" -- incapable of being given up, taken away, or transferred to another. In Jefferson's first draft of The Declaration of Independence, the word was conventionally spelled inalienable.
However, the newspaper editor among them, Benjamin Franklin, thought unalienable sounded stronger. And, as they say, the rest is history.
Thus, the protection of Life, Liberty and Property -- our natural, absolute and unalienable rights -- became the underlying reason our country was formed.
There is, of course, a caveat here: As members of society, we are also required to respect these rights in all others. Therefore, the most important reason we empower governments to make and enforce laws is to insure that everyone respects the rights of others.
Towards this end, the body of our Constitution was carefully crafted by the Founding Fathers to allow the central government only certain enumerated powers. Although it may not seem like it today -- with our hundreds of thousands of pages of imposing laws, rules and regulations -- the powers of the federal government were designed to be few, and the freedoms of citizens were intended to be many.
Because of the lack of vigilance on the part of the American public, this ratio of government powers to personal freedom has recently reversed. We can probably recoup many of our unalienable rights again. But folks, it's going to take some effort from all of us. Bureaucrats are not about to relinquish their control over us without a lot of kicking and screaming.
We Americans have lost the concept of true freedom because we no longer know exactly what our rights are.
The protection of Life, Liberty and Property -- our natural, absolute and unalienable rights -- became the underlying reason our country was formed. But we must constantly defend them.
The central government was designed to be minimal.
That is very important. Many people flat out refuse to understand this. They want to believe that these rights can be given up, taken way or transferred to another by a majority vote, or because some law making body says so. And some want to use the "States Rights" argument to support their claim. Unfortunately, this principle applies to all levels of government.
Yes. Unfortunately this was the instrument to enslave blacks and later protect "Jim Crow" laws. Too bad. "States Rights" could have been an excellent tool to keep the Federal Gov't. in check.
Those ARE our GOD-given rights, given to this nation to free the world. America has a reason it exists.
You beat me to it. Jefferson was so incensed by the changes the committees implemented, that when he wrote copies of the final version of the DoI, he wrote his original draft, with all the additions/corrections included.
Of course! And those rights are protected by the Constitution, or they were, until the courts upheld the right of illegtimate confiscation (my county earns a staggering sum from "seizures"). And I question how free we can be, with a US code that would take a lifetime to read and understand.
Webster's current definition of the word "right" includes "something that is due anybody by legal claim". So by definition, all rights are not unalienable. Also, all unalienable rights are not due by legal claim.
Anyway, using current defintions, the term "states rights" is correct.
Of course, the Declaration of Independence does say this. But one must ask are men truly created equal? And if they are only equal before God and the Law but not as too innate heritable ability then does this not imply the Declaration has made a simple, empirical falsehood in claiming equality?
Of course they had Bibles. But God has been worshipped for thousands of years without anyone finding a political system that guaranteed unalienable political rights. The Bible, I remind you, does not mention Lockian social contracts or democracy. Indeed, I am looking forward to the Kindom of God.
America is a nation. The preamble to the Declaration of Independence is not law. The Constitution of the United States is law. Office holders, including military officers, swear an allegiance to the Constitution not the ideals of the Declaration.
IMHO, America is only half ideologically driven. The other half is a people with a history before the Declaration and a history until such time as God decides. The type of our government evolved out of our experience and the experience of generations past (including Great Britain)and is only a part of our endowment that includes religious, ethical, historical and unrecorded experiences as a people.
In a word, I don't think we are an ideology but a nation; hence, it does not surprise me that other nations have great difficulty accepting both or values and political system.
That kind of explains it all.
The context of "all men are created equal" in the Declaration was unalienable rights. Heritable ability is not an unalienable right.
"Every man, and every body of men on earth, possesses the right of self-government. They receive it with their being from the hand of nature. Individuals exercise it by their single will; collections of men by that of their majority; for the law of the majority is the natural law of every society of men." --Thomas Jefferson
"That every power vested in a government is in its nature sovereign, and includes, by force of the term, a right to employ all the means requisite and fairly applicable to the attainment of the ends of such power, and which are not precluded by restrictions and exceptions specified in the Constitution, or not immoral, or not contrary to the essential ends of political society." -- Alexander Hamilton
"But the constitution of the United States has not left the right of Congress to employ the necessary means, for the execution of the powers conferred on the government, to general reasoning. To its enumeration of powers is added that of making 'all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this constitution, in the government of the United States, or in any department thereof.' " -- United States Supreme Court, McCulloch v. Maryland (1819)
I guess someone forgot to tell the Founding Fathers.