by Russell D. Longcore
I don’t think I’ve ever seen an expansive article about unalienable rights. We all seem to just refer to the Declaration of Independence and what Jefferson wrote, and then defer to it. But natural law and unalienable rights are where it all starts.
Thomas Jefferson wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain Unalienable Rights… Self-Evident. Obvious. Perhaps it was self-evident to the 18th Century common man, but I submit to you that the common 21st Century mind is not equally equipped. Much of the wisdom of the ages has been withheld from the modern man by the government schools. And why not? If you are a government, both tasked by The People to educate them and controlled by the same People, why teach generation after generation how to control you? Why not teach those generations how to be controlled? Self-evident truths bow to governmental self-preservation.
Building a tower requires building a firm foundation FIRST…or your tower goes over when the winds blow hard. Gentle readers, we’re in a CAT 5 hurricane right now that’s going to take down our American tower. If you do not have a working understanding of unalienable rights, you’ll likely fall for the next iteration of oppressive, tyrannical government foisted upon an uneducated populace who move their lips when they read. And if you don’t truly understand this philosophy, you cannot possibly teach it to your young.
Unalienable rights are also known as Natural Law or Absolute Rights. In this article these terms will be interchangeable. Also, the use of a male pronoun or the word “man” means all humans.
We begin with a definition of “Unalienable:”
"Unalienable: incapable of being alienated, that is, sold and transferred." Black's Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition, page 1523. One cannot sell, transfer or surrender unalienable rights. The Creator bestowed them on every individual. All human beings possess unalienable rights. Unalienable rights cannot be taken nor surrendered but they can be simply ignored. This is a little like the story Jesus told about the prodigal son. A recalcitrant son learns through tough lessons that he cannot escape his father’s love nor his rights as his father’s son.
But can we find natural human rights without a recognition of a Creator? Yes, without a doubt. What you’ll learn here about Natural Law dwells in the heart of every human being simply because he exists. The concept of Unalienable Rights is life-affirming whether or not you believe in a Higher Power, since the concept showcases the uniqueness of the human being in this world. Unalienable Rights are the highest form of humanness while at the same time the most elementary of man’s characteristics.
Unalienable or Inalienable?
There is a very serious error made throughout America as related to Unalienable Rights. That is, that many people use the term “Inalienable Rights” and think that the terms are interchangeable. But they are as different as night and day.
Inalienable Rights: Rights which are not capable of being surrendered or transferred without the consent of the one possessing such rights. Morrison v. State, Mo. App., 252 S.W.2d 97, 101.
Inalienable rights can be transferred, sold or surrendered if you give your consent. Inalienable rights are not bestowed by the Creator or inherent in humans. ”Persons” have inalienable rights, and the word “Person” is a legal term¹. Inalienable rights can be bestowed to persons by government, and can be likewise removed from persons by government. At times, government itself can be considered a “Person” in a legal sense. Most state constitutions recognize only inalienable rights.
Therefore, because we possess Unalienable Rights, endowed by our Creator, to secure these rights(not grant or create them), “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”² And the rights we bestow upon government are the Inalienable Rights that we all possess that can be transferred to other persons.
We’re going to build this like a pyramid, much like the Hierarchy of Needs developed by Professor Abraham Maslow, Ph.D. He placed the bedrock human needs as the base of the pyramid, these being the most fundamental needs upon which all others are built. Physiological needs are first, simple survival of the human body. Next up comes Safety, then Love, Esteem, then Self-actualization as the headstone.
I don’t have a cool graphic for Unalienable Rights, so you’ll just have to look at Maslow’s pyramid and use your imagination. It won’t be all that hard.
The Right of Life
When Thomas Jefferson wrote of “certain Unalienable Rights,” he placed them in the proper order, with Life being the first and most basic of all. This is the right to simply exist as a sentient being…one able to perceive sensations, a consciousness. Unalienable rights come into being at the moment that a human becomes a human. I do not mean when the individual becomes a viable human, capable of life outside the womb. Both sides of the abortion issue agree that a zygote…a human female egg fertilized by a male sperm…is human, and that every day after it becomes an embryo for about 270 days it is human. Our right to life means our right to express our humanness and to simply be alive. The opposite is the death of a human being. The right to life gets very complicated, since none of us were able to leave the womb and live without assistance, sustenance and support. An argument about embryonic viability here entirely misses the point, since even post-birth humans need daily care until at least age 5 (or 10) or they will likely die. So along with our own innate right to life, we acknowledge our responsibility to assist other human life to exist and express itself. Maslow pointed to the need of breathing, food, water, sleep, sex, homeostasis and excretion…all part of maintaining life, and without any one of those needs, life would eventually stop. Note here that the right of life is seldom exercised individually, but is inextricably tied to the lives of others.
Right of Personal Security
The next step up the Unalienable Rights pyramid is the right to protect one’s very life and bodily existence. And by acknowledging the duties we have to others to whom we give life…our progeny…we extend the right to protect their lives also. Personal security first means that our bodies are safe from harm. That security encompasses both protection by others while we are unable to secure our own safety and protecting ourselves and our loved ones after we become capable of assuring our own safety. Note here that the right of personal security is seldom exercised individually, but is inextricably tied to the safety of others. The Second Amendment has its foundation in this unalienable human right, relying upon it to secure a free state through the use of a militia. The Second Amendment is not the “right” to keep and bear arms. It is the restriction on Congress to violate the Unalienable Right of Personal Security. Both the 4th, 5th and 14th Amendments were supposed to secure this Right.
The Right of Labor
The first manifestation of the greater Right of Property is found in the Right of Labor. Every human being owns the work of his own mind and hands, and any hindrance to his employing his mental and physical ability in whatever method he thinks proper, without causing injury to another individual, would be a violation of the Right of Labor. This right will be found in Maslow’s Safety block.
Right to Acquire and Enjoy Property
“Without property rights, no other rights are possible. Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life. The man who produces while others dispose of his product is a slave.” Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness
This Right touches all of the other Unalienable Rights. First, a human fully possesses his own body, and may do with it what he pleases, as long as his choices do not violate the property rights of another human. Next, man owns his labor and may use his labor for his own subsistence. He may use his labor as an expression of value or a medium of exchange, and may freely exchange that value to acquire property. Then he may have quiet enjoyment of his property according to any manner that best reflects his happiness. Property may take the form of physical assets, but may also be less tangible assets like intellectual property. Property rights mean ownership and control, which includes the right to use an asset as well as the right to prohibit others from using the asset. Property rights also allow the owner to determine the value of an asset, and to even destroy an asset if he so chooses. The only restriction on the Unalienable Right of Property is that it does not infringe upon the Unalienable Rights of others.
As John Locke stated in The Second Treatise on Government (1690) “The great and chief end therefore of men uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of property.” What man would willingly join a society that did not protect his enjoyment of the fruits of his own labor?
In The Wealth of Nations (1776), Adam Smith states that “private property created a role for government in defending property (rights), and the existence of government created the security to stimulate the creation of new property.” Many today wonder why the economies of the nations are in such dreadful shape. But most governments around the world are undermining property rights, the very reason for their existence. When there is no predictability in the marketplace, and individuals are preyed upon by governments, the incentive for creating new property is diminished or altogether extinguished. Those still seeking to create new property will migrate to the governments that best protect property rights. That’s why capital is leaving America for foreign locations and will continue to do so.
Right to Contract
This Unalienable Right gives all individuals the liberty to voluntarily enter into contract with any other individual or group of individuals, so long as there is agreement as to the terms of the contract by all parties involved, and so long as the contractual agreement does not violate another individual’s Unalienable Rights. Therefore, in light of property rights, individuals may sell their labor to an employer at mutually agreeable terms. Individuals may profit from the disposition of other property by mutual agreement.
All Unalienable Rights preceded the establishment of governments. However, governments chafe mightily under this Right. In America, the years 1897 to 1937 were a 40-year period in which the US Supreme Court vigorously protected the Right to Contract. This period of time is called the “Lochner years,” referring to Lochner v. New York (1905). In Lochner, the High Court struck down a New York statute that set maximum working hours. Justice Rufus Peckham, writing for the majority, stated that the Due Process Clauses found in the 5th and 14th Amendments were stout enough to protect the Unalienable Right to Contract, and that the State of New York had no business restricting the hours that an employee and employer may agree to. After 1937, the Court has relentlessly attacked the Right to Contract, supporting laws like the minimum wage and child labor statutes. Most of the burdensome Federal regulations are attacks on the Right to Contract, since they require parties to contracts to perform acts that they would likely not agree to if given a choice.
Right of Free Speech
This is the freedom to speak freely, provided that your speech does not violate the free speech of other individuals. The Right of Free Speech is an absolute right, subject to no other restrictions than another individual’s Unalienable Rights. Naturally, your liberty to speak does not allow for libel, slander, fraud or falsehood. This is another Unalienable Right which governments despise, and most governments do not allow untrammeled free speech. And free speech may take many forms, such as spoken, written, printed and performed.
Right of Beliefs or Conscience
Individuals have an Unalienable Right to believe what they wish, to worship as their conscience dictates, or as a negative right, to not believe or not worship as their conscience dictates.
Right of Personal Liberty
The classical liberal (the good kind) concept of personal liberty is as a moral principle in which an individual is free to govern himself, his life and his property without outside compulsion, force or fraud, provided that his personal governance does not intrude upon or violate the liberty of another individual.
Right to the Pursuit of Happiness
“Striving to find meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man.” ~ Dr. Viktor Frankl, 1992
The Pursuit of Happiness provides the vehicle through which man can find life’s meaning.
The Pursuit of Happiness would be found on Maslow’s pyramid at the very top as a Self-Actualization need. But this Right encapsulates all the other Rights and cannot be accomplished until the other Unalienable Rights are in place and utilized. Your pursuit of happiness would be short-circuited if you do not enjoy the Rights to Life, Labor, Property, Contract, Belief and Liberty.
To understand how this phrase “the pursuit of happiness” found its way into the Declaration of Independence, you must know some background about Thomas Jefferson. He was strongly influenced by the Greek philosopher Epicurus, even referring to himself as an Epicurean. The teacher’s philosophy was simple: if you cultivated close friendships, limited your desires to the essential necessities of life, and rejoiced in the moment, happiness was yours to keep. Everything in moderation.
Think about a Being that creates humans, then endows them with Unalienable Rights simply because they are human, and the pinnacle of their Rights being the Right to the Pursuit of Happiness! Not its attainment, but the pursuit. The Creator is no cosmic Joker, playing a cynical game by creating a desire in the breast of each human being for happiness, but having no available tools to meet the desire. We are endowed with the desire, the ability and the Unalienable Rights necessary to live a life of purpose and meaning, and to pass on those purposes and those meanings to subsequent generations, all seeking the same outcomes.
Share this article with those you love. Then discuss it. Teach your children these lessons so they understand how the Creator meant for them to live. Understanding your Unalienable Rights will give you a reason to live, a gratefulness to your Creator, and true self-esteem based in reality.
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¹The Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson, 1776.
²PERSON. This word is applied to men, women and children, who are called natural persons. In law, man and person are not exactly synonymous terms. Any human being is a man, whether he be a member of society or not, whatever may be the rank he holds, or whatever may be his age, sex, &c. A person is a man considered according to the rank he holds in society, with all the rights to which the place he holds entitles him, and the duties which it imposes. 1 Bouv. Inst. n. 137.
2. It is also used to denote a corporation which is an artificial person. 1 Bl. Com. 123; 4 Bing. 669; C. 33 Eng. C. L R. 488; Woodes. Lect. 116; Bac. Us. 57; 1 Mod. 164.
3. But when the word "Persons" is spoken of in legislative acts, natural persons will be intended, unless something appear in the context to show that it applies to artificial persons. 1 Scam. R. 178.
4. Natural persons are divided into males, or men; and females or women. Men are capable of all kinds of engagements and functions, unless by reasons applying to particular individuals. Women cannot be appointed to any public office, nor perform any civil functions, except those which the law specially declares them capable of exercising. Civ. Code of Louis. art. 25.
5. They are also sometimes divided into free persons and slaves. Freemen are those who have preserved their natural liberty, that is to say, who have the right of doing what is not forbidden by the law. A slave is one who is in the power of a master to whom he belongs. Slaves are sometimes ranked not with persons but things. But sometimes they are considered as persons for example, a negro is in contemplation of law a person, so as to be capable of committing a riot in conjunction with white men. 1 Bay, 358. Vide Man.
6. Persons are also divided into citizens, (q.v.) and aliens, (q.v.) when viewed with regard to their political rights. When they are considered in relation to their civil rights, they are living or civilly dead; vide Civil Death; outlaws; and infamous persons.
7. Persons are divided into legitimates and bastards, when examined as to their rights by birth.
8. When viewed in their domestic relations, they are divided into parents and children; husbands and wives; guardians and wards; and masters and servants son, as it is understood in law, see 1 Toull. n. 168; 1 Bouv. Inst. n. 1890, note.
A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
DumpDC. Six Letters That Can Change History.
© Copyright 2011, Russell D. Longcore. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.