What Are Unalienable Rights?

Equal rights poster
The Declaration of Independence enshrines a set of rights that are defined as unalienable.
Last modified: January 24, 2023

Included within the Declaration of Independence are a specific set of rights defined as unalienable.

What is the definition of unalienable rights?

These are rights that, no matter what happens, may never be taken away from an individual

What is the difference between unalienable rights and inalienable rights?

 They mean exactly the same thing. However, the two words are usually used in different contexts. Unalienable rights are used when referencing the United States. Inalienable rights are used when discussing the United Nations and many European countries.

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence in 1775. Part of this important document is the term “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Over the years, this portion of the declaration has been the center of countless debates because, beyond those terms, the declaration provides no further details of its meaning.

Thomas Jefferson

Although Thomas Jefferson was the third President of the United States, he also played an integral part as a Founding Father of the nation.

At 33, he was the youngest delegate at the Continental Congress, but he was also responsible for drafting the Declaration of Independence.

Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence.

The thirteen original colonies were tired of British Imperial rule under King George. Eventually, war broke out between the colonies and the British government in what is now known as the American Revolution.

The colonies desired to formally declare independence from Britain, so in 1775, Thomas Jefferson sat down and began drafting the nation’s Declaration of Independence.

He was an eloquent statesman, well educated, and therefore chose his words carefully. The idea of the sanctity of one’s individual rights inspired him to identify three unalienable rights.

The Declaration of Independence

Once his declaration draft had been completed, Thomas Jefferson presented it to the Second Continental Congress.

On July 4, 1776, Thomas Jefferson, along with the other delegates of the Continental Congress, affixed their signatures to the document, formally declaring themselves free and independent of Great Britain.

It represented the first step in America’s independence as a sovereign nation. Ultimately, 56 statesmen signed the declaration.

They were the representatives of Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Delaware, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts Bay, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.

These individuals are now commonly referred to as the United States’ Founding Fathers. And the Declaration of Independence is one of the most reprinted documents in American history.

What Is The Right To Life?

The first unalienable right identified in the Declaration of Independence is the right to life. The right to life is a state of being. That is, you are either alive or dead. This does not just refer to physical life or death but also to a metaphorical idealism that one cannot fully live under the tyranny of an oppressive government.

Having been under the rule of Great Britain for more than 100 years, the Colonialists had grown weary of the concept of living merely to fulfill the purpose of the King. They wanted the right to be the masters of their own homes, their own life, and the world around them. Without the right to live as they see fit, one must consider himself to already be dead.

What Is Liberty?

The second unalienable right identified in the Declaration of Independence was the right to liberty. Under the King’s rule, the Colonialists were subject to the King’s laws and, therefore, the King’s tyrannical courts. Under this system of rule, the average person living within the thirteen colonies could never see true justice under natural law.

Portrait of King George III
King George III.

The concept of liberty refers to the idealism that one has the natural right to be free from tyranny. Freedom was not a concept that the commoner could enjoy under the rule of the British Crown. The King taxed just about everything that a colonialist needed to survive and merely enjoy life to its fullest.

Moreover, liberty is the right to equality. Not just equality in everyday life, but every aspect of life. This means that if accused of a crime, a person has the right to defend themselves. That concept of justice is that it is blind and that one is truly innocent until his accuser can prove otherwise.

What Is The Pursuit of Happiness?

The final unalienable right identified under the declaration was the human right to pursue happiness. Under the rule of the British Crown, a Colonialist did not have the luxury of pursuing his or her happiness. Rather, their every breath we spent devoted to a King who lived across a vast ocean.

This concept provides an individual with the power and authority to determine his or her fate. A person does not have to be someone or do anything in particular simply because the British Crown told them to. Rather, they have the right to choose their own path in life. They have the right to pursue their dreams and anything that would make their life more enjoyable.

The American Dream

The idea of the pursuit of happiness lives on even today. The concept of the American dream is based on this pursuit. This dream is the absolute belief that anyone living in the United States can reach for and achieve their own version of what they believe to be a success.

Photo of a Corvette
The American Dream is in the mind of the beholder.

Life under the British Crown meant that you were either endowed with wealth and power or nothing more than a mere peasant. Those born into a lowly class of life have no way of lifting themselves up the social ladder. In other words, those born poor died poor, and those born with wealth and power passed that wealth and power on to their heirs.

The American dream and the pursuit of happiness put an end to this way of life. A human being born to a poor family could work hard and achieve more in life than his parents before him. They could pursue their dreams, and with enough dedication, focus, and commitment to achieving those dreams, they could elevate themselves from a lowly status in life to a higher one.

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