What do you consider the most important inalienable right listed in the Declaration? Why?Identify and explain what you consider to be Jeffersion's strongest arguement for freedom from The...

What do you consider the most important inalienable right listed in the Declaration? Why?

Identify and explain what you consider to be Jeffersion's strongest arguement for freedom from The Declaration of Independence.

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timbrady eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.


I believe that the key idea from the Declaration is that our rights are "endowed by [our] Creator."  They are not given to us by our government; the tendency of government is to take these rights away, and the founding fathers were only too aware of this tendency.

If we not longer attribute these rights as coming from God, then our only hope of maintaining them is "constant vigilance."

Here are some of hundreds of quotes that express the importance of working to maintain these rights:

"Voting is no substitute for the eternal vigilance that every friend of freedom must demonstrate towards government.   If our freedom is to survive, Americans must become far better informed of the dangers from Washington -- regardless of who wins the Presidency." -- James Bovard in Voting is Overrated

"If we become a people who are willing to give up our money and our freedom in exchange for rhetoric and promises, then nothing can save us." -- Thomas Sowell

"A people may prefer a free government, but if, from indolence, or carelessness, or cowardice, or want of public spirit, they are unequal to the exertions necessary for preserving it; if they will not fight for it when it is directly attacked; if they can be deluded by the artifices used to cheat them out of it; if by momentary discouragement, or temporary panic, or a fit of enthusiasm for an individual, they can be induced to lay their liberties at the feet even of a great man, or trust him with powers which enable him to subvert their institutions; in all these cases they are more or less unfit for liberty: and though it may be for their good to have had it even for a short time, they are unlikely long to enjoy it." -- John Stuart Mill, Representative Government, 1861

"The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.  Jefferson

Read many more at http://freedomkeys.com/vigil.htm




dbello eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When Thomas Jefferson drafted The Declaration of Independence he drew from the 17th and 18th century political philosophies of John Locke, Rosseau, and Montesquieu. Jefferson was an enlightened thinker, which for him meant that humanity was essentially 'good'. That man had the capacity to govern himself, if given the chance. Most enlightened thinkers of the period believed that man's degregated state was the result of years of oppressing the human spirit, either by the church or monarchy. Having said that, Jefferson's 'inalienable rights' are a testament to his belief system. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness do not come from the king or the church, those rights come from something even 'higher'. Jefferson did not separate them, for they cannot be separated.

I agree with Jefferson's argument that the inalienable rights (not to be confused with First Amendment protectings under  the Bill of Rights, which are not inalienable and can be restricted by government) are one in the same. Life in and of itself is entitled to liberty, otherwise known as freedom, and liberty allows humanity to pursue happiness, without interference by the government. However, it does not give people the right to hurt others in their pursuit.  Jefferson's perspective has had its share of attack. For example, often labeled as a hypocrite many feel that he simply did not 'practice what he preached'. I do not completely agree with this argument because it omits Jefferson's reality which included many elitest attitudes and because it just signs off on very complex issues, too many to list here.  Remember, even the philsophers are human beings and human beings are not without fault.

lhc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I've seen Romanticism referred to as the American version of the European Renaissance, which is typically referred to as a rebirth of sorts of the classical principles of ancient Rome and Greece.  Our nation also tends to view democratic principles as being rooted in the world of the ancient Greeks especially (and this influence can be seen in the Greek Revival architecture that dominates our courthouses, public office buildings, libraries, and homes, particularly on the East Coast).  So that being said, it leaves me to wonder if perhaps democratic principles came to us in a myriad of ways.  One way of course would be in the English tradition of the Mayflower Compact, and even back through English history to the Magna Carta.  Another way would be through the words of the writers of the Romantic period, with the same emphasis on the individual that the European Renaissance embraced when it brought the best of the classical world back to the forefront.  And here's an interesting thought:  the French Revolution took place a few years after the American Revolution, but the French were front and center during the European Renaissance even as the first Anglo-Saxons were setting foot on North American soil.  It seems like a revolution might have been occurred in France first,  since they kind of had a head start on this new world of ideas. 

enotechris eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Since Rights are considered inalienable and innumerable, the most important Right is the one that applies Right now!

The Declaration broadly stated that humans by birth have rights, and it wisely did not attempt to enumerate them, but stating that among the innumerable, are life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.  To preserve such rights, governments are formed.  One right cannot be more important than another; the exercise of a given right (freedom!) at a particular time may be more advantageous than exercising some other right --If someone threatens my life, the most important right at that time is to self-defend.  If someone disagrees with a statement, the most important right at that time is to rebut.  None are more fundamental or necessary than another.  None can be rationed nor restricted by any entity.  However, the exercise of Rights, which is freedom, may be restricted if that exercise impinges on the Rights of another individual. All good laws recognize this; bad ones ignore it.  And the purpose of government is to safeguard Rights, regardless of what they are.

Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Thanks to dbello and akannan.

The concept of "inalienable rights" as those coming from God or a higher power certainly lies at the heart of democratic philosophy. Big difference between God gives English monarchs the right to rule vs. God gives man the right to govern himself. I've always thought that the American Revolution was the political expression of the Romantic movement with its emphasis on the individual. The Romantic movement later informed many areas of human expression--art, architecture, literature, music, even gardening!--and the principles of democracy seem rooted in Romanticism, as well. Any thoughts on this?

akannan, we did hear the same discussion and it was the word "fundamental" that was used. So, if the Bill of Rights listed certain specific rights the government was not to infringe upon, wouldn't each one then be considered a fundamental right under the Constitution? If they weren't intended to be inalienable rights or fundamental rights, then what did the framers intend them to be?

Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Declaration says we have "certain unalienable rights," but only lists three of them specifically--"life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." They are "among" the others that are not spelled out. So, if it comes down to these three, I would choose the pursuit of happiness, since it cannot be exercised without life and liberty.

This leads me to wonder about something I learned during Judge Sotomayor's confirmation hearings last week in reference to the Bill of Rights. I had always believed that the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution in order to state specifically what the other "unalienable rights" were. During the hearings, however, one discussion focused on the Bill of Rights, and the point was made that the Supreme Court in past decisions had recognized some rights listed in the Bill of Rights as being "unalienable," but had not granted that distinction to others. What? This is new, I thought--and disturbing. Am I the only one who heard this discussion?

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that Jefferson's major argument, and most compelling, would be his second section of the Declaration which talks about "Grievances Against the King."  In this section, he lists in a very methodical and thorough manner the multiple violations of the Colonists' Economic and Political rights.  In progressing through this section, it becomes painfully evident that the relationship between England and the Colonists has become so fraught with violations of trust and autonomy, that declaring independence is the only way to redress such committed wrongs.  Jefferson's strength was that he presented the case for Independence in the document in a logical and almost philosophical proof- like format.  In doing this, he made nearly every colonist who read it understand that Declaring and Gaining Independence were not actions of irrationality, but rather logical extensions of a state of affairs that become untenable for the Colonists.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In response to the post regarding Sotomayor's  confirmation hearings, I might have heard the same thing, or I heard something different.  What I heard was a discussion on gun rights and whether or not the ability to own a gun was considered a "fundamental" right in the Constitution.  I read this discussion of what is "fundamental" as something that lay outside the realm of intrusive policy regulation.  This might have been similar to what you heard, but I heard the discussion revolve around this word "fundamental" as opposed to "inalienable."  Either way, I think it is an interesting discussion as to which rights the Constitution, and Jefferson in his Declaration, might have assigned primacy.

marilynn07 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I believe that the most important inalienable right is freedom of speech and the freedom of the press to publish news and opinions whether they agree or disagree with the current administration's viewpoints or not. The ability to discuss openly ideas regarding government or the policies that the administration passes certainly lend credence to the idea of government for the people by the people.  Only an informed electorate can be self-governing, and without a free press, the only information that the population knows is what they are spoon-fed by the government.

drmonica eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Among the three inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, I consider the right to life to be paramount. The right to life protects one from birth to the grave and ensures that eugenics will never take root in the United States as public policy. Euthanasia of the sick and elderly will likewise be prevented as a result of the inalienable right to life.  I don’t agree that the right to life extends in reverse into the womb in the same fashion.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have to agree with the freedom of speech and the press.  Without these, we as a people can not publically disagree with or call out flaws in the plans our government and other citizens are trying to implement.  I can not imagine living in a country where people are afraid to think, much less speak out against public figures and/or government.