Thursday, March 12th, 2009 | Author:

This post is part of the Favorite Founders’ Quote Friday meme. Go to Meet the Founding Fathers to see who else has participated.

With this post, I continue my line-by-line examination of the most famous part of the Declaration of Independence.

In the first post I looked at the phrase, We hold these truths to be self-evident. I established that relative moralism, which declares that no universal standard exists to judge right or wrong, is a lie that many Americans have been taught and have believed. In contrast, ethical positions do not change, but are self-evident in that we instinctively recognize injustice and abuse of power.

Last week, I examined the phrase that all men are created equal, concluding that to “create” means to bring into existence, and equal in this case doesn’t mean size or ability or morals or accomplishments or station in life, but instead refers to an individual’s inherent value or worth. I restated the phrase this way: all men are brought into existence having equal worth.

Today we look at the next phrase:

that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights

I’ve again gone back to Webster’s 1828 dictionary to try to get the sense of what the founder’s meant with this words. Endow means to “enrich or furnish with any gift.” Creator, which is capitalized, is the One who brings into existence.

Unalienable, with the root word “lien”, refers to property that may have a lien placed against it, that may be sold or transferred to another; as, land is alienable according to the laws of the state. In this sense, then, unalienable, means that these rights are not transferable, and may not be sold or have a lien placed against them.

Right has its basis in the “law or will of God” and conforms to the standard of truth and justice. It does not mean, as when someone declares, “I have my rights,” that we can do whatever it is we want to do. It means that we can do that which is “in accordance with what is good, proper, or just.”

Taking all these definitions into account, I’ll restate an “amplified” phrase:

that all men are freely given gifts by the One who brought them into existence, which are based on the law or will of God and conform to truth and justice, and may not be transferred or have any legal claims placed against them

Next week, I’ll finish defining the Declaration, and then I’m going to ask you for commentary on what it means to us today, and how it should be applied. Start thinking!

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.

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One Response
  1. Hercules Mulligan says:

    Great post, Jean! I like the way you are expanding on the preamble; it’s really enlightening. I think it is especially important to interpret the key words in light of their actual meaning, and not just modern perception.

    Until next week, I’ll be wearing my thinking cap! :)

    Happy FFQF. Thanks for participating!