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Celebrating Unalienable Rights on the Fourth of July


This engraving depicts the scene on July 4, 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress.

The United States declared independence from Great Britain in 1776 to secure for all Americans their unalienable rights.

The United States declared independence from Great Britain in 1776 to secure for all Americans their unalienable rights. These rights include, but are not limited to, "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Thomas Jefferson, chief author of the Declaration of Independence, by using the word "unalienable," claimed two things about our human rights. First, these rights are not given to us by the government. We have them even if the government does not respect them. Second, we cannot cede these rights to the government even by our own consent. They cannot be taken away from us, and we cannot give them away.

Mr. Jefferson was careful to define our rights in this way because this definition justified a declaration of independence from Great Britain. Revolt, he argued, was lawful only if, "after a long train of abuses and usurpations," a government continued to refuse to respect and secure the rights of its citizens.

The Revolution was a last resort to Americans. They had to "provide new Guards for their future security" because of a government that not only exercised despotic power, but also "evince[d] a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism."

The 56 delegates who signed the Declaration of Independence did not take their duty lightly. They risked being charged with treason against the British government but recognized it to be necessary. Benjamin Franklin, the eldest signer of the Declaration, said, "We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we will hang separately." They were willing to risk their lives to preserve their unalienable rights. Only united could they succeed.

On this Fourth of July, we Americans celebrate our independence, and the heroism of the men and women who risked, and gave, their lives to secure our unalienable rights. We recognize that these rights are not unique to Americans, indeed, they belong to every human being. Thus on Independence Day, we celebrate not only our independence and our rights, but also the rights of all peoples throughout the world.

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