Unalienable v. Inalienable


Black’s Law Dictionary (8th Edition; A.D. 2004), the definition of “inalienable” is:

“Not transferable or assignable. . . .  Also termed unalienable”. 

Black‘s 8th does not even define “unalienable” and would thus have us believe that the words “inalienable” and “unalienable” are synonymous. 

Black‘s 2nd (A.D. 1910) we’ll see that “inalienable” was defined as:

“Not subject to alienation; the characteristic of those things which cannot be bought or sold or transferred from one person to another such as rivers and public highways and certain personal rights; e.g., liberty.”

Black’s 2nd defines “unalienable” as:

“Incapable of being aliened, that is, sold and transferred.”

At a Glance

At first glance the two terms seem synonymous. However, while the word “inalienable” is not subject to alienation, the word “unalienable” is incapable of being aliened. The distinction between these two terms is this:

“Unalienable” is incapable of being aliened by anyone, including the man who holds something “unalienable”.  Thus, it is impossible for any individual to sell, transfer or otherwise dispose of an “unalienable Right”. It is impossible for you to take one of my unalienable rights.  It is likewise impossible for me to even voluntarily surrender, sell or transfer one of my “unalienable rights”.  Once I have something “unalienable,” it’s impossible for me to get rid of it.

That which is “inalienable,” on the other hand, is merely not subject to alienation.  Black’s 2nd does not declare that it’s absolutely impossible for that which is “inalienable” to be sold, transferred or assigned. Instead, “inalienable” merely means that “inalienable rights” are not subject to alienation by others. That is, no one can compel me to sell, abandon or transfer any of my “inalienable”rights. I am not subject or compelled to alienation by others.

But that leaves open the question of whether I am entitled to voluntarily and unilaterally sell, transfer, abandon or otherwise surrender that which is “inalienable”. Thus, while it is impossible for me to abandon, or for government to take, my unalienable rights, it is possible for me to voluntarily waive my “inalienable” rights. I strongly suspect that our gov-co presumes that our rights are at best “inalienable,” and that since we have not expressly claimed them, we could have and therefore must have waived them.

Bouvier’s Law Dictionary (A.D. 1856)

INALIENABLE - A word denoting the condition of those things the property in which cannot be lawfully transferred from one person to another. Public highways and rivers are inalienable. There are also many rights which are inalienable, as the rights of liberty or of speech.”

UNALIENABLE - Incapable of being transferred. Things which are not in commerce, as public roads, are in their nature unalienable. Some things are unalienable in consequence of particular provisions of the law forbidding their sale or transfer; as pensions granted by the government. The natural rights of life and liberty are unalienable."

Clearly, the words are not synonymous.  While “inalienable” rights can’t be lawfully transferred to another, they might nevertheless be waived by the holder or perhaps unlawfully (privately?) transferred to someone else. However, those rights which are “unalienable” are absolutely incapable of being transferred lawfully, unlawfully, administratively, privately or by implication or operation of law. That which you have, which is “unalienable,” is your wrists in an absolute sense that cannot possibly be discarded, transferred, sold, or otherwise abandoned.

Also, note that the word “unalienable” describes things which are not in commerce. However, it appears that those things which are “inalienable” could be in commerce. As you know, much of the trouble we have with the modern government is based on government’s claim of power to regulate all that is involved in interstate commerce. In so far, as you may be able to prove that any item or right you seek to use or exercise is “unalienable,” that item or right would be beyond the power of our government to regulate under interstate commerce.  You can see the power potential in “unalienable”.

Declaration of Independence

Most importantly, as declared in the Declaration of Independence, all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights. Our unalienable rights flow from who we deem our Creator to be and are not subject to man’s meddling. Bouvier’s agrees by defining “unalienable” as including our “natural” rights (which flow from “nature’s God”). 


Admittedly, both “inalienable” and “unalienable” are defined to include the concept of liberty. Thus, there is some confusion in the two definitions. Some things may be both “inalienable" and also “unalienable”

Nevertheless, the two terms are significantly different and virtually all of the real power will be found in the word “unalienable” rather than in the word “inalienable”. Those things which are “unalienable” are from God, outside of commerce, and impossible to alienate by external force or by personal consent.  

“Inalienable” offers no advantages as compared to “unalienable”“Inalienable” offers some possible disadvantages such as the possibility that you might be allowed to voluntarily waive whatever “inalienable” rights you possess.While there may be some confusion between the two terms, “unalienable” offers great and absolute power while “inalienable” is far weaker, more conditional, and subject to at least some alienation.