Often noted are the antiquated use of capital letters to emphasize important concepts—like Creator, Life, and Liberty—and the sexist use of the phrase “all men” to stand for “all people.” But why write unalienable when the most common form of the word is inalienable ?
Historians have pointed out that in a draft of the Declaration of Independence, its author Thomas Jefferson wrote “certain inherent and inalienable rights,” choosing to use alliteration. But Jefferson’s wording and spelling were later changed to “certain unalienable Rights.” To add to the apparent mystery, on a wall in the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., the phrase appears as “certain inalienable rights,” and inalienable is the spelling found in most modern quotations from the Declaration.
In one way, the solution to the puzzle is simple: until sometime in the 1830s, unalienable was the overwhelmingly preferred spelling. But since then, inalienable gradually replaced it. Today, were it not for our annual commemoration of the Declaration of Independence, the spelling unalienable would be all but forgotten.
In another way, the answer to the puzzle is less straightforward: it is evidence of the constantly competing and changing word forms found in English. There are many other examples of unruly rivalries involving the prefixes in- (from Latin) and un- (from Old and Middle English), both jostling for dominance in the formation of “not” compounds. For example, inarguable and unarguable have been fighting it out for well over a century. Although both forms are still in use, inarguable recently began to clearly edge out its rival. In contrast, unability may have once had its day, but it has virtually disappeared from English, bested by its rival, inability. (But we still prefer unable for the associated adjective.) Sometimes un- and in- have helped us create differences in meanings. For example, inhuman (in the sense of “cruel”) is contrasted with unhuman (in the sense of “not being human”). And inartistic (in the sense of referring to a person lacking artistic sense) is contrasted with unartistic (in the sense of referring to something not done artistically).
So the Fourth of July can also remind us that word forms in English are constantly changing and revitalizing the language.
Examples from the Web for unalienable
But as Coulter says, No one is claiming that the Constitution gives each person an unalienable right not to buy insurance.
He kidnaps a man endowed by his Creator with the unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Has any man an unalienable right to live a savage in the midst of civilization?Speeches, Addresses, and Occasional Sermons, Volume 2 (of 3)|Theodore Parker
The people never have separated themselves from those rights which our fathers had declared to be unalienable.The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, Vol. 1 (of 2)|Jefferson Davis
Was there any effectual mode of securing to Mr. Burns his natural and unalienable Right except the mode of forcible rescue?
Such estates go all to one person, and are in effect entailed and unalienable.