on Property

prop·er·ty: noun a) something owned or possessed; b) the exclusive right to possess, enjoy, and dispose of a thing, see ownership c) something to which a person or business has a legal title ~ from the online Mirriam-Webster Dictionary

Do you have a right to the property you own? Do you think that federal, local or state government has a right to take away your property or prevent your ownership of property if they think it is in your or the community’s best interest? How sacred is the right to own property? Well, our Founding Fathers considered it as one of the most basic forms of liberty, intertwined as one of the God-given rights of man. Fisher Ames, one of the Framers of the Bill of Rights, forcefully declared that “The chief duty and care of all governments is to protect the rights of property.” And John Dickinson, a signer of the Constitution, said: “Let these truths be indelibly impressed on our minds: (1) that we cannot be happy without being free; (2) that we cannot be free without being secure in our property; (3) that we cannot be secure in our property if without our consent others may as by right take it away.” Yet, ordinances, laws and court decisions are slowly eroding away this basic right, in favor of things the government defines as a better use, or better owner, of said property. For what reasons do you think government should be allowed to take away your property?

For some, they believe that it should be done to promote equality. Yet our 2nd President, John Adams said: “The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If ‘Thou shalt not covet’ and ‘Thou shalt not steal’ were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society before it can be civilized or made free”. According to him, if the right to property was not considered sacred, then liberty would not exist. There was no biblical basis or legal justification to forcefully take away another’s property (or income) in order to benefit another.

For others, they believe that it should be done in order to protect society. Yet William Blackstone, an English jurist whose legal writings were considered the final authority in American courts for a century and a half after the adoption of the U.S. Constitution said: So great moreover is the regard of the law for private property that it will not authorize the least violation of it – no, not even for the general good of the whole community”. And Charles Montesquieu, whose writings were recommended by major Founders like James Madison, John Adams, and Alexander Hamilton, declared: “Let us therefore lay down a certain maxim: that whenever the public good happens to be the matter in question, it is not for the advantage of the public to deprive an individual of his property – or even to retrench the least part of it by a law or a political regulation.” And further, James Madison, the 4th President of the United States, declared that: “Government is instituted to protect property. . . . This being the end of government, that alone is a just government which impartially secures to every man whatever is his own. . . . That is not a just government, nor is property secure under it, where arbitrary restrictions, exemptions, and monopolies deny to part of its citizens that free use of their [own] faculties”

And of course there are those who generally believe that the government always knows best, about everything, including how to use your (or even the public’s) property. Adam Smith, a famous economist from the Founding era,  predicted that this restrictive view on private property rights might take hold, even in a nation built on the idea that the right to property came from the Creator. He forewarned that:  “As soon as the land of any country has all become private property, the landlords [e.g., the governments], like all other men, love to reap where they never sowed, and demand a rent even for its natural produce”.

You may be surprised to learn that early American public school ethics textbooks used to teach the original Founders’ first principles on property rights, telling the students thus: “Property is something which one owns and has a right to own. . . . Everything which you see or touch belongs to you or to somebody else. If it belongs to you, you have the right to do what you please with it, provided you do not abuse it: if it belongs to somebody else, you have no right to it whatever.” (Notice that there was not an exemption given to government, for either private or public-owned property). So, do you feel that all our leaders still believe in this early ethics textbook’s simple definition of property rights?

“The protection of life, liberty, and property is the principal object of law and government. Could these be preserved without government, there would be no need of laws. These blessings are so inseparably connected, that one cannot be fully enjoyed without the rest.” Excerpt from an Election Sermon, delivered to the New Hampshire House of Representatives, by Rev. William Morison, June 7th, 1792.

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