The 28 Principles of Liberty: Principle 14
“Life and Liberty are Secure Only so Long as the Right to Property is Secure”
Under English common law, significance was attached to the unalienable right of possessing, developing and disposing of property. Land and the products from it were considered gifts from God, and were to be cultivated, beautified, and brought under dominion. Psalm 115:16 says, “…Even the heavens are the Lord’s: but the earth hath he given to the children of men.”
John Locke pointed out that the human family originally was given the earth as a common gift and they were given the capacity and responsibility to improve it. Locke said, “God, who hath given the world to men in common, hath also given them reason to make use of it to the best advantage of life and convenience.” He also pointed out that men were commanded to subdue it and have dominion over it in Genesis 1:28.
Since dominion means control, and control requires exclusiveness, private property rights became an inherent aspect of being able to subdue the earth and bring it under dominion. Without private individual property rights, it would have been completely legal for someone to come and take the property that another had cultivated, taking the fruits of their labor. And even then, without property rights, someone stronger then he could come and take the property from him.
If there were no property rights, four things would occur, that would frustrate the Creator’s command to multiply and replenish the earth and subdue it, bring it under dominion.
If the example above occurred, then it would completely destroy the incentive of an industrious person to develop and improve more property.
The industrious person would also be robbed of the fruits of his labor. This would also encourage bands of robbers to be tempted to go around the country and confiscate by force and violence all the good things that others had painstakingly and frugally acquired.
Until finally leaving men to exist on a level of hand -to -mouth survival because if they had gained any property of significance, they would be robbed.
Locke also pointed out the fact that property is an extension of a person’s life, energy, and ingenuity. So, to destroy or confiscate such property is to literally attack the life of that individual. When an individual has cultivated a farm, created a thing of beauty, or secured a wage for their labor, they have literally projected their very being, the very essence of their being, the very essence of their life into that labor. The work of our hands and the labor of our bodies belong to us.
Locke also brings up an important question, If all things were originally enjoyed in common with the rest of humanity, would and individual have to get the permission of every other person on earth before he could call certain things his own? Locke has said, “That Labour … added something to them (the acorns or apples) more than Nature, the common mother of all, had done, and so they became his private right. And will any one say he had no right to those acorns or apples he thus appropriated because he had not consent of all mankind to make them his? If such consent as that was necessary, the man would have starved, notwithstanding the plenty God had given him….It is the taking any part of what is common, and removing it out of the state Nature leaves it in, which begins the property, without which the common gift of God is of no use. Thus this law of reason makes the deer that property of the Indian that hath killed it; it is allowed to be his goods who hath bestowed his labor upon it, though, before it was the common right of every one.”
It is important to recognize that common law doesn’t make property sacred, but only the right which someone has acquired in that property. Justice George Sutherland of the U.S. Supreme Court once told the New York State Bar Association:
“It is not the right of property that is protected, but the right to property. Property, per se, has no rights; but the individual, the man, has three great rights, equally sacred from arbitrary interference: the right to his life, the right to his liberty, the right to his property. These three rights are so bound together as to be essentially one right. To give a man his life but deny him his liberty, is to take from him all that makes his life worth living. To give him his liberty but take from him the property which is the fruit and badge of his liberty is to still leave him a slave.”
Abraham Lincoln also said, “Property is the fruit of labor. Property is desirable, is a positive good in the world. That some should be rich shows that others may become rich and hence is just encouragement to industry and enterprise. Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another, but let him work diligently to build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence…I take it that it is best for all to leave each man free to acquire property as fast as he can. Some will get wealthy. I don’t believe in a law to prevent a man from getting rich; it would do more harm than good.”
Early American colonists have much to say on this topic because it was a critical issue leading to the Revolutionary War. The effort of the Crown to take their property through various kinds of taxation without their consent was denounced as a violation of the English constitution and English common law. They often quoted John Locke, “The supreme power cannot take from any man any part of his property without his own consent. For the preservation of property being the end of government, and that for which men enter into society, it necessarily supposes and requires that the people should have property, without which they must be supposed to lose that property by entering society, which was the end for which they entered into it.”
John Adams saw private property as the most important single foundation stone undergirding human liberty and human happiness. He 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. PROPERTY MUST BE SECURED OR LIBERTY CANNOT EXIST.”
As we have pointed out earlier, one of the worst sins of government, according to the founders, was the exercise of its coercive taxing powers to take property from one group and give it to another. In our own day, when the government has imposed upon us a multiple trillion dollar budget with a portion of it directly coming from “transfer payments” from the tax paying public to the wards of the government, the following words from James Madison may sound strange:
“Government is instituted to protect property of every sort…This being the end of government, which alone is not a just government, nor is property secure under it, where the property which a man has in his personal safety and personal liberty is violated by arbitrary seizures of one class of citizens for the service of the rest.”
In the early years of the American courts it was held unlawful to take property from one group and transfer it to another and completely outside the constitutional power delegated to the government. It was not until 1936, that the Supreme Court began to distort the meaning of the general welfare clause and started to permit the distribution of federal bounties for the poor and the needy. Before this time, it was completely prohibited.
The Supreme Court had declared, “No man would become a member of a community in which he could not enjoy the fruits of his honest labor and industry. The preservation of property, then, is a primary object of the social compact… The legislature, therefore, had no authority to make an act divesting once citizen of his freehold, and vesting it in another, without a just compensation. It is inconsistent with the principles of reason, justice and moral rectitude; it is incompatible with the comfort, peace and happiness of mankind; it is contrary to the principles of social alliance in every free government; and lastly it is contrary to the letter and spirit of the Constitution.”
Dr. Ludwig von Mises made this observation, “If history could prove and teach us anything, it would be the private ownership of the means of production as a necessary requisite of civilization and material well-being. All civilizations have up to now been based on private property. Only nations committed to the principle of private property have risen above penury and produced science, art and literature. There is no experience to show that any other social system could provide mankind with any of the achievements of civilization.”
A question yet remains, if it corrupts a society for the government to take care of the poor by violating the principle of property rights, who will take care of the poor? The answer of those who built America seems to be “Anybody BUT the federal government.”
Americans have never tolerated the suffering and starvation which has plagued the rest of the world, but until the last generation help was given almost exclusively by the private sector or on a community or state level. In his day, President Grover Cleveland vetoed legislation designed to spend federal taxes on private welfare problems. He stated that there was no warrant for such an appropriation to be found in the Constitution and that government should not be in the position to extend itself to the relief of individual suffering, which is not related to public service or benefit. He felt that this type of expansion needed to be resisted that the lesson be enforced that “Though the people support the government the government should not support the people.” He mentioned that friendliness and charity always came through fellow-citizens. Creating systems like this he said, would weaken our national character.
The 28 Principles of Liberty are adapted by Charity Angel from W. Cleon Skousen's book "The 5000 Year Leap" and are sponsored by Fragrant Smoke, your place for incense and incense burners.