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Saturday, January 08, 2005

Our Most Important Constitutional Right

The War of Independence was fought to preserve private property rights.

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Nancie G. Marzulla is president of Defenders of Property Rights. Her opinion piece in The Washington Times describes a Federal government that operates as heavy-handedly and arbitrarily as did George III and Parliament in the years leading up to 1776.  Protecting property rights describes a blatant Federal attempt to ignore the Fifth Amendment’s guaranty of property rights. 

The case can be made that, of all our rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights, private property rights are the most important.  People who are secure in their own property can maintain their rights to free speech and other aspects of constitutional government.  People in a collectivized, socialistic government lose the will and the ability to fight for their rights.  They slowly sink into dependence upon the political state, the torpor that we saw as the Soviet Union collapsed. 

Our citizens once stood proudly on their own feet while the United States became the industrial colossus of the world.  After three-quarters of a century living under socialism, we now believe that individuals are not capable of making investment decisions for themselves or providing for their own care.  We save nothing and expect the Federal government to take care of us in every aspect of our lives.

Tensions between the colonial governments and the British administrations mounted from around 1761 until the issue was cast by the Declaration of Independence in 1776.  There were many usurpations of colonial rights, but most of them arose in connection with property rights. 

The rights of private property were the defining characteristic of England that set her apart from all other nations.  Those rights were the foundation of the unique individualism of English people, an individualism that took firm root in the colonies.

England’s revolts against the autocratic Stuart kings Charles I and James II had much to do with their arbitrary taxes and seizures of private property.  The English Bill of Rights adopted by Parliament in 1689 after the bloodless deposition of James II begins:

* Whereas the late King James the Second, by the assistance of divers evil counsellors, judges and ministers employed by him, did endeavour to subvert and extirpate the Protestant religion and the laws and liberties of this kingdom;
* By assuming and exercising a power of dispensing with and suspending of laws and the execution of laws without consent of Parliament; By committing and prosecuting divers worthy prelates for humbly petitioning to be excused from concurring to the said assumed power;
* By issuing and causing to be executed a commission under the great seal for erecting a court called the Court of Commissioners for Ecclesiastical Causes;
* By levying money for and to the use of the Crown by pretence of prerogative for other time and in other manner than the same was granted by Parliament;

John Locke’s famous “Second Treatise of Civil Government,” written the same year, puts a firm philosophical base under the revolt against James II.  People, he wrote, voluntarily formed civil governments for their mutual benefit, most fundamentally for the protection of their lives, their personal liberties, and their private property.  Those fundamental liberties were called natural law rights, and any sovereign who arbitrarily infringed upon them without the people’s consent thereby forfeited his right to rule.

Locke?s enormous influence on American thinking is shown by Samuel Adams, who wrote in 1771, as friction between the colonies and England increased:
?Mr. Locke has often been quoted in the present dispute?and very much to our purpose.  His reasoning is so forcible, that no one has ever attempted to confute it.  He holds that ?the preservation of property is the end of government, and that for which men enter into society.  ?? says he, it is a mistake to think that the supreme power of any commonwealth can dispose of the estates of the subject arbitrarily, or take any part of them at pleasure.  The prince or the senate can never have a power to take to themselves the whole or any part of the subject?s property without their own consent: for this would be in effect to have no property at all.? ? This is the reasoning of that great and good man.  And is not our own case exactly described by him??

Since 1933, when President Franklin Roosevelt imposed a socialistic government upon the nation, Federal courts have steadily demoted the Fifth Amendment’s property rights to subordinate status.  Private property, after all, is a no-no in a good socialized government.  We must forget about individual initiative and look to the Great Secular Father in Washington.

If we allow this to continue, we will have abandoned the fundamental cause for which the colonists fought the War of Independence.