A Principle of The Traditional American Philosophy


10. Private Property--Liberty's Support

[Americans] ". . . are entitled to life, liberty and property . . ." (Declaration of Rights by First Continental Congress, 1774)

The Principle

1. The traditional American philosophy teaches that Man possesses the right to property as an indispensable support, the principal material support, of his God-given, unalienable rights (notably the right to Liberty) specified in the Declaration of Independence.

Part of Economic Liberty

2. This right to property is a main part of economic liberty, which is the inseparable and indispensable aspect of the indivisible whole of Individual Liberty, according to this philosophy. Without economic liberty, the other parts of Individual Liberty are lacking in material support and therefore, for practicable purposes, cannot be defended adequately or securely enjoyed enduringly. This right to property in any form--money or any other type--includes all aspects such as acquiring, using, possessing, protecting and disposing of it. Man's unalienable right to Life necessarily involves his derivative right to property, in support of his right to sustain his own life and the lives of his dependents; which requires, in part, acquiring and using food and various other kinds of property necessary to existence or conducive to full enjoyment of God-given, unalienable rights in varied and innumerable ways.

The Underlying Reason

3. The American philosophy teaches that the fact that Man is endowed by his Creator with the Right to be self-governing, as the Declaration of Independence proclaims, means implicitly that Man is also endowed with the capacity to reason and, therefore, with the capacity to be self-governing--under a system of Man-over-Government--for the better protection and enjoyment of his unalienable rights. This, in turn, means necessarily that Man is endowed with the capacity of being economically self-reliant and independent, without the need of being supported by his creature and tool: government. This is true because to be supported by government would mean to be subject to its control under a system of Government-over-Man; control inevitably accompanies subsidy. As part of his Divine endowment at birth, Man therefore possesses both the right and the capacity to manage his own economic affairs, including his own capability to work in order to support life and his rights in general by acquiring property (money or any other type), free from any degree of Government-over-Man control, directly or indirectly. Any contrary conclusion would inescapably, condemn Man to a birthright of servitude to government, which philosophy rejects as being inconsistent with Divine Creation. This philosophy also teaches that Man is entitled to enjoy this right and to exercise this capability without any interference by others than government as well. The foregoing is subject, of course, to due respect for the equal rights of others and for just laws expressive of "just powers" (to quote the term of the Declaration of Independence) designed to safeguard the equal rights of all Individuals.

The View of The Framers, per "The Federalist"

4. The American philosophy is clear and emphatic on the point that the surest way for Man to become economically dependent upon, and therefore subservient to, government is for it to control or possess his property, or to subsidize him. This is because of the truth stated in The Federalist (number 79, by Alexander Hamilton) that: "In the general course of human nature, a power over a man's subsistence amounts to a power over his will." (Emphasis Hamilton's) This truth is also commonly acknowledged in the maxim that "he who pays the piper calls the tune" and it applies especially to a person's income.

The Means of Self-defense

5. This is all the more true to the extent that government controls, or takes from him, his property--not only his current earnings, or income, but also his accumulated savings represented by his property in general. The more government controls or takes from him, and the less Man possesses and controls, the worse his plight in the face of Government-over-Man practices infringing his unalienable rights. This deprives him of the means of self-defense, of defense of his rights, against violations by government and by others. Lacking such means, his rights are always in danger of being violated or undermined with impunity by transgressors--either oppressive or usurping government officials, or covetously inclined persons who are disregardful of the limits on their own equal rights and are heedless of the duty factor of Individual Liberty-Responsibility, which requires them to respect the equal rights of others.

Property Needed for Defense of Man's Rights

6. According to the American philosophy, Man's purpose in creating governments is primarily "to secure"--to make and keep secure--his unalienable rights, as the Declaration of Independence phrases it. A chief aim of man in this regard is to provide governmental (legal) machinery which can be readily available to each Individual for establishing and maintaining his legal right to his own property and for the equal protection of all Individuals' property under equal laws (basically the people's fundamental laws--their Constitutions, Federal and State). To be able to make effective use of this legal machinery, however, Man needs property (money) to pay the cost.

The 1776 Declaration and the Word "Property"

7. In the years leading up to the American Revolution of 1776, the slogan of the "Sons of Liberty"--most ardent of patriots--was: "Liberty and property." Another popular phrase used throughout America in that period to describe Man's most precious rights, used for example in the "Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress" in 1774, was: "life, liberty and property." This combination of ideas--expressed with regard to protection of Man's " . . . life . . . person . . . goods or estate . . ."--appeared in America at least by 1641 in Massachusetts in: "The Body of Liberties." This was a law code compiled by Nathaniel Ward, in response to public protests against the arbitrary decisions by judges, and adopted by the Massachusetts General Court, the legislative body of the colony. In the phrase of the Declaration of Independence adopted in 1776--"Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" - the substitution of the phrase "the pursuit of Happiness," in place of the word "property" customarily used theretofore, assuredly did not mean that the signers of the Declaration disapproved of the idea of the right to property being considered a most important right of Man. Quite the contrary is true, as all pertinent records amply prove. A number of these signers were owners of large and valuable property holdings--for example, John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Morris, Charles Carroll, Richard Henry Lee and Arthur Middleton, to name only a few. They did, indeed, risk great fortunes, as well as their lives and honor, in signing the 1776 Declaration--as its closing pledge made express, in words made immortal by the exemplary selflessness, the noble self-sacrifice, of these true friends of Independence for America and of Man's Liberty against Government-over-Man. The wealthy of that generation were fully matched by those of little or no means, such as Samuel Adams, in the fervor of belief in, and support of, the right to property as a fundamental part of the Individual's rights. It is noteworthy that among the signers of the Declaration were some who had been members of the above-mentioned First Continental Congress in 1774; and all the signers undoubtedly shared the then popular support of the slogan: "Life, Liberty and Property" as being expressive of the gist of Man's fundamental rights. The emphasis in their thinking regarding the right to property was later reflected in the safeguarding provision included in the "Bill of Rights" amendments to the United States Constitution--in the Fifth Amendment, stating: ". . . nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." This is expressive of the American philosophy.

The omission of the word "property" from the 1776 Declaration was, presumably, because the right to property was considered by America's leaders in general to be not a primary, God-given, unalienable right--not on a par spiritually with the right to "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness"--but an essential legal right, a most important supporting right as the material mainstay of Man's unalienable rights including Liberty against Government-over-Man.

An Essential Means, Not an End in and of Itself

8. The right to property is accordingly considered not an end, in and of itself, but an indispensable means needed to sustain Life itself and for the protection and fuller enjoyment of the rights to Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. The right to property is, therefore, of critical importance to Free Man, whether considered as a supporting right or--as some in 1776 occasionally referred to it--as an unalienable right, a Natural Right.

The concept of the property right being derived from every Individual's natural right to Liberty--of its thus being a derivative right rather than a primary, God-given, unalienable right--was expressed for example in an oration in Boston on March 5, 1775 by Dr. Joseph Warren, a leader among the more prominent workers and fighters for Liberty and Independence, as follows:

"That personal freedom is the natural right of every man, and that property, or an exclusive right to dispose of what he has honestly acquired by his own labor, necessarily arises therefrom, are truths which common sense has placed beyond the reach of contradiction." (Emphasis added.)

Warren and his fellow leaders in favor of "Liberty and Independence," in Boston especially in that pre-1776 period, were undoubtedly in agreement on this point of derivativeness: "necessarily arises therefrom"--notably Samuel Adams who was very closely associated with Warren in supporting this cause. Adams presumably meant nothing different when he sometimes referred to the right to property as being of the nature of a "Natural Right."

Property Supports Ideals

9. Man's right to property is the principal material support of the idealism of the traditional American philosophy--the idealism of Free Man in America. This idealism would be empty of substance in the absence of the protection provided by such support; it could not be translated into reality and sustained enduringly.

The Conclusion

10. The American philosophy asserts that Man's right to property is a main, indispensable and inseparable part of the indivisible whole of Individual Liberty-Responsibility and the material mainstay of his unalienable right to "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Quotes from The American Ideal of 1776 supporting this Principle.