PROTECTION OF PRIVATE PROPERTY
By Mary E. Webster
May 3, 2014
“I'm sure you have noticed that I like the new Constitution. Yes, my countrymen, I admit that after giving it careful thought, I believe it is in your interest to adopt it. I am convinced that this is the safest course for your liberty, your dignity, and your happiness. The new Constitution has my full and unambiguous support.
“I don't pretend that I am undecided about ratifying the Constitution. I have decided. And I will tell you why I think it is a good idea. I will try to make my arguments truthful. Everyone who reads them can judge for themselves whether I've succeeded.
“I propose to discuss the following subjects in a series of papers:
• Why the union is important to our political life.
• Why the current Confederation can't preserve the union.
• Why we need an energetic federal government.
• How the proposed Constitution conforms to the principles of republican government.
• A comparison of the proposed Constitution to the New York constitution.
• How the Constitution will preserve liberty, property and the republican form of government.”
Federalist Paper #1 [paragraphs 6-7]*
Currently, our biggest concern is the last item on the list of subjects The Federalist Papers discuss: “How the Constitution will preserve liberty, property and the republican form of government.” As I continue my discussion of property, I cannot overstate the importance of private property to the Founding Fathers and the people who ratified the Constitution.
Federalist Paper #10 is probably the most popular of all the Papers, with good reasons. But when it is read without understanding its role in explaining the U.S. Constitution to the people who were going to vote to ratify the Constitution, it becomes just another opinion column by a political pundit. We know that The Federalist Papers were the first and most important “interpretation” of the U.S. Constitution. When Federalist Paper #10 discusses “property rights”, we learn how important they were to the people as the United States was created.
“Property rights originate from the people. But men's abilities are diverse, creating an insurmountable obstacle to equality of acquisitions. Protection of these abilities is government's primary function. Because government protects different and unequal abilities to acquire property, the people end up owning properties of varying value and kind. This diversity of property ownership divides society into groups with different interests and concerns.” # 10 *
Government’s “primary function” is protection of the people’s unequal acquisition of property. Primary function! That is strong language. “Primary”—the most important, first in importance.
Later, in Federalist Paper #10, the author emphasizes the point again:
“Factious leaders may kindle a flame within their States, while not able to spread a conflagration through the other States. . . But the variety of sects dispersed over the entire country secures the national councils against this danger. A rage . . . for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less able to pervade the whole Union, just like a malady is more likely to taint a specific county or district than an entire State.” # 10 *
At first glance, many people think that all people should have an equal amount of property ownership, which includes both land and money. However, I realized a long time ago—before I ever picked up TheFederalist Papers—that I preferred personal time over money. As I thought about it, I realized that lots of people make life decisions that place a higher priority on things other than property and money. Some people prefer to travel. Some people prefer to live in a cabin in the woods. Some people pursue spiritual goals. Some people are artists and actors. Some people garden. And, if they are like me, they are grateful that some people create wealth so that the government has the revenue to maintain services and roads. And, perhaps, spend some of their wealth on creations and services provided by those of us who do not pursue wealth as our primary interest.
I also have my own reasons for finding “equality of wealth/property” abhorrent: No matter how much property and/or money the government takes from a “wealthy” person, my happiness does not increase, andthere is always a chance that I will have property that I want to protect from an over-reaching government.
Property is such an important topic, I will continue the discussion in my next column.
* The Federalist Papers: Modern English Edition Two, 2008
© 2014 Mary E. Webster - All Rights Reserved
Mary E Webster, a graduate of St. Paul College and the University of Iowa, started studying The Federalist Papers in 1994. Her books, including a 10th-grade reading level translation of the Papers, The Federalist Papers: Modern English Edition Two, and The U.S. Constitution: Annotated with The Federalist Papers in Modern English make the timeless arguments within the Papers available to everyone. Webster is related to Noah and Daniel Webster and a direct descendent of several signers of the Mayflower Compact.