Does the Federal Government Protect Private Property?

Life, Liberty, and Takings

Thirteen of the British colonies in North America declared their independence in 1776 as the only means of preserving the life, liberty, and property of what was then declared to be the American people.  It was generally understood, in light of John Locke’s 1690 Second Treatise on Civil Government (widely recognized in the late-18th century as one of the wisest meditations on government ever published), that any government properly conceived—monarchy, aristocracy, or democracy—must be devoted to the securing of these three inalienable rights.

The right to property, like the rights to life and to liberty, as expressed in our Declaration of Independence (although, in that particular document, “property” was replaced by the words “the pursuit of happiness,” contemporary theorists and state constitutions recognized that happiness could hardly be pursued without the protection of property rights), was a right given to man by his Creator.  Thomas Jefferson was the principal draftsman of the 1776 Declaration, and his much-vaunted idea of a nation of “yeoman farmers” relied on the ownership of landed property being widespread.  Like most 18th-century political thinkers in America, Jefferson believed that only the widespread ownership of property could provide the independence of mind and the income necessary to create a virtuous citizenry for a republic.  This...

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