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February 2017 Policy Study, Number 17-2


A Commentary on the American Founding


Part 4



Life, being the ultimate right without which nothing else is of consequence, was listed first; but the other listings are inextricably tied.  Again, listen to the sentiments of Thomas Jefferson as to this connection:  “The God, who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time.”  Our Founding Fathers were keenly aware that without liberty of person and the right to private property (the fruit of your labor), life is reduced to the condition of slavery.  The following quotation is not from our Founders, nor is it even terribly historical; but it is a very appropriate distillation upon the subject of property on which, I believe, our Founders would have concurred:


It is not the right of property which 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 life, the right to his liberty, the right to his property . . . The 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 leave him a slave.  (United States Supreme Court Justice George Sutherland, excerpts from an address given January 21, 1921, to the New York Bar Association).


Iowa is the state of my birth and my current domicile.  The Founders of this state apparently shared an understanding with our nation’s Founders and were somewhat more pointed in their official pronouncement of it.  The first Article of Iowa’s Constitution is our Bill of Rights.  The fact that our Bill of Rights is placed first in Iowa’s Constitution would indicate to me the preeminent concern of our state’s Founders.  In the very first Section of the very first Article, you will find these precious ideas:


All men are, by nature, free and equal, and have certain inalienable rights — among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining safety and happiness.  (Emphasis added).


Take note that life and liberty are listed first; but property is listed even before happiness.  They too were serious about the right to private property.  It might be interesting to peruse the Constitution of your own state to see what your Founders believed on this immensely important subject.  Without a rather full understanding of and an appreciation for this concept, the Constitution is easily misinterpreted.  The “pursuit of Happiness” can suddenly become an ironclad, government-underwritten guarantee of happiness and prosperity.  If you agree at all with the proposition that government can only give what it has already taken from someone else, it should be readily apparent that this aforementioned guarantee and mode of thought run head-long into and violate the sovereign individual’s right to property found in the Laws of Nature.  They continue:


That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of those ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundations on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.  (Declaration of Independence).


Why are governments instituted among men?  The extremes of the possible answers range from the purpose of absolute domination of other men and even other nations, to what our Founding Fathers considered to be the only justification for a legitimate government – that being the preservation of the God given unalienable rights of the sovereign individual.  Men will only willingly and ungrudgingly acquiesce to the inconveniences imposed by government when it is deemed to be in their own best self-interest, and they are free to act in this manner.  If we are to be truly free and sovereign individuals then the securing and preservation of these rights is the sole object of legitimate government.  Our life, our liberty and the right to property are all three our property by birthright, and Government has no other end but the preservation of Property.  (John Locke, Two Treatises on Government, Book II, Section 94).




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