Three eras, in chronological order:
Man being born, as has been proved, with a title to perfect freedom,
and an uncontrouled enjoyment of all the rights and privileges of the law
of nature, equally with any other man, or number of men in the world, hath
by nature a power, . . . to preserve his property, that is, his life, liberty
and estate, against the injuries and attempts of other men . . . .
-- John Locke, The Second Treatise of Government (1690), ch. 7, sec. 87.
The great and chief end, therefore, of men’s uniting into commonwealths,
and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property.
-- John Locke, The Second Treatise of Government (1690), ch. 9, sec. 124.
* * * *
No one can doubt that the convention for the distinction of property,
and for the stability of possession, is of all circumstances the most necessary
to the establishment of human society, and that, after the agreement for
the fixing and observing of this rule, there remains little or nothing
to be done towards settling a perfect harmony and concord.
-- David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature (1740), Book III, part II, sec. ii.
[T]he three fundamental laws of nature [are] that of the stability
of possession, of its transference by consent, and of the performance
of promises. Tis on the strict observance of those three laws,
that the peace and security of human society entirely depend; nor is there
any possibility of establishing a good correspondence among men, where
these are neglected. Society is absolutely necessary for the well-being
of men; and these are as necessary to the support of society.
-- David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature (1740), Book III, part II, sec. vi (emphasis in original).
* * * *
There is nothing which so generally strikes the imagination, and engages
the affections of mankind, as the right of property; or that sole and despotic
dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of
the world, in total exclusion of the right of any other individual in the
-- William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-69), Book II, chapter 1.
* * * *
Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence
from the lowest barbarism but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration
of justice: all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things.
-- Adam Smith, lecture (1755), as reported by Dugald Stewart.
The natural effort of every individual to better his own condition,
when suffered to exert itself with freedom and security, is so powerful
a principle, that it is alone, and without any assistance, . . . capable
of carrying on the society to wealth and prosperity . . . .
-- Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (1776), Book IV, ch. V.b, para. 43.
All systems either of preference or of restraint, therefore, being thus
completely taken away, the obvious and simple system of natural liberty
establishes itself of its own accord. Every man, as long as he does not
violate the laws of justice, is left perfectly free to pursue his own interest
his own way, and to bring both his industry and capital into competition
with those of any other man, or order of men. The sovereign is completely
discharged from a duty, in the attempting to perform which he must always
be exposed to innumerable delusions, and for the proper performance of
which no human wisdom or knowledge could ever be sufficient; the duty of
superintending the industry of private people, and of directing it towards
the employments most suitable to the interest of the society. According
to the system of natural liberty, the sovereign has only three duties to
attend to; three duties of great importance, indeed, but plain and intelligible
to common understandings: first, the duty of protecting the society from
violence and invasion of other independent societies; secondly, the duty
of protecting, as far as possible, every member of the society from the
injustice or oppression of every other member of it, or the duty of establishing
an exact administration of justice; and, thirdly, the duty of erecting
and maintaining certain public works and certain public institutions which
it can never be for the interest of any individual, or small number of
individuals, to erect and maintain; because the profit could never repay
the expence to any individual or small number of individuals, though it
may frequently do much more than repay it to a great society.
-- Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (1776), Book IV, ch. IX, para. 51 (emphasis added).
Commerce and manufactures can seldom flourish long
in any state which does not enjoy a regular administration of justice,
in which the people do not feel themselves secure in the possession of
their property, in which the faith of contracts is not supported by law,
and in which the authority of the state is not supposed to be regularly
employed in enforcing the payment of debts from all those who are able
to pay. Commerce and manufactures, in short, can seldom flourish
in any state in which there is not a certain degree of confidence in the
justice of government.
-- Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (1776), Book V, ch. III, para. 7.
II. The USA: What's Private Property Got to Do with It?
John Adams, 1787: “The moment the idea is admitted into society, that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If 'Thou shalt not covet,' and 'Thou shalt not steal,' were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society, before it can be civilized or made free.”
James Madison, 1787 and 1792: "The diversity in the faculties
of men, from which the rights of property originate, is . . . an insuperable
obstacle to a uniformity of interests. The protection of these faculties
is the first object of government." AND
“Government is instituted to protect property of every sort; as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals, as that which the term particularly expresses. This being the end of government, that alone is a just government, which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own.”
Alexis de Tocqueville, 1835 and 1840: ". . . I know of
no country, indeed, where the love of money has taken stronger hold on
the affections of men and where a profounder contempt is expressed for
the theory of the permanent equality of property." AND
"In no country in the world is the love of property more active and more anxious than in the United States; nowhere does the majority display less inclination for those principles which threaten to alter, in whatever manner, the laws of property."
William Howard Taft, 1913: “Next to the right of liberty, the right of property is the most important right guaranteed by the constitution and the one which, united with that of personal liberty, has contributed more to the growth of civilization than any other institution established by the human race.”
Calvin Coolidge, 1914, 1920, and 1925: "Man is born into
the universe with a personality that is his own. He has a right that is
founded upon the constitution of the universe to have property that is
his own. Ultimately, property rights and personal rights are the same thing.
The one cannot be preserved if the other be violated." AND
"Civilization and profits go hand in hand."
"It would be difficult, if not impossible, to estimate the contribution which government makes to business. It is notorious that where the government is bad, business is bad. The mere fundamental precepts of the administration of justice, the providing of order and security, are priceless. The prime element in the value of all property is the knowledge that its peaceful enjoyment will be publicly depended. If disorder should break out in your city, if there should be a conviction extending over any length of time that the rights of persons and property could no longer be protected by law, the value of your tall buildings would shrink to about the price of what are now waterfronts of old Carthage or what are now corner lots in ancient Babylon."
Justice Potter Stewart, 1972: "[T]he dichotomy [found in some judicial opinions] between personal liberties and property rights is a false one. Property does not have rights. People have rights."
Professor Bernard Siegan, 1997: “The United States Constitution was framed in large measure to overcome [the] problems [experienced under the Articles of Confederation] by providing substantial protection for the material liberties, including property, economic, and contractual rights. The Framers sought to create a commercial republic based on ownership, investment, and entrepreneurship.”
Professor James W. Ely, Jr., 1998: "Despite their differences over particular economic issues, the right to acquire and own property was undoubtedly a paramount value for the framers of the Constitution. Following the Lockean philosophy, John Rutledge of South Carolina advised the Philadelphia convention that 'Property was certainly the principal object of Society.' Similarly, Alexander Hamilton declared: 'One great objt. of Govt. is personal protection and the security of Property.' These sentiments were widely shared by other delegates. Consistent with the Whig tradition, the framers did not distinguish between personal and property rights. One the contrary, in their minds, property rights were indispensable because property ownership was closely associated with liberty. 'Property must be secured,' John Adams proclaimed in 1790, 'or liberty cannot exist.' Indeed, the framers saw property ownership as a buffer protecting individuals from government coercion. Arbitrary redistributions of property destroyed liberty, and thus the framers hoped to restrain attacks on property rights."
III. The Road to the Welfare State -- with Robin Hood, Santa Claus, and the Repairman
Frederic Bastiat (1850 and 1848): “See if the law takes from
some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom
it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense
of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing
a crime. Then abolish this law without delay, for it is not only
an evil in itself, but also it is a fertile source for further evils because
it invites reprisals. If such a law – which may be an isolated case
– is not abolished immediately, it will spread, multiply, and develop into
“The question of legal plunder must be settled once and for all, and there are only three ways to settle it: (1) The few plunder the many. (2) Everybody plunders everybody. (3) Nobody plunders anybody. We must make our choice among limited plunder, universal plunder, and no plunder. The law can follow only one of these three.”
Bastiat’s one line definition of government (1848): “the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.”
U.S. Representative James Monroe Miller (R.-Kan.), arguing for the 16th Amendment (which was ratified in 1913): “I stand here as a representative of the Republican Party of the central West to pledge you my word that the great western states will be found voting with you for an income tax. Why? Because they will not pay it!”
N.J. Governor Woodrow Wilson (campaigning for the Presidency in 1912): "We used to say that the ideal of government was for every man to be left alone and not interfered with. That was the idea in Jefferson's time. But we are coming now to realize that life is so complicated that we are not dealing with old conditions, and that law has to step in and create new conditions under which we may live."
President Calvin Coolidge (1924): "Realizing that the power to tax is the power to destroy and that the power to take a certain amount of property or of income is only another way of saying that for a certain proportion of his time a citizen must work for the Government, the authority to impose a tax on the people has been most carefully guarded. Our own Constitution requires that revenue bills should originate in the House, because that body is supposed to be more representative of the people. These precautions have been taken because of the full realization that any oppression laid upon the people by excessive taxation, any disregard of their right to hold and enjoy the property which they have rightfully acquired, would be fatal to freedom. A government which lays taxes on the people not required by urgent public necessity and sound public policy is not a protector of liberty, but an instrument of tyranny. It condemns the citizen to servitude."
U.S. Senator Huey P. Long (D.-La.): “There is no rule so
sure as that one that the same mill that grinds out fortunes above a certain
size at the top, grinds out paupers at the bottom.”
“God invited us all to come and eat and drink all we wanted. He smiled on our land and we grew crops of plenty to eat and wear. He showed us in the earth the iron and other things to make everything we wanted. He unfolded to us the secrets of science so that our work might be easy. God called: ‘Come to my feast.’” But what had happened? “Rockefeller, Morgan, and their crowd stepped up and took enough for 120,000,000 people and left only enough for 5,000,000 for all the other 125,000,000 to eat. And so many millions must go hungry and without these good things God gave us unless we call on them to put some of it back.” (the Robin Hood version of the welfare state) YouTube
President Franklin Roosevelt, 1936, stating his public policy objectives: “To do what any honest Government of any country would do; try to increase the security and the happiness of a larger number of people in all occupations of life and in all parts of the country; to give them more of the good things in life, to give them a greater distribution not only of wealth in the narrow terms, but of wealth in the wider terms; to give them places to go in the summer time – recreation; to give them assurance that they are not going to starve in their old age; to give honest business a chance to go ahead and make a reasonable profit, and to give everyone a chance to earn a living.” (the Santa Claus state)
Professor James Landis (1938): "In terms of political theory, the administrative process springs from the inadequacy of a simple tripartite form of government to deal with modern problems. It represents a striving to adapt modern governmental technique, that still divides under three rubrics [that is, the executive, legislative, and judicial], to modern needs . . . . The insistence upon the compartmentalization of power along triadic lines gave way in the nineteenth century to the exigencies of governance. Without too much political theory but with a keen sense of the practicalities of the situation, agencies were created whose functions embraced the three aspects of government. . . . [Congress] vests the necessary powers with the administrative authority it creates, not too greatly concerned with the extent to which such action does violence to the traditional tripartite theory of governmental organization." (the Repairman state)
Professor Lawrence Friedman, 1965 and 1985: “The most dramatic
changes touching the significance of contract law in modern life . . .
came about, not through internal developments in contract law, but through
developments in public policy which systematically robbed contract of its
subject-matter . . . [such as] labor law, anti-trust law, insurance law,
business regulation, and social welfare legislation. The growth of
these specialized bodies of public policy removed from ‘contract’ (in the
sense of abstract relationships) transactions and situations formerly governed
by it . . . .”
“[T]here has developed in this country a general expectation of justice . . . and a general expectation of recompense for injuries and loss.”
Justice William Brennan, 1985: “The genius of the Constitution rests not in any static meaning it may have had in a world that is dead and gone, but in the adaptability of its great principles to cope with current problems and present needs.”