The Cornerstone of America’s Freedom

by | Sep 7, 2003

This month, America will celebrate the 216th anniversary of its famed Constitution. That is long enough ago that most of us take for granted the rights protected by this governing document. But if given a chance to reflect, what constitutionally protected rights do Americans think are the most fundamental to our freedom? I conducted an […]

This month, America will celebrate the 216th anniversary of its famed Constitution. That is long enough ago that most of us take for granted the rights protected by this governing document. But if given a chance to reflect, what constitutionally protected rights do Americans think are the most fundamental to our freedom? I conducted an informal poll, asking this question. The answer came almost universally — free speech and free press. These are reasonable answers. Both of these liberties form a part of the bedrock foundation upon which our freedom is based. But they are not the cornerstone of our freedom.

So what is the cornerstone of the freedom that America has enjoyed for 216 years? Oddly enough, the cornerstone to the freedom we enjoy is found in our rights to property — our economic rights. The right to own and control one’s property and the fruits of one’s labor is the cornerstone of our freedom. Why, you ask? How can the right to own something be more important than free speech and press? The answer is simple. Without property rights, no other important right can long survive. Property rights are the soil in which all other rights can grow and mature.

In the totalitarian regime of the former Soviet Union, for example, communist dictators did not need to outlaw free speech and press to control the populace. All they really needed to do was revoke all property rights. Without property rights and economic freedom, the people lack the independence to exercise other rights. When the government controls who gets the jobs and who gets housing and consumer goods, the people become completely dependent upon the government — for food, shelter, transportation, medicine, education and everything else. Even if legally permitted, few citizens would publicly criticize a government that, if it did not appreciate the criticism, had the authority to take their job, their home, and everything else they own.

Without the independence and autonomy provided by the right to own and control the fruits of one’s labor and one’s property, few other rights amount to much. For this reason, property rights are the cornerstone of the freedom Americans now enjoy. Unfortunately, too many Americans view property rights as something that concerns only ranchers and farmers in the West. The truth is that property rights impact us all. If you pay income taxes, sales taxes, Social Security taxes, or property taxes; if you own a home or a car; if you have a savings account or retirement account, or own stock — you have a stake in protecting property rights.

America’s property rights are under siege. High taxes take from workers the fruits of their labors. Thomas Jefferson warned against a spendthrift government that unnecessarily took from the “laborer the bread he has earned.” Certain environmental regulations prevent land owners from the reasonable use and control of their own homes, farms, and ranches. Other regulations burden individuals and businesses and limit their ability to direct their labors and business affairs. Thomas Jefferson warned that if the government directed “us when to sow and when to reap, we should soon want for bread.” The attacks on property rights never seem to end. Then, when someone stands up to defend the cornerstone of our freedom, they are too often labeled “greedy” by the very people who lead the assault on property rights.

As America celebrates the 216th anniversary of our Constitution, we would do well to remember the forgotten right — the right that provides the environment of independence in which all other rights can flourish — property rights. It’s an American tradition worth saving.

Editor’s Note: The fundamental right is the right to life, of which the right to property is a inherent application of, i.e., they are one and the same in practice.

George C. Landrith is the President of Frontiers of Freedom, a non-profit, non-partisan public policy organization dedicated to protecting the constitutional rights of all Americans and restoring constitutional limits on t

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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