James Madison’s “Property”

by | Jun 25, 2012

Unlike contemporary politicians, the Founding Fathers recognized the importance of protecting property rights. They understood that, if individuals are to be free, prosperous, and happy, then they must be secure in their property. James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, perhaps understood this better than any of the Founders. In an essay titled “Property,” he […]

Unlike contemporary politicians, the Founding Fathers recognized the importance of protecting property rights. They understood that, if individuals are to be free, prosperous, and happy, then they must be secure in their property.

James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, perhaps understood this better than any of the Founders. In an essay titled “Property,” he wrote:

That is not a just government, nor is property secure under it, where the property which a man has in his personal safety and personal liberty, is violated by arbitrary seizures of one class of citizens for the service of the rest…

That is not a just government, nor is property secure under it, where arbitrary restrictions, exemptions, and monopolies deny to part of its citizens that free use of their faculties, and free choice of their occupations, which not only constitute their property in the general sense of the word; but are the means of acquiring property strictly so called…

Is government just when it takes your money to distribute to the poor and needy? Is government just when it prohibits you from using your land as you deem best? Is government just when it requires that you seek permission from petty bureaucrats in order to enter the profession of your choosing? Is government just when it prosecutes you if you achieve a monopoly in business, and simultaneously establishes its own monopolies?

Madison is clear in his opinion: Such a government is not just. Such a government is in violation of its principal purpose:

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.

Today’s politicians are ever eager to reach into your wallet for the alleged “public good.” They have no qualms about issuing mandates and prohibitions. They have no hesitation about violating your property rights. The would do well to learn Madison’s message.

Brian Phillips is the founder of the Texas Institute for Property Rights. Brian has been defending property rights for nearly thirty years. He played a key role in defeating zoning in Houston, Texas, and in Hobbs, New Mexico. He is the author of three books: Individual Rights and Government Wrongs, The Innovator Versus the Collective, and Principles and Property Rights. Visit his website at texasipr.com.

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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