The Founding Fathers of the United States were keenly aware of the right to property and its connection to freedom. Before the Revolutionary war, the British would send troops over to the colonies and quarter them in the homes of the people. The people would then be forced to feed the British troops. My husband has ancestors who wrote about British soldiers burning their fences, allowing their livestock to escape, and then demanding to be fed. Nearing the time of the Revolutionary War, the majority of the people united in a desire for freedom.
The Declaration of Independence speaks of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Upon further reading the pursuit of happiness often means the ability to acquire and be in control of personal property. Amendment V in the Bill of Rights states, “nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”.
In 1792, James Madison, the father of the Constitution, spoke about property rights. He said that the right to own one’s views and express them was a right to property. Explaining this concept Madison said:
“He has a property of peculiar value in his religious opinions, and in the profession and practice dictated by them.
He has a property very dear to him in the safety and liberty of his person.
He has an equal property in the free use of his faculties and free choice of the objects on which to employ them.
In a word, as a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.”
And then he concluded:
“If the United States mean to obtain or deserve the full praise due to wise and just governments, they will equally respect the rights of property, and the property in rights: they will rival the government that most sacredly guards the former; and by repelling its example in violating the latter, will make themselves a pattern to that and all other governments.”
For many years basic property has been regulated. Zoning laws, and city and county property laws keep land owners from having a right to use their property as they see fit. Over time, these regulations have extended to businesses, education, and professions. These have been regulated through permits, regulatory laws, tax laws, trade laws, and more. As a people, we are used to these regulations and laws. Most people alive today do not remember a time when they did not need to obtain a government permit to paint their home or rebuild a deck. They do not remember a time when businesses didn’t have to follow regulations of all sorts. People don’t remember a time when they were not required by the government to meet specific educational standards to work professionally. It’s just the way things have been for a long, long time and people no longer question whether the government has a right to regulate so minutely these aspects of our property, businesses, and professions.
As a result, people have called for more regulations of property not realizing these regulations limit their freedom and ability to make money and become successful. They limit their very pursuit of happiness.
And now today, as basic property rights have dissolved into a thousand laws and regulations, the other rights that James Madison called upon government to protect—the rights of speech, religion, and conscience—don’t seem any more significant to a passive people.
Since the government already regulates a business’s property, finances, benefits, hiring and firing practices, educational requirements, licensing, and more no one really thinks twice when the government then regulates who a business owner can service or even that a business owner may have religious beliefs or a conscience. The government has already restricted so much.
If the government can decide which home owners can own chickens and which cannot then why can the government not regulate what home owners write from their own computers and put publically on social media?
If the government can regulate curriculum in schools, then why not who uses which bathrooms?
If the government can regulate who a business can hire, then why not who landlords can and cannot rent to?
If the government can regulate the property of a business, then why not the property of a Church?
If the government can regulate the business owners and professionals, then why not clergymen?
These questions are being asked each day in the legislatures, in the courts, and in executive branches. With a people who have passively allowed more and more government to regulate their lives, the government has no reason to fear the people revolting from further regulations of speech and religion. Indeed, there has been little resistance as those freedoms slowly begin to dissolve.
I have often heard that freedom comes with a price. That price is due diligence. The founding Fathers knew this to be true. It was their due diligence that formed a government that the people regulated rather than a government that regulated the people. It has been passiveness and a lack of due diligence that has reversed that. And it will take due diligence and a people united in a desire to be free to return to that founding.