Government land grabs are becoming more and more prevalent every day. The federal government is seizing up more and more private land under the auspices of environmental preservation and national parks. We are even seeing the military taking private land and calling it national security. This federal tyranny is trickling down and infecting our local governments, as well.
Our framers believed that the right to secure property was vital to the preservation of Liberty. Under what circumstances can the government legally and constitutionally take our land?
From John Locke, the father of our understanding of Natural Law, in his “II Treaties”: “The Supreme Power cannot take from any Man any part of his Property without his own consent. For the preservation of Property being the end (purpose) of Government, and that for which Men enter into Society….For I have truly no Property in that, which another can by right take from me, when he pleases, against my consent. Hence it is a mistake to think, that the Supreme or Legislative Power of any Commonwealth, can do what it will, and dispose of the Estates of the Subject arbitrarily, or take any part of them at pleasure…For a Man’s Property is not at all secure… if he who commands those Subjects, have Power to take from any private Man, what part he pleases of his Property, and use and dispose of it as he thinks good.”
We have an inherent right to acquire, possess, and secure private property. That doesn’t mean that the government has a duty to provide all people with property. It means that we have the right to acquire it without government control and permission and once we acquire it, we have the right to possess it and protect it. The entire purpose for establishing government is to collectively protect the inherent rights of the individual.
“That to secure these Rights governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”-Declaration of Independence
To accept that the government can operate contrary to its entire purpose, by taking those rights instead of protecting them, Locke calls that a “gross absurdity,” and the creators of our Constitutional Republic would whole heartedly agree.
James Madison wrote in 1792,“[Property] in its particular application means that dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in exclusion of every other individual.”
That means, once something is called “your property,” you hold all rights, privileges, and control over that property - to the EXCLUSION of ALL others; including government. Madison would explain to you, and all members of government, that includes an exclusion from government possession, control, and regulations! It is government’s sole responsibility to secure the rights and properties of the people.
Locke’s principle of the inherent right to acquire and possess land is reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in 1795: “From these passages, it is evident, that the right of acquiring and possessing property, and having it protected, is one of the natural, inherent and inalienable rights of man. Men have a sense of property: property is necessary to their subsistence, and correspondent to their natural wants and desires; its security was one of the objects that induced them to unite in society. No man could become a member of a community, in which he could not enjoy the fruits of his honest labor and industry. The preservation of property, then, is a primary object of the social compact…” -Vanhorne’s Lessee v. Dorrance, US, 1795.
The government should not arbitrarily take property from the people. Arbitrary taking is a clear violation of the Constitution and as the Supreme Court so eloquently states, it is contrary to the primary object of government. But not only that, James Madison explains that arbitrary taking of private property is the mark of an “unjust government,” an act of “complete despotism:”
“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.”-James Madison, Property, 1792
Madison’s assessment of a “just government” ought to be the goal of all American government, on the local, state, and federal levels. But that will not happen until the American people begin to understand that government control and regulations are the antithesis of Liberty, not means to secure safety and security.
“That is not a just government, nor is property secure under it, where arbitrary restrictions, exemptions…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.” – James Madison, Property, 1792
KrisAnne Hall is a constitutional attorney and former prosecutor. Read full article at krisannehall.com.
The Language of Liberty series is an outreach project of Center for Self Governance to educate citizens in the principles of liberty. The views expressed by authors are their own and may not reflect the views of CSG.