Tuesday, June 1, 2010

So, About Those Rights...

I hope everyone had a really nice Memorial Day weekend! I am always grateful for the sacrifice that our men and women in the military have made to protect the way of life we have as American citizens. I thought today would be a good day to talk about some (particularly one) of those rights they have fought and died to protect. We're still on the historical part of my blog, so keep reading and I promise we'll get to some really good debate topics as I get past the basics...

Last week I started with the structure of our federal government. This week, I wondered, why would a bunch of men from many different backgrounds lock themselves up in a hot, stuffy room for weeks on end, away from their respective families, businesses, farms, and other responsibilities, to figure out down to the very tiniest detail, a Constitution and government structure that would be just right for everyone involved? It wasn't like they were all best friends getting together for drinks; they were from all over and they had very different points of view: some were farmers, others were statesmen, others were academics. Some were rich, others were not. They got into some heated arguments, apparently. However, these men would rather have died than allow themselves to be subjected to tyranny again ("Give me liberty or give me death", anyone?) So that's why they did it. Their lives, that of their families, and the future of their new nation depended on it. They were going to get it right, or else! But all had one common goal, all were educated (formally or otherwise), and they had some very important common beliefs that allowed them to get the job done, and done so well that they created the framework for the greatest country in history!

What were these beliefs? Well, most of us know this offhand: that we have certain rights, endowed by our Creator (God) that cannot be taken away by man. Most of us know these rights as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But did you also know that these were not the only ones? Oh, not by a longshot! That's just the Cliff's Notes version, and that's why the State of Virginia would not ratify the original Constitution. They wanted the most important rights spelled out, and any rights that weren't HAD to be implied somehow. That's how the Bill of Rights came to be.

Among those rights in the Bill of Rights, one of the rights that the Founders held most dear was the God-given right to own PROPERTY. In fact, this right is arguably the one right that sets us apart from every other nation on earth. So important is this right that it is covered in 3, if not 4, of the first 10 Amendments: in the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments, and arguably in the Second depending on how you interpret it.

So, wait, you must be saying. How is having things a God-given right? Well, things, especially land, are what give humans a sense of security. Our founders believed that every citizen of the United States deserved a chance to actually have possessions he could call his own, and ultimately, a place to call home where no one could kick him out. Now, don't get me wrong. The fact that we have a right to property doesn't mean that everyone is going to actually own property, just like a right to life doesn't guarantee that you're not going to die. But it means that the government can't take away your property if you have it, and also that the government is supposed to protect that right.

Think about this for a minute. Now compare it to the monarchies that the Founders came from in Europe, where only the nobles were property owners, and everyone else worked the land but didn't own it. Also compare it to countries where the government could, and did, just seize your property for no reason. You can see why they wanted to guarantee that if a person owned land and/or other valuables, they had no reason to be afraid of their seizure. No bogus legal charges where your stuff is taken without due process, no soldiers using your house as "lodging", no searching or seizing without a detailed warrant, no taking of land for public use without satisfactory compensation, etc. AND, if you take into account the second amendment, then you can infer that we have the right to protect our property with arms, should our property rights ever be violated. It also made for a very productive citizenry when people knew they could actually keep what they produced and obtained for themselves.

Property ownership also gave citizens an additional right: suffrage, because before our tax system changed, they were the only taxpayers, and hence the only stakeholders. I will expand on this very soon, because taxes are a very hot topic today. This, combined with how we vote (see May 25th entry), should really put things in perspective (and generate some great discussions!)

Anyway, the God-given right to own property, and the fact that it was as dear to our Founders as the right to life and liberty, is a fundamental piece of information, which will be a central point in topics to come. Stay tuned!

2 comments:

  1. You are sure setting the grounds for interesting debate. Since not everyone that is reading your blog lives in the United States, we can wonder why did other countries South of the Border didn't follow the same pace. Mexico and Argentina are just celebrating their 200 years of Independence just to mention two. We sure had different founding Fathers, I wonder........

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  2. One of the Founding Fathers (I think Thomas Jefferson) said that our form of government only works when the governed are an educated, moral, and God-fearing people (this is paraphrased, of course.) If the people don't have these qualities then they cannot be trusted to keep a government such as the one they created. My husband frequently says, "You cannot deal honorably with dishonorable people." Would this type of government have worked south of the border? Did the people have the required qualities and did their leaders? You may find your answer there.

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