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Private Property Rights Resolution
David Barton - 07/06/2007


Resolution Acknowledging the Inalienable Rights of Private Property

I. Whereas, an overriding respect for the sanctity of the ownership and personal use of private property, free from restrictive and invasive regulatory regulations, is firmly embedded in American colonial law, common law, and constitutional law:

A. The three most-influential political philosophers impacting the formation of American law were Charles Montesquieu, William Blackstone, and John Locke [1]

B. Charles Montesquieu, whose writings were recommended by major Framers such as James Madison, John Adams, and Alexander Hamilton, declared: “Let us therefore lay down a certain maxim: that whenever the public good happens to be the matter in question, it is not for the advantage of the public to deprive an individual of his property – or even to retrench the least part of it by a law or a political regulation[2]

C. William Blackstone, whose legal writings were considered as the final authority in American courts for a century-and-a-half after the adoption of the U. S. Constitution, declared: “So great moreover is the regard of the law for private property that it will not authorize the least violation of it – no, not even for the general good of the whole community” [3]

D. John Locke, whose writings had direct impact in the framing both of the Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution, succinctly declared that “the preservation of property [is] the reason for which men enter into society” and that “government . . . can never have a power to take to themselves the whole or any part of the subject’s property without their own consent, for this would be in effect to leave them no property at all”; [4] and

II. Whereas, the right to hold, possess, and use one’s own private property was also recognized by our Framers and in our founding government documents as one of the foremost of our inalienable, inviolable, God-given rights:

A. Samuel Adams declared that our inalienable rights included “first, a right to life; secondly, to liberty; thirdly, to property – together with the right to support and defend them” [5]

B. John Adams declared that “The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the law of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence” [6] and that “Property is surely a right of mankind as really as liberty” [7]

C. John Jay, original Chief Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court and an author of the Federalist Papers declared that “It is the undoubted right and unalienable privilege of a [citizen] not to be divested or interrupted in the innocent use of . . . property. . . . This is the Cornerstone of every free Constitution” [8]

D. Adam Smith, famous economist of the Founding Era, foresaw the tendencies of governments to impinge the rights of private property, forewarning: “As soon as the land of any country has all become private property, the landlords [e.g., the governments], like all other men, love to reap where they never sowed, and demand a rent even for its natural produce” [9]

E. Noah Webster, a Founding Father who served as a judge and legislator, declared that property is “the exclusive right of possessing, enjoying and disposing of a thing; ownership. In the beginning of the world, the Creator gave to man dominion over the earth, over the fish of the sea and the fowls of the air, and over every living thing. This is the foundation of man's property in the earth and in all its productions. Prior occupancy of land and of wild animals gives to the possessor the property of them. The labor of inventing, making or producing anything constitutes one of the highest and most indefeasible titles to property” [10]

F. Both John Adams (signer of the Declaration and framer of the Bill of Rights) and William Paterson (signer of the Constitution and Justice placed on the U. S. Supreme Court by President George Washington) declared: “All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights, among which may be reckoned the right of . . . acquiring, possessing, and protecting property” [11]

III. Whereas, our founding governing documents declare that it is the purpose of government to protect and not violate inalienable God-given rights, including the right of owning and using one’s own property;

A. James Madison declared that “Government is instituted to protect property. . . . This being the end of government, that alone is a just government which impartially secures to every man whatever is his own. . . . That is not a just government, nor is property secure under it, where arbitrary restrictions [i.e., restrictive zoning requirements], exemptions, and monopolies deny to part of its citizens that free use of their [own] faculties[12]

B. Fisher Ames, a Framer of the Bill of Rights, forcefully declared that “The chief duty and care of all governments is to protect the rights of property” [13]

C. John Dickinson, a signer of the Constitution, declared: “Let these truths be indelibly impressed on our minds: (1) that we cannot be happy without being free; (2) that we cannot be free without being secure in our property; (3) that we cannot be secure in our property if without our consent others may as by right take it away” [14]

D. John Adams – one of only two signers of the Bill of Rights – declared: “Property must be secured or liberty cannot exist” [15] and that “[i]t is agreed that the end of all government is the good and ease of the people in a secure enjoyment of their rights without oppression” [16]

E. James Wilson – a signer of the Declaration, signer of the Constitution, original U. S. Supreme Court Justice, and founder of the first organized legal training in America – declared that American government was created “to acquire a new security for the possession or the recovery of those rights to . . . which we were previously entitled by the immediate gift or by the unerring law of our all-wise and all-beneficent Creator,” including the right of property, and that “every government which has not this in view as its principal object is not a government of the legitimate kind” [17]

F. Thomas Jefferson similarly declared that the purpose of government “is to declare and enforce only our natural [inalienable, God-given] rights and duties and to take none of them from us,” [18] including the right to own, use, and enjoy one’s own private property

G. An early public school textbook on ethics, reprinted for generations, transmitted these original principles to young Americans, teaching them: “Property is something which one owns and has a right to own. . . . Everything which you see or touch belongs to you or to somebody else. If it belongs to you, you have the right to do what you please with it, provided you do not abuse it: if it belongs to somebody else, you have no right to it whatever” – a prohibition that applies equally to government entities as well as to individuals; and

IV. Whereas, the Common Law, directly incorporated into the U. S. Constitution by the Seventh Amendment, establishes that an “absolute right . . . is that of property. . . . So great moreover is the regard of the law for private property that. . . . [i]n vain may it be urged that the good of the individual ought to yield to that of the community; for it would be dangerous to allow any private man, or even any public tribunal [governmental body], to be the judge of this common good and to decide whether it be expedient or no [how to use that property]”; [19] and

V. Whereas, for over two centuries, all three branches of American government at both federal and state levels preserved the ownership and personal use of private property as an inviolable, inalienable, natural right, acknowledging that government can neither encroach nor usurp such vested rights, immunities or privileges;

VI. Therefore, Be It Resolved, that all interpretations and applications of zoning ordinances shall be examined and applied so as to recognize and preserve the inalienable, inviolable principles of private property usage and that such individual rights may be infringed only if it is clearly proven that they directly injure or harm the same rights of another citizen.



[1] Donald S. Lutz, The Origins of American Constitutionalism (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1988), p. 143; Donald S. Lutz, “The Relative Influence of European Writers on Late Eighteenth Century American Political Thought,” American Political Science Review, Vol. 78, Issue 1, March 1984, p. 191.

[2] Baron Charles Secondat de Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws (London: J. Nourse and P. Vaillant, 1752), p. 210.

[3] William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (Philadelphia: Robert Bell, 1771), Vol. I, p. 139; see also The Founders’ Constitution, “Property: William Blackstone, Commentaries” (at http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch16s5.html).

[4] John Locke, Two Treatises of Government (London: Awnsham and John Churchill, 1698), pp. 273-274, Second Treatise §§ 138-40.

[5] Samuel Adams, The Life and Public Services of Samuel Adams, William V. Wells, editor (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1865), Vol. I, p. 502, “The Natural Rights of the Colonists As Men.”

[6] John Adams, A Defence of the Constitution of Government of the United States of America (Philadelphia: William Young, 1797), Vol. III, p. 217, “The Right Constitution of a Commonwealth Examined.”

[7] John Adams, A Defence of the Constitution of Government of the United States of America (Philadelphia: William Young, 1797), Vol. III, p. 216, “The Right Constitution of a Commonwealth Examined.”

[8] John Jay, John Jay The Making of a Revolutionary, Unpublished Papers, 1745-1780, Richard B. Morris, editor (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1980), Vol. I, p. 462, “A Freeholder: A Hint to the Legislature of the State of New York,” Winter 1778.

[9] Adam Smith, “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations: Vol. I, Chapter 6” (at http://www.adamsmith.org/smith/won-b1-c6.htm).

[10] Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. “property.”

[11] The Constitutions of the Several Independent States of America (Boston: Norman and Bowen, 1785), p. 6; William Paterson, The Charge of Judge William Paterson to the Jury (Philadelphia, Smith, 1796), p. 15.

[12] James Madison, The Writings of James Madison, Gaillard Hunt, editor (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1906), Vol. VI, p. 102, “Property,” March 29, 1792.

[13] Fisher Ames, The Works of Fisher Ames (Boston: T.B. Wait & Co., 1809), p. 125, “Eulogy on Washington”, Feb. 8, 1800.

[14] John Dickinson, The Political Writings of John Dickinson (Wilmington, Bonsal and Niles, 1801), Vol. I, p. 275, “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the inhabitants of the British Colonies,” Letter XII.

[15] John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1851), Vol. VI, p. 280, “Discourse on Davila; a Series of Papers on Political History.”

[16] John Adams, A Defence of the Constitution of Government of the United States of America (Philadelphia: William Young, 1797), Vol. III, pp. 293-294, “The Right Constitution of a Commonwealth Examined”; see also The Founders’ Constitution, “Balanced Government: John Adams, Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States” (at http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch11s10.html).

[17] James Wilson, The Works of the Honorable James Wilson, Bird Wilson, editor (Philadelphia: Bronson and Chauncey, 1804), Vol. II, pp. 454, 466, “Of The Natural Rights Of Individuals.”

[18] Thomas Jefferson, Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, editor (Boston: Gray and Bowen, 1830), Vol. IV, p. 278, to Francis Gilmer, June 7, 1816.

[19] William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (Philadelphia: Robert Bell, 1771), Vol. I, pp. 138-139; see also The Founders’ Constitution, “Property: William Blackstone, Commentaries” (at http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch16s5.html).

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