The Founders, Property, and Federalist #10

September 8th, 2010 Erik Leave a comment Go to comments

One of my former students writes an excellent piece at Heritage, noting this piece by Thomas G. West, on the Founders and their favorable opinion of free markets.  This issue came up for a brief moment yesterday in my American Government class while going over Federalist #10.

Drawing on the West study, Shaw points out that the Founders were remarkably similar in their protection of property individuals  earned.  Government was there, to protect property and to enforce that protection through and by the rule of law.  If I could add, this was a moral issue to the Founders:  to allow someone to violate the property rights of another was a violation of the rights inalienable endowed into each every human being.

Cut to the class discussion today in Federalist #10:

The second expedient is as impracticable as the first would be unwise. As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. As long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other; and the former will be objects to which the latter will attach themselves. The diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate, is not less an insuperable obstacle to a uniformity of interests. The protection of these faculties is the first object of government. From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective proprietors, ensues a division of the society into different interests and parties.

So to Hamilton and Jefferson, we can add Madison:  the object of government is to protect private property–an extension of securing our natural rights.  This protection necessary is because each and every human being is equal in those rights.  Different human beings have different talents.  It follows, that some will be more productive and more talented than others in acquiring property, and in putting their gifts/talents to use.  We can see how this might apply to a person who invents something the consumer might want and becomes rich as a result of a calculated risk.  This inventor (let’s say it is Henry Ford), will likely get rich.

The same right that protects an Henry Ford, though, protects anyone who accumulates property.  It protects rich and poor alike.  The problem, as Madison notes, is that the people become inflamed, jealous,  and motivated by greed or some other passion, and that leads to factions.  The implication is that rich, and the poor, may violate the rights of others derived from their passions.  The rich might have a desire for more gain at the expense of others, and the poor possess the desire of greed/envy and may try to lay their hands on the property of the wealthy.

The necessity to remedy this problem of faction in a political community is the first object for Publius in crafting a defense of the then proposed U.S. Constitution.  Without the protection of the faculties of others–the rights of others–and the property that results from their talents and risks, there would not be a strong commercial republic–or rather the republic would not be strong without a strong commercial and market sector.  Taking into account the Declaration, a government that redistributes property (without consent) abandons its primary object it was instituted. The Founding remedies the problem of faction, which would violate the rights of others who have property no matter the source.

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