James Madison on Property
[Volume 1, Page 598]
CHAPTER 16 | Document 23
James Madison, Property
29 Mar. 1792 Papers 14:266—68
This term 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.”
In its larger and more just meaning, it embraces everything to which a man may attach a value and have a right; and which leaves to everyone else the like advantage.
In the former sense, a man’s land, or merchandize, or money is called his property.
In the latter sense, a man has a property in his opinions and the free communication of them.
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.
Where an excess of power prevails, property of no sort is duly respected. No man is safe in his opinions, his person, his faculties, or his possessions.
Where there is an excess of liberty, the effect is the same, tho’ from an opposite cause.
Government is instituted to protect property of every sort; as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals, as that which the term particularly expresses. This being the end of government, that alone is a just government, which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own.
According to this standard of merit, the praise of affording a just securing to property, should be sparingly bestowed on a government which, however scrupulously guarding the possessions of individuals, does not protect them in the enjoyment and communication of their opinions, in which they have an equal, and in the estimation of some, a more valuable property.
More sparingly should this praise be allowed to a government, where a man’s religious rights are violated by penalties, or fettered by tests, or taxed by a hierarchy. Conscience is the most sacred of all property; other property depending in part on positive law, the exercise of that, being a natural and unalienable right. To guard a man’s house as his castle, to pay public and enforce private debts with the most exact faith, can give no title to invade a man’s conscience which is more sacred than his castle, or to withhold from it that debt of protection, for which the public faith is pledged, by the very nature and original conditions of the social pact.
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. A magistrate issuing his warrants to a press gang, would be in his proper functions in Turkey or Indostan, under appellations proverbial of the most compleat despotism.
This writing is part one of two parts. It was written by President James Madison shortley after the U.S. Constitution was ratified. The measure is in no small part political by any means. It is from a series of writings by the original founders’ and this particular one seems to be from “The Notes…” taken by President Madison during the framing of the document or better yet, before, during, and after our Constitution was actually published.
It appears to us that this is a bit more congenial than The Federalist Papers which to many back then, as well as today, are scholarly. We became exceedingly interested in this writing on “Property” especially when one considers our rights pursuant to the Second Amendment — Gun ownership as actually written by the founders’. One last note…this writing also floods my mind with thoughts and feelings about the Obama Administration and Congressional efforts as they try to muster up any sort of completion regarding Immigration Reform. Part two of this writing will be published tomorrow, Lord willing.