“Suppose a nation, rich and poor, high and low, ten millions in number, all assembled together; not more than one or two millions will have lands, houses, or any personal property; if we take into the account the women and children, or even if we leave them out of the question, a great majority of every nation is wholly destitute of property, except a small quantity of clothes, and a few trifles of other movables. Would [you agree] that, if all were to be decided by a vote of the majority, the eight or nine millions who have no property, would not think of usurping over the rights of the one or two millions who have? Property is surely a right of mankind as really as liberty. Perhaps, at first, prejudice, habit, shame or fear, principle or religion, would restrain the poor from attacking the rich, and the idle from usurping on the industrious; but the time would not be long before courage and enterprise would come, and pretexts be invented by degrees, to countenance the majority in dividing all the property among them, or at least, in sharing it equally with its present possessors. Debts would be abolished first; taxes laid heavy on the rich, and not at all on the others; and at last a downright equal division of every thing be demanded, and voted. What would be the consequence of this? The idle, the vicious, the intemperate, would rush into the utmost extravagance of debauchery, sell and spend all their share, and then demand a new division of those who purchased from them. The moment the idea is admitted into society, that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If ‘Thou shalt not covet,’ and ‘Thou shalt not steal,’ were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society, before it can be civilized or made free.”
–John Adams, 1787.
We have lost many rights to the Government since our founding, the most major of which is the Right to Property.
I don’t know that it is as prophetic as it was common sense, the difference being that John Adams (and other founders) had the fortitude to think things through. Today, we just “react” to “fix things” without asking any fundamental questions such as, is this really the responsibility of government?? (See my last two posts at Die Academie).
When the Declaration of Independence was written, the first draft contained the phrase about inalienable rights “that among these are life, liberty, and property”. Franklin had it revised to replace property with “pursuit of happiness”. Why? Because it was broader, including both property as well as other “rights”. Property is a means to an end, just as is religion, speech, association, etc. Unfortunately, though, few people recognize property as a right anymore ! This idea was so fundamental to the founders though, that they didn’t consider the implication of not stating property as a right either in the DofI or in the Bill of Rights (although the touched on it in the 4th and 9th amendments).
Again, Adams was merely stating common sense which he assumed was obvious to everyone! Of course, there was no 16th which most certainly would have been rejected by our founders.
The source of this quote comes from “Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States” written by John Adams in 1787.