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December 28, 2015

Not Madisonís United States

Ken Kellar

I recently stumbled on a few quotes from James Madison regarding property. I recalled there was an older meaning of the word “property” but forgot it.


In digging, I found Madison’s full letter on the subject. I’ll share some bits, and I recommend that you read the full letter. It’s not too long and here is one link to the full text:


From Madison:




"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 juster meaning, it embraces every thing to which a man may attach a value and have a right; and which leaves to every one 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 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 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; …”


Later in the letter is a paragraph that got my attention:


"If there be a government then which prides itself on maintaining the inviolability of property; which provides that none shall be taken directly even for public use without indemnification to the owner, and yet directly violates the property which individuals have in their opinions, their religion, their persons, and their faculties; nay more, which indirectly violates their property, in their actual possessions, in the labor that acquires their daily subsistence, and in the hallowed remnant of time which ought to relieve their fatigues and soothe their cares, the inference will have been anticipated, that such a government is not a pattern for the United States.”


While I don’t fully understand Mr. Madison’s words, I think this paragraph points to where we are today. Our nation generally protects our physical property. However, say the wrong thing in public, send an “offensive” e-mail and all can be lost.


A high school football coach had a property in his religion yet was fired for praying after a game.


A pizza shop owner answered a question from a reporter out to generate a story that she would not cater a gay wedding and large numbers coordinated to shut down her business. The state government fined the business for the statement.


A high level executive donated funds to a political effort to have his state recognize marriage only as between a man and a woman. He was forced to resign in “shame” for defending true marriage.


These people had their property in rights violated. A man was fired because he prayed; a woman’s business was attacked because she did not want to associate with a group of people she considered immoral; a man was forced to resign for exercising political speech.


I compare a group that sets out to ruin a business or get a person fired because they don’t like their views to a group that sets out to lynch a local “scoundrel.”


Both groups are vigilantes; judge, jury and executioner. One group decides outside the law to hang a person. The other group decides to ruin a person, to take his job, his business, his property all while hiding behind the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.


Is a group standing on a sidewalk protesting a business merely exercising their 1st Amendment rights? I think not. I think they are too often a lynch mob acting to effect serious material harm to an individual. They are attacking that person’s property and rights (property in rights).


Often these people block physical access, they yell, they intimidate. That is when they “behave.” It is often worse when these mobs attack and destroy.


I suppose each individual in the mob is protected by our Constitution to protest near a business owned by a person he doesn’t agree with.


Is the organizer of the protest protected? Does the mob organizer have a right to take the business owner’s property? “I don’t like what you said so I am going to organize a group of people to harm you.” Is that a 1st Amendment right? I think not.


When the purpose of the mob is destruction, the 1st Amendment does not apply.


So, are we really respecting the Constitution when we step aside and watch lives and businesses be ruined due to differences in ideas?


Does our country currently meet Madison’s expectations?


"If the United States mean to obtain or deserve the full praise due to wise and just governments, they will equally respect the rights of property, and the property in rights: they will rival the government that most sacredly guards the former; and by repelling its example in violating the latter, will make themselves a pattern to that and all other governments."


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