We’ve reached the last and most abused of the Natural Rights. Just like the Right to Liberty, the Right to Property exists as an extension of the Right to Life, an individual’s right to his life, health, and livelihood. To secure these things, the individual is granted a right to own land on which he may build a home to shelter him or develop for productive purposes (ex: a business or farm). Per Jeffersonian liberalism, this Right to Property extends to the individual’s Right to Pursuit of Happiness, so the individual may also own transportation and valuables consistent with his needs and wants, as long as he acquires these things through honest labor without violating the Right to Property of others.
The Right to Property seems straight forward and goes hand-in-hand with the freedom of contract from the Right to Liberty. The freedom of market and enterprise frees the individual to make the most of his livelihood, allowing him to maximize his well being to the full extent of his potential. Despite the explicit protections afforded by the Second Amendment (ownership of arms), Third Amendment (security of domicile against government encroachment), Fourth Amendment (privacy and protection from seizure of property), and Fifth Amendment (security of private property without due process of law or for eminent public use), this fundamental Natural Right continues to come under regular attack by powerful political and corporate entities.
“The true foundation of republican government is the equal right of every
citizen in his person and property and in their management.”
In 2005, working through an ostensibly non-profit real estate developer with significant ties to government, the New London Development Corporation (NLDC), politicians from the governor’s office of Connecticut on down to the mayor of New London decided to redevelop the Fort Trumbull area of New London, CT. They envisioned a bustling office building complex with modern residential housing that they believed would attract a major pharmaceutical manufacturer. The only snag was that people had been living in Fort Trumbull for decades, so their plan required that dozens of existing homes be demolished.
Pleading “eminent domain“, the governmental and corporate entities argued the proposed project would expand the city’s tax base and create jobs, which represented a “public use“, even though the property was going to be turned immediately over to a private corporation. Susette Kelo and many of her neighbors, among them a blind 80 year old widow, refused to sell their homes, and forced the NLDC to take them to court.
The court battle went all the way to the Supreme Court where, in a shocking defeat of Natural Rights, the court decided 5 to 4 in favor of the City of New London, evicting the residents from their homes and allowing the city to destroy (and in rare cases relocate) the homes of the hold outs. How did things turn out for New London? The pharmaceutical manufacturer chose to locate their headquarters elsewhere. Almost all of the affected families left New London, CT. And the development lots sit barren of any commercial or residential buildings, so the government cabal drove people out of their homes for nothing.
“Everybody coming into Atlantic City sees this terrible house instead of staring
at beautiful fountains and beautiful other things that would be good.”
– Donald Trump –
Just 9 years earlier, in 1996, real estate mogul and GOP presidential candidate, Donald J. Trump gained international infamy as he tried, in collusion with the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) of Atlantic City, NJ, to force an elderly widow out of her home so he could build limousine parking for his casino and hotel. Through months of abuse, harassment, and court proceedings, Vera Coking, then in her 70’s, fought Trump’s and the CRDA’s attempts to force her out of the home she raised her children in.
In 1998, the courts found that the intention of the CRDA (a governmental agency) to take Coking’s house through the power of “eminent domain” and immediately turn it over to a private owner (Trump) did not meet the Fifth Amendment definitions of “public use“. The elderly widow’s home and her Right to Property was saved. Had the case been brought just a few years later (after Kelo), it is certain that the CRDA and Trump would have easily condemned Vera’s home and forced her to leave the home that she had lived in for half a century.
Worse, after bitterly fighting an elderly widow for years in the courts, Trump sold his stake in Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, NJ, and the casino and hotel officially shut its doors in September 16, 2014, as the entire casino industry in New Jersey struggles in the post Recession economy. So far, these abuses of “eminent domain” have benefited no one except trial lawyers who specialize in evicting widows from their homes.
In 2009, 3,362 miles away from Atlantic City, NJ, in a quiet, rural area in the northeast corner of Scotland, a few miles outside of Aberdeenshire, Donald J. Trump again attacked the Right to Property of several families who lived for decades in the little town of Menie, Scotland. Instead of a casino, Trump had decided to build a luxury hotel and “World’s Greatest Golf Course” resort (presently rated 2.1 out of 5 stars).
While the homes and properties of these families weren’t included in the original land purchased for his golf course, Trump believed that they detracted from the physical beauty of his golf resort. In 2009, he attempted to strong arm the Aberdeenshire Council to use its power of “compulsory purchase” (British equivalent to eminent domain) to force the home owners off of their property, and to give the land to Trump International Golf Links Scotland (TIGLS) so he could bulldoze their homes.
In the course of the very public political fight, Mr. Trump resorted to harassing the residents with barrages of law suits, police and security harassment and verbal abuse, going so far as to accuse Michael Forbes, a farmer, part time fisherman and quarry worker who lived on the property with his widowed mother, of “living like a pig” among other personal attacks on Scottish national television. As of the publishing of this article, the home owners have retained ownership of their properties, however Mr. Trump has made every effort to hide their homes from view of the golf course behind artificial dirt mounds dozens of feet high.
For more information on this, watch this documentary: Fighting Trump (2011).
“By nature’s law, every man has a right to seize and retake by force
his own property taken from him by another by force or fraud.”
Until now, we’ve only talked about transgressions by private or semi-private entities, colluding with political power to usurp the Right to Property of private individuals. While these infringements have disrupted the liberties and livelihoods of the citizens of Atlantic City, NJ, New London, CT and Menie, Scotland, there remains a far worse transgressor of Right to Property, one that has put otherwise honest and law abiding men and women into prison and claimed the life of at least one good and honest man.
To put things into perspective, the largest private land owner in the United States is John Malone, at a staggering 2.2 million acres. The entire city of Washington, D.C. is only 43,710 acres, so John Malone owns enough land to fit the capital of the United States into it over 50 times, which would result in a city of roughly 33 million people. This hypothetical city would be the largest in the world, by population, surpassing even Shanghai at over 24 million people.
At present, the United States government owns more than 608.9 million acres of land (excluding military bases and the capital). That is a plot of land 13,930 times the size of Washington, D.C., resulting in a city of over 9.2 billion people. This hypothetical city’s population is greater than the entire population of the planet. So what is the US government doing with this land?
- The National Parks System controls 79.6 million acres.
- The Fish and Wildlife Service controls another 89.1 million acres.
- The Forest Service controls 192.9 million acres.
- The Bureau of Land Management controls 247.3 million acres.
What is the federal government doing with this land? Nothing. Not military bases. Not airports. Not “forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings”, as is clearly spelled out in the Constitution of the United States, Art I, Sect. 8, Clause 17. The land that the United States government owns is just empty terrain, shrub land, desert, forests, and wilderness, each outside of the constitutional purview of the federal government. The United States government is simply holding much of this land, to the detriment of the States and the People.
When Cliven Bundy, a rancher in Nevada, let his cattle graze on US Government claimed shrub land, federal law enforcement officers seized his cows, without due process, and even resorted to shooting livestock found on federal “property”. This lead to a stand off between patriot militias and federal agents, which threatened to lead to violence for weeks. A newly appointed director of the Bureau of Land Management, Neil Kornze, reversed course, and pulled federal agents out of Nevada, allowing Bundy to continue to use the land for grazing his cattle.
In January of 2016, another dispute between the Bureau of Land Management and ranchers lead to patriot militia men to occupy a vacant federal building in Oregon in a peaceful protest. This time protesting against failure of the federal government to maintain the forests against wildfires and the unlawful seizing of property from families that had land titles to thousands of acres of land for generations, tracing back to the earliest days of land purchases, predating even the establishment of territories in some cases.
The federal enforcement did not back down this time, leading to another armed stand off that lead to death of Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, a rancher who had a long running land dispute over land that the BLM claiming thousands of acres that Mr. Finicum’s family had held the deeds to for decades. He was gunned down by federal and state law enforcement officers who refused to allow him to speak to a County Sheriff who was sympathetic to his concerns. What every man and woman who loves liberty must ask themselves is: Is land that is being unused for any Constitutional purpose worth the life of a human being?
As important as it is that the American public pay attention to very real and serious political debates surrounding freedom of speech, of religion, and to keep and bear arms, the lack of attention to the very serious loss of the Right to Property has lead us to this very precarious point in America’s history. Any government that believes itself able to freely ignore any of the Natural Rights of the individual ultimately believes it may ignore all of them.
At least one man has given his life for the Right to Property. How many more must give their lives before Americans have had enough?
Next Article: Rule of Law.
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