Private Property

The Ground of Freedom The role of private property is a necessary component of home economics. To begin, I would like to consider briefly what some writers from our Founding Era had to say about private property and then quickly trace the idea into the twentieth century. We will see that the idea of private property is frequently understood as a correlative of freedom. Furthermore, any restoration of home economies must be built on a vibrant culture of private property. If so, it may be that revitalizing home economics is an important means of fostering freedom. Noah Webster—the same Webster who compiled the first American dictionary—was an ardent champion of the Constitution. In the fall of 1787, he published a defense of the proposed Constitution. He argues that real power consists in nothing other than the ownership of property, and he observes that historically “the power of the people has increased in an exact proportion to their acquisition of property.” In fact, “a general and tolerably equal distribution of landed property is the whole basis of national freedom.”[1] On the other side of the ratification debate, an Anti-Federalist writing under the pseudonym Centinel asserts that “a republican, or free government, can only exist where the body of the people are virtuous, and where property is pretty equally divided.”[2] While serving as minister to France, Thomas Jefferson observed the sufferings of French citizens bereft of private property. In a 1785 letter to James Madison, Jefferson discusses the importance of property. “I am conscious,” Jefferson admits, “that an equal division of property is impracticable.” Nevertheless, “enormous inequality” is the cause of such misery, and the suffering is such that “legislators cannot invent too many devices for subdividing property, only taking care to let their subdivisions go hand in hand with the natural affections of the human mind.” Ultimately, Jefferson voices his commi
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