Celebrating Life, Liberty And Private Property

As Americans celebrate our nation’s independence with family, friends, food and fireworks this July 4th, it is good for all to recall and reflect upon the cherished principles for which our Founding Fathers pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to defend and protect. Then and now many sacrificed much, even all, to secure our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The protection and ownership of private property rights were foundational to America’s Declaration of Independence, a document that remains the defining treatise on human liberty and, even today, an inspiration for oppressed people everywhere. So central were private property rights that Thomas Jefferson, the original drafter of the Declaration, in an early version penned:  We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable; that all men are created equal and independent, that from that equal creation they derive inherent and inalienable rights, among which are the preservation of life, liberty and private property.

Ultimately, it was John Adams and Benjamin Franklin who prevailed upon Jefferson to change the text to: They are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Regardless of the edits, it was understood by all drafters, signers and American colonists that the Declaration of Independence enshrined for Americans, indeed for all men (and subsequently black men and all women), the right to private property ownership. So central was the link in meaning between the pursuit of happiness and the pursuit of property that Jefferson purported to his fellow drafter: My dear Mr. Adams, I maintain that if you give a man his property, he will damn well take care of his own happiness.

In principle, Jefferson was right: Private property rights, including the right to land and home ownership, are vital to one’s freedom and happiness. Perhaps that’s why owning a home has more commonly come to be understood as the American Dream.

Whether you are pursuing the dream of homeownership, a first time home owner, or someone long accustomed to the enjoyment of homeownership, as Americans, we all do well to remember this Independence Day that our Founders pledged and sacrificed their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to secure, for all, this fundamental right of land and home ownership.

As we enjoy the happiness of having friends and family gather in our homes this July 4th to celebrate our freedoms, among them life, liberty and private property rights, may we also pledge ourselves to support, defend and advance, in both practice and policy, the opportunity of homeownership for all.


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