Life, Liberty, and Property; Part I

I’m bringing back some of my earlier posts since I’m partially taking some time off. Besides, these posts make some points that need reinforcement. They form sort of a basic, underpinning to American conservatism, which is different from that anywhere else in the world.

“Life, Liberty, and Property.” 

I know, you are thinking I misquoted Jefferson. Actually, I didn’t. I seem to remember that the first draft read, after markup:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and Property the pursuit of Happiness.

Most of the theory here goes back to John Locke originally. Much of it, through Locke’s employment by the Earl of Shaftesbury, underpinned the Glorious Revolution and the English Bill of Rights, and the founding of the Whig Party in England. It also underpins the libertarian cast of the American founding.

Shaftesbury also developed the Carolina Plantations. It is believed that Locke wrote, virtually unaided the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, which included a parliament of property owners, separation of church and state, and military conscription, which seems rather surprising.

We can easily show this with a few quotes:

“The Magistrate,” he declared, “ought not to forbid the Preaching or Professing of any Speculative Opinions in any Church, because they have no manner of relation to the Civil Rights of the Subjects. If a Roman Catholick believe that to be really the Body of Christ, which another man calls Bread, he does no injury therby to his Neighbour. If a Jew do not believe the New Testament to be the Word of God, he does not thereby alter any thing in mens Civil Rights. If a Heathen doubt of both Testaments, he is not therefore to be punished as a pernicious Citizen.”

Be it noted that here he shows a toleration of Catholics that was not particularly evident in his writing on England and Holland. The reason for that is the French King Louis XIV, by far the most powerful Catholic king and opponent of England and Holland, not to mention the tyrannical tendencies of the Stuart (and Catholic) kings of England.


“Reason, which is that Law,” Locke declared, “teaches all Mankind, who would but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his Life, Health, Liberty, or Possessions.” Locke envisoned a rule of law: “have a standing Rule to live by, common to every one of that Society, and made by the Legislative Power erected in it; A Liberty to follow my own Will in all things, where the Rule prescribes not; and not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, Arbitrary Will of another Man.”

Locke established that private property is absolutely essential for liberty: “every Man has a Property in his own Person. This no Body has any Right to but himself. The Labour of his Body, and the Work of his Hands, we may say, are properly his.” He continues: “The great and chief end therefore, of Mens uniting into Commonwealths, and putting themselves under Government, is the Preservation of their Property.”

That implies that it is quite an old concept, as indeed it is. It goes on back to the concept that ” A (free) man’s home is his castle”. Thus we see that it is very deeply ingrained in Anglo-Saxon (and associated) cultures, indeed. The wording changed because it caused a ruckus in committee (some sources say because of slavery).

You’re probably thinking it a small change. In some ways, it is but in some ways it’s not so small. Let’s look at the next big revolution, the French and their slogan “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity”. Specifically, think about the difference between “Created equal” and “equality”. Would I like to be equal to Sam Walton? Yeah, but I don’t want to work that hard.

Judith Miller (and others) assert that revolutions are plays in three acts, and they are correct.

Act 1: The people get fed up with the ruling class and revolt.

Act 2: The people erect a new form of government.

Act 3: A (or a group of) despot takes control of the revolution and takes tyrannical power. (see Robespierre and Napoleon, or Lenin if you prefer)

Always happens that way, except once: The American Revolution. Our Revolution stopped after Act 2. That’s what we mean when we talk about America as still the original revolutionaries.

Why? the French and Russian revolutions were revolts of peasants. I mean no disrespect, they are as worthy of respect as anybody, but they were uneducated peasants. The American patriots were educated freeman. Boy, were they educated. They had read Plato, and Plutarch, and Cicero, and Burke, and Voltaire and who knows who else. Two (Jefferson and Franklin) were members of the Royal Society many had been military officers (although mostly not regulars) and most were men of property and substance.

What’s my point? They knew history, they knew what happens to men of property when the mob takes over and they took care that it didn’t happen here.

Most of the information on John Locke and all the quotes are drawn from: John Locke: Natural Rights to Life, Liberty, and Property. There is quite a lot more there and it all very good. I expanded the section on Locke considerably, (originally I misattributed the concept to Burke, and chose to correct it here). And so we will continue tomorrow.



About NEO
Lineman, Electrician, Industrial Control technician, Staking Engineer, Inspector, Quality Assurance Manager, Chief Operations Officer

13 Responses to Life, Liberty, and Property; Part I

  1. Nicholas says:

    Great piece, NEO 🙂 The Salamanca School, Locke, Kant, Smith, and Say were important influences on the Austrian School of Economics too, as you know. Quite a lot can be deduced from examining the concepts of action and private property – it is a great shame that our political class in the present time have not heeded the lessons of these great thinkers and of the series of financial and economic crashes that have dogged the 20th and 21st century.

    Liked by 2 people

    • NEO says:

      Thank Nicholas. It was one that in its earlier form C asked me to repeat, after we stumbled across each other.

      Very true on the political class, even conservatives often drop the ball on these guys.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. the unit says:

    I’ve read that some folks after the American Revolutionary War wanted Washington to proclaim to be King. So this revolution doesn’t fit the description by the noted scholars. George came to a fork in the road and took it. An Act 3 dogleg from the usual. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Yep George could likely have been king. But he was wise enough to defer to Providence and go for something better. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • the unit says:

        I don’t guess he wrote a book in contrast to Hillary? ‘How I Won.’
        Then there’s Hillary’s and Wasserman’s wish book ‘Lost and Found’. They wish… their bridge to paradise. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Nope, he didn’t. But when he resigned his commission in the Continental Army, George III asked our Ambassador, one John Adams, what he would do. Adams, replied, “He’ll return to his farm”. George then said, “Then he’ll be the greatest man in the world.” Even George III was right sometimes. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • the unit says:

          And was Hillary right when she said “they didn’t want me to be President”. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Yep! Stopped clocks and all that! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • the unit says:

          Have old Grandmother clock I leave unwound now on purpose. And will as long as Hillary’s around. No wind, no noise or trouble. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Yepper. 🙂


  3. the unit says:

    Your being “partially” got me to thinking. About the lady partially sucked out of the airplane the other day. What part got sucked out and what part was left? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Indeed. 🙂


  4. Reblogged this on Boudica2015.


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