Harvard University Freedom of Citizens Properties Questions

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Found on 3 pages and artisans, the natural workings of society would enable all free Ameri- cans to acquire land and achieve, if not complete equality, at least the eco- nomic independence necessary for political "virtue." IN AMERICA, we begin our empire with more popular privileges than the Romans ever enjoyed. We have not to struggle against a mon- arch or an aristocracy-power is lodged in the mass of the people. On reviewing the English history, we observe a progress similar to that in Rome-an incessant struggle for liberty from the date of Magna Charta, in John's reign, to the revolution. The struggle has been successful, by abridging the enormous power of the nobility. But we observe that the power of the people has increased in an exact proportion to their acquisitions of property. Wherever the right of primogeniture is established, property must accumulate and remain in families. Thus the landed property in England will never be suffi- ciently distributed, to give the powers of government wholly into the hands of the people. But to assist the struggle for liberty, com- merce has interposed, and in conjunction with manufacturers, thrown a vast weight of property into the democratic scale. Wher- ever we cast our eyes, we see this truth, that property is the basis of power; and this, being established as a cardinal point, directs us to the means of preserving our freedom. Make laws, irrevocable laws in every state, destroying and barring entailments; leave real estates to revolve from hand to hand, as time and accident may direct; and a. It meant that all men now had a legal claim to an equal distribution of prop Found on 3 pages 116 Voices of Freedom no family influence can be acquired and established for a series of generations-no man can obtain dominion over a large territory- the laborious and saving, who are generally the best citizens, will possess each his share of property and power, and thus the bal- ance of wealth and power will continue where it is, in the body of the people. A general and tolerably equal distribution of landed property is the whole basis of national freedom: The system of the great Montesquieu will ever be erroneous, till the words property or lands in fee simple are substituted for virtue, throughout his Spirit of Laws. Virtue, patriotism, or love of country, never was and never will be, till mens' natures are changed, a fixed, permanent principle and sup- port of government. But in an agricultural coụntry, a general pos- session of land in fee simple, may be rendered perpetual, and the inequalities introduced by commerce, are too fluctuating to endan- ger government. An equality of property, with a necessity of alien- ation, constantly operating to destroy combinations of powerful families, is the very soul of a republic—While this continues, the people will inevitably possess both power and freedom; when this is lost, power departs, liberty expires, and a commonwealth will inev- itably assume some other form. The liberty of the press, trial by jury, the Habeas Corpus writ, even Magna Charta itself, although justly deemed the palladia of freedom, are all inferior considerations, when compared with a gen- eral distribution of real property among every class of neonle. The It meant that all men now had a legal claim to an equal distribution of proper b. It challenged the inequality that had been fundamental to the colonial social a. itably assume some other form. The liberty of the press, trial by jury, the Habeas Corpus writ, even Magna Charta itself, although justly deemed the palladia of freedom, are all inferior considerations, when compared with a gen- eral distribution of real property among every class of people. The power of entailing estates is more dangerous to liberty and republi- can government, than all the constitutions that can be written on paper, or even than a standing army. Let the people have property, and they will have power—a power that will for ever be exerted to prevent a restriction of the press, and abolition of trial by jury, or the abridgement of any other privilege. The liberties of America, therefore, and her forms of government, stand on the broadest basis. Removed from the fears of a foreign invasion and conquest, they are not exposed to the convulsions that shake other governments; I The Revolution Within 117 and the principles of freedom are so general and energetic, as to exclude the possibility of a change in our republican constitutions. and the principles of freedom are so general and energetic, as to exclude the possibility of a change in our republican constitutions. Questions 1. Why does Webster consider an equal distribution of landed property more important to freedom than liberty of the press, tšial by jury, and other rights? 2. Why does Webster believe the republican institutions of the United States will survive indefinitely? 36. Noah Webster on Equality (1787) Source: Noah Webster, An Examination into the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution (Philadelphia, 1787), pp. 46-47. Americans of the revolutionary generation were preoccupied with the social conditions of freedom. Could a republic survive with a sizable dependent class of citizens? In the excerpt that follows, from a pamphlet The Revolution Within I 115 published in 1787, the educator and political writer Noah Webster identi- fied equality as essential for the stability of republican government. Citing and amending the teachings of the French political theorist Montesquieu, Webster proclaimed, "A general and tolerably equal distribution of landed property is the whole basis of national freedom." "Equality," he added, was "the very soul of a republic." To most free Americans, "equality" meant equal opportunity, rather than equality of condition. Many leaders of the Revolution nevertheless assumed that in the exceptional circumstances of the New World, with its vast areas of available land and large population of independent farmers and artisans, the natural workings of society would enable all free Ameri a. It meant that all men now had a legal claim to an equal distribution of proper
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Distribution of Landed Property
Webster argues that even distribution of landed property is more imperative to freedom
because equality in land distribution will maintain the power within the citizens. The
commonwealth takes a different form when people ...

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