Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

Original wording of life, liberty, and property was modified to avoid the debate of slaves as property. The discussion of real estate as property is placed in the link to “land” in this “Did you know” tab. Personal property is often ignored or overlooked, but it was one of the compelling reasons for the American Revolution and one of the plans in the constitutional foundation.

British troops were quartered in homes in and around Boston during the 1770s. The practice of quartering troops, especially officers was also used as the red coat army marched to the frontier during the French and Indian War. To some extent, plantation owners welcomed the army and extended their hospitality. In other cases, people were forced out of their own beds for the comfort or pleasure of the soldiers.

Provisions for the army during expeditions could be carried on the backs of soldiers or in wagons to some extent. When they were extended beyond a point, the army relied upon foraging. Some officers carried cash currency for purchases. Many were empowered to write IOUs from the royal treasury. Others begged for supplies from farms they were passing. A few just robbed or seized what they wanted from the residents. Such happened often enough to cause inclusion of warrantless search and seizure language in the constitution.

The fifth and sixth articles of the bill of rights state:

Article the fifth… No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Article the sixth… The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The various states held to similar protections for the use of property in their founding documents.

The Virginia General Assembly balanced the need to supply the revolutionary soldiers with the rights of the residents. A Bill for Procuring a Supply of Provisions and Other Necessaries for the Use of the Army. (June 8, 1780) Notes from New York show that the other states also considered the topic.

Pennsylvania inserted into their constitution:
X. That the people have a right to hold themselves, their houses, papers, and possessions free from search and seizure, and therefore warrants without oaths or affirmations first made, affording a sufficient foundation for them, and whereby any officer or messenger may be commanded or required to search suspected places, or to seize any person or persons, his or their property, not particularly described, are contrary to that right, and ought not to be granted.

Vermont used almost identical language. Massachusetts was even more restrictive in how searches and seizures could be permitted.

Real property and personal property were both elements in the pursuit of happiness. The difficulties in stating that God gave us the right to property was that it was not the articles themselves, but the right to acquire, care for, improve, and build upon them which we share, not the property itself. The Irish plantations were built and improved by the Scots, but the barons profited from their leases and removed their security by raising rents. Botetourt County court records illustrate the value places upon the work to improve property as opposed to the documents recorded to show ownership of land. County commissioners could give certificates to establish ownership of land based on years of unopposed occupancy and improvement.

Bud and Sis might both be granted bedrooms. Whether the beds were made, furniture was dusted, and clothes were piled dirty in a corner or folded in drawers and hung in the closet were left up to the individual. Possessions belonged to the individual based on their care and use. Sis might accumulate scissors, needles, pins, and a spinning wheel. Bur might acquire a knife, axe, rifle, and perhaps a horse. When individual pursuits failed to care for property, it might degrade and become lost or worth less, or worthless. When carefully employed and built upon, Sis might acquire thread, cloth, and clothing while Bud might acquire venison and firewood.

The property right to pursue happiness by the use of his horse requires care, feeding, and training. The public must respect Bud’s ownership. Bud must accept the responsibility and liabilities which ownership of the horse entails. With neglect, the horse could cause damage to others. With neglect, Bud might let the horse might wander away and forfeit his ownership. With care to the other extreme, Bud might acquire the blanket of roses for winning the Kentucky Derby.

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