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Property

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John Locke and Abraham Lincoln express their opinions of property in almost mirror images of one another. James Madison on the other hand, shows the complete opposite viewpoint. Madison thinks property belongs to the privileged, while Locke says the earth belongs to everyone, and no one has a special right to it. Lincoln and Locke further this argument by saying no one has a right to enslave others. Locke also discusses the unequal distribution of land and makes an argument for when property becomes the possession of someone through labor. He also explains when the land someone possesses is going to waste.

James Madison explains how the land is distributed unevenly and how to keep it like that. Madison says:

The diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate, is not less an insuperable obstacle to a uniformity of interests. The protection of these faculties is the first object of government. From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective proprietors, ensues a division of the society into different interests and parties (78).

Madison is referring to the slaves and free men when he says different faculties of men. The slaves have little faculties, or ability to acquire land, but the freemen have all the ability to do so; just because people are slaves, doesn’t mean they don’t want land as much as a free man does. If the government only lets free men gain land, then there will always be a split of different social classes. He also explains how to keep the property in his possession, “The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation.” Madison is saying in order to keep the slaves from uprising and acquiring land, we must make laws prohibiting them from doing this.

Locke quotes scripture through Psalms 115: 16, which states that “God has given the earth to the children of men” and then explains, “given it to mankind in common” (11). Locke is trying to convey the message that the earth should be divided up evenly throughout mankind. Locke also says the earth was “given to men in common” for, “the support and comfort of their being,” meaning the earth was put here for commoners, so why should certain people have the only right to it.

Abraham Lincoln interprets the Declaration of Independence in a way Madison did not intend for it to be understood. Lincoln writes about equality and freedom:

The assertion that all men are created equal was of no practical use in effecting our separation from Great Britain; and it was placed in the Declaration, nor for that, but for future use. Its authors meant it to be,-as thank God, it is now proving itself,-a stumbling block to those who in after times might seek to turn a free people back into the hateful paths of despotism (141).

Lincoln is saying that our forefathers said “all men are equal” but didn’t have to say this in the Declaration in order for the colonies to be free from Great Britain; it is in the Declaration because the forefathers meant for later generations to see that everyone was equal and slavery should be abolished.

John Locke thinks slavery is unnatural, and unfair. He says, “the natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man” (10). Locke is saying that all people should be free and there should be no laws prohibiting a person’s freedom. In his “a liberty to follow my own will in all things and not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man” (10) Locke is telling people no person should be held under the unpredictable whim of someone else.

In Locke’s view of property there is an unequal distribution of the land. Locke argues that “no

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