Those unalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence started out as life, liberty, and property. However, the Aristotelian Thomas Jefferson changed property to the pursuit of happiness, arguing that property was not so much a natural right but a means to an end. He also believed that private ownership of land was essential to both happiness and democracy.
For many years, land was this country’s greatest resource and commodity. America’s fledging government paid its Revolutionary War debts by auctioning off real estate, often to speculators out to turn a profit. But before the founding fathers could sell the land, it had to be paced off, staked, and surveyed. The dimensions of that task ultimately shaped the nation and democracy. Measuring America, history’s greatest yard sale.
Andro Linklater, author of, “Measuring America: How an Untamed Wilderness Shaped the United States and Fulfilled the Promise of Democracy.”