From the President's Desk


A Brief History of Property Rights in United States

The right to own property and the capitalist system provide the freedom we enjoy in the United States. This article provides a short history of property rights in the U.S. and some thought-provoking comments at the end.

Jamestown, Virginia, established as Fort James in 1607, is widely considered to be the first permanent settlement in the United States. Although the settlement didn't survive into the 1700s due to its location on poor soil, it did serve as the beginning of how property rights were established in the U.S.

In the 1600s, European companies were granted property rights from British and French monarchies to manage and inhabit the claimed land. Monarch-funded land companies sprung up in Virginia, Massachusetts, and other colonies. The companies established local governance, and settlers in the New World were then granted or offered homestead rights to property in the settlement areas. These are referred to as Proprietary Colonies. These colonies usually consisted of wealthy people wishing to acquire property on colonial soil. Also, the headright system offered less wealthy individuals’ property if they could pay for the trip to the continent and agree to a settlement in certain areas. Many colonists logged and farmed their property, creating wealth. Often, they married into other wealthy families to create larger landholdings.

Unfolding the history of private property in the United States must include the Native American tribes that owned the land when Europeans first set foot on North American soil. The monarchs of the 1600s, 1700s, and later as a nation coerced, negotiated treaties, and used military force to obtain land from the tribes. These practices became common worldwide as British, French, and Spanish European monarchs fought for global power.

Before and after the American Revolution, expansion to the West continued as the country grew after the French and Indian War and the Louisiana Purchase. The Bill of Rights strengthened property rights in the U.S. Interestingly before the Bill of Rights, the property of loyalists was seized and redistributed to American soldiers who fought for the revolutionary cause. In the West, grants and homesteads were distributed to settlers by territories and states outside of the original 13 colonies.

The advent of the Industrial Revolution produced land purchases by individuals and corporations for the vast natural resources consumed by the growing nation. This was concurrent with the Homestead Act of 1862. This act enabled government grants of 160 acres to settlers who improved the land and lived on it for five years. The combination of these events established the rural communities and cities that exist today.

How have property rights shaped our nation? Property rights offer freedom to citizens that is not granted in countries without these laws. Private landowners are free to mine, harvest, and sell natural resources they own. In my days of Realty school, property rights were explained as a bundle of sticks when owning a property. They include the right to possession, the right to use, the right to exclude, the right to transfer, the right to enjoyment, the right to encumber, and the right to dispose. It is a landowner’s choice to offer a stick they own to anyone they choose. This offering can be to other individuals, corporations, or the government.

Property ownership has always been associated with wealth, not just monetarily. Many landowners love the beauty of their property and the nature and peace that goes with it. Many call this wealth, too. But the right to convert it to cash is available. Why are there wars? Why are there property disputes? Why do those with wealth purchase as much property as they can?

In conclusion, history has a way of repeating itself. Carefully consider any stick that is given up to anyone for any reason.

Troy Brown

GLTPA President


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The Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association (GLTPA)

Provides proven leadership in the Lake States Forest products industry for over 70 years. GLTPA is a non-profit organization proud to represent members in Michigan and Wisconsin and is committed to leading Forest Products Industry in sustainable forest management.

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