Interestingly, I started this blog exploring property, a concept that makes no sense to me, and continued on a Postmodern journey to discount rights and truth. And then Enlightenment thinking in and of itself. I think of these still, most recently turning onto the concept of Democracy. Whilst researching de Tocqueville, I happened upon this letter by Ben Franklin. What on? Property. And taxation.
CHAPTER 16|Document 12
Benjamin Franklin to Robert Morris
25 Dec. 1783
The Remissness of our People in Paying Taxes is highly blameable; the Unwillingness to pay them is still more so. I see, in some Resolutions of Town Meetings, a Remonstrance against giving Congress a Power to take, as they call it, the People’s Money out of their Pockets, tho’ only to pay the Interest and Principal of Debts duly contracted. They seem to mistake the Point. Money, justly due from the People, is their Creditors’ Money, and no longer the Money of the People, who, if they withold it, should be compell’d to pay by some Law.
Franklin calls out those citizens unwilling to contribute their fair share to the commonwealth.
All Property, indeed, except the Savage’s temporary Cabin, his Bow, his Matchcoat, and other little Acquisitions, absolutely necessary for his Subsistence, seems to me to be the Creature of public Convention. Hence the Public has the Right of Regulating Descents, and all other Conveyances of Property, and even of limiting the Quantity and the Uses of it. All the Property that is necessary to a Man, for the Conservation of the Individual and the Propagation of the Species, is his natural Right, which none can justly deprive him of: But all Property superfluous to such purposes is the Property of the Publick, who, by their Laws, have created it, and who may therefore by other Laws dispose of it, whenever the Welfare of the Publick shall demand such Disposition. He that does not like civil Society on these Terms, let him retire and live among Savages. He can have no right to the benefits of Society, who will not pay his Club towards the Support of it.
Franklin is supportive of Locke’s property of ‘life, liberty, and property’ fame, but he is decidedly not a fan of passing along excess generational wealth. In fact, he feels that such excess property should accrue to the public.
To those unwilling to play by these rules, banishment to the wolves is not too good for them. Stripping them of citizenship is not too harsh a punishment.
The Founders’ Constitution
Volume 1, Chapter 16, Document 12
The University of Chicago Press
The Writings of Benjamin Franklin. Edited by Albert Henry Smyth. 10 vols. New York: Macmillan Co., 1905–7.