Personal Property in 1889
“Some authors have tried to establish the principle of property on the right of the first occupant. This is a narrow view: occupation is a fact and not a principle. It is one of the signs by which the taking of possession manifests itself, but it is not sufficient to make it valid before the philosopher or the lawyer. Let a man land upon a desert, and say: “As far as my eye can reach, from this shore to the hills which bound the horizon yonder, this land is mine”; no one would accept such occupation for a bona fide title. But let the man settle upon the most the most fertile hill-side, build a hut there, cultivate the surrounding fields, and the possession of the portion actually occupied will become a right, because he has performed a proprietary act, that is to say, has by his labor thereon impressed on it the seal of his personality. International law makes a distinction, in regard to this, between individuals and states; what it refuses to the former, it grants to the latter; and it recognizes the validity of a summary taking of possession, which does not injure any anterior right.
It is because the occupation is of an entirely different nature: the one having as its object useful possession, the other sovereignty, which implies only a general protection; the proof of this is, that in modern society the sovereignty frequently passes from one state to another without property changing hands.* Montesquieu wrote: “As men have renounced their natural independence in order to live under political laws, they have renounced their natural community of possession to live under civil laws. The political laws gave them liberty; the civil laws, property”. Bentham enlarged upon the same thought: “Property and law were born together, and will die together. Before law, there was no property; take away the law, and all property ceases.” This was a narrow view. Montesquieu and Bentham, in order to consider but one side of the question, approached very near an exceedingly dangerous error, for it led to this consequence, that if the law had made property, the law could unmake it, and undid the very foundation which the authors intended to lay.
It is evident that property originated before law, as before the formation of any regular society, since there has been appropriation of a certain part of matter ever since man had lived, and began, in order to extend his hand and his intelligence about him. Property and the family have been the cause, and not the effect, of society; and the laws, to follow the beautiful definition placed by Montesquieu himself at the beginning of his work, “are the necessary relations which flow from the nature of things”; the laws have consecrated this necessary relation which was established between man and matter, but they have not erected a relation which would have been factitious and accidental. It is true that, without law, property has no guarantee against violence, and that it lacks security and solidity. But what right is there the exercise of which would be secure outside of the social condition?
It is also true that there are certain kinds of property which could not be produced without the protection of social law, because an advanced civilization and good government have the effect of widening the circle in which human activity can with safety move, and consequently extend the field of property. It is true, in short, that, in a certain number of particular cases in which natural right does not furnish sufficient light, the law decides and determines thus a positive right of property which it might perhaps determine otherwise, because it is important, in well organized society, that nothing, in such a matter, should remain in uncertainty, abandoned to the caprice of arbitrary power. But care must be taken not to confound a particular form or case with the principle of right itself.
It is, then, to the human being, the creator of all wealth, that we must come back; it is upon liberty that it is expedient to base the principle of property, and if any one would know by what sign it is to be recognized, we will answer that it is by labor that man impresses his personality on matter. It is labor which cultivates the earth and makes on an unoccupied waste an appropriated field; it is labor which makes of an untrodden forest a regularly ordered wood; it is labor, or, rather, a series of labors often executed by a very numerous succession of workmen, which brings hemp from seed, thread from hemp, cloth from thread, clothing from cloth; which transforms the shapeless pyrits, picked up in the mine, into an elegant bronze which adorns some public place, and repeats to an entire people the thought of an artist. It is labor which is the distinctive sign of property; it is the condition(or the means) of it, not the principle, which traces its origin to the liberty of the human soul.
Property, made manifest by labor, participates in the rights of the person whose emanation it is; like him, it is inviolable so long as it does not extend so far as to come into collision with another right; like him, it is individual, because it has its origin in the independence of the individual, and because, when several persons have co-operated in its formation, the latest possessor has purchased with a value, the fruit of his personal labor, the work of all the fellow-laborers who have preceded him; this is what is usually the case with manufactured articles. When property has passed, by sale or by inheritance, from one hand to another, its conditions have not changed; it is still the fruit of human liberty manifested by labor, and the holder has the same rights as the producer who took possession of it by right.
Violence, confiscation, fraud, conquest, have more than once disturbed the natural order of property, and mixed their impure springs with the pave sources of labor. But they have not changed the principle. Does the theft by which a lucky rascal is enriched interfere with the fact that labor is necessary for the production of wealth? Moreover, we must not exaggerate at pleasure than extent of these deviations from the general rule. It has been said that if we could go back to the origin of all landed property, possibly none would be found untainted with some one of these vices, on the soil of old Europe, overrun and successively occupied by so many hordes of invaders in ancient times and the middle ages.
But how far would we have to go back across the centuries? so far that it could not be told in the case of ninety-nine hundredths of landed estates, except by mere conjecture, based on the probabilities of history. French laws, for instance, have established the thirty-years limitation, firstly, because it is necessary, in order to give some fixity to property, that it should not be left exposed to endless claims, and then, because long possession is itself a title, and because a man who has himself or by his tenantry, or farmers, put continuous labor on the same soil for a generation, has made, so to speak, the property his own. Now what is this short legal limitation beside the long limitation of ages, and how would any one dare contest the lawfulness of the owner’s right over lands now richly cultivated, covered with farms and manufactories under the pretext that a Frank of the fourth century expelled from them a Gaul who was herding his flocks there? On the land has accumulated immovable wealth, which has sometimes increased the value of it a hundred-fold, and the origin and transmission of which are equally lawful.
Out of the soil has grown the personal wealth which now forms a large part of the patrimony of society, and this wealth, the fruit of modern labor, is for the greater part free from the stain of brute force. War is no longer in our day a means of existence; it is rather a cause of ruin; conquerors aspire to usurp sovereignty, but they respect property. The political societies which have settled in new worlds, in America and Australia, have been established for the greater part by the clearings of the pioneers who made the land what it is , and bequeathed it to their children. There has been little or no violence there, in the many places where they have not had to strive against savage tribes, even in the occupation of the land. In the main, if we consider property as a whole, how small a place is occupied by the exception as compared with the rule, by violence as compared with labor!.
Hierarchical Display of Personal property
Concept of Personal property
Characteristics of Personal property
Translation of Personal property
- Spanish: Propiedad mobiliaria
- French: Propriété mobilière
- German: Eigentum an beweglichen Sachen
- Italian: Proprietà mobiliare
- Portuguese: Propriedade mobiliária
- Polish: Własność ruchoma
Thesaurus of Personal property
- Real estate credit
- Real estate business
- Industrial plot
- Property market
- Building plot
- Immovable property
- Law of real property
- Real estate
- Law of personal property
- Movable property