Legislative Property Confiscation before the Civil War

in The Limits of Sovereignty

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print February 2007 | ISBN: 9780226314822
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226314860 | DOI:
Legislative Property Confiscation before the Civil War

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Property within republican thought is not “owned” in an absolute sense but is provisionally granted as a “bundle of rights,” or a set of malleable prohibitions and entitlements determined entirely within the political process. Property rights thus are relational and are functions of social policy rather than the revelation of reason, natural law, or divine will. During the American Revolution, private property had been permanently seized by state legislatures without compensation, for public benefit and as punishment for disloyalty. In its rejection of royal authority, Revolutionary property ideology was in fundamental ways a rejection of medieval thought. Premodern conceptions of property had been transformed into a system in which land was to a great extent freely alienable. Yet the idea of loyalty to the sovereign as the underlying basis for the legitimate possession of land was not erased by constitutional bans on attainder. The interconnection of property, loyalty, and sovereignty showed remarkable resilience within the law and continued to echo across the confiscation debates.

Keywords: American Revolution; property rights; private property; legislatures; property ideology; sovereignty; attainder; loyalty; confiscation; land

Chapter.  2444 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas

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