The Bill of Rights and Property

Spotlights safeguards to property in the Bill of Rights, explores various types of property, and examines the concepts of takings, just compensation, and eminent domain.

What is Property? Why Protect It?

Clock 60 minutes

The Founders were extremely concerned with protecting private property as a cornerstone of a free society. Property is not only physical possessions but also ideas, works, and even what someone has been promised in wages. This lesson explores the idea of property, its origins and the reasons it is protected.

Founding Principles

Due Process image

Due Process

The government must interact with all citizens according to the duly-enacted laws; applying these rules equally among all citizens.

Inalienable / Natural Rights image

Inalienable / Natural Rights

Freedoms which belong to us by nature and can only be justly taken away through due process.

Property Rights image

Property Rights

The natural right of all individuals to create, obtain, and control their possessions, beliefs, faculties, and opinions, as well as the fruits of their labor.

Rule of Law image

Rule of Law

Government and citizens all abide by the same laws regardless of political power. Those laws respect individual rights, are transparently enacted, are justly applied, and are stable.

Overview

The Founders were extremely concerned with protecting private property as a cornerstone of a free society. Property is not only physical possessions, but also ideas, works, and even what someone has been promised in wages.

Objectives

Students will:

  • Explain the definitions of property.
  • Explore the origins of property rights in the United States.
  • Summarize the reasons for the protection of personal property.
  • Analyze the property rights protections found in the Bill of Rights.

Materials

  • Handout A: Property or Not?
  • Handout B: Background Essay – What Is Property? Why Protect It?
  • Handout C: James Madison and Property
  • Handout D: The Bill of Rights and Property

Standards

  • NCHS (5-12): Era III, Standard 1B
  • CCE (9-12): IB1 and IB2
  • NCSS: Strands 5, 6, 7, and 10

Background 10 min.

  1. Write the word “property” on the board and ask students how they would define the term. Write key terms and ideas on the board. Ask students to brainstorm examples of property, continuing to record responses.
  2. Distribute Handout A: Property or Not? Have students work in pairs to complete the handout and write explanations for their answers. ƒƒ
    • As a class, discuss the students’ answers and explanations.

Warm-up 15 min.

  1. Go over Handout A as a class and answer any questions.
  2. Have students read Handout B: Background Essay – What Is Property? Why Protect It?

Activities 20 min.

  1. Distribute Handout C: James Madison and Property, and divide the class into nine groups. Assign each group to read one of Madison’s quotes.
  2. After they read, students should brief their group members on how Madison understood “property” based on their quote.
  3. Reconvene the class and go over the questions on Handout C. Determine which definition(s) of property students find most useful.

Wrap-up 20 min.

  1. Distribute Handout D: The Bill of Rights and Property, reminding students that Madison was highly influential in adopting the Bill of Rights. Have students return to working in their groups to determine how property is protected by the Bill of Rights. Each group should analyze the First Amendment as well as one of the remaining nine amendments. For instance, one group will analyze the First Amendment and the Second Amendment, another will analyze the First Amendment and the Third Amendment, and so on.
    • ƒƒAfter the students have finished, assign each group to represent either “physical property” (material goods) or “the most sacred property” (conscience). Read aloud the Bill of Rights and have students stand whenever they believe their type of property is being protected.
    • ƒƒAs you proceed, pause when you need to debrief the class. Are there any instances when everyone is standing up? Are there times when no one is standing? What does this tell you about the property protections in the Bill of Rights?

Homework

  1. Have students research other Founders’ or philosophers’ views on property rights and write an essay on their findings.
  2. One of the reasons property rights are tied to other rights in the Bill of Rights is because of the concept of self-ownership. Have students write a 2-3 paragraph reflection on what selfownership means, how self-ownership is represented in the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, and how they see self-ownership today.

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