Saturday, March 9, 2013

Limits Upon Unlawful Seizures Thru History

Recently I opened my Bible and on the page I opened to my eye went directly to Ezekiel 46:18 which goes:
"The prince may not seize the property of the people by force to evict them from it but shall give to his sons of his own property so that no man be deprived of his land." ~ (Kimicus ad Absurdum translation)
The moment I read it I was rather struck by how familiar its 6th Century B.C.E. principles sounded in light of the fact I have been of late studying the Magna Carta which was written in 1215 C.E. which charter seems to contain echoes of that earlier principle as delineated in Clause 12 of the charter:
"Neither we nor our officials will seize any land or rent in payment of a debt, so long as the debtor has movable goods sufficient to discharge the debt. A debtor's sureties shall not be distrained upon so long as the debtor himself can discharge his debt. If, for lack of means, the debtor is unable to discharge his debt, his sureties shall be answerable for it. If they so desire, they may have the debtor's lands and rents until they have received satisfaction for the debt that they paid for him, unless the debtor can show that he has settled his obligations to them."
Although not entirely talking about the same precise thing it seems to me that the Magna Carta had a Biblical precedent although I doubt the framers of the charter were thinking about any Scripture. I suggest that the principles of property detailed in Clauses 7-12 of the Magna Carta are embodied in that aforementioned passage from the Book of Ezekiel

However, this historical thread does not end there because Enlightenment giant John Locke came next in history in the 17th Century C.E. He seems to have been inspired at least in part by the principles the Magna Carta outlined in regards to the social contract between the government and the people which is to say, what constitutes the limits of power as it pertains to property. This is perhaps best demonstrated in Chapter 11 of his Second Treatise on Civil Government written in 1690 where he states:
"It cannot be supposed that [the hypothetical contractors] they should intend, had they a power so to do, to give any one or more an absolute arbitrary power over their persons and estates, and put a force into the magistrate's hand to execute his unlimited will arbitrarily upon them; this were to put themselves into a worse condition than the state of nature, wherein they had a liberty to defend their right against the injuries of others, and were upon equal terms of force to maintain it, whether invaded by a single man or many in combination. Whereas by supposing they have given up themselves to the absolute arbitrary power and will of a legislator, they have disarmed themselves, and armed him to make a prey of them when he pleases..."
 Given the regard the Founding Fathers of the United States had for John Locke and Enlightenment ideals it is hardly surprising that this line of thinking passed further forward in history into the Constitution of the United States. The Fourth Amendment which is contained within the Bill of Rights as primarily penned in 1789 C.E. by no less an Enlightenment fan than Thomas Jefferson declares:
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized"
 And yet this thread is not finished as it is true that a great many constitutions and bodies of laws in other nations that have been since written contain similar concepts and principles. In my mind this is one continuous ideological thread laced through the past two and a half millenia of human history and continues forward to this day.

1 comment:

  1. And yet we still have emininent domain...sigh. Allison