Life, liberty, property

Prospect Magazine

Life, liberty, property

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The source of US exceptionalism is its concept of property. The original land survey of America was as crucial as the Declaration of Independence

When the American colonists set out to explain why they wanted independence from Britain, they turned to the language of the Enlightenment. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” runs the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

To most American commentators, their republic still represents the embodiment of those ideals committed to paper in 1776. They are enshrined in the bill of rights and the constitution and given effect in the everyday operation of political and legal machinery. When the president’s executive power collides with the law-making brief of the legislature over, say, the proposal to create a new intelligence agency, or when the Supreme Court weighs up arguments about the human rights of a mentally retarded murderer, someone will invoke

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Author

Andro Linklater

This article is based on Measuring America: how the greatest land sale in history shaped the United States, published by HarperCollins in July 


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