Egalitarianism and Assets
God the Economist
January 1, 1863, marked a monumental day in the legislative history of the United States, when two landmark pieces of legislation took effect. One was the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves who came under control of Union forces in the Civil War, liberating some 4 million slaves by 1865. While the Emancipation Proclamation extended civil equality, the Homestead Act, also enacted on that day, sought to create greater economic equality for millions of Americans. This act opened the Great Plains to mass settlement; nearly any man who was at least 21 years of age could acquire at virtually no cost a tract of 160 acres that would become his after five years of residence and farming. For 2 million new arrivals and other landless Americans, the Homestead Act was an opportunity to acquire assets and to bring equality of economic standing in line with equality before the law.1 It underscored the philosophy that there is no equality without equity.
I have, to this point, examined the way a strand of thought in the biblical tradition, particularly the Pentateuch, sought an elevated position for the common man as the member of an ennobled and empowered citizenry. I have shown how this was achieved theologically through the notion of covenant and conceived politically in the Book of Deuteronomy. Ennoblement and empowerment, however, are not achieved in the theological or political realms alone. In this chapter, I examine how the law collections of the Pentateuch articulate a philosophy of riches with the social goal in mind of ensuring