Daniel Webster as an Economist

By Robert Lincoln Carey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
PROPERTY AND PROSPERITY

I. GENERAL OPINIONS OF PROPERTY

THAT private property, supplemented by the rule of individualism in a competitive society, constituted the real basis of an enlightened economic system, Webster would pronounce to be an undeniable self-evident truth. Private property was regarded by him as a moral as well as an economic category. It was sanctioned not only as an end in itself but also as the most effective means by which one of his own cardinal virtues, love of country and its institutions, could be achieved. In one of his speeches he said: "If it be but a cottage, or a garden, its possession raises the individual, gives him self respect, and strengthens his attachment to his native land."1 This quotation shows that Webster did not think the attainment of vigorous individual moral character possible without guaranteeing to each that which he could name as his own. The property right was esteemed by Webster as a natural, a sacrosanct, and almost an inviolable right. Webster, however, set forth no claim that property, because it was founded upon natural precepts, was an absolute. Such qualifications of the exclusive nature of property as taxation and eminent domain he would not hesitate to apply. For example, in the Boston and Lowell Railroad case of 1845 he energetically upheld the eminent domain principle in railway construction but a strict interpretation of

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1
Second speech on the Sub-Treasury, March 12, 1838, Works of Webster, vol. iv, p. 432.

-31-

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