Private Property and Natural Property
Property is the legal description of any physical possession, such as land, buildings, workshops, and so on. Property in the legal sense is what belongs to someone, whether as a direct attribute or as a constituent of whatever thing, as an aspect or as a material component. The two concepts are often used interchangeably. However, property is more than mere ownership; it is a recognition of the legal relationship between a person and something. In legal terms, it is a sort of right or privilege attaching to something.
It differs from ownership in that ownership is regarded as having the paramount position. For instance, a mortgage is the most common example of ownership; while, the mortgage is a type of property, the ownership is immovable. In the context of the legal definition of property, the meaning of immovable property is something that is not attached to a particular person or thing, such as the title of a building. Immovable property is also understood to include that which is not attached to any particular individual or thing, such as the bulk of a warehouse or a set of houses.
In the United States, the concept of property rights developed out of the English common law and English common property systems. These were influenced by the French Revolution and the impact that it had on the societies of Europe. The problem with these traditional systems was that they depended too much on personal, familial, or community ties for justification. Thus, property was determined not by actual ownership but by proximity or by relationship to a person or thing. In many regards, this system gave way to the present day property systems in the European and American continents.
With the development of America and the European world, the concept of property was redefined under the theories of individual rights and the theories of natural rights. The social contract theory, which emerged out of the New England slave trade, held that all men are created equal and that all men should have the freedom to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Natural rights theory holds that all individuals have equal rights to the natural goods produced by nature. The idea of property was not natural rights theory that it was later on developed by the English common law and English Common Wealth Property principles. John Locke, one of the great philosophers of the seventeenth century, developed a theory of natural rights and property rights that is still in use today.
The original concept of property ownership was that of private possession, not government ownership. The early United States federal laws did not distinguish between ownership and possession. This made the system quite different from that of Europe. The European property systems were based on possession and the idea of ownership was not natural. As more European immigrants began to arrive in the United States, the government began to change the definition of the rules for property so that it would be easier for these new settlers to become citizens.
With changes in state laws over time, there have been attempts to distinguish between two different types of possession, or ownership. States have been successful in making distinctions between these two types of ownership, but it is important to understand that all forms of possession are at the mercy of the decisions of society at large. No matter what type of ownership is decided upon by society, the individual is usually at the mercy of the laws of property acquisition. Private property exists in a vacuum of unlimited opportunity and the laws only restrict the actions of individuals towards this property when they do not possess all of the relevant legal ownership.