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COLUMN: Protecting Private Property
By: Mac Thornberry
All of us who grew up on the land know how precious our American private property rights are. It is not just about our business or finances. It is also about self-reliance and stewardship – taking care of what we have in order to provide opportunity and the chance for a better future for coming generations.
That sense of responsibility for the future makes threats to our property rights alarming, especially when those threats come from our own government. And there is a growing momentum toward federal intrusion into private property and a corresponding erosion of our personal control over our most sacred resource – the land.
An issue of property rights along the Texas-Oklahoma border has thus generated a fair amount of attention. The background starts in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase. In that agreement between President Jefferson and Napoleon, the riverbed of the Red River was part of the land bought by the United States. Subsequent treaties between the United States and Spain, the U.S. and Mexico, and the U.S. and the Republic of Texas confirmed that the border was the south bank of the Red River.
But defining the south bank has been a challenge over the years. After several court cases, treaties, and federal legislative action, the Red River Boundary Compact was negotiated by Texas and Oklahoma, ratified by Congress, and signed into law by President Clinton in 2000. It established the boundary line as the vegetation line along the south bank.
There had been, however, various interpretations of the south bank over the years, which confused the boundaries for some land owners. And then last year, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced that it was reviewing and updating its management plan for any land the federal government might own along the River. There was immediate concern that the federal government was making a “land-grab” that called some private ownership claims into doubt.
I have introduced legislation with Senator John Cornyn and Senator Ted Cruz to put those concerns to rest. Our legislation (H.R. 4979 and S. 2537) requires the BLM to provide quit claim deeds to any property owner who can support his or her ownership through county deed and tax records. And it prevents the BLM from including any private property in its management plans. In truth, there should be no issue of federal claims to any private land along the border, but our legislation seeks to remove any question and settle the issue once and for all.
Most historians agree that the phrase “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in our Declaration of Independence was based upon John Locke’s view that government’s job is to protect a person’s “life, liberty, and estate.” For the founding fathers, protecting property meant protecting opportunity and freedom from an overbearing government. Recent studies confirm that property rights are a fundamental and essential ingredient to societal development and to rising standards of living.
It is so basic that we sometimes take it for granted. Yet secure property rights, which are recognized and protected by government, have been and will continue to be vital to our American way of life. Those rights deserve our constant vigilance and strong protection.