Property is surely a right of mankind as really as liberty. Perhaps, at first, prejudice, habit, shame or fear, principle or religion, would restrain the poor from attacking the rich, and the idle from usurping on the industrious; but the time would not be long before courage and enterprise would come, and pretexts be invented by degrees, to countenance the majority in dividing all the property among them, or at least, in sharing it equally with its present possessors.
Debts would be abolished first; taxes laid heavy on the rich, and not at all on the others; and at last a downright equal division of every thing be demanded, and voted. What would be the consequence of this?
The idle, the vicious, the intemperate, would rush into the utmost extravagance of debauchery, sell and spend all their share, and then demand a new division of those who purchased from them.
The moment the idea is admitted into society, that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If “Thou shalt not covet,” and “Thou shalt not steal,” were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society, before it can be civilized or made free.
– John Adams, “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America,” Vol. III, Chapter First: The Right Constitution of a Commonwealth Examined, 1787-1788; Works 6:8-9