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What is Property? Why Protect It?

45 min


  • Students will explain the definitions of property.
  • Students will explore the origins of property rights in the United States.
  • Students will summarize the reasons for the protection of personal property.
  • Students will analyze the property rights protections found in the Bill of Rights.

  1. Go over Handout A as a class and answer any questions.
  2. Have students read Handout B: Background Essay – What Is Property? Why Protect It?

  1. Distribute Handout C: James Madison and Property, and divide the class into nine groups. Assign each group to read one of Madison’s quotes.
  2. After they read, students should brief their group members on how Madison understood “property” based on their quote.
  3. Reconvene the class and go over the questions on Handout C. Determine which definition(s) of property students find most useful.

  1. Distribute Handout D: The Bill of Rights and Property, reminding students that Madison was highly influential in adopting the Bill of Rights. Have students return to working in their groups to determine how property is protected by the Bill of Rights. Each group should analyze the First Amendment as well as one of the remaining nine amendments. For instance, one group will analyze the First Amendment and the Second Amendment, another will analyze the First Amendment and the Third Amendment, and so on.
    • After the students have finished, assign each group to represent either “physical property” (material goods) or “the most sacred property” (conscience). Read aloud the Bill of Rights and have students stand whenever they believe their type of property is being protected.
    • As you proceed, pause when you need to debrief the class. Are there any instances when everyone is standing up? Are there times when no one is standing? What does this tell you about the property protections in the Bill of Rights?

  1. Have students research other Founders’ or philosophers’ views on property rights and write an essay on their findings.
  2. One of the reasons property rights are tied to other rights in the Bill of Rights is because of the concept of self-ownership. Have students write a 2-3 paragraph reflection on what selfownership means, how self-ownership is represented in the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, and how they see self-ownership today.

Student Handouts