According to the Declaration of Independence, we are each endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights - among them, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
This familiar refrain represents an imperfect derivation of the fundamental rights identified by John Locke: life, liberty, and property. The third item was altered out of fear that those colonists who didn't own property might construe it as guaranteeing them property, even if it belonged to someone else.
Unfortunately, "pursuit of happiness" is also prone to misconstruction, as anyone can verify who is alert to the trends of the last thirty years or so. Perhaps the better substitution would have been "the right to the benefits of one's own property."
But no matter how you word it, those three fundamental rights constitute the essence of freedom. Any right or freedom mentioned in the Constitution of the United States can be traced to at least one of them.
Other mentions of "liberty" rights are found in the Fourth and Fifth amendments - freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, from double jeopardy and from the compulsory giving of evidence against oneself - as well as elsewhere.
The first clause of the Second Amendment identifies it, too, as a liberty amendment, since it declares that the right of the people to keep and bear arms is a necessity for the security of a free state. But as we know, it goes beyond just that one.
Niccolo Machiavelli, in his oft-reviled but rarely read treatise on governance, "The Prince," advised all would-be practitioners in statecraft that a state is most secure when the property of its citizens is not threatened by the government.
Our Founding Fathers were vastly better educated than the average colonist, and the average American in 1996 isn't much better educated, in real terms, than the average colonist of 1787. Is it not reasonable to suppose that the originators of the Second Amendment had read Machiavelli?
The principle for regarding property as an essential part of freedom is simple: if one has one's own property, one is independent of the whims of others for his livelihood. Conversely, if the state can deprive a person of his rightful property, it can force that person to be dependent on the goodwill and largesse of the state.
What better way to corrupt the propertied classes than to tax them to excess, and then have them bargain for some small part of the services funded with their own confiscated money?
As a result, any effort at reform is bound to inspire terror among such people _ a terror exploited and encouraged by the politicians and bureaucrats who have benefited from the corrupt status quo.
This is why our Founding Fathers placed such an emphasis on property in the Constitution. Like life itself, and the liberty that enables a free people to ascertain and do what is right, the right to the benefits of one's own property is a necessity for a nation if its people are to remain free.
The encouragement of dependence on "the prince" is a surefire way to suck all the freedom out of any nation, leaving only a downcast, demoralized populace easily herded by the powers-that-be.
While the Fourth and Fifth amendments deal with life, liberty and property in the event that one is in the power of the state, these protections are of no use if all the apparatus of the state is arrayed in defense of the corrupt status quo.
In that event, the only hope for a free person to remain free, and to fight against the corrupted state, is to be able to match force against force - to be able and free to use arms in defense of life, liberty and property.
The essence of freedom is not to be able to do whatever one wants. It is to be able to do what's right, even when it is unpopular or - let's face it - illegal.
The most important freedom of all is the freedom to defend freedom. That is why the Second Amendment is in the Bill of Rights. That is why the Second Amendment is phrased as it is. That is why millions of Americans have armed themselves and why they will continue to do so.
And it is why we must defeat Bill Clinton in his quest for a second term as President of the United States, lest he use the clout of the presidency to continue to defend a corrupt status quo founded by Franklin Roosevelt.
We owe it not only to ourselves, and to our descendants who must deal with the consequences of whatever we do or fail to do, but also we owe it to those who went before, who struggled with enemies foreign and domestic, and with their own consciences, to bequeath us the freest country in the history of the human race - that they may rest easy that their gift will not be squandered.