Resolved, N.C.D. 1. That they are entitled to life, liberty, and property, and they have never ceded to any sovereign power whatever, a right to dispose of either without their consent.
Declaration of Colonial Rights, First Continental Congress, October 14, 1774
…nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
The theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence:
Abolition of private property.
The old man smiled at his son as he entered the workshop. He was huddled over a piece of wood, and would probably remain so for many hours. The man was a talented carpenter, but in recent years he was in the habit of keeping his projects a secret. He worked on his creations in private and then presented them as gifts to friends, neighbors, and relatives as he completed them.
“Hi, Dad,” Tom greeted him as he approached his father. His face was grim. “You still haven’t hired anyone to paint outside, I see.”
“Now, I told you I’m not going to hire anyone,” said his father, whom everyone in their small town had called Papa Frank for years. “I told you that I’m working on a table for that nice family down the street. When I’m finished, that young man–what is his name? I can’t ever remember his name.”
“Dad. The painting.”
“Well, I told you that young man–Mark!–he’ll paint it in exchange for the table. He’s been busy. I told him to paint after I’m done with my work. I’ll take some time off while the paint is drying.”
“The City gave you a deadline, Dad,” said Tom, still frowning.
“Oh, the City,” said Papa Frank in disgust. “What do they know? They all buy their furniture from one of those big stores. Which really means they buy them from India or China.” He spat out the word China. Everyone who knew Frank knew his opinions on the U.S. insisting on trading with a country who forced abortions on its own women. “They know nothing. Besides, I will simply bring Mark along and he will explain that he’s going to paint and when he will be done. Problem solved.”
“Son,” Papa Frank cut him off, “it’ll be fine.”
“We need more tax dollars, plain and simple,” said Diana in a shrill voice. Women like her always talk in shrill voices. “There is no way people in this town will donate enough money in time for the 100th anniversary celebration!”
“Well, maybe we will have to rethink some of our plans,” said Weston, leaning back in his chair. They were two of seven members of the City Council meeting behind closed doors that night. They all agreed that these secret, closed-door sessions were the best way to get anything accomplished. Otherwise, all those people were always interrupting and trying to give their opinions.
“Rethink?” Diana sounded alarmed, but no one responded because she always sounded this way. “Our plans are perfect. If we can get all the money, this town will be beautiful for the celebration. It will be a sign that we are keeping up the quality of the downtown area. It will give the residents something to be proud of. And the children will love the new park.”
With that last statment, Diana glanced over at Rodney, who was always a sucker for anything that could be done “for the children.” He didn’t have children of his own, and didn’t know precisely what they were like, but they were the future, after all, and there were certain things that they deserved in this world.
“Well, of course we will keep the park renovation,” said Rodney with a smile. He was showing his love for the children. “But we could simplify the new walkways. We could buy cheaper lighting–not cheap, just cheaper. We could modify.”
Weston wanted to redirect this before the entire Council started down the path of frugality. He was a wealthy man, and he wouldn’t stand for a cheap-looking town. Not on his watch, anyways. “What I meant was not that we should change our city plans, but that we should change our revenue plans. Maybe we shouldn’t see current taxes as our only source of income. Maybe we should think outside the box.”
This was Weston’s chance to show them what had made him such a successful man: his business savvy. He pulled out a map of the downtown area. There were three red circles drawn on it. He pointed at them, “These three businesses–if I can even call them that–are worth less than the land they sit on. They pay us practically nothing in taxes. One of the buildings in particular is ugly and doesn’t even contain much more than a hobby shop for a decrepit old man. I think it’s time we brought new ownership and fresh ideas to these properties. Think of what it would add not only to our long-term income, but also to our overall plan for the celebration!”
All seven faces were slowly beginning to smile. They saw the potential. They saw that this would be good for the City’s reputation. They saw that it would be good for the City’s wallet.
“What’s this, Dad?” Tom looked up from his desk as Papa Frank slammed a slip of paper down.
“Eminent domain hearing,” he grunted.
“Well, you knew that would be the next step,” said Tom gently. He knew that workshop was all his father had left of his independence. It was his refuge, a place to go and work on his projects even though he was too slow to work a real business. It was his contribution to the world, a way of using his gifts for the benefit of the community.
“I just can’t believe they’re doing this,” said Papa Frank.
“Dad, you refused their purchase offer,” Tom reminded him.
“That’s because I didn’t want to sell,” he said in an increasingly louder voice. “Doesn’t anyone believe in the right to privacy anymore?”
“No, Dad,” said Tom, “not really. They believe in their own right not to be offended or inconvenienced by your property, and not much more than that.”
“Well that’s ridiculous!” Frank was roaring now, but Tom could handle it. “And that little Weston! He’s behind this! To think he still uses the dining set I made for him and Marie as their wedding gift. May the good Lord remind him of his evil deeds at every meal!”
“Now, Dad,” said Tom. “No need to start cursing people. God will have His revenge.”
“Yes. But I am an old man. Will I even live to see it?” Frank looked off sadly into space. “And what will life be for me without a shop?”
“Please tell me why we are here,” whined Diana. It was Thanksgiving weekend, and she would rather not be in a meeting.
“Because I think I can save us a lot of money,” declared Weston. “I had an epiphany during dinner last night, which is why I called this meeting.”
“Well, make it fast, Wes,” growled Rodney. “We really do have families, you know.” Five other heads nodded in agreement, even though they knew Rodney didn’t really have a family.
“Certainly,” said Weston with a sly smile. “Re-zoning is what we are looking for.”
“I don’t understand,” Janice interjected. Janice always asked the obvious question, a habit Weston loved to use to his advantage.
“Frank didn’t sell,” Weston stated flatly.
“We have gone over this already,” sighed Janice. It bothered her that Weston was leading the meeting when she was officially the Head until next Tuesday.
“Well, the amount we offered him was quite hefty, but the law states that we must offer the appropriate value. However, I’ve been doing some research, and there is no law to keep us from changing the zoning from commercial/industrial to just plain commercial. In a court of law, it’ll look just fine because it falls in line with our revitalization plan. Frank’s building is nothing but a broken down industrial complex. With the zoning change, the value of the property plummets! And we buy it for pennies on the dollar! Besides, no good businessman would do anything more than tear down that awful building and put up something respectable.”
Weston liked to think he spoke for all good businessmen whenever he opened his mouth.
“But sir,” said Megan. She was the youngest member of the Council, and also the most hesitant about this plan. “Sir, isn’t that stealing?”
Weston winced, but only for a moment. “Megs, this is nothing more than good, strategic planning. Think of how the city will benefit by all the money we save after we win the court hearing.”
“What do you mean they changed the zoning?!” Papa Frank’s whisper was almost a yell. In fact, the judge actually moved to grab his gavel. The City had won their case, and now the Court was trying to determine the value of the property. Frank had reconciled himself to taking the funds and using it to rent a smaller space somewhere else in town. The price due to the new zoning wouldn’t even cover a year’s rent. And his old heart broke at the thought that it doomed the old building, one that had originally belonged to his father’s father and was supposed to be inherited by his son’s son.
Murray and Sue were a decent Christian couple from a bigger city twenty miles away. It was their distance, combined with the success of their franchise, that had caused the City to approach them. After all, they were just what the City was looking for, a modern restaurant that would please the people and bankroll the City’s Anniversary Celebration.
After they had won the eminent domain hearing, not everything had worked out as Weston had planned. All of the residents who could actually afford to buy and develop Frank’s land refused. The place had been treated like a plague. An infusion from outside was becoming their only option.
Murray and Sue felt so blessed to be offered such an inexpensive way to expand their business. It never dawned on them to ask how the City had aquired the land in the first place. All they knew was that this was the chance of a lifetime, a chance to build a second business.
They had two sons, and big dreams for those sons.
Megan had had a change of heart. She knew that approaching the couple buying the building, Murray and Sue, was the only way of easing her conscience. She had tried to speak with Frank, but he only stared at her with unfriendly eyes.
“Greetings,” she said to them as she motioned them to be seated. Murray and Sue were easy to speak to, and Megan soon found herself pouring her heart out to them concerning the injustice that she had been a part of, and the old man who was obviously still suffering.
She knocked on the coffee table in front of her. “He made this,” she said softly. “I had very little money, but he thought I needed a table. He never asked for payment, just made me promise to enjoy it. We did it because he never paid much in taxes. How did I forget all of his intagible contributions to this place?”
Megan covered her eyes with her hands. For the first time in her life, she felt real shame.
Murray and Sue looked at each other in astonishment. Their purchase of the land was complete. Now what should they do?
“What should we do?” Sue asked once they had arrived home. She was a sensitive woman, and her heart broke at the thought of Papa Frank and his lost shop.
“I don’t think there is anything we can do,” answered Murray softly. “All the papers are signed. The deed is done. We were unfortunate to arrive after. Let us pray for Papa Frank, that he will find new direction in this time.”
And so they prayed.
Murray had been asked to give a speech at the Anniversary Celebration. Their business was thriving, and the entire City Council considered Murray and Sue a sort of symbol of the town’s determination to move on into the future with success. Weston was only vaguely listening to Murray’s speech. He was too full of pride at what they had accomplished in two short years. The town looked fantastic. And Weston was now certain of his election.
He was running for mayor, of course.
Suddenly, he froze. His face turned white. His mind was drawn back to full attention, and he couldn’t believe his ears.
“We had no idea that the land we bought had been stolen by the City Council,” Murray was saying. “We had no idea that we demolished a building that had belonged to an upstanding family for many generations. And for this, we are sorry.
“Because today is not only a celebration of the past, but also an expression of hope for the future, I feel called to question this community. Sue and I, regardless of our business ownership, are pretty much outsiders. But you all have been kind to us.
“However, there is one in your midst who has suffered a great deal. Papa Frank and his family have nourished this town since its birth back in 1909, and yet he was treated worse than a stranger. His land was stolen. Stolen. By your own City Council, the people you all chose to represent you.
“If you truly want your future to be filled with hope, judgement based on tax revenue alone must not be allowed. Without a code of morality, this town will slowly fill with fear. Think about it! Which of you are next? If your business does badly, if you pay fewer taxes because of it, will you be next?
“Today, as you plan for your future, my prayer for you is that you repent. In a representative democracy, the people you elect are supposed to reflect you. So I can only conclude that your community stood by and watched while these evil things were done. I implore you turn from your community’s recent misdeeds, and try to build a community worth being a part of. Sue and I promise to help you do just that.
For a moment all was silent, and then, one by one, the older members of the community began to stand, and then clap. Generation after generation joined them.
Weston, however, slunk into the crowd. His campaign, needless to say, was finished.
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