Land and Home in the American Mind

Written by Will Sarvis this article appears in JNREL Vol. 22. No.2. This abstract was written by staff member Anthony Cash.

The American feelings towards property and home ownership have gone through drastic changes since the first settlers arrived in the United States. The early settlers were primarily informed by English common law, Christianity, and Enlightment philosophy, especially John Locke. These ideas have combined with Native American feelings of closeness to the land to produce a distinctly American way of viewing property and home ownership. This unique bond between Americans and the land they live upon has always informed their reactions to land use restrictions, government takings, and property law generally.

However, the industrialization of the United States and the current post industrial age have made previous affections with land ownership less functional ways of interacting with property. The United States is experiencing many of the same problems which have long plagued Europe. Central to these is a growing population that puts ever greater demands on limited space available. Of course these increased demands lead to a need for increased regulation and progressive zoning laws. These needs often conflict with the almost spiritual connection many Americans feel for their home and property. By examining the history and development of American feelings towards land and land ownership, we can hopefully understand a way forward that takes this bond into account, while advancing responsible land use restrictions.