We’ve heard a lot lately about “redistribution of wealth.” What would the American Founders think?

Property rights provide the foundation of prosperity. As Americans, we’re accustomed to a revolutionary guarantee that we may labor, earn wages and acquire property — and rest assured that what we earn and acquire will be secure.

It’s a simple promise that survives despite the income tax system: Americans get to keep what we earn.

The right to enjoy the rewards of your labor is a powerful incentive to work hard and pursue opportunity — to pursue happiness. The principal reason to protect property and the right of all persons to acquire, use and part with their own property is a matter of justice and fairness.

Thomas Jefferson, writing on taxation in a letter in April 1816, put it this way:

To take from one, because it is thought that his own industry and that of his father’s has acquired too much, in order to spare others, who, or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association — the guarantee to every one of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.”

Unlike the liberalism that was to come later (think of the modern welfare state), redistribution of wealth was not an objective of the American Revolution.

Jefferson and the other Founders opposed the taking of wealth and reallocating of property by government. They favored measures to encourage a free-market distribution of property, rather than government interference.

In the long run, the Founders reasoned, markets would do a better job at spreading wealth.