Economic Liberties and the Original Meaning of the Constitution
James W. Ely Jr.
Vanderbilt University - Law School
October 1, 2007
Vanderbilt Public Law Research Paper No. 07-17
This essay examines the waxing support for the ideology and practice of economic liberty in the founding era. It points out that Americans of the late 18th century increasingly challenged British trade restrictions as well as long-accepted governmental regulation of the economy, raising both practical and philosophical objections. The paper considers various aspects of the colonial economy, including wage controls, regulations governing the price of bread and meat, the establishment of public markets, changes in land and inheritance laws, land speculation, and the growth of contracting in a market economy. It also probes the impact of the Revolutionary War on the emerging commitment to a free market. The paper then links the growing acceptance of economic liberty to the framing of state and federal constitutions. Although recognizing that the United States Constitution does not embody a particular economic theory, the paper concludes that the framers envisioned a substantially free market economy based on private property with a large measure of economic liberty for individuals to pursue their own interests.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 60
Keywords: : contract clause, economic liberty, land speculation, mercantilism, price regulations, property rights, public markets, wage controls
Date posted: October 3, 2007