What would it have been like to be a landlord in the early days of the American colonies?

First of all, in 1776 a lot of people—even those who didn’t want to be—were forced into the landlording profession. This was because of laws passed by the British parliament called the Quartering Acts—basically, if a British soldier asked to stay in your house, you had to let him. Not only that, you had to feed him and make sure he had everything he needed to live relatively comfortably, even if that meant your own children slept on the floor.

As you can imagine, this fed into the American Revolution. It’s one thing to offer property up for rent and properly screen tenants, it’s another to have the tenants show up at your door and demand a room your family sleeps in for no rent. Just imagine the smell of sweat and gunpowder around the dinner table!

But property ownership started before that debate.

The English colonists brought ideas about property that were a little different than those the Native Americans ascribed to at the time. Originally, England and most of the rest of Europe had been under a feudal system.

Just to give you a refresher on medieval economics, that basically meant that the king owned all the land, and he parceled it out to his nobles. The nobles then indentured peasants, who would’ve been most of us, to work the land for them. The peasants were required to give part of their harvest every year to the noble, who in turn paid tribute to the king.

After the close of the Dark Ages and the new ideas of the Renaissance, the philosopher John Locke began espousing the idea that property was a natural human right. It was Locke who founded the American ideal of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

The colonists brought these ideas with them. Colonies such as Jamestown that went for a more communal-property-ownership ideal failed ultimately, while those with a privatized system succeeded. This parceling-out idea was somewhat foreign to the Native Americans, who controlled large swaths of land as tribes.

When the British government began to invade private property, as we discussed above, the Americans fought back. It was freedom, after all, that they’d come to the New World for. Putting up random soldiers for the night was never part of the bargain.

Against all odds, the Americans won. That has left us free ever since to follow John Locke’s ideas about natural human rights by creating a country where all people can enjoy those rights, regardless of who they are.

So landlording might have been forced on you in those original 13 colonies, but these days, it’s a choice you can make on your own. And an extremely profitable one, at that!

 

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