A Defeat on the Home Front
APRIL 01, 1969 by JAMES E. MCADOO
Mr. McAdoo is an Investment Counselor and free lance writer in Florida.
During the development of the area in which I live, one of the selling points was the privacy of our streets. Each property owner, through an annual assessment, would share in the costs of street lighting, repairs, and maintenance. In return for this small expense, we would benefit by enjoying the advantages of streets closed to all but the owners and their guests. Among other things, we would be spared the annoyances of heavy traffic, door-to-door salesmen, and an invasion of fishermen who might otherwise crowd our private docks and seawalls.
All property owners became members of an Association, and an elected Board of Directors has seen to the mechanics of collecting assessments and paying bills. Every lot has been sold, and nearly every lot now has a house upon it. While privacy may not have been the foremost advantage of our location, those who bought and built here demonstrated a willingness to accept the responsibilities associated with private streets. Recently, however, members of our Association were urged by the Board of Directors to vote for a proposal to dedicate our streets to the town. The argument advanced for doing so was to "eliminate" the responsibility of members for any future street repairs and repaving. The anticipated expense, rather than being met by an assessment of members, would thus fall to the town.
Our Board, prior to the vote, pointed out that the Town Commission had no plans to remove certain attractive banyan trees that grace the centers of two streets. By implication, however, they would have the right to do so if the dedication carried. To that extent, the surrender of our rights, along with our responsibilities, was clear to all.
The vote was 90 "yes" and one "no.”
If the Town Commissioners had marched upon our private domain and demanded our streets by threats of force, they almost certainly would have encountered vigorous, and even unanimous, resistance. Under such unlikely circumstances, the threat to our freedom would have been clear: an abridgment of our rights with respect to private property. Without a doubt, most of our residents would have defended not only the right to share in the ownership of private streets, but the right to maintain them as we saw fit.
The members of our Association are all freedom-loving Americans. They are intelligent, friendly neighbors. Many have defended our nation’s freedom in the World Wars, Korea, or Viet Nam. Of the 90 who voted "yes," not one could have regarded his vote as a willing surrender of his freedom.
Yet, a change has taken place: the responsibility for our streets, along with the rights inherent in that responsibility, has been shifted from a voluntary Association of a few families, to a unit of government. The nature of that change is not altered by the eagerness of our members to eliminate a responsibility, nor by our willingness to relinquish our rights. The character of our loss would be the same if our rights had been taken by force. Only our attitude would have differed.
The Declaration of Independence, at least that part we have memorized, makes no reference to responsibilities. Still, upon reflection, we might conclude that if we truly are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, it must be because we are at the same time charged by our Creator with certain inescapable responsibilities. To the degree we transfer our responsibilities to others, to the same degree we surrender the rights which are intrinsic to them. One important way in which we can defend our rights, as a nation and as individuals, is to hold tenaciously to our personal responsibilities.
No headlines will lament the loss of our few private streets. Huntley and Brinkley will not report this transfer as a blow to our country’s freedom. Even our own Association membership will not feel a whit less free. But small as the import may appear, we have given up some of our rights by retreating from a personal responsibility. The same freedom we would be willing to die for, we have just given away on Main Street.
It was a minor skirmish, and no real contest. Freedom lost. Hopefully, a consideration of this encounter might stir some thought as to the subtle connections between rights, responsibilities, and freedom. The connections are there, and we can profit by them. If we do, then at some other time, in some other place, freedom might win.