The Pursuit of Happiness and Crabs

The Pursuit of Happiness was a euphemism of colonial times for the absolute ownership of property. In the Declaration of Colonial Rights, a predecessor of the Declaration of Independence, the statement of unalienable rights was “Life, liberty and property…” but the concept was so radical at the time, that Jefferson, in writing the Declaration of Independence, which would be read by foreign despots on whose acceptance of our independence we relied, felt it better to be more circumspect in promoting so radical a concept.

Prior to the intellectual Enlightenment of the late 18th century, your ownership of the lands on which you and your family had toiled and prospered for generations was subservient to its ownership by the King. At any time, your property might be taken and given to some other person who had gained the King’s favor. So a big part of any landowner’s job was sucking up to the King, and providing daughters for his knights to marry and sons for his military adventures. It was good to be King.

Apparently, it is also good to be on the Portsmouth City council.

Johnson’s Crab House on Harrell street in Portsmouth apparently has not sucked up adequately to the Kings on the Portsmouth City Council, because the council is preparing to take their property and turn it into a park for the sole benefit of a developer who has a row of unsold new houses which would sell better with an unobstructed view of Scott’s Creek. How the developer gained favor with Portsmouth’s royalty we must leave to speculation, but the council will vote this Tuesday (Sept 9, 2008) to condemn the property and take it under eminent domain.  Eminent Domain is the common law name for this superior form of ownership the King holds over our property, and which is only briefly mentioned in our Constitution.

The Framers knew there would be times when some peice of property would be needed for public use, such as a fort, road or bridge, which had to be located in a specific place, and required that when such takings were necessary, the owner be fairly compensated. But they never anticipated that property would be taken from one citizen for the benefit of another. They fought a revolution to end such things.

Unfortunately, our current crop of politicians are not the men of principle that the Framers anticipated would be entrusted with public office. They thought we would pay better attention.

So, Johnson’s Crab House will be taken, unless the people or the courts will not stand for it, and the Johnson family will be paid what the City can get by with for the land. This will,in no way, compensate them fairly as the Framers intended. They will be paid only for the value of the land. They will not be paid for the value of their business, which supports three generations of watermen. They have no place else they can relocate in the current real estate market, or under current regulatory environments. The livelihood of three generations, and perhaps of generations to come, will cease to exist so that a favored developer will get a better price for those unsold houses.

Only the citizens of Portsmouth can stop this from happening, by showing up at Tuesday night’s council meeting and letting the council know they will lose their thrones at the next election if they commit this abomination.  If the citizens don’t show up and demand the council change its course, then perhaps they deserve to kneel at the feet of despots.


One Response to The Pursuit of Happiness and Crabs

  1. Reid Greenmun says:

    If ever there was a clear cut case of the government’s abuse of eminent domain, this is it. PLEASE come and show your support for the Johnson family next tursday, September 9th. To learm more, please visit the Johnson’s website:

    Please sign their petition. Here is the Virginian-Pilot article on the TLP rally last night (9/4/2008):

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