jefferson to madison

jefferson to madison - CHAPTER 2 |Document 23 Thomas...

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CHAPTER 2 | Document 23 Thomas Jefferson to James Madison 6 Sept. 1789 Papers 15:392--97  I sit down to write to you without knowing by what occasion I shall send my letter. I do it because  a subject comes into my head which I would wish to develope a little more than is practicable in  the hurry of the moment of making up general dispatches. The question Whether one generation of men has a right to bind another, seems never to have  been started either on this or our side of the water. Yet it is a question of such consequences as  not only to merit decision, but place also, among the fundamental principles of every government.  The course of reflection in which we are immersed here on the elementary principles of society  has presented this question to my mind; and that no such obligation can be so transmitted I think  very capable of proof.--I set out on this ground, which I suppose to be self evident,  "that the earth  belongs in usufruct to the living":  that the dead have neither powers nor rights over it. The portion  occupied by an individual ceases to be his when himself ceases to be, and reverts to the society.  If the society has formed no rules for the appropriation of it's lands in severality, it will be taken by  the first occupants. These will generally be the wife and children of the decedent. If they have  formed rules of appropriation, those rules may give it to the wife and children, or to some one of  them, or to the legatee of the deceased. So they may give it to his creditor. But the child, the  legatee, or creditor takes it, not by any natural right, but by a law of the society of which they are  members, and to which they are subject. Then no man can, by  natural right,  oblige the lands he  occupied, or the persons who succeed him in that occupation, to the paiment of debts contracted  by him. For if he could, he might, during his own life, eat up the usufruct of the lands for several  generations to come, and then the lands would belong to the dead, and not to the living, which  would be the reverse of our principle. What is true of every member of the society individually, is true of them all collectively, since the  rights of the whole can be no more than the sum of the rights of the individuals.--To keep our  ideas clear when applying them to a multitude, let us suppose a whole generation of men to be  born on the same day, to attain mature age on the same day, and to die on the same day, leaving  a succeeding generation in the moment of attaining their mature age all together. Let the ripe age 
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