‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
[Excerpt from “Ulysses” Alfred, Lord Tennyson]
Toward a Different World – Free of Inextinguishable Debt [Part 1 of 2]
- When a child is born into this world in America, is the child a slave or free?
- Can the child feed him or herself?
- Can the child find shelter for him or herself?
- Can the child work and provide daily necessaries for him or herself?
It is self-evident the answers are no. The child is enslaved to certain conditions of birth, which are predetermined before the child takes his or her first breath. There are, one might say, natural conditions ruled by natural laws, which have been in play since mankind first appeared on the Earth. Among these would be physical skill and impediments, conditions of poverty and wealth, conditions of social class, and conditions of geography. Given these varying circumstances and the manner in which they may impact the child, can it be said that all men are created equal? Are not these conditions beyond the child’s control and even their desires? Are the conditions not the result of an arbitrary and capricious set of circumstances over which the child has never had control?
And what about man-made laws? Consider man-made laws and contracts which create, perpetuate and regulate nation-state debts incurred before the child arrives? Can it be said that the child is also enslaved by these debts such that the child’s natural, unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness expressed in the Declaration of Independence are nullified by the existence of these debts and the imposition of them against the child?
Noah Webster in The American Dictionary of the English Language (1828) defines as follows:
Enslave v.t. [from slave.] To reduce to slavery or bondage; to deprive of liberty and subject to the will of a master. Barbarous nations enslave their prisoners of war, but civilized men barbarously and wickedly purchase men to enslave them.
1. To reduce to servitude or subjection. Men often suffer their passions and appetites to enslave them. They are enslaved to lust, to anger, to intemperance, to avarice.
In 2003 Representative Bartlett Address Congress and Stated the Average Person Works 52% of Their Yearly time working for Government to Pay Unfunded Obligations (Mandates). SOURCE:
Congressional Record 108th Congress (2003-2004) THE BUDGET DEFICIT — (House of Representatives – March 12, 2003) Page: H1806
Mr. BARTLETT of Maryland. Madam Speaker, the average American has little idea of how much tax they pay. The last year for which I saw data, tax freedom day was May 10. Every American citizen works up through May 10 to pay Federal, State, and local taxes. On May 10, Americans will have paid all of their taxes; but May 11, do not count on working for yourself because for the next 7 weeks, up until July 6 last year, every American had to work full time to pay the cruelest tax of all, the most regressive tax we pay, it is the worst tax for our poorest people because the poorest of the poor have to pay this tax, just like the richest pay the tax. There is no exemption from this tax, there is no deduction for this tax, and it is the favorite tax of my liberal friends who do not understand how really regressive this tax is. And what this tax is, it is unfunded Federal mandates. It is all of the laws that we have passed here that require a State or a county or a city or a business to do something that costs them money which we do not pay for in the Federal budget. It is called an unfunded Federal mandate, and that consumes the working time of every American for about 7 weeks, that is, 52 percent of your time is spent working for the government.
Mr. SMITH of Michigan. Madam Speaker, in the last few days, a lot of local representatives of local government are coming into Washington complaining about these unfunded mandates. Here is the Federal Government, since we like to not spend the money maybe and not have the debt look so bad, we simply pass a law that the State or a local unit of government has to do it.
We have to watch and guard against that as we look at a new Department of Homeland Security and the tendency of this Department to put out regulations and rules and mandates of what local governments should do. If we put out a mandate, then the gentleman from Maryland and I both agreed that the Federal Government should pay for it if we are going to demand that a local municipality or State is going to provide those services. If the Federal Government is passing a law for local units of government or companies, then the Federal Government has a responsibility to pay for it.
Mr. BARTLETT of Maryland. I think the most important thing to remember here is what we are doing here does not affect just you and me this year and our taxes; it is going to affect our kids and our grandkids.
I just cannot in good conscience continue to pass on to my kids and my grandkids this ever-increasing debt. What we are telling them is that it is impossible for us to run our government on current revenues because our needs are so important; they need to understand that we have to borrow from their generation so that we can continue to live the way we are living now in our generation.
While politicians, scholars and judges may argue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are terms which are capable of being objectively defined for any given person, is this actually true? Are each of us not capable of expressing what the unalienable rights … to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness means subjectively to each of us? If some third party takes over or assumes the right to tell someone what is meant by unalienable or by life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, has not that person already violated the unalienable nature of the rights? Suffice it to say one person may say happiness is something quite different from another. Understanding the right is unalienable, what some third party, or a collective or a majority of other people may feel is a definition of happiness cannot stand in the face of a definition of the term unalienable. The term must always be subject to what the individual says it is. Is this practical in view of nation-states, political societies and economic combinations? It is not.
Unalienable rights as a concept are neither politic nor politically expedient. In fact many will argue these rights are downright annoying. What cannot be argued is that the phase is intentionally used in the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson meant it to be so having written three drafts and having submitted them to a number of peer reviews before finalization. Fifty-five people unanimously signed it and established these principles as founding laws upon which the Constitution was and is based. America celebrates these principles each year on July 4th. And more importantly, the phrase has a deep history supported many writers of the time and afterward which is discussed in this post.
This post is dedicated to opening real discussion to frame a better set of conditions in which people are born, live and thrive in America. There can be little doubt that we live in rather difficult times. Tempers are flaring and patience is rapidly becoming exhausted between those perceived to be in the 1% and those in the 99%. While many may argue about the reasons, few will argue something is terribly wrong with the economic conditions we find ourselves experiencing in 2011. As we move into 2012, it is suggested a new vision or view is required and perhaps that new vision is born out of an understanding of the principles underlying the unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness declared as Creator endowed in 1776. It is to these ends of fostering new and productive discussions that this post and it’s sequel are directed.
1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.
2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
5 And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.
6 And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.
7 He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. Revelation 21
|In the time frame between 1776 and 1813, Thomas Jefferson presented a number of interpretative writings illustrating his intentions for these founding principles in the Declaration of Independence: “…that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”As will be addressed in this post and a follow-up post, Jefferson asserted in his contemporaneous writings to others:
Let’s first consider Jefferson’s comments in the context of an American child born in 2011. As a matter of general agreement among Americans most would agree a child is born free – in other words not enslaved by race, creed, color, religion, economic circumstances. Correct? Theoretically, one might argue of course the child is free. After all, this is America – Land of the Free. If for no other reason, what does the phrase “… with liberty and justice for all” mean in the Pledge of Allegiance recited every morning in public schools? But if, as is discussed below, the debts of America as so significant that as a matter of course the child’s liberty and labor are retarded and enslaved, can it be said that the child has the right to liberty? And what of the circumstance when the child realizes the nature and extent of his or her enslavement and says: “I do not wish to be enslaved any longer like this?” What then?
In the American Dictionary of the English Language published by Noah Webster in 1828, he defined liberty this way:
“Liberty n. [L. libertas, from liber, free.]
1. Freedom from restraint, in a general sense, and applicable to the body, or to the will or mind. The body is at liberty, when not confined; the will or mind is at liberty, when not checked or controlled. A man enjoys liberty, when no physical force operates to restrain his actions or volitions.”
It seems like a simple question that would necessarily be answered by one very important American document and by set of legal principles celebrated every July 4th – i.e., The Declaration of Independence. It advises:
“… We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.” DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE [Emphasis added]
Now let us ask the question again in the context of recent debt ceiling increases and events surrounding this heated controversy which has not been resolved as of December end 2011. On June 13, 2011, USA Today “U.S. funding for future promises lags by trillions” LINK reported the following facts.
- The total of unfunded obligations of the United States is now $61.7 Trillion Dollars.
- This means each household has a debt imposed upon them of $528,000 each.
- See also: USA Today article entitled: “Government’s mountain of debt” (06/17/2011) LINK
Applied to our newborn, this means of course that before this child is actually born … and before this child is of the age of majority (i.e. when the child can legally contract with another), a significant debt has been levied on this child without the child’s consent.
Here are some additional facts that need to be taken into consideration in our fact scenario:
- In concert with the USA Today article, the child arguably has a debt of $528,000 levied upon he or she at birth.
- If the debt bears interest at the nominal rate of say four percent 4% compound interest, which is the rate charged by the Internal Revenue Service on outstanding balances, at age 18 (the age of majority), this child will owe America (or America’s creditors) $1,069,631.12, ASSUMING NO OTHER ADDITIONS TO THE PRINCIPAL are levied by government upon the child between birth and 18. That is not a safe bet historically. Additions to the debt principal can come from a number of sources as they typically do, such as a Congressional campaign and argument for another increase in the American debt ceiling. These demands are typically accompanied by warnings and even threats that they will be a default or cause default in America’s credit rating … or there will be chaos in the financial community affecting everyone or … or it will cause wars or … there will be martial low imposed in America. [Cites available]
- Finally, this same debt grows to $2,166,876.39 by the time the child is 36 years old, to $3,469,238.91 by the time the child is 48 years old, and to $5,554,363.27 by the time the child is 60 years old. AGAIN, THIS IS ASSUMING NO NEW INCREASE OR RAISE IN THE DEBT CEILING OCCURS FROM THE TIME THE CHILD IS BORN THROUGH THE TIME THEY REACH THE AGE OF 60.
One of several anticipated effects of this fact scenario is the levy of an asserted contractual obligation of $528,000 in 2011 dollars is the likelihood that collection proceedings on that debt will not begin until the child reaches the age of majority and enters the workforce (i.e. 18 years of age).
It is self-evident to any rational human being that this debt burden beginning at $528,000 and growing to $1,069,631.12 by the time the child is 18 is actually imposed on the child without their lawful consent. It is also self-evident that the contract is not supported by any valid consideration provided to the child, assuming, without admitting, the child were legally capable of making a contract with American society or the American government from their birth through the age of 18. Again, it is settled law that children are legally incompetent to contract until the age of 18.
Skeptics may argue that the actual and implied benefits of American citizenship (i.e., lifestyle, safety, education, protection, etc.) serve as a valid consideration given in exchange for the debt of $528,000 imposed on this 2011 newborn. This assertion actually begs the question of legal incompetency and lack of actual consent. In a legal sense, this argued benefit of an American lifestyle, safety, education, and protection is, at law and in the final analysis, a “pre-existing duty” which the American government has already been contracted for by others (the child’s ancestors) to perform, and it cannot be used as a device of dispensing with the prerequisite of the child’s consent, or a valid legal consideration given to this one child to become a debtor, or the requirement for legal competency to contract. For enforceability of this $528,000 debt levy, consideration at a minimum is required to be shown and given to a legally competent contracting party in exchange for this child’s agreement (i.e., the inchoate promise) to become liable for, a surety for, or a debtor for a $528,000 debt growing to $1,069,631.12 by the time the child is merely 18.
[a] rule that prevents one from using a promise to do that which he or she is already duty-bound to perform by a separate agreement in order to create a new agreement. A little complicated at first glance, but this is what the rule says. If one party A is obligated to do task A under contract A, party A can’t then create a new agreement, contract B, where party A gives his promise to do task A as consideration for the new bargain. Essentially the preexisting duty rule says that you can’t spend the same dollar twice.
Before moving on to Jefferson’s views, let’s also consider the following legal impossibility question in our fact scenario. Will the average person born in America ever be able to pay off a debt of $528,000 upon arrival into this state of life and the economy of 2011? Clearly newborns do not come with money in their wallets, so the answer to the question at the inception of birth is no. More importantly, will the average person born in America and living to the age of 60 and beyond ever be able to pay off this debt or even substantially address it? In the current state of the economy, the answer is also no. Here is the reasoning.
First, let’s get a perspective of real wages and whether they have grown or diminished over time in terms of inflation adjusted purchasing power. The answer is no because the chart below issued by the Commerce Department cannot be read any other way. Real grown in private sector wages has markedly decreased. For purposes of this discussion, assuming this trend since 1939 will do anything other than continue in the same downward direction is intellectual folly.
As further proof, let’s look at the question of the average hourly wage of the typical American in 2011. It is roughly $17/hour.
Let’s consider the math derived from both of the charts above.
From the calculations presented below, our child born in 2011 is not and will not ever be in a position to pay off this $528,000 debt levied at birth.
For this child, the levied debt is simply inextinguishable.
Our calculation merely assumes the child is an average member of the American workforce. Specifically, there is absolutely no way at an average American wage of $17/hour, $680/wk or $35,360/year (see chart above) earned by this child will be able to pay off any realistic portion of this debt levied at birth. The debt will continue to mount unabated throughout this child’s lifetime. To support this statement, consider the following average income and expense calculation (note: no health care costs have been included in this calculation):
|Average Rent or Mortgage as a percentage of income = Assume 33% of income||
|Average Energy Cost (see HUD chart below) = Assume 15% of income||
|Average Grocery Costs (source) = Assume 20% of income||
|Average Transportation Cost (source) – Assume 19% of income||
HUD SOURCE: For Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), the energy burden was, on average, seven times greater than for families at median income. AFDC families paid an average of 26 percent of their income toward energy, while median income families spent an average of less than 4 percent of their income on energy.
|Income Level||Percent of Income for Utilities|
SSI (DE, IL, VT)
Plainly stated, the purpose of the imposed levy of $528,000 against our 2011 newborn child is completely frustrated by the state of the current American economy. Given the history or the purchasing power of real wages since 1939 (see above), the average person born in 2011 will never be able to pay off the $528,000 debt, even in real, uninflated dollars. The fact that the dollar purchasing power has lost 95% of its value from 1913 to the present day, it is safe to assume a dollar earned in 2011 will be worth less, and purchase less in 2019 when our child is 18, and far less in 2071 when our child is 60. So one may effectively argue when the purpose of the agreement to be liable of $528,000 in debt, assuming for argument’s sake there is one, is wholly impossible from the inception of the agreement, why continue to pretend there is one?
SOURCE: “Modern U.S. law uses the term impracticability synonymously with the term impossibility, primarily because some things may not be absolutely impossible to perform but are nevertheless impracticable to complete. Thus, the general rule is that a thing may be impossible to perform when it would not be practicable to perform. A contractual obligation is impracticable “when it can only be done at an excessive and unreasonable cost” (Transatlantic Financing Corp. v. United States, 363 F.2d 312 [D.C. Cir. 1966]).”
What About the Impact on the Investment Market?
A deeper and more troubling question is what does Congress do when it proposes to third party private bankers and governments in the investment industry that this $528,000 debt and all debts like it, although impossible to pay down or perform under, is actually a valid contract upon which these creditors can rely. When America uses the phrase “full faith and credit” as an inducement for investors to purchase American bonds and securities (i.e., like treasury bills) is not America including our newborn’s guarantee of his or her $528,000 levied debt in that full faith and credit and thereafter pledging it as a guaranteed to the creditors that this debt is valid and collectible?
“SOURCE: A phrase used to describe the unconditional guarantee or commitment by one entity to back the interest and principal of another entity’s debt. This full faith and credit commitment is typically employed by a government to help lower the borrowing costs of a smaller, less stable government or a government-sponsored agency. When this occurs, the smaller government or agency takes on the backer’s credit quality.
Investopedia explains ‘Full Faith And Credit ‘ The Government National Mortgage Association (Ginnie Mae) is one example of a government agency that is backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. It is generally accepted that the U.S. government will never default on its loan obligations. The full faith and credit of the U.S. government essentially confers risk-free status to securities such as U.S. Treasuries. Similarly, securities backed by Ginnie Mae mortgages have lower yields than other mortgage-backed securities because they are assumed to carry less risk.” See also explanation here: Are long-term U.S. government bonds risk-free?
Finally, given all that has been discussed, a related question is whether enforceability of this $528,000 debt against this newborn child is a lawful act in light of the words in the Declaration of Independence:
“… We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness….”
For this question, we must ask, what did Thomas Jefferson mean when he penned the words? We must also ask what is the likelihood he discussed what he meant with all the 55 signers of the Declaration of Independence? Finally can we discern from the writings of Thomas Jefferson answers to these questions?
First, in America, are all babies born equal as a practical matter? If some people are born into conditions where the parents or grandparents placed them into a set of circumstances where they have enough financial freedom so as to not be impacted by this non-consensual debt of $528,000/household and another child is born into circumstances below the poverty line, can anyone honestly say those two children are born equal? The answer is obvious.
The average rent or mortgage costs of 33% arguably impacts a person making $17/hour very differently from someone making $100/hour or even $1000/hour. Why? The person making the latter two examples is not forced to decide between paying the rent or buying groceries or paying for health care, because their percentage of their income is impacted quite differently.
Thomas Jefferson’s Intentions.
So what did Thomas Jefferson intend when he wrote these words? The answer may very well surprise the reader. As will be seen, absolute and natural rights differ from civil rights in many ways. In Jefferson’s mind what were unalienable rights and from whom did Jefferson receive this doctrine?
The preamble to the Declaration of Independence has been extensively scrutinized and subjected to in-depth reading. Though its content may be “self-evident,” every single linguistic and conceptual component has been repeatedly and comprehensively dissected since 1776. Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration of Independence differed from the final version because “sacred & undeniable” truths became “self-evident” truths. Some attribute this change in the three drafts to Benjamin Franklin’s comments.
Few scholars will argue against the proposition that Jefferson was taken with the ideas of John Locke. By way of first example, Jefferson’s reference to self-evidence is typically Lockean, as discussed by several Jeffersonian scholars. [See, e.g., Morton White, The Philosophy of the American Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), pp. 9–96; White, The Philosophy of the American Revolution, pp. 15–20, 23–36.] Locke addressed the subject of self-evidence in his 1690 work An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, illustrating it with a series of practical examples, and clearly delineating the meaning of these truths that can be grasped by means of intuition. Locke defined such awareness as intuitive knowledge, which consists in perceiving the truth of the principle immediately upon understanding its terms.
As pointed out by Joseph Ellis, the Declaration of Independence contains a vision of “… a world in which all behavior was voluntary and therefore all coercion unnecessary.” [See, Joseph J. Ellis, American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson (New York: Vintage Books, 1998), p. 69.] The synthetic description of the state of nature, of the ends of government, and of the natural rights of individuals as expressed in the first propositions leave no doubt in this regard. The overriding foundation of the Declaration of Independence is the established doctrine of unalienable rights asserted by John Locke. Locke also referred to them as inviolable. [See, James R. Stoner, Jr., Common Law and Liberal Theory: Coke, Hobbes, and the Origins of American Constitutionalism (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1992), p. 137.]
The Declaration of Independence has been referred to by some as the “birth certificate” of the American republic. That it has Locke’s influence impregnated upon it is little in doubt by those who study the subject. By way of example, Richard Henry Lee, who had undersigned the motion for independence at the Continental Congress in June 1776, even accused Jefferson of having copied the Declaration from John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government. [See, In a letter to Madison provided in full below, Jefferson noted, “Richard Henry Lee charged it as copied from Locke’s treatise on government.” Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, August 30, 1823, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Lipscomb and Bergh, vol. 15, p. 462. Lee was one of the few people to receive a copy of the original rough draft, and he believed that Congress had worsened the document. See also, Dumas Malone, Jefferson the Virginian (Boston: Little, Brown, 1948), p. 230.] And many founding fathers had voiced the idea that the document that was beginning to gain so much attention was actually nothing more than a simple synthesis of what had been discussed in those years. In response to the Richard Henry Lee’s charges of plagiarism, he stated that he did not believe it was his task to:
“… find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent. . . . [The Declaration] was intended to be an expression of the American mind. . . . All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, etc.”
[See also, Thomas Jefferson to Henry Lee, Jr., May 8, 1825, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Lipscomb and Bergh, vol. 16, p. 118.]
Finally, in a letter to Benjamin Rush, Jefferson enumerated those he regarded as immortal heroes in the history of humankind: Locke, Francis Bacon, and Isaac Newton. [See, Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Rush, January 16, 1811, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Ford, vol. 9, p. 296.] Scholars further agree, to the end of his life, Jefferson never tired of repeating that the author of the Two Treatises should be considered as one of the greatest authorities to be included in the Olympus of the political concepts to which Americans most widely subscribed: “As to the general principles of liberty and the rights of man, in nature and in society, the doctrines of Locke, in his “Essay concerning the true original extent and end of civil government,” and of Sidney in his “Discourses on government,” may be considered as those generally approved by our fellow citizens of this [Virginia], and the United States. [Emphasis added] [See, Thomas Jefferson, “From the Minutes of the Board of Visitors,” University of Virginia, October 3, 1825, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Lipscomb and Bergh, vol. 29, p. 461.]
This should be no cause for surprise. Lockean political doctrine, or at least a popular version of it, became common discourse in the colonies, partly on account of Cato’s Letters. These Letters were a collection of political essays written by English pamphleteers John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon in the 1720s. The Letters spread by virtue of the spread of works of Sir William Blackstone [i.e., Blackstone’s Commentaries are still read and referred to in law schools across America and often cited by the Supreme Court].
Suffice it to say, Blackstone was famous among the colonists because he considered the rights of life, liberty, and property, and also the rights of preservation and self-defense, as absolute. The parts of the Commentaries that were read and appreciated the most were and are in total harmony with the Two Treatises of Locke.
The Blackstone Institute indicates Sir William Blackstone lived between 1723 and 1780. Blackstone was the great Eighteenth Century English legal scholar whose philosophy and writings were infused with Judeo-Christian principles. The Ten Commandments are at the heart of Blackstone’s philosophy. Blackstone taught that man is created by God and granted fundamental rights by God. Man’s law must be based on God’s law. Our Founding Fathers referred to Blackstone more than to any other English or American authority. Blackstone’s great work, Commentaries on the Laws of England, was basic to the U. S. Constitution. This work has sold more copies in America than in England and was a basic textbook of America’s early lawyers.
Source of the Natural and Unalienable Rights is Not from Englishmen.
As for the American Revolution’s place in history, it is well-known that various authors consider the traditional or positive rights of the Englishmen as the underlying foundation of the settlers’ rebellion.
However, the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence, with its emphasis on natural rights, not positive rights created by governmental statute discredits the truth of this assertion. Revisionist historian attempts have been made to ignore or overlook this important question.
The simple fact was and is, the actions of these fifty five signers were characterized as revolutionary. Why? It is simple. In this revolutionary documents which we celebrate each July 4th, all rights, starting from but not ending with the colonies’ right to independence, are unequivocally prescribed by the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.”
“It was the change from historical prescription to natural rights that represents the radical core of the American Revolution and the American Founding. It was not the rights of Englishmen . . . that was the subject of the Declaration, but the rights of man derived, not indeed from any particular constitution or positive law, but from nature. [See, Edward J. Erler, “The Great Fence to Liberty: The Right to Property in the American Founding,” in Liberty, Property, and the Foundations of the American Constitution, ed. Ellen F. Paul and Howard Dickman (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989), p. 47.] [Emphasis added]
So what would Thomas Jefferson and his mentors John Locke and Sir William Blackstone say to our fact scenario?
- If they were asked, as a matter of unalienable rights and natural law, is an American child in 2011 born free?
- Does this child have the unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
- Can a majority of Americans through elected representatives or otherwise nullify the child’s unalienable and natural rights?
- Can a majority of Americans through elected representatives or otherwise changes or define the child’s unalienable and natural rights to make them convenient for the economic circumstances of today?
- Can a majority of Americans through elected representatives impose on this child $528,000 in levied debt which will grow at four percent (4%) interest to $2,166,876.39 by the time the child is 36 years old, to $3,469,238.91 by the time the child is 48 years old, and to $5,554,363.27 by the time the child is 60 years old?
Based upon Thomas Jefferson’s view of unalienable rights, natural rights and the phrase: The earth belongs in usufruct to the living,” the answers to these questions must each be no!
“The earth belongs in usufruct to the living,”Jefferson wrote to Madison in 1789. He continued: “[T]he 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,” even though “it is a question of such consequences as . . . [to] place . . . among the fundamental principles of every government.” [Emphasis added]
Jefferson’s answer to the question was no, and his explanation was founded on Locke and Blackstone’s writings. This doctrine was and still is considered paradigm shifting: “We seem not to have perceived that, by the law of nature, one generation is to another as one independent nation to another.” [Emphasis added]
Again continuing in his letter to Madison (see full text below), Jefferson stated, “… [e]very constitution . . . and every law” should “naturally expire at the end of 19 years.” (Note: this was rather elaborately calculated by Jefferson, on the basis of life expectancies at the time in 1789. At that time, a majority of people twenty-one and older would die within nineteen years. He therefore concluded that was the best measure of a generation’s life span.) If any law “…be enforced longer, it is an act of force, and not of right.”
Imagine Jefferson making these arguments today in the court of public opinion or before Congress. What would they say to him? “Did we hear you right?”
Again, Jefferson was not alone in incorporating this doctrine into the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson’s statements regarding usufruct, natural and unalienable rights as forming the basis for the Declaration of Independence also relates back to Hume’s essay Of the Original Contract. These sentiments were also repeated by Thomas Paine. Others besides Jefferson and Paine made similar arguments at the time of the drafting and ratification of the Constitution. Noah Webster, in particular, ridiculed Jefferson for not holding the principle more consistently.
Plainly stated, Jefferson’s principles remain, today, a central challenge to written constitutionalism as it is practiced. And to this day, many argue this principle that “…it is belongs to the living, and not to the dead”, is of very extensive application and consequences, in every country . . . ,” Jefferson said. If this is what Jefferson intended, why is the doctrine generally avoided in American education as it relates to the founding principles underlying the Declaration of Independence. Why is it quite likely that the reader has never heard what Jefferson meant before reading this post?
To be continued …
Source Documentary Evidence of Jefferson’s Statement quoted above.
Lest the reader think that the foregoing comments were unimportant views of Thomas Jefferson, the following quotes are provided. [SOURCE: Virginia.EDU]
“The idea that institutions established for the use of the nation cannot be touched nor modified even to make them answer their end because of rights gratuitously supposed in those employed to manage them in trust for the public, may perhaps be a salutary provision against the abuses of a monarch but is most absurd against the nation itself. Yet our lawyers and priests generally inculcate this doctrine and suppose that preceding generations held the earth more freely than we do, had a right to impose laws on us unalterable by ourselves, and that we in like manner can make laws and impose burdens on future generations which they will have no right to alter; in fine, that the earth belongs to the dead and not the living.” —Thomas Jefferson to William Plumer, 1816. ME 15:46 [Emphasis added]
“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… We seem not to have perceived that by the law of nature, one generation is to another as one independent nation to another.” —Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1789. ME 7:454, Papers 15:392 [Emphasis added]
“Can one generation bind another and all others in succession forever? I think not. The Creator has made the earth for the living, not the dead. Rights and powers can only belong to persons, not to things, not to mere matter unendowed with will.” —Thomas Jefferson to John Cartwright, 1824. ME 16:48 [Emphasis added]
“The generations of men may be considered as bodies or corporations. Each generation has the usufruct of the earth during the period of its continuance. When it ceases to exist, the usufruct passes on to the succeeding generation free and unencumbered and so on successively from one generation to another forever. We may consider each generation as a distinct nation, with a right, by the will of its majority, to bind themselves, but none to bind the succeeding generation, more than the inhabitants of another country.” —Thomas Jefferson to John Wayles Eppes, 1813. ME 13:270 [Emphasis added]
“These are axioms so self-evident that no explanation can make them plainer; for he is not to be reasoned with who says that non-existence can control existence, or that nothing can move something. They are axioms also pregnant with salutary consequences.” —Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Earle, 1823. ME 15:470
“Forty years <after a> Constitution… was formed,… two-thirds of the adults then living are… dead. Have, then, the remaining third, even if they had the wish, the right to hold in obedience to their will and to laws heretofore made by them, the other two-thirds who with themselves compose the present mass of adults? If they have not, who has? The dead? But the dead have no rights. They are nothing, and nothing can not own something. Where there is no substance, there can be no accident <i.e., attribute>.” —Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816. (*) ME 15:42 [Emphasis added]
“A generation may bind itself as long as its majority continues in life; when that has disappeared, another majority is in place, holds all the rights and powers their predecessors once held and may change their laws and institutions to suit themselves. Nothing then is unchangeable but the inherent and unalienable rights of man.” —Thomas Jefferson to John Cartwright, 1824. ME 16:48 [Emphasis added]
“The laws of civil society indeed for the encouragement of industry, give the property of the parent to his family on his death, and in most civilized countries permit him even to give it, by testament, to whom he pleases. And it is also found more convenient to suffer the laws of our predecessors to stand on our implied assent, as if positively re-enacted, until the existing majority positively repeals them. But this does not lessen the right of that majority to repeal whenever a change of circumstances or of will calls for it. Habit alone confounds what is civil practice with natural right.” —Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Earle, 1823. ME 15:470
“Let us provide in our constitution for its revision at stated periods. What these periods should be nature herself indicates. By the European tables of mortality, of the adults living at any one moment of time, a majority will be dead in about nineteen years. At the end of that period, then, a new majority is come into place; or, in other words, a new generation. Each generation is as independent as the one preceding, as that was of all which had gone before. It has then, like them, a right to choose for itself the form of government it believes most promotive of its own happiness; consequently, to accommodate to the circumstances in which it finds itself that received from its predecessors; and it is for the peace and good of mankind that a solemn opportunity of doing this every nineteen or twenty years should be provided by the constitution, so that it may be handed on with periodical repairs from generation to generation to the end of time, if anything human can so long endure.” —Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816. ME 15:42 [Emphasis added]
“Every constitution, then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of nineteen years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force, and not of right. It may be said, that the succeeding generation exercising, in fact, the power of repeal, this leaves them as free as if the constitution or law had been expressly limited to nineteen years only. In the first place, this objection admits the right, in proposing an equivalent. But the power of repeal is not an equivalent. It might be, indeed, if every form of government were so perfectly contrived, that the will of the majority could always be obtained, fairly and without impediment. But this is true of no form. The people cannot assemble themselves; their representation is unequal and vicious. Various checks are opposed to every legislative proposition. Factions get possession of the public councils, bribery corrupts them, personal interests lead them astray from the general interests of their constituents; and other impediments arise, so as to prove to every practical man, that a law of limited duration is much more manageable than one which needs a repeal.” —Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1789. ME 7:459, Papers 15:396 [Emphasis added]
“This principle, that the earth belongs to the living and not to the dead,… will exclude… the ruinous and contagious errors… which have armed despots with means which nature does not sanction, for binding in chains their fellow-men.” —Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1789. ME 7:460, Papers 15:396 [Emphasis added]
Brief Biography of Thomas Jefferson
Having attended the College of William and Mary, Jefferson practiced law and served in local government as a magistrate, county lieutenant, and member of the House of Burgesses in his early professional life. As a member of the Continental Congress, he was chosen in 1776 to draft the Declaration of Independence, which has been regarded ever since as a charter of American and universal liberties. The document proclaims that all men are equal in rights, regardless of birth, wealth, or status, and that the government is the servant, not the master, of the people. After Jefferson left Congress in 1776, he returned to Virginia and served in the legislature. Elected governor from 1779 to 1781, he suffered an inquiry into his conduct during his last year in office that, although finally fully repudiated, left him with a life-long pricklishness in the face of criticism.
During the brief private interval in his life following his governorship, Jefferson wrote Notes on the State of Virginia. In 1784, he entered public service again, in France, first as trade commissioner and then as Benjamin Franklin’s successor as minister. During this period, he avidly studied European culture, sending home to Monticello, books, seeds and plants, statues and architectural drawings, scientific instruments, and information. In 1790 he accepted the post of secretary of state under his friend George Washington. His tenure was marked by his opposition to the pro-British policies of Alexander Hamilton. In 1796, as the presidential candidate of the Democratic Republicans, he became vice-president after losing to John Adams by three electoral votes.
Four years later, he defeated Adams and became president, the first peaceful transfer of authority from one party to another in the history of the young nation. Perhaps the most notable achievements of his first term were the purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803 and his support of the Lewis and Clark expedition. His second term, a time when he encountered more difficulties on both the domestic and foreign fronts, is most remembered for his efforts to maintain neutrality in the midst of the conflict between Britain and France; his efforts did not avert war with Britain in 1812. Jefferson was succeeded as president in 1809 by his friend James Madison, and during the last seventeen years of his life, he remained at Monticello.
Letter to James Madison
Thirteen years after the Declaration of Independence, two years after the Constitution was adopted and two years before the Bill of Rights was ratified, Thomas Jefferson wrote this letter to James Madison. [SOURCE: Virginia.EDU] The letter clearly articulates Jefferson’s view toward the following questions:
- Do the dead have rights or power over the earth?
- Does the world we are born into in usufruct belong only to the living?
- Can the contracts entered into by one generation bind another generation?
To James Madison
Paris, September 6, 1789.
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 develop a little more than is practicable in the hurry of the moment of making up general despatches.
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 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 any 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 its lands in severality, it will be taken by the first occupants, and 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 its creditor. But the child, the legatee or creditor, takes it, not by natural right, but by a law of the society of which he is a member, and to which he is subject. Then, no man can, by natural right, oblige the lands he occupied, or the persons who succeed him in that occupation, to the payment 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 is the reverse of our principle. [Emphasis added]
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 be supposed of twenty-one years, and their period of life thirty-four years more, that being the average term given by the bills of mortality to persons of twenty-one years of age. Each successive generation would, in this way, come and go of the stage at a fixed moment, as individuals do now. Then I say, the earth belongs to each of these generations during its course, fully and in its own right. The second generation receives it clear of the debts and incumbrances of the first, the third of the second, and so on. For if the first could charge it with a debt, then the earth would belong to the dead and not to the living generation. Then, no generation can contract debts greater than may be paid during the course of its own existence. At twenty-one years of age, they may bind themselves and their lands for thirty-four years to come; at twenty-two, for thirty-three; at twenty-three, for thirty-two; and at fifty-four, for one year only; because these are the terms of life which remain to them at the respective epochs.—But a material difference must be noted, between the succession of an individual and that of a whole generation. Individuals are parts only of a society, subject to the laws of a whole. These laws may appropriate the portion of land occupied by a decedent, to his creditor, rather than to any other, or to his child, on condition he satisfies the creditor. But when a whole generation, that is, the whole society, dies, as in the case we have supposed, and another generation or society succeeds, this forms a whole, and there is no superior who can give their territory to a third society, who may have lent money to their predecessors; beyond their faculties of paying. [Emphasis added]
What is true of a generation all arriving to self-government on the same day, and dying all on the same day, is true of those on a constant course of decay and renewal, with this only difference. A generation coming in and going out entire, as in the first case, would have a right in the 1st year of their self dominion to contract a debt for 33. years, in the 10th. for 24. in the 20th. for 14. in the 30th. for 4. whereas generations changing daily, by daily deaths and births, have one constant term beginning at the date of their contract, and ending when a majority of those of full age at that date shall be dead. The length of that term may be estimated from the tables of mortality, corrected by the circumstances of climate, occupation &c. peculiar to the country of the contractors.Take, for instance, the table of M. de Buffon wherein he states that 23,994 deaths, and the ages at which they happened. Suppose a society in which 23,994 persons are born every year and live to the ages stated in this table. The conditions of that society will be as follows. 1st. it will consist constantly of 617,703 persons of all ages. 2dly. of those living at any one instant of time, one half will be dead in 24. years 8. months. 3dly. 10,675 will arrive every year at the age of 21. years complete. 4thly. it will constantly have 348,417 persons of all ages above 21. years. 5ly. and the half of those of 21. years and upwards living at any one instant of time will be dead in 18. years 8. months, or say 19. years as the nearest integral number. Then 19. years is the term beyond which neither the representatives of a nation, nor even the whole nation itself assembled, can validly extend a debt.
What is true of generations succeeding one another at fixed epochs, as has been supposed for clearer conception, is true for those renewed daily, as in the actual course of nature. As a majority of the contracting generation will continue in being thirty-four years, and a new majority will then come into possession, the former may extend their engagement to that term, and no longer. The conclusion then, is, that neither the representatives of a nation, nor the whole nation itself assembled, can validly engage debts beyond what they may pay in their own time, that is to say, within thirty-four years of the date of the engagement. [Emphasis added]
To render this conclusion palpable by example, suppose that Louis the XIV. and XV. had contracted debts in the name of the French nation, to the amount of ten thousand milliards, and that the whole had been contracted in Genoa. The interest of this sum would be five hundred milliards, which is the whole rent-roll or net proceeds of the territory of France. Must the present generation of men have retired from the territory in which nature produces them, and ceded it to the Genoese creditors ? No; they have the same rights over the soil on which they were produced, as the preceding generations had. They derive these rights not from their predecessors, but from nature. They, then, and their soil are, by nature, clear of the debts of their predecessors. [Emphasis added]
Again, suppose Louis XV. and his contemporary generation had said to the money lenders of Genoa, give us money that we may eat, drink, and be merry in our day; and on condition you will demand no interest till the end of 19. years, you shall then forever after receive an annual interest of 155/8 per cent. The money is lent on these conditions, is divided among the people, eaten, drunk and squandered. Would the present generation be obliged to apply the produce of the earth and of their labor, to replace their dissipations ? Not at all. [Emphasis added]
I suppose that the received opinion, that the public debts of one generation devolve on the next, has been suggested by our seeing, habitually, in private life, that he who succeeds to lands is required to pay the debts of his predecessor; without considering that this requisition is municipal only, not moral, flowing from the will of the society, which has found it convenient to appropriate the lands of a decedent on the condition of a payment of his debts; but that between society and society, or generation and generation, there is no municipal obligation, no umpire but the law of nature. We seem not to have perceived that, by the law of nature, one generation is to another as one independant nation to another. [Emphasis added]
The interest of the national debt of France being in fact but a two thousandth part of it’s rent-roll, the paiment of it is practicable enough; and so becomes a question merely of honor or expediency. But with respect to future debts; would it not be wise and just for that nation to declare in the constitution they are forming that neither the legislature, nor the nation itself can validly contract more debt, than they may pay within their own age, or within the term of 19. years ? And that all future contracts shall be deemed void as to what shall remain unpaid at the end of 19. years from their date ? This would put the lenders, and the borrowers also, on their guard. By reducing too the faculty of borrowing within its natural limits, it would bridle the spirit of war, to which too free a course has been procured by the inattention of money lenders to this law of nature, that succeeding generations are not responsible for the preceding. [Emphasis added]
On similar ground it may be proved, that no society can make a perpetual constitution, or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation: they may manage it, then, and what proceeds from it, as they please, during their usufruct. They are masters, too, of their own persons, and consequently may govern them as they please. But persons and property make the sum of the objects of government. The constitution and the laws of their predecessors are extinguished then, in their natural course, with those whose will gave them being. This could preserve that being, till it ceased to be itself, and no longer. Every constitution, then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of thirty-four years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force, and not of right.—It may be said, that the succeeding generation exercising, in fact, the power of repeal, this leaves them as free as if the constitution or law had been expressly limited to thirty-four years only. In the first place, this objection admits the right, in proposing an equivalent. But the power of repeal is not an equivalent. It might be, indeed, if every form of government were so perfectly contrived, that the will of the majority could always be obtained, fairly and without impediment. But this is true of no form. The people cannot assemble themselves; their representation is unequal and vicious. Various checks are opposed to every legislative proposition. Factions get possession of the public councils, bribery corrupts them, personal interests lead them astray from the general interests of their constituents; and other impediments arise, so as to prove to every practical man, that a law of limited duration is much more manageable than one which needs a repeal. [Emphasis added]
This principle, that the earth belongs to the living and not to the dead, is of very extensive application and consequences in every country, and most especially in France. It enters into the resolution of the questions, whether the nation may change the descent of lands holden in tail; whether they may change the appropriation of lands given anciently to the church, to hospitals, colleges, orders of chivalry, and otherwise in perpetuity; whether they may abolish the charges and privileges attached on lands, including the whole catalogue, ecclesiastical and feudal; it goes to hereditary offices, authorities and jurisdictions, to hereditary orders, distinctions and appellations, to perpetual monopolies in commerce, the arts or sciences, with a long train of et ceteras; renders the question of reimbursement, a question of generosity and not of right. In all these cases, the legislature of the day could authorize such appropriations and establishments for their own time, but no longer; and the present holders, even where they or their ancestors have purchased, are in the case of bona fide purchasers of what the seller had no right to convey.
Turn this subject in your mind, my Dear Sir, and particularly as to the power of contracting debts, and develope it with that perspicuity and cogent logic which is so peculiarly yours. Your station in the councils of our country gives you an opportunity of producing it to public consideration, of forcing it into discussion. At first blush it may be rallied as a theoretical speculation; but examination will prove it to be solid and salutary. It would furnish matter for a fine preamble to our first law for appropriating the public revenue; and it will exclude, at the threshold of our new government the contagious and ruinous errors of this quarter of the globe, which have armed despots with means not sanctioned by nature for binding in chains their fellow-men. We have already given, in example one effectual check to the Dog of war, by transferring the power of letting him loose from the executive to the Legislative body, from those who are to spend to those who are to pay. I should be pleased to see this second obstacle held out by us also in the first instance. No nation can make a declaration against the validity of long-contracted debts so disinterestedly as we, since we do not owe a shilling which may not be paid with ease principal and interest, within the time of our own lives.—Establish the principle also in the new law to be passed for protecting copy rights and new inventions, by securing the exclusive right for 19. instead of 14. years. Besides familiarising us to this term, it will be an instance the more of our taking reason for our guide, instead of English precedents, the habit of which fetters us, with all the political herecies of a nation, equally remarkable for it’s encitement from some errors, as long slumbering under others.
I write you no news, because when an occasion occurs I shall write a separate letter for that. I am always, with great and sincere esteem, dear Sir, your affectionate friend and servant. [Emphasis added]
To John Wayles Eppes
Monticello, June 24, 1813
Dear Sir,—This letter will be on politics only. For although I do not often permit myself to think on that subject, it sometimes obtrudes itself, and suggests ideas which I am tempted to pursue. Some of these relating to the business of finance, I will hazard to you, as being at the head of that committee, but intended for yourself individually, or such as you trust, but certainly not for a mixed committee.
It is a wise rule and should be fundamental in a government disposed to cherish its credit, and at the same time to restrain the use of it within the limits of its faculties, “never to borrow a dollar without laying a tax in the same instant for paying the interest annually, and the principal within a given term; and to consider that tax as pledged to the creditors on the public faith.” On such a pledge as this, sacredly observed, a government may always command, on a reasonable interest, all the lendable money of their citizens, while the necessity of an equivalent tax is a salutary warning to them and their constituents against oppressions, bankruptcy, and its inevitable consequence, revolution. But the term of redemption must be moderate, and at any rate within the limits of their rightful powers. But what limits, it will be asked, does this prescribe to their powers? What is to hinder them from creating a perpetual debt? The laws of nature, I answer. The earth belongs to the living, not to the dead. The will and the power of man expire with his life, by nature’s law. Some societies give it an artificial continuance, for the encouragement of industry; some refuse it, as our aboriginal neighbors, whom we call barbarians. The generations of men may be considered as bodies or corporations. Each generation has the usufruct of the earth during the period of its continuance. When it ceases to exist, the usufruct passes on to the succeeding generation, free and unincumbered, and so on, successively, from one generation to another forever. We may consider each generation as a distinct nation, with a right, by the will of its majority, to bind themselves, but none to bind the succeeding generation, more than the inhabitants of another country. Or the case may be likened to the ordinary one of a tenant for life, who may hypothecate the land for his debts, during the continuance of his usufruct; but at his death, the reversioner (who is also for life only) receives it exonerated from all burthen. The period of a generation, or the term of its life, is determined by the laws of mortality, which, varying a little only in different climates, offer a general average, to be found by observation. I turn, for instance, to Buffon’s tables, of twenty-three thousand nine hundred and ninety-four deaths, and the ages at which they happened, and I find that of the numbers of all ages living at one moment, half will be dead in twenty-four years and eight months. But (leaving out minors, who have not the power of self-government) of the adults (of twenty-one years of age) living at one moment, a majority of whom act for the society, one half will be dead in eighteen years and eight months. At nineteen years then from the date of a contract, the majority of the contractors are dead, and their contract with them. Let this general theory be applied to a particular case. Suppose the annual births of the State of New York to be twenty-three thousand nine hundred and ninety-four, the whole number of its inhabitants, according to Buffon, will be six hundred and seventeen thousand seven hundred and three, of all ages. Of these there would constantly be two hundred and sixty-nine thousand two hundred and eighty-six minors, and three hundred and forty-eight thousand four hundred and seventeen adults, of which last, one hundred and seventy-four thousand two hundred and nine will be a majority. Suppose that majority, on the first day of the year 1794, had borrowed a sum of money equal to the fee-simple value of the State, and to have consumed it in eating, drinking and making merry in their day; or, if you please, in quarrelling and fighting with their unoffending neighbors. Within eighteen years and eight months, one half of the adult citizens were dead. Till then, being the majority, they might rightfully levy the interest of their debt annually on themselves and their fellow-revellers, or fellow-champions. But at that period, say at this moment, a new majority have come into place, in their own right, and not under the rights, the conditions, or laws of their predecessors. Are they bound to acknowledge the debt, to consider the preceding generation as having had a right to eat up the whole soil of their country, in the course of a life, to alienate it from them, (for it would be an alienation to the creditors,) and would they think themselves either legally or morally bound to give up their country and emigrate to another for subsistence? Every one will say no; that the soil is the gift of God to the living, as much as it had been to the deceased generation; and that the laws of nature impose no obligation on them to pay this debt. And although, like some other natural rights, this has not yet entered into any declaration of rights, it is no less a law, and ought to be acted on by honest governments. It is, at the same time, a salutary curb on the spirit of war and indebtment, which, since the modern theory of the perpetuation of debt, has drenched the earth with blood, and crushed its inhabitants under burthens ever accumulating. Had this principle been declared in the British bill of rights, England would have been placed under the happy disability of waging eternal war, and of contracting her thousand millions of public debt. In seeking, then, for an ultimate term for the redemption of our debts, let us rally to this principle, and provide for their payment within the term of nineteen years at the farthest. Our government has not, as yet, begun to act on the rule of loans and taxation going hand in hand. Had any loan taken place in my time, I should have strongly urged a redeeming tax. For the loan which has been made since the last session of Congress, we should now set the example of appropriating some particular tax, sufficient to pay the interest annually, and the principal within a fixed term, less than nineteen years. And I hope yourself and your committee will render the immortal service of introducing this practice. Not that it is expected that Congress should formally declare such a principle. They wisely enough avoid deciding on abstract questions. But they may be induced to keep themselves within its limits.
I am sorry to see our loans begin at so exorbitant an interest. And yet, even at that you will soon be at the bottom of the loan-bag. We are an agricultural nation. Such an one employs its sparings in the purchase or improvement of land or stocks. The lendable money among them is chiefly that of orphans and wards in the hands of executors and guardians, and that which the farmer lays by till he has enough for the purchase in view. In such a nation there is one and one only resource for loans, sufficient to carry them through the expense of war; and that will always be sufficient, and in the power of an honest government, punctual in the preservation of its faith. The fund I mean, is the mass of circulating coin. Every one knows, that although not literally, it is nearly true, that every paper dollar emitted banishes a silver one from the circulation. A nation, therefore, making its purchases and payments with bills fitted for circulation, thrusts an equal sum of coin out of circulation. This is equivalent to borrowing that sum, and yet the vendor receiving payment in a medium as effectual as coin for his purchases or payments, has no claim to interest. And so the nation may continue to issue its bills as far as its wants require, and the limits of the circulation will admit. Those limits are understood to extend with us at present, to two hundred millions of dollars, a greater sum than would be necessary for any war. But this, the only resource which the government could command with certainty, the States have unfortunately fooled away, nay corruptly alienated to swindlers and shavers, under the cover of private banks. Say, too, as an additional evil, that the disposal funds of individuals, to this great amount, have thus been withdrawn from improvement and useful enterprise, and employed in the useless, usurious and demoralizing practices of bank directors and their accomplices. In the war of 1755, our State availed itself of this fund by issuing a paper money, bottomed on a specific tax for its redemption, and, to insure its credit, bearing an interest of five per cent. Within a very short time, not a bill of this emission was to be found in circulation. It was locked up in the chests of executors, guardians, widows, farmers, &c. We then issued bills bottomed on a redeeming tax, but bearing no interest. These were readily received, and never depreciated a single farthing. In the revolutionary war, the old Congress and the States issued bills without interest, and without tax. They occupied the channels of circulation very freely, till those channels were overflowed by an excess beyond all the calls of circulation. But although we have so improvidently suffered the field of circulating medium to be filched from us by private individuals, yet I think we may recover it in part, and even in the whole, if the States will co-operate with us. If treasury bills are emitted on a tax appropriated for their redemption in fifteen years, and (to insure preference in the first moments of competition) bearing an interest of six per cent. there is no one who would not take them in preference to the bank paper now afloat, on a principle of patriotism as well as interest; and they would be withdrawn from circulation into private hoards to a considerable amount. Their credit once established, others might be emitted, bottomed also on a tax, but not bearing interest; and if ever their credit faltered, open public loans, on which these bills alone should be received as specie. These, operating as a sinking fund, would reduce the quantity in circulation, so as to maintain that in an equilibrium with specie. It is not easy to estimate the obstacles which, in the beginning, we should encounter in ousting the banks from their possession of the circulation; but a steady and judicious alternation of emissions and loans, would reduce them in time. But while this is going on, another measure should be pressed, to recover ultimately our right to the circulation. The States should be applied to, to transfer the right of issuing circulating paper to Congress exclusively, in perpetuum, if possible, but during the war at least, with a saving of charter rights. I believe that every State west and South of Connecticut river, except Delaware, would immediately do it; and the others would follow in time. Congress would, of course, begin by obliging unchartered banks to wind up their affairs within a short time, and the others as their charters expired, forbidding the subsequent circulation of their paper. This they would supply with their own, bottomed, every emission, on an adequate tax, and bearing or not bearing interest, as the state of the public pulse should indicate. Even in the non-complying States, these bills would make their way, and supplant the unfunded paper of their banks, by their solidity, by the universality of their currency, and by their receivability for customs and taxes. It would be in their power, too, to curtail those banks to the amount of their actual specie, by gathering up their paper, and running it constantly on them. The national paper might thus take place even in the non-complying States. In this way, I am not without a hope, that this great, this sole resource for loans in an agricultural country, might yet be recovered for the use of the nation during war; and, if obtained in perpetuum, it would always be sufficient to carry us through any war; provided, that in the interval between war and war, all the outstanding paper should be called in, coin be permitted to flow in again, and to hold the field of circulation until another war should require its yielding place again to the national medium.
But it will be asked, are we to have no banks ? Are merchants and others to be deprived of the resource of short accommodations, found so convenient? I answer, let us have banks; but let them be such as are alone to be found in any country on earth, except Great Britain. There is not a bank of discount on the continent of Europe, (at least there was not one when I was there,) which offers anything but cash in exchange for discounted bills. No one has a natural right to the trade of a money lender, but he who has the money to lend. Let those then among us, who have a monied capital, and who prefer employing it in loans rather than otherwise, set up banks, and give cash or national bills for the notes they discount. Perhaps, to encourage them, a larger interest than is legal in the other cases might be allowed them, on the condition of their lending for short periods only. It is from Great Britain we copy the idea of giving paper in exchange for discounted bills; and while we have derived from that country some good principles of government and legislation, we unfortunately run into the most servile imitation of all her practices, ruinous as they prove to her, and with the gulph yawning before us into which these very practices are precipitating her. The unlimited emission of bank paper has banished all her specie, and is now, by a depreciation acknowledged by her own statesmen, carrying her rapidly to bankruptcy, as it did France, as it did us, and will do us again, and every country permitting paper to be circulated, other than that by public authority, rigorously limited to the just measure for circulation. Private fortunes, in the present state of our circulation, are at the mercy of those self-created money lenders, and are prostrated by the floods of nominal money with which their avarice deluges us. He who lent his money to the public or to an individual, before the institution of the United States Bank, twenty years ago, when wheat was well sold at a dollar the bushel, and receives now his nominal sum when it sells at two dollars, is cheated of half his fortune; and by whom? By the banks, which, since that, have thrown into circulation ten dollars of their nominal money where was one at that time.
Reflect, if you please, on these ideas, and use them or not as they appear to merit. They comfort me in the belief, that they point out a resource ample enough, without overwhelming war taxes, for the expense of the war, and possibly still recoverable; and that they hold up to all future time a resource within ourselves, ever at the command of government, and competent to any wars into which we may be forced. Nor is it a slight object to equalize taxes through peace and war.
I was in Bedford a fortnight in the month of May, and did not know that Francis and his cousin Baker were within 10. miles of me at Lynchburg. I learnt it by letters from themselves after I had returned home. I shall go there early in August and hope their master will permit them to pass their Saturdays & Sundays with me. Ever affectionately yours.