In his letter written on September 6 1789, Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison from Paris that “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.” He then answers his question with the declaration that “the earth belong in usufruct to the living: that the dead have neither powers nor rights over it,” and begins making this evident by talking about the distribution of land after an individual has passed away. He then starts talking about an ideal generation, one that is born and dies on the same day, and proclaims that on the day that generation ceases to exist, so does a whole society. He calculates the natural life of a generation during its majority, consults the Buffon’s mortality table to track roughly when one generation was born and died, and finally arrives at the term of 19 years.
Jefferson applies his principle about the earth belonging to the living and expiration of debts every 19 years to property, in which every generation had a natural right to labor on earth. If one generation could withhold usufruct from those to come, then “the lands would belo...
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...eft the U.S. with national debts, but enabled it to come through their own revolution successfully, because as the interest on the debt were paid regularly, the country began to build a positive reputation. Also, although in Jefferson’s view putting an expiration date on debts in 19 years would limit the power to borrow, I believe otherwise. A country might borrow as much money as they possibly can because they know they do not have to pay it all as the debt would become void eventually, leaving the country it borrowed the money from furious, and this might create all kind of problems among countries.
Allowing each generation to re-start the process of making laws, and putting expiration date on debts might sound interesting and rebellious, but considering its effects on society and the stability of the government make it sound completely impractical and injurious.
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