What Thomas Jefferson Had to Say About Generational Theft

“I sincerely believe… that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity under the name of funding is but swindling futurity on a large scale.” –Thomas Jefferson to John Taylor, 1816. ME 15:23

“It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world.” –Thomas Jefferson to A. L. C. Destutt de Tracy, 1820. FE 10:175

“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 encumbrances 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.” –Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1789. ME 7:455

“We acknowledge that our children are born free; that that freedom is the gift of nature, and not of him who begot them; that though under our care during infancy, and therefore of necessity under a duly tempered authority, that care is confided to us to be exercised for the preservation and good of the child only; and his labors during youth are given as a retribution for the charges of infancy. As he was never the property of his father, so when adult he is sui juris, entitled himself to the use of his own limbs and the fruits of his own exertions: so far we are advanced, without mind enough, it seems, to take the whole step.” –Thomas Jefferson to John Wayles Eppes, 1813. ME 13:357

“[Using], for instance, the table of M. de Buffon, [it can be determined that] 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… With respect to future debts, would it not be wise and just for [a] nation to declare in [its] constitution 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?” –Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1789.

“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.” –Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1789. ME 7:457

“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.” –Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1789. ME 7:458

“Funding I consider as limited, rightfully, to a redemption of the debt within the lives of a majority of the generation contracting it; every generation coming equally, by the laws of the Creator of the world, to the free possession of the earth He made for their subsistence, unencumbered by their predecessors, who, like them, were but tenants for life.” –Thomas Jefferson to John Taylor, 1816. ME 15:18

“[The natural right to be free of the debts of a previous generation is] 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 burdens ever accumulating.” –Thomas Jefferson to John Wayles Eppes, 1813. ME 13:272

“We believe–or we act as if we believed–that although an individual father cannot alienate the labor of his son, the aggregate body of fathers may alienate the labor of all their sons, of their posterity, in the aggregate, and oblige them to pay for all the enterprises, just or unjust, profitable or ruinous, into which our vices, our passions or our personal interests may lead us. But I trust that this proposition needs only to be looked at by an American to be seen in its true point of view, and that we shall all consider ourselves unauthorized to saddle posterity with our debts, and morally bound to pay them ourselves; and consequently within what may be deemed the period of a generation, or the life of the majority.” –Thomas Jefferson to John Wayles Eppes, 1813. ME 13:357

“Ought not then the right of each successive generation to be guaranteed against the dissipations and corruptions of those preceding, by a fundamental provision in our Constitution? And if that has not been made, does it exist the less, there being between generation and generation as between nation and nation no other law than that of nature? And is it the less dishonest to do what is wrong because not expressly prohibited by written law? Let us hope our moral principles are not yet in that stage of degeneracy, and that in instituting the system of finance to be hereafter pursued we shall adopt the only safe, the only lawful and honest one, of borrowing on such short terms of reimbursement of interest and principal as will fall within the accomplishment of our own lives.” –Thomas Jefferson to John Wayles Eppes, 1813. ME 13:360

To reference these and additional quotes, please visit famguardian.org.


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