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The Jeffersonian cyclopedia;

a comprehensive collection of the views of Thomas Jefferson classified and arranged in alphabetical order under nine thousand titles relating to government, politics, law, education, political economy, finance, science, art, literature, religious freedom, morals, etc.;

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2000. DEBT, Generations and.—
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2000. DEBT, Generations and.—

That we
are bound to defray the expenses of the war
within our own time, and unauthorized to
burthen posterity with them, I suppose to
have been proved in my former letter. I will
place the question nevertheless in one additional
point of view. The former regarded
their independent right over the earth; this
over their own persons. There have existed
nations, and civilized and learned nations,
who have thought that a father had a right to
sell his child as a slave, in perpetuity; that
he could alienate his body and industry conjointly,
and à fortiari his industry separately;
and consume its fruits himself. A nation asserting
this fratricide right might well suppose
they could burthen with public as well
as private debt their nati natorum, et qui
nascentur ab illis.
But we, this age, and in
this country especially, are advanced beyond
those notions of natural law. 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
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. 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, or 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. * * * We must raise,
then, ourselves the money for this war, either
by taxes within the year, or by loans; and
if by loans, we must repay them ourselves,
proscribing forever the English practice of
perpetual funding; the ruinous consequences
of which, putting right out of the question,


Page 227
should be a sufficient warning to a considerate
nation to avoid the example.—
To J. W. Eppes. Washington ed. vi, 196. Ford ed., ix, 396.
Sep. 1813)

See Generations.