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Thopmas Jefferson's perspectives on property and privilege

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Thomas Jefferson’s Evolving Perspectives on Property and Privilege Written by Edward J. Dodson, M.L.A.

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George Wythe William Small

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George Wythe

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“I made one effort in that body for the permission of the emancipation of slaves, which was rejected; and indeed, during the regal government, nothing liberal could expect success.”

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“That the exercise of a free trade with all parts of the world, possessed by the American colonists, as of natural right, and which no law of their own had taken away or abridged, was next the object of unjust encroachment.”

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Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes

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“the monopoly of the purchase of tobacco in France discourages both the French and American merchant from bringing it [to France]. It is contrary to the spirit of trade, and to the dispositions of merchants, to carry a commodity to any market where but one person is allowed to buy it, and where, of course, that person fixes its price .”

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“Our Saxon ancestors held their lands, as they did their personal property, in absolute dominion, disencumbered with any superior, answering nearly to the nature of those possessions which the feudalists term allodial. …Our ancestors, however, who migrated hither, were farmers, not lawyers. …”

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“The fictitious principle that all lands belong originally to the king, they were early persuaded to believe real; and accordingly took grants of their own lands from the crown. And while the crown continued to grant for small sums, and on reasonable rents; there was no inducement to arrest the error, and lay it open to public view.”

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“In the … spirit of equal and impartial legislation is to be viewed the act of Parliament … by which American lands are made subject to the demands of British creditors, while their own lands were still continued unanswerable for their debts; from which, one of these conclusions must necessarily follow, either that justice is not the same thing in America as in Britain, or else, that the British Parliament pay less regard to it here than there.”

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“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. …”

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“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, …”

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“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of 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.”

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“These laws, drawn by myself, laid the axe to the root of Pseudoaristocracy.”

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James Truslow Adams

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“one of the not least interesting features of Jefferson’s theory as to the distinction between natural and civil rights was that it ruled economics out of the field of natural law” and “property … could be maintained only by the help of society, and it was therefore … a civil right only.”

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“The political institutions of America, its various soils and climates, opened a certain resource to the unfortunate and to the enterprising of every country and insured to them the acquisition and free possession of property.”

Governor Jefferson:

Governor Jefferson Governor’s Mansion, Williamsburg

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“The political economists of Europe have established it as a principle, that every State should endeavour to manufacture for itself; and this principle, like many others, we transfer to America, without calculating the difference of circumstance which should often produce a difference of result. In Europe the lands are either cultivated, or locked up against the cultivator. …”

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“Manufacture must therefore be resorted to, of necessity, not of choice, to support the surplus of their people. But we have an immensity of land courting the industry of the husbandman. Is it best then that all our citizens should be employed in its improvement, or that one half should be called off from that to exercise manufactures and handicrafts for the other? Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people.”

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“The mobs of great cities add just so much to the support of pure government, as sores do to the strength of the human body.”

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“the people are as yet not recovered from the depredations of the war.”

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“The Confederation is a wonderfully perfect instrument, considering the circumstances under which it was formed.”

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“ he came back without a single major idea which he had not taken with him when he sailed from Boston .”

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“in political economy, I think Smith’s Wealth of Nations the best book extant. … There are some excellent books of theory written by Turgot and the economists of France.”

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“Of twenty millions of people supposed to be in France, I am of opinion there are nineteen millions more wretched, more accursed in every circumstance of human existence than the most conspicuously wretched individual of the whole United States.”

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“The property of this country is absolutely concentrated in a very few hands.”

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“exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions or property in geometrical progression as they rise.”

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“that every man who cannot find employment, but who can find uncultivated land, shall be at liberty to cultivate it, paying a moderate rent.”

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“We have now lands enough to employ an infinite number of people in their cultivation. Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. …As long … as they can find employment in this line, I would not convert them into mariners, artisans, or anything else.”

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James Madison

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“…our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries; as long as they are chiefly agricultural; and this will be as long as there shall be vacant lands in any part of America. When they get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, they will become corrupt as in Europe.”

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“With respect to the sale of our lands, that cannot begin till a considerable portion shall have been surveyed … before we shall be able to judge of the efficacy of our land office to sink our national debt.”

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“Indeed,” I think all the good of this new constitution might have been couched in three or four new articles, to be added to the good, old and venerable fabric, which should have been preserved even as a religious relique…”

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James Madison

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Alexander Hamilton

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“His system flowed from principles adverse to liberty, and was calculated to undermine and demolish the Republic by creating an influence of his department over the members of the Legislature.”

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“The moral duties which exist between individual and individual in a state of nature, accompany them into a state of society, and the aggregate of the duties of all the individuals composing the society constitutes the duties of that society towards any other.”

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“I agree with you that there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents” and “that that form of government is the best, which provides the most effectually for a pure selection of these natural aristoi into the offices of government.”

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“We have chanced to live in an age which will probably be distinguished in history, for its experiments in government on a larger scale than has yet taken place. But we shall not live to see the result.”

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“speculators and holders in the banks and public funds.”

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Edmund Randolph

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“Before the revolution there existed no such nation as the United States; they then first associated as a nation. But they did not … proceed to adopt a whole system of laws ready made to their hand. ...”

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“As their association as a nation was only for special purposes, to wit, for the management of their concerns with one another and with foreign nations, and the States composing the association chose to give it powers for those purposes and no others, they could not adopt any general system, because it would have embraced objects on which this association had no right to form or declare a will.”

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“If there be any among us who wish to dissolve this union, or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed, as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”

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Albert Gallatin

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“things back to that simple and intelligible system on which they should have been organized at first.”

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Jean Baptiste Say

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“the immense extent of uncultivated and fertile lands” which “enables every one who will labor, to marry young, and to raise a family of any size.”

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“Within the Jeffersonian framework of assumptions and beliefs, three essential conditions were necessary to create and sustain such a republican political economy: a national government free from any taint of corruption, an unobstructed access to an ample supply of open land, and a relatively liberal international commercial order that would offer adequate foreign markets for America’s flourishing agricultural surplus.”

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“While honest men were religiously observing it, the unprincipled along our sea-coast and our frontiers [have been] fraudulently evading it.”

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“the object of England … is to claim the ocean as her domain, and to exact transit duties from every vessel traversing it.”

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“I have not formerly been an advocate for great manufactories. I doubted whether our labor, employed in agriculture, and aided by the spontaneous energies of the earth, would not procure us more than we could make ourselves of other necessaries. But other considerations entering into the question, have settled my doubts.”

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“natural and even an hereditary right to inventors.”

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“that no individual has, of natural right, a separate property in an acre of land.” Rather, land “is the property for the moment of him who occupies it, but when he relinquishes the occupation, the property goes with it.”

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“That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature.”

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"A right of property in moveable things is admitted before the establishment of government. A separate property in lands, not till after that establishment. The right to moveables is acknowledged by all the hordes of Indians surrounding us. Yet by no one of them has a separate property in lands been yielded to individuals. …”

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"He who plants a field keeps possession till he has gathered the produce, after which one has as good a right as another to occupy it. Government must be established and laws provided, before lands can be separately appropriated, and their owner protected in his possession. Till then, the property is in the body of the nation, and they, or their chief as trustee, must grant them to individuals, and determine the conditions of the grant.”

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“The fact is, that one new idea leads to another, that to a third, and so on through a course of time until some one, with whom no one of these ideas was original, combines all together, and produces what is justly called a new invention.”

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“Can one generation bind another, and all others in succession forever?” To which he answered: “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. …”

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“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.” .”

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The End

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