The earth belongs always to the living generation. They may manage it, and what proceeds from it, as they please, during their usufruct.
[Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary: “usufruct – 1. the legal right of using and enjoying the fruits or profits of something belonging to another”].
Source: To James Madison, 1789 (Foley, 2340)
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
This natural right was a common theme for Jefferson. Each generation had the right to manage its resources for its own use and enjoyment. Yet, those resources didn’t belong to them alone, but to each generation, in turn. Inherent in that right was that one generation did not have the right to bind the next one. It was that next generation’s right to make choices for their use and enjoyment.
This gave rise to his belief that laws and even Constitutions should be amended or rewritten from generation to generation, as circumstances and needs dictated. He considered a generation to be about two decades, and that was an appropriate interval for reevaluation. He did not propose a “revolution” every 20 years, as some claim.
He was also adamant that no generation had the right to incur debt that the next generation had to pay. (Can I get an “Amen!,” somebody?)
Learn more about your natural rights.
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The Moral Liberal Thomas Jefferson Editor, Patrick Lee, is a professional speaker, actor and writer. Since 1990, he has inspired, entertained and educated audiences from Maine to Hawaii with his authentic, first person leadership presentations as President Thomas Jefferson, Frontiersman Daniel Boone, and Lewis & Clark Co-Leader William Clark.
He also appears as himself, The Hopeful Humorist™, with a program of motivational humor, patriotism and inspiration.