Jefferson’s Contractual Society

When Jefferson said “The earth belongs to the living,” he was railing against the popular Burkean revision of Locke’s contractual society.

The quote comes from a letter to Madison and makes sense only in the broader debate between Burke and Paine:

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. Yet it is a question of such consequences as not only to merit decision, but place also, among the fundamental principles of every government.


First published Jan 29, 2015