Happy Presidents Day: Jefferson’s Message To Millennials

Happy President’s Day!

Summary of Jefferson’s Message To Millennials

  • Change the estate laws
  • Debt should not be valid and passed on to the next generation
  • The Constitution should be rewritten for every generation

Jefferson In Paris

Thomas Jefferson,  America’s third president and author the Declaration of Independence,  was the Minister to France at the beginning of the French revolution.  He supported and even allowed his residence to be used as a meeting place for some of the rebels led by Lafayette.

Jefferson was able to observe the causes and consequences of the French revolution first hand and understood that debt and aristocracy were inexorably linked  and were anathema to republican democracy

Letter To James Madison

In 1789, Jefferson wrote a letter to James Madison, the Father of the U.S. Constitution,  where he laid out the rationale for sweeping social and political reform to prevent such a revolution in the new formed States.

Jefferson had estimated the natural life of a generation during its majority.  He used the mortality tables of the great scientist Georges-Louis Leclerc Buffon and arrived at the term of 19 years.  Life expectancy during the day was approximately between 30 and 40 years, so, of course, the 19 years would have to be indexed into current life expectancy, let’s say 40 years.  Nice, the biblical approximation of a generation.

“The Earth Belongs To The Living”

The upshot of the third president’s letter to the fourth president, a decade or two before either would assume power,  was the basic proposition “that the earth belongs to the living: that the dead have neither powers nor rights over it.

That is every generation has a claim to rule itself and that every generation was like an independent nation with respect to every other generation.

TJ offered three applications of this principle:

  1. First, was respect to property, above all landed property.  The government should strike down laws that entail, a property that is estates are kept entire.  They can never be broken.  Jefferson viewed first hand the feudalism that destroyed 18th century France and lobbied Madison for America to take immediate steps so that no great aristocratic estates arise in the new country because aristocracy is the opposite of democracy.   Aristocracy means the rule of a few privileged families forever.  In today’s parlance, aristocracy is the eternal rule of the 1 percent at the expense of the other 99 percent.  The privileged minority that constitutes the State itself, that control the government.  Sounds eerily similar to what the body politic is debating today, no?
  2. Second, that one generation could not be burdened with the debts of another. The generation that enjoyed the benefits of the borrowing would not impose the costs of such borrowing on the next.  The yuuge debts of the Bourbon monarchy had contributed to the French Revolution, just as those of Great Britain had earlier set off the events culminating in the American Revolution.  Should not France declare in its new constitution that no debt be contracted for payment beyond the term of 19 years?  Jefferson thought, not only, would a provision save the people from oppressive taxes; it would also “bridle the spirit of war” by reducing the power to borrow within natural limits.
  3. Third, and most importantly, the Constitution,

Jefferson applied the principle to the constitution and laws of government. “No society can make a perpetual constitution or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation. . . . The constitution and laws of their predecessors [are] extinguished . . . in their natural course with those who gave them being. . . . Every constitution then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of 19 years.  If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force, and not of right.”  Madison, who had just gotten the Bill of Rights passed, would have nothing to do with it.  – VQR

So, there you have it, millennials,  WWJD – “what would Jefferson do?

Madison thought TJ’s letter was nuts and Jefferson never really pressed these issues any further.   Interesting, provocative, and a bit prophetic, nonetheless.   Party like 1999 1789!

Siena’s 6th Presidential Expert Poll 1982 – 2018


Loudonville, NY – For the sixth time since its inception in 1982, the Siena College Research Institute’s (SCRI) Survey of U.S. Presidents finds that experts rank Franklin D. Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt, Abe Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington as the United States’ top five chief executives. The 157 participating presidential scholars for the first time name Washington as number one with FDR second, Lincoln third, Teddy Roosevelt fourth and Jefferson fifth. Donald Trump enters the survey as the 42nd rated president, and he joins Andrew Johnson, James Buchanan, Warren Harding and Franklin Pierce in the bottom five. Dwight Eisenhower moved up to sixth, the highest ranking he has ever achieved, while Ronald Reagan was up five spots to 13th, and George W. Bush was up six places but remains in 33rd place. Barack Obama slipped two spots to 17th, Bill Clinton dropped to 15th from 13th, and Andrew Jackson fell five places to 19th.

…Scholars rate presidents on each of twenty categories that include attributes – background, imagination, integrity, intelligence, luck and willingness to take risks, abilities – compromising, executive ability, leadership, communication, and overall ability and accomplishments – party leadership, relationship with Congress, court appointments, handling the economy, executive appointments, domestic accomplishments, foreign policy accomplishments and avoiding mistakes. Theodore Roosevelt is rated highest on attributes, Lincoln tops the list on abilities and Washington leads on accomplishments.

…The Siena College Research Institute (SCRI) Survey of U.S. Presidents is based on responses from 157 presidential scholars, historians and political scientists that responded via mail or web to an invitation to participate. Respondents ranked each of 44 presidents on a scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) on each of twenty presidential attributes, abilities and accomplishments. Overall rankings were computed by assigning equal weight to each of those twenty categories. For additional information about the survey visit http://www.siena.edu/sri/research or contact Don Levy at 518-783-2901, dlevy@siena.edu or Doug Lonnstrom at 518-783-2362.  – Siena Research Institute

The Best and Worst Ranked


Ranking Of Recent Presidents


Changing Historical Perspective




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