Proposition Submitted by Richard Gem

Volume 15: 27 March 1789 to 30 November 1789
(Princeton University Press, 1958), 391-2
[ca. 1-6 Sep. 1789]

That one generation of men in civil society have no right to make acts to bind another, is a truth that cannot be contested.

The earth and all things whatever can only be conceived to belong to the living, the dead and those who are unborn can have no rights of property.

Individuals have the power to alienate their property or[1] to engage it for the payment of debts. Why may not a body men,[2] a nation, contract debts, and engage their united property for the payment of them? In this no rights of posterity seem to be violated; because the property of the present generation does not belong to them.

To repress the interested, ambitious and corrupt conduct of the administrators of nations, it may be expedient to declare by a law, that after a certain term of years the payment of a loan shall be void; creditors lending their money on these conditions suffer no wrong by the failure of payment.

As things are constituted in Europe, the indebted nations cannot with injustice refuse the payment of public debts.

MS (DLC: TJ Papers, 52: 9053); in Gem’s handwriting; undated but clearly written before TJ’s letter to Madison of 6 Sep. 1789. Not recorded in SJL, but very likely handed to TJ by Gem on one of the latter’s professional calls during TJ’s illness in the first week in September.

[1.] This word interlined in substitution for “and,” deleted.

[2.] Thus in MS.