Intergenerational Justice in the United States Constitution,
The Stewardship Doctrine:

II. The Intergenerational Philosophy of the Founders and Their Contemporaries

D Generational Sovereignty and Economic Right – The Problem of Inherited Debt

The framers' European contemporaries were equally interested in the issue of intergenerational public debt, and probably helped to shape American discourse on the topic. Herbert Sloan observes that the French Encyclopédies were highly successful in promulgating the view that long-term economic debts are unfair to future generations. f204 Montesquieu, whose works were extremely influential amongst the founders, announced that, "The power of the purse must reside exclusively in the legislature, but appropriations must not be made in perpetuity or for long periods."f205 Hume, discussing government's penchant to create long term public debt, suggested "it would scarcely be more imprudent to give a prodigal son a credit in every banker's shop in London, than to impower a statesman to draw bills, in this manner, upon posterity." f206

In the final analysis, however, most of the founding American statesmen allowed that long-term public debt was acceptable in certain limited circumstances. Madison, for instance, took notice that some debts, such as those incurred for repelling a conquest, benefit the unborn and that other debts may be incurred principally for the benefit of posterity.

"There seems then to be a foundation in the nature of things, in the relation which one generation bears to another, for the descent of obligations from one to another. Equity requires it. Mutual good is promoted by it. All that is indispensable in adjusting the account between the dead and the living is to see that the debits against the latter do not exceed the advances made by the former." f207

<<previous   Stewardship contents  next -Part III>>


©Constitutional Law Foundation, 50 West 36th Street, Eugene, Oregon 97405
Phone: 541-683-4500, Fax: 541-683-4492,
web site design: