Intergenerational Justice in the United States Constitution,
The Stewardship Doctrine:
I. Historic Overview


"People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors."

Edmund Burke f1

For the purposes of this article, I accept the widely held premise that no doctrine may be accorded constitutional stature if it does not derive from the "original intent" of the framers. Put another way: no matter how urgent the need for a particular legal approach may appear, that approach will not have "constitutional" authority unless it be grounded in explicit constitutional text and supported by ancillary records of the founders' intent. That being so, it is fortunate for posterity that the framers, and the intellectual predecessors upon whom they relied, spoke as frequently and explicitly as they did on the topic of intergenerational equity. While they may have harbored a few differences amongst themselves as to the precise contours of the rights and obligations which exist between generations, the founding fathers clearly shared a strong belief that some such pattern of rights and obligations must exist, and that recognition of such rights and obligations was crucial to the legitimacy of any political society.

In holding this view, the founders stood squarely within a tradition of Western philosophic and legal opinion extending back at least as far as Classical Greece and the Old Testament - a tradition which in the last two centuries has largely disappeared from public discourse.f2 If we are to understand the founders' opinions and intentions in this area, we must reacquaint ourselves, at least cursorily, with the traditions of intergenerational philosophy upon which they drew.

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Source documents:
Library of Congress, Constitution, Declaration of Independence, Historical Documents
U.S. Constitution, from Cornell Law School
U.S. Constitution - Emory University
U.S. Constitution, National Archives and Records Administration
Federalist Papers, from Yale Law School.


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