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

II. The Intergenerational Philosophy of the Founders and Their Contemporaries

B. Generational Sovereignty and the Land – The Earth as Tenancy-in-Common

 

Did the founders have anything to say about intergenerational obligations which would bear upon modern environmental concerns? It would be natural to assume that they did not. Because the founders did not possess modern technology, they did not have the capability to cause environmental disruption on the scale now possible. When we examine 18th century records, we find little discussion of pollution, extinction, habitat loss, or depletion of non-renewable resources. f113

However, the founders and their contemporaries did understand each generation's obligation to preserve the value and integrity of the land for generations to come. These stewardship principles, embedded in the legal constructs of entail, usufruct and waste were ethical bedrock in the late 1700's. Intergenerational rights in the land were in fact more familiar, and more widely acknowledged, than intergenerational political rights and economic rights. That is why, when writers of the period sought to describe the proper political relations between generations, many of them, including Jefferson, relied upon metaphors and analogies involving entailed land. When Burke wished to condemn the revolutionaries of France, he did so by characterizing them as irresponsible life-tenants who would commit waste upon an estate.f114 compared that disservice to wastage upon the land:

"Our posterity will then have reason to lament that they cannot avail themselves of those treasures of publick friendship and confidence which our fathers wisely hoarded up, and we are throwing away. . . we are treating posterity very scurvily. . We have mortgaged all the lands; we have cut down all the oaks; we are now trampling down the fences, rooting up all the seedlings and samplers, and ruining the resources of another age . . ." f115

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