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

II. The Intergenerational Philosophy of the Founders and Their Contemporaries


One of the most potent philosophic ideas of the eighteenth century was the concept of "unalienable" rights. f155 The modern sense of "unalienable" rights is somewhat stunted. Citizens today are educated think of "unalienable" rights in only the vaguest sort of way - as some ill-defined set of entitlements which belong to the individual, and which cannot be rightfully withdrawn by a government or political majority. The phrase carried additional import in the founders' time. It denoted a set of rights which one generation could not alienate from another generation.

Grotius taught that there were two types of property interests: interests in "alienable" things ("things which by their nature can belong to one person as well as to another") and interests in "inalienable things" ("inalienable things are things which belong so essentially to one man that they could not belong to another, as a man's life, body, freedom, honor"). f156 Grotius employed this distinction to deny people's right or power to give up their personal liberty by 'agreeing' to any form of bondage. f157

The revolution's statesmen adapted Grotius's idea somewhat, stressing the intergenerational implications of the concept. The Virginia Declaration of Rights, approved June 12, 1776, provided that:

"all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity . . .." f158

<<previous   Stewardship contents  next >>



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