Following is a portion of a letter by Jefferson to Madison, written in October, 1785 when the former was in France "succeeding, not replacing" Ben Franklin, which contains sentiments sounding very like Jefferson's and mankind's other friend, Tom Paine, regarding the distribution of wealth (in those days mostly represented by property).


Starting out with: "Dear Sir,-- Seven o'clock, and retired to my fireside, I have determined to enter into conversation with you." Jefferson then describes how he was exploring the region outside Fountainebleau "to take a view of the place. For this purpose I shaped my course towards the highest mountains in sight, to the top of which was about a league."

As soon as I had got clear of the town I fell in with a poor woman walking at the same rate with myself and going the same course. Wishing to know the condition of the laboring poor I entered into conversation with her.... As we had walked together near a mile and she has so far served me as a guide, I gave her, on parting, 24 sous. She burst into tears of a gratitude which I could perceive was unfeigned because she was unable to utter a word. She had probably never before received so great an aid. This little attendrissement, with the solitude of my walk, led me into a train of reflections on that unequal ision of property which occasions the numberless instances of wretchedness which I had observed in this country and is to be observed all over Europe.

The property of this country is absolutely concentred in a very few hands.... I am conscious that an equal ision of property is impractical, but the consequences of this enormous inequality producing so much misery to the bulk of mankind, legislators cannot invent too many devices for subiding property, only taking care to let their subisions go hand in hand with the natural affections of the human mind.... Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt taxation below a certain point and to tax the higher portions or property in geometrical progression as they rise. Whenever there are in any country uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right. The earth is given as a common stock for man to labor and live on. If for the encouragement of industry we allow it to be appropriated, we must take care that other employment be provided to those excluded from the appropriation. If we do not, the fundamental right to labor the earth returns to the unemployed.

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