Following is a portion of a letter by Jefferson to Madison, written
in October, 1785 when the former was in France "succeeding, not
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).
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 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.
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.