I obtained leave to bring in a bill declaring tenants in tail to hold their lands in fee simple … To annul this privilege, and instead of an aristocracy of wealth, of more harm and danger, than benefit, to society, to make an opening for the aristocracy of virtue and talent, which nature has wisely provided for the direction of the interests of society, & scattered with equal hand through all it’s conditions, was deemed essential to a well ordered republic. To effect it no violence was necessary, no deprivation of natural right, but rather an enlargement of it by a repeal of the law.
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Democratic leaders seek equality of opportunity.
Colonial law in Virginia provided for lands to be inherited only by the eldest male child. Privileged individuals had long before obtained large grants of land from the king. The law allowed families to keep those vast holdings in very few hands as the generations passed. Those few hands achieved even greater wealth and power, eventually controlling much of the Colony. This resulted in “an aristocracy of wealth, of more harm and danger, than benefit, to society …”
Jefferson’s bill would end that practice and allow lands to be inherited by all heirs, not just one. This action would “make an opening for the aristocracy of virtue and talent.”
This contrast between aristocracies was a lifelong theme for Jefferson. It was not the wealthy and well-born who were to be favored but rather those in whom nature had broadly distributed talent and integrity. Those qualities were “essential to a well ordered republic.”
No revolution was needed for this revolutionary change. No one’s natural rights would be limited. Rather, those natural rights for all would be enlarged by the abolition of unnatural rights for a few.
Jefferson’s bill was adopted by the Virginia legislature.