Oil on canvas; 30 1/8 x 24 1/16 in.; 76.5175 x 61.1188 cm. Mead Art Museum at Amherst College, Amherst, MA.
Mrs. Thomas Sully (Sarah Annis), 1806
I set out on this ground, which I suppose to be self-evident, that the earth belongs in usufruct to the living; that the dead have neither powers nor rights over it. This, with its echo of the Declaration (
self-evident) was Jefferson at his most terse. Except for the phrase
in usufruct — a legalism meaning the right to use property for a certain time — Jefferson’s words could be chiseled in stone, or shouted on the hustings.