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[French, Dead hand.] A term to denote the conveyance of ownership of land or tenements to any corporation, religious or secular.

Traditionally, such transfers were made to religious corporations. Like any corporation, the religious society had unlimited, perpetual duration under the law. It could, therefore, hold land permanently unlike a natural person, whose property is redistributed upon his or her death. The holdings of religious corporations grew as contributions were received from their members. Because such holdings were immune from responsibilities for taxes and payment of feudal dues, greater burdens were placed on noncorporate secular property. Therefore, land in mort-main was said to be held in perpetuity in one dead hand, that of the corporation.


the state or condition of lands or buildings, held inalienably, as by an ecclesiastical or other corporation.

MORTMAIN. An unlawful alienation of lands, or tenements to any corporation, sole or aggregate, ecclesiastical or temporal. These purchases having been chiefly made by religious houses, in consequence of which lands became perpetually inherent in one dead hand, this has occasioned the general appellation of mortmain to be applied to such alienations. 2 Bl. Com. 268; Co. Litt. 2 b; Ersk. Inst. B. 2, t. 4, s. 10; Barr. on the Stat. 27, 97.
     2. Mortmain is also employed to designate all prohibitory laws, which limit, restrain, or annul gifts, grants, or devises of lands and other corporeal hereditaments to charitable uses. 2 Story, Eq. Jur. Sec. 1137, note 1. See Shelf. on Mortm. 2, 3.

References in periodicals archive ?
8) Mathew Dallek, "Book World, Review of The Dead Hand, by David E.
In today's rabid anti-gun hysteria, Heston's famous words from the 2000 NRA Convention ring louder than ever: "From my cold, dead hands.
The first revolution happened because a large number of mostly non-Islamist Egyptian youths grew fed up with the suffocating dead hand of the Mubarak era -- a hand so dead that way too many young Egyptians felt they were living in a rigged system, where they had no chance of realizing their full potential, under a leader with no vision.
Consider how much easier it would be to introduce new types of health worker without the dead hand of regulation clutching for evidence of their safety to practise.
They were a 'New Labour' idea that removing the dead hand of local government and handing schools over to people with lots of money would improve things.
I want to bring such talents together to create a strong team ready to replace the dead hand of Labour in 2016.
THE DEAD HAND Reagan, Gorbachev, and the Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race
Not for him the reforms imposed by central government, both Labour and Tory led, which were designed deliberately to free schools from the dead hand (or nurturing bosom, as one prefers) of local council control.
They will have to pry the scissors from his cold, dead hand.
The Dead Hand The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy | DAVID E.
While searching for inspiration in the decaying city of Calcutta, an actual dead hand in a package is delivered to him and starts him off on his journey of rediscovery.
The text explores the extent to which the dead can rule over the living--how much legal power the "dead hand" has, how much the dead hand can control, and whether the dead hand is getting weaker or stronger--all of which raises questions about the legal fate of dynastic, long-term arrangements.