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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.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


the state or condition of lands or buildings, held inalienably, as by an ecclesiastical or other corporation.
Collins Dictionary of Law © W.J. Stewart, 2006

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.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
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Hoffman's objective in writing The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy is to describe the international situation between the United States and the Soviet Union on the brink of world war.
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Stalin described the officers from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) as the "dead hand" of the main ruling Congress party who he said had targeted him for no good reason.
But in the context of a policy penchant for health workforce experimentation and ministerial decree, health professional regulation is surely a dead hand to be cut away.
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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.
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