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How to Experiment in Land Nationalisation.
(S371: 1883/1884?)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A pamphlet ("Tract No. 8") published by the Land Nationalisation Society, probably in late 1883 or 1884, closely based on a communication to The Echo (London) issue of 12 Nov. 1883. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S371.htm

    [[p. 1]] One of our most popular daily papers has inquired, "How are all these beautiful theories, in whose beneficial working such extreme confidence is expressed, to be made even the subject of experiment?" This is a very pertinent question, and I now propose to answer it a little more fully than I have already done, in my reply to Professor Fawcett in Macmillan's Magazine. The Government possesses a considerable extent of Crown lands administered by the Woods and Forests Office, and producing a net revenue of nearly £400,000 per annum. A large portion of this consists of farms and other lands capable of cultivation, besides wide areas of woodland. The Duchy of Cornwall also possesses lands bringing in a rental of over £60,000 a year, besides royalties of mines and other property, making, a total revenue of £98,000 a year, the expenses of managing which are stated to be £7,356 a year. A less amount of similar property belongs to the Duchy of Lancaster. Here then, we have materials for a small, but very important experiment in Land Nationalisation on land actually in the possession of the Government; and I will endeavour to show how the experiment may be made in accordance with the principles advocated by our Land Nationalisation Society.

    [[p. 2]] In the first place, notice to determine existing tenancies would be given to all holders of land under the Crown, with the option of continuing to occupy the same farms, or portions of them, under the new arrangements. A valuation would then be made of each plot of land, distinguishing the inherent value of the soil at the present time, and the building, drains, or other durable improvements which have been effected by human labour; and thus would be determined a "fair rent" for each plot of land, and a "fair value" for the improvements upon it. All future holders of any portion of the land would be required to purchase the improvements, and thereafter to be tenants of the State for the bare land at the "fair rent" above mentioned, with the right to continue this tenancy (subject to certain conditions to be hereafter stated) permanently, or so long as they own the improvements; but also with full power to sell or bequeath the improvements, the new owners of these becoming at once, and by right, the tenants of the land. It will be seen that this amounts to a perpetual lease, at a rent fixed for long periods, and only to be altered if the value of the "bare land" alters, owing to social changes, but never to be altered or raised on account of any increased value given to it by the tenant. The effect of this system would be that the Government, though nominally landlord, and possessing important rights over the land, would not in any sense manage it; so that the amount of nearly 10 per cent. now spent in "management" would be all saved, as the ground rents would be collected by the usual tax-collectors, or by payment into the nearest post-office.

    Before, however, the land was offered to the existing occupiers, it would be necessary to provide for the wants of the population of the district generally. To do this all large farms (say of more than 100 acres) would be divided into two or more convenient portions, the larger having the farm-house and buildings attached to it. The smaller portions would enable men with small capital, or with some other occupation, to farm, as the improvements to be purchased would be of very small amount, and a house and buildings could be erected when and how desired. On all farms, large or small, one or two fields in suitable positions should be set apart for labourers' lots. These should be offered in plots of one or two acres, on exactly the same terms as the farms, so that labourers and rural mechanics or tradesmen might become permanently rooted to the soil, and have every inducement to improve their own property.

    [[p. 3]] In every other part of the world (even in Ireland) such security of tenure induces untiring industry, thrift, sobriety, and contentment; and we should thus, to some extent, re-establish that village life the destruction of which by landlord rule, Mr. Thomas Hardy, and other writers, so much deplore, and also bring back a sample of those independent yeomen cultivating their own farms (for these would be practically their own) which historians, politicians, and philanthropists agree in considering to have been a strength to the country.

    It must be noted that the improvements which are to be purchased by the tenant might be paid for, if desired, by means of a terminable rental, as in the case of the purchases of farms under the Irish Church Act, and thus no capital would need to be sunk in the purchase of them.

    Here, then, is a very simple means of "trying an experiment in Land Nationalisation," which does not even require the authority of an Act of Parliament, but could be carried out by the Executive Government; and I venture to say that it could be done without losing a pound of revenue, even if the rents were to be considerably lowered, which probably would not be necessary. Although on such a small scale, I think I may safely predict that the beneficial results, locally, would be so apparent, that in a few years a demand would be made for the extension of the system; and this could easily be done--first by applying the same mode of treatment to all Corporation lands, and afterwards (or, better still, at the same time) to all waste lands capable of cultivation, and not required as health resorts by town populations.

    As experimental legislation is now coming into favour, it is much to be wished that some independent Member of Parliament would take up this question, and urge, by means of an annual motion, that the Crown Lands be thus administered. I can imagine that it may be argued that the plan would not succeed, but I cannot even imagine any valid reason why the experiment should not be tried.

    I have now given a categorical answer to the above-stated question, and have shown how Land Nationalisation, as we advocate it, may be made the subject of a direct experiment. It would, of course, be an imperfect one; because, being on so small a scale, it could have but little effect in checking the continued influx of the rural populations into the towns. But its beneficial effects on the tenants themselves would be exhibited, and its practicability or impracticability as a working scheme would be put to the unfailing test of actual experience.

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