Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)
During the first two years of our existence as a Society, some of us (I myself was among the number) thought that we were too far in advance of the public, and that the time was not yet ripe for our propaganda to have any useful result. Now, however, I feel that all such doubts are at an end, and that Reform of our System of Land Tenure has come to the front as the great question of the day.
During the last and present Sessions of Parliament no less than six Bills have been brought in (and two of them carried), each aiming at a remedy for some one of the grievous evils which result from Land Monopoly. Other branches of the subject have been dealt with by means of two Royal Commissions and a Special Committee. Numerous Associations, Conferences, and Committees are discussing and inquiring, while the public press teems with articles and correspondence indicating the great Land question as at the root of all the evils of poverty and overcrowding in our towns, and the horrors that result from them, which have recently excited a spasmodic interest throughout the country.
Surely, now, it is impossible to maintain that the question of the Land, in its relation to national well-being, has not entered the domain of "practical politics." It is true that politicians and philanthropists still scoff at our remedy; but what do they propose [[p. 6]] themselves? They steadfastly shut their eyes to the fundamental causes of the evil, and struggle frantically to ameliorate a few of the more distressing symptoms by methods which cannot possibly produce any permanent result. We alone go to the root of the matter, and strive to abolish the fundamental injustice which is the primary cause of the terrible poverty in the midst of our ever-increasing wealth. Every fresh development of the question, every successive failure of remedial legislation, or of private charity, to grapple with the evil, affords us additional proof of the soundness of our views. We feel sure that we have grasped a great principle of vital importance to humanity. Our facts and our arguments are alike unanswerable, and, sooner or later, the truth we advocate must be accepted and acted on.
The past year has, indeed, been one of especial interest to Land Nationalisers. It probably marks a turning point in the growth of public opinion upon the question, and I therefore propose to pass in review some of its more striking incidents, and to remark upon their tendencies and results.
Let us first consider what has been done in Parliament.
During last Session the Agricultural Holdings Acts for England and Scotland were passed. These Bills afforded the first indication of a real attempt to satisfy the just claims of farmers for compensation for their improvements, while the Ground Game Bill gave them some protection for their crops; but in both cases this was very imperfectly done, and future legislation in the same direction is inevitable, unless some approach to nationalisation first takes place. More interesting, perhaps, to us, as directly affecting the labourers, was Mr. Jesse Collings' Allotments Bill. This was almost identical with one brought in 5 years ago (during the last Ministry) by Sir C. Dilke for two successive Sessions, but which was not allowed to go on. It has, however, at last been passed, and it may be considered as a temporary sop to the agricultural labourers. Its provisions, however, apply solely to charity lands, and do not interfere with any individual's private property, and this is probably the reason why it was allowed to be passed. The provisions of this Act are very simple. It declares that trustees of charities who possess land in any part of the country are to offer that land, or as much of the land as is suitable for the purpose, in half-acre allotments to the [[p. 7]] labourers of the district, at a fair rent (or at any rent that they choose to ask so far as I can see); and they are further empowered to hire land for the purpose of allotments if their own land is not suitable. The Act, however, has not been allowed to get into effective operation. In the original Bill, it was intended that the person to decide any question of dispute as to whether land was suitable to be let or not should be the Judge of the County Court, but it was insisted in Parliament that the Charity Commissioners should be the parties to decide this question; and these two facts, that there is to be a third party to decide what is suitable, and that that party is to be the Charity Commissioners, has led, at present, to the Act becoming a dead letter; for it seems, from some strange and incomprehensible reason, that the Commissioners are decidedly opposed to the labourers having land in any part of the country. They have, consequently, decided in several instances that land is not suitable because it is now pasture land--just as if this was not a reason tending in exactly the opposite direction, for everyone knows that pasture land, by being broken up by spade industry, is not only doubled, but often quintupled in value, therefore the argument ought to have been just the reverse. And this shows us how wrong it is to allow one class of men to decide what is best for another class. The labourers alone should have been left to say what land would suit them and what not. Nobody else could possibly know so well. Mr. Collings states that in some cases the Governors and Trustees of Charities as soon as the Act was passed hastily leased out their lands, so that their hands were tied, and they were unable to let the poor have them. Such conduct is simply amazing. It is astonishing that people connected with the Government should be so blind as not to see that in this way they are forcing on the question to a much more radical solution than would be otherwise arrived at.
The next Bill of importance is Mr. Broadhurst's, for the "Enfranchisement of Leaseholds." This also is a very mild measure, aiming simply to stop further confiscation by landlords of other people's property, and, as might be expected, it was rejected by the House of Commons. We must not mind this, however, for the next House of Commons will certainly have to pass a much better Bill. We then come to Mr. Bryce's "Access to Mountains in Scotland Bill," which simply proposes to give the people the right of walking over the [[p. 8]] uncultivated lands of their own country--a right which has in many cases been disputed and denied. It is said that there is an old Scotch law in existence which is to the same effect. It is entitled, "Free Foot on the Forest," and declares the absolute freedom of all mountain lands to be traversed by the public. But this has been allowed to drop into disuse, and it was necessary to bring a fresh Bill into Parliament. This being such a small matter, and costing no one a penny, is likely to be passed by the House of Commons, but whether the Lords will pass it, it is impossible to say. Another Bill Mr. Bryce has brought in, but which I have not seen noticed by the public Press, is of rather more importance from our point of view. It is a Bill to stop that kind of petty land robbery going on all over the country--the enclosure of roadside strips. Everyone in the country must have noticed, that in some of the old roads handed down from the time of our forefathers there are wide green strips by the roadside; but, in a great majority of cases, these have been enclosed, and rows of trees, 20 or 30 feet inside the field, show where the old road was, and where the land has been robbed from the public. A case has recently occurred in my own neighbourhood (Godalming), where the broad green strips on each side of a beautiful country road are being now enclosed. I wrote to the Highway Board, and got the stereotyped answer, that they did not consider it an encroachment on the highway. I therefore wrote to Mr. Byrce, chairman of the Commons Preservation Society, and he sent me a statement of the law on the subject. It appears that the Society's lawyers, including Mr. Hunter, the greatest authority there is on common rights, maintain that these enclosures are quite illegal, and I should like to read you one passage from this statement, because I think it almost settles the question:--
"It has been decided that no part of the space between the hedges, whether metalled or not, if all forms part of the highway, can be legally enclosed without an order of the justices; and, therefore, the first question to be decided is, whether the green strip forms part of the highway."
Therefore, you see, that in every case in which this green strip is level with the road, so that people have walked and ridden over it for untold generations--in all these cases it has certainly formed part of the highway; and therefore these enclosures are completely [[p. 9]] illegal. The Highway Boards, being so largely composed of landlords, will not in any way interfere unless the public stir them up. I think it would be a very good thing if this society, and all interested in the land question would take every opportunity, through the local Press, and by other means, to call the attention of the public to these roadside robberies. When Highway Boards are elected they might also be urged to do their duty in protecting the rights of the public.
The next Bill of importance is Mr. Trevelyan's Land Purchase Bill (Ireland), which aims at carrying still further one of the objects of the Irish Land Act. It will enable Irish tenants to buy their farms, by advancing three-quarters or the whole of the money, to be repaid by terminable rentals. For that purpose live millions sterling is to be advanced each year for four years, making twenty millions sterling in all, with an elaborate scheme for a guarantee by means of County Land Boards. This is really a Bill to enable landlords to obtain full money value for their otherwise unsaleable lands; while, at the same time, nothing is done for the labourers, or to secure the rights of the public. The Bill will, of course, pass, but I cannot think it will produce much permanent good, since the fundamental evil in Ireland is, that large portions of the country are overcrowded, while others are denuded of inhabitants and given up to large grazing farms, and the measure is in no way calculated to remedy this state of things.
We now come to the Parliamentary inquiries, and the most important of these is the Crofters' Commission, of which the Report and Evidence has just been issued. Years of patience and submission having resulted in systematic neglect of their just claims, the crofters began, two years ago, to resist their persecutors and the robbers of their land. The result was a Royal Commission, consisting, of course, mostly of landlords; and, considering that circumstance, the report is quite as impartial as could be expected. Nevertheless, its recommendations are altogether insufficient. The Commissioners admit the truth of most of the allegations of the crofters as to insecurity of tenure, arbitrary evictions, payments extorted for getting seaweed and cutting peat or thatching material, and other oppressions, including the taking away of mountain pasture to make sheep-walks and deer forests; while the restricted [[p. 10]] holdings, the excessive rents, and the harassing rule of factors are all proved by much independent evidence.
Every one of these things is admitted, but the suggested method of stopping them for the future, and bringing about an improved condition of the population is altogether ineffective. For instance, it is admitted that nearly two million acres of land are exclusively devoted to deer forests, large portions of which are not only suitable for cultivation, but have actually been cultivated, yet it is not proposed that one acre of all this land shall be given back to the use of the people. The Commissioners propose certain restrictions on forming fresh forests, and one of those restrictions is the very obvious and fair proposal that such forests are to be assessed at their real letting value and not as now, at their supposed agricultural value; but when this little bit of justice is done, they take care to state that it is not to apply to any existing forests, so that the whole of these two million acres is to be always assessed at a mere nominal agricultural value while bringing in an enormous sporting rental. The case is exactly parallel to what is going on at the present moment between us and the Egyptians. We have a Commissioner of Crown lands in Egypt, Mr. Rowsell, and he has proposed that the taxation shall be equalised for the Pashas and the poor tenants. At present the Pashas pay about one-half of what the tenants pay, and they strongly object to the new proposal. The country won't be worth their living in if they are taxed the same as the poor peasants. These Pashas are astonished if we tell them how unreasonable and unjust they are. But our own "Pashas" are just as bad, or even worse. They first drive out the people to make Deer Forests, and then refuse to bear their fair share of taxation!
There is a very good proposal for the establishment of Highland townships, with elected officers to manage the mountain pasture, fuel-cutting, &c., with power to claim an extension of the pasture if it is insufficient, and similar power to claim extension of crofts when the existing crofts become overcrowded. This reads very well, and looks as if there was something really to be done for the crofters, but, if examined, the whole thing is found to be a farce. With all this power of claiming more land, there is no provision whatever either for security of tenure or fixity of rent. When the township comes to be overcrowded, and there is a chance of its officers [[p. 11]] claiming a little more land, all the landlord has to do is to evict a few tenants, and the place ceases to be overcrowded. But if the landlord wants a little more pasture for deer forests or sheep farms, the people can be driven away, just as of old. As landlords have always done this in the past, what reason is there to suppose they won't do it in the future? The landlord is still to have the power of eviction, and of raising the rent, and will therefore be absolutely master of the situation. Yet, even this small and utterly ineffective proposal of the Highland townships is opposed by two of the Commissioners, and Parliament will take advantage of this opposition, so that it is not likely anything will be done, and the excitement and agitation of the last few years will have to go on for an indefinite period longer. Every unprejudiced person who knows the Highlands and their history during the present century is convinced that, to effect any permanent good, the crofters must have absolute security; that they must have fair rents, fixed by a Land Court; and that there must be a restitution of all lands from which men have been driven during the present century to make room for animals, so that they may be again cultivated and dwelt upon by men.
This Report forms a bulky volume which few people will have time to read through. I would, therefore, recommend them, when they have read the Report itself, which is not very long, to read two statements by independent parties, relating to the Island of Lewis, which may be taken as a fair specimen of the state of the Highlands. For forty years the whole island belonged to the late Sir James Mathieson, who was universally admitted by friends and foes alike to have been benevolently inclined. He was also a very liberal man, spending money to any extent; yet under this benevolent landlord, who had 26,000 people living as his tenants for 40 years, the state of things was such that a Mansion House Committee had to be formed last year to save these people from absolute starvation. It seems difficult to understand how this could have been brought about, but the statements of the Rev. Donald J. Martin, Free Church Minister of Stornoway, and of Napier Campbell, Esq., Solicitor, Stornoway, will give you an insight into the whole matter, showing the cruel, grinding despotism of agents under whose absolute rule the people have to live. They will show you how the crofters are kept down in a [[p. 12]] state of slavery, almost as bad as anything we read of under the Turks, and leading to chronic discontent, misery, and starvation, even under this exceptionally benevolent landlord. Anyone who reads these two statements from thoroughly independent and well-informed witnesses will find terrible revelations, illustrating and enforcing Mr. George's well-known assertion, that the owner of the land is virtually owner of the people--that the people who live upon the land are actually his slaves.
We next come to the Royal Commission on the Housing of the Poor. This Commission, so far as we can see of what it is doing at the present time, confines itself to effects, without going at all into the causes of the evil, and it will therefore almost necessarily fail to effect any permanent good. Any partial amelioration will be overbalanced by the ever-increasing overcrowding in towns, the ever-increasing competition for work, with their results, starvation and grinding poverty. What we want--what alone will do any good--is to get the congested population of towns back into the country. How to do that is what the Royal Commission will not inquire into.
A Special Committee of the House of Commons is also now engaged in trying to find out if the public have any rights whatever in the river Thames above its tidal waters. Landlords in England claim not only the land, but the water; they claim every river in the country. No person can row on a river, bathe in it, or drink of it without the landlord's permission, and the balance of legal opinion seems at present to support the landlords' claims. Now here is a case in which the people of this country should unanimously rise up against such iniquitous claims. (Applause.) The rivers of a country at least should be free, and if the newly enfranchised electors do not insist upon this, they hardly deserve their enfranchisement. (Applause.) Not only should the rivers themselves be free, but it is important for the public at large that they should have free access to them. Along both banks of every river in the country there should be a public right of footway, except through gardens attached to private dwelling houses--(Mr. Pagliardini: That is the case in France)--so that the people may everywhere have free and easy access to the most enjoyable and beautiful features of their native land. This great boon, [[p. 13]] however, we shall never get by any of the usually proposed systems of land reform. The nationalisation of the land is the only measure which will secure such benefits as these for the whole community.
The Census returns issued last year give us some alarming information. They tell us that the rural districts are almost universally becoming depopulated, the towns becoming overcrowded, and land going out of cultivation. The agricultural labourers have decreased 10 per cent. in the last 10 years; in 13 counties the total population has decreased, and in 17 more the increase in each county was less than 10 per cent. That means that in all these counties the rural districts are being depopulated, because the towns are generally increasing largely. In Hampshire the increase is one of the largest--very close upon 10 per cent. Yet one town, Portsmouth, alone absorbs one-half the increase, and, if you add a lesser increase for the other towns, you will see that there must be a decrease over a large portion of the county. It follows that for 30 counties, two-thirds of all England, the rural districts are being depopulated by the people being driven away from their homes.
The land, too, is going out of cultivation. As much as one million acres of arable land have been converted into pasture in the last ten years, and the process is now going on even more rapidly. People do not generally ask what that means, but it means something very serious indeed. It is calculated by some of the most eminent agriculturists of the kingdom that 100 acres of average pasture land produce enough food for five men, while 100 acres of average arable land will produce enough food for 250 men. It seems incredible that there should be such a difference, but the statements are those of two eminent agriculturists, Mr. R. Scott Burn and Dr. Hunter. It follows from these figures that when you put a million acres back from arable to pasture, you destroy the food for about two million of human beings.
A Lady: How can landlords make it pay to produce only enough food for five instead of 250 men?
Mr. Wallace: The food is a different class of food. The pasture only produces animal food--mutton at 1s. a pound. The arable land produces potatoes and bread.
A Member: Five men will never pay as much as 250.
[[p. 14]] Mr. Wallace: Five men pay 1s per lb. for meat, and the cost of labour is far less to the landlord.
Mr. Pagliardini: If it was turned into beer, milk, butter, and cheese it would give more than corn. It does so in France.
Mr. Wallace: I take these figures from the authorities named, and give them for what they are worth.
A Member: The difference is in food produced by means of great labour, while the grass is produced without labour.
Mr. Wallace: The fact of the depopulation and the turning of land to a lower state of cultivation is caused by the direct action of wealthy landlords, and it is the normal result of land being private property. Town land, as we all know, is worth from 10 to 50, and even 100 times as much as rural land, and this fact, with the love of power over tenants, and the dislike of independent poor near their country seats, produces these terrible consequences. When will people see that free access to land is absolutely necessary for the welfare of the community?
During the past year a considerable number of associations and societies for land-law reform have been formed. The Highland Land Law Reform Association in London is one of those, and a very excellent one, with the object of securing fixity of tenure, fair rent, compensation for improvements, the reapportionment of the land to man instead of animals, and assisting tenants to become owners. We can only trust that they will go on in that course, and continue to agitate till they get all they ask. There is also the local "Lewis Highland Land Reform Association," whose declared object is to obtain a restoration of the land of which the Lewis Islanders have been unjustly deprived, and which came down to them from their forefathers. We have also the Scottish Land Restoration League, a more recent association, which was established in consequence of the enthusiasm produced by Mr. George's lectures. This League has for its declared object quite a different thing, "to shift the taxation on to the land, and finally to take all ground-rent for public purposes." This appears to me to be not only a very indirect method of Land Reform, but to be useless, and even mischievous, because it leave all power to the landlords, and does not necessarily tend to restore the land to the people. To tax the great Highland landlords will only make them get more out of the wealthy sportsmen who rent [[p. 15]] deer forests, and higher prices from all who want, and must have, land for houses or other purposes, while it will not give the crofters or the public any benefit whatever.
Another indication of the great interest felt in these questions, and everything connected with them, is shown by the series of conferences at the Health Exhibition on the Dwellings of the Poor, and these conferences have brought out a few bold assertions of fact on the land question, and some of the speakers have acknowledged that the land is at the root of the matter. One of the papers read was by Mr. C. M. Sawell, of the London City Mission and Mansion House Committee. He says the housing of the poor is a practical monopoly, and all monopolies being wrong, this particular monopoly must somehow be destroyed. He then goes on to say:-- "The agricultural population of our country decreased 10 per cent., or 91,550, between 1871 and 1881. And what are the inducements offered to our industrious poor to remain in the country? Did God Almighty create the land to afford pastime to a few great landlords, or to grow corn for the service of man? This migration from the country districts to the towns must be checked; and not only so: we want a migration from the towns to the country, if the cries of socialism and communism are to be stopped. A land hunger is coming upon the people, and I greatly fear, if they cannot obtain this 'means of subsistence' by honest means, Mr. George's dishonest means will gain their attention and support. With the old race of English yeomen again encouraged to occupy their small freeholds, instead of being improved off the land for the rearing of deer or cultivation of game, some of the £26,000,000 given to the foreigners for eggs, butter, vegetables, cheese, bacon, and hams might be produced at home, to say nothing of 'jam.' Until our political economists can relieve our large towns of their plethora of hands, with its consequent acute and inhuman competition for labour--leading to shirts made at 1d. or 3/4 d. apiece, trousers-finishing at 3 ½ d. or 4 ½ d. per pair, match-boxes at 2 1/4 d. per gross, the maker finding brush, paste, fire, and factory--by making the country more attractive and large towns less so, I see no hope of properly housing our poor in any decent fashion, except by way of charity." I have read that passage to show that there are some who speak plainly on the fundamental cause of the misery and degradation of our people.
[[p. 16]] I must now say a few words on the important publications of the year. Professor Thorold Rogers's admirable history, "Six Centuries of Work and Wages," is a most instructive piece of original research, thoroughly radical in sympathy and feeling, though I am sorry to see that Mr. Rogers has not come to our way of thinking on the land question. He gives us, however, some very interesting and suggestive facts. After a review of the whole history of our working classes for six centuries, he says, that from 1782 to 1821 was the very worst period of English labour, when the labourers were the worst off, and labour was paid for at a very low rate--a rate which would not, and did not, support life, and was systematically supplemented by means of the Poor Law. That was the period, or one just succeeding it, to which Giffen and others refer when they compare the high rate of wages to-day with that of some time back, for the purpose of showing that everything is now as it should be. Again, Professor Rogers says, "in a country of small agricultural proprietors, hired labour is always absolutely and relatively dearer." That is important. We want to make labour dear, and until we do that we cannot raise the labourer. Permanent high wages are essential to a nation's real prosperity. Another important fact is brought out in Professor Rogers' review, namely, that in the 13th century, and afterwards, eight hours was the regular day's labour; all day work was reckoned in that way, so that the labourer had an advantage then which he is now striving to obtain. Mr. Rogers strongly advocates cottage farms, but, unfortunately, he does not show us how they are to be got, or how kept when they are got. He opposes Land Nationalisation, but has evidently not studied it in any way. He speaks, for example, of "George's remedy of universal confiscation," which, he says, "will include not only palaces and parks, mansions and farms, but every freehold cottage or homestead in which working men have invested the savings of their lives. (Laughter.) That shows he has not in the slightest degree grasped the difference between land which no man made, and property which men have created--a difference which is the essence of our teaching as well as of that of Mr. George.
We now come to one of the most recent books published this year--"The Land and the Labourer," by the Rev. C. Stubbs, a Buckinghamshire clergyman. Being strongly impressed with the desirability [[p. 17]] of getting the labourers on the land, and being in possession of a considerable glebe, he let out 22 acres in half-acre allotments to labouring parishioners, at three guineas an acre. The land is heavy clay land, not very well drained, but with good aspect and slope. He kept an acre himself to get practical knowledge, cultivating it by paid labour, and on the average of six years made a net profit of £3 8s. per annum per acre. We may be sure the labourers would work much more economically than that, and their work being all free, they would make a great deal more profit, in addition to the value he paid in wages. The most interesting thing he brought out is this. He showed that these rude, ignorant agricultural labourers produced better crops and more food off these small pieces of land than the largest and best farms in the kingdom. In this particular parish where Mr. Stubbs lives, the ordinary farmer's average of wheat is 25 bushels per acre; Mr. Lawes, the great scientific farmer, on a somewhat similar soil in the adjoining county, has an average of 36 bushels. The average of these Buckinghamshire labourers is 40 bushels; Lawes's maximum of 36 years is 55 bushels, and one of these poor labourers has got 57 bushels, so that he actually beat the highest scientific farming in England on the same kind of land. (Applause.) Mr. Stubbs points out the immense social and material benefit to the poor in these small holdings, and shows clearly how if the landlords of the country chose, they could give the poor all these advantages without loss to themselves. The common statement is, that cottage building does not pay. If you build a cottage for a labourer without land, it does not pay, but if you build the same cottage, and give an acre of land with it, you may charge a higher rent, and it will pay. Another thing is important in these experiments, the complete answer they give to the bugbear always thrust in your face when you talk of giving the poor land--that they cannot cultivate the land without capital. Capital is a thing which will necessarily grow. Look at the fact of this poor man getting a higher crop of wheat than the highest scientific farming--and without capital. (Applause.) He had only his own labour, and a few sixpences put by, but in a few years he would be able to cultivate a small farm. The result of giving free access to the land would be that the best of these labourers would in a very short time take these small farms, having obtained the necessary capital by their own savings. The [[p. 18]] proposition of philanthropists always is, you must advance capital to these men. I think it is one of the worst things you could do in the settlement of this question to put a man, who has never farmed, in a good-sized farm with borrowed capital; in this way you will almost certainly ruin him. But if you let him have an acre to begin with, and another acre or two as he requires it, he will obtain experience, step by step, and gradually accumulate his own capital, which is infinitely better than giving him money. I was asked the other day whether I had read a book entitled "Sinnett's Practical Husbandry." In that work there is an account of a linen-draper who got two acres of land in his native place, after spending a large part of his life behind the counter. He sat down on this land to cultivate it, and lived upon it. He had two acres of admirable pasture land, which he bought for £240--freehold. From that time he has been living upon the two acres, and bringing up his family upon it. Until he took this freehold this man never had in his hand an agricultural implement. Yet he invented new tools, and has written on "How to feed pigs," and "How to grow three crops on the same land," and he affords a wonderful example of what may be done even by people who have lived in towns all their lives. (Applause.) He says that he has health and peace of mind, which he never had before. This book, taken together with Mr. Stubb's experiences, prove conclusively the falsity of the statement constantly made, that small farming does not pay--that it would not be any good giving the labourers land because they could not live upon it. We see, however, that ordinary labourers, and even some shopkeepers, can cultivate the land, and make more profit than the average, or even than the highest scientific farmer.
Now, I come to a most important book, one of the most important and remarkable I have ever read, Henry George's "Social Problems." I consider this book to be even more powerful than the same writer's "Progress and Poverty," and calculated to do more good. It gives you a sketch of the various aspects of our social condition from the point of view of evolution. It is, therefore, strictly a philosophic work; and deserves to be carefully studied on that account only. At the same time, it is so free from technical political economy and speculations of that kind, that the least educated reader can understand and enjoy it. In twenty-two short chapters such questions are [[p. 19]] dealt with as: "The Wrong in Existing Social Conditions," "Unemployed Labour," "The Effects of Machinery," "The Functions of Government," &c. The whole of the chapters are written in the brilliant style of which the author is a master. Every chapter bears upon the Land question. Every chapter brings out fresh arguments and illustrations on the wrong and evil of land monopoly. I am sorry to say, however, that there is one blot in this great and wonderful book--the illogical chapter entitled "The First Great Reform." After showing that it is the monopoly of land by the few that is the fundamental wrong, and that free access for all to the land is the fundamental necessity, he proposes, not to secure this, but something quite different--to tax land, and, ultimately, "to take as near as possible the whole ground rent for common purposes"--nothing else whatever! It is clear that this would be utterly useless; that it would not give the labourers land, and therefore would not raise wages. It would tend, on the contrary, to intensify the monopoly of land, because the landlords, possessing the houses and other improvements as well as the land, would raise the price of these improvements to recover what they had lost in taxation. And this could not be prevented, because the owners of a necessary of life are masters of the situation, and can command any prices which those who must have these necessaries are able to pay. It is, therefore, absolutely impossible that such a course as Mr. George proposes should produce any good whatever.
Another remarkable book is called "Du Peuple," by M. Romain Delaune, published in Paris in 1881, just about the time I published my book, and when George's book first became known. It is a history of the past and present state and condition, and suggested proper future, of the working classes. A curious thing is, that we all, quite independently arrived at very nearly the same results. He maintains land nationalisation as the essential feature of his system. There is one suggestive passage:--"The true proprietor (of land) is not even the existing nation--it is the race past, present, and future; the earth lends itself to all, and to each, passing from hand to hand, and from age to age, but gives itself to none." (Applause.) I think that is a great and suggestive truth. (Renewed applause.)
A considerable number of pamphlets have been published during the [[p. 20]] year, showing how deep is the public feeling on the question. The first I must mention is on "The Political Economy of George," by our member Mr. B. S. D. Williams, of Malvern, which gives an excellent summary and defence of some of Mr. George's novel views. Mr. C. C. Cattell's tract, "The Land: How to Make it Feed the People and Pay the Taxes," is a very good exposition of the evils of landlordism, with a proposal for nationalisation by compulsory purchase from the landlords. I think that has been shown to be impracticable. There is also a brochure by William Trant, "The Question of the Day," which is a powerful address on the Land question, but adopts George's illogical proposition to tax rent. There is another interesting pamphlet by G. C. Thompson, barrister-at-law, entitled, "A Neglected Aspect of the Land Question," which exposes the iniquitous legal powers of landlords, the full exercise of which, the author maintains, "would render England uninhabitable." There is also a little book, "Millionaires the Cause of Poverty," by T. A. Binney. It is very forcible, showing the striking increase in millionaires in recent years, and the concomitant and consequent increase of pauperism. The Rev. Thomas Meager, a priest in Ireland, has written a pamphlet on the general law of landlord and tenant, with suggestions for occupying ownership on the plan proposed by the late Mr. Scully, M.P.
Finally, we have Giffen's "Progress of the Working Classes in the Last Half Century," which is a piece of pure special pleading, full of errors, fallacies, and illogical statements, the author utterly ignoring the real causes which produce the depopulation of the country, and the congested state of the towns, with their terrific consequences. This is a paper which has been highly praised in high quarters, and will probably be soon answered in detail.
In our colonies the subject is also attracting attention. Mr. John Quick, LL.D., M.P. for Victoria, has sent me a "History of Land Tenure in Victoria." Mr. Thompson also sends a pamphlet on land tenure in Queensland. Mr. Quick says in his preface:--"The wholesale alienation of the public lands, and their stealthy but rapid absorption into large estates, is a crime and a calamity which can only be averted by the steady, intelligent, and irresistible opposition of the people of Victoria to a policy at once demoralising and destructive."
[[p. 21]] This history is most instructive. It gives you a parallel to the rise and growth of landlordism in this country, in the rise of the squatting interest in the Colonies. These squatters monopolise many hundreds of square miles, and notwithstanding numerous Acts of Parliament passed to prevent this monopoly from being effective, they have all failed. Squatters have always found the means of evading these Acts and turning them to their own benefit, so that the monopoly goes on to this day, and produces disastrous results.
The widespread interest in the Land question, as manifested in Parliament, in Society, in Literature, and in the daily Press--of which I have now given you an imperfect sketch--is most encouraging for the success of our movement. The apathy and indifference with which the whole subject has hitherto been regarded has passed away, and when inquiry once begins our work is half done. Already we hear less of the old Liberal panacea--free-trade in land--as being the all-in-all of land reform, and that dogma will soon be dead and buried. How great is the advance in public opinion may be shown by the way in which the Press now treats the land problem. Two weeks back that very Conservative-Radical journal, the Spectator, in an article on Bosnia as the Austrian Ireland, after showing how closely the conditions of Ireland are there reproduced, with identically the same results, concludes thus:--"No fact is better established than that cultivating ownership is the only sure cure for agrarian troubles, and where whole populations are engaged in the cultivation of the soil, as in Ireland and Bosnia, landlordism is almost necessarily a disastrous failure."
This is a great advance, and study of the subject may convince the Spectator that landlordism is an equally disastrous failure in England, where it directly produces that rural depopulation and town-congestion, that dependence upon other countries for food which we could grow in superabundance at home if our labourers were allowed to cultivate their native soil for themselves, and that consequent paralysis of home trade which seems now to have become chronic, and for which there is no other sufficient explanation.
If "cultivating ownership" is the "only cure" for these "disastrous failures" of landlordism, some form of Land Nationalisation is absolutely necessary, for in no other way can you secure [[p. 22]] universal "cultivating ownership" to begin with, or keep it when you have once got it.
Looking, then, at the character and extent of the movement now going on--considering that the masses are acquiring education, and will soon have political power--and knowing that our cause is founded on immutable JUSTICE, we cannot doubt our ultimate, and, perhaps, not very distant, success. We have now reached a turning point in our career. The tide of public opinion is setting in our direction. It is for us to take the fullest advantage of it, to work earnestly and unremittingly in the good cause, in the firm conviction that truth is great, and will surely prevail.