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Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
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Three Acres and a Cow (S384aa: 1885)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor printed on page 7 of the 26 December 1885 issue of the Daily News (London). To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S384AA.htm

     Sir,--Will you allow me to state, as representing a body of very Radical land-reformers, that I am glad to find that Mr. Edmund S. Hanbury did not intend to make a present of three acres of land to a labourer? and I am greatly surprised that "Your Correspondent" should appear to think that he ought to have done so, or that he would have done any good whatever to the cause of Liberalism or of land reform by doing so. On the contrary, I cannot imagine anything worse than initiating a system of partial favouritism to an individual labourer--the first comer apparently--which could not possibly be applicable on a large scale, and which would neither prove anything nor satisfy anybody. We ask, on behalf of the labourers of England, not charity but justice, not to have land given them for nothing, but to have the secure and permanent use of it on fair terms: and it is because this has been and still is almost everywhere denied them that the terrible depopulation of our rural districts and diminution of our food-production has been brought about, the details of which I have given in my little book on "Bad Times." The landlords whose conduct we hold up for commendation are those who, like Lord Tollemache and a very few others, allow not only labourers, but the public generally, to have land at fair rents and on a secure tenure, not in one spot only, but almost wherever the tenant desires it. If Mr. Hanbury and other landlords wish to give a fair trial to the system of peasant-culture under the most favourable conditions (and under no other conditions is it worth trying the experiment), let them offer land on any part of their estates, and in any quantity desired, at the same rents as are paid by farmers, and on a permanent tenure, which will amount practically to a perpetual lease, with no restrictions as to the mode of cultivating the land, and in fact with no restrictions whatever except as regards nuisances. The tenant will then have all the advantages of a freehold without the necessity of finding capital for the purchase as well as for stock, while he will be saved from what all experience shows to be a real disadvantage, the temptation of the money-lender, and the not improbable ruin and loss of his holding, which so frequently results from farming on borrowed capital. For this reason I object to all the projects for advancing public money to labourers, and I firmly believe that they do not need it and will do better without it. Let every working man feel that he can at any time and wherever he thinks best secure a plot of land on which he may hope to establish "a homestead of his own" in which to spend his old age, and the money requisite to stock and work the land will be saved with amazing rapidity, and this will serve as a natural selective process, so that only the industrious, the thrifty, and the energetic will at first obtain land. The experience and success of these will be an encouragement and a guide to others, and the system of small holdings will thus spread surely and safely, which will certainly not be the case if it is attempted to be forced on by means of borrowed money. It is this free access to land on fair terms which appears to me to be all that land reformers should at first endeavour to secure by legislation; and as it would take no land from any landlord, but only secure him a body of improving tenants, whose rents would be far more secure than those of farmers, and which would besides be all clear revenue, since the owner would never have to make any outlay upon the land, I can hardly think the plan would meet with much serious opposition. It is both much simpler and far more likely to succeed than any method involving purchase at the expense of the public, followed by sale to labourers who do not want to buy, and who would be far better off as permanent tenants than as the owners of mortgaged land.--I am, Sir, yours obediently,

Alfred R. Wallace

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