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Presidential Address (S414: 1889)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: Presidential Address to the eighth annual meeting of the Land Nationalisation Society, held 20 June 1889. This includes a notice of the book Poverty and the State by Herbert V. Mills. Taken from pages 15-23 of the Report of the Land Nationalisation Society, 1888-9. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S414.htm

    [[p. 15]] . . . The President, who was received with cheers, then gave an Address, as follows:--


    Our Report, which you have just heard read, sufficiently shows that the past year has been both an eventful and a successful one in regard to the progress of our movement. But there are many other matters, of more general interest, which point in the same direction, and to which I propose to call your attention.

    Even our present very conservative legislators have felt themselves compelled to do something--or rather, to make believe that they are going to do something--in the way of land-law reform. I allude especially to the various Select Committees they have appointed--on Small Holdings, on Town Holdings, and quite recently, on Woods and Forests and Land Revenues of the Crown. We do not for a moment suppose that these Committees will lead to any important or useful results in the way of legislation, but they will certainly, in their Reports and Evidence, furnish us with much valuable materials for our unceasing warfare against the evils of land monopoly and landlordism. We have taken steps, as you have learnt by our Report, to give evidence on the "Small Holdings" Committee, and I think it would also be very important to keep an eye on the "Woods and Forests" Committee, and to insist that the lands under the control of the Government should be utilised for the benefit of the people in the manner we advocate. We must also urge our friends in Parliament to protest vigorously against any proposal to alienate these lands--a proposal which is almost certain to be made on the ground of the comparatively small revenue they now produce. The practice of all recent governments, Liberal and Tory alike, has been to take every opportunity of bartering public rights over land for hard cash, and this practice must be stopped.

    [[p. 16]] In Ireland we have had the "Ashbourne Act" put in force on a more extended scale; and this Act, though utterly wrong in principle, as creating a new body of landlords with every power to oppress which the old ones possessed, yet affords us a clear and practical illustration of how easy it would be to acquire the land for the whole people instead of for a small section of it. As an example of this I may mention a case given in the Times newspaper of Nov. 19th last year. An estate, the reduced rental of which was £280 a year, was sold to the tenants under the "Ashbourne Act," the tenants paying only £180 a year for 49 years, and then becoming freeholders of their farms. These tenants have thus had their rents reduced more than 35 per cent., and in addition will have the land presented to them at the end of 49 years! Never was there a more unjust, absurd, and quixotic proceeding. If they can pay this reduced rent for 49 years it may be fairly assumed that it is a fair and even a low rent--or if not it could be reduced a little more; but why give these particular tenants the land, to the exclusion of all other Irishmen, living and unborn? If landlords, under a government guarantee, are willing to sell on such terms as these, the whole community should benefit by it--not the few who happen to be tenants of these particular landlords at this particular time. As one iniquitous result of this "Act," some of the great City Companies have sold their Irish Estates and pocketed enormous sums of money. These estates were originally granted for public purposes, and their revenues properly belong to this metropolis as a whole, and it is a great scandal that both the public and the metropolis should be deprived of all share in them by a few obscure private individuals forming close corporations. Never till quite recently, under pressure of public opinion and fear of being called to account for their stewardship, have these corporations used any portion of their vast wealth for the benefit of the community.

    Another Government enquiry, though not directly on the land question, has an important connection with it--the Lords' Commission on the Sweating System. I will just call your attention to the evidence of one of the factory inspectors, Mr. Lakeman, who stated that "the work of the country was gradually becoming monopolised more and more by large men, who were becoming larger and larger, while the small men were becoming smaller and smaller;" and, as one of the results of this ever-increasing monopoly, men were working 18 hours a day for a pound a week. This statement of Mr. Lakeman is supported by an article in the Daily News of September last, which states that millionaires are steadily increasing, and that during the preceding year four estates had paid probate duty on an aggregate of 9 1/2 millions sterling; and this only includes the personal property [[p. 17]] of the deceased, who might have had landed property to an equal or even greater amount.

    One of these recent millionaires was Mr. Rylands, of Manchester, whose firm, in its various factories, employed nearly 12,000 workers--the surplus profits of whose labour, beyond a bare subsistence for themselves, all went into the pockets of one family--till it was recently converted into a Limited Liability Company. Now what is the fundamental cause why one man can get so many other men to work for his benefit? It is simply the monopoly by the few of the whole land of the country! Make the land freely accessible to all, and millions of workers, now forced to labour for employers, will work for themselves and be independent of employers. They will then be able to accumulate capital, and associate together in manufacturing or other industries, ultimately becoming themselves the recipients of the millions of profit now absorbed by a few individuals. Without the power of compelling men to work for him by the pressure of starvation, the Capitalist will be nowhere. His capital, in money or credit, will be of little value, and though he may be able to live on it in idleness himself, he will no longer be able to accumulate millions on millions, in order that succeeding generations, in ever-increasing numbers, may live in idleness upon the labour of other men.

    No doubt these Committees and Commissions will look upon this accumulation of wealth--this increase of millionaires--as a proof that all is well, and that, with a few minor reforms, we can continue to go on just as we are. They will urge on emigration as a remedy, regardless of the fact stated in the official Emigration Statistics for 1888, that, since 1851, three million two hundred and seventy-six thousand emigrants have left Ireland. And is Ireland any better off? The wholesale evictions, the perennial famine, cry aloud against this awful depopulation of a country, and afford a complete demonstration that it is no remedy for the disease--which is, simply, starvation directly caused by landlordism. Let the landlords emigrate and throw open the whole Irish land to the Irish people, and we shall at once stop both the emigration and starvation of the workers.

    Another point on which our capitalist legislators are always expatiating is the improved condition of the workers, proved, they say,--(1) by diminished official pauperism; (2) by increased rate of wages. But both these alleged proofs are valueless and altogether beside the real point at issue. Diminished official pauperism is quite distinct form diminished poverty, and depends solely on the way the poor law is administered. Out-door relief is now more and more discouraged, distress being relieved by ever-increasing charitable associations; while, as we all know, many die of starvation in the midst of our wealthy cities rather than go to the workhouse. By a Parliamentary Paper just issued, it appears [[p. 18]] that in the past year 29 persons have been declared by Coroners' juries to have died of starvation in this great metropolis. Again, the rate of daily or weekly wages being higher than 20 or 30 years ago, proves nothing whatever--because it is not the nominal rate of the wages, but the constancy of employment that secures the well-being of the workers. Where men were formerly engaged and paid by the week, they are now engaged and paid by the day or even by the hour, and often make less actual wages than they did formerly.

    A gentleman, who has been a poor law guardian in Liverpool and has worked much among the poor, has made a careful estimate of the numbers of the unemployed from all available sources of information, and arrives at the startling conclusion that there are always, on the average, about six millions, including workers and their families, among the unemployed, most of whom have to depend on some form of charity to support life.1 Then, again, we must remember that house rent is enormously dearer than it was,--that workers are often forced to live long distances from their work, and have to pay either in money or labour to reach it,--and, lastly, that though daily wages for skilled labour and exceptionally hard work have risen, yet at the same time payment for piece work in scores of trades, employing millions of city workers, has steadily decreased for many years--considering all this, we shall see the utter falsity of the statement that the condition of the workers in general has materially improved during the last 30 or 40 years.

    To turn to a subject more directly affecting us.--The last year has seen the alienation of another portion of the National Domain by our landlord legislators, by means of the Glebe Act. The Glebe Lands, comprising many thousand acres all over the country, belonging to the Church--and therefore to the people--of England, are by this Act empowered to be sold, and will doubtless be sold, and bought at low rates by adjacent landlords. Some few liberal and independent clergymen have let out their glebe land to labourers with excellent results, but it requires courage to do this, as it is always opposed by the surrounding landlords and farmers. The Rev. Mr. Tuckwell, of Stockton, in Warwickshire, has thus utilised a glebe farm of 200 acres, giving the labourers security of tenure for 14 years, and the land at a fair rent, with the most satisfactory results. It is stated in the Daily News of September 11th, 1888, that most of the labourers with two acres of land, grow bread and potatoes for their families the whole year round, in addition to providing food for a pig, and this only by utilising the spare time of the family. This makes all the difference between wretchedness and comfort for the labourers; and as they are better fed they are able to give a better day's work to their employers. One old man of 70 lives wholly on his [[p. 19]] allotment of four acres. The landlord apologists and newspaper writers keep reiterating, over and over again, that with present prices of corn labourers cannot cultivate land at a profit, and that to offer it them is to tempt them to their ruin. But here, and in every other case without exception in which the experiment has been fairly tried, they do make it pay, and even old men of 70 find no difficulty in living, by their labour, on the land. The secret of this is, the care and minute attention of the labourer working for himself. These men grow 40 bushels of wheat to the acre, the farmer's average being barely 30; while potatoes, beans, and other crops are equally good. Have we not a right, then, to demand, both in the interest of the labourers and of the whole community, that all who wish it shall have land, when the result of so employing the land is, to give an increase in the food production of the country of full 30 per cent., to diminish and ultimately to abolish pauperism, while the increased earnings of these men would almost all be spent in home manufactures, and do more to revivify our trade than any extension of our markets among savage tribes.

    In the same newspaper of September 1st, 1888, there is an account of allotments in Lincolnshire, where the men pay £3 an acre for good land, and make on the average £16 an acre profit. Though these allotments have been let for many years there has never been a default of rent, which is paid six months in advance. Now these two cases of the effects of allowing labourers to have land, are in addition to all those given by myself and others, and especially by Mr. Impey in his excellent little books, and they demonstrate as a fact that labourers are enormously benefited by having land on reasonable terms--and, if they are benefited the whole country is benefited to a still greater extent, by the decrease of pauperism, by the increased demand for our manufactures, and by the increased happiness and contentment of our people.

    In connection with this subject, I wish to call special attention to one of the most remarkable and valuable little books of the day--Mr. H. V. Mills' "Poverty and the State." Mr. Mills has had practical experience of the working of our poor-law system, and of the various efforts that have been made to relieve distress and find work for the unemployed. He shows that every attempt that has been made to help the workers, by opening workshops of various kinds and providing materials for them to work upon, has failed, for the uniform reason that the products of their labour could not be sold, and, gradually accumulating, the experiment had to be given up. And he explains that the reason of this is that all goods that can be made and sold at a profit are already made by capitalists and employers of labour. Besides, you can only employ a few classes of men in this way. You cannot open shops for [[p. 20]] every trade in the kingdom, yet we know that men of every trade are often without work and become paupers.

    Mr. Mills had his plan suggested to him by finding in Liverpool, first, a baker out of work; then, next door to him, a shoemaker out of work; and next door again, a tailor in the same condition. Neither of them but wanted shoes, and clothes, and bread; yet under our present social arrangements they could not supply each other's wants, but, becoming paupers, would have to be supported in idleness by the community. Some of our great Unions have from 4,000 to 5,000 paupers to provide for, and among these will of course be found men and women of all trades pretty nearly, on the average, in the same proportion as they exist in the whole community. Now, 4,000 persons require 4,000 suits of clothes a year, and here is work for a certain number of Spinners and Weavers, Tailors and Hatters, Stockingmakers, Shoemakers, Tanners, and Dressmakers. The same 4,000 require breakfasts, dinners, teas, and suppers every day in the year. Here is work for Cooks and Kitchen-maids, for Farmers and Gardeners, for Milk-maids and Dairy-maids, for Bakers and Fruit-preservers. He proposes, then, that instead of the 4,000 paupers living in idleness (or employed on unproductive labour) at the cost of the community, they shall cultivate about 2,000 acres of land under proper supervision, and will produce almost everything they need, and consume almost all that they produce. He shows that by properly proportioning the various kinds of stock kept on this farm--sheep, cattle, horses, and pigs--ample food and clothing could be produced to supply all their wants and many comforts by only four hours' labor a day. Things that could not be produced on the farm, as sugar, tea, raisins, spices, and a few other articles, would be purchased by the sale of surplus produce--but the produce sold would always be the kinds now largely imported from abroad, and the sale of which would not compete with other English producers. Butter, cheese, bacon, wheat, eggs, and beef are such products, the price of which is determined by the foreign supply. Mr. Mills goes into the details of his scheme, and his results are supported by the experience of the industrial colonies of the Netherlands which he visited, and of which he gives a most interesting account, for which account alone his book is worth purchasing. In these colonies many thousands of men, women, and children are self-supporting, and live in comfort; and this although everything is done in the most primitive manner and labour-saving machinery is rigidly excluded. The reason of this exclusion is, that otherwise it would not be possible fully to employ the inmates without raising too much surplus products, the sale of which would compete injuriously with that of the outside community.

    Mr. Mills, on the other hand, proposes that every kind of labour-saving machinery should be employed, and that the time thus [[p. 21]] saved should be given to education, to amusements, and to private work for the individuals' benefit. One of the most remarkable facts brought out by the inquiry is, that the necessary land could be purchased, together with tools, machinery, live stock, and a stock of food till the first crops came in, for a sum equal to two years' poor rates. That is, by paying two years' poor rates we should altogether abolish them for the future, rendering not only our paupers, but all the unemployed who are liable to become paupers, altogether self-supporting. This will perhaps seem incredible; but if we consider the fact that an old man of 70, with his wife, can wholly support themselves by working on four acres of land, with no help from machinery, and with all the difficulty of finding a market for that portion of their produce they are obliged to sell, we shall see the probability, that on the large scale needed by a community of 4,000 persons, with all the aid of machinery and the best agriculture, the result Mr. Mills describes might be attained, while the first cost is a matter of comparatively simple calculation in which a practical farmer, as he is, is hardly likely to be mistaken.

    It will be a disgrace to the country if this plan is not fairly tried; and if successful, as I have the greatest confidence it will be, it will afford a crowning demonstration of the vital necessity of the people having free access to, and the full control of the land of their country; because it will prove that poverty and want of work are wholly landlord-created, and that, whether as individual independent workers or in co-operative association, our labouring classes, if permitted, can support themselves upon the land.

    Mr. Mills' most instructive and suggestive book can be obtained of Kegan Paul for one shilling, and without approving of all his methods, except for paupers, I strongly recommend our members to read it, and to do their best to influence public opinion to have the scheme fairly tried.

    I have now only to notice briefly one or two other public matters bearing upon our subject.

    Only last week in Cornwall we had Mr. Gladstone discussing the system of life-leases prevalent there, as in Wales and in some other parts of the country. He characterised this as "the worst system he could conceive;" he stated, what we all know so well, that there could be no "free contract" in this case between the poor miner wanting a home and the wealthy lord of the soil. He declared that the matter "deserves the attention of the legislature," and trusted that the House of Commons would find a remedy for the present state of things.

    If Mr. Gladstone were a younger man, and had not his life's work already cut out for him, he would surely see that a system of property which again and again requires the interference of the legislature to prevent the seller from oppressing the buyer, must [[p. 22]] be an unsound system. He himself had to interfere between the Irish tenant and his landlords. The Tory government interfered a little bit--or rather pretended to interfere--between the English tenant and landlord by their "Compensation for Disturbance Bill," their "Hares and Rabbits Bill," and another special "Preservation of Hares Bill," they now have in hand; the town tenants are to be soon protected from the landlords by the "Leasehold Enfranchisement Bill," and now I suppose we shall want a "Life Leaseholders Relief Bill." We want no such laws to interfere between buyers and sellers of wheat or cotton, of beef or boots, or of any other commodity whatever, the simple reason being that other commodities are not of the same nature as land, are not such complete monopolies, are not so absolutely essential to existence, and are therefore subject to "free contract," which land is not and never can be.

    Another indication of the same principle is afforded by the last fad of a landlord government, the establishment of a "Board of Agriculture;" of course with well salaried officials paid by the people. Now why does agriculture want a "board" rather than cotton spinning, or iron founding, or ship building? Simply because these latter industries are subject to free competition, while the former is and always has been bound and trammelled by landlord interests and landlord restrictions, while the agriculturist himself has never been free to work out his own ideas and has never had his self-interest aroused in favour of improvement by absolute security for his own outlay. It is landlord-despotism alone that cries out for a "Board of Agriculture," to remedy the evils caused by its own blindness, ignorance, and cupidity. What a satire it is on British Agriculture under landlordism, that the poor, ignorant, down-trodden, agricultural labourer, whenever he gets a bit of land to do what he likes with, produces from it heavier crops than the capitalist tenant farmer aided by the best scientific agriculture of the day!

    What is termed scientific agriculture consists largely in applying artificial manures brought from the other side of the globe, to supply the waste of the rich manurial products of 40,000,000 of people with which we now pollute our rivers and keep up a full crop of zymotic diseases among our population. Give the people free access to the land; let them spread naturally over it, so that they may themselves consume its products, and return all the waste matter immediately to the soil; and not only will pauperism be abolished, but they will certainly never require the services of a Board of Agriculture.

    When we consider how deeply the belief in the value, the security, and the importance of land as private property is ingrained in the popular mind--a belief largely due to its being the only means of escape for individuals from the tyranny and [[p. 23]] injustice of landlordism--we can but wonder at the vast progress we have made, and at the decided change in the attitude of the public and the press towards us during the last few years. We can truly say--as the Liberal leader has said on another great question--that the flowing tide of opinion is with us. Self-interest, or supposed self-interest, of course keeps back that tide in the case of the wealthy classes, but we find many great thinkers among us, many of the clergy of all denominations who best know the needs of the workers, and--most important of all--we find that the thinkers among the workers themselves--and they are numerous--are becoming our fast supporters. Nothing has been more cheering to myself during the past year than the declaration of the Chairman of the Trades' Union Congress that an effective land-reform must be searching and durable, that it must in fact give the land to the people, followed by a Resolution passed almost unanimously, "that no settlement will be satisfactory short of Land Nationalisation."

    Now, the great body of workers, of whom this Congress was a worthy representative, have--or will soon have--the power of directing legislation in their own hands. What they have to do for the next few years is to influence their weaker brethren in this matter, to impress upon them the vital importance of this great reform, first to themselves individually, and through them to the whole community. They must also impress upon the poorer class of voters the inviolability of the ballot, and the duty of making no promise against their conscience either to landlord, employer or customer. Then, their time will come, and when the next Liberal government has settled the Irish question in the most thorough manner, and has shortened the duration of Parliament to at most three years, they have only to make Land Nationalisation the working man's test question at the polls, and march on to assured victory (loud applause).

Note Appearing in the Original Work

1. "Poverty and the State," by Herbert V. Mills--p. 73. [[on p. 18]]

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