Quick Links
-Search Website
-Have A Question?
-Wallace News
-About This Site

Misinformation Alert!
Wallace Bio & Accomplishments
Wallace Chronology
Frequently Asked Questions
Wallace Quotes
Wallace Archives
Miscellaneous Facts

Bibliography / Texts
Wallace Writings Bibliography
Texts of Wallace Writings
Texts of Wallace Interviews
Wallace Writings: Names Index
Wallace Writings: Subject Index
Writings on Wallace
Wallace Obituaries
Wallace's Most Cited Works

Taxonomic / Systematic Works
Wallace on Conservation
Smith on Wallace
Research Threads
Wallace Images
Just for Fun
Frequently Cited Colleagues
Wallace-Related Maps & Figures

Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

Economic and Social Justice (S498: 1894)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: From the collection Vox Clamantium: The Gospel of the People, a project organized by Andrew Reid. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S498.htm

    [[p. (166)]] During many past centuries of oppression and wrong there has been an ever-present but rarely expressed cry for redress, for some small instalment of justice to the down-trodden workers. It has been the aspiration alike of the peasant and the philosopher, of the poet and the saint. But the rule of the lords of the soil has ever been so hard, and supported by power so overwhelming and punishment so severe, that the born thralls or serfs have rarely dared to do more than humbly petition for some partial relief; or, if roused to rebel by unbearable misery and wrongs, they have soon been crushed by the power of mailed knights and armed retainers. The peasant revolt at the end of the fourteenth century was to gain relief from the oppressive serfdom that was enforced after the black death had diminished the number of workers. John Ball then preached Socialism for the first time. "By what right," he said, "are they whom we call lords greater folk than we? Why do they hold us in [[p. 167]] serfage? . . . They are clothed in velvet, while we are covered with rags. They have wine and spices and fair bread; and we oat-cake and straw, and water to drink. They have leisure and fine houses; we have pain and labour, the rain and the wind in the fields. And yet it is of us and our toil that these men hold their state." John Ball and Wat Tyler lived five hundred years too soon. To-day the very same claims are made by men who, having got political power, cannot be so easily suppressed.

    A century passed, and the great martyr of freedom, Sir Thomas More, powerfully set forth the wrongs of the workers and the crimes of their rulers in his ever-memorable "Utopia." Near the end of this work he thus summarizes the governments of his time in words that will apply almost, if not quite, as accurately to-day: "Is not that government both unjust and ungrateful that is so prodigal of its favours to those that are called gentlemen, or such others who are idle, or live either by flattery or by contriving the arts of vain pleasure, and, on the other hand, takes no care of those of a meaner sort, such as ploughmen, colliers, and smiths, without whom we could not subsist? But after the public has reaped all the advantage of their service, and they come to be oppressed with age, sickness, and want, all their labours and the good they [[p. 168]] have done is forgotten, and all the recompense given them is that they are left to die in great misery. The richer sort are often endeavouring to bring the hire of labourers lower--not only by their fraudulent practices, but by the laws which they procure to be made to that effect; so that though it is a thing most unjust in itself to give such small rewards to those who deserve so well of the public, yet they have given those hardships the name and colour of justice, by procuring laws to be made for regulating them.

    "Therefore I must say that, as I hope for mercy, I can have no other notion of all the governments that I see or know than that they are a conspiracy of the rich, who, on pretence of managing the public, only pursue their private ends, and devise all the ways and arts they can find out; first, that they may, without danger, preserve all that they have so ill acquired, and then that they may engage the poor to toil and labour for them at as low rates as possible, and oppress them as much as they please."1

    Here we have a stern demand for justice to the workers who produce all the wealth of the rich, as clearly and as forcibly expressed as by any of our modern socialists. Sir Thomas More might, in fact, be well taken as the hero and patron-saint of Socialism.

    [[p. 169]] A century passed away before Bacon in England, and Campanelli in Italy, again set forth schemes of social regeneration. Bacon's "New Atlantis" supposed that the desired improvement would come from man's increased command over the powers of nature, which would give wealth enough for all. We have, however, obtained this result to a far greater extent than Bacon could possibly have anticipated; yet its chief social effect has been the increase of luxury and the widening of the gulf between rich and poor. Although material wealth, reckoned not in money but in things, has increased perhaps twenty or thirty fold in the last century while the population has little more than doubled, yet millions of our people still live in the most wretched penury the whole vast increase of wealth having gone to increase the luxury and waste of the rich and the comfort of the middle classes. Campanelli, more far-sighted than Bacon, saw the need of social justice as well as increased knowledge, and proposed a system of refined communism. But all these ideas were but as dreams of a golden age, and had no influence whatever in ameliorating the condition of the workers, which, with minor fluctuations, and having due regard to the progress of material civilization, may be said to have remained practically unchanged for the last three centuries. When one- [[p. 170]] fourth of all the deaths in London occur in workhouses and hospitals, notwithstanding that four millions are spent there annually in public charity, while untold thousands die in their wretched cellars and attics from the direct or indirect effects of starvation, cold, and unhealthy surroundings; and while all these terrible facts are repeated proportionately in all our great manufacturing towns, it is simply impossible that, within the time I have mentioned, the condition of the workers as a whole can have been much, if any, worse than it is now.

    At the end of the seventeenth, and during the eighteenth century, a new school of reformers arose, of whom Locke, Rousseau, and Turgot were representatives. They saw the necessity of a fundamental justice, especially as regards land the source of all wealth. Locke declared that labour gave the only just title to land; while Rousseau was the author of the maxim, that the produce of the land belongs to all men, the land itself to no one. The first Englishman, however, who saw clearly the vast importance of the land question, and who laid down those principles with regard to it which are now becoming widely accepted, was an obscure Newcastle schoolmaster, Thomas Spence, who in 1775 gave a lecture before the Philosophical Society of that town, which was so much in [[p. 171]] advance of the age that when he printed his lecture the society expelled him, and he was soon afterwards obliged to leave the town. He maintained the sound doctrine that the land of any country or district justly belongs to those who live upon it, not to any individuals to the exclusion of the rest; and he points out, as did Herbert Spencer at a later period, the logical result of admitting private property in land. He says, "And any one of them (the landlords) still can, by laws of their own making, oblige every living creature to remove off his property (which, to the great distress of mankind, is too often put in execution); so, of consequence, were all the landholders to be of one mind, and determined to take their properties into their own hands, all the rest of mankind might go to heaven if they would, for there would be no place found for them here. Thus men may not live in any part of this world, not even where they are born, but as strangers, and by the permission of the pretender to the property thereof." He maintained that every parish should have possession of its own land, to be let out to the inhabitants, and that each parish should govern itself and be interfered with as little as possible by the central government, thus anticipating the views as to local self-government which we are now beginning to put into practice.

    [[p. 172]] A few years later, in 1782, Professor Ogilvie published anonymously, "An Essay on the Right of Property in Land, with respect to its foundation in the Law of Nature, its present establishment by the Municipal Laws of Europe, and the Regulations by which it might be rendered more beneficial to the Lower Ranks of Mankind." This small work contains an elaborate and well-reasoned exposition of the whole land question, anticipating the arguments of Herbert Spencer in "Social Statics," of Mill, and of the most advanced modern land-reformers. But all these ideas were before their time, and produced little or no effect on public opinion. The workers were too ignorant, too much oppressed by the struggle for bare existence, while the middle classes were too short-sighted to be influenced by theoretical views which even to this day many of the most liberal thinkers seem unable fully to appreciate. But the chief cause that prevented the development of sound views on the vital problems of the land and of social justice, was, undoubtedly, that men's minds were forcibly directed towards the great struggles for political freedom then in progress. The success of the American revolutionists and the establishment of a republic founded on a Declaration of the Rights of Man, followed by the great French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, entirely obscured [[p. 173]] all lesser questions, and also led to a temporary and fictitious prosperity, founded on a gigantic debt the burden of which still oppresses us. These great events irresistibly led to the discussion of questions of political and personal freedom rather than to those deeper problems of social justice of which we are now only beginning to perceive the full importance. The rapid growth of the use of steam-power, the vast extension of our manufactures, and the rise of our factory system with its attendant horrors of woman and infant labour, crowded populations, spread of disease, and increase of mortality, loudly cried for palliation and restrictive legislation, and thus occupied much of the attention of philanthropists and politicians.

    Owing to this combination of events, the nineteenth century has been almost wholly devoted to two classes of legislation--the one directed to reform and popularize the machinery of government itself, the other to neutralize or palliate the evils arising from the unchecked powers of landlords and capitalists in their continual efforts to increase their wealth while almost wholly regardless of the life-shortening labour, the unsanitary surroundings, and the hopeless misery of the great body of the workers. To the first class belong the successive Reform Bills, the adoption of the ballot in elections for members of Parliament, household and lodger suffrage, [[p. 174]] improved registration, and the repression of bribery. To the second, restriction of children's and women's labour in factories and mines; Government inspection of these industries; attempts to diminish the dangers of unhealthy employments and to check the ever-increasing pollution of rivers; the new poor law, casual wards, and other attempts to cope with pauperism; while various fiscal reforms, such as the abolition of the corn laws and the extension of free trade, though advocated in the supposed interest of the wage-earners were really carried by the efforts of great capitalists and manufacturers as a means of extending their foreign trade. Later on came the Elementary Education Act of 1870, which was thought by many to be the crowning of the edifice, and to complete all that could be done by legislation to bring about the well-being of the workers, and, through them, of the whole community.

    Now that we have had nearly a century of the two classes of legislation here referred to, it may be well briefly to take stock of its general outcome, and see how far it has secured--what all such legislation aims at securing--a fair share to all the workers of the mass of wealth they annually produce, a sufficiency of food, clothing, house-room and fuel, healthy surroundings, and some amount of leisure and surplus means for the lesser enjoyments of life. And it must be remembered [[p. 175]] that never in the whole course of human history has there been a century which has added so much to man's command over the forces of nature, and which has so enormously extended his power of creating and distributing all forms of wealth. Steam, gas, photography, and electricity, in all their endless applications, have given us almost unlimited power to obtain all necessaries, comforts, and luxuries that the world can supply us with. It has been calculated that the labour-saving machinery of all kinds now in use produces about a hundred times the result that could be produced if our workers had only the tools and appliances available in the last century. But even in the last century, not only was there produced a sufficiency of food, clothing, and houses for all workers, but an enormous surplus, which they had to give to the landlords and other wealthy persons for their consumption, while large numbers, then as now, were unprofitably employed in ministering to the luxury of the rich, or wastefully employed in destroying life and property in civil or foreign wars.

    Taking first the anti-capitalistic or social legislation, we find that, though the horrible destruction of the health, the happiness, and the very lives of factory children has been largely reduced, there has grown up in our great cities a system of child-labour as cruel and destructive, if not quite so extensive. Infants of four [[p. 176]] years and upwards are employed at matchbox-making and similar employments to assist in supporting the family. A widow and two children, working all day and much of the night, can only earn a shilling or eighteen-pence from which to pay rent and support life. Children of school age have thus often to work till midnight after having had five hours' schooling; and till quite recently a poor mother in this state of penury was fined if she did not send the children to school and pay a penny daily for each, meaning so much less bread for herself or for the children. Of course for the children this is physical and mental destruction. The number of women thus struggling for a most miserable living--often a mere prolonged starvation--is certainly greater than at any previous period of our history, and even if the proportion of the population thus employed is somewhat less--and this is doubtful--the fact that the actual mass of human misery and degradation of this kind is absolutely greater, is a horrible result of a century's remedial legislation, together with an increase of national wealth altogether unprecedented.

    Again, if we turn to the amount of poverty and pauperism as a measure of the success of remedial legislation combined with a vast extension of private and systematized charity, we shall have cause for still more serious reflection. In 1888 the Registrar-General [[p. 177]] called attention to the fact that, both throughout the country and to a still greater extent in London, deaths in workhouses, hospitals, and other public charitable institutions had been steadily increasing since 1875. A reference to the Annual Summaries of deaths in London shows the increase to have been continuous from 1860 to 1890, the five-year periods giving the following results:--

    When we add to this the admitted facts, that organized charity has greatly increased during the same period, while the press still teems with records of the most terrible destitution, of suicides from the dread of starvation, and deaths directly caused or indirectly due to want, we are brought face to face with a mass of human wretchedness that is absolutely appalling in its magnitude. And all this time Royal and Parliamentary Commissions have been inquiring and reporting, Mansion House and other committees have been collecting funds and relieving distress at every exceptional period of trouble, emigration has been actively at work, improved [[p. 178]] dwellings have been provided, and education has been systematically urged on, with the final result that one-fourth of all the deaths in the richest city in the world occur in workhouses, hospitals, etc., and, in addition, unknown thousands die in their miserable garrets and cellars from various forms of slow or rapid starvation. Can a state of society which leads to this result be called civilization? Can a government which, after a century of continuous reforms and gigantic labours and struggles, is unable to organize society so that every willing worker may earn a decent living, be called a successful government? Is it beyond the wit of man to save a large proportion of one of the most industrious people in the world, inhabiting a rich and fertile country, from grinding poverty or absolute starvation? Is it impossible so to arrange matters that a sufficient portion of the wealth they create may be retained by the workers, even if the idle rich have a little less of profuse and wasteful luxury?

    Our legislators, our economists, our religious teachers, almost with one voice tell the people that any better organization of society than that which we now possess is impossible. That we must go on as we have been going on, patching here, altering there, now mitigating the severity of a distressing symptom, now slightly clipping the wings of the landlord, the capitalist, or [[p. 179]] the sweater; but never going down to the root of the evil; never interfering with vested interests in ancestral wrong; never daring to do anything which shall diminish rent and interest and profit, and to the same extent increase the reward of labour; never seeking out the fundamental injustice which deprives men of their birthright in their native land and enables a small number of landlords to tax the rest of the community to the amount of hundreds of millions for permission to cultivate and live upon the soil in the country of their birth. Can we, then, wonder that both workers and thinkers are getting tired of all this hopeless incapacity in their rulers? That, possessing education which has made them acquainted with the works of great writers on these matters, from Sir Thomas More to Robert Owen, from Henry George to Edward Bellamy, from Karl Marx to Carlyle and Ruskin; and, possessing as they do ability and honesty and determination fully equal to that of the coterie of landlords and capitalists which has hitherto governed them, they are determined, as soon as may be, to govern themselves.

    Now, I believe that the great work of this century, that which is the true preparation for the work to be done in the coming twentieth century, is not its well-meant and temporarily useful but petty and tentative [[p. 180]] social legislation, but rather that gradual reform of the political machine--to be completed, it is to be hoped, within the next six years--which will enable the most thoughtful and able and honest among the manual workers to at once turn the balance of political power, and, at no distant period, to become the real and permanent rulers of the country. The very idea of such a government will excite a smile of derision or a groan of horror among the classes who have hitherto plundered and blundered at their will, and have thought they were heaven-inspired rulers. But I feel sure that the workers will do very much better; and, forming as they do the great majority of the people, it is only bare justice that, after centuries of misgovernment by the idle and wealthy, they should have their turn. The larger part of the invention that has enriched the country has come from the workers; much of scientific discovery has also come from their ranks; and it is certain that, given equality of opportunity, they would fully equal, in every high mental and moral characteristic, the bluest blood in the nation. In the organization of their trades-unions and co-operative societies, no less than in their choice of the small body of their fellow-workers who represent them in Parliament, they show that they are in no way inferior in judgment and in organizing power to the commercial, the literary, or the wealthy classes. The way in which, [[p. 181]] during the past few years, they have forced their very moderate claims upon the notice of the public, have secured advocates in the press and in Parliament, and have led both political economists and politicians to accept measures which were, not long before, scouted as utterly beyond the sphere of practical politics, shows that they have already become a power in the state. Looking forward, then, to a government by workers and largely in the interest of workers, at a not distant date, I propose to set forth a few principles and suggestions as to the course of legislation calculated to abolish pauperism, poverty, and enforced idleness, and thus lay the foundation for a true civilization which will be beneficial to all.

    I. That the ownership of large estates in land by private individuals is an injustice to the workers and the source of much of their poverty and misery, is held by all the great writers I have alluded to, and has been fully demonstrated in numerous volumes. It has led directly to the depopulation of the rural districts, the abnormal growth of great cities, the diminished cultivation of the soil and reduced food-supply, and is thus at once a social evil and a national danger. Some petty attempts are now making to restore the people to the land, but in a very imperfect manner. The first and highest use of our land is to provide healthy and happy [[p. 182]] homes, where all who desire it may live in permanent security and produce a considerable portion of the food required by their families. Every other consideration must give way to this one, and all restrictions on its realization must be abolished. Hence, the first work of the people's Parliament should be, to give to the Parish and District Councils (which will by that time be in full working order) unrestricted power to take all land necessary for this purpose, so as to afford every citizen the freest possible choice of a home in which he can live absolutely secure (so long as he pays the very moderate ground rent) and reap the full reward of his labour. Every man, in his turn, should be able to choose both where he will live and how much land he desires to have, since each one is the best judge of how much he can enjoy and make profitable. Our object is that all working men should succeed in life, should be able to live well and happily, and provide for an old age of comfort and repose. Every such landholder is a gain and a safety instead of a loss and a danger to the community, and no outcry, either of existing landlords or of tenants of large farms, must be allowed to stand in their way. The well-being of the community is the highest law, and no private interests must be allowed to prevent its realization. When land can be thus obtained, co-operative communities, on the plan so clearly laid [[p. 183]] down by Mr. Herbert V. Mills in his work on "Poverty and the State," may also be established, and various forms of co-operative manufacture can be tried.

    II. The next great guiding principle, and one that will enable us to carry out the resumption of the land without real injury to any individual, is, that we should recognize no rights to property in the unborn, or even in persons under legal age, except so far as to provide for their education and give them a suitable but moderate provision against want. This may be justified on two grounds. Firstly, the law allows to individuals the right to will away their property as they please, so that not even the eldest son has any vested interest, as against the power of the actual owner of the property to leave it to whom or for what purpose he likes. Now, what an individual is permitted to do for individual reasons which may be good or bad, the State may do if it considers it necessary for the good of the community. If an individual may justly disinherit other individuals who have not already a vested interest in property, however just may be their expectations of succeeding to it, ex fortiori the State may, partially, disinherit them for good and important reasons. In the second place, it is almost universally admitted by moralists and advanced thinkers, that to be the heir to a great estate from birth is generally injurious to the [[p. 184]] individual, and is necessarily unjust to the community. It enables the individual to live a life of idleness and pleasure, which often becomes one of luxury and vice; while the community suffers from the bad example, and by the vicious standard of happiness which is set up by the spectacle of so much idleness and luxury. The working part of the community, on the other hand, suffers directly in having to provide the whole of the wealth thus injuriously wasted. Many people think that if such a rich man pays for everything he purchases and wastes, the workers do not suffer because they receive an equivalent for their labour; but such persons overlook the fact that every pound spent by the idle is first provided by the workers. If the income thus spent is derived from land, it is they who really pay the rents to the landlord, inasmuch as if the landlord did not receive them they would go in reduction of taxation. If it comes from the funds or from railway shares, they equally provide it, in the taxes, in high railway fares, and increased price of goods due to exorbitant railway charges. Even if all taxes were raised by an income tax paid by rich men only, the workers would be the real payers, because there is no other possible source of annual income in the country but productive labour. If any one doubts this, let him consider what would happen were the people to resume the land as their [[p. 185]] right, and thenceforth apply the rents, locally, to establish the various factories and other machinery needful to supply all the wants of the community. Gradually all workers would be employed on the land, or in the various co-operative or municipal industries, and would themselves receive the full product of their labours. To facilitate their exchanges they might establish a token or paper currency, and they would then have little use for gold or silver. How, then, could idlers live, if these workers, in the Parliament of the country, simply declined to pay the interest on debts contracted before they were born? What good would be their much-vaunted "capital," consisting as it mostly does of mere legal power to take from the workers a portion of the product of their labours, which power would then have ceased; while their real capital--buildings, machinery, etc.--would bring them not one penny, since the workers would all possess their own, purchased by their own labour and the rents of their own land? Let but the workers resume possession of the soil, which was first obtained by private holders by force or fraud, or by the gift of successive kings who had no right to give it, and capitalists as a distinct class from workers must soon cease to exist.

    III. Another principle of equal importance is to refuse to recognize the right of any bygone rulers to [[p. 186]] tax future generations. Thus all grants of land by kings or nobles, all "perpetual" pensions, and all war-debts of the past, should be declared to be legally and equitably invalid, and henceforth dealt with in such a way as to relieve the workers of the burden of their payment as speedily as is consistent with due consideration for those whose chief support is derived from such sources. Just as we are now coming to recognize that a "living wage" is due to all workers, so we should recognize a maximum income determined by the standard of comfort of the various classes of fund-holders and State or family pensioners. As a rule, these persons might be left to enjoy whatever income they now possess during their lives, and when they had relatives dependent on them the income might be continued to these, either for their lives or for a limited period according to the circumstances of each case. There would be no necessity, and I trust no inclination, to cause the slightest real privation, or even inconvenience, to those who are but the product of a vicious system; but on every principle of justice and equity it is impossible to recognize the rights of deceased kings--most of them the worst and most contemptible of men--to burthen the workers for all time in order to keep large bodies of their fellow-citizens in idleness and luxury.

    By means of the principles now laid down, we may [[p. 187]] proceed to see how to deal with the present possessors of great estates, and with millionaires, whose vast wealth confers no real benefit on themselves, while it necessarily robs the workers, since, as we have seen, it has all to be provided by the workers. It will, I think, be admitted that, if a man has an income, say, of ten thousand a year, that is sufficient to supply him with every possible necessary, comfort, and rational luxury, and that the possession of one or more additional ten thousands of income would not really add to his enjoyment. But all such excessive incomes necessarily produce evil results, in the large number of idle dependents they support, and in keeping up habits of gambling and excessive luxury. Further, in the case of landed estates the management of which is necessarily left to agents and bailiffs, it leads to injurious interference with agriculture and with the political and religious freedom of tenants, to oppression of labourers, to the depopulation of villages, and other well-known evils. It will therefore be for the public benefit to fix on a maximum income to be owned by any citizen; and, thereupon, to arrange a progressive income tax, beginning with a very small tax on a minimum income from land or realized property of, say, £500, the tax progressively rising, at first slowly, afterwards more rapidly, so as to absorb all above the fixed maximum.

    [[p. 188]] When a landed estate was taken over for the use of the community, the net income which had been derived from it would be paid the late holder for his life, and might be continued for the lives of such of his direct heirs as were of age at the time of passing the Act, or it might even be extended to all direct heirs living at that time. In the case of a person owning many landed estates in different counties, he might be given the option of retaining any one or more of them up to the maximum income, and that income would be secured to him (and his direct heirs as above stated) in case any of the land were taken for public use. In the case of fundholders, all above the maximum income would be extinguished, and thus reduce taxation.

    The process here sketched out--by which the continuous robbery of the people through the systems of land and fundholding, may be at first greatly reduced, and in the course of one or two generations completely stopped, without, as I maintain, real injury to any living person, and for the great benefit both of existing workers and of the whole nation in the future--will, of course, be denounced as confiscation and robbery. That is the point of view of those who now benefit by the acts of former robbers and confiscators. From another, and I maintain a truer point of view, it may be [[p. 189]] described as an act of just and merciful restitution. Let us, therefore, consider the case a little more closely.

    Taking the inherited estates of the great landed proprietors of England, almost all can be traced back to some act of confiscation of former owners or to gifts from kings, often as the reward for what we now consider to be disgraceful services or great crimes. The whole of the property of the abbeys and monasteries, stolen by Henry VIII., and mostly given to the worst characters among the nobles of his court, was really a robbery of the people, who obtained relief and protection from the former owners. The successive steps by which the landlords got rid of the duties attached to landholding under the feudal system, and threw the main burden of defence and of the cost of government on non-landholders, was another direct robbery of the people. Then in later times, and down to the present century, we have that barefaced robbery by form of law, the enclosure of the commons, leading, perhaps more than anything else, to the misery and destruction of the rural population. Much of this enclosure was made by means of false pretences. The general Enclosure Acts declare that the purpose of enclosure is to facilitate "the productive employment of labour" in the improvement of the land. Yet hundreds of thousands of acres in all parts of the country, [[p. 190]] especially in Surrey, Hampshire, Dorsetshire, and other southern counties, were simply taken from the people and divided among the surrounding landlords, and then only used for sport, not a single pound being spent in cultivating them. Now, however, during the last twenty years, much of this land is being sold for building at high building prices, a purpose never contemplated when the Enclosure Acts were obtained. During the last two centuries more than seven millions of acres have been thus taken from the poor by men who were already rich, and the more land they already possessed the larger share of the commons was allotted to them. Even a Royal Commission, in 1869, declared that these enclosures were often made "without any compensation to the smaller commoners, deprived agricultural labourers of ancient rights over the waste, and disabled the occupants of new cottages from acquiring new rights."

    Now, in this long series of acts of plunder of the people's land, we have every circumstance tending to aggravate the crime. It was robbery of the poor by the rich. It was robbery of the weak and helpless by the strong. And it had that worst feature which distinguishes robbery from mere confiscation--the plunder was divided among the individual robbers. Yet, again, it was a form of robbery specially forbidden by the [[p. 191]] religion of the robbers, a religion for which they professed the deepest reverence, and of which they considered themselves the special defenders. They read in what they call the Word of God, "Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth;" yet this is what they are constantly striving for, not by purchase only, but by robbery. Again they are told, "The land shall not be sold for ever, for the land is Mine;" and at every fiftieth year all land was to return to the family that had sold it, so that no one could keep land beyond the year of jubilee; and the reason was that no man or family should remain permanently impoverished.

    Both in law and morality the receiver of stolen goods is as bad as the thief; and even if he has purchased a stolen article unknowingly, an honourable man will, when he discovers the fact, restore it to the rightful owner. Now, our great hereditary landlords know very well that they are the legal possessors of much stolen property, and, moreover, property which their religion forbids them to hold in great quantities. Yet we have never heard of a single landlord making restitution to the robbed nation of workers. On the contrary, they take every opportunity of adding to their vast possessions, not only by purchase, but by that [[p. 192]] meanest form of robbery--the enclosing of every scrap of roadside grass they can lay their hands on, so that the wayfarer or the tourist may have nothing but dust or gravel to walk upon, and the last bit of food for the cottager's donkey or goose is taken away from him.

    This all-embracing system of land robbery, for which nothing is too great and nothing too little, which has absorbed meadow and forest, moor and mountain; which has secured most of our rivers and lakes, and the fish which inhabit them; which often claims the very seashore and rocky coast-line of our island home, making the peasant pay for his seaweed-manure and the fisherman for his bait of shellfish; which has desolated whole counties to replace men by sheep or cattle, and has destroyed fields and cottages to make a wilderness for deer; which has stolen the commons and filched the roadside wastes; which has driven the labouring poor into the cities, and has thus been the primary and chief cause of the lifelong misery, disease, and early death of thousands who might have lived lives of honest toil and comparative comfort had they been permitted free access to land in their native villages;--it is the advocates and beneficiaries of this inhuman system, the members of this "cruel organization," who, when a partial restitution of their unholy gains is proposed, are the loudest in their cries of "robbery!" But all the [[p. 193]] robbery, all the spoliation, all the legal and illegal filching has been on their side, and they still hold the stolen property. They made laws to justify their actions, and we propose equally to make laws which will really justify ours, because, unlike their laws which always took from the poor to give to the rich, ours will take only from the superfluity of the rich, not to give to the poor individually, but to enable the poor to live by honest work, to restore to the whole people their birthright in their native soil, and to relieve all alike from a heavy burden of unnecessary taxation. This will be the true statesmanship of the future, and will be justified alike by equity, by ethics, and by religion.

    And now, what has been the conduct and teaching of those priests and bishops who profess to be followers of Him who declared that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven, and who gave this rule as being above all the Commandments, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven." Have they ever preached to the squires and nobles restitution of some portion of the land so unjustly obtained by their ancestors? Have they even insisted on the duty of those who hold the land to allow free use of it to all their fellow-citizens on fair terms? Have they even set before these men the inevitable and now well-known [[p. 194]] results of land-monopoly, and the deadly sin of using their power to oppress the poor and needy? It is notorious that, with some few noble exceptions, they have done none of these things, but have ever taken the side of the landed against the landless, and too often, whether in the character of landlords or magistrates, have so acted as to lose the confidence and even gain the hatred of the poor. We look in vain among priests and bishops of the Established Church for any real comprehension of what this land question is to the poor; but we find it in the following words of a dignitary of the older Church, that good man and true follower of Christ, the late Cardinal Manning:

    "The land question means hunger, thirst, nakedness, notice to quit, labour spent in vain, the toil of years seized upon, the breaking up of houses; the misery, sicknesses, deaths of parents, children, wives; the despair and wildness which spring up in the hearts of the poor, where legal force, like a sharp harrow, goes over the most sensitive and vital rights of mankind. All this is contained in the land question." But our archbishops and bishops know nothing whatever of all this! They are truly blind guides; and, as pastors of a Church which should be pre-eminently the Church of the poor, how applicable are the words of Isaiah, "They are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, [[p. 195]] loving to slumber. Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain"!

    And now, in conclusion, I will give one or two extracts from a book written by a self-taught worker for workers, to show how workers feel on the questions we have here touched upon.


    "At present the working people of this country live under conditions altogether monstrous. Their labour is much too heavy, their pleasures are too few; and in their close streets and crowded houses, decency and health and cleanliness are well-nigh impossible. It is not only the wrong of this that I resent, it is the waste. Look through the slums, and see what childhood, girlhood, womanhood, and manhood have there become. Think what a waste of beauty, of virtue, of strength, and of all the power and goodness that go to make a nation great, is being consummated there by ignorance and by injustice. For, depend upon it, every one of our brothers or sisters ruined or slain by poverty or vice, is a loss to the nation of so much bone and sinew, of so much courage and skill, of so much glory and delight. Cast your eyes, then, over the Registrar-General's returns, and imagine, if you can, how many gentle nurses, good mothers, sweet [[p. 196]] singers, brave soldiers, clever artists, inventors and thinkers, are swallowed up every year in that ocean of crime and sorrow which is known to the official mind as 'the high death-rate of the wage-earning classes.' Alas! the pity of it."

    And again, from the same writer--


    "A short time ago a certain writer, much esteemed for his graceful style of saying silly things, informed us that the poor remain poor because they show no efficient desire to be anything else. Is that true? Are only the idle poor? Come with me, and I will show you where men and women work from morning till night, from week to week, from year to year, at the full stretch of their powers, in dim and fetid dens, and yet are poor, ay, destitute--have for their wages a crust of bread and rags. I will show you where men work in dirt and heat, using the strength of brutes, for a dozen hours a day, and sleep at night in styes, until brain and muscle are exhausted, and fresh slaves are yoked to the golden car of commerce, and the broken drudges filter through the union or the prison, to a felon's or a pauper's grave! And I will show you how men and women thus work and suffer, and faint and die, generation after generation; and I will show you how the longer and harder these wretches toil, the worse their lot becomes; and I will show you the [[p. 197]] graves, and find witnesses to the histories of brave and noble and industrious poor men, whose lives were lives of toil and poverty, and whose deaths were tragedies. And all these things are due to sin; but it is to the sin of the smug hypocrites who grow rich upon the robbery and the ruin of their fellow-creatures."

    These extracts are from a shilling book called "Merrie England," by Nunquam. In the form of a series of letters on Socialism to a working man, it contains more important facts, more acute reasoning, more conclusive argument, and more good writing than are to be found in any English work on the subject I am acquainted with. When such men--and there are many of them--are returned to Parliament, and are able to influence the government of the country, the dawn of a new era, bright with hope for the long-suffering workers, will be at hand.

Note Appearing in the Original Work

1. Cassell's National Library--"Utopia," p. 17. [[on p. 168]]

*                 *                 *                 *                 *

Return to Home