Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)
Its Necessity and Its Aims
Being a Comparison of the System of Landlord and Tenant
with That of Occupying Ownership in Their Influence
on the Well-being of the People (S722: 1892 ed.)
Ye friends to truth, ye statesmen
A COMPARISON OF THE SYSTEM OF LANDLORD AND
AUTHOR OF "THE MALAY ARCHIPELAGO," "ISLAND LIFE," ETC., ETC.
WITH APPENDIX ON THE NATIONALISATION OF HOUSE PROPERTY
SWAN SONNENSCHEIN & CO.
NEW YORK: CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
IN THE HOPE THAT IT MAY REVEAL TO THEM THE CHIEF CAUSE OF SO MUCH POVERTY IN THE MIDST OF THE EVER-INCREASING WEALTH WHICH THEY CREATE, AND POINT OUT TO THEM THE GREAT REFORM WHICH WILL ENABLE LABOUR TO REAP ITS JUST REWARD, WHICH WILL SURELY TEND TO ABOLISH PAUPERISM, AND WHICH WILL GIVE TO ALL WHO INDUSTRIOUSLY SEEK IT A FAIR SHARE IN THE INCREASED PROSPERITY OF THEIR NATIVE LAND.
"Land is not, and cannot be property in the sense that moveable things are property. Every human being born into this planet must live upon the land if he lives at all. The land in any country is really the property of the nation which occupies it; and the tenure of it by individuals is ordered differently in different places, according to the habits of the people and the general convenience."--FROUDE.
"The land of Ireland, the land of every country, belongs to the people of that country."--JOHN STUART MILL.
"As land is necessary to the exertion of labour in the production of wealth, to command the land which is necessary to labour is to command all the fruits of labour save enough to enable the labourer to exist."--HENRY GEORGE.
"To make away into mercenary hands, as an article of trade, the whole solid area on which a nation lives, is astonishing as an idea of statesmanship."--PROF. F. W. NEWMAN.
"It may by-and-by be perceived that equity utters dictates to which we have not yet listened; and men may then learn that to deprive others of their rights to the use of the earth is to commit a crime inferior only in wickedness to the crime of taking away their lives or personal liberties."--HERBERT SPENCER.
"In my opinion, if it is known to be for the welfare of the community at large, the Legislature is perfectly entitled to buy out the landed proprietors. . . . Those persons who possess large portions of the earth's space are not altogether in the same position as the possessors of mere personalty. Personalty does not impose limitations on the action and the industry of man and the well-being of the community as possession of land does, and therefore, I freely own that compulsory expropriation is admissible, and even sound in principle."--W. E. GLADSTONE. (Speech at West Calder.)
The present work has been written with two main objects. In the first place, it is intended to demonstrate by a sufficient, though condensed, body of evidence, the widespread and crying evils--political and social, material and moral--which are not only the actual, but the necessary results of the system of Landlordism, while at the same time it shows, by a complementary series of facts, that a properly guarded system of Occupying Ownership under the State would afford a complete remedy for the evils thus caused. In the second place, it demonstrates that the proposed solution is a practicable one, by explaining in detail how the change may be effected with no real injury to existing landowners, and also how the scheme will actually work without producing any one of the evil results generally thought to be inseparable from a system of land-nationalisation.
It will be seen from this outline that the subjects here treated are of vast and momentous importance. So abundant are the available materials that it would have been easy to compile a work of several bulky volumes without exhausting the theme. To have done so might [[p. viii]] have added to the author's literary reputation, but would not have produced the effect which he desires to produce. It is the people at large--the middle and lower classes especially--who suffer by the present land-system, and it is by their mandate to their representatives in Parliament that the needed reform must be effected. Existing legislators can and will do nothing beyond removing the shackles which now prevent land from being freely bought and sold; but so limited a reform will only benefit landowners and capitalists, while the people will still suffer from all the evils which the monopoly of land by a class and the increase of land-speculation inevitably bring upon them. To reach the landless classes--to teach them what are their rights and how to gain these rights--is the object of this work; and it was therefore necessary that it should be at once clear and forcible, moderate in bulk, and issued at a low price. In effecting the required degree of condensation the historical part of the subject has been sketched in the briefest outline, because it appeared to the author much more important to demonstrate the evil results of our land-system than to prove that it had its origin in force or fraud in long-past ages. It also happens, that the history of the origin of landed property in general, as well as of our existing systems of land-tenure, are the portions of the subject which have been most fully treated, and which are best known to general readers.
[[p. ix]] Although so much has been written on the land-question, I am not aware of any single work which summarises the evidence and discusses the results of our system of land-tenure as compared with that of other civilised countries, in its bearing, not upon landlords and tenants alone but on all classes of the community; and I therefore venture to think that everyone who has at heart the advancement of the social condition of our people, and who feels the disgrace of our position as at once the wealthiest and the most pauperised country in the world, will find much to interest, and perhaps to instruct, in this small volume.
Godalming, March, 1882.
TABLE OF CONTENTS.
CHAPTER I.--On the Causes of Poverty in the Midst of Wealth:--Increase of the Value of Land during the Present Century--Great Increase of our Wealth--Pauperism does not diminish in Proportion to our Increasing Wealth--Failure of our Social Organisation--Increase of Labour-saving Machinery and the Utilisation of Natural Forces--The Anticipated Effect of Man's increased power over Nature--The Actual Effect--How to discover the Cause of our Social Failure--Why Great Wealth is often injurious--Accumulated Wealth may be Beneficial or the Reverse--How Great Accumulations of Capital Affect the Labourer--The Nature of the Remedy Suggested--Scope of the Present Inquiry . . . . . 1-20
CHAPTER II.--The Origin and Present State of British Land-Tenure:--Antiquity of our Present System causes it to appear a Natural One--Antiquity of a System no proof of its Value--Origin of British Land-Tenure--Characteristics of the Feudal System--Growth of Modern Landlordism--The Legal Powers Exercised by Landlords--Our Land-system is a Modified Feudalism, in which the Landlords have thrown their Burdens on the People, whose Rights in the Land they have absorbed . . . . . 20-30
CHAPTER III.--A Few illustrations of Irish Landlordism:--Ireland affords Examples of all the Evils that arise from Private Property in Land--Origin of Irish Landlordism--Tenant-right Confiscation by Landlords--Condition of the Irish Cottier--Facts in Possession of the Legislature for Thirty Years--The Devon Commission, 1847--The Government neglects its First Duty--Evictions after the Famine--Suggested Remedies for Irish Distress--Continued Blindness and Incompetence of the Legislature--Tremendous Power of Agents over the Tenants--The Condition of the People under Irish Landlordism . . . . . 30-51
[[p. xii]] CHAPTER IV.--Landlordism and its Results in Scotland:--Chiefs and Clansmen in the Highlands--Highland Chiefs changed into Landlords--Character of the Highland Tenantry Eighty Years ago--The Change effected by Landlords and Agents--The Story of the Sutherland Evictions--Other Examples of Highland Clearances--Wide Extent and Long Continuance of these Clearances--They were exposed and protested against in vain--Continuance of Highland Clearances and Confiscation down to this Day--These Evils inherent in Landlordism--An Illustrative Case--The General Results of Landlordism in the Highlands--Further Clearances and Devastation for the Sake of Sport--The Gross Abuse of Power by Highland Landlords requires an Immediate Remedy--Landlordism in the Lowlands of Scotland: Condition of the Labourers--The Cause of this State of Things is the Landlord System--General Results of Scotch Landlordism . . . . . 51-96
CHAPTER V.--The Economical and Social Effects of English Landlordism:--Landlordism in England is seen at its best--Despotic Power of Landlords--Landlords' Interference with Religious Freedom--Landlords' Interference with Political Freedom--Landlords' Interference with a Tenant's Amusements--Eviction of the Inhabitants of an Entire Village--Injurious Power of Landlords over Farmers and over Agriculture--Limitation of the Beneficial Influence of Landlords--Whatever Beneficial Influence Landlords exert would be Increased under Occupying Ownership--Supposed Importance of the Large Farms which Landlordism favours--The Effects of Landlordism on the Well-Being of the Labouring Classes--Deterioration of the Condition of the Agricultural Labourer during the Present Century--The Social Degradation of the Agricultural Labourer at the Present Day--This State of Things is due to the System of Landlordism, not to the Bad Conduct of Landlords--The Enclosure Act and its Results--Uniform Evidence as to the Beneficial Effects of Allotments and Cottage Gardens--Beneficial Effects of Small Cottage Farms--The Logical Bearing of this Evidence--Various Powers exercised by Landlords to the Detriment of the Public--Free Choice of a Home essential to Social Well-Being--Characteristics of a good System of Land-Tenure--Enclosure of Commons and Mountain Wastes as affecting the [[p. xiii]] Public--The Destruction of Ancient Monuments--Public Improvements checked by Landlordism--Permanent Deterioration of the Country by the export of Minerals--Concluding Remarks on English Landlordism . . . . . 97-134
CHAPTER VI.--The Results of Occupying Ownership as Opposed to those of Landlordism:--Summary of the Evils of the Landlord System--Occupying Ownership defined--The Advantages of Occupying Ownership--Results of Occupying Ownership in Switzerland--Co-operation of Occupying Owners in Norway--Occupying Ownership in Germany--Admirable Cultivation under Occupying Ownership--Improvement of the Soil under Occupying Ownership in Belgium--Effects of Occupying Ownership in France--The Labourers of France under Occupying Ownership--Results of Occupying Ownership in the Channel Islands--General Results of Occupying Ownership and those of Landlordism Compared--Results of Landlordism in Italy--Results of Landlordism in Spain and Sardinia--The Occupying Owner under Extremely unfavourable Conditions--Large Farms versus small not the Question at Issue--Various Objections to Peasant Proprietorship answered by Facts--The Final Argument in Favour of Landlordism shown to be unsound--Beneficial Influence of Ownership on Agriculture--The Conclusion from the Evidence . . . . . 135-164
CHAPTER VII.--Low Wages and Pauperism the Direct Consequence of Private Property in Land:--Progress and Poverty--Labour, not Capital, the First Mover in Production--Industry not Limited by Capital but by restricted Access to the Land--Interest determined by Land Monopoly and Rent--Capital and Labour not antagonistic--Progress of Society causes a Rise of Rents--Private Property in Land produces an Inequitable Division of Wealth--Speculative Increase in Land-values--Mr. George's Work supplements and enforces the Results arrived at in the Present Volume. . . . . 165-174
CHAPTER VIII.--Nationalisation of the Land Affords the Only Mode of Effecting a Complete Solution of the Land Question--Summary of the preceding Chapters:--The Contrast of our Wealth and our Poverty amazes all Foreigners--Our Poverty and Pauperism persists notwithstanding the most favourable Conditions--The Irish Landlords follow the Teachings of Political [[p. xiv]] Economy--Effects of Landlordism in the Highlands and in the Lowlands of Scotland--The Despotic Powers of English Landlords--The complete and overwhelming Mass of Evidence in Favour of Occupying Ownership--The Remedies proposed--Free Trade in Land shown to be comparatively Useless--Mr. Kay's Arguments in support of Free Trade in Land--Small Landed Estates are constantly absorbed by Great Ones--Free Trade in Land would not help either the Tenant or the Labourer--Nationalisation of the Land the only Effective Remedy--Occupancy and virtual Ownership must go together--To Secure this the State must be the real Owner or Ground-Landlord--The State must become Owner of the Land apart from the Improvements added to it--Mode of Determining the Value of the Quit-rent and of the Tenant-Right--How Existing Landowners may be compensated--Alleged unfairness of Compensation by means of Terminable Annuities--How Tenants may become Occupying Owners--Subletting must be absolutely prohibited--Evils of Subletting in Towns--Mortgaging should be strictly limited--Whether any Limits should be placed to the Quantity of Land personally occupied--Supposed Objections to Land Nationalisation--Mr. Fowler's Objections--Mr. Arthur Arnold's Objections--Mr. G. Shaw Lefevre's Objections--The Hon. George C. Brodrick's Objections--Mr. J. Boyd Kinnear's Objections--How Nationalisation will affect Towns--Free-Selection of Residential Plots by Labourers and Others--Objections to the Right of Free-Selection--Why Free-Selection should be restricted to Once in a Man's Life--Free-Selection would check the growth of Towns, and add to the Beauty and Enjoyability of Rural Districts--How Commons may be preserved and Utilised--How Minerals should be worked under State Ownership--Progressive Reduction of Taxation--Abolition of Customs and Excise--Summary of the Advantages of Nationalisation--Summary of the Evil Results of Landlordism--Conclusion . . . . . 175-233
APPENDIX . . . . . 234
ON THE CAUSES OF POVERTY IN THE MIDST OF WEALTH.
INCREASE OF THE VALUE OF LAND DURING THE PRESENT CENTURY--GREAT INCREASE OF OUR TOTAL WEALTH--PAUPERISM DOES NOT DIMINISH IN PROPORTION TO OUR INCREASING WEALTH--FAILURE OF OUR SOCIAL ORGANISATION--INCREASE OF LABOUR-SAVING MACHINERY AND THE UTILISATION OF NATURAL FORCES--THE ANTICIPATED EFFECT OF MAN'S INCREASED POWER OVER NATURE--THE ACTUAL EFFECT--HOW TO DISCOVER THE CAUSE OF OUR SOCIAL FAILURE--WHY GREAT WEALTH IS OFTEN INJURIOUS--ACCUMULATED WEALTH MAY BE BENEFICIAL OR THE REVERSE--HOW GREAT ACCUMULATIONS OF CAPITAL AFFECT THE LABOURER--THE NATURE OF THE REMEDY SUGGESTED--SCOPE OF THE PRESENT ENQUIRY.
Among the characteristics of the present century, none is, perhaps, more striking than the enormous increase of the national wealth, which, during the last fifty years especially, has progressed with a rapidity altogether unprecedented. During this period the land of Great Britain has more than doubled in value, while in the great centres of industry it has often increased a hundred or even a thousandfold, and this increase has been mainly due, not to any expenditure made by the owners or occupiers of the land, but almost wholly to the growth of population and of wealth, and to the great [[p. 2]] advance in all the arts and industries which minister to our modern civilisation. The total annual value of this landed property is enormous. The estates which exceed 3,000 acres in extent or £3,000 in annual value, amounting in all to twenty-one and a-half million acres, are valued at £35,000,000, while those of less area or less annual value amount to more than thirty-two million acres; and as these latter will consist to a great extent of highly-cultivated suburban lands, small residential estates, and building lots, while the former include all the poorest and least valuable mountain and moor-land of Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, their value can hardly be less than 65 millions, making a total of £100,000,000.1 This large sum is, however, only an indication of the wealth of the country; for a considerable proportion of the 320,000 landowners who possess more than an acre derive large incomes from manufacturing industries and mercantile or financial pursuits, or have invested capital in the British or Foreign Funds, in railways, or in other securities, so that the amount of accumulated property and the number of persons who are supported on this property without personal exertion, are both probably larger in proportion to the whole population than at any other period of our history, or than in any other country in the world. The increase of our wealth, as well as its great amount, is sufficiently indicated by the fact, that the "Property and Profits" assessed to Income Tax have more than doubled in the 30 years from [[p. 3]] 1848 to 1878, being in the former year (for Great Britain) £256,413,354, and in the latter £542,411,545; and there can be no doubt that these amounts are, on the whole, greatly under-estimated.
Pauperism does not Diminish with our Increasing Wealth.--This enormous increase in the wealth of the country--and that far greater proportionate increase of its manufactures and commerce of which our legislators are so proud that rarely do they speak in public without calling attention to it--have not, however, been attended by any proportionate increase in the general well-being of the people. Nothing tests this well-being so surely as the number of paupers, since, if the condition of the people were generally raised to any considerable extent, this number must largely diminish. We find, however, that though the number fluctuates much from year to year, and figures can be picked to show a decrease, yet, taking a large early and late average, there is no decrease, the numbers of paupers in England and Wales fluctuating around an average of about six-sevenths of a million. This, however, is only the number in receipt of relief on the first day of each year. The total number relieved during the year is, according to Mr. Dudley Baxter, three and a-half times as much, or an average of upwards of three millions. Allowing for the same individuals being relieved more than once, we shall be quite within the mark if we take the mean of the two numbers, or a little less than two millions, as the actual average number of paupers; but it must be remembered that this does not include either the vagrants, or the casual poor, or the criminals in our jails, or that large body who are permanently dependent on private charity, which altogether must bring up the number to at least three millions. Let us consider for a moment what this implies. The three million paupers in any year are all persons who are actually unable to obtain a sufficiency of the coarsest food [[p. 4]] and clothing to support life; and they form, as it were, the failures from among a much larger body, who constantly live from hand to mouth on the scanty wages of their daily labour. If we take this class of the population who are ever trembling on the verge of pauperism at only half the number of the actual paupers, we arrive at a total of 4,500,000--more than one-sixth of the whole population--who live constantly in a state of squalid penury, unable to obtain many of the necessaries of a healthy existence, and one-half of them continually falling into absolute destitution, and becoming dependent on public or private charity.2
[[p. 5]] Failure of our Social Organisation.--This is, surely, a most anomalous and altogether deplorable state of things. On the one side, wealth and luxury and all the refinements of life to an unprecedented extent--on the other, a vast, seething mass of poverty and crime, millions living with their barest physical wants unsatisfied, in dwellings where common decency is impossible, and, so far as any development of the higher faculties is concerned, in a condition actually inferior to that of many savages. And these poverty-stricken millions consist largely of the tillers of that very soil which has of late years so vastly increased in value, and thus added so much to the wealth and luxury of its possessors. The political economist points with pride to the vast increase of our wealth; but he ignores the fact that the distribution of that wealth is more unequal than ever, and that for every single addition to the exceptionally rich there are scores or hundreds added to the exceptionally poor. But the legislator should look at the question from a different point of view. Every government which is not a despotism is bound to make the well-being of the whole community its object; and mere wealth is no indication whatever of this general well-being. So long as poverty and degradation are the characteristics of large classes of the community, society and government are alike proved to be failures; and the rapid increase of wealth, with the great advances of science, art, and literature, only render this failure the more glaring, and prove more clearly that there is something radically wrong in the social organisation that is incompetent to remedy such gross and crying evils.
For some generations, at all events, there has been no lack of will on the part of our legislators and philanthropists. Many serious evils have been remedied; much cruelty and injustice have been abolished; and, as we have seen, vast wealth has been created; but no one who knows the condition and mode of life of the large class of agricultural labourers, and the [[p. 6]] horrible degradation of great masses of the inhabitants of all our chief cities, with the periodical distress, and even famine, in the manufacturing districts and in Ireland, can doubt the utter failure of all their attempts.
Increase of Labour-saving Machinery and Utilisation of Natural Forces.--But there is another circumstance which adds immensely to our conception of the vastness and horror of this failure. During the present century there has been a continual and ever-increasing growth in the use of steam-power and labour-saving machinery, which has been equivalent to the possession by us of a body of industrious slaves, ever labouring, patiently and without complaint, and exceeding in effective power probably ten-fold that of our whole working population. In addition to each actual workman there are, therefore, ten of these willing slaves constantly labouring for us, and every day of our lives we derive the benefit of their labour.3 Yet all this has only made the rich richer, the poor remaining as numerous, and, in many respects, even worse off than before we acquired this vast addition to our productive power.
Other sources of wealth have also been afforded us during the lives of the present generation altogether unique in the [[p. 7]] history of the world. In two hemispheres gold has been discovered in such quantities as to lead to a wonderful development of our commerce, while at the same time it has drawn off large numbers of our surplus population. Almost coincident with these great discoveries was the rise and rapid development of the railway systems of the world; and it was we English who, for a long time, had almost a monopoly of the construction of these railways. The demand for iron and coal for this purpose was enormous, and of this, too, we had the largest immediately available supply; and so eagerly did we make use of our opportunities that in one generation we have exhausted these stored-up treasures of our soil to an extent which would have supplied our home wants for centuries, and have thereby actually deteriorated our land for our descendants in order greedily to enrich ourselves.
The increase of the mere steam power employed does not, however, at all adequately represent the advantage we have over our immediate predecessors, for along with this increase of power has gone on an increased efficiency in our mode of applying that power to human uses, so that it is not improbable that each horse or man-power now employed in the production of all the countless forms of wealth which we enjoy, is five or ten times as efficient as it was a century ago. This will be clear if we think of the economy of the railway train as compared with the coach and waggon, and of the amount of clothing produced in a modern cotton-mill as compared with what was produced by the same actual power employed on the clumsy old machines of the hand-spinner and hand-weaver. Steam and electricity, and the thousand applications of modern science to the arts and industries, have economised time quite as much as they have economised mere labour. These various economies give us such an advantage over our ancestors that, although the average duration of life has been but little increased, yet, such is the intensity of modern existence that we may be said to live twice or thrice as long as they did.
[[p. 8]] What might have been Anticipated as the Result of Man's Increasing Power over Nature.--Let anyone ask himself what ought to have been the consequence of such a vast increase of man's power over nature? To quote the words of an eloquent and thoughtful modern writer:--"Could a man of the last century--a Franklin or a Priestly--have seen, in a vision of the future, the steamship taking the place of the sailing-vessel, the railroad-train of the waggon, the reaping-machine of the scythe, the thrashing-machine of the flail; could he have heard the throb of the engines that, in obedience to human will, and for the satisfaction of human desire, exert a power greater than that of all the men and all the beasts of burden of the earth combined; could he have seen the forest tree transformed into finished timber--into doors, sashes, blinds, boxes, or barrels, with hardly the touch of a human hand; the great workshops where boots and shoes are turned out by the case with less labour than the old-fashioned cobbler could have put on a sole; the factories where, under the eye of a girl, cotton becomes cloth faster than hundreds of stalwart weavers could have turned it out with their hand-looms; could he have seen steam-hammers shaping mammoth shafts, and delicate machinery making tiny watches; the diamond-drill cutting through the heart of the rocks, and coal-oil sparing the whale; could he have realised the enormous saving of labour resulting from improved facilities of exchange and communication--sheep killed in Australia eaten fresh in England, and the order given by the London banker in the afternoon executed in St. Francisco in the morning of the same day; could he have conceived of the hundred thousand improvements which these only suggest, what would he have inferred as to the social condition of mankind?
"It would not have seemed like an inference. Further than the vision went, it would have seemed as though he saw; and his heart would have leaped and his nerves would have thrilled, as one who from a height beholds just ahead of the thirst- [[p. 9]] stricken caravan the living gleam of rustling woods and the glint of laughing waters. Plainly in the sight of the imagination he would have beheld these new forces elevating society from its very foundations, lifting the very poorest above the possibility of want, exempting the very lowest from anxiety for the material needs of life; he would have seen these slaves of the lamp of knowledge taking on themselves the traditional curse, these muscles of iron and sinews of steel making the poorest labourer's life a holiday, in which every high quality and noble impulse could have scope to grow."4
The Actual Effect.--This the anticipation, but what the reality? The great cities have all become greater, and all contain within their bounds dense masses of people living in cellars and hovels and airless, filthy courts, again and again condemned as unfit for human habitation. Many fair valleys and once fertile plains have become blasted by the smoke of our engine fires and the noxious gases from our furnaces, while almost all our once bright and limpid streams have become fetid sewers. Everywhere the workers work harder than before; they live in unsightly and unwholesome houses, packed together in rows like pens for cattle; they have no field or garden ground for profitable occupation or healthy enjoyment; their young children can get no wholesome milk, and often no playground but the alley and the kennel. Paupers and tramps abound everywhere. Men and women beg for work in all our streets, and many, failing to get it, die of want. Famine even attacks us as of old; and in the very same districts from which food or clothing is largely exported, the producers have now and again to be saved from starvation by public charity.
This is the outcome of our boasted civilisation. This is the final result of our unexampled increase in national wealth, of [[p. 10]] our improved laws, of our increased knowledge, of our vast strides in science. Our labourers not only do not participate in the comfort, refinement and relaxation which a fair share in our increased wealth would give them, but, so wretched is their condition that a great traveller in many barbarous lands solemnly declares that never among any savage tribe had he seen such utter wretchedness and degrading poverty as was to be found in Ireland at the present day. Nor is evidence wanting that the condition of some parts of England is hardly better. Professor Fawcett, in his work on "The British Labourer," asserts that "A large proportion of our working population are in a state of miserable poverty. Many of them live in dwellings that do not deserve the name of human habitations." In the same work he thus strongly supports the main allegations we have made in the present chapter:--
"The advance in the material prosperity of Liverpool, of Glasgow, and other centres of commerce is unprecedented, yet in close contiguity to this growing wealth there are still the same miserable homes of the poor, the same pestilential alleys, where fevers and other diseases decimate the infantile population with unerring certainty. . . . How is it that this vast production of wealth does not lead to a happier distribution? How is it that the rich seem to be constantly growing richer, while the poverty of the poor is not perceptibly diminished?"5
[[p. 11]] Neither in the work here quoted nor elsewhere can I find that Professor Fawcett has given, or even attempted to give, a complete answer to this momentous question--What is the cause, or what are the causes, of this complete, this utter, this awful failure? A failure under circumstances so extremely favourable that, to anyone having these circumstances set forth beforehand, failure of this kind would have seemed impossible. A failure, be it remembered, not confined to our country alone, but one which is also manifested, though usually with less intensity, in every civilised community. The cause must be a fundamental one. It cannot depend on anything in which one civilised community differs from another civilised community--on race or on religion, on government or on climate--for all suffer, though in very different degrees, and these differences of degree will perhaps afford an important clue to the true cause as well as to the true remedy.
How to Discover the Cause of our Social Failure.--The fundamental error shown to exist in our Social System may perhaps be detected by noting the leading idea which has governed all social and industrial legislation for the last fifty years, a period on the whole of enlightened and progressive government. That ruling idea seems to have been that whatever favours and assists the production of wealth, of whatever kind, and the accumulation of capital by individuals, necessarily advances the well-being of the whole community. This idea [[p. 12]] is seen in the constant references by public writers and public speakers to our increased trade and manufactures, to our enormous exports and imports, to the high price of our public funds, to the vast extent of our shipping, to the increased amount of Income Tax, and such like indications of growing wealth and accumulated capital. And it has found expression in most of the reforms in our fiscal and industrial legislation during the last half century--reforms which have been advocated on these grounds, and have been adopted by the Legislature with this avowed object. Of such a character are--the repeal of the coal duties, leading to the use of coal as ballast and an enormously increased export; the extensive enclosures of commons, and their division among the surrounding great landowners; the encouragement of railways, even when quite unprofitable; the opening of distant lands to our commerce, even at the expense of costly wars; the Limited Liability Act to favour the extension of Joint Stock Companies; the continued enlargement of our eastern possessions, and the acquisition of fresh additions to our already too extensive Colonial system. These, with many less important measures, all tending in the same direction and advocated for a similar purpose, have been successful even beyond expectation in adding to the total wealth of the country, and more especially to that of our hereditary landowners, great merchants, great capitalists, and astute speculators. The greatly increased wealth of these classes has added largely to the emoluments of the more successful professional men--lawyers and doctors--as well as to the profits of the more enterprising traders, and thus an upper middle class has arisen far exceeding in wealth and luxurious living anything before known in England or to be met with in any other European country. But none of these legislative acts, or the movements and tendencies of which they are the expression, have had any effect towards the diffusion or equalisation of wealth, or to the diminution of that large class ever hovering on the verge of [[p. 13]] pauperism; and (so far as I know) hardly any of our recognised teachers of political economy has pointed out that the increase in the number of very wealthy people or of great capitalists (which is what all our legislation favours), so far from being beneficial, is, in every respect, antagonistic to the well-being of the community at large.
The Injurious Effects of Excessive Wealth-Accumulation.--This question is far too large to be adequately discussed here, but a few words of explanation will serve to indicate the idea sought to be conveyed, and may offer materials for deep consideration. The wealth of a country is produced solely by the working population of that country, including in that term all who produce anything that tends to human enjoyment or well-being. The laws of supply and demand, with freedom of exchange, will regulate the distribution of the products of labour, and, if all were producers and all had free access to those natural powers and agencies which furnish the raw material for human labour, the well-being of all would be ensured, since the exchangeable wealth each man could produce would far exceed what is necessary to supply the ordinary wants of existence. That this is so is proved by the fact that even the poorest countries--the poorest parts of Ireland, for example--always produce a large surplus over and above what is required for the subsistence of the inhabitants, the amount of this surplus being measured by the sum total of rent, taxes and savings. Accumulated wealth, however, introduces a disturbing agency. Just in proportion as it becomes great and can be made to produce a permanent income by investment in land or in the public funds, it leads to the existence of a large and ever-increasing class of non-producers, who necessarily live on the labour of the rest, since there is no other source from which they can live. This will be clear if we consider that the owners of the invested wealth purchase goods and pay for labour with money which the workers first supply them with in [[p. 14]] the shape of rents for the use of land, and taxes to pay the interest on the public funds. It is clear, therefore, that all the wealth represented by these two sources is not real wealth, but, however it originated, is now merely taxation for the purpose of supporting a portion of the community without work.
This, however, is not the worst feature of such nominal wealth, for it has a tendency and a power to divert labour from the production of articles of use and beauty--beneficial wealth--to the production of such as minister only to luxury and amusement, often of a more or less wasteful and even degrading nature--injurious wealth. If we could reckon up the amount of human labour, physical and mental, expended on jewellery and fancy goods, on costly toys or elaborate displays of clothing and equipages, on horse-racing and yachting, on luxurious dinners and fashionable entertainments, we should arrive at an enormous sum total of wasted labour, energy and talent, all of which is positively injurious to the productive workers, since it is they who really have to support, by their ill-paid labour, not only the rich individually, but also that vast array of servants, artisans, and labourers, who in so many varied ways minister to their luxuries, their pleasures, or their vices. This argument is not intended to show that all accumulation of wealth is bad, for it is only by the accumulation of wealth in the form of reproductive capital that civilisation progresses; but merely that excessive wealth in the form of landed or funded property, which is perpetually transmitted from one generation to the next, is a perpetual and heavy tax on the producers of beneficial wealth.
Accumulated Wealth may be Beneficial or the Reverse.--Political economists, however, have glorified "capital" as the benefactor of mankind in general, and of the working-classes in particular; but they have not sufficiently distinguished between true productive capital--as expressed in roads and railways, mines, harbours, ships and buildings, machinery and tools, with [[p. 15]] a sufficient store of food, clothing and all other necessities of life--and the "capital" of the great fundholder or the great landholder, which, in both cases, is merely a power to appropriate the labour of others without any exertion on their part, a power not only to be supported themselves by the labour of the community, but to direct a large portion of that labour into wasteful, and even injurious, channels at their own will and pleasure. It is this latter form of capital that our recent increase in wealth has multiplied to a great and injurious extent--an extent to be measured by the immense number of persons of "independent means," the hosts who live in the "City" by the mere manipulation of money, and the general increase of luxury in dress and living among the wealthy classes.
We are here introduced to another great question, the justice or morality of permitting permanent burdens on the community to be created for temporary purposes. Such are the wars of one Government or generation, which remain as a burden on succeeding generations; but the principle is equally applicable to all expenditure which does not produce a permanent equivalent. Thus, in our railroads the only really permanent result of the capital expenditure is the earthwork; all the rest is temporary, requiring constant annual repairs and complete renewals at greater or less intervals. Yet the cost of a large proportion of these temporary works remains as a burden on the public long after they have been worn out, in the form of interest on capital and debenture stock, so that the present generation really pays twice over for much of what it enjoys. Honesty no less than sound policy would dictate that every expenditure not producing a permanent result should be repaid out of profits, by a sinking fund calculated at somewhat less than its probable duration. The result of not doing so is that the enormous capital of our railways and of many other great industrial enterprises to a considerable extent [[p. 16]] represents no actual existing wealth, and the interest paid on it is, therefore, a tax on the travelling community and on the shareholders, for which they receive no return whatever.
How Great Accumulations of Capital Affect the Labourer.--This, however, is a digression. Let us now come back to the primary question we were discussing, of the fundamental error of our legislators in favouring the accumulation of wealth rather than its wider distribution; and let us endeavour to see exactly how this affects the labourer, and how it leads to his poverty and pauperism amidst ever-increasing national wealth.
One of the most obvious causes which leads to this sad result is the almost complete dependence of the mass of labourers in this country (as in most civilised countries) on capitalists and landowners for the means of earning a livelihood. The absence of work for daily wages means for them starvation, since they have no other resource whatever. They are, therefore, not in a condition to refuse work, at whatever wages may be offered them, and the severe competition among capitalists and manufacturers for the means of employing their capital and adding to their wealth obliges them to force down the wages of unskilled labour to the lowest point at which the labourer can live. The labourers, as a class, are thus absolutely dependent on the comparatively few capitalists--dependent on their prudence, their capacity, their honesty, and their judgment--wholly dependent on the judicious application of capital, without having any voice or any direct or immediate interest in that application. They go blindly to any labour offered them; and when, owing to reckless competition, dishonest adulteration, foreign wars, and other causes, a time of depression arrives, they are helpless. They have no means of productive home industry, they have not even a home from which they cannot be ejected at any moment on failure to pay the weekly rent; they have no land, garden, or domestic animals, the produce of which might support them till fresh work could be [[p. 17]] obtained. If they have any savings these are soon spent, and they then inevitably fall into pauperism.
The Nature of the Remedy Suggested.--The remedy for these evils is sufficiently obvious, though how the remedy is to be generally applied is not so clear. The first great evil, of dependence on capitalists, would be remedied by small associated communities of workmen, by home manufactures, or co-operative workshops. The second evil, that the labourer has no independence, no fixed home, nothing to fall back on in time of depression, nothing on which to employ his spare time and that of his family, can only be cured by giving to every labourer freedom to enjoy and cultivate a portion of his native soil. It is by this latter reform alone that the first will be rendered possible. By it the great and important class of agricultural labourers may be at once raised from chronic pauperism to comparative affluence, comfort, and independence. By it the mechanic or artisan may find a refuge from distress when his industrial occupation temporarily fails him; while the enormously increased production of food, caused by every labourer and peasant possessing land, would at once renovate the home commerce and internal resources of the country so as to render prosperous many domestic industries now languishing. It will be shown in the present volume, by the unvarying experience of all civilised nations, that the most important of all classes of labourers for the permanent prosperity of a country are those who occupy and cultivate their own land. Just in proportion as this class is extensive and varied--comprising the wealthy farmer on the one hand and the agricultural labourer with an acre or two of ground on the other--so is the country free from poverty and the people prosperous and contented; and it is because this class is so rare with us, and especially because our labourers have for generations past been more and more divorced from the soil, that we are in the disgraceful position of being at once the wealthiest and most [[p. 18]] pauperised country in Europe--that, while boasting of our religion and our philanthropy, a large proportion of our labourers live in cottages and hovels that, by the most competent authorities, have been again and again declared unfit for human habitation, necessarily leading to disease and vice, and altogether unparalleled in the civilised world for every bad quality a dwelling can possess. The facts are so uniform in character and so clearly point to one conclusion, that nothing but the circumstance of our legislators having a vested interest in the existing state of things could have so long delayed the clear perception of the causes of the evil. For not only does the same system of land-tenure always coincide with the same social phenomena, but when the system has been changed the social condition has undergone a corresponding change. This has notably been the case with France before and since the Revolution--with Prussia before and since the reform effected by Stein and Hardenberg--and with Denmark before and since the somewhat similar change of land tenure which has been effected during the present century; though it must be noted that in none of these countries had the evils of landlordism ever attained the same proportions as with us. Neither our reform of Parliament, our Free Trade policy, our vast emigration, our enormous manufacturing system, our widespread colonial empire, our maritime supremacy, nor our unprecedented accumulations of capital, have had any apparent effect in elevating our labouring classes or securing them even that measure of well-being and contentment which they attain in every country where the land is widely held and cultivated by them. We are, therefore, warranted in concluding that, in order to effect a real and vital improvement in the condition of the great mass of the English nation, not only as regards physical well-being, but also socially, intellectually, and morally, we must radically change our system of land-tenure. It is when the cultivator of the soil is its virtual owner, and all the [[p. 19]] products of his labour as well as the increased value he can confer upon the land are his own, that the maximum of human food is produced by it, the maximum of human enjoyment is derived from its cultivation, while the cultivator is, as a rule, healthy, moral and contented. In order that the largest possible number of the people may be thus benefited, and that the evils necessarily resulting from the opposite system of landlordism may be totally abolished, it is essential that the ownership of land, merely as a source of income from its rent or for commercial speculation, shall cease, and a system be substituted for it which shall make every farmer and every occupier, large or small, the virtual (but for reasons to be afterwards explained, not the absolute or unrestricted) owner of the land he cultivates or dwells upon. If the facts which lead us to this conclusion are as above stated--and an overwhelming mass of evidence will be adduced that they are so--it follows that the present system of land-tenure in this country is incompatible with the national well-being, and that every enlightened legislator, every lover of truth and justice, and every true philanthropist is bound to seek the means of changing it.
Scope of the Present Inquiry.--In the present volume I propose, as briefly as is consistent with a clear presentation of the question, to lay before my readers a sketch of the condition of the different parts of our own country and of other civilised lands as regards land-tenure, and of the corresponding effects. I shall then point out the conclusions to which the facts invariably lead us, and shall show how the evils under which we suffer may be most effectually and justly remedied. My proposals will be founded entirely on the facts recorded by the best and most impartial authorities, and I claim for my work a purely inductive character. But there is another and a most important mode of discussing the same question as a strictly scientific problem, deducing results from the admitted principles and data of political economy. This has been done [[p. 20]] with great force of logic and wealth of illustration in Mr. George's work already alluded to. His conclusions support and his mode of argument supplements my own, and I shall, therefore, give a short summary of the essential part of his book before explaining in detail my practical scheme of Land Nationalisation.
1. The total annual value and rental of the landed property of the Kingdom given in the new Doomsday Book, is £131,470,360, but this appears to include the rental of all the buildings, factories, houses, &c. on the land, while it excludes the whole of London where land is of fabulous value. The above estimate, therefore, is probably below the mark as the rental value of the land itself of the United Kingdom. That the increase in the value of land during the present century is not overstated in the first paragraph, appears from a recent Return of the Board of Inland Revenue, which gives the gross value of Land, Tenements, and Tithes assessed to Income Tax in Great Britain, as £58,751,479 in 1814-15, and £172,136,183 in 1879-80, being an increase of almost threefold in sixty-five years. [[on p. 2]]
2. The average number of paupers in England and Wales on the 1st of January for the twelve years 1849-1860 was 863,338, and for the twelve years 1869-1880 it was 864,398. The numbers were lowest in 1876-78 and in 1853, while they continued at a maximum during the period from 1863 to 1873, when it averaged over a million; and it is very curious that this was the very period when our commerce was increasing so rapidly as to excite the admiration and pride of our legislators, reaching the highest point it has ever attained in the last-named year. Our population has of course been increasing all this time, and therefore the percentage of official pauperism has decreased, sometimes rapidly, sometimes very slowly. But it must be remembered that there are many causes which have been increasingly in operation during the period we are considering, all of which have a tendency to diminish the official number of paupers, even though the actual percentage of pauperism has increased. First, and perhaps most important, is the increasing perception among all poor-law officials of the evils of outdoor relief, which at once encourages improvidence and affords opportunities for deception. Year by year the poor-law has been worked with increased stringency in this respect, and this alone must have largely reduced the official record of paupers relieved. The establishment of casual wards for the relief of vagrants is another comparatively recent movement which has tended to diminish the list of official paupers. At the same time there has been a continually increasing movement among philanthropists for the relief by private charity of true cases of distress. Such associations as the Charity Organisation Society, the Mendicity Society, the Metropolitan Visiting and Relief Association, and many others, indicate the amount of systematic efforts in relief of poverty and prevention of pauperism, while year by year we find new institutions formed to succour all those who fall into unmerited poverty. If the increasing effects of all these causes and agencies could be fully estimated, it would probably be found that they are more than sufficient to account for the nominal decrease in the percentage of pauperism, while their mere enumeration is sufficient to indicate that a reference to the official statistics of pauperism, however accurate these may be, does not prove that pauperism is diminishing, or even demonstrate that it is not actually increasing. [[on p. 4]]
3. There seems to be no means of getting at the exact amount of the steam-power now employed in Great Britain. A writer in the Radical newspaper states it at two million horse power. Mr. Thomas Briggs in The Peacemaker states that "in 1851 we had steam machinery which represented 500 million pair of hands," but I am informed he means by this the number which would be required to do the same work by the old hand-power machines. In a periodical called Design and Work (Vol. X. 1881), it is stated that England now employs 9 million horse-power. Taking this last estimate (which has been found for me by Mr. Anderson, one of the intelligent attendants in the British Museum Reading Room) as approximately correct, we have a power equal to 90 million men. One half our population (15 millions) consists of children and persons wholly dependent on the labours of others, and from the remainder we may deduct all the professional, literary, and independent classes, the army and navy, financiers and speculators, government officials, and most tradesmen and shopkeepers--none of whom are producers of wealth. Taking these, together with criminals, paupers, and tramps, at 6 millions, we have left 9 millions who do all the productive physical labour of the country, while the steam power at work for us is at least ten times as much. [[on p. 6]]
4. "Progress and Poverty," by Henry George (p. 1, 2), a work which only became known to the present writer after the greater part of the MSS. of this volume was completed. [[on p. 9]]
5. "The British Labourer," p. 7, 1865. In order to show that these statements of Professor Fawcett are as true now as when he wrote, I will quote a few passages from a speech of Mr. Jesse Collings, M.P., at Ipswich, in October last year. He says:--"I have spent some time during the last two months in going down to the South of England to see what the increase of the labourers' wages has been. I visited districts in Worcestershire, in Hampshire, in Warwickshire, and in Wiltshire, and I found the labourer getting 10s. a week, and in one large district the men are at this moment receiving 9s. a week, out of which they have to pay 1s. 6d. a week rent, and as I sat by the hedge-side with them they would make their dinner off bread and an onion. I felt serious then; and at night when I went into their cottages, as I have done scores of times, and found the everlasting bread again for their children and themselves, with no comfort in the present, no pleasant retrospect of the past, [[p. 11]] no apparent hope for the future--one might well be a serious politician. I went into one lovely village, for the villages are lovely in England, and one regrets to see men driven from them; and there again the mother was in mourning for her child who had died of disease. I came away and called it starvation." And when doubt was thrown on his statements Mr. Collings in reply said:--"I have spent considerable time to satisfy myself; my utterance has not been mere hearsay. Go through Wiltshire, Hampshire, Worcestershire, Devonshire, and Somersetshire. There, I say, outside the influence of the towns, there are at this moment men and women with families living on 10s. a week, with no art, no science, no literature, to enlighten their lives; nothing but the everlasting grind of human toil for them." [[on pp. 10-11]]
ANTIQUITY OF OUR PRESENT SYSTEM CAUSES IT TO APPEAR A NATURAL ONE--ANTIQUITY OF A SYSTEM NO PROOF OF ITS VALUE--ORIGIN OF BRITISH LAND TENURE--CHARACTERISTICS OF THE FEUDAL SYSTEM--GROWTH OF MODERN LANDLORDISM--THE LEGAL POWERS EXERCISED BY LANDLORDS--OUR LAND SYSTEM IS A MODIFIED FEUDALISM, IN WHICH THE LANDLORDS HAVE THROWN THEIR BURDENS ON THE PEOPLE, WHOSE RIGHTS IN THE LAND THEY HAVE ABSORBED.
The present tenure of land in this country is of such antiquity, it has so grown with the progress of society, and has become so interwoven with all the elements of rural, social, and political life, that to many persons the very conception of any other system is difficult, if not impossible. That land should be private property; that it should be bought and sold for pleasure or profit; that any man should be allowed to possess all that he inherits or is able to purchase; that it should be rented out to those who cultivate it; and that the owner should let it subject to whatever restrictions or stipulations he thinks proper--seem, to most people, not only natural but right; and even those who suffer by this state of things--the farmer who is injuriously restricted in his cultivation, or is turned out of his farm because he has voted against his landlord or otherwise offended him; and the labourer who sees the bit of green [[p. 21]] enclosed on which his father's donkey and geese used to run, who is liable to be turned out of his home at a week's notice, and who is obliged to walk three miles to his daily labour because there are no spare cottages in his employer's parish--rarely trace these evils to the general system of land-tenure, but rather to some deficiency in the character or conduct of their immediate landlords.
Antiquity of a System no Proof of its Value.--It is generally supposed that, when any system or institution has grown up with the growth of society, has persisted notwithstanding vast social and political changes, and has become interwoven with the very texture of a nation's life, it must necessarily be good in itself and adapted to the conditions under which it flourishes. But this is by no means universally, or even generally, the case; and it often happens that the worst evils inherent in a system may be so disguised by the good qualities of those who administer it that it is borne with long after its ill consequences are, in many cases, admitted. Sooner or later, however, the eyes of the people are opened to its faults; remedies of various kinds are proposed; and when all these remedies are resisted by those who benefit by the institution, a revolution sweeps away the whole, and a new system is introduced which is often far less beneficial or perfect than a carefully considered constitutional reform. Thus, despotic governments, notwithstanding their respectable antiquity, have in time to be modified by representative institutions, or are entirely destroyed in the throes of rebellion or revolution. Thus, too, slavery--the most ancient of all institutions, and one which has formed part of the essential character and social life of many communities--everywhere has to be abolished with advancing civilisation, if not voluntarily and peacefully, then by violence or civil war. So feudalism, with its accompanying remnant of serfdom, has been gradually modified in all civilised countries, while with us some of its essential [[p. 22]] features persist in the vast landed estates held by private individuals, and in the almost despotic power which the owners are able to exercise (and sometimes do actually exercise) over the population--a power so great that the supreme authority of the State is often unable to protect individuals in the occupation of their ancestral homes, in the right to live among the scenes of their childhood, or even in the possession of property created by their own industry.
Let us, then, see if there is anything in the history of modern landlordism which entitles it to continue to exist for ever, even though it may be shown to be incompatible with freedom, and adverse to the best interests of the people.
Origin of British Land-Tenure.--The actual system of land-tenure and all existing rights of property in land of this country may be said to have originated at the Norman Conquest, when the whole land of the kingdom became vested in the Crown. All the great landed estates were then granted as fiefs by the sovereign, and their holders were obliged to render military and other service proportionate to the extent and population of their lands. These estates were also subject to various fines, on marriage or on transmission to an heir; they were not allowed to be sold or alienated without the permission of the Sovereign; and on the death of the owner without heirs the whole reverted to the Crown. Any breach of fealty, or the commission of any act of felony, also entailed the loss of the estate. The great vassals were usually endowed with civil and criminal jurisdiction over the inhabitants of their estates, and were altogether more in the position of subordinate rulers than mere landlords in the modern sense of the term.
These immediate vassals of the Crown again granted lands in fief, on various payments or services, and in process of time these fiefs were allowed to be divided or sold, and the payment or service to be commuted for fixed sums of money. Military service, too, gradually ceased, and was changed into [[p. 23]] annual payments, which are now only represented by the small, fixed, land-tax; so that the greater part of the land of the kingdom became "freehold"--implying that it was "held" from the Crown "free" from all military service, dues and fines, and subject only to a fixed annual payment.
Characteristics of the Feudal System.--The system which was thus established was evidently very different from that of landlord and tenant at the present day. The great landlords were actual vassals of the Crown and subordinate rulers. They held their estates subject to military service; and this implied that the population on the land was the first essential, since this was the measure of its power in providing capable men-at-arms. Their tenants, the villeins or cultivators, held their farms subject to certain services, military or otherwise, and to the payment of certain dues; and these farms were held for life, and descended from father to son or other relation on payment of certain fines to the lord, whence, it is believed, arose the copyhold tenures by which so many small estates are held to this day. In those times the land was of less value than the men who lived on it, and the animal or vegetable produce of the land of less importance than the population of hardy villeins, who enhanced the lord's dignity, increased his revenues, and kept up the supply of his armed followers. The landowner then lived upon his estate, and his own power and influence in the country depended chiefly on the number and the well being of his tenants. Together they formed a little quasi-independent community, bound to each other by mutual interests and ancestral ties; and if the tenants were sometimes oppressed by their lords, they were as often guarded from robbery and plunder by wandering marauders, or saved from complete destruction during baronial feuds or civil wars.
Growth of Modern Landlordism.--During this rude period of our history, when the Central Government was lax and the means of communication imperfect, the feudal system possessed [[p. 24]] many advantages, and was, in some form or other, almost the only one possible. The "lords of the soil" were the chiefs and protectors of the community which lived on their estates, while every individual, down to the villein and serf, possessed definite rights and privileges in connection with the land, which, though they might be infringed by force or rapine, were fully recognised by custom and law.
But as time rolled on this system became modified in a variety of ways, though always for the benefit of the lord and to the injury of the inferior landholder. As the King obtained more power and the attractions of court life became greater, the nobles and great landowners came to look upon their estates chiefly as sources of revenue to be spent in the capital or in foreign lands. The employment of foreign mercenaries and the rise of standing armies enabled the King to dispense with the military service of his vassals, and by self-made laws this and other burdens on the land were gradually thrown off, and were replaced to a great extent by taxes on the mercantile and landless classes. The ingenuity of lawyers and direct landlord legislation steadily increased the powers of great landowners and encroached upon the rights of the people, till at length the monstrous doctrine arose that a landless Englishman has no right whatever to the enjoyment even of the unenclosed commons and heaths and the mountain and forest wastes of his native country, but is everywhere, in the eye of the law, a trespasser whenever he ventures off a public road or pathway. The Lord of the Manor is said to be the "owner of the soil," and the surrounding freeholders and copyholders have certain rights of pasture, fern or turf cutting; but the dwellers in the adjacent towns and villages, and all who are mere Englishmen, have no rights whatever, so that if the two former classes agree, the common can be (as hundreds of commons have been) enclosed, and divided among them. It has thus come to pass that at the present day the owners of land, whether acquired by [[p. 25]] inheritance or purchase, treat it solely as so much property, to be made the most of, quite irrespective of any rights in the people who live upon it. They now claim a power which no government, however despotic, has ever openly claimed--that of treating the land exclusively as a source of personal wealth, to which they have an indefeasible right, even at the sacrifice of all that the people who live upon the land hold most dear; and having rendered the exercise of this power legal by means of self-made laws and customs, they have at length come to look upon acts of oppression and cruelty of the most glaring kind as not only right, but such as are not incompatible with the condition and feelings of a people who pride themselves upon their freedom.
We find, then, neither in the origin of our land-system nor in the causes which have led to its present development, anything to render it sacred or immutable; but, on the contrary, very much to show that a radical change is needed to bring it into harmony with modern ideas, and to render possible the full use and enjoyment of the land of our country by the people who must necessarily inhabit it. Absolute private property in land logically carried out, denies the right of non-landholding Englishmen to live upon their native soil, except by sufferance and under conditions imposed by the will or caprice of the landlords. This power is, on the whole, moderately used, or the institution would have been long ago abolished in the throes of revolution. But it is not unfrequently exercised, and even abused, to the injury of individuals and of the community; and, as the sufferers have no legal redress, the institution itself stands thereby condemned.
The Legal Powers Claimed and Exercised by Modern Landlords.--Before proceeding (in the three following chapters) to exhibit in some detail the influence of landlordism on individuals and on the community at large, a few general observations and illustrative examples may here be given; but before doing so I wish to state, emphatically, that I have no desire to excite any [[p. 26]] ill-feeling against landowners as a body, or to make any accusation against them personally; still less is it my intention to propose any measure of confiscation as against existing landlords. The law places them in an anomalous position. It tells them that their rights over their land are absolute. They could, if it so pleased them, turn it into a waste given up wholly to wild animals, or might even destroy its surface-soil and convert it into a desert uninhabitable by man or beast. In doing this they might expatriate hundreds of families, and even cause many to die of exposure, want, or grief; and all this time the Government and the Law would stand by with no power to interfere. They would be acting within their legal rights. Public opinion would, no doubt, in such extreme cases condemn them, yet there are many who exercise similar rights to a partial extent; and so deadening is the influence of long custom and legal sanction that, whenever it can be shown that the result is profitable commercially, apologists are to be found who uphold the action as beneficial.
Mr. James Godkin well remarks: "According to this theory of proprietorship, the only one recognised by law, Lord Lansdowne may legally spread desolation over a large part of Kerry; Lord Fitzwilliam may send the ploughshare of ruin through the hearths of half the county Wicklow; Lord Digby, in the King's County, may restore to the bog of Allen vast tracts reclaimed during many generations by the labour of his tenants; and Lord Hertford may turn into a wilderness the district which the English settlers have converted into the garden of Ulster. If any or all of these noblemen took a fancy, like Colonel Bernard, of Kinnilty, and Mr. Allen, of Pollok, to become graziers and cattle-jobbers on a gigantic scale, the Government would be compelled to place the military power of the State at their disposal, to evict the whole population in the Queen's name, to drive all the families away from their homes, to demolish their dwellings, and turn them adrift on the highway, [[p. 27]] without one shilling compensation. Villages, schools, churches would all disappear from the landscape; and when the grouse season arrived, the noble owner might bring over a party of English friends to see his improvements! The right of conquest so cruelly exercised by the Cromwellians, is in this year of grace a legal right; and its exercise is a mere question of expediency and discretion. It is not law or justice, it is not British power that prevents the enactment of Cromwellian scenes of desolation in every county of that unfortunate island. It is self-interest, with humanity in the hearts of good men, and the dread of assassination in the hearts of bad men, that prevent at the present moment the immolation of the Irish people to the Moloch of territorial despotism. It is the effort to render impossible those human sacrifices, those holocausts of Christian households, that the priests of feudal landlordism denounce so frantically with loud cries of 'confiscation.' " ("The Land War in Ireland," p. 210.)1
It may be thought that such cases as are here supposed are altogether imaginary, but it is not so. The Daily News special commissioner, a writer by no means unfavourable to the cause of the landlords, says, writing from Mayo (Oct. 30th, 1880):--"Tradesmen, farmers, and all the less wealthy part of the community still speak sorely of the evictions of thirty and forty years ago, and point out the graveyards which alone mark the sites of thickly-populated hamlets abolished by the crowbar. All over this part of the country people complain bitterly of the loneliness. According to their view, their friends have been swept away and the country reduced to a desert in order that it might be let in blocks of several square miles each to Englishmen and Scotchmen, who employ the land for grazing purposes only, and perhaps a score or two of people where once a [[p. 28]] thousand lived--after a fashion." The writer then goes on to explain that this was done in order that the landlords might get their rents more securely and more easily, even though the rents were somewhat less than those paid by the former occupants; and he seems to think that they acted very reasonably and that no one had any right to complain! Mr. Jonathan Pim, in his "Condition and Prospects of Ireland" (1848) says:--"Sometimes ejectments have been effected on a large scale. The inhabitants of whole villages have been turned adrift at once, without a home to go to, without the prospect of employment, or any certain means of subsistence." And one of the witnesses before the Devon Commission thus describes the condition of many of these poor people and the general results of that "consolidation of farms" which landlords and agents are said to approve so highly:--"It would be impossible for language to convey an idea of the state of distress to which the ejected tenantry have been reduced, or of the disease, misery, and even vice, which they have propagated in the towns wherein they have settled; so that not only they who have been ejected have been rendered miserable, but they have carried with them and propagated that misery. They have increased the stock of labour, they have rendered the habitations of those who received them more crowded, they have given occasion to the dissemination of disease, they have been obliged to resort to theft and all manner of vice and iniquity to procure subsistence; but, what is perhaps the most painful of all, a vast number of them have perished of want."2
Nor are these cruel evils confined to Ireland. A little more than half a century ago, the estate of the Marquis of Stafford in Sutherland, comprising 800,000 acres, or about two-thirds of the whole county, was forcibly cleared of a population of 15,000 herdsmen and farmers, in order to turn it into [[p. 29]] enormous sheep farms with a shepherd per square mile. Other landlords have since followed this example, till about 2,000,000 of acres, once crowded with farms and cottages in all the valleys, are now reduced to a vast desert wholly given up to sheep-runs and deer-forests. The amount of misery and destitution, and the various physical and social evils produced by this depopulation of the Highlands will be sketched in another chapter. We here adduce it only as an example of that terrible power over their fellow creatures which absolute property in land gives to individuals who possess large estates; and that this power is actually used with the most unsparing rigour, sometimes to obtain an increased or a more certain rental, sometimes in pursuance of views supposed to be in accordance with the teachings of political economy, sometimes merely to provide an extensive hunting-ground.
Our Land System is a modified Feudalism, in which the Landlords have Thrown their Burdens on the People whose Rights in the Land they have Absorbed.--I have now shown, by a few striking examples, that the land system under which we actually live is an abnormal development of feudalism, in which almost all the customary rights and privileges of the serfs, villeins, or tenants have been encroached upon and finally destroyed, while the great landowners under the Crown have, by means of self-made laws and customs, gradually absorbed the rights of the people, till they have become true land-lords, not only claiming, but actually exercising, such absolute rights of property in the soil that their fellow subjects can only live upon it at all by their gracious permission. And these terrible rights are not only theoretically permitted, but are actually enforced by all the executive power of the State whenever the landlord so wills! It only needs to state these facts to show, that the system which permits so vast and injurious a despotism in the midst of free institutions is radically wrong and cannot much longer be upheld; and if in exposing the evils of the system [[p. 30]] we are obliged to refer to the general or special results of landlordism, it is simply because the exposure can be made in no other way. The institution itself is necessarily evil--in the present state of society--just as slavery is necessarily evil; and this quite independently of the goodness or badness of individual landlords or slave-owners. But just as the evils of slavery would never have been generally acknowledged in our time if it had not been for the horrors resulting from the unrestrained passions of bad or careless or wealth-seeking slave-owners, so the evils of unrestricted private property in land can be best brought before the public by showing the effects it is calculated to produce, and does actually produce, in the hands of wealth-seeking capitalists and despotic landlords.
1. This power still remains to the landlord in England and Scotland though the recent Land Act has abolished it in Ireland. [[on p. 27]]
2. Parl. Rep. 1845, vol. xix, page 19. [[on p. 28]]
IRELAND AFFORDS EXAMPLES OF ALL THE EVILS THAT ARISE FROM PRIVATE PROPERTY IN LAND--ORIGIN OF IRISH LANDLORDISM--TENANT-RIGHT--CONFISCATION BY LANDLORDS--CONDITION OF THE IRISH COTTIER--FACTS IN POSSESSION OF THE LEGISLATURE FOR THIRTY YEARS; THE DEVON COMMISSION--GOVERNMENT NEGLECTS ITS FIRST DUTY--EVICTIONS AFTER THE FAMINE--SUGGESTED REMEDIES OF IRISH DISTRESS--CONTINUED BLINDNESS AND INCOMPETENCE OF THE LEGISLATURE--TREMENDOUS POWER OF AGENTS OVER THE TENANTS--THE CONDITION OF THE PEOPLE UNDER IRISH LANDLORDISM.
No part of the British Isles offers such striking examples of every kind of evil that results from unrestricted private property in land as Ireland. In that unfortunate country we find some of the largest estates; the greatest number of absentee landlords; the most complex settlements, perpetual leases, and other incumbrances; middlemen and sub-tenants in every variety; the greatest uncertainty of tenure; the most reckless competition [[p. 31]] for land; the most extravagant rack-rents; and the most merciless appropriation by the landlords of the improvements and actual property of the tenants. Nowhere else in our country do we find the land so generally treated as mere rent-producing property; nowhere else do a considerable proportion of the landowners exhibit an almost complete disregard for the welfare, or even the existence, of the native agricultural population.
Origin of Irish Landlordism.--The history of this island as regards the ownership of its land is a most distressing one, the greater portion of the country having been confiscated since the reign of Henry VIII. Extensive grants of land were made to court favourites or to successful soldiers, reign after reign; and every fresh rebellion of the oppressed people led to fresh confiscations and other transfers of land. Many of the new owners, not wishing to reside in the country, leased the land in perpetuity or for a very long term, at a low rent. The first leaseholder often again leased or subdivided the land, and this was sometimes repeated several times before coming to the actual cultivator. As an example, a townland in the county of Roscommon containing about 600 acres is owned by an English nobleman, but is leased in perpetuity for £30 rent. This first leaseholder has again leased it in perpetuity at £200 per annum. This third landlord has divided it, one man paying £150 a year rent for about one-third of the whole; and this fourth holder has divided a portion of his part among sixteen families, who are the actual cultivators of the soil. The superior landlords and leaseholders of course care nothing about the tenants, and have no interest in their welfare or in the condition of the estate, since their rents are amply secured and can never be increased; while the last middleman, who is landlord to the actual tenants, has a high rent to pay himself, and is obliged to let his land to the highest bidders in order to secure a profit. This is an actual case brought before the Relief Committee of the Society of Friends at the time of the [[p. 32]] great famine, and it is stated that the same condition of things, variously modified, is to be met with in all parts of the country.1 Still more prejudicial is the fact that most of the large estates are under strict settlement, so that the actual owners have only a life interest in them; and as the estates are often laden with mortgages and family charges, it is impossible for the landlord, even if so disposed, to improve the land or to be lenient to his tenants. To add to the evil, most estates are managed by agents in the absence of the proprietors; and as their reputation and continued employment depends upon their success in collecting rents and punctuality in sending remittances, they are compelled to use all the powers the law gives them against defaulting tenants.
Tenant-Right.--The most fertile source of agrarian disturbances in Ireland has been the general practice of leaving the occupier of the land to do everything that is done in the way of improvement--everything that is required to render the land capable of cultivation at all. The landlord usually does nothing but take rent. The whole process of changing the land from stony mountain slopes or boggy pastures into cultivated fields has been done by successive tenants. The tenants have made the fences, the roads, and the gates, they have dug the ditches and drains, and have even erected the farm houses and buildings. Of course they could not do this at all without some security or belief that they should enjoy it for a time, and thus arose a general custom, to consider the occupier as a co-partner with the landlord, who not only had a moral claim to the continued occupation of the land which he had reclaimed or improved, but who could also sell his share to a succeeding tenant or transmit it to his heirs. There have always, however, been some landowners who, either on account of their necessities or their greed, have refused to recognise [[p. 33]] this just claim, and have, at every opportunity, raised the rent to the full value of the tenants' improvements. Instances of this were common at the beginning of the century and appear to have increased rather than diminished to the present day; and they have naturally led to a feeling of utter insecurity in the smaller class of occupiers, who would rather remain idle than labour at any improvements which would only lead to an increase of their rent. Let us give a few examples of this legalised oppression and robbery from Mr. Tuke's moderate and trustworthy pamphlet, "Irish Distress and its Remedies" (1880).
Confiscation by Landlords.--At Glenties, in Donegal, a man took a piece of bog at a rent of £2 a year. This he fenced, drained, and cultivated, turning a wilderness into a tidy little farm, and was thereupon made to pay nearly four times the original rent for it. In another case, in Ulster, a man built a corn mill on land belonging to one of the London Companies. When the lease expired the rent was somewhat raised, but of this he did not complain, and again added to the value of the property by building a flax-mill. The rent was again raised and then the Company sold the land. The new purchaser still further raised the rent. This was too much to bear, so the occupier determined to sell his tenant-right; but the agent of the new owner declared at the sale that the rent would be still further raised to the purchaser, and this caused the tenant-right to bring far less than it would otherwise have done. This old man, thus robbed of what on every moral and equitable principle was his own property, then emigrated to America with his family, carrying with him the bitterest animosity against his oppressors and against the Government which allowed the oppression.
None cry out so loudly as landowners against any law which may possibly diminish the selling value of their property, however beneficial such law may be to the whole country. [[p. 34]] They exclaim against it as "confiscation." Yet they have allowed (as legislators) such cruel confiscation as this, which brings endless evils in its train. For these are not exceptional cases; indeed, a Member of Parliament recently stated with truth that there are "tens of thousands of instances where tenants paying five shillings an acre were evicted by their landlords that the landlords might let their occupations at a pound an acre, the increased value being entirely due to the labour expended upon the land by the evicted tenants." And then we wonder at the misery, and idleness, and deceit of the Irish peasantry! Why, it is forced upon them. They dare not become prosperous or look prosperous for fear of increased rent. Thus, they often live in filth. They come to the rent-audit in their worst clothes. They pay the rent in shillings and sixpences, to give the appearance of having collected it with the greatest difficulty. And they will be idle half the winter rather than improve their hovels, or mend their fences, or make any permanent improvement in their holdings. It is true that there are many good landlords who never commit such robbery; but good landlords do not live for ever, and are sometimes obliged to sell their property, and then the tenant's security is gone. It is just as it was in the days of American slavery. The good master did not voluntarily sell his slaves or part husband and wife, parent and child; but there was no security that at any moment they might not be transferred to a new owner who would do both.
Condition of the Irish Cottier.--The modern Irish cottier really lives in a state of hopeless and helpless degradation, comparable to that of the least fortunate serfs of the Middle Ages, who were not only subject to the payment of hard dues to their lord, but upon any appearance of wealth or even comfort were subject to extortion by the lord's followers or plunder by armed marauders. They were obliged to be poor and miserable to escape robbery. Ireland is a nation of small [[p. 35]] cultivators. There are 400,000 holdings under 30 acres, and 30,000 under 15 acres, while there are 156,000 mud cabins of only one room occupied by 228,000 families!2 Probably nowhere in the whole world is there a people living in such a state of degradation and barbarism under a civilised or even a semi-civilised government; and this is the direct result of pure landlordism, making its own laws, and carrying them out in its own way. It is a universal law that security to enjoy the produce of a man's labour is the only incentive to industry, and that incentive has been systematically denied to the Irish peasant. The injustice, the cruelty, the shortsightedness of this system had been urged again and again on our legislators, but wholly without effect, till the terrible calamity of the potato disease in 1846 and 1847, and the horrible events that ensued, forced them into action. But even then, so blind were they to the real cause of the evil, so convinced that landlordism was itself a perfect dispensation, that, instead of giving the occupier security for his labour, they established the Encumbered Estates Court as their great remedy, which, as is now universally admitted, only increased the evil, and gave the authority of an Act of Parliament to further confiscations of tenants' property. Mr. Tuke says: "It is notorious that the rights of the tenants were disregarded, and that this disregard was the occasion of grievous wrong in numerous instances, sometimes when the tenants were evicted without compensation to make room for new comers, and sometimes when the rents were raised by the new purchasers, with entire disregard to the peculiar position of the Irish tenant. It has often been noticed that the rack-rented estates are generally not the estates of the old Irish proprietors, in which the rents are for the most part moderate in amount, but estates purchased under the Act by speculators, who have resold them, after increasing the rental enormously." Can [[p. 36]] there be a more striking proof of the blindness and ignorance of those legislators who, against all evidence and repeated warnings, left the Irish peasantry to the tender mercies of new landlords armed with all the powers of the law, and were unable to see that the land of a country with the population dependent on it ought not to be subject to unrestricted sale and purchase, or to be allowed to minister to the reckless greed of capitalists and speculators.
The Devon Commission, 1847.--The Legislature which passed the Encumbered Estates Act as a sufficient remedy for all the evils of the Irish land-system had before it the elaborate Report and Digest of Evidence of the Commission on the Occupation of Land in Ireland. This report, dated 1847, says: "It is admitted on all hands that, according to the general practice in Ireland, the landlord builds neither dwelling-house nor farm-offices, nor puts fences, gates, &c., into good order, before he lets the land to a tenant. The cases in which the landlord does any of these things are the exception." And with regard to the custom of tenant-right in Ulster, where the improvements made by the occupier are allowed to be sold by him to the incoming tenant, the same Report says: "Anomalous as this custom is, if considered with reference to all the ordinary notions of property, it must be admitted that the district in which it prevails has thriven and improved, in comparison with other parts of the country."
In the Digest of Evidence taken before the same Commission we find this weighty and important statement:--
"If a substantial security were offered to the occupying tenant for his judicious permanent improvements, a rapid change for the better would take place--a change calculated to increase the strength of the Empire and the tranquility of this country; to improve the food, raiment, and house-accommodation of the population; to remove that paralysis of industry which the sworn evidence of nearly every tenant, and of [[p. 37]] numerous landlords, examined on the subject, has proved to exist; to call into operation the active exertions of every occupier of land upon his farm; to add about five months in each year to the reproductive occupation of farmers and labourers, which are now passed in idly consuming produce, accumulating debts, or, for want of better employment, perhaps, in fomenting disturbance."
It is the want of this security that is the sole cause of those agrarian disturbances which for more than a century have been perennial in Ireland. This is authoritatively stated in the same Digest of Evidence, which tells us that "the great majority of outrages appear to have arisen from the endeavours of the peasantry to convert the possession of land into an indefeasible title," and that "in the northern counties, the general recognition of the tenant-right has prevented the frequent recurrence of these crimes." And again, the Report emphatically states: "The tenant's equitable right to a remuneration for his judiciously-invested labour and capital is not likely to be disputed in the abstract. This property is, undoubtedly, his own." And it adds:
"The importance and absolute necessity of securing to the occupying tenant in Ireland some distinct mode of remuneration for the judicious permanent improvements that he may effect upon his farm is sustained by a greater weight of concurrent evidence than any other subject which has been brought under the investigation of the Commissioners;" and "The want of some measure of remuneration for tenants' improvements has been variously stated as productive, directly or indirectly, of most of the social evils of the country." And again we have this important statement: "It has been shown that the master evil--poverty--proceeds from the fact of occupiers of land withholding the investment of labour and capital from the ample and profitable field for it which lies within their reach on the farms they occupy; that this [[p. 38]] hesitation is attributable to the reasonable disinclination to invest labour or capital on the property of others without a security that adequate remuneration shall be derived from the investment."
The Report goes on to show that "the barbarous and unprofitable mode of tillage" is all due to this uncertainty that the tenants shall be allowed to reap the fruits of their labour; that many lucrative agricultural improvements may be made "without the investment of money capital, but merely by the judicious application of time and labour of his family, which are now wasted, whilst he is complaining that employment cannot be had;" that the larger farmers have the same ample opportunity of employing labourers on similar works, with a certainty of the most profitable results; but this is rarely done, "because they have no certainty of being permitted to reap the benefit of their expenditure," while, if tenants-at-will, "they may be immediately removed from the improved lands, after having invested their labour and capital, without receiving any compensation, or their rent may be raised to the full value of the improvements thus effected."
Yet with all these striking facts and authoritative statements before them--facts and statements, be it remembered, not of philanthropists or political economists, but of a Parliamentary Commission composed exclusively of landlords, who, with great labour, had collected this evidence for the express information of the Legislature--no provision whatever was made to secure the tenant's right to the property created by himself, but his position was in many cases rendered far worse than before by the sale of thousands of estates to the highest bidders, who thereby obtained full legal power to seize and confiscate for their own use the wealth created by the life-long labours of Irish tenants! Is it possible to imagine a more cruel mockery than this? Can there be a more complete condemnation of government by landlords, and, as this is [[p. 39]] almost a necessary result of their existence, of landlordism itself?
Government Neglects its First Duty.--We see, then, from the authoritative evidence of a Parliamentary Commission, that the chronic poverty of the Irish peasantry and farmers, their barbarous mode of tillage, their idleness for many months in the year, and their consequent inability to bear up against any distress caused by bad seasons or epidemic disease, were all clearly and directly traceable to the absence of any security for the improvements due to their labour on the land they occupied. The first duty of a civilised Government--the protection of property--was in their case systematically ignored, and the absence of protection for the fruits of human labour involved, in its results, the absence of protection to life, as surely as if bands of armed robbers and murderers had been allowed to range undisturbed over the country. Ignorance that such consequences might ensue could not be pleaded, since on many previous occasions famines of the most distressing kind, and due to the same causes, had occurred, notably in 1817 and 1822; yet still nothing was done to remove the causes of this perennial misery, which inevitably led to famine. When, therefore, in 1847 and 1848 the potato disease destroyed a large part of the food of the country, and--the extreme poverty of the people leaving them absolutely without resources--millions died of starvation, we cannot avoid seeing in this terrible calamity the direct results of ignorant and prejudiced government by a body of alien legislators.
Evictions after the Famine.--But what followed was still more dreadful, and, one would think, should have opened the eyes of the most bigoted to their fatal error. During the four years succeeding the famine, the miserable remnant of the agricultural population were in many districts subject to wholesale eviction from their homes, often resulting in loss of life. Mr. T. P. O'Connor tells us that in the four years [[p. 40]] 1849-1852 there were 221,845 evictions; whole townlands being depopulated, and their human inhabitants driven out to make room for cattle and sheep, as being more profitable to the landlords.3 These poor people were often forced away from their homes, even though all rent due had been fully paid. The houses, which had been built by their own labour (or purchased from those who had built them), were pulled down; and when the houseless families, having nowhere to go, lighted fires in the ditches to cook some food, the fires were extinguished in order to drive them off the land. A Report to the Poor Law Commissioners states that many occupiers were forced out of their homes at night in winter, even sick women and children not being allowed to stay in the houses till morning!
And the power to do all this, be it remembered, is a necessary consequence of unrestricted private property in land. That such horrors do not occur more frequently is due to the good feeling and humanity of landlords, and to the absence of sufficient motive; but that they should have been ever possible, that they should have actually occurred in hundreds of cases, and that a Government which claims to rule over a free, prosperous, civilised, and Christian people was not only utterly powerless to prevent them, but was actually obliged to aid in carrying them into effect--for all was strictly legal, and the landlord was only enforcing his admitted rights--must, surely, make every one who is unfettered by prejudice see that the possession of land for any other purpose than personal [[p. 41]] occupation is incompatible with liberty, and therefore necessarily leads to evil results.
That fearful period of famine, and the emigration which succeeded it, reduced the population of Ireland from eight to five millions, and at the same time established in America a body of Irishmen imbued with the bitterest feelings of enmity against the British Government--an enmity whose natural fruit was that Fenian conspiracy which has been more really injurious to England than a great and unsuccessful war. For a time, however, all was thought to be going well. Many landlords had changed their once thickly-populated land into great grazing farms, supporting cattle and sheep instead of peasants, but returning a more secure if not a higher rent. The general prosperity caused by the gold discoveries and the great epoch of railway-making was felt by the diminished population of Ireland, and the landlords were for a time satisfied that their two great panaceas, emigration and large farms, would cure all the alleged evils. But the increased wealth of landowners in general, as well as of merchants and speculators, led to a more expensive style of living, and this could only be met by higher rents wherever they could be obtained. In Ireland, where to large numbers of the people a piece of land offers the sole means of subsistence, there is so much competition for land that rents may be raised to any amount the landlord or the agent chooses to demand; and, as a matter of fact, rents have been continually raised over a large part of the country so as to leave the tenants the barest possible subsistence.
Suggested Remedies for Irish Distress.--Before the great famine of 1847, European politicians and economists who visited Ireland were amazed at the spectacle of a country one-third of whose population lived perpetually on the very verge of starvation. The causes and the remedy for this disgraceful state of things were clear to them, and were pointed out in the plainest language by one of our greatest authorities on Political [[p. 42]] Economy--John Stuart Mill--in 1856. He demonstrated that a system of Cottier tenure such as prevailed in Ireland, in which a large agricultural population without capital, and with a low standard of living, have their rents determined by competition, must inevitably lead to all those social and physical evils which perennially exist there. He says:--"The rents which they promise they are almost invariably incapable of paying; and consequently they become indebted to those under whom they hold, almost as soon as they take possession. They give up in the shape of rent the whole produce of the land, with the exception of a sufficiency of potatoes for a subsistence; but as this is rarely equal to the promised rent, they constantly have against them an increasing balance. . . . Should the produce of the holding in any year be more than usually abundant, or should the peasant by any accident become possessed of any property, his comforts cannot be increased; he cannot indulge in better food nor in a greater quantity of it. His furniture cannot be increased, neither can his wife or children be better clothed. The acquisition must go to the person under whom he holds." And he goes on to show that such tenants have nothing to gain by industry and prudence, nothing to lose by any recklessness. If they doubled the produce of their farms by extra exertion, the only gainer would be their landlord. "Almost alone among mankind the Irish Cottier is in this condition, that he can scarcely be any better or worse off by any act of his own. If he were industrious or prudent, nobody but his landlord would gain; if he is lazy or intemperate, it is at his landlord's expense. A situation more devoid of motives to either labour or self-command imagination itself cannot conceive. The inducements of free human beings are taken away, and those of a slave not substituted. He has nothing to hope, and nothing to fear, except being dispossessed of his holding, and against this he protects himself by the ultima ratio of a defensive civil war."4
[[p. 43]] In the succeeding discussion on the "Means of Abolishing a Cottier Tenancy," Mill goes to the root of the question in the following passages:--"Rent paid by a capitalist, who farms for profit and not for bread, may safely be abandoned to competition; rent paid by labourers cannot, unless the labourers were in a state of civilisation and improvement which labourers have nowhere yet reached, and cannot easily reach, under such a tenure. Peasant rents ought never to be arbitrary--never at the discretion of the landlord; either by custom or law it is imperatively necessary that they should be fixed; and where no mutually advantageous custom has established itself, reason and experience recommend that they should be fixed by authority, thus changing the rent into a quit-rent, and the farmer into a peasant proprietor. For carrying this change into effect on a sufficiently large scale to accomplish the complete abolition of cottier tenancy, the mode which most obviously suggests itself is the direct one of doing the thing outright by Act of Parliament; making the whole land of Ireland the property of the tenants, subject to the rents now really paid (not the nominal rents) as a fixed rent-charge. This, under the name of 'fixity of tenure,' was one of the demands of the Repeal Association during the most successful period of their agitation, and was better expressed by Mr. Connor, its earliest, most enthusiastic, and most indefatigable apostle, by the words, 'A valuation and a perpetuity.' . . . To enlightened foreigners writing on Ireland, Von Raumer and Gustave de Beaumont, a remedy of this sort seemed so exactly and obviously what the disease required that they had some difficulty in comprehending how it was that the thing was not yet done."
As a milder and less radical, but still very efficacious, measure, if carried out to the fullest extent of which it is capable, Mill suggested an enactment "that whoever reclaims waste land becomes the owner of it, at a fixed quit-rent equal [[p. 44]] to a moderate interest on its mere value as waste;" and the proof that this measure would be successful is afforded by evidence given before Lord Devon's Commission, in 1847, by Colonel Robinson, the manager of the Waste Land Improvement Society. He states that "two hundred and forty-five tenants and their families have, by spade husbandry, reclaimed and brought under cultivation 1,032 plantation acres of land, previously unproductive mountain waste, upon which they grew last year crops valued at £3,896; and their live stock, consisting of cattle, horses, sheep, and pigs, now actually upon the estates, is valued at £4,162; and by the statistical tables and returns obtained annually by the Society, it is proved that the tenants, in general, improve their little farms, and increase their cultivation and crops, in nearly direct proportion to the number of available working persons of whom their family consist."
Continued Blindness and Incompetence of the Legislature.--Yet with all this mass of consentaneous evidence as to the law-made misery of the Irish people and its only effectual remedy, for another twenty-four long years the Legislature did nothing to give them that ownership of the soil which, wherever it exists, is the cause of untiring industry, thrift, peace, and contentment, till in the year 1880 famine again appeared, and again charity alone has saved thousands from death by starvation. To the landlord Government which has shut its ears to every word of truth and warning, even when coming from a Commission appointed by itself, the burning condemnation of Carlyle, written forty years ago, is surely applicable:--"Was change and reformation needed in Ireland? Has Ireland been governed in a wise and loving manner? A Government and guidance of white European men which has issued in perennial hunger of potatoes to the third man extant ought to drop a veil over its face, and walk out of Court under conduct of proper officers; [[p. 45]] saying no word; expecting now of a surety sentence either to change or die."5
In 1870, it is true, a Land Act was passed, which it was thought would settle the question; but it really settled nothing, because it did not go the root of the matter. As the late Mr. Charles Buxton, M.P., said in 1869: "It is security of tenure the Irish people want; and it is security of tenure the Irish people must and will have. It is no sort of good to put them off with talk about mere compensation for improvements, or other schemes for giving them what they do not ask for and do not want, instead of that which they do ask for, and do want." John Stuart Mill had said exactly the same thing a year before in his striking pamphlet, "England and Ireland," and all the evidence that had been collected for the previous twenty-five years demonstrated the same fact; yet our landlord Legislature, in its usual peddling and patchwork spirit, passed a most elaborate Act to secure compensation for a tenant's improvements in case he was ejected for any other cause than non-payment of rent, but guarded and modified by all kinds of stipulations and reservations, involving the employment of valuers and lawyers, and an indefinite amount of trouble and expense, but not securing the tenant either against arbitrary increase of rent or eviction at the will of his landlord, the two most important things the Irish tenants asked for, and without which the proposed compensation was a delusion and a snare. For, instead of evicting, the landlord simply raised the rent on a tenant who had made improvements, and thus confiscated these improvements in spite of the Act! And thus even the Ulster tenant-right has been made valueless by the very Act [[p. 46]] which was intended to extend some of its benefits over a wider area.6
Tenant-Right Often Confiscated Even in Ulster.--Even before this Act, however, tenant-right was only a custom, not a law, and was not unfrequently disregarded. Mr. Charles Wilson, writing in The Statesman (Feb., 1881), gives the following example:--"See the position of the tenants on a small estate in Ulster, which was bought some twenty years since, and the rents were doubled on the tenants. One had to pay £64 instead of £23, another £57 instead of £29; another lost his lease by accident, and though the landlord had the counterpart, instead of producing it, he raised the rent 50 per cent. Another, who holds in perpetuity, was charged £15 per annum for some years as a drainage rate; but, suspecting wrong, he applied to the Board of Works, and found that the landlord was paying only £5 19s., and pocketing the difference. The tenant got this put right and recovered the surcharge."
One of the tenants of Sir Richard Wallace stated at a recent meeting that the farm he now held at 25s. per acre was held by his grandfather at 2s. 6d. per acre, and that all the improvements which had so largely increased the rental value were made at the cost of the tenants. At another meeting of the tenants of the same estate resolutions were passed stating that, owing to the system which had been adopted by the late Marquis of Hertford, many reductions of rent had been purchased by the payment of a sum down, and that, owing to this system of "fining down leases," any reference to present rents as being low was fallacious; that tenants' improvements and agricultural property have been made a basis for continual rises of rent; that tenants' improvements are included in the [[p. 47]] Government valuation; and that, therefore, this forms no true basis for estimating the landlord's rent; that several vexatious "office rules," unknown formerly, have lately been instituted; that the tenants are charged five per cent. on the amount of the rent under the name of receiver's fees; that the ground rent of public roads and rivers is charged on the tenant; and many other complaints of a like nature.
Tremendous Power of Agents over the Tenants.--Against these and similar exactions of agents the tenants are powerless. As Mr. Godkin well puts it, "Armed with the 'rules of the estate,' and with a notice to quit, the agent may have almost anything he demands, short of possession of the farm and home of the tenant. The notice to quit is like a death warrant to the family. It makes every member of it tremble and agonise, from the grey-headed grandfather and grandmother to the bright little children, who read the advent of some impending calamity in the gloomy countenances and bitter words of their parents. The passion for the possession of land is the chord on which the agent plays, and at his touch it vibrates with the 'deepest notes of woe.'"7
Eviction is what the Irish peasant dreads as a sentence of [[p. 48]] misery or death, and it is well that my readers should realise what an Irish eviction really is. The following account of an eyewitness is taken from a published Pastoral Letter of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Meath:--
"It was a cruel, an inhuman eviction, which even still makes our hearts bleed as often as we allow ourselves to think of it. Seven hundred human beings were driven from their homes in one day, and sent adrift upon the world to gratify the caprice of one who, before God and man, probably deserved less consideration than the last and least of them. And we remember well that there was not a single shilling of rent due on the estate at the time except by one man; and the character and acts of that man made it perfectly clear that the agent and himself quite understood each other. The crowbar brigade, employed on the occasion to extinguish the hearths and demolish the homes of honest, industrious men, worked away with a will at their awful calling until evening. At length an incident occurred that varied the monotony of the grim, ghastly ruin which they were spreading all around. They stopped suddenly, and recoiled, panic-stricken with terror, from two dwellings which they were directed to destroy with the rest. They had just heard that a frightful typhus fever held those houses in its grasp, and had already brought pestilence and death to their inmates. They therefore supplicated the agent to spare these houses a little longer; but the agent was inexorable, and insisted that the houses should come down. He ordered a large winnowing sheet to be secured over the beds in which the fever victims lay--fortunately they happened to be perfectly delirious at the time--and then directed the houses to be uprooted cautiously and slowly, because, he said, 'He very much disliked the bother and discomfort of a coroner's inquest.' I administered the last sacrament of the Church to four of these fever victims next day; and, save the above-mentioned winnowing sheet, there was not then a roof nearer to me than the canopy of heaven.
[[p. 49]] "The horrid scenes that I then witnessed I must remember all my life long. The wailing of women; the screams, the terror, the consternation of children; the speechless agony of honest, industrious men, wrung tears of grief from all who saw them. I saw the officers and men of a large police force, who were obliged to attend on the occasion, cry like children at beholding the cruel sufferings of the very people whom they would be obliged to butcher, had they offered the least resistance. The heavy rains that usually attend the autumnal equinoxes descended in cold, copious torrents throughout the night, and at once revealed to those houseless sufferers the awful realities of their condition. I visited them next morning, and rode from place to place administering to them all the comfort and consolation I could. The appearance of men, women and children, as they emerged from the ruins of their former homes--saturated with rain, blackened and besmeared with soot, shivering in every member from cold and misery--presented positively the most appalling spectacle I ever looked at. The landed proprietors in a circle all round--and for many miles in every direction--warned their tenantry, with threats of direct vengeance, against the humanity of extending to any of them the hospitality of a single night's shelter. Many of these poor people were unable to emigrate with their families; while at home the hand of every man was thus raised against them. They were driven from the land on which Providence had placed them; and, in the state of society surrounding them, every other walk of life was rigidly closed against them. What was the result? After battling in vain with privation and pestilence, they at last graduated from the workhouse to the tomb, and in little more than three years nearly a fourth of them lay quietly in their graves."8
[[p. 50]] The Condition of the People under Irish Landlordism.--When we remember that a plot of land is the sole means of subsistence to the mass of the rural population of Ireland, that there are "at least 500,000 families, amounting to about 3,000,000 persons, competing for the land as the sole stay between themselves and starvation," how absurd is it to talk of "freedom of contract," or to wonder that the Irish peasants submit to any rent and any conditions that the landlords or their agents choose to impose, rather than suffer the barbarous punishment of eviction.
The natural, the inevitable result of such a state of things is thus described by recent observers. Mr. Charles Russell says:--"In a country whose fruitfulness would suffice to feed and maintain a greatly increased population in decent condition, there exists at this moment in a population which famine and emigration have reduced from eight millions to about five millions, a more intense degree of wretchedness and poverty, and that more general, than in any known country in the world." And Mr. De Courcy Atkins, in his "Case of Ireland Stated," after describing what he saw in Cork and Kerry, concludes thus:--"There have been many countries, both ancient and modern, in which slavery was part of the acknowledged law, but I submit to all men who have studied the question of slavery, whether in any such country the producing slave has been so limited in the enjoyment of the produce as the nominally free Irish labourer or cottier tenant is in Ireland."
It may perhaps be said, "All this is now at an end. The Government has done justice to Ireland by the new Land Act. Why tell old tales?" But no law, even if far more efficient and more beneficial than the recent Act, can recall the past, or undo the misery and degradation brought upon the bulk of the Irish people by the action of landlordism and landlord-made law, such as still exists in England and Scotland. Some of their worst effects have no doubt now been locally remedied, [[p. 51]] but the root of the evil still remains; and it is important to show the natural and inevitable results of a system which requires to be held in check by exceptional legislation in order to prevent horrors and catastrophes like those it has produced in Ireland.
1. Pim's Condition and Prospects of Ireland, 1848, p. 44. [[on p. 32]]
2. Speech of Mr. Cowen, M.P., at Newcastle. [[on p. 35]]
3. These figures are approximate, but they are generally supported by those given in a Parliamentary Report issued in April 1881. This gives 35,061 families, consisting of 194,603 persons, evicted in two years (1849-50). And the same Report shows that again in 1880, during the height of the last famine, there were 2,110 evictions of 10,457 persons. It is to be noted that these are only the evictions that have come to the knowledge of the constabulary, and are doubtless considerably below the actual number, since many are carried into effect by persons employed by the agent. [[on p. 40]]
4. Political Economy, Book II, Chap. ix. [[on p. 42]]
5. Mr. Tuke in his "Irish Distress and its Remedies," gives 72,864 as the number of persons who received relief in the County of Donegal, the whole population of which, in 1871, was 218,000. This was one of the ten distressed counties, and if taken as an average one, here, too, every third man had been living in "perennial hunger of potatoes." [[on p. 45]]
6. See numerous examples of this in Mr. Charles Russell's "New Views of Ireland," as well as in the daily press. [[on p. 46]]
7. It will hardly be credited what kind of "rules" prevail on some estates. Mr. Thomas Crosbie, of Cork, an agent himself, published in 1858 an account of "The Lansdowne Estates." He declares that the "rules of the estate," which were rigidly enforced, forbid tenants to build houses for their labourers; forbid marriage without the agent's permission, so that a young couple having transgressed the rule were chased away to America, and the two fathers-in-law were punished for harbouring their son and daughter by a fine of a gale of rent. Another rule was that no stranger be lodged or harboured in any house on the estate, lest he should become sick or idle, or in some way chargeable on the poor-rates. A tenant, who sheltered his sister-in-law while her husband was seeking work, was so afraid of the agent that, at the woman's approaching confinement, he removed her to a shed on a relative's land, where her child was born. This man was fined a gale of rent, and was made to pull down the shed. Then the poor sick woman went to a cavern in the mountain, and for this two other fines were levied from the tenants who jointly grazed the land. A still worse case is given; but these are sufficient to show that Irish tenants live under a system of penal laws, unknown to the Legislature, and are punished by fines enforced by the dread of eviction. (Godkin's "Land War in Ireland," p. 412.) [[on p. 47]]
8. Quoted from Mr. T. Walter's pamphlet--"Irish Wrongs and How to Mend Them--1881," p. 39. [[on p. 49]]