BACK TO THE LAND
BISHOP NULTY'S LETTER.
To the Clergy and Laity of the Diocese of Meath:
Dearly Beloved Brethren,—
I venture to take
the liberty of dedicating the following Essay to you, as a mark of my respect
and affection. In this Essay I do not, of course, address myself to you as
your Bishop, for I have no divine commission to enlighten you on your civil
rights, or to instruct you in the principles of Land Tenure or Political
Economy. I feel, however, a deep concern even in your temporal interests—deeper,
indeed, than in my own; for what temporal interests can I have save those
I must always feel in your welfare? It is, then, because the Land Question
is one not merely of vital importance, but one of life and death to you, as
well as to the majority of my countrymen, that I have ventured to write on
it at all.
With a due sense
of my responsibility, I have examined this great question with all the care
and consideration I had time to bestow on it. A subject so abstruse and so
difficult could not, by any possibility, be made attractive and interesting.
My only great regret, then, is that my numerous duties in nearly every part
of the Diocese for the last month have not left me sufficient time to put
my views before you with the perspicuity, the order and the persuasiveness
that I should desire. However, even in the crude, unfinished form in which
this Essay is now submitted to you, I hope it will prove of some use in assisting
you to form a correct estimate of the real value and merit of Mr. Gladstone's
For my own part,
I confess I am not very sanguine in my expectations of this Bill—at any
rate, when it shall have passed the Lords. The hereditary legislators will,
I fear, never surrender the monopoly in the land which they have usurped for
centuries past; at least till it has become quite plain to them that they
have lost the power of holding it any longer. It is, however, now quite manifest
to all the world—except, perhaps, to themselves—that they hold that power
We, however, can
afford calmly to wait. While we are, therefore, prepared to receive with
gratitude any settlement of the question which will substantially secure to
us our just rights, we will never be satisfied with less. Nothing short of
a full and comprehensive measure of justice will ever satisfy the tenant farmers
of Ireland, or put an end to the Land League agitation.
The people of Ireland
are now keenly alive to the important fact that if they are loyal and true
to themselves, and that they set their faces against every form of violence
and crime, they have the power to compel the landlords to surrender all their
just rights in their entirety.
If the tenant farmers
refuse to pay more than a just rent for their farms, and no one takes a farm
from which a tenant has been evicted for the non-payment of an unjust or
exorbitant rent, then our cause is practically gained. The landlords may,
no doubt, wreak their vengeance on a few, whom they may regard as the leaders
of the movement; but the patriotism and generosity of their countrymen will
compensate these abundantly for their losses, and superabundantly reward
them for the essential and important services they have rendered to their
country at the critical period of its history.
You know but too
well, and perhaps to your cost, that there are bad landlords in Meath, and
worse still in Westmeath, and perhaps also in the other Counties of this
Diocese. We are, unfortunately, too familiar with all forms of extermination,
from the eviction of a Parish Priest, who was willing to pay his rent, to
the wholesale clearance of the honest, industrious people of an entire district.
But we have, thank God, a few good landlords, too. Some of these, like the
Earl of Fingal, belong to our own faith; some, like the late Lord Athlumny,
are Protestants; and some among the very best are Tories of the highest type
You have always
cherished feelings of the deepest gratitude and affection for every landlord,
irrespective of his politics or his creed, who treated you with justice,
consideration and kindness. I have always heartily commended you for these
For my own part,
I can assure you, I entertain no unfriendly feelings for any landlord living,
and in this Essay I write of them not as individuals, but as a class, and
further, I freely admit that there are individual landlords who are highly
honourable exceptions to the class to which they belong. But that I heartily
dislike the existing system of Land Tenure, and the frightful extent to which
it has been abused, by the vast majority of landlords, will be evident to
anyone who reads this Essay through.
I remain, Dearly
Beloved Brethren, respectfully yours,
Mullingar, 2nd. April, 1881
BACK TO THE LAND
Our Land System Not justified
by its General Acceptance.
Anyone who ventures to question the justice
or the policy of maintaining the present system of Irish Land Tenure will
be met at once by a pretty general feeling which will warn him emphatically
that its venerable antiquity entitles it, if not to reverence and respect,
at least to tenderness and forbearance.
I freely admit that feeling to be most natural
and perhaps very general also; but I altogether deny its reasonableness.
It proves too much. Any existing social institution is undoubtedly entitled
to justice and fair play; but no institution, no matter what may have been
its standing or its popularity, is entitled to exceptional tenderness and
forbearance if it can be shown that it is intrinsically unjust and cruel.
Worse institutions by far than any system of Land Tenure can and have had
a long and prosperous career, till their true character became generally known
and then they were suffered to exist no longer.
Human Slavery Once Generally Accepted.
Slavery is found to have existed, as a social
institution, in almost all nations, civilised as well as barbarous, and
in every age of the world, up almost to our own times. We hardly ever find
it in the state of a merely passing phenomenon, or as a purely temporary
result of conquest or of war, but always as a settled, established and recognised
state of social existence, in which generation followed generation in unbroken
succession, and in which thousands upon thousands of human beings lived
and died. Hardly anyone had the public spirit to question its character
or to denounce its excesses; it had no struggle to make for its existence,
and the degradation in which it held its unhappy victims was universally
regarded as nothing worse than a mere sentimental grievance.
On the other hand, the justice of the right
of property which a master claimed in his slaves was universally accepted
in the light of a first principle of morality. His slaves were either born
on his estate, and he had to submit to the labour and the cost of rearing
and maintaining them to manhood, or he acquired them by inheritance or by
free gift, or, failing these, he acquired them by the right of purchase—having
paid in exchange for them what, according to the usages of society and the
common estimation of his countrymen, was regarded as their full pecuniary
value. Property, therefore, in slaves was regarded as sacred, and as inviolable
as any other species of property.
Even Christians Recognised Slavery.
So deeply rooted and so universally received
was this conviction that the Christian religion itself, though it recognised
no distinction between Jew and Gentile, between slave or freeman, cautiously
abstained from denouncing slavery itself as an injustice or a wrong. It
prudently tolerated this crying evil, because in the state of public feeling
then existing, and at the low standard of enlightenment and intelligence then
prevailing, it was simply impossible to remedy it.
Thus then had slavery come down almost to our
own time as an established social institution, carrying with it the practical
sanction and approval of ages and nations, and surrounded with a prestige
of standing and general acceptance well calculated to recommend it to men's
feelings and sympathies. And yet it was the embodiment of the most odious
and cruel injustice that ever afflicted humanity. To claim a right of property
in man was to lower a rational creature to the level of the beast of the
field; it was a revolting and an unnatural degradation of the nobility of
human nature itself.
That thousands upon thousands of human beings
who had committed no crime, who had violated no law, and who had done no
wrong to anyone, should be wantonly robbed of their liberty and freedom;
should be deprived of the sacred and inalienable moral rights, which they
could not voluntarily abdicate themselves; should be bought and sold, like
cattle in the markets; and should be worked to death, or allowed to live
on at the whim or caprice of their owner, was the last and most galling injustice
which human nature could be called on to endure.
The World's Approval Cannot Justify injustice.
To arrest public attention, and fix its gaze
effectively on the intrinsic character and constitution of slavery, was to
seal its doom; and its death knell was sounded in the indignant cry of the
great statesman who "denied that man could hold property in man." Twenty
millions of British money were paid over to the slave owners as compensation
for the loss of property to which they had no just title, and slavery was
The practical approval, therefore, which the
world has bestowed on a social institution that has lasted for centuries
is no proof that it ought to be allowed to live on longer, if, on close examination,
it be found to be intrinsically unjust and cruel, and mischievous and injurious
besides to the general good of mankind. No amount of sanction or approval
that the world can give to a social institution can alter its intrinsic
constitution and nature; and the fact of the world's having thus approved
of an institution which was essentially unjust, cruel and degrading to human
nature, only proves that the world was wrong: it furnishes no arguments
or justification for allowing it to live on a moment longer.
Irish Land Tenure the Twin Sister
The system of Land Tenure in Ireland enjoyed
a long and similarly prosperous career, and it, too, has created a state
of human existence, which, in strict truth and justice, can be briefly characterised
as the twin sister of slavery. The vast majority of tenant farmers of Ireland
are at the present moment slaves. They are dependent for their peace of
mind, for their material comforts, for the privilege of living under the
roof beneath which they were born, and for the right of earning their bread
on the farms which their forefathers enriched with their toil, on the arbitrary
and irresponsible will of their landlord.
Abject, absolute and degrading dependence of
this kind involves the very essence, and is, in fact, the definition of slavery.
They toil like galley slaves in the cultivation of their farms from the
opening to the close of the year, only to see substantially the whole produce
of their labour and capital appropriated by others who have not toiled at
all, and who even leave them not what would be allowed for the maintenance
of slaves who would be expected to work, but what hardly suffices to keep
them from dying of want.
When grazing on land had been found more remunerative
than tillage, and the people consequently became too numerous, the superfluous
multitudes, who were now no longer wanted under the new state of things,
were mercilessly cleared off the lands by wholesale evictions to make room
for the brute beast, which paid better. Such of the evicted as had the means
left to take themselves away were forced to fly for refuge as exiles into
almost every land; and the thousands who could not leave were coolly passed
on through hunger and starvation to premature graves.
Let anyone who wishes visit this Diocese and
see with his own eyes the vast and boundless extent of the fairest land in
Europe that has been ruthlessly depopulated since the commencement of the
present century, and which is now abandoned to a loneliness and solitude
more depressing than that of the prairie or the wilderness. Thus has this
land system actually exercised the power of life and death on a vast scale,
for which there is no parallel even in the dark records of slavery.
But the attention of the civilised world is
now steadily fixed on the cruel and degrading bondage in which it still
holds a nation enslaved, and therefore its doom is inevitably sealed.
Justice, Not Vested Right, Should
Some wise and thoughtful men can see no longer
objections to the abolition of Landlordism now than were alleged not so long
ago against the abolition of slavery. If the public good demanded the summary
dismissal of landlords from an important position of trust, which as a class,
they have so grievously abused, and, on the other hand, that they had been
compensated for the real or fictitious property which it is assumed they
possess in their lands, the justice of such a course could not for a moment
be questioned. Yet I am afraid that few prudent, practical and experienced
men could be found who would advocate the policy of a measure of so sweeping
and radical a character. Undoubtedly a universal or a general peasant proprietary;
not, however, the result of a sudden, hasty and unnatural change, but the
gradual and natural growth of years—may probably be found to be the final
settlement of the question of the land.
Hence the great majority of those who have thought
the question out thoroughly regard the measure known as the "three F's,"
accompanied with largely increased facilities, and largely increased pecuniary
encouragement, for the gradual establishment of a peasant proprietary, as
the fullest measure of justice which the nation can just now expect from
an Act of Parliament. But on whatever line the "new departure" may start,
it is essential that the eternal and immutable principles of justice which
determine the character of property in land shall in no instance be departed
from by the people. Ours is a struggle for justice and for right, and we
must not furnish our enemies even with a pretext to reproach us with dishonest
or unfair dealing.
Justice of Private Property in
the Results of Labour.
The following are the acknowledged principles
of justice that have a practical bearing on the question:—
Every man (and woman, too) has a natural right
to the free exercise of his mental and corporal faculties; and whatever useful
thing anyone has produced by his toil and his labour, of that he is the
rightful owner—in that he has in strict justice a right of property. Any
useful thing that satisfies any of our necessities, relieves any of our
wants, ministers to our comforts or enjoyments, or increases our material
happiness or contentment, may be an object of property, and the person
whose toil and labour has produced that thing possesses in it a strict
right of property.
The two essential characteristics of property
therefore are: First, the thing itself must be useful for some purpose;
and, secondly, it must be the product or the result of our labour.
Now, the effort or exertion demanded by labour
is irksome, distasteful and repulsive to the indolence and self-indulgence
that is natural to us and, therefore, no one will voluntarily subject himself
to the painful inconvenience of labour who is not stimulated by the prospect
of the remuneration and enjoyment which the fruit of his labour will return
Whoever, then, has voluntarily subjected himself
to the painful operations of labour has, in strict justice, a right of property
in the product or result of that labour; that is to say, he, and he alone,
has a right to all the advantages, enjoyments, pleasures and comforts that
are derivable from the results of his labour. Others cannot complain of
having been excluded from the enjoyment of a thing whose production cost
them nothing; which be was not bound to produce for their use, and which,
were it not for his efforts, would not have existed at all.
Producer's Right of Disposal.
Use and exclusion are, therefore, the two essential
peculiarities of the enjoyment of a right of property. The power to dispose
of legitimate property is almost absolute. Property may be devoted by its
owner to any purpose he pleases that is not inconsistent with the public
good and does not interfere with the rights of others. He may keep it for
his own use and enjoyment if he wishes, or he may exchange it by barter
or sale for an equivalent in value of the property of others; he may alienate
it by free gift when living, or bequeath it to anyone he pleases, as a voluntary
legacy, when dying. He might even destroy it and do no wrong to anyone.
If Michael Angelo, in that delirium of artistic
frenzy in which he called on his celebrated statue of Moses "to speak," had
dealt it a blow of his mallet, which would have created not merely a rent
in its knee, but had actually shattered it into atoms, the world might indeed
deplore the destruction of this immortal work as an irreparable loss, but
it could not complain that he did it an injustice or a wrong. Michael Angelo
was master of his own free actions, and he was not bound to spend years
of labour and toil in producing that incomparable statue to delight and
please the world, and, even after he had produced it, he was not bound to
preserve it for its enjoyment. "He might do as he liked with his own."
Every individual whose labour produces an article
of property makes a substantial addition to the wealth of the nation; and
a nation's general prosperity and happiness, and the degree and abundance
in which it possesses all the comforts, the enjoyments, the luxuries and
pleasures of life, depend entirely on the numbers engaged in industrial productiveness,
and on the skill and efficiency of their labour. Every man, no doubt, works
for his own self-interest, for his own benefit and happiness, but whether
he wishes it or not, he works, too, for the increased enjoyment and prosperity
of others. No man consumes all that his labour produces, and the benefit
of the superfluous products of his labour, if not enjoyed by himself, is
sure to be enjoyed by some to whom he has transferred it. If a bootmaker
does not himself wear all the boots he produces, somebody else is sure to
wear them for him. It is, therefore, highly in the interest of the community,
as well as of individuals, to encourage the production, the multiplication
and accumulation of objects of wealth; and, therefore, to stimulate the activity
and energy of the labour necessary for their production.
The laws of all nations, as well as the law
of nature, have regarded as sacred and inviolable the right of property
which a man enjoys in what he produces.
Institution of Private Property
Springs from the Necessity for Labour.
The first form of property ever seen or held
on this earth was undoubtedly connected with land. Although political economists
never dream of adverting to it, it is, nevertheless, an unquestionable fact
that the institution of Private Property is one of the sad effects of original
sin. It springs directly from the barrenness and sterility with which the
earth was cursed in punishment of the crime of original sin. That curse
deteriorated and to a great extent destroyed the primeval and teeming fertility
with which the earth had been in the beginning created.
Before the fatal words, "maledicta terra in
opere tuo," had been pronounced the land needed not the labour of man to
produce all that was superabundantly sufficient for the sustenance of man—all
that satisfied to the full his wants, wishes, and desires. The rich and
delicious fruits with which it spontaneously teemed were as unlimited as
the waters of the seas, as the air we breathe, as the atmosphere in which
we live. Like the manna, on which the children of Israel lived in the desert
for forty years, everyone took all he wanted, and as the supply was as certain
in the future as in the present, it would be folly to take more than was
wanted for present use.
In the unlimited superabundance that then prevailed
there was no room for the existence of Private Property at all. It was
only when the earth had been cursed by sterility and barrenness, and that
the supply of human food consequently became limited when the produce it
yielded became proportioned to the labour expended on it, and that every
man had to work for his living, that Private Property became not only lawful
but a necessary institution of society. Man's labour became a necessary means
to reverse the result of this curse, and to restore to the earth, at least
partially, the primeval fertility of which it had been despoiled in punishment
of his sin.
The productiveness thus imparted or restored
to the earth became, in strict justice, the property of the individual by
whose labour it had been created, and this Property in Land is the first
form of Private Property on record.
Necessity for Labour Proves the
Common Right to Land.
Although the earth, even in its present deteriorated
state, is a splendid inheritance provided by the liberality of God for the
maintenance of man, it is, nevertheless, an inheritance which places him
under the necessity of patient, laborious toil in its cultivation and improvement,
in order to extract from it the means necessary for his subsistence.
The human race cannot now any longer live on
the earth if they refuse to submit to the inevitable law of labour. No man
can fairly emancipate himself from that universal decree which has made it
a necessity for every one "to earn his bread in the sweat of his brow."
Now, the land of every country is to the people
of that country or nation what the earth is to the whole human race—that
is to say, the land of every country is the gift of its Creator to the people
of that country; it is the patrimony and inheritance bequeathed to them
by their Common Father, out of which they can by continuous labour and toil
provide themselves with everything they require for their maintenance and
support, and for their material comfort and enjoyment.
The Land of Every Country the
Common Property of Its People.
God was perfectly free in the act by which He
created us; but, having created us, He bound Himself by that act to provide
us with the means necessary for our subsistence. The land is the only means
of this kind now known to us.
The land, therefore, of every country is the
Common Property of the people of that country, because its real owner, the
Creator who made it, has transferred it as a voluntary gift to them. "Terram
autem dedit filiis hominum."
Now, as every individual in that country is
a creature and child of God, and as all His creatures are equal in His
sight, any settlement of the land of a country that would exclude the humblest
man in that country from his share of the common inheritance would be not
only an injustice and a wrong to that man, but, moreover, would be an impious
resistance to the benevolent intentions of his Creator.
How Best to Use the Common Estate.
The great problem, then, that the nations, or,
what comes to the same thing, that the Governments of nations have to solve
is—what is the most profitable and remunerative investment they can make
of this common property in the interest and for the benefit of the people
to whom it belongs? In other words, how can they bring the largest, and, as
far as possible, the most skilled amount of effective labour to bear on the
proper cultivation and improvement of the land?—how can they make it yield
the largest amount of human food, human comforts and human enjoyments—and
how can its aggregate produce be divided so as to give everyone the fairest
and largest share he is entitled to without passing over or excluding anyone?
Security of Possession Necessary
to Secure the Rights of the Improver.
It is because the principle of Private Property
fulfils all these conditions, satisfies all these requirements and secures
all these results, that it has been regarded by all nations as a necessary
social institution under all forms of government.
The most active, energetic, and, at the same
time, the most powerful principle of human action that we know of, is self-interest,
and self-interest is the principle of Private Property. This principle of
self-interest is deeply embedded and engrained in our nature; its activity
is constant, uniform and irrepressible, and whether we advert to it or not,
it is the secret and inexhaustible spring of nearly all our actions, efforts
and endeavours. We labour with untiring energy, earnestness and perseverance,
when we know that we are working for ourselves, for our own interests and
If, therefore, the land of a country was surrendered
up to the self-interests of the people of that country; if it was given
up to the operations of the most powerful moral force known to man, which
is everywhere present and everywhere supremely active and energetic, and which
would throw its whole force and strength into the effort needed for the proper
cultivation and improvement of the soil, then we might expect the largest
possible returns of human food and human enjoyments that the land could possibly
Wherever, therefore, the principle of Private
Property in Land is carried out to the full extent that its justice and
the interests of the community demand, the land of that country will be
parcelled out in larger or smaller lots among its people, on the plain principle
of justice, that the increased fertility and productiveness which they shall
have imparted to the soil shall be their own, and that they shall have
a strict right of property in the returns—no matter how abundant—it shall
yield to their capital and labour.
With this disposition adopted the powerful principle
of self-interest will be brought to bear effectively and with all its energy
and force on the cultivation and improvement of the soil; and as the cultivators
or farmers will have a strict right of property in the products which it
shall yield to their labour and capital, so it will be their highest interests,
and they will make their best efforts to make them as large and as abundant
as possible. The returns, therefore, from the land will be the highest
it is capable of yielding. To stimulate the production and enlarged growth
of that invaluable property which is created in the development and improvement
of the soil, and to secure to its owner the certainty of enjoying all its
uses and benefits, he must have a right to the continued and undisturbed
possession of his land.
The labour and capital necessary for the production
of property of this kind are immediate; the returns to be derived from it
may be spread over many years, perhaps over all future time. No man will
incur the expenditure if others, not himself, are to be benefited by it.
He might, no doubt, enjoy the full benefit of improvements already made after
a certain term of years; but to stimulate him to make further and larger
improvements in the soil, and, at the same time, to secure him a certainty
of enjoying the full fruits of those he has already made, no term of years
can produce on men's minds what has been most felicitously called "the magical
effect of perpetuity of tenure."
Non-Improvers Can Have No Rights
The arguments, therefore, which prove that,
in strict justice, as well as in the interests of the nation at large, a
landholder who is constantly improving and increasing the productiveness
of his farm has a right to the continued occupation of it, prove, too,
that a non-improving landholder has no right to be left in the possession
of it at all. The people of a nation have too deep an interest in the productiveness
of the land of the nation and in the amount of human food it will yield,
to be able to allow any portion of it to remain in the hands of a man through
whose criminal indolence or incapacity it either produces nothing at all,
or what will be much less than it is capable of yielding.
Thus, an improving land-holder has by that very
fact, in strict justice and in the higher interests of the public, the
title, and, indeed, the only unquestionable title that exists to the continued
and undisturbed possession of his land.
The occupier's rights of property in the agricultural
products of the land, in the permanent improvements he has made in the productiveness
of the soil, and in the undisturbed occupation of his farm, while he continues
to improve it, are all deeply rooted in the clearest principles of natural
Security of Possession and Full
Ownership of Products for the Common Good.
They are, moreover, necessary and sufficient
to secure the highest permanent and progressive improvement of the soil,
and to draw from it the largest and most profitable returns it is capable
of yielding. The legislature, therefore, which is bound to strive in every
reasonable way for the advancement of the public good, can hardly with-hold
its sanction and protection from clear natural rights, which are of vital
interest, not only to the cultivators themselves, but also to the well-being
of the nation at large.
The agricultural products of the land of the
nation will then be disposed of or distributed among the people of the nation
by the cultivators who produced them, on the principle of competitive sale,
and everyone will receive a share of the whole at the price that it cost
to produce it, and that will be considerably less than it would cost himself
to produce it. No one, therefore, has been called on to surrender his share
in the common property of the nation without getting an equivalent in return.
No one has surrendered his share in this property; everyone has simply made
a most profitable and remunerative investment of it.
A Just Right of Property in Improvements,
But Not in Land Itself.
In the foregoing exposition of the principles
of justice on the question of the Tenure of Land, I have made no distinction
between the landlords of a country and the tenant farmers who hold land
under them, for in truth, on the question of Property in Land there is no
room for any such distinction. I am, however, quite ready to allow the full
benefit of the rights of Property in Land, as I have explained them, to any
landlord or tenant who has created such property; but I cannot allow either
to landlord or tenant any other or further rights of Property in land than
those I have just enumerated.
No individual or number of individuals can have
a right of Private Property in the land of a country in its original state,
and antecedently to human culture; for in that state the land of a country
was and is still the Public Common Property of the people of that country.
Undoubtedly the people, by their combined labour and industry, "have not
made the land" of their country, but they have received it as a voluntary
free gift, and as a necessary means for their subsistence, from their Common
Father and Creator, who did make it.
What Right of Exclusion Implies.
Besides, a right of Property in Land implies,
as I have observed, a right of exclusion as well as of use in its enjoyment;
and, therefore, if any privileged class had a right of property in the land
of a country they would have a right to the exclusive use of the land of
that country—that is to say, they would have a right to the exclusive use
of all the necessaries of life in that country, and the people would have
no right to exist at all. Not only, then, would the well-being but the very
existence of the nation depend on the whim and caprice of a single class
of the community.
Again, no class of men could have such a right
of private property in the land of a nation—firstly, because they could not
by their own labour and industry have created such a right themselves, for
"no man has made the land"; and, secondly, because they could not have received
that right, either by contract or free gift, from anyone who was competent
to give it. The people of the nation could not give it, for if they were
to barter, or sell, or give away the land, they would expropriate the means
that were necessary for their own subsistence, and that would be tantamount
to a nation committing suicide.
Individuals May Rightfully Collect
Payment for Improvements in Land.
The tracts of country known in England as the
Bedford Level, and in Flanders as the Pays des waes, were, not so very
long ago, as sterile, as barren, and even more useless than the bogs of
our own country at this moment. By an enormous expenditure, however, of
capital and labour they have been drained, reclaimed and fertilised, till
they have at last become among the most productive lands in Europe. That
productiveness is entirely the result of human labour and industry, for
nature did hardly anything for these lands.
If the question, then, was asked: Who has a
right to charge or demand a rent for the use of the soil of these lands
for agricultural or industrial uses? the answer undoubtedly would be, the
person who by his labour and capital had created all their productiveness,
who had imparted to them all the value they possess. In charging, therefore,
a rent for the use of what he had produced he is only demanding a most
just and equitable return for his capital—a fair and honest remuneration
for his labour. His right to demand this could not possibly be disputed.
Now, the artificial productiveness of these
tracts of country hardly equals, and certainly does not surpass, the natural
fertility of large districts of rich, luxuriant, arable and pasture lands
in the County of Meath, in this Diocese. If it were asked, then, who has
a right to charge a rent for the use of the soil of these highly favoured
districts in Meath for agricultural or industrial purposes, the answer
should be that if human industry or labour had imparted to these lands
a real and substantial amount of artificial productiveness, by the cultivation
and permanent improvement of the soil, then the person who had created
that productiveness had a perfect right to demand a rent for the use of
Exaction by Individuals of Rent
for Land is Wanton injustice.
But who, it may be further asked, has a right
to demand a rent for the natural fertility of these lands "which no man
made," and which, in fact, is not the result of human industry and labour
at all? The answer here, also, should be, he who had produced it.
But who produced it? God. If God, then, demanded
a rent for the use of these lands, He would undoubtedly be entitled to it.
But God does not sell His gifts or charge a rent for the use of anything
He has produced. He does not sell; but He gives or bestows, and in bestowing
His gifts He shows no respect of persons.
If, then, all God's creatures are in a condition
of perfect equality relatively to this gift of the land, no one can have
an exceptional right to claim more than a fair share of what was intended
equally for all, and what is, indeed, directly or indirectly, a necessary
of life for each of them.
When all, therefore, relatively to this gift,
are perfectly equal, and nobody has any real claim to it; when all equally
need the liberality and generosity of God in it, and no one can afford,
or is willing, to part with his share in it—to alienate it from any or all
of them would be to do them a wanton injustice and grievous wrong, and would
be a direct disappointment to the intentions of the Donor besides.
The Whole People the True Owners
of the Land.
When, therefore, a privileged class arrogantly
claims a right of private property in the land of a country, that claim is
simply unintelligible, except in the broad principle that the land of a
country is not a free gift at all, but solely a family inheritance; that
it is not a free gift which God has bestowed on His creatures, but an inheritance
which he has left to His children; that they, therefore, being God's eldest
sons, inherit this property by right of succession; that the rest of the
world have no share or claim to it, on the ground that origin is tainted
with the stain of illegitimacy. The world, however, will hardly submit to
this shameful imputation of its own degradation, especially when it is not
sustained by even a shadow of reason.
I infer, therefore, that no individual or class
of individuals can hold a right of private property in the land of a country;
that the people of that country, in their public corporate capacity, are,
and always must be, the real owners of the land of their country—holding
an indisputable title to it, in the fact that they received it as a free
gift from its Creator, and as a necessary means for preserving and enjoying
the life He has bestowed upon them.
Distinction Between Individual
Rights and Community Rights.
Usufruct, therefore, is the highest form of
property that individuals can hold in land. On the other hand, I have shown
that the cultivator's right of property in the produce of the land, in the
improvements he has made in the productiveness of the land, and in its
undisturbed occupation as long as he continues to improve it—that these
various rights are all founded on the strictest principles of justice, and
that their recognition and protection by the State will secure for the land
the highest culture and improvement it is capable of receiving, and will
draw from it, without fail, the largest returns of human food it is capable
On these immutable principles of justice and
right, the order, progress and welfare of society depend. They allow free
scope and hold out the highest encouragement to the fullest development of
the energy and activity of human industry and enterprise, by securing to everyone
the full fruits of his labour, and recognising in him a right of property
to all that his hands produce. They guarantee to him immunity and protection
from disturbance as long as he devotes himself with earnestness and zeal
to his industrial pursuits.
On the other hand, if a man, through indolence
or incompetence, allows his land to run wild, to return to its primitive
sterility and barrenness, so as to produce nothing at all, or at all events,
much less than it is capable of yielding, it is no hardship to that man if
these principles call on him to surrender a trust which he held from society,
and which, to the great detriment of society, he has so grievously abused.
Finally, it is no injustice to refuse the remuneration
of labour to those who have not laboured at all. This usufruct, therefore,
is a right of property in land, which is held mainly for the benefit of
the public and for the advancement of the general interests of the community.
And yet the general interests of the community art hardly distinguishable
from the private interests of the usufructuary. The larger the amount of
permanent improvements made in the soil, and the richer and more abundant
returns it will yield, the better will it be for both interests.
Public and Private Interests.
An usufructuary or farmer who labours might
and main for his own self-interests, labours with the same amount of earnestness
and zeal for the interests of the public as well. But it is the consideration
of the public interests that will determine the continuity of his occupancy.
The continuity of his occupancy entirely depends on the continuity of its
real, practical effectiveness for the advancement of the interests of the
public. The moment it ceases to be useful and beneficial to the public welfare,
that moment it ceases to have a right to exist any longer. If individuals
could have a right of Private Property in Land, that right would not be
fettered by these responsibilities; in fact, it would not be liable to any
responsibility at all.
The ownership of reclaimed tracts like the Bedford
Level approximates closely, without, however, fully realising, to a right
of private property in land. The Bedford Level owner is not responsible
to society for the management of that property, nor is he bound to have
any regard to its interests in the use he wishes to make of it. Being master
of his own free actions, he was not bound to create that property for the
benefit of society, but for his own, and he may now make whatever use he
pleases of it. If through mismanagement it produces less than it is capable
of yielding, that is his own affair altogether. If he allowed it to return
to its original sterility society might regret that it suffered a great bas,
but it could not complain that he did it an injustice or a wrong.
The distinction, therefore, between the two
rights of property in land is essential and fundamental, and it is absolutely
necessary to apprehend it clearly and to bear it distinctly in mind.
Economists on the People's Rights
in the Land.
Now, there is nothing novel or startling in
the common and inalienable right of property which I have shown every people
possesses in the land of its country. I know of no writer on political economy
who disputes it, although I am familiar with the works of many of the most
Bastiat, the great defender of the property
classes in France, certainly does not dispute it; on the contrary, he assumes
it as a settled principle of justice throughout his entire treatise.
The late Mr. Cairnes, though by far the most
able and eloquent of all the modern advocates of landlords' rights and privileges,
as far as I know, at least, does not controvert it either. The facts and
principles set forth in some of the most powerful and best written passages
of his works prove the manifest injustice of allowing to anyone, except
the people, a right of private property in the land of their country.
Mr. Mill, in his great work on Political Economy,
after having accepted the universally received definition of property exactly
as I have given it, says: "The essential principle of property being to
assure to all persons what they have produced by their labour and accumulated
by their abstinence, this principle cannot apply to what is not the produce
of labour, the raw material of the earth." And again: "When the sacredness
of property is talked of, it should always be remembered that any such sacredness
does not belong in the same degree to landed property. No man made the
land: it is the inheritance of the whole species."
In the remainder of this chapter Mr. Mill lectures
the proprietors of land on their obligations and responsibilities to society
in the management of it, and consequently he must be addressing himself
to owners who have only the right of usufruct in their lands. Such admonitions,
if addressed to men who had an absolute right of private property in land,
would be simply an impertinence, as they would not be obliged to account
to him or to anyone else for "what they did with their own." Further on
Mr. Mill adds: "Those who think that the land of a country exists for the
sake of a few thousand landowners, and that as long as rents are paid society
and government have fulfilled their function, may see in this consummation
a happy end to Irish difficulties. But this is not a time, nor is the human
mind now in a condition in which such insolent pretensions can be maintained.
The land of Ireland, the land of every country, belongs to the people of
Mr. McDonnell, in his excellent work on the
land question of England and Scotland, says, it became a trite and popular
phrase to say "that the land was the property of the people."
Mr. Arthur Arnold, Member of Parliament for
the Borough of Salford, in his work on Free Land, published quite recently
(1880), writes: "The land belongs to the nation, to the State, to the people.
It is not possible to sever the interests of a beggar crouching at the gates
of a park from that land. Infinitesimal they may be, but their existence
cannot be denied." He adds: "There is no such thing as private property
in land held by individuals known to English law, or the law of the land."
He quotes the highest legal authority in proof of his statement.
Williams, on "The Law of Real Property," thus
writes: "The first thing the student has to do is to get rid of the idea
of absolute ownership. Such an idea is quite unknown to the English law.
No man is in law the absolute owner of lands. He can only hold an estate
Even Mr. Froude, in an extract given by Arnold,
although he does not give the reference, thus writes:
"Seeing that men are born into the world without
their own wills, and being in the world they must live on the earth's surface,
or they cannot live at all, no individual or set of individuals can hold
over land that personal and irresponsible right which is allowed them in
things of less universal necessity."
Land Rent for the Community a Design of Divine
I think, therefore, that I may fairly infer,
on the strength of authority as well as of reason, that the people are and
always must be the real owners of the land of their country.
This great social fact appears to me to be of
incalculable importance, and it is fortunate indeed that on the strictest
principles of justice it is not clouded even by a shadow of uncertainty
or doubt. There is, moreover, a charm and a peculiar beauty in the clearness
with which it reveals the wisdom and the benevolence of the designs of
Providence in the admirable provision He has made for the wants and the
necessities of that state of social existence of which He is the author,
and in which the very instincts of nature tell us we are to spend our lives.
A vast public property, a great national fund,
has been placed under the dominion and at the disposal of the nation to supply
itself abundantly with resources necessary to liquidate the expenses of
its government, the administration of its laws and the education of its
youth, and to enable it to provide for the suitable sustentation and support
of its criminal and pauper population. One of the most interesting peculiarities
of this property is that its value is never stationary; It is constantly
progressive and increasing in a direct ratio to the growth of the population;
and the very causes that increase and multiply the demands made on it increase
proportionately its ability to meet them.
Landlordism Takes the Patrimony
of the People.
Let the democracy of England as well as of Ireland,
learn the melancholy fate that has overtaken this splendid inheritance
which God has placed in their hands, and which would have saved them eighty
millions sterling which they now annually pay by direct and indirect taxation
for the government of the country. That patrimony was once theirs by right,
and by right it is theirs still; but, in fact, it is theirs no longer: a
class has wrested the land from the people of the country and now hold a
strict monopoly in it. They sell it out to the people as if it were an ordinary
article of private property and solely the result of their own capital and
The rents which the landlords draw from their
lands is an income which they derive from the sale of what are avowedly
God's gifts, which "no man made." If they had only claimed the right of
selling the use of the permanent improvements they had made in the soil,
by the capital and labour they had expended on it, no one could dispute
the Justice of their demand; but any element of income that might possibly
be derived from this source is called in the language of political economy,
not Rent, but Profit.
Political economists who have written with scientific
precision on the nature and properties of Rent, confine it exclusively
to the moneys which the landlord receives for allowing the tenant the use
of the original and natural productiveness of the soil.
How Political Economists Define
Adam Smith says: "Rent may be considered as
the produce of those powers of nature the use of which the landlord lends
to the farmer. It is the work of nature which remains after deducting or
compensating all that can be regarded as the work of man. It is seldom
less than a fourth, and frequently more than a third of the whole produce."
The part then of the agricultural products of the land which is the result
of the operations of the powers of nature is sometimes more than a third
of the whole—and that is the Rent of the landlord.
Ricardo, the inventor of the celebrated theory
of Rent, called after his name (Ricardo's "Theory of Rent"), defines Rent
to be: "That portion of the produce of the earth which is paid to the landlord
for the use of the original and indestructible powers of the soil. It is
often confounded with the interest and profit of capital… In the future pages
of this work, then, whenever I speak of the Rent of land, I wish to be understood
as speaking of the compensation which is paid to the owner of the land for
the use of its original and indestructible properties."
Scrope writes of it: "The value of land and
its power of yielding a Rent are due to two circumstances. 1. The appropriation
of its natural power. 2. The labour applied to its amelioration. Under the
first of these relations Rent is a monopoly. It restricts our usufruct and
enjoyment of the gifts which God has given to men for the satisfaction of
Senior thus speaks of Rent: "The instruments
of production are labour and natural agents. Natural agents having been appropriated,
proprietors charge for their use under the form of Rent, which is the recompense
of no sacrifice whatever, and is received by those who have neither laboured
nor put by, but who merely hold out their hands to accept the offerings
of the rest of the community."
McCulloch defines it: "What is properly termed
Rent is the sum paid for the use of the natural and inherent powers of the
soil. It is entirely distinct from the sum paid for the use of buildings,
enclosures, roads or other ameliorations." Rent is, then, always a monopoly.
Lastly, Mill says: "The land is the principal
of the natural agents which are capable of being appropriated, and the
consideration paid for its use is called Rent. . . .It is at once evident
that Rent is the effect of a monopoly."
Land Monopoly Usurps God's Gifts
Thus, on the highest and most unquestionable
authority, are we forced to conclude that, owing to the monopoly which the
landlords have usurped in the land of the nation, they sell out the "use
of the original and indestructible powers of the soil"; of "the natural and
inherent powers of the soil"; of "the natural powers of the soil"; that is
to say, they sell the use of God's gifts like so many articles of private
property, and as if they were purely the result of their own toil and labour.
If the "Bedford Level," and the rich tract of
land in Meath with which I have compared it, were to be leased out to tenant
farmers for a given term of years, the one would fetch quite as high a
rent as the other. The farmer would not concern himself much in inquiring
into the source from which the fertility of the land was derived; all his
solicitude and inquiries would be directed to the existence of the fact
that the fertility was there, and which of them possessed it in the higher
degree. The rent which the owner of the "Bedford Level" would receive for
the use of his land would be the just and equitable remuneration to which
he was entitled for the expenditure of his labour and capital, while the
Meath proprietor would receive as high a reward for having done nothing at
all. Only that his income is so woefully wanting in justice, the condition
of the Meath proprietor would certainly be enviable.
The Price of Land a Monopoly
This privileged class not merely sells the use
of God's gifts, but extorts for them a price which is most unjust and exorbitant;
in fact, they hardly ever sell them at less than scarcity or famine prices.
If a man wants to buy a suit of broadcloth, the price he will be required
to pay for it will amount to very little more than what it cost to produce
it—and yet that suit of clothes may be a requirement of such necessity
or utility to him that he would willingly pay three times the amount it
actually cost rather than submit to the inconvenience of doing without
it. On the other hand, the manufacturer would extort the last shilling he
would be willing to give for it, only that he knows there are scores of
other manufacturers ready to undersell him if he demanded much more than
the cost of its production. The price, therefore, of commodities of all
kinds that can be produced on a large scale, and to an indefinite extent,
will depend on the cost required to produce them, or at least that part
of them which is produced at the highest expense.
But there is a limited class of commodities
whose selling price has no relation or dependence at all on the cost at
which they have been produced; for example, rare wines that grow only on
soils of limited extent; paintings by the old masters; statues at exquisite
beauty and finish by celebrated sculptors; rare books, bronzes and medals,
and provisions or articles of human food in cities during a siege, and more
generally in times of scarcity and famine—these commodities are limited
in quantity, and it is physically impossible in the circumstances existing
to increase, multiply, or augment them further. The seller of these commodities,
not being afraid of competition, can put any price he pleases on them short
of the purchasers' extreme estimate of the necessity, utility, or advantage
to themselves of such commodities.
Fabulous sums of money, therefore, have been
expended in the purchase of such commodities— sometimes to indulge a taste
for the fine arts; sometimes to satisfy a passion for the rare and the beautiful;
and, sometimes, too, to gratify a feeling of vanity or ambition to be the
sole proprietors of objects of antiquarian interest and curiosity. On the
other hand, enormous sums of money have been paid in times of scarcity
or during a siege for the commonest necessaries of life, or, failing these,
for substitutes that have been requisitioned for human food, the use of which
would make one shudder in circumstances of less pressing necessity.
The Landlord the Greatest Burden
on the Land.
The land is a commodity that strictly belongs
to this class. It is limited in extent, and no human power can enlarge
or extend its area. The competition for it is excessive, the competitors
struggling for its attainment—not for the purpose of satisfying a taste
for the fine arts, or to gratify a passion for the rare or beautiful, but
to secure a necessary means of existence: for they must live on and by the
land, or they cannot live at all. The owner, therefore, of that land can
put on it any rent he pleases, and the poor people competing for it have
no choice but to accept his terms or die in a ditch or a poor-house. Under
the present system of Land Tenure, the owners are not only enabled, but actually
exact for the use of the land the last shilling the tenant is able to pay,
leaving him only what is barely sufficient to keep him from dying.
Mr. Mill, who is the highest of all authorities
on this subject, thus writes on the letting of land as it is actually carried
out in Ireland: "With individual exceptions (some of them very honourable
ones) the owners of Irish estates do nothing for the land but drain it of
its produce. What has been epigrammatically said in the discussions on 'peculiar
burdens' is literally true when applied to them, that the greatest 'burden'
on the land is the landlords. Returning nothing to the soil, they consume
its whole produce, minus the potatoes strictly necessary to keep the inhabitants
from dying of famine."
Landlordism Confiscates the Work
But the present system of Land Tenure not merely
enables a class to exact from the people of the country a famine price
for the use of the land which God made: it also enables them to charge
a rent for the use of the improvements on the land which the people themselves
made, which are purely the result of their own industry and capital, and
which, in fact, on the strictest principles of justice are their own private
property. With the knowledge and experience which we have acquired all our
lives long of the transactions that are daily taking place between landlords
and tenants, the clearest and most convincing proof that can be given of
this fact will perhaps be found in the plain and simple statement of it.
The land of Ireland would at this moment still
be in its original state of nature had it not been drained, cleared, reclaimed
and fertilised by the enormous outlay of labour and capital which has been
expended on it by the people of the present and their forefathers in past
generations. The landlords contributed nothing, or next to nothing, for
Mr. Mill thus writes of the improvement of land
in Ireland: "Whenever in any country the proprietors, generally speaking,
cease to improve their lands, political economy has nothing to say in defence
of landed property as there established.
Landed property in England is very far from
completely fulfilling the conditions which render its existence economically
justifiable. But if insufficiently realised, even in England, in Ireland
those conditions are not complied with at all. With individual exceptions
. . . the owners of Irish estates do nothing for the land but drain it
of its produce."
Reports of Government Commissions.
The Bessborough and Richmond Commissions recently
appealed directly to the nation for information on this important point.
The answer which the nation returned was (as everyone knew should be the
case), that all, or nearly all the permanent improvements in the soil of the
country were effected by the labour and capital of the people of the country.
The Bessborough Commissioners write in their report: "As a fact, the removal
of masses of rock and stone which, in some parts of Ireland, encumbered the
soil, the drainage of the land and erection of buildings, including their
own dwellings, have generally been effected by the tenants' labour, unassisted,
or only in some instances assisted, by advances from the landlord."
The Work of the Tenants.
The Liberal section of the Richmond Commission
write, in their report on the same subject: "In a country like Ireland, where
the dwelling houses, farm buildings and other elements of a farm, including
often the reclamation from the waste of the cultivated land itself, have
been, and must, in our opinion, continue to be, for the most part, the work
of the tenants."
Even the Tory section of this Richmond Commission,
composed as it is of men of the highest type of Conservatism and Landlordism,
observe with a frankness that shows the force of the evidence brought before
"Bearing in mind the system by which the improvements,
and equipments of a farm are very generally the work of the tenant, and
the fact that a yearly tenant is at any time liable to have his rent raised
in consequence of the increased value that has been given to his holding by
the expenditure of his own capital and labour, the desire for legislative
interference to protect him from an arbitrary increase of rent does not
But further argument in proof of this fact is
quite unnecessary, seeing that both Houses of the Legislature bear emphatic
testimony to it in that section of the Land Act of 1870, which declares
that "all permanent improvements in the soil and on the farm are assumed
to have been made by the tenant, except in those cases in which it has been
clearly proved they have been made by the landlord." The vast property thus
created by the labour and capital of the people, in the permanent improvement
of the soil and in the buildings and equipments of their farms, and which
has been growing and accumulating for centuries, covers a very considerable
part of the aggregate value of the land of the country.
Driven From The Land.
The question then arises, what has become of
this enormous property? The correct answer to this question will, I think,
be found to be that one part of it has been wantonly wasted and destroyed;
that the landlords have coolly appropriated to their own use a second part
of it; and that the people pay, at the present moment, a rent for the use
of the residue of what was once all their own property.
In the one County of Meath, in this Diocese,
there are about 369,000 acres of land laid down in grass seeds or pasture.
That vast territory was nearly all parcelled out about the commencement of
this century in farms of various sizes, ranging from ten to seventy, eighty
or a hundred acres each. These farms were dotted over with clean, commodious,
comfortable, whitewashed dwellings, with offices, outhouses and the plant
of well-to-do farmers. These dwellings were occupied by a race of the most
laborious, industrious, hard-working and virtuous people that ever lived
in any country. But, owing to the iniquitous system of Land Tenure, they
have been almost all mercilessly evicted and swept away, and every vestige
of the vast amount of human life, industry, contentment and happiness that
once flourished on these lands has been so carefully obliterated that, looking
at them in their present melancholy solitude, one would imagine them to
have always been "prairie lands" since the creation.
The property which these poor people possessed
in their dwellings and farm houses has been thus wantonly destroyed, and
the permanent improvements they had created in the productiveness of the soil
were coolly appropriated by the landlords who evicted them.
How Tenants are Rack-rented.
Until the Irish Land League interfered with
their operations, these exterminators sold out by public auction every
year the use of the people's property, as well as the natural productiveness
of the soil, to cattle dealers, for a term of nine, ten or eleven months,
and at a rent ranging from £4 to £6 an acre; and they drew
from their estates an income twice, and in many instances three times as
large as the few honest and honourable proprietors in their neighbourhood
who never evicted anyone at all. I need hardly direct attention to the
notorious fact that those who have been suffered to remain, were only too
glad to be allowed the privilege of paying a rent for the use of the residue
of what was once their own property.
The proof of this is plain. Proprietors, in
letting their land, do not distinguish between the enormous value superadded
to the land by the people's labour and capital for centuries, and the value
it has inherited from nature, and, perhaps in some instances, from their
They let its whole value from every source at
the highest price it will bring. And yet this sorely aggrieved class of
men complain that they can not now let their lands as they always let them
before, and as all other owners are allowed to sell their property still,
on the principle of open competition and free sale!
During the long, large and varied experience
the world has had of the letting of land on that principle, was it ever heard
that an owner let his land at less than its fair value?—and surely that
fair value included the people's improvements on the land as well as his
own. We have seen, on the high authority of Mr. Mill, that it is the almost
universal practice of Irish landlords to exact from their tenants in the
form of rent the whole produce of the land minus the potatoes that are necessary
to keep them from dying of hunger; and surely rack-rents like these cover
every form of value the land possesses, and consequently the people's improvements.
Landlordism Prevents Improvements.
But the truth is, if the landlords only confiscated
the enormous property created on the land by the people's capital and labour
for ages up to the present moment, a word of complaint would not be heard
against them. The great grievance of which the people complain is that,
even still, if the tenant has the folly to expend his labour and capital in
the permanent improvements which the soil so sadly requires, the landlords
are on the lookout to appropriate it at once, and put a fresh increase of
rent on him for the use of his own property.
Quite recently, therefore, the nation has earnestly
appealed to the Legislature, through the Bessborough and Richmond Commissions,
to protect the property which the people were ready to create in the permanent
improvement of the soil, by barring the landlord's right to appropriate
it or charge a fresh rent for its use.
Even the Tory section of the Richmond Commission
were so struck with the manifest injustice of the arbitrary power by which
the landlord can put any rent he pleases not only on the land, but on the
tenant's permanent Improvements in the land, that they virtually recommend
the Government to leave the tenants no longer at their mercy. "Bearing in
mind," they say, "the system by which the improvements and equipments of
a farm are very generally the work of the tenant, and the fact that a yearly
tenant is at any time liable to have his rent raised in consequence of the
increased value that has been given to his holding by the expenditure of
his own capital and labour, the desire of the tenant for legislative interference
to protect him from an arbitrary increase of rent does not seem unnatural"
The Bessborough Commissioners deplore the extent
to which this arbitrary power has been abused in constantly imposing a
fresh increase of rent on every fresh improvement made in the land by the
tenants' capital and labour. The weight of evidence, they say, proves that
the larger estates are in general considerately managed, but that on some
estates, and particularly on some recently acquired, rents have been raised
both before and since the Land Act to an excessive degree, not only as compared
with the value of the land, but even so as to absorb the profit of the tenant's
This process has gone far to destroy the tenant's
legitimate interest in his holding. In Ulster, in some cases, it has almost
"eaten up" the Tenant Right. Elsewhere, where there is no Tenant Right,
the feeling of insecurity produced by the raising of the rent has had a similar
The Liberal section of the Richmond Commission
thus write of the extent to which rents are generally raised: "But we are
satisfied that large proportion of the occupiers of land are living in fear
of an increased demand of rent upon any signs of increased ability to pay,
and sometimes subjected to rents which do not admit of hopeful industry,
and make contentment impossible. This state of things is found in its worst
form upon the poorer tillage lands, upon the smaller properties, and especially,
though not exclusively, upon those which have come into the hands of new
owners since the famine of 1846-47, and down to the present time. We have
had strong evidence, both from our Assistant Commissioners, Professor Baldwin
and Major Robertson, and from private witnesses, that the practice of raising
rents at short and uncertain intervals prevails to an extent fully sufficient
to shake the confidence of the tenants, and to deter them from applying due
industry and outlay to the improvement of their farms." And they conclude
"that this condition of things has created injustice in the past, and is fatal
to the progress so much needed for the future."
An Open Violation of the Principles
Under such a state of things one may well ask,
is it in human nature that anyone could have the heart or the enterprise
to expend his labour and capital on the permanent improvement of the soil
exclusively for the benefit of others, and with a certainty that he will be
charged an increased rent for the use of his own property?
How can any government allow the land of a nation
to remain in the hands of a class of men who will not improve it themselves,
or allow others to improve it either? How can any just government suffer
any longer a system of Land Tenure which inflicts irreparable ruin on the
general industry and prosperity of a nation, and which is maintained solely
for the purpose of giving the landlords an opportunity of plundering the
class of industrious, improving tenants which it is specially bound to protect
Such open violations of the fundamental principles
of justice and of public morality, would make one who has thoroughly thought
the case out, ask himself whether he was really in the region of hard, stern
facts and realities, or only in an ideal of fancy or fiction.
The essential and immutable principles of justice
used certainly to be:—
That everyone had a right of property in the
hard-earned fruits of his labour; that whatever property a man had made by
the expenditure of his capital, his industry and his toil, was really his
own; that he, and he alone, had a right to all the benefits, the advantages
and enjoyments that that property yielded; and that if anyone else meddled
with that property against his will, or interfered with him in its enjoyment,
he was thereby guilty of the crimes of theft and of robbery, which the eternal
law of God, as well as the laws of all nations, reprobated and punished with
But the principles which underlie the existing
system of Land Tenure, and which impart to it its specific and distinctive
character, are exactly the reverse of these. The principles on which that
system is based are:—
That one privileged class do not require to
labour for their livelihood at all: that they have an exclusive right to
all the advantages, comforts and enjoyments that can be derived from a
splendid property, which exacted no patient, painful or self-denying efforts
of labour to create it or acquire it, and which, in fact, they inherited
without any sacrifice at all: that, being a singularly favoured race, and
being all God's eldest sons, the rest of the world must humbly acknowledge
themselves to be their inferiors in rank, lineage, condition and dignity:
that this superiority of rank gives them a right to sell out God's gifts
as if they were purely the products of their own labour and industry, and
that they can exact in exchange for them famine or scarcity prices. Finally,
that they enjoy the enviable privilege of appropriating the hard-earned property
of others against their wills, and do them no wrong even if they charge them
a rent for the use of what would really appear to be their own.
Landlordism Robs All Classes.
Hitherto we have confined ourselves almost exclusively
to the consideration of the various forms of injustice, and the spoliation
of private property which the existing system of Land Tenure enables the
proprietors of the soil to inflict on the tenant farmers of Ireland.
But the tenant farmers, though a numerous, influential
and important section of the nation, are, after all not the nation. Despite
our cruel misgovernment in the past, some few of our national industries
still survive, as well as that of cultivation of the soil. Then there are,
moreover, certain trades and professions whose services are indispensable
to any nation that has any claims to be considered civilised. The vast numbers
who are engaged and live by their labour, industry and skill in the various
trades and professions form an important and an influential section of every
Now, any form of injustice, oppression or wrong
that can possibly exist in any of the great trades or industries of a nation
is only felt by the individuals who belong to that industry or trade, and
who earn their livelihood by their labour and skill in it. Outside, in
the other greater or lesser of the national industries, it is hardly felt
at all. But the Irish system of Land Tenure wrongs and impoverishes not
only those who live by and of the land, but all other classes in the community
as well! It robs not only the cultivators of the soil, but every man in
the community, of a substantial portion of the hard-earned fruits of his
labour, no matter in what trade or profession he may labour for his living.
It is, therefore, not a local or a particular grievance, but a great national
injustice, and that, I think, is its most objectionable peculiarity.
I have already shown that the land of every
country is the public property of the people of that country, and consequently,
that its exclusive appropriation by a class is a substantial injustice and
wrong done to every man in that country», whom it robs of his fair
share of the common inheritance. The injustice of this appropriation is enormously
enhanced by the fact that it further enables the landlords, without any
risk or trouble, and in fact makes it a matter of course for them, to appropriate
a vast share of the earnings of the nation besides. They plundered the
people first of God's gifts in the land, and that act of spoliation puts
them under a sort of necessity of plundering them again of an enormous
amount of their direct earnings and wages. The line of argument that leads
directly to this conclusion seems abundantly clear.
Land Values intended by Providence
for Public Purposes.
I have already observed that the chief peculiarity
of the land of a country was that its value was never stationary, that it
was always progressive and rising, that in fact it increased in a direct
ratio with the growth of the population and the advancing progress of the
industry of the nation.
It would seem as if Providence had destined
the land to serve as a large economical reservoir, to catch, to collect
and preserve the overflowing streams of wealth that are constantly escaping
from the great public industrial works that are always going on in communities
that are progressive and prosperous.
Besides the permanent improvements that are
made in the land itself, and which increase its productiveness and value,
there are other industrial works not carried out on the land itself, but
on its surroundings and in its vicinity, and which enhance its value very
considerably. A new road is made for the accommodation of a district; a
new bridge is thrown across a river or a stream to make two important localities
accessible to each other; a new railway passes close by and connects it
with certain large and important centres of industry; a new factory or a
new mill is erected, or a new town is built in the neighbourhood.
Industrial works like these add very materially
to the value of all the land in their vicinity. It is a well-known fact that
a new railway has in several instances doubled the value of the land through
which it passed, in consequence of the increased facilities it had afforded
for the sale of its agricultural products.
In every state of society, which is progressive
and improving, such industrial works are continually going on, and hence
the value of the land is rising also everywhere. But its value rises enormously
with the enlarged growth of the population of a nation, and with the increased
productiveness of its industry.
Wages Do Not Keep Pace.
The United Kingdom furnishes an example that
is singularly illustrative of this fact. Says Mr. Cairnes: "A given exertion
of British labour and capital will now produce in a great many directions
five, ten or twenty times, in some instances perhaps a hundred times the
result which an equal exertion would have produced a hundred years ago. It
is not probable that industry is, in any direction whatever, less productive
now than it was then; yet the rate of wages, as measured by the real well-being
of the labourer, has certainly not advanced in anything like a corresponding
degree; while it may be doubted if the rate of profit has advanced at all."
A given amount, then, of British capital and labour is now ten or twenty
times more effective than a hundred years ago, while, on the other hand,
the quantity of such effective labour and capital now engaged in British industrial
production is perhaps twenty times larger now than formerly.
Value of British Industrial Production.
The total aggregate result of British industrial
production is therefore something enormous, and its gross pecuniary value
must be proportionately large. What that total pecuniary value is I suppose
it would be impossible to determine, even approximately. We know, however,
that the pecuniary value of the foreign goods imported annually into England
amounted for several years past to considerably more than £300,000,000
Now, as barter, or the mutual exchange of commodities,
is the principle of international trade, these foreign goods could be paid
for only by the export of English manufactured goods to such an amount
that their aggregate pecuniary value would be substantially equal to that
sum. If to these three hundred millions we add the price of the British
manufactured goods consumed at home that sum would probably realise a few
hundred millions more.
But to guard against the possibility of a pretext
to object to our argument, let us assume that the total pecuniary value
of British manufactured goods, whether consumed at home or abroad, only
amounted to £300,000,000 sterling. Now, that being the sum realised
by the sale of the fruits of British industrial production, becomes, of
course, the natural and just remuneration of the labour and capital that
produced them. The part of that sum that must be apportioned for the remuneration
of capital must be comparatively small, seeing that the rate of profit
on capital for years past has been as low as, perhaps lower than, at any
previous period. Vastly the larger portion of it, therefore, must pass
into the hands of the labourers, who will spend it, perhaps, to the last
Wise and thoughtful men have often bitterly
deplored the want of that spirit of self-denial in the British operative
which would induce him to save and "put by," with the view of improving
his condition, or, at all events, of making provision for the evil day
of sickness or of old age. The clothing of the British workman is not very
expensive, and, with the exception of the outlay necessary for that purpose,
the remainder of the vast sums he has earned will be spent on food.
Landlords Sow Not, But They Reap.
Now, the ordinary food of the operatives and
people of every country is what is called "the raw products of the soil";
that is to say, the beef, the mutton, the bacon, the poultry, the eggs, the
milk, the butter, the flour, the meal, the potatoes, and the vegetables that
spring directly from the soil, and that require only the simplest and the
most inexpensive industrial processes to fit them for immediate use. "The
raw products of the soil" will then be sold to the operatives as to other
people at the highest price they will bring, on the principle of open competition
and free sale.
When, therefore, the competition is thus for
the necessaries and luxuries of life, and that the competitors must be reckoned
by millions, and that their means for purchasing must be reckoned by hundreds
of millions, the demand for the raw products must be enormous, and the
prices which they will bring must range very high. This enormous demand
will exhaust all the foodproducing resources of the country till a point
is reached at which a further supply of food from the soil would cost more
than its production in foreign countries, plus the expense of its carriage
and delivery here.
The prices, therefore, of "the raw products"
thus ranging very high, the value of the soil which produced them also rises
enormously; indeed, the vast sums which the nation pays for its food, for
nearly all the necessaries and many of the luxuries of life, pass directly,
and with little expense or trouble, into the hands of those who hold the
ownership of the land, with the single deduction of the remuneration due
to the usufructuaries or farmers.
If the land had not been appropriated by individuals
and diverted from the original purpose for which Providence had intended
it, the high prices which the nation thus imposes on itself by the vastness
of its numbers and the abundance of its wealth, in the purchase of the raw
products of the soil, should be regarded as a most just and natural tax,
which it instinctively levies on itself to realise the large sums that are
necessary for the support of its public burdens.
The Great National Property Which Landlords
Are Permitted to Appropriate.
But now the great national property which Providence
has destined for the support of the public burdens of society has been
diverted from its original purpose to minister to the wants, the necessities,
and perhaps the extravagance of a class. The explanation of this extraordinary
act of national spoliation will be found in the fact that hitherto this
class could just do as it pleased; the government of the country lay for
centuries exclusively in its hands, and despite the combined influence of
"English radicalism" and "Irish obstructionism" it is practically in its
hands still. The enormous value, then, thus superadded to the land from the
two sources just indicated passes directly with the land itself into the
hands of those who own it.
Those who hold the ownership of the land hold
also the ownership of all the accessions of value it receives from all
quarters. This increase in the value of their property cost no sacrifice,
demanded no painful effort of labour. Even while they slept their rent rolls
went on increasing and multiplying.
The value continually imparted to the land by
the industrial exertions of the community, in the construction of harbours
and bridges, in the making of new roads and railways, in the erection of
new factories, mills and houses, etc., has all gone with the land, has all
been confiscated and appropriated by the owners of the soil.
Professor Cairnes feels sorely perplexed to
account for some of the anomalous results of this appropriation. He says:
"A bale of cloth, a machine, a house, owes its value to the labour expended
upon it, and belongs to the person who expends or employs the labour; a
piece of land owes its value, so far as its value is affected by the causes
I am now considering, not to the labour expended on the land, but that expended
on something else—the labour expended in making a railroad or in building
houses in an adjoining town; and the value thus added to the land belongs
not to the persons who have made the railroads or built the houses, but to
someone who may not have been aware that these operations were being carried
on—nay, who perhaps has exerted all his efforts to prevent their being carried
on. How many landlords have their rent rolls doubled by railways made in
Professor's Unwitting Testimony
It never occurred to Mr. Cairnes that he had
here given, quite unconsciously to himself, an unanswerable argument, ex
absurdo, to prove the injustice of the appropriation of the land. If the
land had not been confiscated no such absurd or unjust result could have followed.
The value imparted by labour to the land, exactly like "the bale of cloth,
the house or the machine," would belong to the persons who expended or employed
that labour, that is to say, to the public, by whose industrial exertions
it had been created.
Lastly, the vast accessions of value which the
land is constantly receiving from the proceeds of that "self-imposed tax"
which the nation levies on itself in the high prices it pays for the "raw
products of the soil," together with the increased productiveness of the
soil itself, go all, as Mr. Cairnes is forced to confess, "neither to profits
nor to wages nor to the public at large, but to swell a fund ever growing,
even while its proprietors sleep—to the rent roll of the owner of the soil."
Private Property in Land the
Real Robber of Labour.
Thus the appropriation of God's gifts in the
land led naturally, and as a matter of course, to the appropriation of an
enormous amount of the wages and earnings of the nation, which, in the designs
of Providence, kept constantly dropping into the land, accumulating on the
land, and adding to the value of the land, not for the enrichment of the landlords,
but for the support of the public burdens of the State.
Now a system of Land Tenure which thus despoils
the people of a nation of a vast amount of their earnings, which transfers
a valuable property which they have created by patient, painful and self-denying
efforts of their labour, to a class who do not labour at all, and make no
sacrifices whatever, can, I think, be fairly characterised as a system of
national spoliation. The hardworking, industrious masses of the nation are
taxed twice, and for an enormous amount each time. They are taxed first
for the benefit of the owners of the soil, to supply them with all the
comforts, enjoyments and luxuries which they desire, and are taxed again
to the amount of eighty millions annually for the government and defence
of the country.
With two such enormous drains on the productive
industry and labour of the country, I cannot share in the astonishment which
Mr. Cairnes feels at finding that, notwithstanding the increased productiveness
of British industry, "the rate of wages, as measured by the real well-being
of the labourer," has not improved to any material extent, "while it may
be doubted whether the rate of profit has advanced at all."
Both Capital and Labour are Exploited.
Both capitalists and operatives, therefore,
are intensely disappointed and supremely dissatisfied with these disheartening
results, and mutually reproach each other with fraud and foul dealing in
the division of their common earnings. Their mutual misunderstandings and
rival claims to a larger share than they actually receive have given rise
to "lockouts" on the one side and "strikes" on the other; to combinations
of capitalists among the employers and "Trade Unions" among the labourers.
Thus their mutual relations, which ought to be of the friendliest character,
have at last settled down into the permanent form of an insane internecine
war, which inflicts irreparable injury on the common interests of both.
It never occurs to either side that a third
party could possibly be liable to blame. I think I have shown that neither
party has received, or at all events can retain for his own use and enjoyment,
its fair share of their common earnings. The existing system of Land Tenure,
like a great national thief, robs both parties of an enormous amount of their
earnings for the benefit of a class who do not labour at all.
As the operatives complain the louder, so the
case they make against the capitalists seem really the weaker and the worse
founded of the two. Mr. Cairnes, with many others, proved to evidence that
unless in rare and exceptional cases it is perfectly impossible for the
capitalist to withhold from the operatives their fair share in their common
Higher Money Wages but Lower Purchasing Power.
Does it therefore follow that the strong, widespread
and permanent feeling of discontent which prevail among the labourers is
the result of fancy or imagination, having no solid foundation whatever
Undoubtedly this feeling proves the labourers
to have substantial grievances, although I think they have failed to trace
them to the causes that have really produced them. The money wage of the
English operative is now considerably higher than in any past period of
English history. But if his money wage is now high, the price of the raw
products of the soil, that is to say, of the necessaries and comforts of
life, is vastly higher still.
A given amount of money will not now procure
for him the same quantity of food and of the other necessaries of life as
formerly. In purchasing the raw products of the soil, he must pay not only
for the necessaries and comforts of life which he enjoys himself, but also
for the comforts and luxuries which go to the enjoyment of the owners of the
soil. The price, therefore, of the raw products is a payment and a tax; a
payment for what he consumes himself, and a tax for what is consumed by others.
Then again, a vast margin of the earnings of
the English people is expended in direct and indirect taxation. The public
burdens of every nation fall mainly on the vast masses of that nation, and
the operatives of England are the vast masses of the English nation.
If the English operatives could only retain
for their own use and benefit the vast sums which, under the existing system
of Land Tenure, go on the one hand to the owners of the soil, and the sums
that an economical system of taxation would save for them on the other, their
material comforts and enjoyments would be multiplied a hundred fold. Under
the existing state of things their condition is utterly incapable of any
improvement in the future.
Economist's Revolting Doctrine
Political economists can see no possible way
in which English operatives can permanently improve their condition, except
they have recourse to that revolting and unnatural expedient of voluntarily
restraining and limiting their numbers. "This, then," says Mr. Cairnes—the
limitation of his numbers—"is the circumstance on which, in the last resort,
any improvement at all of a permanent kind in the labourer's condition turns."
If the self-commissioned apostles who preach
this new doctrine only warned the people against the consequences of reckless
and improvident marriages, I would join and go with them heartily. But when
they advise them (as they seem to me to do) to increase and multiply according
to the requirements of trade, and in such proportions as they may be wanted,
for the benefit of their betters; when they advise them to increase and
multiply only when trade is prosperous, prices are high and commerce flourishes,
I am heartily opposed to them.
These teachings appear to me not only unchristian,
but revolting and unnatural; and their wickedness is only surpassed by the
astounding ignorance of human nature which they reveal in men who ought
to be better informed.
The Only Hope for Labour—"Back
to the Land."
The British workman has no need to have recourse
to such an unnatural expedient for the purpose of improving his condition.
The chief, the fundamental obstacle he will have to overcome, will be found
in the existing system of Land Tenure. British operatives and capitalists,
of all men living, appear to me to have the largest and deepest interest
in a thorough and radical reformation in the system of Land Tenure in our
country as well as in their own.
Trades Unions, therefore, instead of wasting
their energies and resources in a fruitless struggle with capitalists, would
do well to turn their attention in this direction. They have a wide field
here for their efforts, and their labours here cannot possibly be fruitless.
The rallying cry of capitalists and labourers
ought then to be—
"Back to the Land"