The Edwin Burgess 

Letters on Taxation

Many may think that the means of raising revenue whether the taxes are levied on the land or labour-have nothing to do with chattel slavery; but if they will carefully examine the subject, I think they will find that, putting all the taxes on the land would be one of the best means of making chattel slavery unprofitable that can possibly be devised by human ingenuity.
     Slave labour also requires more land to yield the same amount of produce than free labour; and, therefore, their taxes would be greater in to proportion to their produce.
     Were all the taxes on the land, the Slave states would have to pay as much tax for the general government as the Free States, because they have as much or more land. But as the expenses of the general government are now paid by duties on imports, of which the Free States consume three-fourths, consequently the Free States pay three fourths of the taxes for general government.
     It costs vastly more for local government in the Slave States, for officers and overseers to keep slaves in bondage; and were all the taxes on the land, it would diminish the profit of slave produce in proportion to that of the Frl~8 States.
     It costs vastly more for legislators to make laws to sustain slavery than to sustain freedom, besides the cost of slaves, of officers, spies, and bloodhounds, and slave-catchers, to sustain the heartrending iniquity.
     Were all the taxes on the land, the Slave States would have to pay their own postage.
     Were all the taxes on the land, it would not pay to keep land idle for speculation, and the poorer the cultivation the worse it would pay; and as slave cultivation is always poor and exhausting, thus far it would pay worse than free labour. Consequently, slave farms surrounded by free farms, and Slave States surrounded by Free States, could not, commercially compete with either in their surplus productions, and thus the profit of slaveholding would be diminished or destroyed; for the extra cost of slaves, and the extra cost of keeping them in bondage and ignorance-and their masters and overseers in idleness-would more than consume all that you could whip and starve out of the slave. I know no tax that would so effectually kill slavery as the per acre land tax' while no tax is so little cost to the Government, gives so little inducement to corruption, and so effectually destroys land monopoly-on which chattel slavery and wages slavery both depend, for did none own more land than they needed to cultivate or occupy, they would not want to steal their brethren, or hire others to cultivate it for them.
     The slave must always remain in ignorance to keep him a slave, and consequently he can only do the cheapest labour; while the free man is daily growing in intelligence, and inventing machinery which tends to supersede slavery itself. And the cheaper and freer the land for all, the more will those who own their farms, who are interested in keeping them in the best Possible condition, and who cultivate them by their own labour, closely compete with rented farms and slave labour, and thus tend, happily, to supersede chattel and wages slavery.
     Were all the taxes on the land, it would not pay to keep it idle; the result would be cultivation to make it pay, which would cause an abundance of produce, for which manufactures would be made to exchange. And as the land would be free or cheap, the wages of labour would rise, because, whenever manufacturing paid less than farming, many more would farm the land, and thus equalize the wages of labour between farming and manufacturing. And as the wages of labour rise, the profits of trading fall, and as it would be useless to glut the market, and produce over-much, it would be less profitable to buy slaves and keep them for a market easily over-supplied, arid which continually diminishes the profits of commerce, in proportion to the surplus production, till it would be harder to buy and Whip slaves to work than to do the little work, with the aid of machinery, for our own subsistence.
     But with cheap free land, with the aid of machinery, we could easily produce a super-abundance of all that is best for mankind, and have an abundance of leisure for the cultivation of our physical, mental and moral faculties, and thus produce, that Physical, mental and moral elevation which slavery must inevitably dwarf instead of develop.
     It is now said that one wages slave or landless hireling will do the work of two or three chattel slaves. But if a hireling will do as much better than a slave who is owned, how much better will free landowners work for themselves, thus saving all the cost of overseers, taskmasters, slave catchers, officials, blood-hounds, and slave legislation, while enjoying all the fruits which have hitherto kept them in luxury, indolence, extravagance, and vice?
     Then give us free land and the exclusive per acre land tax to keep the land as cheap as possible, or without price, forever, so that all who desire can have land to cultivate, and thus create an unbounded home market for our manufactures; then we may fearlessly remove all restrictions on commerce, and enjoy a peace-making, free, and fraternal commerce with every nation in the world.
     The world is fast becoming densely peopled, and the same extent of land monopoly as formerly cannot be borne without a vast increase of misery, which should certainly be avoided by all just and practicable means. With our taxes on labour land becomes dearer continually, and is only owned permanently by the rich, who, owning the land practically, own the largest share of the labour of the landless, for Denton, of Michigan, long since computed that American labourers get less than one-fifth of the produce of their labour, while in England, in 1858, it was estimated at only one-sixteenth.
     Then again I say, put all the taxes on the land, so that only those who profitably cultivate it and live on it can afford to occupy it; then the land, the source of all our subsistence, will cease to be owned by drones and speculators, but be permanently and profitably occupied, not only by the industrious tillers of the soil, but by the factories and homes of every being of our race.
To: Burgess Letters

Hovedside: Grundskyld - Henry George
Henry George
Andre Skribenter
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Summary of pages in English: Land and taxation
March 2009