Land Reform in 1848 and 1888
Joshua King Ingalls, "Land Reform in 1848 and 1888," Liberty, 5, 22 (Jun 9, 1888), 5.
Land Reform in 1848 and 1888.
The veteran land reformer, J. K. Ingalls, in a fine article running through two numbers of the “Truth Seeker” under the above title, contrasts the schemes of George Henry Evans and Henry George. The whole is well worth rending, hut room can be made here only for the following extracts:
I do not propose to discuss the respective claims of George and Evans as authorities on the land question, nor, at any length, the nature of their peculiar plans or schemes; but will state the “measure” of the one, and the “remedy” of the other, briefly, leaving you to judge between them as reason or prejudice may determine. So far as a statement of the pernicious influence or land monopoly is concerned, Mr. George has simply reiterated the arguments and statements of the early reformers, and, if in more attractive phrase, it does not necessarily follow that the influence of his utterances will be more enduring. So far the two men and their eras present no important differences. Only in respect to: “What is to be done?” do they differ. They represent in this not only different eras, but quite different systems of philosophy, social and political. It is true they agree that reform must come through the ballot and through legislation. But Mr. Evans belonged to the school that believes government to be a necessary evil, and that we are to have as little to do with it as possible. That nature is to be relied on mainly, and that to correct the evils of already existing legislation is the great aim to be sought by the reformer. Thus far he is an optimist. The line of Mr. George’s thought is decidedly pessimistic. He accepts the theories of Malthus and Ricardo that rent, that synonym of all subjection and the men suffer from it, is a result of natural law, which can only be eliminated through Statecraft and the rate of force, and that the onward march of progress, with its natural adjunct, poverty, can only thus be stayed. He has some way, however, of applying the optimistic rule to interest and profits; at any rate, has never proposed that these should be taxed back for the benefit of the State, although admitting they are equally uncompensated by service, and are as truly “a gratuity of nature” as is the use of land.
The plan of Mr. Evans was this: By political agitation and control of the legislature to place a limit to the ownership of land. This principle had already been applied to religious and other corporate institutions, and to the patenting of the lands “only to actual settlers in limited quantities.” The maximum had been fixed at one hundred and sixty acres. Mr. Evans suggested this as a limit to private ownership, not as a fixed quantity, but to obtain a recognition of the right of government to so limit it, to be modified as wisdom should direct in the future. He contemplated a peaceful attainment of this object, by wise gradations, invading no “vested rights,” yet effectually preventing any further accumulation of landed estates beyond the legal limit, whether by purchase, gift, or inheritance. All of these matters nre held to be subjects properly regulative by statute law. The advocates of land nationalization propose to have the State resume the title to the land it has once already sold to private parties; to be rented back to those who want and are able to hire. Mr. George simplifies this process by treating land values as simply the amount of rent the land will yield, and taxing it back entire without any disturbance to owners or to occupiers. This maybe termed “a short method” of “land nationalization.” It means “confiscation of rent.” You have here substantially the means proposed by the two men, representing different schools and distinct periods, for the reform of a universally admitted evil, the monopolized control of the only passive factor in production,—the home and standing-place and work-room of the whole human family. They are in accord fully as to the nature of the evil to be remedied, and, indeed, as to the necessity of securing political supremacy to accomplish the reform. The great object, as both agree, is justice to labor, the abolition of poverty, and the promotion of the public good. But the measures for which such political power is to he wielded in order to accomplish those ends are wholly incompatible with each other. The one sought equality through limitation of power and restriction of privilege, mutually operative as to all citizens of a State. The other seeks the annihilation of a class, allodial owners, embracing those whose ownership promotes social prosperity as well as those which endanger It, and the making of every occupant of the hued a tenant of the Stats, hut offers no-guarantee whatever against the unlimited control of the land through lease-hold, or the extension of legal privilege to the lordly rule of capital, such leases would give.
Now, limitation of powers is involved in, and is, indeed, the professed burden of, all forms of legislation whatever. Limitation to private ownership of an essential, natural element, indispensable to the life and to the well-being of the individual, is a logical and constitutional means of redress, under any view of law which ever prevailed. It accords with our system of tenure, which assumes that the right of occupancy is in every one of the whole people. “Confiscation of rent,” on the other hand, would require an entire subversion of our system of occupancy and of well-established principles of property; is inconsistent with our Constitution, if we have one; and, being revolutionary in Its character, should only he resorted to in the last extremity, even were It In itself wise and feasible. This remedy is, doubtless, compatible with the fictions of English law and of monarchy by “divine right”; but not by any theory of democracy or principles of equity with which I am acquainted. But I think the time for promoting any positive reform of the land system through political ascendancy, and by legislative preponderance of an honest purpose to effect is public good, has long since passed away, through either Mr. George’s or Mr. Evans’s schemes. For it is quite apparent now to clear-headed people that the land question, and all other questions of human interest, will take care of themselves, if governments will let them alone, withdraw their bailiffs, tax-gatherers, detective police, and bandit, mercenary soldiery.
Social industry from its primitive communal organization has passed through three phases of development. In the patriarchal state labor had some degrees of organization, in which the more spontaneous coöperation of the tribe or community became subjected to authority and to the order of an arbitrary will, whose rude directorship effected some approach to the combination and division of labor, more lately established.
Next, in the struggle and as the consequent growth of leadership in their interminable wars and the rise of monarchical rule, the warlike organization of labor was effected, under the militant spirit, and became compulsorily coöperative, system characterized by Hobbes as having “selfishness everywhere and unlimited power somewhere.” On the decline of the militant spirit end as the rule of law obtained and constitutional governments became established, what may be termed the litigant organization of labor took place and became semi-voluntary in place of wholly involuntary; but of the apparent freedom under this now existing form much is the result of a compulsory assent effected through the various fictions and subtle devices of our transmitted legalities, not less invasive than the sword of the freebooter or the lash of the slaveholder. In nothing is this so conspicuous and so fatal to social life nod progress as in the falseness of the law of property and of thin unlimited dominion of the laud, under the law of the market.
The inability to defend our land system on any ethical or economic grounds, the agreement of all thinkers that it is incompatible with any rule hut one of despotism, and the necessity for a system of organization of labor and cooperation which shall embrace division as well as production, indicates a possible future type of labor organization wherein a broader freedom and a clearer sense of mutual help and mutual benefit will secure a more fully developed sustaining system, and one which will promote, not the military, civic, or material aggrandizement of a nation or of an individual, that the development of higher activities and the pursuit of nobler aims. It is simply idle to suppose that the dangerous class who aspire to profit by making, interpreting, and enforcing, and also in evading, our system of legal quiddities will ever willingly further any such reform whatever, or propose to aid any salutary cause except for the purpose of betraying it.
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The well-intentioned efforts of Mr. Evans and his confreres had been pertinaciously followed up for an entire generation. It is true that they looked to political action and legislative expedients as effective agencies of reform, and so in that regard their labors were fruitless. But Mr. George has not learned from their failure, but has repeated their blunders, even if he has not used the reform as a means to political preferment and the advancement of party aims. The land reformers of 1848 who followed the lead of Mr. Evans have kept alive the embers of the fire that glowed in that early day, and now by placing their reform upon the broad ground of economic and industrial law have made the scientific consideration of land ownership imperative. Mr. George’s remedy is wholly empirical, and is suggested by no principle of law or fact of economy. In subjecting the question to careful analysis, and to the test of the social good, we have placed it in the line of positive settlement, without or in spite of political scheming, caucus dictation, purchased votes, stuffed ballet-boxes; for nothing can stand before the advance of exact knowledge. There is no rebellion against mathematics; and no demonstrated truths can be suppressed by any despotic rule. In the words of Ruskin: “We live in an epoch of change, and probably of revolution; thoughts that cannot be put aside are in the minds of all men capable of thought. One principle can, in the end will, close all epochs of revolution,—that each man shall possess the ground he can use and no more.”
A peaceful evolution of industry and society will then ensue; and the rule of ignorant, arbitrary will of monarch or majority will end, when helpful science and progressive thought shall free mankind from their superstitious reverence for ecclesiastical dogmas and legal fictions.