Reminiscences of an octogenarian in the fields of industrial and social reform/11

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Joshua King Ingalls

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[NOTE: 11th chapter, labeled "XII" in original]


In 1872 our Association opened correspondence with the English Land Reformers, of different schools, as the following letters, first published in the New York World will show.


510 Pearl Street, New York City, June, 182l

Gentlemen:—In a spirit of fraternal regard we herewith forward you a photograph of our Committee, mainly as it was originally formed thirty years ago. The devoted pioneer of our reform, George H. Evans, shown in the central figure of the group passed away fourteen years ago. * * * * We entertain towards you the sentiment which should actuate kindred workers in the same great cause. Our organization is formed for a single purpose to abolish land monopoly—and we cheerfully co-operate with all who agree on this point, whatever be their views on finance or other political questions. Our great struggle for the last two or three years has been [61] with the infamous land grants to railroad corporations on which have teen squandered hundreds of millions of acres of the people's lands. We have aroused such a public sentiment as to extort from the minions of monopoly themselves the acknowledgment that they are satisfied the people will tolerate no further donations. The Homestead law, which we succeeded in getting adopted after a struggle of a quarter of a century, has been made available by hundreds of thousands of settlers who till their own soil in independence, notwithstanding that the law was so framed and has been so excited as to do monopoly the least possible injury. As regards the public domain we consider the contest about over. All parties now proclaim our policy, though politicians betray it whenever they dare. We are directing our efforts now to "Land Limitation," which term we prefer to "Nationalization of the Land;" for when no one can be protected by law in the ownership of more than a suitable maximum apportionment, no one can be denied its use. If the controlling title was in the nation a similar limitation would be required, for a monopoly of leases and special grants under Government for a term of years would work just as pernicious results as a monopoly of title-deeds or grants in perpetuity. We only need apply to ownership in land the old principle of law which forfeits a franchise by "misuser" or "non-user," to secure all land not well cultivated to the free occupancy of those who would properly use and cultivate it. In your country, where independent holders who cultivate their own soil are the exception rather than the rule, as with us, different measures and methods of procedure may be required. But without presuming to decide what may be your best policy, we have stated the course which the reform we have equally at heart seems destined to take in this country. At the same time we greet with hearty sympathy the inauguration of such measures by you as you deem necessary under your condition to further this great and humanitary reform which seeks to make the earth as free to the willing toiler as the air he breathes.

Fraternally yours.

WILLIAM ROWE, President,

H. BEENEY, Recording Secretary,

J. K. INGALLS, Corresponding Secretary. [62]

An answer was received from the Land Tenure Association, written by Mr. John Stuart Mill, his original draft accompanying the official document. The reply is as follows:


9 Buckingham Street, Strand, W. C.,

October 10, 1872,

Sir:—I am instructed by the Executive Committee of the Land Tenure Reform Association to express their cordial thanks to the Land Reform Association of the United States for their friendly and sympathizing letter and for the photographs intended to preserve the memory of the founders of their body. Like you we had seen with regret and disapprobation the vast alienation of lands belonging to the people of the United States in gifts of private corporations, and we rejoice to learn from your letter that through the public sentiment aroused by your exertions this culpable squandering of the public property is not to be carried further. The aim of your Association is to compel the reservation of the remainder of the public domain for the exclusive use of actual settlers, but to these you propose that it should continue to be granted in absolute property, on the principle of the Homestead law, subject to forfeiture if not duly brought under cultivation. You, however, propose a limitation: of the extent of land which can be legally held in property by a single proprietor. Our own principles would have made us prefer in a young country like yours the State should avoid what we think the error of parting absolutely with the ownership of the soil. It is not for us, however, to attempt to impose our judgment upon you as to the particular mode of combating land monopoly which is most advisable and above all most likely to be successful in the United States. It is satisfactory to us to think that the grants of land to individuals need not be interpreted as waiving the right to take hereafter by taxation for the necessities of the State; a part of the increase of value which those lands will most rapidly acquire through the unexampled progress of wealth and population which distinguishes your country. This increase of value, as far as it does not result from the proprietor's own labor and outlay, but from the general prosperity produced by the labor and outlay of the entire community we consider as rightfully belonging not to the individual but to the [63] public, though we would carefully avoid exercising this right to an extent or in a manner which would impair the confidence of individuals in being allowed to enjoy whatever additional value may be given to their lands by their own exertions or expenditures. It is probable that this point may not have escaped the consideration of your Society, but that you do not consider the time to have come in the economic progress of the United States at which it can expediently be raised with a view to practical results. However this may be, and by whatever diversity of means our two Associations may aim at the same object, these are engaged in a common cause, and every step gained by either tends to promote the success of the other. For our own part we shall not fail to derive valuable encouragement from your example and sympathy.

I am, my dear sir, yours faithfully,

Thos. A. Cowper (Colonel), Hon. Secretary.

Mr. H. Beeney, Secretary Land Reform Association, U. S. A.

The other reply was as follows:


London, E. C., August, 1872.

To the Land Reform Association, New York:

Gentlemen:—We interchange with you the spirit of fraternal affection and feel our happiness much increased by communication with bretheren on the other side of the wide world, holding sentiments so much in harmony with our own and having one object with to, namely, the increase and lasting welfare of all mankind. The photograph of your committee so kindly sent to us will always be a pleasing memento that we are not isolated in our movement and will tend much to encourage us in our work. That for the Land Tenure Reform Association has been duly transmitted, and its acknowledgement will doubtless be accompanied with copies of publications issued by them, in which you will observe that they make honorable mention of our League and really admit the truth of our principle while they waive the advocacy of right and substitute that of expediency, in many instances by argument more in harmony with our position than their own. Although there have been [64] among us, in times gone by, men who maintained the principle we now publicaly advocate (as your quotation from our own Blackstone shows,) yet it is but recently that such a Society has been formed; and we believe that we may claim the privilege as ours. You will also be glad to hear that the platform of our League has so far progressed that no advanced liberal organization is now called into existence which does not indorse our chief proposition "The Nationalization of the Land," while other associations follow us to a great extent. Accept our hearty congratulations on the result of the great struggles you have brought to such successful issues as to prevent any further land grants and to have established the Homestead law. Glorious results! repaying all your long energies many thousand fold in the gratitude, freedom, honor, and independence of the hundreds of thousands of settlers from many nations blessed through your instrumentality with a true, natural, and lasting patrimony. Comparing the two countries, your vast, and, as far as human wants are involved, boundless continent, and our small islands of the United Kingdom, a different policy is necessarily required, for while you, with your unlimited acreage, may say to land monopolizers, "Thus far but no farther," we see all our land monopolized, either totally or partially, and all our people—as well as our million of paupers—divorced from the soil and that natural right to appropriate sufficient of it for their beneficial use, entirely ignored by royalty, aristocracy, the Government, Church, and plutocracy. The principle we maintain is that land, in justice to mankind in successive generations, cannot rightly be private property, and hence private ownership of land is condemned by us and neither grants nor leases in perpetuity are countenanced, but simple tenure under the State, and that, too, contemporaneously with its proper cultivation and use, and forfeiture by misuser or non-user. We may enlarge the quotation heading your letter, and heartily say, "The land shall neither be sold nor granted forever;" and in so doing we feel we do not violate that sacred law, but only extend its power to crush the monopoly of inhuman and avaricious men. We look forward to the time when social and scientific advancement shall have so far progressed that every nation shall be highly productive in its manufactures and agriculture: that in proportion as app-[65]-plied science supersedes labor in the world, the now doomed life-long toilers among us and other peoples shall be relieved from over-wrought work, and shall le enabled to enjoy, without anxiety, a life of comfort, happiness, mental and moral elevation, in a state of society based upon the nationalization of the land, as the natural, inalienable, and everlasting right of man throughout all ages— that right to the land conferred upon him, in truth and equity, by our all-benevolent Creator. Earnestly wishing your Association long life and prosperity in its work, we subscribe ourselves, in behalf of the Land and Labor League, your brothers in the cause of humanity.

JOHN WESTON, President, etc, etc.

In giving the above correspondence to the public, we deem it proper to add a word in explanation of our views in regard to private property in land, and which we hold rests, precisely, as all other private property, upon the ground that "it is the product of one's labor." It is economically as well as morally wrong to bar access to the raw material, which needs the application of effort to convert it into wealth. Opportunity has justly no price; but, as referring to the land, should be shared by all according to the capacity and desire to cultivate and improve it. During the employment of one's labor, and the reaping of the fruit, the right to private property, in the soil, is as sacred as in any other thing; for, since labor can effect matter by moving it, and in no other way, the soil, which one's labor has moved (in the direction of production) is as veritably his own, as the gold he has dug from the mountain, the fish he has taken from the sea, or the game he has captured in the forest.

We are unable to foresee any danger, from the civil acknowledgment of this right, to the principle of "eminent domain," or "right to tax," in the State; but on the contrary, judge them more secure as well as less liable to abuse, when the soil is under the control of its honest cultivator, than it could possibly be under any system of allotment by lease from the Government, which method could hardly fail to induce corruption; by the opportunities it would afford for favoritism.

The enormous increase in the price of land near our business centres, on close investigation, we believe, will be found to rise from the unjust power to hold lands in unlimited quantities, and from the [66] ability of the classes, living by the privileges it confers, and to speculative trade it fosters, to pay immense sums for the monopoly creates, and not through any normal progress in wealth and population. This increase is an appreciation in the trade price merely, and not in any value or ability in the land, to yield a more bountiful return to labor, or greater facilities to industry or social intercourse and represents neither private nor public outlay or labor, but only the power to bar the industrious poor from the passive elements of production.

All price, other than that which represents so much labor performed, but unrequited, and which it is urged should be reclaimed by a society, we recognize as the result of pure monopoly; and which we should aim to destroy rather than sanction, by making the State a partner in the imposition.

With one-half of the agricultural laborers of this country, proprietors of the acres they till, we think the time not yet come for the adoption of any plan to tax away these increased values. And trust in our ability to make it appear so clear that this increase is due wholly to the unlimited power given by our present laws of acquirement with privilege to monopolize the soil, as to compel the adoption of an effective limitation, which shall remove the necessity of its consideration for all time.

We have already a precedent in our State Legislation, where the issue on this question has to be met, limiting the amount of realty which religious and other corporations may acquire; and the only thing really necessary to he done, is to apply the same principle to acquisition by the individual.

By order of the Committee.

J. K. INGALLS, Cor. Sec