The Land and the People

Joseph Rodes Buchanan

[Reprinted from a Cincinnati monthly called The Herald of Truth, August and September, 1847]

The paramount questions of the present day concern the relation of man to man. That relation has heretofore been one of constant collision with a crushing of happiness and life. It has been affirmed, that such collision or antagonism is not a necessary or essential part of the plan of Nature, and that a proper arrangement of the relations of man to man, will put an end to this collision of interest and of feeling which gives rise to all the miseries of human life. The possibility of doing this, is the great question of the age. It is the question, whether life shall always be a great battle-field, where the conquerors shall wield an almost unlimited power, and the victims shall experience, through life, every possible accumulation of sufferings and wrongs, up to death itself; whether, in the struggle for existence and enjoyment, the feebler class shall be gradually deprived of all the pleasures of life, and means of self-improvement, and shall be continually held in imminent danger of losing even the necessaries of life itself, while a more favored class, by means of fortune, accident or energy, not only escapes these evils, but wastes, in a profligate manner, the very means which are sufficient for the supply of all. It is a question, whether the fates of men shall be so unjust and unequal, as to present us one class with a hereditary right to the enjoyment of ease and power, and another class with no hereditary right but that of toil and want, degeneracy and death.

This question turns upon the law of the distribution of wealth. The distribution of the goods of life by the selfish system - the system of competition and antagonism- ever has been, and ever must be, unequal and unjust. It necessarily divides mankind into the two great classes of the powerful and the oppressed - the rich, who are growing richer; and the poor, who are growing poorer - the higher classes, who enjoy, in perfection, the rights of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"; and the lower classes, with whom these rights are little more than nominal, whose "pursuit of happiness" is nothing more than a toilsome pursuit of bread, whose liberty is little more than the privilege of employing eight or ten hours of the twenty-four in sleep, eating, and relaxation from labor, or, in other words, the privilege of employing one or two hours in the twenty-four at their own discretion; and whose right to life does not include any right to the means of life, and therefore is, in reality, nugatory. What right to life has the poor operative, whose daily bread has no security? who may, at any moment, be deprived of it by the caprice of an employer, or by the fluctuations of commerce?

The selfish system of society tends, therefore, continually to the destruction of human rights and human happiness; it is a world-wide Maelstrom, in which justice and democracy are continually wrecked, and disappear, however their pale phantoms may hover over the spot of their destruction. The construction of some other system of society than this, is the problem of the age. We need some system compatible with justice - some system which will not sacrifice the substance of republicanism, while preserving its forms; which will not involve, as a necessary consequence, the sacrifice of those who labor, and the isolation of all classes from each other.

But the re-organization of society requires not only a new method of distributing the proceeds of labor fn a manner compatible with justice and with the good of all; it must comprehend another fundamental measure. There are immense interests involved in things which are not the product of human labor. The air, the sunshine, the water, and the earth, which man receives direct from God, and which are not the products of his own exertions, must be considered in any scheme of society; for they are the first necessaries of life, and their distribution is one of the most important measures.

The lighter of these elements cannot be bound up and controlled by man. Sunshine distributes itself, by its own law of radiation, without respect to human enactments; air, too, goes alike freely to all; and water flows too abundantly to be the subject of any grievous monopoly; but Land, which is not furnished in the boundless profusion of light, air and water, and which is easily circumscribed and held in possession - land is distributed, not as God distributes the sunlight and the breeze, but by the avaricious passions of man, by the arbitrary decrees of government, and by the resistless power of brute force.

That it should have been so distributed, is prima facie evidence that our land system is unjust. This great gift of the Creator - the earth, and all its treasures, present and prospective - should be received and managed by man, in a spirit far different from aught that we have seen. It should be received, not as a herd of hungry swine receive their daily supply of food, rushing pell-mell against each other, to get the largest possible share; but as an organized assembly of wise men would receive a great and inestimable fund of wealth confided to their charge for the benefit of posterity. It should be received, not with brutishness, but with manliness; not with a fierce and hungry avarice, but with calm, profound thought, disinterested impartiality, and a deep sense of responsibility. The nation should deliberate earnestly and long upon the question, to ascertain what justice demands, and how the universal prosperity may be the best promoted in the distribution of its land.

At this point we are met by the conservative, who replies that the land is already justly distributed; that it is rightly owned, in fee simple, by those who have paid for it, and who have, therefore, an unquestionable title; that land must be owned, in this manner, by individuals, to secure the proper rewards of industry, and encourage its cultivation or improvement; that any other system than this is utterly impracticable, and unsuited to the well-known laws of human nature; that the system of individual proprietorship has been carried out, with strict justice, in our country; and that great inequalities of possession are nothing more than the natural and proper consequences of the freedom of purchase and sale, and the various degrees of energy, judgment and economy among men: in short, that our whole land system is based upon the laws of Nature, upon necessity, and upon the principles of strict justice between man and man. Moreover, he affirms that any discussion of this question, or assault upon the existing system, is Agrarian, and dangerous in its tendency; that it teaches men to disregard the sacred rights of property, and encourages the spirit of turbulence and robbery.

There is no little plausibility in these suggestions of the conservative, and there are many conscientious men who will feel their force, and, regarding them as conclusive, will turn aside with scorn from the great land question, as a hobby of corrupt politicians and brawling demagogues.

But far differently will it appear to those who examine this matter thoroughly and fearlessly; to those who examine the land system to ascertain its justice - not merely legal justice, but true, absolute justice, in the fullest sense. Far differently will it appear to those who examine our land system as philanthropists, and inquire whether it is the one best calculated to promote the happiness of all, and insure the greatest amount of wealth and prosperity to the nation.

It matters but little whether we take up this matter as a question of justice, or as a question of social happiness. There is but little difference in the two methods of consideration; for universal justice involves necessarily a due regard to universal happiness; and, on the other hand, the highest schemes of philanthropy necessarily embrace the principles of universal justice, as the warm, living body embraces and contains its solid skeleton as the basis of its structure. We propose to discuss this subject by laying down certain fundamental propositions, which are either self-evident, or easily demonstrable, and tracing the legitimate deductions from these premises.

  1. The earth is an original gift of God to man, and, as such, belongs, of right, to the human race in general, and not to the individuals of the race, separately.[1]
  2. The exclusive proprietorship, in fee simple, of any given amount of land, by an individual, is an infraction of the common rights of the race, unless a general consent has been given by the community to this monopoly.
  3. The rights of individual proprietorship are consequently factitious or conventional, and based, in reality, not upon governmental edict or immemorial usage, but upon the will of the people.
  4. Antecedent generations have not an unlimited power to prescribe the legislation of posterity. Each generation, therefore, has the right, in itself, to establish its own conventionalities, and re-create those institutions which depend upon its own consent for their legitimate existence.

The first proposition is one of those self-evident truths which scarcely need to be enforced by illustration, and yet how entirely does it appear to have been overlooked in human legislation. The object of government seems to have been, in almost all cases, to abrogate or supersede this original right by a multitude of private monopolies, and so effectually to obliterate all traces of its existence, that mankind should forget their great primitive right to the soil, and become so habituated to monopoly as to consider any reference to their fundamental original right, an idle and profligate speculation.

Yet this is a great truth, and one of the most important practical bearing; for it is at the foundation of society, law and government. It is a truth upon which we must act. Its tendency is eminently benevolent and just, and whenever men shall be ready to base their social institutions upon this great fundamental truth, there will be the grandest and most beneficent revolution in government and society which has ever yet taken place. We propose to elucidate this assertion by taking our fundamental proposition, tracing its necessary consequences, showing how we are bound, in justice, to embody this principle, and what would be the glorious practical effects of thus going back to first principles, and rendering our governmental action just and true.

If the principle be true, we are bound to act upon it. If it be true, obedience to this truth must be beneficial to man. With a clear and undimmed perception of its truth, we cannot hesitate about adopting it as the basis of action. But, crushed and buried, as this principle is, beneath the false and artificial institutions of society, millions of the most enlightened portion of the human race pass through life, suffering intensely from the effects of the present organization of society, without ever once suspecting the existence of their great fundamental and violated right.

Well do we remember when and where this great truth first became manifest to our own mind. Some twelve or thirteen summers had brought our youthful mind to that stage of progress in which decisive opinions were to be formed on the great questions of philosophy and morals. The justice and policy of our land system we had not scrutinized or doubted; we had heard no syllable whispered against the justice or policy of the arrangements in which all men seemed to acquiesce; but, in the course of our desultory reading, poring over the daily packages of newspapers to which we had access, we met with a paragraph in Poulson's Daily Advertiser, (an old Philadelphia newspaper,) which at once made an indelible impression upon the mind. A correspondent of that paper - apparently an Englishman - undertook to justify the English system of tythes, and, in a paragraph of thirty or forty lines, presented an apparently unanswerable statement. Regarding established churches, with their tythes, as among the most hideous features of European tyranny, we were overwhelmed by the force of the argument, which seemed to justify this clerical tax. It was argued, that the clerical right to tythes was just as valid as the rights of any fee simple proprietor in the kingdom; that they were nothing more than a peculiar form of rent, not distinguishable, in principle, from the ordinary rents of landlords. If, for example, ten persons had been originally joint proprietors of an estate of a thousand acres, entitled, in common, to its entire rental, they might either receive their rent in partnership, or divide the tract, and each receive the rents of 100 acres; or, if one of the party wished to enjoy his separate interest, without the trouble of exclusive possession or ownership of one tract, he might retain a claim to one-tenth of the rent of each of the tracts; which claim would be as valid and just as would be his fee simple claim to the full enjoyment and possession of 100 acres. In like manner, a great lord, in disposing of his estates, might think proper to give land in fee simple to those who would wish to own and possess it; but to bestow merely a portion of its usufruct or rental on others, who desired merely a certain income. He might thus leave his estates in possession of some one who could maintain their dignity undivided, and give to his clerical relatives or friends a greater interest, as above illustrated. If, for example, he wished to give a clergyman or church one-twentieth of his landed estate, in the form of salary, he might, instead of conveying any specific tract of land, charge the whole of his land with the payment of one-twentieth of its rental to the object of his bequest. Thus, by private agreements, by bequests, and by governmental appropriations, the church might become, although not an extensive landholder, a participant in all the land revenues of the kingdom. For there can be no doubt that he who is competent to convey the land, with its whole rental, is also competent to convey any portion of that rental, without conveying the title. Thus might the church become a quasi proprietor or partial landlord, and collect its tythes, or any other species of charges, with as unquestionable a right as any landlord of the kingdom can possibly have to his land and its rents.

Convinced by this argument that the ecclesiastical taxes, which were so abominable in the eyes of Americans, were, in all probability, as well founded in justice as any of the rights of landed proprietors, and that they must stand or fall together, we at once inquired whether the whole system of tythes, rents, and land titles, was or was not founded in justice; whether it could be true that any body of men, whether clergy or landholders, were entitled to live in splendor - they and their successors forever - upon the toil of the less favored classes. We could not realize, in our crude conceptions of justice, any authority for the establishment of such an order of hereditary nobility - a class of men privileged to live by a heavy tax upon the remainder of society. We could not recognize, in any lord, king, or government, the right of thus establishing hereditary distinctions among men, to last forever, and thus control the organization of society in a more enlightened age, by the edicts of the dominant powers of an early and less enlightened period.

Yet such are the legitimate consequences of the present system of land-ownership. Establish the unlimited control of individuals over land, and you necessarily have large bodies of land consecrated to private ownership, and yielding in perpetuity vast incomes to the proprietors. In other words, you have an aristocratic class supported by the most burthensome tax upon the industry of the remainder of the community. The owner of the land, and his successors, contributes nothing to the welfare of society, as a return for his wealth; he simply monopolizes a certain portion of the common heritage of man, and for this the human race becomes tributary to him. Whatever the formalities by which this arrangement has been legalized, we cannot feel that it is just.[2]

To render the case more apparent, suppose that some few hundred proprietors had been sufficiently wealthy and energetic to monopolize the soil of North America. Suppose that, under grants from the English crown, or from the French and Spanish, they had become legal proprietors, and sagaciously held fast to the soil, for the sake of the vast income it was destined to yield. Suppose that these few hundred proprietors had remained in London, exercised their ownership, and refused to sell their title to any portion. Could this arrangement have been maintained? would it have been submitted to? Would the inhabitants of the North American continent have submitted to the vassalage of this condition? These landlords would have been to America a more important and more absolute power, in reality, than any of merely governmental functions. The dependence of a nation of tenantry upon their landlords, is more abject than that of any colony upon its parent country. Were the present land system thus set forth in its naked deformity, it could not exist; it would fall to pieces from its own hideousness. The absurdity is too glaring: place the landlords in one country, and the tenantry in another, and announce, as the perpetual law of social order, that the citizens of one country shall pay, from their own hard earnings, an annual tribute of a thousand millions to the citizens of another, thus maintaining them forever in an idle and profligate splendor: make this a fundamental part of the constitution of society, with no other reason whatever for its existence, than some arbitrary theory about title to the soil - a theory as false as it is pernicious - and the common sense of the world would sweep away the false and barbarous system, as soon as its operation was seen. The land system owes its tolerated existence to the fact that it is not seen and understood; that it is so commingled with all the arrangements of society, as to render it difficult to disentangle the complicated web. But if it is wrong and hideous in its nakedness, when set forth by itself, it must still be wrong and injurious, however it may be disguised and commingled with other affairs.

If it is horrible to see a class, like the Irish absentee landlords, drawing from that unfortunate nation immense incomes, extracted from the sweat and blood of millions - if it is horrible to see a nation, producing within itself an ample support by its toilsome industry, perishing beneath the ravenous mouths of legal vampires - if it is horrible to see two millions perishing for the want of the necessaries of life, while the food which they have produced is legally snatched from their mouths to swell the wealth of an idle, useless, and unfeeling class-who, that looks upon society in its true light, can see, with any complacency, this horrid machinery of death fastened upon the vitals of the great Anglo-Saxon republic, in which the hopes of good men have centered, as the chosen home of liberty and justice for the oppressed.

In vain shall the "Exile of Erin" seek for "a mansion of peace" beneath the folds of the "star-spangled banner"; in vain shall he fly from the death and ruin which fill his native land, if, wherever he flies, he finds the same vast web of power and tyranny, embracing in its meshes the people of every land. His escape is but temporary; he but flies from the smaller to the larger and looser meshes of the net. The same threads here surround and limit his movements; from year to year the cords are growing stronger, and the meshes are growing smaller, and the multitudes of men, like swarms of insects, are placing themselves within the close and crushing imprisonment of this web of feudal law. The evil day may be postponed, by emigration to America; they may be here but slightly bruised and cramped at first, but the day of crushing and death, when the blood of millions shall flow freely, is but postponed a few generations.

We do not utter these fearful predictions from a gloomy or an angry impulse. Far from it. We must confess that we belong to the hopeful class of optimists. Aye! we are Utopians! we belong to the very visionary class who believe that the future must be better than the past, and that truth and justice must ultimately triumph. But if we see a brighter sunlight far ahead on the journey of humanity, there is no reason why we should be unconscious of the blackness of the thunder cloud which overhangs and terribly darkens the landscape. The race of man is morally and socially, as well as physically, diseased. If we believe in the recovery and future health of the patient, that is no reason why we should be insensible to his corroding ulcers, and the fearful chronic derangements of his vital organs.

We do believe in the vis medicatrix naturae of humanity; for we believe that in the most interior life there is health. Regeneration has commenced in the interior of the soul. The spirit of America and Europe is undergoing regeneration, and will regenerate the grosser body of society. In the mind of the Caucasian race, there is a soul-center, in which truth, purity, and genuine life exist. From this center the mentality of the race is regenerating, and, as it regenerates, the body is regenerated by its diffusive power. The putrescent accumulations, caused by the moral poison and malaria of past ages, will be excreted from the body of society, and a beautiful rejuvenated humanity shall rise before us.

Of all the acrid poisons that shall be thus expelled from the constitution, the most potent, permanent, metallic poison, is the land law. This law, disguise it as we may, is a relic of despotism; it perpetuates an ingenious system of serfdom, not less pernicious than the villeinage of the feudal ages. If human ingenuity can devise any plan by which the present land system can be made compatible with the principles of democracy; by which it can be made to result in anything else than the establishment of corrupt, arrogant wealth on the one hand, and pauper-like degradation on the other, we may acknowledge that it is not inevitably a social poison; but until that has been done, we shall assume that it is a terrific poison, and that the great duty of the political physician is to eliminate it entirely from the social system.

How, then, shall we accomplish the abolition of the land system? Let it be abolished by Justice - not by simple destruction, but by the substitution of the right for the wrong; by constructive, and not by destructive philanthropy. Is it impossible to be just? Is it impossible to base our institutions upon the principles of abstract right? Is obedience to justice beneficial or injurious to a nation?

Believing that duty and happiness are associated - that not only individuals, but nations, are capable of attaining their highest destiny only in obedience to the laws of justice and true religion - we have no disposition to shrink, or even hesitate in the pursuit of national duty. The national duty is the abolition of a pernicious land system, and the creation, in its stead, of a system compatible with justice and philanthropy.

Justice affirms that all men are born free, and equally entitled to the favors which Heaven has extended to man; that all men are joint tenants of the globe, with but one landlord, "who is in Heaven," to whom we owe, at least, as heavy a rental as ever a terrestrial landlord has exacted. We owe to Him the rental, not only of the soil, but of the running water, the sunshine, and the breeze, and of the mortal frames in which we are now dwelling. To Him are we bound to consecrate all of the usufruct of earth, beyond the necessities of a proper existence. We are bound to see that the fullness of the earth's productions shall not be diverted from the service of their legitimate proprietor, to be employed in supporting the selfishness, the profligate waste, the idle luxury, and the arrogant pomp which constitute a large part of the machinery of death in civilized society.

Just in proportion as we permit this diversion, are we guilty, whether we divert these means of good to our own selfish aims, or tolerate their appropriation, by others, for unholy purposes. The means of human happiness and regeneration - the means of rendering earth a paradise - have been given to man in ample abundance. The fertile earth returns, for his toil, twice the amount that is necessary for his subsistence. Let him not, then, complain of his destiny. Amply has he been furnished with the means of elevation to the highest sphere of felicity in which material life can flourish. The means are in his hand; it needs but his will to use them.

But ah I how vainly has this benevolence been lavished upon us! How blind have we been to our own interests! Inspired by the spirit of evil, we have constructed a system of society and law ingeniously contrived to violate forever each duty that we owe to God and man. We have contrived that the vast surplus of wealth beyond the support of the human race, shall be employed, not for the benefit of the race, not for the fulfillment of any duty, not even for the alleviation of the want and suffering which our shocking injustice allows to exist; but shall go to add to the mass of evil - shall go to build up distinctions and wide separations in society - shall go to foster idleness, selfishness, avarice, sensuality, profligacy, vanity, arrogance and despotism.

How long, oh! fellow countrymen! shall this be permitted? How long, fellow laborers, will you bow down a willing neck to this galling yoke which civilized society has provided for you and your posterity forever? How long shall we surrender an unquestionable right which we have both the right to assert, and the might to maintain, and submit to be repaid by the scorn of the opulent and the neglect of our rulers? How long shall we continue to yield our birthright for the miserable "mess of pottage" which civilization has given us? How long shall we surrender silently our great estate, and see our children kept down forever, for want of the opportunities of education to which we and they are entitled? How long shall the honest and good poor man sit down in threadbare garments to a scanty meal, and teach his children to reverence the institutions of society, which have provided for the sons of poverty a very rugged path, and which have secured their unalterable degradation, by a combination of physical toil and artificial ignorance, which render hopeless their attempts to rise! [3]

Let us arouse! Americans! the Great Republic has not yet fulfilled her mission, or thrown off all the chains of despotism. The heaviest manacles yet remain. Let us arouse, fellow laborers! assert our rights; put away the cup of bitterness which has been prepared for us; and claim the destiny which justice awards us. Let us arouse, brother Reformers! and cry for justice - justice to all men, to each individual, to ourselves, to the future. Let us call for the Birthright Of Humanity. But in what form shall we demand it? The highest practical wisdom and purest philanthropy will be required to overcome the difficulties presented by this question.

This question is surrounded by a thousand difficulties. Avarice, prejudice, passion, and self-interest, stand in the way of every possible adjustment. No matter what the solution, there must be a host of evil passions roused. No matter what the arrangement we propose for the restoration of human rights, there must be, of necessity, a mighty power of wealth, of social and numerical influence, arrayed against it. No matter what the motive of the change, we may expect that the whole force of the present moral machinery of society will be at first arrayed against it. But "we, the people," have the power not only to execute our will, but to raise up the proper organs for its expression.

We approach this great question, with an earnest desire for the adoption of some practicable scheme, by which the principle may find a worthy embodiment. We entreat all, who agree with us as to the inherent right of man to the soil, to give their most earnest and impartial thought to the practicability and probable results of the principle, when rightly embodied.

Were the earth an untenanted wilderness, or were we discussing this question simply in reference to the unap. propriated national domain of the United States, its decision would be much more simple. But we aim at no limited scheme of social regeneration. Justice to all humanity is our aim; and in this Country we demand a regeneration of the Land System, alike in reference to the occupied and the unoccupied territory.

Shall we, then, propose to restore each man his birthright, by annulling the existing titles to land, and dividing the whole of the soil of the United States, occupied and unoccupied, equally among the citizens? Far from it! Such a scheme would be a miserable climax of folly and injustice, fit only to render the great principle equally odious and ridiculous. There are "vested rights" in the soil, which we must reverently approach, and not rudely destroy. The man who has just purchased and paid for his tract of land, would regard any invasion of his title as a robbery not less felonious than that which assails his purse, or in any other way deprives him of the fruit of his toil. It would, in many cases, deprive the owner of the only reward he has received for years of honest labor. Yet, if the principle of land monopoly is false, and if the practical effects of the system are terribly pernicious, there must be some method of redress. If the title is defective, (and we maintain that all such titles are defective, when the nation wills that they shall no longer exist,) there must be some method of going back to primitive justice, which our consciences can sanction.

The difficulty in the emancipation of the land, is the same which attends the emancipation of the slave. The original title is defective in either case; but use has sanctioned what law has ordained, and, under these guaranties, capital representing industry, perhaps manual labor - capital to which the title was unquestionable - has been invested in slave property or land property; and when we emancipate either, the purchaser becomes a sufferer, in consequence of his unhesitating faith in the permanency of those laws under which his investment was made. We need not here introduce the legal "caveat emptor.'' The buyer has exercised all the caution that we can demand. "We, the people," by our laws, have guarantied his title, and he could not presume that we would change our mind, and withdraw the guarantee. Nor have we an indisputable right, in such a case, to deprive the owner of his present enjoyment, without any redress for the fraud that we have put upon him. The frequent transfers of property which have taken place in different generations, have thus surrounded the question of land and slave emancipation with a most embarrassing difficulty. But if we have Justice as our guiding star, we may, perhaps, find our way out of this legal labyrinth, without much injury to social order.

The restitution of the people's right to the soil, cannot, then, be justly accomplished by the simple scheme of dividing the land among all the citizens; nor would such a scheme be any better, in its practical results, than in its justice.

No forced division and proprietorship of this kind can accomplish much for human benefit. The same causes which produced inequality, poverty, and oppression, once, would do the same again; and this forced division would operate only as a premium upon idleness, and a discouragement upon industry - more and more pernicious, in proportion to the frequency of its repetition. The injustice of such a scheme must ever render it impracticable; and the absurdity is still more ridiculous, when we reflect that a large portion of the community have no use for land, and would be encumbered by the gift, unless an opportunity of selling or renting is immediately at hand.

If this division of the land is, then, impracticable, how can the principles of justice be applied to the United States and Europe? We reply, that such division is entirely unnecessary. Private monopoly of land is the evil against which we contend, and it is not to be remedied by merely changing its form, or subdividing its front. The fight must be asserted - the right of the people to the soil must be the basis of legislation; but the right of the whole people to the soil is a very different thing from the right of separate individuals against the nation to a monopoly of a circumscribed portion. It is the philanthropic right of the mass which we must maintain, and not the selfish claim of the individual.

We must maintain, in legislation, the broad principle that The Nation Owns The Soil, and that this ownership is paramount to all individual claims. Thus is the right of each individual of the nation restored in all its fullness. He becomes not the petty proprietor of a few acres, walled in against his fellow men; but a joint proprietor of the whole realm. The groves, the parks, the gardens, the corn-fields, the woodlands, the prairies, and the mountains - all are his: the landscape is his own - hill, dale, and stream - bridge, fountain, grove, and thicket - all, all display the vastness and the beauty of

" My Own, my native land."

But while thus asserting the proprietorship of the people, there is no necessity for disturbing the existing arrangements for the cultivation of the soil, or for disturbing any industrial pursuit, by the rude interference of government.

When the "great unknown" landlord, "WE, The People," is informed of the vastness of his estates, and determines to take possession and enjoy them, he may simply inform the cultivators of the soil that they are henceforth his tenants, and that he will be a very mild and generous landlord, if his rents are regularly forthcoming when demanded. The class of idle landlords may also be informed that their parchments have been invalidated by the supreme tribunal, and that, inasmuch as their incomes may be curtailed by the loss of ground rents, it would be more conducive to their health and happiness to engage in some species of useful industry, by which their own habits might be improved, and the national prosperity increased.

But while these, perhaps, may be his thoughts, we may be doing him injustice by putting such a speech in his mouth. Not such will be his actual salutation, although such may be the expression of his meaning, when it has been developed by a century of action.

The people are to be the landlords, and the vast productiveness of the soil which now sends up tribute to the opulent, in the form of rent, shall be made tributary to the commonwealth alone. The vast fund of wealth thus accumulated, shall be The People's Income, and shall be consecrated to their benefit - so to be expended, that the greatest amount of benefit shall be thence received by every citizen of the country. Thus will each citizen, however humble, be restored to his rights as joint owner of the vast farm of many millions of acres; thus will he receive his income as joint proprietor; and thus will the great problem be solved, of rendering justice to all, without subverting or injuring the existing social institutions!

The commonwealth becomes the landlord, and its overflowing treasury becomes the source of national prosperity and elevation. But if this proprietorship is exercised like that of ordinary landlords, endless abuses will arise. To take possession of the land estates of a whole country, and lease them out for various periods; to attend to the collection of rents, the division of estates into convenient forms or sizes, and the determination of the value of improvements, or terms upon which they should be constructed; to manage all the complicated business that would thus arise, would produce endless difficulties, confusion and corruption, as well as enormous expense. There is no necessity for any such interference by the government with the details of business. The plan we would propose aims to avoid all these difficulties, as well as the numerous objections which might arise from the apparent harshness, inequality and injustice of the measure.

The great desideratum is to legislate so as to attain the following objects:

  1. To give to every man his birthright in the soil.
  2. To render this right a matter of real and permanent value to himself and his posterity.
  3. To produce the least possible disturbance in the existing arrangements of business.
  4. To inflict the least possible injustice upon existing proprietors.
  5. To produce the greatest possible amount of national prosperity, happiness and improvement.

We believe that all these objects may be attained in the highest degree by the following plan:

  1. (To give to every man his birthright in the soil.) The Nation or Commonwealth shall assert the national and common ownership of the entire soil, for the benefit of every individual.
  2. (To render this right a matter of real and permanent value to himself and his posterity.) This right shall never be subdivided or alienated; but shall ever be maintained in the form of joint ownership by the commonwealth; and the revenue derived from the entire rental of the soil shall ever be consecrated to the benefit of the people, so that each individual, and his posterity forever, shall continue to be recipients of the greatest amount of benefit from this vast estate, which the joint wisdom of the nation can possibly devise.
  3. (To produce the least possible disturbance in the existing arrangements of business.) The commonwealth shall in nowise meddle with the details of agriculture, renting and leasing of estates, determining possession, &c.; but shall leave property in the hands of its present owners, precisely as before, excepting that it shall levy an ad valorem rent of the most moderate and reasonable character, upon the soil alone, claiming no interest in the buildings and other productions of manual industry. This rent shall be a uniform per centage upon the market value of the land in every part of the country, but varying progressively during the first sixty years of its establishment. It is not proposed to introduce at once this grand social and political revolution; it is not proposed to strip at once the present proprietor of his sovereignty over the soil, for the sake of vesting the title in the people. Let the grand change from monopoly to nationality be made as gently as possible. Let the monster Land Monopoly perish gradually from inanition, until his dry and bloodless frame shall remain as a harmless zoological specimen. The land rent should be so graduated, as ta allow the lapse of at least two generations before the usufruct of the soil shall pass entirely into the possession of the people. Let us suppose that 5% upon the valuation of land is a fair moderate rent, and let us establish a rising scale of rents which would, in 60 years, attain this amount, commencing with a twelfth of one per cent., and increasing one-twelfth annually - we reach, in twelve years, a rent of 1%, and in 60 years attain a rental which absorbs into the commonwealth something like the entire net value of the soil. Private ownership is then virtually dead, and the ownership of the people is established in the only convenient, durable and serviceable form. There are some minor questions of expediency as to the exact point at which this rent should commence, and the exact point to which it should go. The existing land taxes might be recognized as a portion of the system of rents advanced to the point at which they stand; or the system of the commonwealth might proceed entirely irrespective of other financial arrangements. The question as to the ultimate limit of the rent, need not be decided at present. Although it may not deviate far from five per cent., it is unnecessary that we should determine very precisely the proper arrangements of another generation more competent to legislate for themselves than we can be at this distance of time.
  4. (To inflict the least possible injustice upon existing proprietors,) - is a task of no little delicacy. The restoration of violated rights, even in the case of a stolen horse who has passed through many hands by regular sale, is often a matter of grievous hardship to the losing party. The invalidation of land titles will be to many a serious loss; nevertheless, by the method we propose, it falls upon the proprietors so gently, as to produce no shock - nothing comparable to the disastrous effects of litigation, with which we are familiar. There will be no such destruction of estates and prospects, as was witnessed in the history of Kentucky, when, from an imperfect land system, so large a portion of the land titles were contested in court, and so many whose prospects for life presented competence or wealth, were reduced to poverty by law. On the contrary, the operation of the law will be so gentle, that even those who experience the greatest inconvenience will not be overwhelmed by its extent. Of the adult proprietors of land, of all ages, from 21 upwards, it is not probable that many would live to witness the redaction of their revenues from land as much as 50%. Basing our calculations upon the statistics of the British peerage, which show an expectation of life between the ages of 20 and 29 of 27.03 years, we may conclude that the average longevity of those who have just attained manhood, would remove the whole generation before the rate of 2.5% per annum had been attained. But as the existing landlords, at the time of the adoption of such a law, would range in age from 21 to upwards of 100, their mean age, even if we place it as low as 35, would not give even 24 years as their average continuance of life. It is, therefore, certain that the average effect of such a law upon landholders, would be to raise their rent progressively nearly as high as 2% before they die, which would be equivalent to paying a tax of 1% per annum upon their land estate; from the time of the adoption of the law, to their death. Again, reducing the varieties of individual cases to an average estimate, the succeeding generation would gradually advance through life from a 2% to (a small fraction over,) a 4% rent; or, in other words, would pay an average rent for life of about 3%. Upon the present race of land owners, therefore, the operation would be remarkably gentle, (a tax of 1% per annum,) and only the third generation would realize its full power. Its operation would be mainly prospective, and mainly felt by those who grow up under it, accustomed to expect its cflects, and not at all startled or inflamed when the expected consequences arrive. This very gradual introduction will remove one of the greatest objections to this measure; but, for the sake of rendering its operation still more liberal, it might be proper to make a distinction between those who have derived their land from inheritance or gift, to whom the full force of the law might be applied, and those who had, within a certain period, paid money for their possessions. The latter might be allowed certain exemptions-such, for example, as paying but a limited rent during their lifetime-the exemption terminating with their lives. A clause of this character.would relieve the hardships of innocent purchasers; and something of the kind seems to be demanded by equity. Thus, gently, and without bloodabed, convulsion, or suffering, may be introduced the most important revolution which may ever illuminate the pages of history.
  5. (To procure the-greatest possible amount of national prosperity, happiness and improvement) - is the delightful duty which the new land system would enable us to fulfil. The immense revenues of the soil, pledged to the people's good, shall be controlled by the commonwealth, and wisely used for all. At once the whole face of society is changed. The government is no longer sustained by taxation; its coffers, overflowing with an unprecedented wealth, it is felt by the people only in the streams of benevolence which it is continually outpouring. The tax-gatherer will be unknown; toll-gates will be abolished; custom-houses unnecessary; and all the fees and costs of justice will be at an end. The abstract rights of humanity will be found not in the derided speculations of philanthropists, but in the living facts of society; for there will be enough, and more than enough, to guaranty the rights of all. No longer will the country be annually convulsed by the petty schemes and intrigues of party politicians, in reference to insignificant objects. Each State enjoying an annual revenue of twenty or thirty millions of dollars, will find its great duty to be the Elevation Of The People, and its power commensurate with its duty. The race of bar-room politicians will be at an end; for a higher order of men will be demanded for the purposes of the government. The business of legislators will not be to struggle with each other for the ascendancy of a party; but to excel in wisdom and goodness - to distinguish themselves, by accomplishing more than was anticipated for the happiness of the people, and the general elevation of the race. The arts of strife and corruption will, therefore, gradually give place to the art and science of benevolence. Profound knowledge and sterling originality will-find their sphere of development, and science and philanthropy will soon be placed .at the helm of State.

What may they not accomplish? Look at the vast revenues which would be at the disposal of the government! A State of 40,000 square miles, (which are nearly the area of Ohio,) or 25,000,000 acres, would doubtless have a revenue of $25,000,000, under this land system, before a high rent had been attained. With an average value of $100 per acre, which must be attained when the population is sufficiently dense, the rent would ultimately amount to $125,000,000 per annum!

The value of land increases with the density of population, and hence, the greater the number of people to be benefitted by government, the greater the amount of revenue with which to serve them. On this system, the increase of the population increases the commonwealth, and swells the flood of beneficence which is flowing for the people. Under the present system, every child born among the laboring classes adds to the amount of oppression which they must endure in the form of low wages, lack of employment, and oppressive rents. Under the national land system, increase of population will be counterbalanced by an increase of means to provide for their prosperity. The plain matter-of-fact calculation of dollars and cents, shows that the prosperity attainable under a national land system is beyond all parallel in the history of the world. A power would be built up upon this Western Continent, in comparison with which, the greatest kingdoms that the world has seen would be but barbarous tribes. States like Ohio, Kentucky, and Virginia', would enjoy revenues ranging from $20 to $150 millions each-a revenue for the people, collected without hardship or violence, without laying a tax, or interfering with any industrial pursuit. With such a revenue, Ohio might change her entire physical and moral aspect, presenting a State more highly improved, and a population more highly cultivated in mind, than has ever yet been seen.

Let us suppose this benevolent system in operation for 20 years, with a $25 million revenue for the people, and contemplate the results which it would develope.

  1. It would construct annually from 100 to 200 miles of free railroad for the people, to be used with no other expense than that of the locomotives - thus rendering the travels of a passenger by railroad about as cheap as the travels of a letter under our present Post Office regulations. The State would be traversed by from 2,000 to 4,000 miles of free railroad. An unlimited intercourse would exist among the citizens; the value of land would be equalized over the State; the farmer would have the best market, accessible for a trifle; the products of agriculture and horticulture would be rendered cheap in the cities; and the convenience of country residences would diminish the crowded population and enormous rents of city life. Thus the laboring classes of town and country would advance in prosperity.
  2. It would cover the State with libraries, (placing one every five miles,) of ten thousand volumes each.
  3. It would cover the State with school houses of the best construction, with every desirable convenience, apparatus, &c., placing one every two miles, and maintain efficient teachers in these schools.
  4. It would establish and maintain, on a liberal scale, 150 free colleges, with a thousand professors, placing a college every 20 miles over the State.
  5. It would appropriate a million annually, for the relief of want and disease; the support of orphans, foundlings, and insane; and correction or reformation of criminals.
  6. For the education of the adult population, it would maintain a corps of one thousand professors or lecturers upon all departments of knowledge, by whose services the people should be enabled to carry on a course of education through life, and a great amount of intelligence arid mental activity might be imparted to those whose early opportunities had been deficient. The effect of this, combined with a general collegiate education of all youth, would be to give a highly intellectual character to the whole community, keeping the whole population up to the level of the highest intelligence of the age. In such a community, violent crimes and political demagogues would soon disappear, and public sentiment would need but little assistance from the law in maintaining public morals.
  7. It would establish and maintain a magnificent Institute of Science and Art, by means of which everything useful to man might be developed - by which agriculture and the mechanic arts, geology, chemistry, medicine, anthropology, education and political or social science, might be rendered vastly more profitable to man than they have heretofore been. A model farm or farms, with a scientific corps to investigate on a large scale that combination of chemical, geological, botanic and economical science which constitutes agriculture, and thus direct the agricultural labor of the State in the most profitable channels, assisted by agricultural colleges through the State, would be an important part of the plan. All the useful arts of civilization, too, should receive similar attention, and all the inventive genius of the country should be enlisted in the Institute for -the improvement of; practical mechanical science. With equal energy, the cultivation of chemistry, geology, medicine, anthropology and political or social science, should be prosecuted by the Institute. We have not time or space to depict the splendid scene in our 'mind's eye,' and show how, by the well sustained and directed labors of the Institute, our country might be made the very head and fountain of science and art - the acknowledged leader of the world. But we must not forget the importance of normal schools as a part of the plan, and of the apparatus for publishing and diffusing the benefits of the Institute. The Institute, although one of the most important and vivifying portions of our whole scheme, would be one of the, least expensive. Such institutions will yet come into existence; and when they do, will do much to introduce a new era. The Smithsonian Institute of Washington, the Association for Practical Science in this city, and the Inventors' Institute at the East, are the harbingers of the new era in science, which will arise from united effort hereafter.

The seven great results which we have here sketched, when their expenses are calculated on a liberal scale, absorb but about three-fifths of the $25 million revenue, which, during 20 years, amounts to $500,000,000. By these three-fifths of the revenue, we cover the State with free railroads, free schools, free colleges, and free libraries - bringing all within, the reach of every citizen; we relieve want, reclaim the criminal, educate simultaneously the whole community, old and young, and bring them to the point of intelligence which will cause them to adopt immediately the agricultural, mechanical and scientific improvements of the Institute - thus being far in advance of any cotemparary people. The stage of enlightenment thus attained, renders it certain that the people will be able and willing, under the able guidance of the Institute, to accomplish everything necessary to abolish the remaining social evils, and complete the proud mission of America. The monster evils of Black and White Slavery, may easily, be thrown off by the giant strength of the Commonwealth. The latter will be abolished, and all the evils of the competitive system, by a scientific reorganization of society, (assisted by the power of education,) which will elevate the laborer to a level of intelligence, comfort and freedom, which has ever been deemed the exclusive privilege of the capitalist. The former evil will be abolished too, if not, by the gradual operation of moral or legal power alone, there will be a pecuniary power sufficient to purchase every slave from his owner, to confer upon every black an education equal to the highest collegiate and practical or industrial attainments of the white, and to transport the entire race, with all the necessary implements, goods, and other appropriate outfit for a colony, to Africa, or any other portion of the globe which may furnish a desirable home.[4]

Thus would the highest hopes of good men be realized. The highest order of social existence which is possible to man would be brought within our reach by a system which would secure universal enlightenment, would give us a state of greater social equality, and would realize the brotherhood of man and man in the vast schemes of mutual benevolence accomplished by our commonwealth. From this political and benevolent brotherhood there would be an easy progress to the highest social state, in which the great law of Christianity, mutual love among men, and holiness in the sight of heaven, should constitute the great reality of human life. Such is the goal of humanity.

The plan of human elevation, as here stated, is but a half-sketch. There are rights and wrongs, and necessary reforms, to which we have not even alluded; but they are not forgotten. The theme has already expanded more than Avc anticipated, and we turn aside from the broad landscape of Destiny, with the simple declaration, that we aim at the speedy abolition of All Evil.

On the other hand, what is the sacrifice by which this is to be gained, and what are the evils of this, stupendous system of philanthropy? It is but a gradual and easy sacrifice of cupidity to duty - a gradual yielding by landlords of their baseless titles - a gradual sacrifice of that great bane of republics, an indolent and haughty aristocracy - a gradual approximation of the "upper ten thousand," with their valuable parchments, to the familiar level of their fellow citizens, whose annual toil of hand or brain supplies their annual bread - an extension of the principles of American Democracy from the harangues of politicians to all the channels of society - a transfer of thousands from the ranks of dissipated idleness to the ranks of useful employment - a change of political discussions from tariffs and tax-laws to education, philanthropy and science.

So far from being an evil, viewed on its darkest side, it is in all respects a noble scheme. Viewed in its worst aspect, it appears to be but an energetic and thorough enforcement of principles, which all politically avow. It is but a full embodiment of principles in our Declaration of Independence, which have heretofore been more conspicuous in theory than in practice. And for this reason, so far from regarding the social change and invalidation of land titles as an evil, we rejoice in it as an illustration of the spirit of American Democracy, and as the last great blow, - the death-blow of tyranny, political and social.

Regarding the objections to a just land-system as trivial and insignificant, we inquire why should, it not be adopted forthwith. It is applicable to all countries in the world wherever the will exists to enforce it; and wherever it is applied, it will give to the nation an amount of national wealth which will render it tenfold more formidable to its rivals in political and military power. More readily would its beauty be unfolded in the more thinly settled countries, where a smaller sacrifice of private capital would be required for the change. And especially do we hope to see in the vast territories of the American continent, an application of these principles of political justice. In the solitudes of those trans-Mississippian forests, which have never yet been profaned by the complicated systems of social wrong which belong to Europe and her half-regenerate sons in America, let there be a pure republicanism, established; - let the unencumbered soil be consecrated to the commonwealth, and let private monopoly be forever forbidden. If the older States of the Union hesitate to adopt this scheme of justice and philanthropy, let them dwell in their misfortunes until the example of their newborn sisters in the West shall eclipse in 20 years their progress of two centuries - until they see a State settled by people of very moderate means, and with but a scanty population, eclipsing everything in the world's history by the splendor and magnitude of its improvements, its roads, its public architecture, its schools, colleges, libraries and hospitals-surpassing far its sister States in the enlightenment and happiness of the people, and in the wisdom of their government.

To carry out this great scheme of democratic justice, the People must be aroused to a sense of their rights. They must bring, forth their energies to pull down the Party Of Land Monopoly, and to raise up the Party Of The CommonWealth.

The establishment of a Commonwealth, based on equality of land-rights, presents a different future from any that has yet cheered the hopes of man. A will exists to regenerate his social condition, but the means and the way are not distinctly seen. They are to be found in the land. This is the Archimedean fulcrum on which our political lever may move the world. In one way or another the age of a Commonwealth must come. The laboring millions are banding together in England and America, conscious that union and co-operation alone can save them from the social slavery to which competition inevitably reduces the lower classes; and commonwealth, or co-operation in some form, is the great aim of the leaders of Humanity in this age. We advocate a political Commonwealth as one of the great stages of national advancement, in which we may view the past from a higher ground, and from which we may move, with rational wisdom and with resistless power, to a still higher stage of social progress. We believe that this will be the most effectual jnethod of demolishing the existing evils of our republic, and will open the shortest road to that great future which lies before us.

It is time to assert the principles of a commonwealth. The great principle of man's right to the soil is already asserted by a growing party, - the National Reformers. They are urging the adoption of this principle in reference to the United States' lands, and propose to carry it out by limiting the amounts to be owned, by individuals, and by giving the settler a proper allowance of land as a free donation. As a practical measure for the benefit of the people, and especially of the agricultural laborers, there is a strong probability that it will be sanctioned by the American people, before they are prepared for the adoption of the fundamental principle. But if they, who believe in man's right to his natal soil, are contented with this, and the homestead measure alone, which are in reality but initial steps, they fall far, very far short of carrying out the noble principle which belongs to the Land-movement, and which gives to its political action a higher character than that of common party struggles.

The Land Reform, to be consistent with its vital principle, must be applied to all the soil of the country, occur pied and unoccupied: to be efficient for the universal and equal benefit of the people, it must not be limited in its operation to a certain number of cultivators of the soil. To give all classes the benefit of their rights to the soil, it will become necessary that they should hold, as we propose, in joint ownership; and to ensure the most beneficent effects to the nation, we know of no better method than the application of the common funds to the common benefit by the public authority.

The great body of liberal thinkers in the United States should organize their powers for political action. There are thousands of Land Reformers, ready to recognize man's right to the soil, and to take measures to enforce it, when they see a satisfactory plan before them. It is probable that few enlightened minds have limited themselves to the measures which have been as yet brought out by the National Reformers. Those who are imbued with the true spirit of Land Reform will seek to make its operation universal, and to establish that great commonwealth in which it necessarily results.

Rouse and bestir yourselves, American Land Reformers, before our Western Commonwealth beyond the Mississippi has been lost! There still is a commonwealth, for there is a vast area which "we the people" still hold in common. There is our future Eden, where the great serpent of Land Monopoly has not yet crawled - where the Arch Tempter has not yet procured the desecration of God's great gift to-man. Let us first protect ourselves from speculators, by securing the law for the benefit of settlers. Let us then proclaim the principles of a Commonwealth, and thunder in the ears of our representatives at Washington the Declaration of Human Rights. Tell them that the land was made for man, and not man for the land. Tell them that the proud title of American Citizen signifies one of the Sovereigns of a Continent, and not a miserable trembling appendage of the soil - a cringing creature following the beck of either political Lords or Lords of Land.

While others are settling the question of the exclusion of black-faced slavery, let us settle the more important question of the exclusion of white-faced despotism. Let us secure for ourselves, and for our children, at least one true republic - one "Land of the Free," where there shall be not only "life, liberty and the Pursuit of happiness," but the Enjoyment of happiness itself; and where there shall be, not only peace and plenty, but that Fraternal Equality, and that fulness of universal knowledge among the people, which shall render ours the Model Republic.


  1. Practically, we might recognize a modification of this principle, in consequence of the division of the race by geographical barriers, difference of language, &c., which render it expedient to consider each nation as the lord of its own soil. Yet the proposition we have laid down must be considered the paramount principle, to which the other must give way whenever practicable.
  2. The landlord's tax is paid by all classes of society; it increases in proportion to the amount of population who need food. The increased price of food goes not to the tenant or laborer, but to the landlord alone. Rent is nothing more or less than a tax upon the whole community.
  3. This statement is sufficiently illustrated by history, and by the laws of political economy. So familiar is the fact, that it has even been used as an argument in behalf of Slavery, which is claimed to be as desirable a condition as that to which the laboring classes are naturally destined. The Southern Quarterly Review justifies the condition of the slave, by the remark-"There is no laboring class, in any nation, better cared for, better fed, better clothed, better sheltered in old age, enjoying so great a share of the personal attention and kindness of his employers, or reaping so large a part of the profits of that capital with which his labor is combined. . . . Now the utmost that the laborer of any country can hope to obtain in return for his labor, is food and clothing, fire, a dwelling place for himself and family, and shelter and support for his old age."
  4. This elevation of the African race by education, without which any system of emancipation would be unjust to them, would probably so far remove the prejudice of color as to render their emigration unnecessary.