Page images
PDF
EPUB

ed. California figures on the books of the Land Department as the greatest land State of the Union, containing nearly 100,000,000 acres of public land -something like one-twelfth of the whole public domain. Yet so much of this is covered by railroad grants or held in the way of which I have spoken ; so much consists of untillable mountains or plains which require irrigation, so much is monopolized by locations which command the water, that as a matter of fact it is difficult to point the immigrant to any part of the State where he can take up a farm on which he can settle and maintain a family, and so men, weary of the quest, end by buying land or renting it on shares. It is not that there is any real scarcity of land in California—for, an empire in herself, California will some day maintain a population as large as that of France—but appropriation has got ahead of the settler and manages to keep just ahead of him.

Some twelve or fifteen years ago the late Ben Wade of Ohio said, in a speech in the United States Senate, that by the close of this century every acre of ordinary agricultural land in the United States would be worth $50 in gold. It is already clear that if he erred at all, it was in overstating the time. In the twenty-one years that remain of the present century, if our population keeps on increasing at the rate which it has maintained since the institution of the Government, with the exception of the decade which included the civil war, there will be an addition to our present population of something like forty-five millions, an addition of some seven millions more than the total population of the United States as shown by the census of 1870, and nearly half as much again as the present population of Great Britain. There is no question about the ability of the United States to support such a population and many hundreds of millions more, and, under proper social adjustments, to support them in increased comfort ; but in view of such an increase of population, what becomes of the unappropriated public domain ? Practically there will soon cease to be any. It will be a very long time before it is all in use ; but it will be a very short time, as we are going, before all that men can turn to use will have an owner.

But the evil effects of making the land of a whole people the exclusive property of some do not wait for the final appropriation of the public domain to show themselves. It is not necessary to contemplate them in the future; we may see them in the present. They have grown with our growth, and are still increasing.

We plough new fields, we open new mines, we found new cities ; we drive back the Indian and exterminate the buffalo ; we girdle the land with iron roads and lace the air with telegraph wires; we add knowledge to knowledge, and utilize invention after invention ; we build schools and endow colleges; yet it becomes no easier for the masses of our people to make a living. On the contrary, it is becoming harder. The wealthy class is becoming more wealthy; but the poorer class is becoming more dependent. The gulf between the employed and the employer is growing wider ; social contrasts are becoming sharper; as liveried carriages appear, so do barefooted children. We are becoming used to talk of the working classes and the propertied classes; beggars are becoming so common that where it was once thought a crime little short of highway robbery to refuse food to one who asked for it, the gate is now barred and the bulldog loosed, while laws are passed against vagrants which suggest those of Henry VIII.

We call ourselves the most progressive people on earth. But what is the goal of our progress, if these are its wayside fruits ?

These are the results of private property in land—the effects of a principle that must act with increasing and increasing force. It is not that laborers have increased faster than capital; it is not that population is pressing against subsistence; it is not that machinery has made "work scarce"; it is not that there is any real antagonism between labor and capital—it is simply that land is becoming more valuable ; that the terms on which labor can obtain access to the natural opportunities which alone enable it to produce are becoming harder and harder. The public domain is receding and narrowing; property in land is concentrating. The proportion of our people who have no legal right to the land on which they live is becoming steadily larger.

Says the “New York World”: “A non-resident proprietary,like that of Ireland, is getting to be the characteristic of large farming districts in New England, adding yearly to the nominal value of leasehold farms; advancing yearly the rent demanded, and steadily degrading the character of the tenantry.” And the “Nation," alluding to the same section, says: “Increased nominal value of land, higher rents, fewer farms occupied by owners; diminished products; lower wages ; a more ignorant population ; increasing number of women employed at hard, outdoor labor (surest sign of a declining civilization), and a steady deterioration in the style of farming—these are the conditions described by a cumulative mass of evidence that is perfectly irresistible.”

The same tendency is observable in the new States where the large scale of cultivation recalls the latifundia that ruined ancient Italy. In California a very large proportion of the farming land is rented from year to year, at rates varying from a fourth to even half the crop.

. The harder times, the lower wages, the increasing poverty perceptible in the United States are but results of the natural laws we have traced-laws as universal and as irresistible as that of gravitation. We did not establish the republic when in the face of principalities and powers we flung the declaration of the inalienable rights of man; we shall never establish the republic until we practically carry out that declaration by securing to the poorest child born among us an equal right to his native soil! We did not abolish slavery when we ratified the Fourteenth Amendment; to abolish slavery we must abolish private property in land! Unless we come back to first principles, unless we recognize natural perceptions of equity, unless we acknowledge the equal right of all to land, our free institutions will be in vain, our common schools will be in vain ; our discoveries and inventions will but add to the force that presses the masses down!

Francis Amasa Walker.

BORN in Boston, Mass., 1840.

THE BEST HOLDING OF THE LAND.

A

[Land and Its Rent. 1883.] WIDE difference in the degree of advantage which may be expected to

result from the application of the subdivision of labor and the aggregation of capitals in agriculture, as compared with manufactures, enters to justify a very different view of the two cases.

It would be wholly reasonable to admit that the enormous gain in productive power which results from the modern organization of mechanical labor must be accepted as outweighing all the evils incidental to that system, while denying emphatically that the productive power of land in large estates under a single management shows any such excess over the productive power of land when cut upinto small farms cultivated by their respective owners, as to compensate for the disadvantages that might be held to result from a less equable distribution of wealth, through the discouragement of frugality, through a more wanton increase of population, or through the merely political loss resulting to the State from the destruction of an independent and self-reliant yeomanry.

That the excess of advantages, productively considered, upon the side of large estates, as compared with what are usually called peasant properties, cannot be very great, is shown by the fact that the existence of such an excess in any degree has been disputed by writers so intelligent and candid as Messrs. Mill, Thornton, and Hippolyte Passy..

The reason why the division of labor and the concentration of capital accomplish so much less, relatively, in agriculture than in manufactures, is twofold.

On the one hand, the nature of agricultural operations, the extent of the field over which they are carried on, the varying necessities of the seasons in their order, and the limited applicability of machinery and elemental power, preclude the possibility of achieving a gain in this department of activity which shall be at all comparable to that which is attained where hundreds and thousands of workmen are gathered upon a few acres of ground, where machinery the most delicate and the most powerful may be applied successively to every minute operation, and where the force of steam or gravity may be invoked to multiply many fold the efficiency of the unaided man.

On the other hand, there is a virtue in the mere ownership of land by the actual laborer, which goes far, very far, to outweigh the advantages which great capitals bring to the cultivation of the soil. The “magic of property” in transmuting the bleak rock into the blooming garden, the barren sand of the seashore into the richest mould, has been told by a hundred travellers and economists since Arthur Young's day. In his tireless activity, “from the rising of the lark to the lodging of the lamb”; in his unceasing vigilance against every form of waste ; in his sympathetic care of the drooping vine, the broken bough, the tender young of the flock and the herd ; in his intimate knowledge of the character and capabilities of every field, and of every corner of every field, within his narrow domain; in his passionate devotion to the land which is all his own, which was his father's before him, which will be his son's after him, the peasant, the small proprietor, hold the secret of an economic virtue which even the power of machinery can scarcely overcome.

Americans are perhaps likely to overrate the degree in which operations on a vast scale, under a single management, may be advantageously carried on. The stories of the great farms of Illinois and California, and, even more prodigious, of the Dalrymple farms along the line of the Northern Pacific Railroad, are likely to create the impression on the mind of the reader that there is almost no limit to the success of great, even of gigantic, agriculture.

Such cases are, however, highly exceptional, even in the cultivation of the staple cereal crops and of cotton ; while, as we reach the numberless minor crops, which in their aggregate constitute a large part of the agriculture of the world, the advantages of aggregated capitals diminish rapidly or disappear altogether

In addition to the question of gross production, we have considerations relating to the distribution of the produce, which may properly enter to affect the mind of the economist or the statesman when dealing with the tenure of the soil.

That the industrial position of the individual agent,—as, for instance, whether producing in his own right and name, by permission of no one, a merchantable product, regarding which he has only to take the risks of a fortunate or unfortunate exchange, or, in the opposite case, as a candidate for employment at the hands of another, through whose consent only can be obtained the opportunity to take a part in production, and with whom, consequently, he has to make terms in advance of production and as a condition precedent to production,—that the industrial position of the individual agent may powerfully affect the distribution of the produce among those who take part in production ; that the injuries suffered in that distribution by the economically weak should result, more or less extensively, in permanent industrial disability, through loss of health and strength, through loss of constitutional energy or corruption of the blood, through loss of self-respect and social ambition, such disability being as real and as lasting as the disabilities incurred in a railway accident, the laborer, in consequence thereof, sinking to a lower industrial grade, beyond the reach of any reparative or restorative forces of a purely economical origin; and, lastly, that in the reaction of the distribution upon production, the whole community and all classes should suffer, both economically and socially ;-how any one can deny these things, I cannot conceive, although it has mysteriously pleased the economists almost wholly to omit consideration of causes of this nature.

That the system of small holdings reduces to a minimum the difficulties and the economic dangers attending the distribution of wealth, is implied in the very statement of the case. The great majority of those who work upon the land being self-employed, and the produce being their own, without deduction, the question what they shall receive as the fruit of their labor becomes a question of their own industry and prudence, subject alone to the kindness or unkindness of nature in giving the sunshine and the rain in their due season and measure, or the reverse.

The reduction of the mass of those who work upon the land to the condition of hired laborers brings upon each the necessity of finding a master with whom he must make terms precedent to production ; of entering into a competition at once with his fellows as to priority of employment, and with the members of the employing class as to rates of wages and forms of payment, for which competition he may be more or less disqualified by poverty, ignorance, and mental inertia, by distrust of himself or by jealousy of others. The condition of the agricultural laborers of England during the past hundred years shows that the evils portrayed are not merely imaginary.

Even more important than the considerations relating to the production and the distribution of wealth, bearing upon the tenure of land, which have been indicated, are certain considerations connected with the Consumption of Wealth.

Under which system of holdings are the forces which determine the uses to be made of wealth likely to be most favorable to the strength and prosperity of the community ?

That the ownership of land, in the main, by the cultivating class, promotes frugality and a wiser application of the existing body of wealth, is too manifest to require discussion. The true savings-bank, says Sismondi, is the soil. There is never a time when the owner of land is not painfully conscious of improvements which he desires to make upon his farm, of additions which he desires to make to his stock. For every shilling of money, as for every hour of time, he knows an immediate use. He has not to carry his earnings past a drinking-saloon to find an opportunity to invest them. The hungry land is, even at the moment, crying aloud for them.

Beyond the considerations which I have felt at liberty to adduce, is the interest of the community in the development of the manhood of its citizens, through the individuality and independence of character which spring from working upon the soil that you own.

“I believe," wrote Emerson, "in the spade and an acre of good ground. Whoso cuts a straight path to his own bread, by the help of God in the sun and rain and sprouting of the grain, seems to me an universal workman. He solves the problem of life, not for one, but for all men of sound body."

Still, in addition to this, is the political interest which the State has, that as many as may be of its citizens shall be directly interested in the land. Especially with popular institutions is there a strong assurance of peace, order, purity, and liberty, where those who are to make the laws, to pay the taxes, to rally to the support of the Government against foreign invasion or domestic violence, are the proprietors of the soil.

I would by no means argue in favor of a dull uniformity of petty holdings. Probably Professor Roscher is right in saying that a mingling of large, medium, and small properties, in which those of medium size predominate, forms the most wholesome of national and economical organizations.

VOL. X.-3

« PreviousContinue »