Principle the Best Policy.
have now seen the point that should be aimed at, and the method by which
it is to be reached. There is another branch of the subject which practical
men must consider: the political forces that may be marshaled; the political
resistance that must be overcome. It is one thing to work out such a problem
in the closet–to demonstrate its proper solution to the satisfaction of a
few intelligent readers. It is another thing to solve it in the field of
action, where ignorance, prejudice, and powerful interests must be met.
It cannot be that the really earnest men in
the Irish movement are satisfied with any program yet put forth. But they
are doubtless influenced by the fear that the avowal of radical views and
aims would not merely intensify present opposition, but frighten away from
their cause large numbers and important influences now with it. To say nothing
of English conservatism, there is in Ireland a large class now supporting
the movement who are morbidly afraid of anything which savors of "communism"
or "socialism," while in the United States, whence much moral support and
pecuniary aid have been derived, it is certain that many of those who are
now loudest in their expressions of sympathy would slink away from a movement
which avowed the intention of abolishing private property in land. A resolution
expressive of sympathy with the Irish people in their "struggle for the repeal
of oppressive land laws" was, by a unanimous vote of the National House
of Representatives, flung full in the face of the British lion. How many
votes would that resolution have got had it involved a declaration of hostility
to the institution of individual property in land?
I understand all this. Nevertheless, I am convinced
that the Irish land movement would gain, not lose, were its earnest leaders,
disdaining timid counsels, boldly to avow the principle that the land of
Ireland belongs of right to the whole people of Ireland, and, without bothering
about compensation to the landholders, to propose its resumption by the people
in the simple way I have suggested. That, in doing this, they would lose
strength and increase antagonism in some directions is true, but they would
in other directions gain strength and allay antagonisms. And, while the loss
would constantly tend to diminish, the gain would constantly tend to increase.
They would, to use the phrase of Emerson, have "hitched their wagon to a
I admit, as will be urged by those who would
hold back from such an avowal as I propose, that political progress must
be by short steps rather than by great leaps; that those who would have
the people follow them readily, and especially those who would enjoy a present
popularity and preferment, must not go too far in advance; and that to
demand a little at first is often the surest way to obtain much at last.
So far as personal consideration is concerned,
it is only to earnest men capable of feeling the inspiration of a great
principle that I care to talk, or that I can hope to convince. To them I
wish to point out that caution is not wisdom when it involves the ignoring
of a great principle; that it is not every step that involves progression,
but only such steps as are in the right line and make easier the next; that
there are strong forces that wait but the raising of the true standard to
rally on its side.
Let the time-servers, the demagogues, the compromisers,
to whom nothing is right and nothing is wrong, but who are always seeking
to find some half-way house between right and wrong–let them all go their
ways. Any cause which can lay hold of a great truth is the stronger without
them. If the earnest men among the Irish leaders abandon their present half-hearted,
illogical position, and take their stand frankly and firmly upon the principle
that the youngest child of the poorest peasant has as good a right to tread
the soil and breathe the air of Ireland as the eldest son of the proudest
duke, they will have put their fight on the right line. Present defeat
will but pave the way for future victory, and each step won makes easier
the next. Their position will be not only logically defensible, but will
prove the stronger the more it is discussed; for private property in land–which
never arises from the natural perceptions of men, but springs historically
from usurpation and robbery–is something so utterly absurd, so outrageously
unjust, so clearly a waste of productive forces and a barrier to the most
profitable use of natural opportunities, so thoroughly opposed to all sound
maxims of public policy, so glaringly in the way of further progress, that
it is only tolerated because the majority of men never think about it or
hear it questioned. Once fairly arraign it, and it must be condemned; once
call upon its advocates to exhibit its claims, and their cause is lost in
advance. There is to-day no political economist of standing who dare hazard
his reputation by defending it on economic grounds; there is to-day no thinker
of eminence who either does not, like Herbert Spencer, openly declare the
injustice of private property in land, or tacitly make the same admission.
Once force the discussion on this line, and
the Irish reformers will compel to their side the most active and powerful
of the men who mold thought.
And they will not merely close up their own
ranks, now in danger of being broken; they will "carry the war into Africa,"
and make possible the most powerful of political combinations.
It is already beginning to be perceived that
the Irish movement, so far as it has yet gone, is merely in the interest
of a class; that, so far as it has yet voiced any demand, it promises nothing
to the laboring and artisan classes. Its opponents already see this opportunity
for division, which, even without their efforts, must soon show itself,
and which, now that the first impulse of the movement is over, will the
more readily develop. To close up its ranks, and hold them firm, so that,
even though they be forced to bend, they will not break and scatter, it
must cease to be a movement looking merely to the benefit of the tenant-farmer,
and become a movement for the benefit of the whole laboring-class.
And the moment this is done the Irish land
agitation assumes a new and a grander phase. It ceases to be an Irish movement;
it becomes but the van of a world-wide struggle. Count the loss and the
Appeals to Animosity.
Land League movement, as an Irish movement, has in its favor the strength
of Irish national feeling. In assuming the radical ground I urge, it would
lose some of this; for there are doubtless a considerable number of Irishmen
on both sides of the Atlantic who would shrink at first from the proposal
to abolish private property in land. But all that is worth having would
soon come back to it. And its strength would be more compact and intense–animated
by a more definite purpose and a more profound conviction.
But in ceasing to be a movement having relation
simply to Ireland–in proclaiming a truth and proposing a remedy which apply
as well to every other country–it would allay opposition, which, as a mere
local movement, it arouses, and bring to its support powerful forces.
The powerful landed interest of England is
against the movement anyhow. The natural allies of the Irish agitators
are the English working-classes–not merely the Irishmen and sons of Irishmen
who, in the larger English cities, are numerous enough to make some show
and exert some voting power, without being numerous enough to effect any
important result–but the great laboring masses of Great Britain. So long
as merely Irish measures are proposed, they cannot gain the hearty support
even of the English radicals; so long as race prejudices and hatreds are
appealed to, counter-prejudices and -hatreds must be aroused.
It is the very madness of folly, it is one
of those political blunders worse than crimes, to permit in this land agitation
that indiscriminating denunciation of England and everything English which
is so common at Land League meetings and in the newspapers which voice Irish
sentiment. The men who do this may be giving way to a natural sentiment;
but they are most effectually doing the work of the real oppressors of Ireland.
Were they secret emissaries of the London police, were they bribed with the
gold which the British oligarchy grinds out of the toil of its white slaves
in mill and mine and field, they could not better be doing its work. "Divide
and conquer" is the golden maxim of the oppressors of mankind. It is by
arousing race antipathies and exciting national animosities, by appealing
to local prejudices and setting people against people, that aristocracies
and despotisms have been founded and maintained. They who would free men
must rise above such feelings if they would be successful. The greatest
enemy of the people's cause is he who appeals to national passion and excites
old hatreds. He is its best friend who does his utmost to bury them out of
sight. For that action and reaction are equal and uniform is the law of
the moral as of the physical world. Herein lies the far-reaching sweep of
those sublime teachings that, after centuries of nominal acceptance, the
so-called Christian world yet ignores, and which call on us to answer not
revilings with revilings, but to meet hatred with love. "For," as say the
Scriptures of the Buddhists, "hatred never ceases by hatred at any time; hatred
ceases by love; that is an old rule." To undiscriminately denounce Englishmen
is simply to arouse prejudices and excite animosities–to separate force that
sought to be united. To make this the fight of the Irish people against the
English people is to doom it to failure. To make it the common cause of the
people everywhere against a system which everywhere oppresses and robs them
is to make its success assured. Had this been made to appear, the Irish members
would not have stood alone when it came to the final resistance to coercion.
Had this been made to appear, Great Britain would be in a ferment at the
proposal to give the government despotic powers. If the Irish leaders are
wise, they may yet avail themselves of the rising tide of British democracy.
Let the Land Leaguers adopt the noble maxim of the German Social Democrats.
Let them be Land Leaguers first, and Irishmen afterward. Let them account
him an enemy of their cause who seeks to pander to prejudice and arouse hate.
Let them arouse to a higher love than the mere love of country; to a wider
patriotism than that which exhausts itself on one little sub-division of the
human race, one little spot on the great earth's surface; and in this name,
and by this sign, call upon their brothers, not so much to aid them, as to
strike for themselves.
The Irish people have the same inalienable
right to govern themselves as have every other people; but the full recognition
of this right need not necessarily involve separation, and to talk of
separation first is to arouse passions that will be utilized by the worst
enemies of Ireland. The demand for the full political rights of the Irish
people will be the stronger if it be made to line with and include the demand
for the full political rights of the unenfranchised British people. And
it must be remembered that all the tendencies of the time are not to separation,
but to integration; not to independence, but to interdependence. This is
observable wherever modern influences reach, and in all things. To attempt
to resist it is to attempt to turn back the tide of progress.
It is not with the English people that the
Irish people have cause of quarrel. It is with the system that oppresses
both. That is the thing to denounce; that is the thing to fight. And it
is to be fought most effectually by uniting the masses against it. Monarchy,
aristocracy, landlordism, would get but a new lease of life by the arousing
of sectional passions. The greatest blow that could be struck against them
would be, scrupulously avoiding everything that could excite antagonistic
popular feeling, to carry this land agitation into Great Britain, not as
a mere Irish question, but as a home question as well. To proclaim the universal
truth that land is of natural right common property; to abandon all timid
and half-way schemes which attempt to compromise between justice and injustice,
and to demand nothing more nor less than a full recognition of this natural
right would be to do this. It would inevitably be to put the British masses
upon inquiry; to put British landholders upon the defensive, and give them
more than enough to do at home. Both England and Scotland are ripe for such
an agitation, and, once fairly begun, it can have but one result–the victory
of the popular cause.
How to Win.
is it merely the laboring-classes of Great Britain who may thus be brought
into the fight, if the true standard be raised. To demand the nationalization
of land by the simple means I have proposed makes possible–nay, as the discussion
goes on, makes inevitable–an irresistible combination, the combination
of labor and capital against landlordism. This combination proved its power
by winning the battle of free trade in 1846 against the most determined
resistance of the landed interest. It would be much more powerful now, and,
if it can again be made on the land question, it can again force the intrenchments
of the landed aristocracy.
This combination cannot be made on any of the
timid, illogical schemes as yet proposed; but it can be made on the broad
principle that land is rightfully common property. Paradoxical as it may
seem, it is yet true that, while the present position of the Irish agitators
does involve a menace to capital, the absolute denial of the right of private
property in land would not.
In admitting that the landlords ought to get
any rent at all, in admitting that, if the land is taken from them, they
must be paid for it, the Irish agitators give away their whole case. For
in this they admit that the land really belongs to the landlords, and put
property in land in the same category with other property. Thus they place
themselves in an indefensible position; thus they give to the agitation
a "communistic" (2) character, and excite against
it that natural and proper feeling which strongly resents any attack upon
the rights of property as an attack upon the very foundations of society.
It was doubtless this mistake of the agitators in admitting the right of
private property in land to which Archbishop McCabe recently alluded in saying
that some of the utterances of the agitators excited the solicitude of the
Holy See. For this mistake gives to the agitation the character of an attack
upon the rights of property. If the land is really the property of the landlords
(and this is admitted when it is admitted that they are entitled to any
rent or to any compensation), then to limit the rent which they shall get,
or to interfere with their freedom to make what terms they please with
tenants, is an attack upon property rights. If the land is rightfully the
landlords', then is any compulsion as to how they shall let it, or on what
terms they shall part with it, a bad and dangerous precedent, which naturally
alarms capital and excites the solicitude of those who are concerned for
good morals and social order. For, if a man may be made to part with one
species of property by boycotting or agitation, why not with another? If
a man's title to land is as rightful as his title to his watch, what is
the difference between agitation by Land League meetings and Parliamentary
filibustering to make him give up the one and agitation with a cocked pistol
to make him give up the other?
(2) I use the word in the
usual sense in which it is used by the vulgar, and in which a communist is
understood as one who wants to divide up other people's property.
if it be denied that land justly is, or can be, private property, if the
equal rights of the whole people to the use of the elements gratuitously
furnished by Nature be asserted without drawback or compromise, then the essential
difference between property in land and property in things of human production
is at once brought out. Then will it clearly appear not only that the denial
of the right of individual property in land does not involve any menace to
legitimate property rights, but that the maintenance of private property
in hand necessarily involves a denial of the right to all other property,
and that the recognition of the claims of the landlords means a continuous
robbery of capital as well as of labor.
All this will appear more and more clearly
as the practical measures necessary to make land common property are proposed
and discussed. These simple measures involve no harsh proceedings, no forcible
dispossession, no shock to public confidence, no retrogression to a lower
industrial organization, no loaning of public money, or establishment
of cumbrous commissions. Instead of doing violence to the rightful sense
of property, they assert and vindicate it. The way to make land common property
is simply to take rent for the common benefit. And to do this, the easy
way is to abolish one tax after another, until the whole weight of taxation
falls upon the value of land. When that point is reached, the battle is
won. The hare is caught, killed, and skinned, and to cook him will be a
very easy matter. The real fight will come on the proposition to consolidate
existing taxation upon land values. When that is once won, the landholders
will not merely have been decisively defeated, they will have been routed;
and the nature of land values will be so generally understood that to raise
taxation so as to take the whole rent for common purposes will be a mere
matter of course.
The political art is like the military art.
It consists in combining the greatest strength against the point of least
resistance. I have pointed out the way in which, in the case we are considering,
this can be done. And, the more the matter is considered, the clearer and
clearer will it appear that there is every practical reason, as there is
every theoretical reason, why the Irish reformers should take this vantage-ground
of principle. To propose to put the public burdens upon the landholders
is not a novel and unheard-of thing against which English prejudice would
run as something "newfangled," some new invention of modern socialism. On
the contrary, it is the ancient English practice. It would be but a return,
in a form adapted to modern times, to the system under which English land
was originally parceled out to the predecessors of the present holders–the
just system, recognized for centuries, that those who enjoy the common property
should bear the common burdens. The putting of property in land in the same
category as property in things produced by labor is comparatively modern.
In England, as in Ireland and Scotland, as in fact among every people of
whom we know anything, the land was originally treated as common property,
and this recognition ran all through the feudal system. The essence of the
feudal system was in treating the landholder not as an owner, but as a lessee.
William the Conqueror did not give away the land of England as the Church
lands were given away by Henry VIII, when he divided among his sycophants
the property of the people, which, after the manner of the times, had been
set apart for the support of religious, educational, and charitable institutions.
To every grant of land made by the Conqueror was annexed a condition which
amounted to a heavy perpetual tax or rent. One of his first acts was to divide
the soil of England into sixty thousand knights' fees; and thus, besides many
other dues and obligations, was thrown upon the landholders the cost of providing
and maintaining the army. All the long, costly wars that England fought during
feudal times involved no public debt. Public debt, pauperism, and the grinding
poverty of the poorer classes came in as the landholders gradually shook
off the obligations on which they had received their land, an operation culminating
in the abolition after the Restoration of the feudal tenures, for which were
substituted indirect taxes that still weigh upon the whole people. To now
reverse this process, to abolish the taxes which are borne by labor and capital,
and to substitute for them a tax on rent, would be not the adoption of anything
new, but a simple going back to the old plan. In England, as in Ireland,
the movement would appeal to the popular imagination as a demand for the
reassertion of ancient rights.
There are other most important respects in
which this measure will commend itself to the English mind. The tax upon
land values or rent is in all economic respects the most perfect of taxes.
No political economist will deny that it combines the maximum of certainty
with the minimum of loss and cost; that, unlike taxes upon capital or exchange
or improvement, it does not check production or enhance prices or fall ultimately
upon the consumer. And, in proposing to abolish all other taxes in favor
of this theoretically perfect tax, the Land Reformers will have on their
side the advantage of ideas already current, while they can bring the argumentum
ad hominem to bear on those who might never comprehend an abstract principle.
Englishmen of all classes have happily been educated up to a belief in free
trade, though a very large amount of revenue is still collected from customs.
Let the Land Reformers take advantage of this by proposing to carry out
the doctrine of free trade to its fullest extent. If a revenue tariff is
better than a protective tariff, then no tariff at all is better than a revenue
tariff. Let them propose to abolish the customs duties entirely, and to
abolish as well harbor dues and lighthouse dues and dock charges, and in
their place to add to the tax on rent, or the value of land exclusive of
improvements. Let them in the same way propose to get rid of the excise, the
various license taxes, the tax upon buildings, the onerous and unpopular income
tax, etc., and to saddle all public expenses on the landlords.
This would bring home the land question to
thousands and thousands who have never thought of it before; to thousands
and thousands who have heretofore looked upon the land question as something
peculiarly Irish, or something that related exclusively to agriculture
and to farmers, and have never seen how, in various direct and indirect
ways, they have to contribute to the immense sums received by the landlords
as rent. It would be putting the argument in a shape in which even the most
stupid could understand it. It would be directing the appeal to a spot where
even the unimaginative are sensitive–the pocket. How long would a merchant
or banker or manufacturer or annuitant regard as dangerous and wicked an
agitation which proposed to take taxation off of him? Even the most prejudiced
can be relied on to listen with patience to an argument in favor of making
some one else pay what they now are paying.
Let me illustrate by a little story what I
feel confident would be the effect of the policy I propose:
Once upon a time I was the Pacific-coast agent
of an Eastern news association, which took advantage of an opposition telegraph
company to run against the Associated Press monopoly. The association
in California consisted of one strong San Francisco paper, to which telegraphic
news was of much importance, and a number of interior papers, to which
it was of minor importance, if of any importance at all. It became necessary
to raise more money for the expenses of collecting and transmitting these
despatches, and, thinking it only fair, I assessed the increased cost to
the strong metropolitan paper. The proprietor of this paper was very indignant.
He appealed to the proprietors of all the other papers, and they all joined
in his protest. I replied by calling a meeting. At this meeting the proprietor
of the San Francisco paper led off with an indignant speech. He was seconded
by several others, and evidently had the sympathy of the whole crowd. Then
came my turn. I said, in effect:
"Gentlemen, you can do what you please about
this matter. Whatever satisfies you satisfies me. The only thing fixed
is, that more money has to be raised. As this San Francisco paper pays
now a much lower relative rate than you do, I thought it only fair that
it should pay the increased cost. But, if you think otherwise, there is
no reason in the world why you should not pay it yourselves." The debate
immediately took another turn, and in a few minutes my action was indorsed
by a unanimous vote, for the San Francisco man was so disgusted by the way
his supporters left him that he would not vote at all.
Now, that is just about what will happen to
the British landlords if the question be put in the way I propose. The British
landowners are in numbers but an insignificant minority. And, the more
they protested against the injustice of having to pay all the taxes, the
quicker would the public mind realize the essential injustice of private
property in land, the quicker would the majority of the people come to see
that the landowners ought not only to pay all the taxes, but a good deal
more besides. Once put the question in such a way that the British working-man
will realize that he pays two prices for his ale and half a dozen prices
for his tobacco, because a landowners' Parliament in the time of Charles
II shook off their ancient dues to the State, and imposed them in indirect
taxation on him; once bring to the attention of the well-to-do Englishman,
who grunts as he pays his income tax, the question as to whether the landowner,
who draws his income from property that of natural right belongs to the whole
people, ought not to pay it instead of him, and it will not be long before
the absurd injustice of allowing rent to be appropriated by individuals will
be thoroughly understood. This is a very different thing from asking the
British taxpayer to buy out the Irish landlord for the sake of the Irish
I have been speaking as though all landholders
would resist the change which would sacrifice their special interests to
the larger interests of society. But I am satisfied that to think this is
to do landholders a great injustice. For landholders as a class are not
more stupid nor more selfish than any other class. And as they saw, as
they must see, as the discussion progresses, that they also would be the
gainers in the great social change which would abolish poverty and elevate
the very lowest classes–the "mudsills" of society, as a Southern Senator
expressively called them during the Slavery discussion–above the want, the
misery, the vice, and degradation in which they are now plunged, there are
many landowners who would join heartily and unreservedly in the effort to
bring this change about. This I believe, not merely because my reading and
observation both teach me that low, narrow views of self-interest are not
the strongest of human motives, but because I know that to-day among those
who see the truth I have here tried to set forth, and who would carry out
the reform I have proposed, are many landholders.(3) And, if
they be earnest men, I appeal to landholders as confidently as to any other
class. There is that in a great truth that can raise a human soul above
the mists of selfishness.
(3) San Francisco, the
owner of much valuable real estate in and near that city; and Sir George
Gray, og New Zealand, the owner of a godd deal of land in that colony, of
which he was former governor, as well as, I understand, of valuable estates
the warm friends my book "Progress and Poverty" has found are many landholders–some
of them large landholders. As types I may mention the names of D. A. Learnard,
of San Joaquin, a considerable farmer, who had no sooner read it than
he sent for a dozen copies to circulate among his neighbors; Hiram Tubbs,
of San Francisco, the owner of much valuable real estate in and near that
city; and Sir George Grey, of New Zealand, the owner of a good deal of
land in that colony, of which he was formerly governor, as well as, I understand,
of valuable estates in England.
The course which I suggest is the only course
which can be logically based on principle. It has everything to commend
it. It will concentrate the greatest strength against the least resistance.
And it will be on the right line. Every step gained will be an advance toward
the ultimate goal; every step gained will make easier the next.
In the United States.
speaking with special reference to the case of Ireland, I have, so far as
general principles are concerned, been using it as a stalking-horse. In
discussing the Irish Land Question, we really discuss the most vital of
American questions. And if we of the United States cannot see the beam in
our own eye, save by looking at the mote in our brother's, then let us look
at the mote; and let us take counsel together how he may get it out. For,
at least, we shall in this way learn how we may deal with our own case when
we wake up to the consciousness of it.
And never had the parable of the mote and the
beam a better illustration than in the attitude of so many Americans toward
this Irish Land Question. We denounce the Irish land system! We express
our sympathy with Ireland! We tender our advice by Congressional and legislative
resolution to our British brethren across the sea! Truly our indignation
is cheap and our sympathy is cheap, and our advice is very, very cheap!
For what are we doing? Extending over new soil the very institution that
to them descended from a ruder and a darker time. With what conscience can
we lecture them? With all power in the hands of the people, with institutions
yet plastic, with millions of virgin acres yet to settle, it should he ours
to do more than vent denunciation, and express sympathy, and give advice.
It should be ours to show the way. This we have not done; this we do not
do. Out in our new States may be seen the growth of a system of cultivation
worse in its social effects than that which prevails in Ireland. In Ireland
the laborer has some sort of a home, and enjoys some of the family affections.
In these great "wheat-manufacturing" districts the laborer is a nomad, his
home is in his blankets, which he carries around with him. The soil bears
wheat, crop after crop, till its fertility is gone. It does not bear children.
These machine-worked "grain factories" of the great Republic of the New
World are doing just what was done by the slave-worked latifundia of the
Roman world. Here they prevent, where there they destroyed, "the crop of
men." And in our large cities may we not see misery of the same kind as exists
in Ireland? If it is less in amount, is it not merely because our country
is yet newer; because we have yet a wide territory and a sparse population–conditions
past which our progress is rapidly carrying us? As for evictions, is it an
unheard-of thing, even in New York, for families to be turned out of their
homes because they cannot pay the rent? Are there not many acres in this
country from which those who made homes have been driven by sheriffs' posses,
and even by troops? Do not a number of the Mussell Slough settlers lie in
Santa Clara jail to-day because a great railroad corporation set its envious
eyes on soil which they had turned from desert into garden, and they in their
madness tried to resist ejectment?
And the men on the other side of the Atlantic
who vainly imagine that they may settle the great question now pressing
upon them by free trade in land, or tenant-right, or some mild device for
establishing a peasant proprietary–they may learn something about their own
case if they will turn their eyes to us.
We have had free trade in land; we have had
in our American farmer, owning his own acres, using his own capital, and
working with his own hands, something far better than peasant proprietorship.
We have had, what no legislation can give the people of Great Britain, vast
areas of virgin soil. We have had all of these under democratic institutions.
Yet we have here social disease of precisely the same kind as that which
exists in Ireland and England. And the reason is that we have had here precisely
the same cause–that we have made land private property. So long as this
exists, our democratic institutions are vain, our pretense of equality but
cruel irony, our public schools can but sow the seeds of discontent. So long
as this exists, material progress can but force the masses of our people into
a harder and more hopeless slavery. Until we in some way make the land, what
Nature intended it to be, common property, until we in some way secure to
every child born among us his natural birthright, we have not established
the Republic in any sense worthy of the name, and we cannot establish the
Republic. Its foundations are quicksand.
A little Island or a little World.
an island girt with ocean; imagine a little world swimming in space. Put
on it, in imagination, human beings. Let them divide the land, share and
share alike, as individual property. At first, while population is sparse
and industrial processes rude and primitive, this will work well enough.
Turn away the eyes of the mind for a moment,
let time pass, and look again. Some families will have died out, some have
greatly multiplied; on the whole, population will have largely increased,
and even supposing there have been no important inventions or improvements
in the productive arts, the increase in population, by causing the division
of labor, will have made industry more complex. During this time some of
these people will have been careless, generous, improvident; some will have
been thrifty and grasping. Some of them will have devoted much of their powers
to thinking of how they themselves and the things they see around them
came to be, to inquiries and speculations as to what there is in the universe
beyond their little island or their little world, to making poems, painting
pictures, or writing books; to noting the differences in rocks and trees
and shrubs and grasses; to classifying beasts and birds and fishes and insects–to
the doing, in short, of all the many things which add so largely to the
sum of human knowledge and human happiness, without much or any gain of
wealth to the doer. Others again will have devoted all their energies to
the extending of their possessions. What, then, shall we see, land having
been all this time treated as private property? Clearly, we shall see that
the primitive equality has given way to inequality. Some will have very
much more than one of the original shares into which the land was divided;
very many will have no land at all. Suppose that, in all things save this,
our little island or our little world is Utopia–that there are no wars or
robberies; that the government is absolutely pure and taxes nominal; suppose,
if you want to, any sort of a currency; imagine, if you can imagine such
a world or island, that interest is utterly abolished; yet inequality in
the ownership of land will have produced poverty and virtual slavery.
For the people we have supposed are human beings–that
is to say, in their physical natures at least, they are animals who can
live only on land and by the aid of the products of land. They may make machines
which will enable them to float on the sea, or perhaps to fly in the air,
but to build and equip these machines they must have land and the products
of land, and must constantly come back to land. Therefore those who own
the land must be the masters of the rest. Thus, if one man has come to own
all the land, he is their absolute master even to life or death. If they
can live on the land only on his terms, then they can live only on his terms,
for without land they cannot live. They are his absolute slaves, and so long
as his ownership is acknowledged, if they want to live, they must do in everything
as he wills.
If, however, the concentration of landownership
has not gone so far as to make one or a very few men the owners of all
the land–if there are still so many landowners that there is competition
between them as well as between those who have only their labor–then the
terms on which these non-landholders can live will seem more like free
contract. But it will not be free contract. Land can yield no wealth without
the application of labor; labor can produce no wealth without land. These
are the two equally necessary factors of production. Yet, to say that they
are equally necessary factors of production is not to say that, in the
making of contracts as to how the results of production are divided, the
possessors of these two meet on equal terms. For the nature of these two
factors is very different. Land is a natural element; the human being must
have his stomach filled every few hours. Land can exist without labor, but
labor cannot exist without land. If I own a piece of land, I can let it
lie idle for a year or for years, and it will eat nothing. But the laborer
must eat every day, and his family must eat. And so, in the making of terms
between them, the landowner has an immense advantage over the laborer. It
is on the side of the laborer that the intense pressure of competition comes,
for in his case it is competition urged by hunger. And, further than this:
As population increases, as the competition for the use of land becomes more
and more intense, so are the owners of land enabled to get for the use of
their land a larger and larger part of the wealth which labor exerted upon
it produces. That is to say, the value of land steadily rises. Now, this
steady rise in the value of land brings about a confident expectation of
future increase of value, which produces among landowners all the effects
of a combination to hold for higher prices. Thus there is a constant tendency
to force mere laborers to take less and less or to give more and more (put
it which way you please, it amounts to the same thing) of the products of
their work for the opportunity to work. And thus, in the very nature of things,
we should see on our little island or our little world that, after a time
had passed, some of the people would be able to take and enjoy a superabundance
of all the fruits of labor without doing any labor at all, while others
would be forced to work the livelong day for a pitiful living.
But let us introduce another element into the
supposition. Let us suppose great discoveries and inventions–such as the
steam-engine, the power-loom, the Bessemer process, the reaping-machine,
and the thousand and one labor-saving devices that are such a marked feature
of our era. What would be the result?
Manifestly, the effect of all such discoveries
and inventions is to increase the power of labor in producing wealth–to
enable the same amount of wealth to be produced by less labor, or a greater
amount with the same labor. But none of them lessen, or can lessen the necessity
for land. Until we can discover some way of making something out of nothing–and
that is so far beyond our powers as to be absolutely unthinkable–there is
no possible discovery or invention which can lessen the dependence of labor
upon land. And, this being the case, the effect of these labor-saving devices,
land being the private property of some, would simply be to increase the
proportion of the wealth produced that landowners could demand for the use
of their land. The ultimate effect of these discoveries and inventions would
be not to benefit the laborer, but to make him more dependent.
And, since we are imagining conditions, imagine
laborsaving inventions to go to the farthest imaginable point, that is
to say, to perfection. What then? Why then, the necessity for labor being
done away with, all the wealth that the land could produce would go entire
to the landowners. None of it whatever could be claimed by any one else.
For the laborers there would be no use at all. If they continued to exist,
it would be merely as paupers on the bounty of the landowners!
The Civilization that is Possible.
the effects upon the distribution of wealth, of making land private property,
we may thus see an explanation of that paradox presented by modern progress.
The perplexing phenomena of deepening want with increasing wealth, of labor
rendered more dependent and helpless by the very introduction of labor-saving
machinery, are the inevitable result of natural laws as fixed and certain
as the law of gravitation. Private property in land is the primary cause
of the monstrous inequalities which are developing in modern society. It
is this, and not any miscalculation of Nature in bringing into the world
more mouths than she can feed, that gives rise to that tendency of wages
to a minimum–that "iron law of wages," as the Germans call it-that, in spite
of all advances in productive power, compels the laboring-classes to the
least return on which they will consent to live. It is this that produces
all those phenomena that are so often attributed to the conflict of labor
and capital. It is this that condemns Irish peasants to rags and hunger,
that produces the pauperism of England and the tramps of America. It is this
that makes the almshouse and the penitentiary the marks of what we call high
civilization; that in the midst of schools and churches degrades and brutalizes
men, crushes the sweetness out of womanhood and the joy out of childhood.
It is this that makes lives that might be a blessing a pain and a curse,
and every year drives more and more to seek unbidden refuge in the gates
of death. For, a permanent tendency to inequality once set up, all the forces
of progress tend to greater and greater inequality.
All this is contrary to Nature. The poverty
and misery, the vice and degradation, that spring from the unequal distribution
of wealth, are not the results of natural law; they spring from our defiance
of natural law. They are the fruits of our refusal to obey the supreme
law of justice. It is because we rob the child of his birthright; because
we make the bounty which the Creator intended for all the exclusive property
of some, that these things come upon us, and, though advancing and advancing,
we chase but the mirage.
When, lit by lightning-flash or friction amid
dry grasses, the consuming flames of fire first flung their lurid glow into
the face of man, how must he have started back in affright! When he first
stood by the shores of the sea, how must its waves have said to him, "Thus
far shalt thou go, but no farther"! Yet, as he learned to use them, fire
became his most useful servant, the sea his easiest highway. The most destructive
element of which we know–that which for ages and ages seemed the very thunderbolt
of the angry gods–is, as we are now beginning to learn, fraught for us
with untold powers of usefulness. Already it enables us to annihilate space
in our messages, to illuminate the night with new suns; and its uses are
only beginning. And throughout all Nature, as far as we can see, whatever
is potent for evil is potent for good. "Dirt," said Lord Brougham, "is matter
in the wrong place." And so the squalor and vice and misery that abound
in the very heart of our civilization are but results of the misapplication
of forces in their nature most elevating.
I doubt not that whichever way a man may turn
to inquire of Nature, he will come upon adjustments which will arouse not
merely his wonder, but his gratitude. Yet what has most impressed me with
the feeling that the laws of Nature are the laws of beneficent intelligence
is what I see of the social possibilities involved in the law of rent. Rent
(4) springs from natural causes. It arises, as society
develops, from the differences in natural opportunities and the differences
in the distribution of population. It increases with the division of labor,
with the advance of the arts, with the progress of invention. And thus,
by virtue of a law impressed upon the very nature of things, has the Creator
provided that the natural advance of mankind shall be an advance toward
equality, an advance toward cooperation, an advance toward a social state
in which not even the weakest need be crowded to the wall, in which even
for the unfortunate and the cripple there may be ample provision. For this
revenue, which arises from the common property, which represents not the
creation of value by the individual, but the creation by the community as
a whole, which increases just as society develops, affords a common fund,
which, properly used, tends constantly to equalize conditions, to open the
largest opportunities for all, and utterly to banish want or the fear of want.
(4) I, of course, use the
word in its economic, not in its common sense, meaning by it what is commonly
squalid poverty that festers in the heart of our civilization, the vice
and crime and degradation and ravening greed that flow from it, are the results
of a treatment of land that ignores the simple law of justice, a law so
clear and plain that it is universally recognized by the veriest savages.
What is by nature the common birthright of all, we have made the exclusive
property of individuals; what is by natural law the common fund, from which
common wants should be met, we give to a few that they may lord it over
their fellows. And so some are gorged while some go hungry, and more is
wasted than would suffice to keep all in luxury.
In this nineteenth century, among any people
who have begun to utilize the forces and methods of modern production,
there is no necessity for want. There is no good reason why even the poorest
should not have all the comforts, all the luxuries, all the opportunities
for culture, all the gratifications of refined taste that only the richest
now enjoy. There is no reason why any one should be compelled to long and
monotonous labor. Did invention and discovery stop to day, the forces of
production are ample for this. What hampers production is the unnatural inequality
in distribution. And, with just distribution, invention and discovery would
only have begun.
Appropriate rent in the way I propose, and
speculative rent would be at once destroyed. The dogs in the manger who
are now holding so much land they have no use for, in order to extract
a high price from those who do want to use it, would be at once choked off,
and land from which labor and capital are now debarred under penalty of
a heavy fine would be thrown open to improvement and use. The incentive
to land monopoly would be gone. Population would spread where it is now too
dense, and become denser where it is now too sparse.
Appropriate rent in this way, and not only
would natural opportunities be thus opened to labor and capital, but all
the taxes which now weigh upon production and rest upon the consumer could
be abolished. The demand for labor would increase, wages would rise, every
wheel of production would be set in motion.
Appropriate rent in this way, and the present
expenses of government would be at once very much reduced–reduced directly
by the saving in the present cumbrous and expensive schemes of taxation,
reduced indirectly by the diminution in pauperism and in crime. This simplification
in governmental machinery, this elevation of moral tone which would result,
would make it possible for government to assume the running of railroads,
telegraphs, and other businesses which, being in their nature monopolies,
cannot, as experience is showing, be safely left in the hands of private
individuals and corporations. In short, losing its character as a repressive
agency, government could thus gradually pass into an administrative agency
of the great cooperative association-society.
For, appropriate rent in this way, and there
would be at once a large surplus over and above what are now considered
the legitimate expenses of government. We could divide this, if we wanted
to, among the whole community, share and share alike. Or we could give every
boy a small capital for a start when he came of age, every girl a dower,
every widow an annuity, every aged person a pension, out of this common estate.
Or we could do with our great common fund many, many things that would be
for the common benefit, many, many things that would give to the poorest
what even the richest cannot now enjoy. We could establish free libraries,
lectures, museums, art-galleries, observatories, gymnasiums, baths, parks,
theaters; we could line our roads with fruit-trees, and make our cities clean
and wholesome and beautiful; we could conduct experiments, and offer rewards
for inventions, and throw them open to public use.(5)
(5) A million dollars spent
in premiums and experiments would, in all probability, make aerial navigation
an accomplished fact.
of the enormous wastes that now go on: The waste of false revenue systems,
which hamper production and bar exchange, which fine a man for erecting
a building where none stood before, or for making two blades of grass grow
where there was but one. The waste of unemployed labor, of idle machinery,
of those periodical depressions of industry almost as destructive as war.
The waste entailed by poverty, and the vice and crime and thriftlessness
and drunkenness that spring from it; the waste entailed by that greed of gain
that is its shadow, and which makes business in large part but a masked war;
the waste entailed by the fret and worry about the mere physical necessities
of existence, to which so many of us are condemned; the waste entailed by
ignorance, by cramped and undeveloped faculties, by the turning of human
beings into mere machines!
Think of these enormous wastes, and of the
others which, like these, are due to the fundamental wrong which produces
an unjust distribution of wealth and distorts the natural development of
society, and you will begin to see what a higher, purer, richer civilization
would be made possible by the simple measure that will assert natural rights.
You will begin to see how, even if no one but the present landholders were
to be considered, this would be the greatest boon that could be vouchsafed
them by society, and that, for them to fight it, would be as if the dog with
a tin kettle tied to his tail should snap at the hand that offered to free
him. Even the greatest landholder! As for such landholders as our working
farmers and homestead-owners, the slightest discussion would show them that
they had everything to gain by the change. But even such landholders as the
Duke of Westminster and the Astors would be gainers.
For it is of the very nature of injustice that
it really profits no one. When and where was slavery good for slaveholders?
Did her cruelties in America, her expulsions of Moors and Jews, her burnings
of heretics, profit Spain? Has England gained by her injustice toward Ireland?
Did not the curse of an unjust social system rest on Louis XIV and Louis
XV as well as on the poorest peasant whom it condemned to rags and starvation–as
well as on that Louis whom it sent to the block? Is the Czar of Russia
to be envied?
This we may know certainly, this we may hold
to confidently: that which is unjust can really profit no one; that which
is just can really harm no one. Though all other lights move and circle,
this is the pole-star by which we may safely steer.
The Civilization that is.
we think of the civilization that might be, how poor and pitiful, how little
better than utter barbarism, seems this civilization of which we boast!
Even here, where it has had the freest field and fullest development! Even
This is a broad land and a rich land. How wide
it is, how rich it is, how the fifty millions of us already here are but
beginning to scratch it, a man cannot begin to realize, till he does some
thousands of miles of traveling over it. There are a school and a church
and a newspaper in every hamlet; we have no privileged orders, no legacies
of antiquated institutions, no strong and covertly hostile neighbors, who
in fancy or reality oblige us to keep up great standing armies. We have had
the experience of all other nations to guide us in selecting what is good
and rejecting what is bad. In politics, in religion, in science, in mechanism,
everything shows the latest improvements. We think we stand, and in fact
we do stand, in the very van of civilization. Food here is cheaper, wages
higher, than anywhere else. There is here a higher average of education,
of intelligence, of material comfort, and of individual opportunity, than
among any other of the great civilized nations. Here modern civilization
is at its very best. Yet even here!
Last winter I was in San Francisco. There are
in San Francisco citizens who can build themselves houses that cost a million
and a half; citizens who can give each of their children two millions of
registered United States bonds for a Christmas present; citizens who can
send their wives to Paris to keep house there, or rather to "keep palace"
in a style that outdoes the lavishness of Russian grand dukes; citizens whose
daughters are golden prizes to the bluest-blooded of English aristocrats;
citizens who can buy seats in the United States Senate and leave them empty,
just to show their grandeur. There are, also, in San Francisco other citizens.
Last winter I could hardly walk a block without meeting a citizen begging
for ten cents. And, when a charity fund was raised to give work with pick
and shovel to such as would rather work than beg, the applications were
so numerous that, to make the charity fund go as far as possible, one set
of men was discharged after having been given a few days' work, in order
to make room for another set. This and much else of the same sort I saw in
San Francisco last winter. Likewise in Sacramento, and in other towns.
Last summer, on the plains, I took from its
tired mother, and held in my arms, a little sun-browned baby, the youngest
of a family of the sturdy and keen Western New England stock, who alone in
their two wagons had traveled near three thousand miles looking for some
place to locate and finding none, and who were now returning to where the
father and his biggest boy could go to work on a railroad, what they had got
by the sale of their Nebraska farm all gone. And I walked awhile by the side
of long, lank Southwestern men who, after similar fruitless journeyings way
up into Washington Territory, were going back to the Choctaw Nation.
This winter I have been in New York. New York
is .the greatest and richest of American cities–the third city of the modern
world, and moving steadily toward the first place. This is a time of great
prosperity. Never before were so many goods sold, so much business done.
Real estate is advancing with big jumps, and within the last few months
many fortunes have been made in buying and selling vacant lots. Landlords
nearly everywhere are demanding increased rents; asking in some of the business
quarters an increase of three hundred per cent. Money is so plenty that
government four per cents sell for 114, and a bill is passing Congress
for refunding the maturing national debt at three per cent, per annum,
a rate that awhile ago in California was not thought exorbitant per month.
All sorts of shares and bonds have been going up and up. You can sell almost
anything if you give it a high-sounding corporate name and issue well-printed
shares of stock. Seats in the Board of Brokers are worth thirty thousand
dollars, and are cheap at that. There are citizens here who rake in millions
at a single operation with as much ease as a faro-dealer rakes in a handful
Nor is this the mere seeming prosperity of
feverish speculation. The country is really prosperous. The crops have
been enormous, the demand insatiable. We have at last a sound currency;
gold has been pouring in. The railroads have been choked with produce,
steel rails are being laid faster than ever before; all sorts of factories
are running full time or overtime. So prosperous is the country, so good
are the times, that, at the Presidential election a few months since, the
determining argument was that we could not afford to take the chance of
disturbing so much material prosperity by a political change.
Nevertheless, prosperous as are these times,
citizens of the United States beg you on the streets for ten cents and
five cents, and although you know that there are in this city two hundred
charitable societies, although you realize that on general principles to
give money in this way is to do evil rather than good, you are afraid to
refuse them when you read of men in this great city freezing to death and
starving to death. Prosperous as are these times, women are making overalls
for sixty cents a dozen, and you can hire citizens for trivial sums to parade
up and down the streets all day with advertising placards on their backs.
I get on a horse-car and ride with the driver. He is evidently a sober, steady
man, as intelligent as a man can be who drives a horse-car all the time he
is not asleep or eating his meals. He tells me he has a wife and four children.
He gets home (if a couple of rooms can be called a home) at two o'clock in
the morning; he has to be back on his car at nine. Sunday he has a couple
of hours more, which he has to put in in sleep, else, as he says, he would
utterly break down. His children he never sees, save when one of them comes
at noon or supper-time to the horse-car route with something for him to eat
in a tin pail. He gets for his day's work one dollar and seventy-five cents–a
sum that will buy at Dehnonico's a beefsteak and cup of coffee. I say to
him that it must be pretty hard to pay rent and keep six persons on one dollar
and seventy-five cents a day. He says it is; that he has been trying for
a month to get enough ahead to buy a new pair of shoes, but he hasn't yet
succeeded. I ask why he does not leave such a job. He says, "What can I
do? There are a thousand men ready to step into my place!" And so, in this
time of prosperity, he is chained to his car. The horses that he drives,
they are changed six times during his working-day. They have lots of time
to stretch themselves and rest themselves and eat in peace their plentiful
meals, for they are worth from one to two hundred dollars each, and it would
be a loss to the company for them to fall ill. But this driver, this citizen
of the United States, he may fall ill or drop dead, and the company would
not lose a cent. As between him and the beasts he drives, I am inclined
to think that this most prosperous era is more prosperous for horses than
Our Napoleon of Wall Street, our rising Charlemagne
of railroads, who came to this city with nothing but a new kind of mouse-trap
in a mahogany box, but who now, though yet in the vigor of his prime,
counts his wealth by hundreds of millions, if it can be counted at all,
is interviewed by a reporter just as he is about to step aboard his palace-car
for a grand combination expedition into the Southwest. He descants upon
the services he is rendering in welding into one big machine a lot of smaller
machines, in uniting into one vast railroad empire the separated railroad
kingdoms. He likewise descants upon the great prosperity of the whole country.
Everybody is prosperous and contented, he says: there is, of course, a
good deal of misery in the big cities, but, then, there always is!
Yet not alone in the great cities. I ride on
the Hudson River Railroad on a bitter cold day, and from one of the pretty
towns with Dutch names gets in a constable with a prisoner, whom he is
to take to the Albany penitentiary. In this case justice has been swift
enough, for the crime, the taking of a shovel, has been committed only a
few hours before. Such coat as the man has he keeps buttoned up, even in
the hot car, for, the constable says, he has no underclothes at all. He
stole the shovel to get to the penitentiary, where it is warm. The constable
says they have lots of such cases, and that even in these good times these
pretty country towns are infested with such tramps. With all our vast organizing,
our developing of productive powers and cheapening of transportation, we
are yet creating a class of utter pariahs. And they are to be found not
merely in the great cities, but wherever the locomotive runs.
Is it real advance in civilization which, on
the one hand, produces these great captains of industry, and, on the other,
these social outcasts?
It is the year of grace 1881, and of the Republic
the 105th. The girl who has brought in coal for my fire is twenty years
old. She was born in New York, and can neither read nor write. To me, when
I heard it, this seemed sin and shame, and I got her a spelling-book. She
is trying what she can, but it is uphill work. She has really no time. Last
night when I came in, at eleven, she was not through scrubbing the halls.
She gets four dollars a month. Her shoes cost two dollars a pair. She says
she can sew; but I guess it is about as I can. In the natural course of
things, this girl will be a mother of citizens of the Republic.
Underneath are girls who can sew; they run
sewing-machines with their feet all day. I have seen girls in Asia carrying
water-jugs on their heads and young women in South America bearing burdens.
They were lithe and strong and symmetrical; but to turn a young woman into
motive power for a sewing-machine is to weaken and injure her physically.
And these girls are to rear, or ought to rear, citizens of the Republic.
But there is worse and worse than this. Go
out into the streets at night, and you will find them filled with girls
who will never be mothers. To the man who has known the love of mother,
of sister, of sweetheart, wife, and daughter, this is the saddest sight
The ladies of the Brooklyn churches–they are
getting up petitions for the suppression of Mormon polygamy; they would
have it rooted out with pains and penalties, trampled out, if need be, with
fire and sword; and their reverend Congressman-elect is going, when he takes
his seat, to introduce a most stringent bill to that end; for that a man
should have more wives than one is a burning scandal in a Christian country.
So it is; but there are also other burning scandals. As for scandals that
excite talk, I will spare Brooklyn a comparison with Salt Lake. But as to
ordinary things: I have walked through the streets of Salt Lake City, by
day and by night, without seeing what in the streets of New York or Brooklyn
excites no comment. Polygamy is unnatural and wrong, no doubt of that, for
Nature brings into the world something over twenty-two boys for every twenty
girls. But is not a state of society unnatural and wrong in which there
are thousands and thousands of girls for whom no husband ever offers? Can
we brag of a state of society in which one citizen can load his wife with
more diamonds than an Indian chief can put beads on his squaw, while many
other citizens are afraid to marry lest they cannot support a wife–a state
of society in which prostitution flourishes? Polygamy is bad, but is it not
better than that? Civilization is advancing day by day; never was such progress
as we are making! Yet divorces are increasing and insanity is increasing.
What is the goal of a civilization that tends toward free love and the madhouse?
This is a most highly civilized community.
There is not a bear nor wolf on Manhattan Island, save in a menagerie.
Yet it is easier, where they are worst, to guard against bears and wolves
than it is to guard against the human beasts of prey that roam this island.
In this highly civilized city every lower window has to be barred, every
door locked and bolted; even door-mats, not worth twenty-five cents, you
will see chained to the steps. Stop for a moment in a crowd and your watch
is gone as if by magic; shirt-studs are taken from their owners' bosoms,
and ear-rings cut from ladies' ears. Even a standing army of policemen do
not prevent highway robbery; there are populous districts that to walk through
after nightfall is a risk, and where you have far more need to go armed and
to be wary than in the backwoods. There are dens into which men are lured
only to be drugged and robbed, sometimes to be murdered. All the resources
of science and inventive genius are exhausted in making burglar-proof strong
rooms and safes, yet, as the steel plate becomes thicker and harder, so
does the burglar's tool become keener. If the combination lock cannot be
picked, it is blown open. If not a crack large enough for the introduction
of powder is left, then the air-pump is applied and a vacuum is created. So
that those who in the heart of civilization would guard their treasures safely
must come back to the most barbarous device, and either themselves, or by
proxy, sleeplessly stand guard. What sort of a civilization is this? In what
does civilization essentially consist if not in civility–that is to say,
in respect for the rights of person and of property?
Yet this is not all, nor the worst. These are
but the grosser forms of that spirit that in the midst of our civilization
compels every one to stand on guard. What is the maxim of business intercourse
among the most highly respectable classes? That if you are swindled it will
be your own fault; that you must treat every man you have dealings with
as though he but wanted the chance to cheat and rob you. Caveat emptor.
"Let the buyer beware." If a man steal a few dollars he may stand a chance
of going to the penitentiary–I read the other day of a man who was sent
to the penitentiary for stealing four cents from a horse-car company. But,
if he steal a million by business methods, he is courted and flattered, even
though he steal the poor little savings which washerwomen and sewing-girls
have brought to him in trust, even though he rob widows and orphans of the
security which dead men have struggled and stinted to provide.
This is a most Christian city. There are churches
and churches. All sorts of churches, where are preached all sorts of religions,
save that which once in Galilee taught the arrant socialistic doctrine
that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for
a rich man to enter the kingdom of God; all save that which once in Jerusalem
drove the money-changers from the temple. Churches of brown and gray and
yellow stone, lifting toward heaven in such noble symmetry that architecture
seems invocation and benison; where, on stained-glass windows, glow angel
and apostle, and the entering light is dimmed to a soft glory; where such
music throbs and supplicates and bursts in joy as once in St. Sophia ravished
the souls of heathen Northmen; churches where richly cushioned pews let
for the very highest prices, and the auctioneer determines who shall sit
in the foremost seats; churches outside of which on Sunday stand long lines
of carriages, on each carriage a coachman. And there are white marble churches,
so pure and shapely that the stone seems to have bloomed and flowered–the
concrete expression of a grand, sweet thought. Churches restful to the very
eye, and into which the weary and heavy-laden can enter and join in the
worship of their Creator for no larger an admission fee than it costs on
the Bowery to see the bearded lady or the Zulu giant eight feet high. And
then there are mission churches, run expressly for poor people, where it
does not cost a cent. There is no lack of churches. There are, in fact, more
churches than there are people who care to attend them. And there are likewise
Sunday-schools, and big religious "book concerns," and tract societies, and
societies for spreading the light of the gospel among the heathen in foreign
Yet, land a heathen on the Battery with money
in his pocket, and he will be robbed of the last cent of it before he is
a day older. "By their fruits ye shall know them." I wonder whether they
who send missionaries to the heathen ever read the daily papers. I think
I could take a file of these newspapers, and from their daily chroniclings
match anything that could be told in the same period of any heathen community–at
least, of any heathen community in a like state of peace and prosperity.
I think I could take a file of these papers, and match, horror for horror,
all that returning missionaries have to tell-even to the car of Juggernaut
or infants tossed from mothers' arms into the sacred river; even to Ashantee
"customs" or cannibalistic feasts.
I do not say that such things are because of
civilization, or because of Christianity. On the contrary, I point to them
as inconsistent with civilization, as incompatible with Christianity. They
show that our civilization is one-sided and cannot last as at present based;
they show that our so-called Christian communities are not Christian at
all. I believe a civilization is possible in which all could be civilized–in
which such things would be impossible. But it must be a civilization based
on justice and acknowledging the equal rights of all to natural opportunities.
I believe that there is in true Christianity a power to regenerate the world.
But it must be a Christianity that attacks vested wrongs, not that spurious
thing that defends them. The religion which allies itself with injustice
to preach down the natural aspirations of the masses is worse than atheism.
are those who may look on this little book as very radical, in the bad sense
they attach to the word. They mistake. This is, in the true sense of the
word, a most conservative little book. I do not appeal to prejudice and
passion. I appeal to intelligence. I do not incite to strife; I seek to
That the civilized world is on the verge of
the most tremendous struggle, which, according to the frankness and sagacity
with which it is met, will be a struggle of ideas or a struggle of actual
physical force, calling upon all the potent agencies of destruction which
modern invention has discovered, every sign of the times portends. The
voices that proclaim the eve of revolution are in the air. Steam and electricity
are not merely transporting goods and carrying messages. They are everywhere
changing social and industrial organization; they are everywhere stimulating
thought, and arousing new hopes and fears and desires and passions; they
are everywhere breaking down the barriers that have separated men, and integrating
nations into one vast organism, through which the same pulses throb and
the same nerves tingle.
The present situation in Great Britain is full
of dangers, of dangers graver and nearer than those who there are making
history are likely to see. Who in France, a century ago, foresaw the drama
of blood so soon to open? Who in the United States dreamed of what was coming
till the cannon-shot rang and the flag fell on Sumter? How confidently we
said, "The American people are too intelligent, too practical, to go to
cutting each other's throats"! How confidently we relied upon the strong
common sense of the great masses, upon the great business interests, upon
the universal desire to make money! "War does not pay," we said, "therefore
war is impossible." A shot rang over Charleston harbor; a bit of bunting
dropped, and, riven into two hostile camps, a nation sprang to its feet
to close in the death-lock.
And to just such a point are events hurrying
in Great Britain to-day. History repeats itself, and what happened a century
ago on one side of the English Channel is beginning again on the other.
Already has the States-General met, and the Third Estate put on their hats.
Already Necker is in despair. Already has the lit de justice been held,
and the Tennis-Court been locked, and ball-cartridge been served to the
Swiss Guard! For the moment the forces of reaction triumph. Davitt is snatched
to prison; a "Liberal" government carries coercion by a tremendous majority,
and the most despotic powers are invoked to make possible the eviction of
Irish peasants. The order of Warsaw is to reign in Ireland, and the upholders
of ancient wrong deem it secure again, as the wave that was mounting seems
sweeping back. Let them wait a little and they will see. For again the wave
will mount, and higher and higher, and soon the white foam will seethe and
hiss on its toppling crest. It is not true conservatism which cries "Peace!
peace!" when there is no peace; which, like the ostrich, sticks its head
in the sand and fancies itself secure; which would compromise matters by
putting more coal in the furnace, and hanging heavier weights on the safety-valve!
That alone is true conservatism which would look facts in the face, which
would reconcile opposing forces on the only basis on which reconciliation
is possible–that of justice.
I speak again of Great Britain, but I speak
with reference to the whole modern world. The true nature of the inevitable
conflict with which modern civilization is everywhere beginning to throb,
can, it seems to me, best be seen in the United States, and in the newer
States even more clearly than in the older States. That intelligent Englishmen
imagine that in the democratization of political institutions, in free trade
in land, or in peasant proprietorship, can be found any solution of the difficulties
which are confronting them, is because they do not see what may be seen
in the United States by whoever will look. That intelligent Americans imagine
that by these questions which are so menacingly presenting themselves in
Europe their peace is to be unvexed, is because they shut their eyes to what
is going on around them, because they attribute to themselves and their institutions
what is really due to conditions now rapidly passing away–to the sparseness
of population and the cheapness of land. Yet it is here, in this American
Republic, that the true nature of that inevitable conflict now rapidly
approaching which must determine the fate of modern civilization may be
most clearly seen.
We have here abolished all hereditary privileges
and legal distinctions of class. Monarchy, aristocracy, prelacy, we have
swept them all away. We have carried mere political democracy to its ultimate.
Every child born in the United States may aspire to be President. Every
man, even though he be a tramp or a pauper, has a vote, and one man's vote
counts for as much as any other man's vote. Before the law all citizens
are absolutely equal. In the name of the people all laws run. They are the
source of all power, the fountain of all honor. In their name and by their
will all government is carried on; the highest officials are but their servants.
Primogeniture and entail we have abolished wherever they existed. We have
and have had free trade in land. We started with something infinitely better
than any scheme of peasant proprietorship which it is possible to carry into
effect in Great Britain. We have had for our public domain the best part
of an immense continent. We have had the preemption law and the homestead
law. It has been our boast that here every one who wished it could have a
farm. We have had full liberty of speech and of the press. We have not merely
common schools, but high schools and universities, open to all who may choose
to attend. Yet here the same social difficulties apparent on the other side
of the Atlantic are beginning to appear. It is already clear that our democracy
is a vain pretense, our make-believe of equality a sham and a fraud.
Already are the sovereign people becoming but
a roi fainéant, like the Merovingian kings of France, like the Mikados
of Japan. The shadow of power is theirs; but the substance of power is being
grasped and wielded by the bandit chiefs of the stock exchange, the robber
leaders who organize politics into machines. In any matter in which they
are interested, the little finger of the great corporations is thicker than
the loins of the people. Is it sovereign States or is it railroad corporations
that are really represented in the elective Senate which we have substituted
for an hereditary House of Lords? Where is the count or marquis or duke
in Europe who wields such power as is wielded by such simple citizens as
our Stanfords, Goulds, and Vanderbilts? What does legal equality amount to,
when the fortunes of some citizens can be estimated only in hundreds of
millions, and other citizens have nothing? What does the suffrage amount
to when, under threat of discharge from employment, citizens can be forced
to vote as their employers dictate? when votes can be bought on election
day for a few dollars apiece? If there are citizens so dependent that they
must vote as their employers wish, so poor that a few dollars on election
day seem to them more than any higher consideration, then giving them votes
simply adds to the political power of wealth, and universal suffrage becomes
the surest basis for the establishment of tyranny. "Tyranny"! There is a
lesson in the very word. What are our American bosses but the exact antitypes
of the Greek tyrants, from whom the word comes? They who gave the word tyrant
its meaning did not claim to rule by right divine. They were simply the Grand
Sachems of Greek Tammanys, the organizers of Hellenic "stalwart machines."
Even if universal history did not teach the
lesson, it is in the United States already becoming very evident that political
equality can continue to exist only upon a basis of social equality; that
where the disparity in the distribution of wealth increases, political democracy
only makes easier the concentration of power, and must inevitably lead to
tyranny and anarchy. And it is already evident that there is nothing in political
democracy, nothing in popular education, nothing in any of our American
institutions, to prevent the most enormous disparity in the distribution
of wealth. Nowhere in the world are such great fortunes growing up as in
the United States. Considering that the average income of the working masses
of our people is only a few hundred dollars a year, a fortune of a million
dollars is a monstrous thing–a more monstrous and dangerous thing under a
democratic government than anywhere else. Yet fortunes of ten and twelve
million dollars are with us ceasing to be noticeable. We already have citizens
whose wealth can be estimated only in hundreds of millions, and before the
end of the century, if present tendencies continue, we are likely to have
fortunes estimated in thousands of millions–such monstrous fortunes as the
world has never seen since the growth of similar fortunes ate out the heart
of Rome. And the necessary correlative of the growth of such fortunes is the
impoverishment and loss of independence on the part of the masses. These great
aggregations of wealth are like great trees, which strike deep roots and
spread wide branches, and which, by sucking up the moisture from the soil
and intercepting the sunshine, stunt and kill the vegetation around them.
When a capital of a million dollars comes into competition with capitals of
thousands of dollars, the smaller capitalists must be driven out of the business
or destroyed. With great capital nothing can compete save great capital.
Hence, every aggregation of wealth increases the tendency to the aggregation
of wealth, and decreases the possibility of the employee ever becoming more
than an employee, compelling him to compete with his fellows as to who will
work cheapest for the great capitalist–a competition that can have but one
result, that of forcing wages to the minimum at which the supply of labor
can be kept up. Where we are is not so important as in what direction we
are going, and in the United States all tendencies are clearly in this direction.
A while ago, and any journeyman shoemaker could set up in business for himself
with the savings of a few months. But now the operative shoemaker could not
in a lifetime save enough from his wages to go into business for himself.
And, now that great capital has entered agriculture, it must be with the
same results. The large farmer, who can buy the latest machinery at the lowest
cash prices and use it to the best advantage, who can run a straight furrow
for miles, who can make special rates with railroad companies, take advantage
of the market, and sell in large lots for the least commission, must drive
out the small farmer of the early American type just as the shoe factory
has driven out the journeyman shoemaker. And this is going on to-day.
There is nothing unnatural in this. On the
contrary, it is in the highest degree natural. Social development is in
accordance with certain immutable laws. And the law of development, whether
it be the development of a solar system, of the tiniest organism, or of
a human society, is the law of integration. It is in obedience to this law–a
law evidently as all–compelling as the law of gravitation–that these new
agencies, which so powerfully stimulate social growth, tend to the specialization
and interdependence of industry. It is in obedience to this law that the
factory is superseding the independent mechanic, the large farm is swallowing
up the little one, the big store shutting up the small one, that corporations
are arising that dwarf the State, and that population tends more and more
to concentrate in cities. Men must work together in larger and in more closely
related groups. Production must be on a greater scale. The only question
is, whether the relation in which men are thus drawn together and compelled
to act together shall be the natural relation of interdependence in equality,
or the unnatural relation of dependence upon a master. If the one, then may
civilization advance in what is evidently the natural order, each step leading
to a higher step. If the other, then what Nature has intended as a blessing
becomes a curse, and a condition of inequality is produced which will inevitably
destroy civilization. Every new invention but hastens the catastrophe.
Now, all this we may deduce from natural laws
as fixed and certain as the law of gravitation. And all this we may see
going on to-day. This is the reason why modern progress, great as it has
been, fails to relieve poverty; this is the secret of the increasing discontent
which pervades every civilized country. Under present conditions, with land
treated as private property, material progress is developing two diverse
tendencies, two opposing currents. On the one side, the tendency of increasing
population and of all improvement in the arts of production is to build up
enormous fortunes, to wipe out the intermediate classes, and to crowd down
the masses to a level of lower wages and greater dependence. On the other
hand, by bringing men closer together, by stimulating thought, by creating
new wants, by arousing new ambitions, the tendency of modern progress is
to make the masses discontented with their condition, to feel bitterly its
injustice. The result can be predicted just as certainly as the result can
be predicted when two trains are rushing toward each other on the same track.
This thing is absolutely certain: Private property
in land blocks the way of advancing civilization. The two cannot long coexist.
Either private property in land must be abolished, or, as has happened again
and again in the history of mankind, civilization must again turn back
in anarchy and bloodshed. Let the remaining years of the nineteenth century
bear me witness. Even now, I believe, the inevitable struggle has begun.
It is not conservatism which would ignore such a tremendous fact. It is the
blindness that invites destruction. He that is truly conservative let him
look the facts in the face; let him speak frankly and dispassionately. This
is the duty of the hour. For, when a great social question presses for settlement,
it is only for a little while that the voice of Reason can be heard. The
masses of men hardly think at any time. It is difficult even in sober moments
to get them to reason calmly. But when passion is roused, then they are
like a herd of stampeded bulls. I do not fear that present social adjustments
can continue. That is impossible. What I fear is that the dams may hold
till the flood rises to fury. What I fear is that dogged resistance on the
one side may kindle a passionate sense of wrong on the other. What I fear
are the demagogues and the accidents.
The present condition of all civilized countries
is that of increasing unstable equilibrium. In steam and electricity,
and all the countless inventions which they typify, mighty forces have
entered the world. If rightly used, they are our servants, more potent
to do our bidding than the genii of Arabian story. If wrongly used, they,
too, must turn to monsters of destruction. They require and will compel
great social changes. That we may already see. Operating under social institutions
which are based on natural justice, which acknowledge the equal rights
of all to the material and opportunities of nature, their elevating power
will be equally exerted, and industrial organization will pass naturally
into that of a vast cooperative society. Operating under social institutions
which deny natural justice by treating land as private property, their power
is unequally exerted, and tends, by producing inequality, to engender forces
that will tear and rend and shatter. The old bottles cannot hold the new
wine. This is the ferment which throughout the civilized world is everywhere
In Hoc Signo Vinces.
What I want to impress upon those who may read
this book is this:
The land question is nowhere a mere local question;
it is a universal question. It involves the great problem of the distribution
of wealth, which is everywhere forcing itself upon attention.
It cannot be settled by measures which in their
nature can have but local application. It can be settled only by measures
which in their nature will apply everywhere.
It cannot be settled by half-way measures.
It can be settled only by the acknowledgment of equal rights to land. Upon
this basis it can be settled easily and permanently.
If the Irish reformers take this ground, they
will make their fight the common fight of all the peoples; they will concentrate
strength and divide opposition. They will turn the flank of the system
that oppresses them, and awake the struggle in its very intrenchments. They
will rouse against it a force that is like the force of rising tides.
What I urge the men of Ireland to do is to
proclaim, without limitation or evasion, that the land, of natural right,
is the common property of the whole people, and to propose practical measures
which will recognize this right in all countries as well as in Ireland.
What I urge the Land Leagues of the United
States to do is to announce this great principle as of universal application;
to give their movement a reference to America as well as to Ireland; to
broaden and deepen and strengthen it by making it a movement for the regeneration
of the world–a movement which shall concentrate and give shape to aspirations
that are stirring among all nations.
Ask not for Ireland mere charity or sympathy.
Let her call be the call of fraternity: "For yourselves, O brothers, as
well as for us!" Let her rallying cry awake all who slumber, and rouse to
a common struggle all who are oppressed. Let it breathe not old hates; let
it ring and echo with the new hope!
In many lands her sons are true to her; under
many skies her daughters burn with the love of her. Lo! the ages bring their
opportunity. Let those who would honor her bear her banner to the front!
The harp and the shamrock, the golden sunburst
on the field of living green! emblems of a country without nationality;
standard of a people downtrodden and oppressed! The hour has come when they
may lead the van of the great world-struggle. Types of harmony and of ever-springing
hope, of light and of life! The hour has come when they may stand for something
higher than local patriotism; something grander than national independence.
The hour has come when they may stand forth to speak the world's hope, to
lead the world's advance!
Torn away by pirates, tending in a strange
land a heathen master's swine, the slave boy, with the spirit of Christ
in his heart, praying in the snow for those who had enslaved him, and returning
to bring to his oppressors the message of the gospel, returning with good
to give where evil had been received, to kindle in the darkness a great
light–this is Ireland's patron saint. In his spirit let Ireland's struggle
be. Not merely through Irish vales and hamlets, but into England, into Scotland,
into Wales, wherever our common tongue is spoken, let the torch be carried
and the word be preached. And beyond! The brotherhood of man stops not with
differences of speech any more than with seas or mountain-chains. A century
ago it was ours to speak the ringing word. Then it was France's. Now it
may be Ireland's, if her sons be true.
But wherever, or by whom, the word must be
spoken, the standard will be raised. No matter what the Irish leaders do
or do not do, it is too late to settle permanently the question on any
basis short of the recognition of equal natural right. And, whether the
Land Leagues move forward or slink back, the agitation must spread to this
side of the Atlantic. The Republic, the true Republic, is not yet here. But
her birth-struggle must soon begin. Already, with the hope of her, men's
thoughts are stirring.
Not a republic of landlords and peasants; not
a republic of millionaires and tramps; not a republic in which some are
masters and some serve. But a republic of equal citizens, where competition
becomes cooperation, and the interdependence of all gives true independence
to each; where moral progress goes hand in hand with intellectual progress,
and material progress elevates and enfranchises even the poorest and weakest
And the gospel of deliverance, let us not forget
it: it is the gospel of love, not of hate. He whom it emancipates will know
neither Jew nor Gentile, nor Irishman nor Englishman, nor German nor Frenchman,
nor European nor American, nor difference of color or of race, nor animosities
of class or condition. Let us set our feet on old prejudices, let us bury
the old hates. There have been "Holy Alliances" of kings. Let us strive
for the Holy Alliance of the people.
Liberty, equality, fraternity! Write them on
the banners. Let them be for sign and countersign. Without equality, liberty
cannot be; without fraternity, neither equality nor liberty can be achieved.
Liberty–the full freedom of each bounded only
by the equal freedom of every other!
Equality–the equal right of each to the use
and enjoyment of all natural opportunities, to all the essentials of happy,
healthful, human life!
Fraternity–that sympathy which links together
those who struggle in a noble cause; that would live and let live; that
would help as well as be helped; that, in seeking the good of all, finds
the highest good of each!
"By this sign shall ye conquer!"
"We hold these truths to be self-evident–that
all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain
unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit
It is over a century since these words rang
out. It is time to give them their full, true meaning. Let the standard
be lifted that all may see it; let the advance be sounded that all may hear
it. Let those who would fall back, fall back. Let those who would oppose,
oppose. Everywhere are those who will rally. The stars in their courses
fight against Sisera!
New York, February 28, 1881.