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 star."
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 peasant.
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 in England.
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.
MAGINE 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 called ground-rent.
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!
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
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 of chips.
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 for men.
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
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 parts.
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 prevent strife.
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
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
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
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
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 of happiness!"
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.