Here is the fundamental error, the crude and monstrous assumption, that the land which God has given to our nation, is or can be the private property of anyone. It is a usurpation exactly similar to that of slavery.
— PROF. F. W. NEWMAN, Lectures on Political Economy (1851), Lecture VI., p. 533.
This is truly monstrous. It is probable that nothing so shocking could have been done, but for a juggling plea concerning the claims of Political Economy. It is defined as the science of Wealth: rightly. It will not confound itself with Politics: right again. It cannot undertake to define what things are, and what are not, private property: it assumes that Political Law regards the landlord as the landowner, and justifies him in emptying his estates at pleasure. Well: if so, it follows that the rules of mere Economy are no sufficient guide to the conduct of a moral being. If Statesmen, Parliaments, or Courts of Law have neglected to define and establish the rights of those who dwell on and cultivate the soil, the landlord cannot plead that neglect to justify his wrong. Grant that, as an Economist, I have no right to ask whether land is or is not private property; yet, as a politician or as a moralist, I may see that no lord of Sutherland ever could have morally, or ever ought to have legally, a greater right over his estates than the King or Queen had, to whom his ancestor originally did homage for them. A baron, in his highest plenitude of power, has rather less right over the soil, than the King from whom he derived his right: and a king of England might as well claim to drive all his subjects into the sea, as a baron to empty his estates. We read how William the Conqueror burnt villages and ejected the people by hundreds, in order to make a hunting ground for himself in the New Forest. This deed, which has been execrated by all who relate it, seemed an extreme of tyranny: yet our Courts of Law and our Parliaments allow the same thing to be done by smaller tyrants; and the public sits by, and mourns to think that people deal so unkindly with that which is their own! Here is the fundamental error, the crude and monstrous assumption, that the land, which God has given to our nation, is or can be the private property of any one. It is a usurpation exactly similar to that of Slavery. The slavemaster calls himself slaveowner, and pleads that he has purchased the slave, and that the law has pronounced slaves to be chattels. We reply that the law is immoral and unjust, and that no one could sell what was not his own; and that no number of immoral sales can destroy the rights of man. All this equally applies to land. The land was not regarded as private property by our old law; it is not to this day treated by the law on the same footing as movables; and there are many other persons who have rights in a piece of land, besides him who gets rent from it. The lord of the manor has his dues, but this does not annihilate the claims of others. For land is not only a surface that pays rent, but a surface to live upon: and the law ought to have cared, and ought still to care, for those who need the land for life, as much as for those who have inherited or bought a title to certain fruits from it.