Wherever the ownership of the soil is so engrossed by a small part of the community that the far larger number are compelled to pay whatever the few may see fit to exact for the privilege of occupying and cultivating the earth, there is something very like slavery.
— HORACE GREELEY, Slavery at Home, in Hints Toward Reforms (1845), pp. 354-5.
"Hints Toward Reform" is a remarkable document. There are other quotes from it coming along later in Crosby's Calendar, but I'll share some other things here.
The first section, "Emancipation of Labor" speaks, among other things, to Land Monopoly. His solution to it is not as clearly thought out as Henry George's was to be, but he recognizes and addresses the problem:
... I affirm, then, that there are three important respects in which the condition of the Laboring Mass, even of our own countrymen, may be improved, ought to be improved, and in regard to which it is the duty of the rich and powerful, of the Church and the State, to cowork for the required melioration. Of these I would place first in order, though perhaps not in practical importance.
Their relation to the Soil. I place this first, because I think Society and Government have been guilty of a positive, not a negative, wrong in regard to it — a wrong of usurpation and misdoing, and not merely of neglect and short-coming. God created the earth for the use and subsistence of mankind, and not primarily of a part, and of the rest in subordination to these. By Nature's law, use and improvement can alone vest in any individual a right to call some spot of earth his own, and exclude all others from the enjoyment and benefit thereof. Nothing can well be a more palpable subversion of the order of Providence than the assumption by Governments of a right to grant a province or county of virgin soil to some favorite, whether with or without consideration, to be held by him and his heirs for their own use and benefit, and to be cultivated and improved by others on terms which make the landlord class rich without labor or useful doing, and keep the tenant class mainly poor and subservient, though they do their best. If there ever was or
EMANCIPATION OF LABOR. 19
can be a monstrous subversion of the order of Providence, it is here. Man has a natural right to such a portion of the earth not already improved by others as he can cultivate and make fruitful; the act of Government is simply officious and impertinent which assumes to give him this, and it is a gross usurpation and moral nullity to undertake to give him more. As well might it attempt to farm out the rain or sunshine, giving to one man all that falls on his own land and several of his neighbors', and directing these to buy so much as they need of him. What Government rightfully may and ought to do in the premises is simply to determine and declare the area of the earth's surface which one man may justly, and therefore legally, appropriate to himself and transmit to his posterity without encroaching on the equal natural rights of others. In a young and thinly-peopled community, this area may be large; as population increases and arts are perfected, it should be gradually reduced and the freehold left vacant today by death be divided among the heirs, so as to leave no one in possession of more than the public good prescribes as the maximum for any one man. At first, a mile square might be allowable, there being so much or more for each family in the community; and we see that this allotment has been decided upon in the settlement of Oregon. I can not doubt that this is far too much, whether we regard individual or general good; that the settlers, thus held apart by their mutual grasping, will lose vastly more in education, social intercourse, neighborly kindnesses, than they can possibly gain in ultimate wealth. If the principle of Limitation had been early adopted and maintained, I presume a much smaller area would have been deemed ample. As it is, the emigrant to Oregon grasps not for himself and his children, his flocks and herds only, but with a view to his future aggrandizement by selling off or renting to others. But let a colony on a territory, say of 50,000 arable square miles, begin by allotting to each pioneer a square mile, if he be un-
20 HINTS TOWARD REFORMS.
wisely greedy enough to desire so much, with the express understanding, however, that this area is to be diminished to future occupants so soon and so fast as the increase of population shall demand it, and that meantime no person shall be allowed upon any pretext to acquire more than the maximum prescribed by law.
'What!' says an objector, 'would you take away a part of a man's land, honestly acquired by inheritance, gift or purchase, and give it to some one else who needs it?' No, sir! there is no call for this. Let every man keep through life what the law has once decided to be his. But when the landlord of thousands of acres shall die, it is perfectly just, it is urgently expedient, that the Law which has assured and guarded his ample possessions shall say with regard to Land aggregation, as it has long said with regard to Usury, 'Thus far and no farther!' Let the dying, rich man leave all his wealth to his heirs, but let him not perpetuate the Land Monopoly which reason conspires with experience in pronouncing, prejudicial to the dearest interests of mankind. The law may say, and should say, 'Take the property, Messrs. heirs, and share it as you shall agree, or as the ministers of justice shall decide; only it is decreed that none of you shall take and retain beyond a certain limit, say 320 acres, of arable soil: whatever falls to any one in excess of that must be sold within a year to some person who will still have less than the legal maximum.' After a few years, this will have been entirely adjusted, and, no man having more than the maximum quantity, none will be restricted in disposing of what he has; only the man who has already as much as the law allows him will be required, on coming into possession of more, to choose what portions of the whole, not exceeding the legal maximum, he will retain, selling the residue to some one who has no land, or less than the legal allowance, within the term specified by law. When population shall have grown considerably more dense, a narrower limit
EMANCIPATION OF LABOR. 21
may justly be enacted, to which possessions shall be required gradually to conform, as we have already seen.
I might well despair of impressing on any mind which has not hitherto reflected on this subject the vital importance and vast beneficence of the principle of Land Limitation. To me it seems the very key of the arch which is destined to upbear the unportioned millions from their measureless degradation and abounding misery. I trace the frequent lack of employment, the scanty reward, and the meager subsistence, often accorded to Labor, directly to the resistless influence of Land Monopoly. Here, for example, is a new community, just emerging from barbarism or just planted on a virgin soil. For a season all goes well with it; no man stands idle for want of employment, and Industry reaps what it has sown. But population gradually increases; the land is all appropriated; and good arable soil gradually rises in market value from ten to $100 per acre, and perhaps higher. Is it not inevitable that it is now far more difficult than formerly for the portionless young man to buy a farm and become his own employer? and that he who cultivates as the tenant or hireling of another must now receive for his labor a far smaller share of its product than of old? Suppose the crop be Corn, and the average yield thirty bushels to the acre, worth $15; $1 of this, or a fifteenth part of the product, would have paid the rent when the land was valued at $10; but now it takes $6, or two fifths of the entire product. But population still increases, and its increase steadily carries up the market value of land, until at length the cornfield becomes worth $300 per acre, from sheer force of competition and necessity acting upon those who have no land and yet must live. Now the tenant can no longer afford to grow Corn, unless he can immensely increase the product, or unless he is willing to perform all the labor and run all the risks of blight, hail, drouth, frost, &c.,
22 HINTS TOWARD REFORMS.
and give the entire avails of a full harvest for the privilege of cultivation. It seems to me impossible, with Land stationary and incapable of increase, Ownership naturally tending to fewer and fewer hands, and population inimitably increasing, that the subsistence of the Laboring Mass should not
become more and more meager and precarious, and their condition more and more depressed and hopeless.
For the last half-century, this tendency has been partially counteracted by the invention of Labor-saving Machinery and the immense development of natural and mechanical resources. Thus it is computed that the labor now annually performed in England would have required the best efforts of at least 20 times the present population of that island two centuries ago. Yet such is the evil influence of the Land Monopoly so fearfully prevalent there that, though the present Laboring Class of England accomplish 20 times as much as did their ancestors two centuries back, they yet receive a more scanty reward, (computed not in money, but in the necessaries of life,) are worse fed, lodged, more severely worked, and hardly better clad nor taught, than those ancestors were. Capital, monopolizing Land and Machinery, takes all the profit of Labor to itself. The recompense of Toil has not increased, but the rent and valuation of Land have immensely. And the number of substantial proprietors, inconsiderable since the fatal Norman Conquest, is still sensibly diminishing. A Scotch Duke owns a tract 100 miles by 70, while twenty-nine thirtieths of the whole People remain on the island at the good pleasure and sufferance of the other thirtieth, and might be legally driven into exile by that inconsiderable fraction at any time it chose.
In this country, things have come to no such pass as yet, thanks to our Republican institutions and to the Republican spirit which generally pervaded and directed the first settlers on these shores. There are portions of our continent where a vicious system of granting vast
EMANCIPATION OF LABOR. 23
tracts of wilderness to some favorite of the British crown or of some provincial governor, or the sale of millions of acres at a nominal price by some step-mother State to one or more speculators, has engendered some portion of the evils whereof unhappy Ireland affords the most conspicuous example; but, in the main, land has been comparatively easy of acquirement, and the vast stretch of still untamed forest has operated as a perpetual check on the cupidity of forestallers. Yet this exemption has been comparative only. I am personally acquainted with extensive regions which, having fallen within the grasp of monopoly, have been parceled out in small allotments to indigent pioneers on credit at $2 or $3 per acre; and these pioneers, after wrestling from 10 to 20 years with privation, hardship, fevers, the giant forest and the prowling wild beast, until fertility and beauty were beginning to smile on their little openings, found themselves utterly unable to pay the stipulated price and accumulated interest while maintaining their families, and thus were compelled to abandon their hard-won homes and plunge afresh into the wilderness, often with broken constitutions and in the evening of their days. Some are now hard at work on their third or fourth experiment of this kind in Wisconsin or Iowa. I do not say that all of them have been as industrious, frugal, temperate, as they should have been. I know well that many have not, and that others are justly termed bad managers. I give full force to all this, and still say that the State should have secured to these poor men, for their families' sake if not for their own, the homesteads which they first wrested from the wilderness, so that no clutch of speculator or whisky-seller could have torn those homes from under them. And I cannot doubt that the errors of the past, once detected and vividly portrayed, will be guarded against in future.
A limitation of the area of arable land which any man may acquire and hold, and an exemption of a far more restricted
24 HINTS TOWARD REFORMS.
Homestead of a family from involuntary transfer by mortgage or execution, are twin measures which, after a few years of denunciation and abuse, will be understood, approved, and enduringly engrafted upon our Constitutions and statutes. That these will do much to secure employment and adequate reward to labor, wherever adopted, I can not doubt. Few have any idea of the extent to which Labor is now obstructed by Land Monopoly. The starving poor of Great Britain and Ireland might be abundantly employed and subsisted on the rich soil now uselessly, ostentatiously devoted to immense Parks, Forests, and Game-Preserves. I was, in 1845, discussing with an eminent Western Statesman the effects of Protection and Manufacturing on the welfare of the country, when he casually observed that he owned 1200 acres of the finest river bottom land in Ohio, richly worth $50 per acre, yet which he could find nobody to purchase and improve because the floating capital of the country was all attracted to and locked up in Eastern factories. It seemed to me, and I could not help telling him, that the obstacle and the wrong in the case was his attempting to exact $50 per acre for land to which nothing had been done except possibly to divest it of some of its most valuable timber since it was purchased of the Nation for $1.25 per acre. Yet the Great West is covered with such reservations, to the serious obstruction of settlements and detriment of settlers. One or two such may deprive a school district of any fit school for 20 years; three or four will keep a township destitute of the preaching of the gospel, miserably provided with roads and bridges, scantily supplied with mechanics and artisans. Such a reservation is by no means a mere blank — it is a positive blight and discouragement. It has usually been selected as soon as the lands of that district were offered for sale, and comprises some of the very best in its vicinity. Often two long prairies, each 20 or 30 miles wide, are separated
EMANCIPATION OF LABOR. 25
by a small river or mill-stream with a fringe of timber half a mile wide. Speculation early fastens its grasp upon this belt of timber, including all the water-power, fencing and fuel of one or more counties. Soon settlers begin to arrive, and find good prairie abundant and likely to remain so at the Government price, ten York shillings per acre. But this is utterly unavailable, uninhabitable, without timber and water, which can only be had by paying the speculators their $10 to $20 per acre, with a thousand or two dollars for a mill-site, which must ultimately be had at whatever price. There are other sections wherein Speculation kindly disposes of the land to settlers who have no money, only asking a liberal share of the first four or five crops in payment. Millions of acres are now occupied by the preemption claimants, under articles binding the speculators who have bid them off at the Government sales to convey them to the occupants upon the payment of the principal cost with 25 to 50% interest. It is a moderate estimate that every dollar put into the Treasury by public land-sales has taken three to four dollars from the pockets of the actual settler and cultivator.
Still, the remedy required is not so much the substitution of gift for sale as the limitation of the quantity which one man may acquire. Reduce the Government price to ten cents per acre, and you but facilitate the operations of Monopoly, and hasten the day when the great mass shall be beggars for the privilege of cultivating God's earth, and general scarcity of employment shall lead surely to penury of reward and scantiness of food. But establish the principle that no man shall acquire but a limited area of the land yet public, and whether that land be still sold at a moderate price or allotted for the bare cost of survey and transfer to the settler, the Nation's chief peril will have been averted, and a broad and strong foundation laid for the edifice of Social Justice and Industrial Emancipation.
26 HINTS TOWARD REFORMS.
I urge the application of this salutary, vital principle first to the Public Lands, because there it can not be parried by any pretence than its adoption will interfere with Vested Rights. He who does not choose to settle on Public Lands on such terms as the Nation shall see fit to impose has all the world before him; he may hire or work on shares or buy wherever else he pleases. If he does see fit to remove from lands made private to those yet public, he can not reasonably object to the conditions which the Public Will shall impose. He must assent to them and prepare to obey them in good faith. But in truth there is not a township so old nor so new that the principle of Land Limitation therein would not prove a great blessing to its whole people. Into the midst of a sluggish or careless community is born a stirring and sharp-dealing man, possessed by the twin demons Avarice and Ambition. He betakes himself to Trade or Speculation, or Usury; or possibly he makes large annual gains by sheer industry, sharp bargains, and good management. The spirit of territorial aggrandizement soon awakes within him; he finds his patrimony too narrow to afford scope for his energies. And the same Providence which gave being to foxes ordained geese also. Here a family has encountered a succession of calamities, finding their climax in the death of its head; heavy debts hang over it, and the Homestead must be sacrificed just when it has become vitally necessary to save the mother and her babes from dispersion and servitude. The next farm is held by a drunkard or prodigal, and this is soon brought to the hammer. In the next house lives a foolish father and mother, whose darling son must be sent to College, which in the end sends them to the Poor-House. All these, and more, fall successively into the hands of the general devourer of widows' houses, who goes on expanding and amassing till death stops him. In the course of one or two generations, all will very probably be dissipated, but the evil already done is not thereby remedied. The displaced
EMANCIPATION OF LABOR. 27
families are very rarely restored. A new accumulator starts up, perhaps in the same school district, perhaps in the next; and runs the old race over again. Thus the children of the poor and the prodigal are constantly falling into homelessness, and more generally as the community grows older; while the ability and energy which, properly directed, would have made one farm a model and a spur to the whole township — which could hardly have failed to do this if the law had not proffered to the possessor the fatal facility of adding broad acres to a domain already too extensive — are worse than wasted in acquiring the farms of others instead of rendering fruitful and beauteous his own. One hundred acres might have been rendered as valuable and as productive as the many hundreds now are, and been made to give employment to as much Labor; but the larger territory sounds louder in the public ear, and to own the most land of any man in the County is, unfortunately, a greater distinction than to work a moderate farm the best. All this must be amended, and it will be. Land Reform is the natural and sure basis of all Social and Industrial Melioration.
We of the Movement maintain a position which need not be deemed ambiguous and ought not to be regarded with distrust or aversion by any generous, lofty mind — by any hopeful, loving heart. We maintain that Industry, now too often degraded and repugnant, may be everywhere elevated and rendered attractive, so that not the result only but the process shall be a source of daily joy. We contend that the anarchy between Labor and Capital which now glaringly prevails all around us may be replaced by a better system, wherein a just and settled proportion of product shall be accorded to each, and the present alienating, disorganizing, depraving, universal struggle to secure more wages for less work or more work for less wages, shall be banished forever, taking unfaithfulness on the one side and extortion on the other along with it. We maintain that, in this bounteous creation of our God, a man standing idle for want of employment, or even of suitable employment, when there is scarcely a square mile of the earth's surface which would not reward ten times the labor ever yet bestowed on it, is a grievous wrong and a bitter reproach to our whole Social Economy, wherein the cunning and the strong secure a certain portion of comfort and luxury to themselves by means which leave the simple and the feeble to famish. We contend that the Rights of Property in the earth, so wisely and necessarily guaranteed to the fortunate possessors, were granted not that the many might be excluded from the common source of sustenance, but that they might be enabled more securely, peacefully, advantageously to derive their subsistence therefrom, and that the Right to Labor, and to receive the rewards of Labor, pertains to every individual where the right to the Soil, originally free and common to all, has been granted away to a part. We maintain that, as
134 HINTS TOWARD REFORMS.
no man, clearly, would have a moral right to acquire the ownership of all the earth and, forbidding any to cultivate or dwell on it, starve the Race to death, so no one can have the moral right to do this in part, by monopolizing the land and keeping it unproductive for the gratification of his pomp and avarice, while hundreds around him are suffering for the want of it. In fine, we hold that all individual rights are held subordinate to the demands of Universal Beneficence, and though Human Law may not prescribe the limits of such rights and provide against any overstepping them, yet the Divine Law condemns every act which finds its end in self-gratification by means which trench on the well-being of others.
And this, from page 182:
Of the tendencies and goal of the existing Social system, with its legalization of Land Monopoly and cardinal maxim of 'Every man for himself,' Ireland affords at this day the most eminent and striking example. There the soil is by law the property of the few, while the population is dense and relies mainly on Agriculture for subsistence. Vast estates and petty holdings are its main characteristics — estates whose incomes are squandered in luxurious dissipation from Dublin to Venice — holdings which it would seem scarcely possible to draw a family's subsistence from if the landlord's tax on God's naked bounty were a thing unknown. Yet from these mere patches of soil, varying from a rood to an acre in area, rents of five and twenty dollars per acre are extorted. And still men wonder that Ireland is so scourged and famine-stricken! — wonder that her common people are so ignorant and wretched! Is it not the real marvel that they have so long endured and survived their wrongs and oppressions?
and in the 300's:
But look at the question from the side of Labor: God expressly commands men to labor six days of every seven, and has made obedience to this command a vital condition of healthful and comfortable existence. (Alas that one man should obey and another enjoy the reward of his obedience!) Here, in a State or County, are 50,000 persons able and willing to labor, with an abundance of arable land to employ them all constantly and reward them generously: But the land mainly belongs to a few dozens or hundreds of this population, (or, still worse, of absentees,) who virtually say to the twenty or thirty thousand would-be laborers who own no land, 'You can only be allowed to work here
LAND REFORM. 313
on condition that you will allow us [in the shape of rents, price of land, or depressed wages] one-half to three-fourths of the entire product of your toil.' Is not here a heavy tax levied by man upon obedience to the laws of Nature and of God? Who does not see that Labor is discouraged and Idleness immensely increased by this exaction, and the power vested in the few to impose it?
Yet the most appalling feature of our present system of Landholding is the manifest tendency of its evils to become more and more aggravated and intolerable — nay, the inevitable necessity that they should become so, if the system itself be endured. If the population of the British Isles were this day no more dense than that of Indiana or Russia, the average recompense of its labor would doubtless be increased, the condition of its laboring people greatly improved. The gradual increase of population therein from three or four millions to thirty or forty, has, in connection with the monopoly of the Soil by a class who are not its cultivators, gradually carried up the market value and the yearly rental of arable land to prices which enable the land-owning few to riot in unparalleled luxury, and doom the landless many to toil evermore for the barest necessaries of life, while hundreds of thousands vainly beg from door to door an opportunity to earn the blackest bread by the most repulsive and meagerly recompensed drudgery. Like causes will produce like effects here and elsewhere. It is not the fact that the landlords are few that is so baneful; if they were ten times as many, the evil would hardly be mitigated. So long as the millions, whom God has doomed in the sweat of their faces to eat bread, shall be constrained to solicit of others the privilege of so doing, and to propitiate the land-owning class by such a share of their products as Cupidity may exact and Necessity must concede, the increase of population will be paralleled by the depression of labor and the laborer. Other influences may come in to modify or coun-
314 HINTS TOWARD REFORMS.
teract this — new inventions which vastly increase the efficiency of labor; improved processes, more scientific culture, &c., may do something to mitigate the ills of poverty; but the master evil, a monopoly of land by those who do not use it, tends ever to sink the landless multitude into a state of more abject dependence, while it restricts the demand for and the price of their sole commodity and resource.
Suppose the usage and the law were so changed that no man were permitted, in this boasted land of equal rights, to hold as his own more than half a square mile of arable soil (which is enough for fifty men to cultivate) so long as a single person needing land in the community should remain destitute of any, what a mighty and beneficent transformation would be efiected in the reward of labor and the condition of the laboring class! Then, instead of a constant increase in the proportion of landless seekers for something to do, resulting in a constant jostling and underbidding among laborers wanting employment, we should see a continual division and subdivision of large estates, with a steady increase in the number and proportion of small proprietors, each his own employer and his own laborer, whereby the mass of landless seekers for work as hirelings or tenants would be rapidly diminished. It is not proposed to disturb any individual in the full enjoyment of his possessions, but to make the operation of the proposed reform wholly prospective, so that, while each proprietor or landlord, at the enactment of the Limitation, should retain his estates until death, all future aggregation shall be sternly forbidden, and the principle applied to each existing estate on the decease of its present owner. Even the right to transmit property to heirs or devisees would not be interfered with, except so far as to say, 'Man of Millions! bequeath your wealth as you choose; but that part of it which consists of the Soil can only be inherited and held by any one to the extent of the limit prescribed by law. If you see fit to devise more
LAND REFORM. 315
than this to any one person, he may select from your bequest, and any he may previously own, so much as the law allows him to retain, and sell the rest: or, if he does not do this within a year, the State will do it for him, holding the proceeds of the portion sold subject to his order.'
That this will seem arbitrary and impracticable to many is a matter of course, and the hardship of not allowing a man to do as he likes with his oum will doubtless be dilated on in tones of moving eloquence. But the principle here involved has already been asserted in our Usury Laws and many others which tend to fetter or check the spirit of personal acquisition when it is found encroaching upon the domain of public good. A man may not 'do as he likes with his own' money, nor even with his own house — he is forbidden to burn the latter, though built with his own hands, and entirely unconnected with any other. Many if not most States already limit the area of land which may be acquired and held by a Bank or Moneyed Corporation; probably none allow Aliens freely to acquire and enjoy it. Coeval with the great Hebrew Lawgiver and very thoroughly enforced by him, reappearing in the noblest periods of Roman republicanism, but gradually sapped and overthrown by an evergrasping Aristocracy, the principle of Land Limitation has received the approval of some of the most gifted and philanthropic of ancient or modern times. Its triumphant establishment, wherever Popular Education and Universal Suffrage shall have preceded it, is well nigh inevitable.
A ready objection of those who have scarcely thought on the subject imports that any attempt to remedy by law the inequalities of fortune in the matter of Land involves the principle of an arbitrary distribution of Property equally to everybody. But this is an egregious error. What Nature indicates and Justice requires is Equal Opportunities to all. To maintain that he who has idly frolicked through the summer has an equal right to food and clothing in the winter with
316 HINTS TOWARD REFORMS.
his frugal neighbor, who by patient toil has produced five hundred bushels of grain and some hundreds of pounds of flax and wool, is to contravene the Apostle's precept, 'He that will not work shall not eat.' But Land Limitation contemplates a gentle and gradual restoration of that equal right to the Soil which was ordained by the Creator in the constitution of the globe. Instead of giving to the idle the products of other men's labor, it is intended to countervail that dispensation of human policy whereby millions labor ceaselessly for scanty and bitter bread while thousands revel sumptuously on the lion's share of the products of the toil so meagerly recompensed. Not to transfer the toiler's earnings to the idler, but to prevent such transfer, is the object of Land Reform.
A bit further along, at page 318:
"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth."
The earth, the air, the waters, the sunshine, with their natural products, were divinely intended and appointed for the use and sustenance of Man (Gen. i. 2G, 28) — not for a part only, but for the whole Human Family.
Civilized Society, as it exists in our day, has divested the larger portion of mankind of the unimpeded, unpurchased enjoyment of their natural rights. That larger portion may be perishing with cold, yet have no legally recognized right to a stick of decaying fuel in the most unfrequented morass, or maybe famishing, yet have no legal right to pluck and eat the bitterest acorn in the depths of the remotest wilderness. The defeasance or confiscation of Man's natural right to use any portion of the Earth's surface not actually in use by another, is an important fact, to be kept in view in every consideration of the duty of the affluent and comfortable to the poor and unfortunate.
It is not essential in this place to determine that the divestment of the larger number of any recognized right to the Soil and its Products, save by the purchased permission of others, was or was not politic and necessary. All who reflect must certainly admit that many of the grants of land by hundreds of square miles to this or that favorite of the power which assumed to make them were made thoughtlessly or recklessly, and would not have been so large or so unaccompanied with stipulations in behalf of the future occupants and cultivators, if a reasonable foresight and a decent regard for the general good had been cherished and evinced
THE RIGHT TO LABOR. 319.
by the granting power. Suffice it here, however, that the granting of the Soil — of the State of New York, for example — by the supreme authority representing the whole to a minor portion of the whole is a "fixed fact." By a Law of Nature, every person born in the State of New York had (unless forfeited by crime) a perfect right to be here, and to his equal share of the Soil, the woods, the waters, and all the natural products thereof. By the law of Society, all but the possessors of title-deeds exist here only by the purchased permission of the land-owning class, and were intruders and trespassers on the soil of their nativity without that permission. By law, the landless have no inherent right to stand on a single square foot of the State of New-York except in the highways.
The only solid ground on which this surrender of the original property of the whole to a minor portion can be justified is that of Public Good — the good, not of a part, but of the whole. The people of a past generation, through their rulers, claimed and exercised the right of divesting, not themselves merely, but the majority of all future generations, of their original and inherent right to possess and cultivate any unimproved portion of the soil of our State for their own sustenance and benefit. To render this assumption of power valid to the fearful extent to which it was exercised, it is essential that it be demonstrated that the good of the whole was promoted by such exercise.
Is this rationally demonstrable now? Can the widow, whose children pine and shiver in some bleak, miserable garret, on the fifteen or twenty cents, which is all she can earn by unremitted toil, be made to realize that she and her babes are benefited by or in consequence of the granting to a part an exclusive right to use the earth and enjoy its fruits? Can the poor man who day after day paces the streets of a city in search of any employment at any price, (as thousands are now doing here,) be made to realize it on his part? Are there not thousands on thousands — natives of our State who
320 HINTS TOWARD REFORMS.
never wilfully violated her laws — who are today far worse off than they would have been if Nature's rule of allowing no man to appropriate to himself any more of the earth than he can cultivate and improve had been recognized and respected by Society? These questions admit of but one answer. And one inevitable consequence of the prevailing system is that, as Population increases and Arts are perfected, the income of the wealthy owner of land increases while the recompense of the hired or leasehold cultivator is steadily diminishing. The labor of Great Britain is twice as effective now as it was a century ago, but the laborer is worse paid, fed, and lodged than he then was, while the incomes of the landlord class have been enormously increased. The same fundamental causes exist here, and tend to the same results. They have been modified, thus far, by the existence, within or near our State, of large tracts of unimproved land, which the owners were anxious to improve or dispose of on almost any terms. These are growing scarcer and more remote; they form no part of the system we are considering, but something which exists in opposition to it, which modifies it, but is absolutely sure to be ultimately absorbed and conquered by it. The notorious fact that they do serve to mitigate the exactions to which the landless mass, even in our long and densely settled towns and cities, are subject, serves to show that the condition of the great mass must inevitably be far worse than at present when the natural consummation of land-selling is reached, and all the soil of the Union has become the property of a minor part of the People of the Union.
The past can not be recalled. What has been rightfully (however mistakenly) done by the authorized agents of the State or Nation, can only be retracted upon urgent public necessity, and upon due satisfaction to all whose private rights are thereby invaded. But those who have been divested of an important, a vital natural right, are also
THE RIGHT TO LABOR. 321
entitled to compensation. The Right to Labor, secured to them in the creation of the earth, taken away in the granting of the Soil to a minor portion of them, must be restored. Labor, essential to all, is the inexorable condition of the honest, independent subsistence of the Poor. It must be fully guarantied to all, so that each may know that he can never starve nor be forced to beg while able and willing to work. Our public provision for Pauperism is but a halting and wretched substitute for this. Society exercises no paternal guardianship over the poor man until he has surrendered to despair. He may spend a whole year and his little all in vainly seeking employment, and all this time Society does nothing, cares nothing for him; but when his last dollar is exhausted, and his capacities very probably prostrated by the intoxicating draughts to which he is driven to escape the horrors of reflection, then he becomes a subject of public charity, and is often maintained in idleness for the rest of his days at a cost of thousands, when a few dollars' worth of foresight and timely aid might have preserved him from this fate, and in a position of independent usefulness for his whole after-life.
But the Right to Labor — that is, to constant Employment with a just and full Recompense — can not be guarantied to all without a radical change in our Social Economy. I, for one, am very willing, nay, most anxious, to do my full share toward securing to every man, woman, and child, full employment and a just recompense for all time to come. I feel sure this can be accomplished. But I can not, as the world goes, give employment at any time to all who ask it of me, nor the hundredth part of them. "Work, work! give us something to do! — anything that will secure us honest bread," is at this moment the prayer of not less than Thirty Thousand human beings within sound of our Cityhall bell. They would gladly be producers of wealth, yet remain from week to week mere consumers of bread which
322 HINTS TOWARD REFORMS.
somebody has to earn. Here is an enormous waste and loss. We must devise a remedy. It is the duty, and not less the palpable interest, of the wealthy, the thrifty, the tax-paying, to do so. The ultimate and thorough remedy, I believe is found in Association.
A bit further on, on page 359, Greeley suggests part of why people are moving toward the cities:
Cities are the result of certain social necessities of civilized or semi-civilized Man, — necessities of Trade, of Manufacture, Interchange of Ideas, and of Government: they rest upon and are supported by the Country. Their support is of course mainly voluntary; its amount is controlled by the ability and desires of the rural population. Thus, while almost any farming County might give employment and ample subsistence to five or even ten times its present
360 HINTS TOWARD REFORMS.
population, there is scarcely a city in the world whose population is not already quite as large as it has business to employ and income to sustain, while the greater number are constantly crowded with surplus laborers, vainly seeking employment and underbidding each other in the eager strife for it, until thousands can hardly sustain life on the scanty reward of their exertions, and other thousands are forced to live on public or private charity. Many perish every year, not perhaps of absolute starvation, but of diseases induced by hunger, want and exposure, while a larger number are driven by destitution into evil courses, and close their brief careers of guilty mockery of enjoyment by deaths of shame and horror. Such are some of the dire consequences of the continual over-population of our cities, caused by the insane desire very generally felt to escape the ruder toils and tamer routine of country life. Until some marked change shall have been wrought in the general condition of our rural Industry, so as to render it less repulsive than it now is, our cities must continue over-crowded and full of misery. The naked truth that, as a general rule, no one lives by bona fide physical labor who can obtain a living without, and very few live by farming or the like who can live by what are esteemed the lighter and more genteel avocations mainly pursued in cities and villages, explains much of the misery so prevalent all around us. Doubtless, the Monopoly of Land is one of the ultimate causes of this deplorable state of things; thousands annually quitting the country for cities who would cling to the homes of their infancy if they were not the property of others, and would cultivate soil like their fathers if they had any soil to cultivate. Having none, they are tempted to seek in some city the employment and independence which seem denied them where they were born.
This choice is almost always an unwise one. In the Country, the young man heartily willing to do anything honest and useful for a livelihood, need seldom wait long for
COMING TO THE CITY. 361
employment that will at least insure him a subsistence. In the Cities, the case is sadly different. A capable, willing, trustworthy man may earnestly seek employment here for months without finding any. And the reason is very clear: There are more seeking work in the cities than work can be found for; and, though the business of most cities annually increases, through the growth of the Country trading with them, yet the pressure for employment in cities constantly outruns the demand for labor, and if New-York were to increase its trade and consequently its population by ten or twenty per cent, a year for the next century, there would at all times be thousands waiting here for chances to do something, and many starved out or impelled to evil courses for want of honest business. The gigantic sea of Foreign Immigration incessantly rolling in upon us, bringing thousands each month to our City (some of them most ingenious, expert and capable) who must have work promptly or go to the Poor-House, and who are inured to lower wages and poorer living than Americans will submit to, will keep the general Labor market glutted and the average recompense of hired labor low for a term of which I can not foresee the end. ...