I believe that all persons have an equal right to the soil. The Maker of the earth has provided one home, not two homes, for each person; not two farms, but one farm for each farmer.
— GERRIT SMITH, Speech in U. S. Congress (1854), Speeches of Gerrit Smith, p. 232.
Searching my files on Smith, I find these references to "equal right" in his Speeches:
RESOLUTIONS ON THE PUBLIC LANDS.
JANUARY 16, 1854.
Mr. Smith, of New-York. I beg leave to offer the following resolutions.
The Clerk read the resolutions, as follows:
Whereas, all the members of the human family, notwithstanding all contrary enactments and arrangements, have at all times, and in all circumstances, as equal a right to the soil as to the light and air, because as equal a natural need of the one as of the other; And whereas, this invariably equal right to the soil leaves no room to buy, or sell, or give it away; Therefore,
1. Resolved, That no bill or proposition should find any favor with
Congress, which implies the right of Congress to dispose of the
lands or any part of them, either by sale or gift.
2. Resolved, That the duty of civil government in regard to public lands, and indeed to all lands, is but to regulate the occupation of them; and that this regulation should ever proceed upon the principle that the right of all persons to the soil—to the great source of human subsistence—is as equal, as inherent, and as sacred, as the right to life itself.
3. Resolved, That Government will have done but little toward securing the equal right to land, until it shall have made essential to the validity of every claim to land both the fact that it is actually possessed, and the fact that it does not exceed in quantity the maximum which it is the duty of Government to prescribe.
4. Resolved, That it is not because land monopoly is the most efficient cause of inordinate and tyrannical riches on the one hand, and of dependent and abject poverty on the other; and that it is not because it is, therefore, the most efficient cause of that inequality of condition so well-nigh fatal to the spread of democracy and Christianity, that Government is called upon to abolish it; but it is because the right which this mighty agent of evil violates and tramples under foot is among those clear, certain, essential, natural rights which it is the province of Government to protect at all hazarda and irrespective of all consequences. ...
This bill, as I view it, is an
acknowledgment, that the public lands belong, not to the
but to the landless.
Whilst I hope, that the bill will prevail, I nevertheless can hardly hope, that a majority of the Committee will approve my reasons for it. Indeed, if the Committee shall so much as tolerate me, in putting forth these reasons, it is all I can expect, in the light of the fate of the land reform resolutions, which I offered in this Hall, the 16th January last. The storm of indignation, which burst upon those resolutions, did, I confess, not a little surprise me. The angry words, which came sounding over into this part of the Hall, quite startled me. Even the reading of the resolutions by the Clerk was hardly borne with; and, no sooner had they been read, than, with hot haste, they were nailed to the table for ever and ever.
And what are those resolutions, that they should have excited such displeasure? Why, their chief and controlling doctrine is, that men have a natural and equal right to the soil. And is this such a monstrous doctrine, as to make me guilty of a great offence — of an outrage on propriety — for offering the resolutions? It cannot be said, that they were expressed in indecent or profane language — in language offensive to purity or piety. Why, then, were they so treated? I am not at liberty to suppose, that it was from dislike to their author. It must be because their leading doctrine is so very wrong in the eyes of the honorable gentlemen around me. Now I am aware, that many of the doctrines, which I utter in this Hall, are very wrong in their eyes. But should they not remember, that their counter doctrines are no less wrong in my eyes? And yet, I appeal to all, whether I have ever evinced even the slightest impatience or kindness under anything I have heard here? and whether the equal footing, on which we find ourselves here, does not require, as well that patience and kindness should be accorded to me, as by me? However we may regard each other out of this Hall, certain it is, that, if, in this Hall, we do not regard each other as gentlemen entitled to mutual and perfect respect, we shall dishonor ourselves, and our constituency, and civil government itself.
What I have here supposed in my argument is abundantly — alas! but
abundantly — justified by facts. Land monopoly has reduced no small
share of the human family to abject and wretched dependence, for it
shut them out from the great source of subsistence, and frightfully
increased the precariousness of life. Unhappy Ireland illustrates
great power of land monopoly for evil. The right to so much as a
standing place on the earth is denied to the great mass of her
Their great impartial Father has placed them on the earth; and, in
placing them on it, has irresistibly implied their right to live of
Nevertheless, land monopoly tells them, that they are trespassers,
treats them as trespassers. Even when most indulgent, land monopoly
allows them nothing better than to pick up the crumbs of the barest
existence; and, when, in his most rigorous moods, the monster
them to starve and die by millions. Ireland — poor,
land-monopoly-cursed and famine-wasted Ireland — has still a
population of some six millions; and yet it is only six thousand
persons, who have monopolized her soil. Scotland has some three
millions of people; and three thousand is the number of the
of her soil. England and Wales contain some eighteen millions of
people, and the total number of those, who claim exclusive right to
soil of England and Wales, is thirty thousand. I may not be rightly
informed, as to the numbers of the land monopolists in those
but whether they are twice as great, or half as great, as I have
them, is quite immaterial to the essence of my argument against land
monopoly. I would say in this connection, that land monopoly, or the
accumulation of the land in the hands of the few, has increased very
rapidly in England. A couple of centuries ago, there were several
as many English land-holders, as there are now.
I need say no more to prove, that land monopoly is a very high crime, and that it is the imperative duty of Government to put a stop to it. Were the monopoly of the light and air practicable, and were the monopolists of these elements (having armed themselves with title deeds to them) to sally forth and threaten the people of one town with a vacuum, in case they are unwilling or unable to buy their supply of air; and threaten the people of another town with total darkness, in case they will not or cannot buy their supply of light; there, confessedly, would be no higher duty on Government than to put an end to such wicked and death-dealing monopolies. But these monopolies would not differ in principle from land monopoly; and they would be no more fatal to the enjoyments of human existence, and to human existence itself, than land monopoly has proved itself capable of being. Why land monopoly has not swept the earth of all good, is not because it is unadapted and inadequate to that end, but because it has been only partially carried out.
The right of a man to the soil, the light, and the air, is to so much of each of them, as he needs, and no more; and for so long as he lives, and no longer. In other words, this dear mother earth, with her never-failing nutritious bosom; and this life-preserving air, which floats around it; and this sweet light, which visits it, are all owned by each present generation, and are equally owned by all the members of such generation. Hence, whatever the papers or parchments regarding the soil, which we may pass between ourselves, they can have no legitimate power to impair the equal right to it, either of the persons, who compose this generation, or of the persons, who shall compose the next.
It is a very glaring assumption on the part of one generation to control the distribution and enjoyment of natural rights for another generation. We of the present generation have no more liberty to provide, that one person of the next generation shall have ten thousand acres and another but ten acres, than we have to provide, that one person of the next generation shall live a hundred years and another but a hundred days; and no more liberty to provide, that a person of the next generation shall be destitute of land, than that he shall be destitute of light or air. They, who compose a generation, are, so far as natural rights are concerned, absolutely entitled to a free and equal start in life; and that equality is not to be disturbed, and that freedom is not to be encumbered, by any arrangements of the preceding generation.
I do not forget, that the Declaration of Independence has fallen
disrepute among the degenerate sons of the men, who adopted it. They
ridicule it, and call it "a fanfaronade of nonsense." It will be
ridiculed, in proportion as American slavery increases. It will be
respected, in proportion as American slavery declines. Even members
Congress charge it with saying, that men are born with equal
equal beauty, and equal brains. For my own part, I can impute no
folly to Thomas Jefferson and his fellow-laborers. I understand the
Declaration of Independence to say, that men are born with an equal
right to use what is respectively theirs. To illustrate its meaning,
this point:—if I am born with but one foot, and one eye, and an
organization capable of receiving but one idea, I have a right to
my one foot, and one eye, and one idea, equal with the right of my
neighbor to use his two feet, and two eyes, and two thousand ideas.
I argue the duty of Government to suppress polygamy on just the
principles that I argue the duty of Government to suppress land
monopoly. I believe that all persons have an equal right to the
The Maker of the earth has provided one home, not two homes, for
person: not two farms, but one farm, for each farmer. The right to
soil is natural and equal. So, sir, the right of each man to one
and each woman to one husband, is a natural right: and for one man
get more than one wife, or for one woman to get more than one
is to violate this natural right, which it is the duty of Government
The word of God shows that nature provides but one wife for one man, and one husband for one woman. That word teaches us that He "made them male and female"—not male and females, nor female and males. And if there are any present who do not bow to the authority of that word, I would point such to the census. The census in every country, and in every age, shows that the sexes are numerically equal, and that the arrangements of Providence forbid polygamy.
The truth is, that our rapid progress in population, wealth, and power, has made us forgetful of the equal rights of the nations of the earth. We are disposed to measure our rights by our prosperity; and to disparage the rights of others, in the degree, that their prosperity falls short of our own. In our boundless self-conceit, our might, either already is, or is very soon to be, boundless. And, as is to be expected in such a case, we are already acting on, if not in terms avowing, the maxim, that might makes right.