From The Public, June 8, 1917
New York tenants should not be unmindful of the honor conferred upon them by King George, in making Baron Astor into a Viscount. A few years ago these New York tenants paid rent to a fellow citizen, a mere American, for the privilege of living on Manhattan Island. This is not to imply that Mr. Astor was lacking in any of the virtues, moral, intellectual, or spiritual, possessed by his tenants; but merely to note the fact that one American citizen was empowered by law to collect toll from other American citizens for the right to live in America. When Mr. Astor became a British citizen, his American tenants paid to a British subject for the privilege of living on American soil. Later, when Mr. Astor, because of lavish contributions of American dollars to British institutions and parties, was made Baron of Hever Castle, his New York tenants experienced the satisfaction of English tenants who live on lords’ estates. Now they have been raised to the exalted position of tenants of a Viscount. And the end is not yet. It is whispered in England that royalty must stop marrying into German royalty, and contract alliances with the commons. This opens up new possibilities. It is conceivable—the thought is put in this potential form to avoid an unwarranted raising of hopes—that with British princes contracting alliances with the commons, the children of Americans now living may pay rent to a British king for the privilege of living on American soil.
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But does it so very much matter whether tenants on Manhattan Island pay toll to a baron, viscount, prince or king in some European country rather than to Diederich van Rensselaer or Abraham Margolies in this country? When one gives a day’s labor for a blanket or for a pair of shoes there is the consciousness that one has paid the maker of the blanket or the shoes. The service given for a house raises the same thought, payment to the builder of the house. But when one gives labor for the use of land, what is the justification? Is it because the owner made the land? Can it be that Mr. Astor has rendered his former countrymen a rare service in visualizing iniquities of landlordism?