Land Nationalisation

Alfred Russell Wallace:
Land Nationalisation
Its necessity and its aims  (1882)

Being a comparison of the system of Landlord and Tenant
with that of occupying ownership in their influence on
the well-being of the people

TABLE OF CONTENTS (details, see below)






“Land is not, and cannot be property in the sense that moveable things are property. Every human being born into this planet must live upon the land if he lives at all. The land in any country is really the property of the nation which occupies it; and the tenure of it by individuals is ordered differently in different places, according to the habits of the people and the general convenience.”—FROUDE.

“The land of Ireland, the land of every country, belongs to the people of that country.”—JOHN STUART MILL.

“As land is necessary to the exertion of labour in the production of wealth, to command the land which is necessary to labour is to command all the fruits of labour save enough to enable the labourer to exist.”—HENRY GEORGE.

“To make away into mercenary hands, as an article of trade, the whole solid area on which a nation lives, is astonishing as an idea of statesmanship.”—PROF. F. W. NEWMAN.

“It may by-and-by be perceived that equity utters dictates to which we have not yet listened; and men may then learn that to deprive others of their rights to the use of the earth is to commit a crime inferior only in wickedness to the crime of taking away their lives or personal liberties.”—HERBERT SPENCER.”In my opinion, if it is known to be for the welfare of the community at large, the Legislature is perfectly entitled to buy out the landed proprietors … Those persons who possess large portions of the earth’s space are not altogether in the same position as the possessors of mere personalty. Personalty does not impose limitations on the action and the industry of man and the well-being of the community as possession of land does, and therefore, I freely own that compulsory expropriation is admissible, and even sound in principle.”—W. E. GLADSTONE. (Speech at West Calder)



The present work has been written with two main objects. In the first place, it is intended to demonstrate by a sufficient, though condensed, body of evidence, the widespread and crying evils—political and social, material and moral—which are not only the actual, but the necessary results of the system of Landlordism, while at the same time it shows, by a complementary series of facts, that a properly guarded system of Occupying Ownership under the State would afford a complete remedy for the evils thus caused. In the second place, it demonstrates that the proposed solution is a practicable one, by explaining in detail how the change may be effected with no real injury to existing landowners, and also how the scheme will actually work without producing any one of the evil results generally thought to be inseparable from a system of land-nationalisation.

It will be seen from this outline that the subjects here treated are of vast and momentous importance. So abundant are the available materials that it would have been easy to compile a work of several bulky volumes without exhausting the theme. To have done so might have added to the author’s literary reputation, but would not have produced the effect which he desires to produce. It is the people at large—the middle and lower classes especially—who suffer by the present land-system, and it is by their mandate to their representatives in Parliament that the needed reform must be effected. Existing legislators can and will do nothing beyond removing the shackles which now prevent land from being freely bought and sold; but so limited a reform will only benefit landowners and capitalists, while the people will still suffer from all the evils which the monopoly of land by a class and the increase of land-speculation inevitably bring upon them. To reach the landless classes—to teach them what are their rights and how to gain these rights—is the object of this work; and it was therefore necessary that it should be at once clear and forcible, moderate in bulk, and issued at a low price. In effecting the required degree of condensation the historical part of the subject has been sketched in the briefest outline, because it appeared to the author much more important to demonstrate the evil results of our land-system than to prove that it had its origin in force or fraud in long-past ages. It also happens, that the history of the origin of landed property in general, as well as of our existing systems of land-tenure, are the portions of the subject which have been most fully treated, and which are best known to general readers.

Although so much has been written on the land-question, I am not aware of any single work which summarises the evidence and discusses the results of our system of land-tenure as compared with that of other civilised countries, in its bearing, not upon landlords and tenants alone but on all classes of the community; and I therefore venture to think that everyone who has at heart the advancement of the social condition of our people, and who feels the disgrace of our position as at once the wealthiest and the most pauperised country in the world, will find much to interest, and perhaps to instruct, in this small volume.

Godalming, March, 1882.



CHAPTER I.—On the Causes of Poverty in the Midst of Wealth:—Increase of the Value of Land during the Present Century—Great Increase of our Wealth—Pauperism does not diminish in Proportion to our Increasing Wealth—Failure of our Social Organisation—Increase of Labour-saving Machinery and the Utilisation of Natural Forces—The Anticipated Effect of Man’s increased power over Nature—The Actual Effect—How to discover the Cause of our Social Failure—Why Great Wealth is often injurious—Accumulated Wealth may be Beneficial or the Reverse—How Great Accumulations of Capital Affect the Labourer—The Nature of the Remedy Suggested—Scope of the Present Inquiry.

CHAPTER II.—The Origin and Present State of British Land-Tenure:—Antiquity of our Present System causes it to appear a Natural One—Antiquity of a System no proof of its Value—Origin of British Land-Tenure—Characteristics of the Feudal System—Growth of Modern Landlordism—The Legal Powers Exercised by Landlords—Our Land-system is a Modified Feudalism, in which the Landlords have thrown their Burdens on the People, whose Rights in the Land they have absorbed.

CHAPTER III.—A Few illustrations of Irish Landlordism:—Ireland affords Examples of all the Evils that arise from Private Property in Land—Origin of Irish Landlordism—Tenant-right Confiscation by Landlords—Condition of the Irish Cottier—Facts in Possession of the Legislature for Thirty Years—The Devon Commission, 1847—The Government neglects its First Duty—Evictions after the Famine—Suggested Remedies for Irish Distress—Continued Blindness and Incompetence of the Legislature—Tremendous Power of Agents over the Tenants—The Condition of the People under Irish Landlordism … 24-39

CHAPTER IV.—Landlordism and its Results in Scotland:—Chiefs and Clansmen in the Highlands—Highland Chiefs changed into Landlords—Character of the Highland Tenantry Eighty Years ago—The Change effected by Landlords and Agents—The Story of the Sutherland Evictions—Other Examples of Highland Clearances—Wide Extent and Long Continuance of these Clearances—They were exposed and protested against in vain—Continuance of Highland Clearances and Confiscation down to this Day—These Evils inherent in Landlordism—An Illustrative Case—The General Results of Landlordism in the Highlands—Further Clearances and Devastation for the Sake of Sport—The Gross Abuse of Power by Highland Landlords requires an Immediate Remedy—Landlordism in the Lowlands of Scotland: Condition of the Labourers—The Cause of this State of Things is the Landlord System—General Results of Scotch Landlordism.

CHAPTER V.—The Economical and Social Effects of English Landlordism:—Landlordism in England is seen at its best—Despotic Power of Landlords—Landlords’ Interference with Religious Freedom—Landlords’ Interference with Political Freedom—Landlords’ Interference with a Tenant’s Amusements—Eviction of the Inhabitants of an Entire Village—Injurious Power of Landlords over Farmers and over Agriculture—Limitation of the Beneficial Influence of Landlords—Whatever Beneficial Influence Landlords exert would be Increased under Occupying Ownership—Supposed Importance of the Large Farms which Landlordism favours—The Effects of Landlordism on the Well-Being of the Labouring Classes—Deterioration of the Condition of the Agricultural Labourer during the Present Century—The Social Degradation of the Agricultural Labourer at the Present Day—This State of Things is due to the System of Landlordism, not to the Bad Conduct of Landlords—The Enclosure Act and its Results—Uniform Evidence as to the Beneficial Effects of Allotments and Cottage Gardens—Beneficial Effects of Small Cottage Farms—The Logical Bearing of this Evidence—Various Powers exercised by Landlords to the Detriment of the Public—Free Choice of a Home essential to Social Well-Being—Characteristics of a good System of Land-Tenure—Enclosure of Commons and Mountain Wastes as affecting the Public—The Destruction of Ancient Monuments—Public Improvements checked by Landlordism—Permanent Deterioration of the Country by the export of Minerals—Concluding Remarks on English Landlordism 

CHAPTER VI.—The Results of Occupying Ownership as Opposed to those of Landlordism:—Summary of the Evils of the Landlord System—Occupying Ownership defined—The Advantages of Occupying Ownership—Results of Occupying Ownership in Switzerland—Co-operation of Occupying Owners in Norway—Occupying Ownership in Germany—Admirable Cultivation under Occupying Ownership—Improvement of the Soil under Occupying Ownership in Belgium—Effects of Occupying Ownership in France—The Labourers of France under Occupying Ownership—Results of Occupying Ownership in the Channel Islands—General Results of Occupying Ownership and those of Landlordism Compared—Results of Landlordism in Italy—Results of Landlordism in Spain and Sardinia—The Occupying Owner under Extremely unfavourable Conditions—Large Farms versus small not the Question at Issue—Various Objections to Peasant Proprietorship answered by Facts—The Final Argument in Favour of Landlordism shown to be unsound—Beneficial Influence of Ownership on Agriculture—The Conclusion from the Evidence.

CHAPTER VII.—Low Wages and Pauperism the Direct Consequence of Private Property in Land:—Progress and Poverty—Labour, not Capital, the First Mover in Production—Industry not Limited by Capital but by restricted Access to the Land—Interest determined by Land Monopoly and Rent—Capital and Labour not antagonistic—Progress of Society causes a Rise of Rents—Private Property in Land produces an Inequitable Division of Wealth—Speculative Increase in Land-values—Mr. George’s Work supplements and enforces the Results arrived at in the Present Volume.

CHAPTER VIII.—Nationalisation of the Land Affords the Only Mode of Effecting a Complete Solution of the Land Question—Summary of the preceding Chapters:—The Contrast of our Wealth and our Poverty amazes all Foreigners—Our Poverty and Pauperism persists notwithstanding the most favourable Conditions—The Irish Landlords follow the Teachings of Political Economy—Effects of Landlordism in the Highlands and in the Lowlands of Scotland—The Despotic Powers of English Landlords—The complete and overwhelming Mass of Evidence in Favour of Occupying Ownership—The Remedies proposed—Free Trade in Land shown to be comparatively Useless—Mr. Kay’s Arguments in support of Free Trade in Land—Small Landed Estates are constantly absorbed by Great Ones—Free Trade in Land would not help either the Tenant or the Labourer—Nationalisation of the Land the only Effective Remedy—Occupancy and virtual Ownership must go together—To Secure this the State must be the real Owner or Ground-Landlord—The State must become Owner of the Land apart from the Improvements added to it—Mode of Determining the Value of the Quit-rent and of the Tenant-Right—How Existing Landowners may be compensated—Alleged unfairness of Compensation by means of Terminable Annuities—How Tenants may become Occupying Owners—Subletting must be absolutely prohibited—Evils of Subletting in Towns—Mortgaging should be strictly limited—Whether any Limits should be placed to the Quantity of Land personally occupied—Supposed Objections to Land Nationalisation—Mr. Fowler’s Objections—Mr. Arthur Arnold’s Objections—Mr. G. Shaw Lefevre’s Objections—The Hon. George C. Brodrick’s Objections—Mr. J. Boyd Kinnear’s Objections—How Nationalisation will affect Towns—Free-Selection of Residential Plots by Labourers and Others—Objections to the Right of Free-Selection—Why Free-Selection should be restricted to Once in a Man’s Life—Free-Selection would check the growth of Towns, and add to the Beauty and Enjoyability of Rural Districts—How Commons may be preserved and Utilised—How Minerals should be worked under State Ownership—Progressive Reduction of Taxation—Abolition of Customs and Excise—Summary of the Advantages of Nationalisation—Summary of the Evil Results of Landlordism—Conclusion.

Appendix I, On the nationalisation of house property.
Appendix II, State-tenants versus freeholders.