Joseph Hyder: The Case for Land Nationalisation
Chapter II: A Cloud of Witnesses
OUR land system is upon its trial. It stands at the bar of public opinion to be judged. It must be judged by what it has done. But before dealing with its effects in detail we may well hear the testimony of some of the writers and thinkers of the world as to its character.
At the outset it is important to observe, that there is complete unanimity of opinion among all legal authorities that there can be no absolute private ownership of land in this country. No man can truly call the land his own property. He is only a tenant under a superior lord.
Sir Edward Coke (Institutes) says: “All land or tenements in England, in the hands of subjects, are holden mediately or immediately of the King. For, in the law of England, we have not any subject’s land that is not holden.”
Sir William Blackstone (Commentaries on the Laws of England) says: “Accurately and strictly speaking, there is no foundation in nature or in natural law why a set of words on parchment should convey the dominion of land.”
“Allodial (absolute) property no subject in England now has; it being a received and now undeniable principle in law that all lands in England are holden mediately or immediately of the King.”
Mr. Serjeant Stephen (New Commentaries on the Laws of England) says: “All lands owned by subjects in England are in the nature of fees, whether derived to them by descent from their ancestors or purchased for a valuable consideration; for they cannot come to any man by either of these ways, unless accompanied by those feudal incidents which attended upon the first feudatories to whom the lands were originally granted.”
Joshua Williams (Principles of the Law of Real Property) says: “An English subject may enjoy the absolute ownership of goods, but not of land. The law does not recognise the absolute ownership of land, unless in the hands of the Crown; and the greatest interest in land, which a subject can have, is an estate in fee simple, that is to say, an estate inheritable by his blood relatives, collateral as well as lineal, according to the legal order of succession, and held feudally of some lord by some kind of service. For, by English law, the King is the supreme owner, or lord paramount, of every parcel of land in the realm; and all land is holden of some lord or other and either immediately or mediately of the King. … English law then recognises property in but not absolute ownership of land; the most absolute property in land that a subject can have is an estate.
“Now there is a great physical difference between lands and chattels or goods. Land is immovable and indestructible. You may dig holes in land and waste it, but you cannot remove the site of it. Goods, on the other hand, may always be removed or destroyed. Cows and sheep may be killed and eaten, furniture may be broken up and burnt. And this physical difference has great importance for the purposes of legal treatment. … Again land is permanent, it lasts beyond the life of man, the same land sustains successive generations of men.”
Lord Chief Justice Coleridge (Laws of Property) says:
“All laws of property must stand upon the footing of general advantage; a country belongs to the inhabitants; in what proportions and by what rules the inhabitants are to own it must be settled by law; and the moment a fragment of the people set up rights inherent in themselves, and not founded on the public good, plain absurdities follow.”
Sir Frederick Pollock (English Land Laws) says: “It is commonly supposed that land belongs to its owner in the same way as money or a watch; this is not the theory of English law since the Norman Conquest, nor has it been so in its full significance at any time. No absolute ownership of land is recognised by our law books, except in the Crown. All lands are supposed to be held immediately or mediately of the Crown, though no rent or services may be payable and no grant from the Crown on record.”
Judge Longfield (Cobden Club Essays) says: “Property in land differs in its origin from any property produced by human labour; the product of labour naturally belongs to the labourer who produced it, but the same argument does not apply to land, which is not produced by human labour, but is a gift of the Creator of the world to mankind. Every argument used to give an ethical foundation for the exclusive right of private property in land has a latent fallacy.”
Sheldon Amos (The Science of Law) says: “Land, as a subject of ownership, might indeed be treated as belonging to the class of things set apart for the service of the State, though in the earlier stages of the development of the community the quantity of land, and the limited number of uses to which it is capable of being turned, combined to keep this aspect of it out of sight. Yet, in fact, the relation of a State to its territory, which in modern times enters into the essential conception of the State, implies that the land cannot be looked upon, even provisionally, as a true subject of permanent individual appropriation.”
J. A. Froude (History of England) says: “Turning, then, to the tenure of land – for if we would understand the condition of the people, it is to this point that our attention must be first directed – we find that through the many complicated varieties of it there was one broad principle which bore equally upon every class, that the land of England must provide for the defence of England. The feudal system, though practically modified, was still the organising principle of the nation, and the owner of land was bound to military service at home whenever occasion required. Further, the land was to be so administered that the accustomed number of families supported by it should not be diminished, and that the State should suffer no injury from the carelessness of the owners. Land never was private property in that personal sense of property in which we speak of a thing as our own, with which we may do as we please; and in the administration of estates, as indeed in the administration of all property whatsoever, duty to the State was at all times supposed to override private interest or inclination. Even tradesmen who took advantage of the fluctuations of the market were rebuked by Parliament for their ‘greedy and covetous minds,’ as more regarding their own singular lucre and profit than the commonweal of the Realm; and although, in an altered world, neither industry nor enterprise will thrive except under stimulus of self-interest, we may admire the confidence which in another age expected every man to prefer the advantage of the community to his own.
“All land was held upon a strictly military principle. It was the representative of authority, and the holder or the owner took rank in the army of the State according to his connection with it. It was first broadly divided among the great nobility holding immediately under the Crown, who, above and beyond the ownership of their private estates, were the Lords of the Fee throughout their Presidency, and possessed in right of it the services of knights and gentlemen who held their manors under them, and who followed their standard in war. Under the lords of manors, again, small freeholds and copyholds were held of various extent, often forty shillings and twenty shillings in value, tenanted by peasant occupiers, who thus, on their own land, lived as free Englishmen, maintaining by their own free labour themselves and their families. Thus there was a descending scale of owners, each of whom possessed his separate right, which the law guarded and none might violate; yet no one of whom, again, was independent of an authority higher than himself; and the entire body of the English free possessors of the soil was interpenetrated by a coherent organisation which connected them into a perpetually subsisting army of soldiers.”
The central principle of the feudal system was that the entire country belonged to the head of the State, and every tenant paid rent to the State in the form of service. If the tenant failed in his obligations or rebelled against the King, the land was liable to forfeiture. This power of resuming possession is still in existence, although it is exercised in a very different way. Land is now taken out of private hands, only after Parliament has debated the matter, and approved the purpose and the manner of the resumption. Parliament has to be satisfied that the object is a good one. And, whereas formerly the land was simply confiscated by the exercise of the King’s prerogative, it is never taken now without the payment of compensation, usually unnecessarily generous, to the dispossessed holder of it.
The sovereignty of the State (nominally the Crown) is, therefore, much more than a legal fiction, and it is obvious that the dispossession of all landlords, and the consequent nationalisation of all land, could be equitably accomplished by means of the central principle of the feudal system itself, which has never been abolished.
When we study the ancestry and antecedents of the present land system, we are brought face to face with the very interesting and significant fact, that it was developed out of an earlier system in which the private ownership of land, or anything resembling it, was altogether unknown.
It is unquestionable that, in the early days of human societies, so far as we have any record or evidence, the land was regarded as the possession of all the people. No one thought of appropriating it to himself. It was abundant, the population was sparse, and there was enough land for all to use whatever they needed.
The Indian village community, the Russian “Mir,” the German “Mark,” all alike held the land on which they lived as common property. Primitive tribes in our own time hold it in the same way. Under the Clan system in Scotland the land was the property of the Clan as a whole, not the property of the chief of the Clan, as it is regarded now. And, in all Mohammedan countries, the supreme owner of the land is the State, not the individual. An exhaustive study of this aspect of the land question has been made by writers like Émile de Laveleye, Professor Vinogradoff, Sir Henry Maine, and many others.
Émile de Laveleye, in his great standard work, Primitive Property, says: “It is only after a series of progressive evolutions and at a comparatively recent period that individual ownership, as applied to land, is constituted.
“So long as man lived by the chase, by fishing, or gathering wild fruits, he never thought of appropriating the soil, and considered nothing as his own but what he had taken or contrived with his own hands. Under the pastoral system, the notion of property in the soil begins to spring up. It is, however, always limited to the portion of land, which the herds of each tribe are accustomed to graze on, and frequent quarrels break out with regard to the limit of these pastures. The idea that a single individual could claim a part of the soil as exclusively his own never yet occurs to any one; the conditions of the pastoral life are in direct opposition to it.”
Professor Paul Vinogradoff, in Growth of the Manor, says: “The communalistic origin of property in land has been lately much contested. But, in so far as agriculture has historically developed out of pastoral husbandry, there seems to be hardly anything more certain, in the domain of archaic law, than the theory that the soil was originally owned by groups and not by individuals, and that its individual appropriation is the result of a slow process of development.”
Sir Henry Maine, in Village Communities, says: “The facts collected suggest one conclusion which may be now considered as almost proved to demonstration. Property in Land, as we understand it, that is, several ownership, ownership by individuals or by groups not larger than families, is a more modern institution than joint property or co-ownership, that is, ownership in common by large groups of men originally kinsmen, and still, wherever they are found (and they are still found over a great part of the world), believing or assuming themselves to be in some sense of kin to one another. Gradually, and probably under the influence of a great variety of causes, the institution familiar to us, individual property in land, has arisen from the dissolution of the ancient co-ownership.”
Olive Schreiner, in Stray Thoughts on South Africa, says: “Each Bantu tribe holds its land in common, re-appointing it as the increase or diminution of its numbers may require. The doctrine that land can become the private property of one is a doctrine morally repugnant to the Bantu. The idea which is to-day beginning to haunt Europe, that, as the one possible salve of our social wounds and diseases, it might be well if the land should become again the property of the nation at large, is no ideal to the Bantu, but a realistic actuality. He finds it difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile his sense of justice with any other form of tenure.”
Walter Bagehot, in Economic Studies, says: “As is now generally known, the earliest form of landholding was, not individual holding, but tribal owning. In the old contracts of Englishmen with savages nothing was commoner than for the King or chief to sell tracts of land, and the buyers could not comprehend that, according to native notions, he had no right to do so, that he could not make a title to it, and that according to these notions there was no one who could. Englishmen, in all land dealings, looked for some single owner, or at any rate some small number of owners, who had an exceptional right over particular pieces of land; they could not conceive the supposed ownership of a tribe, as in New Zealand, or of a village in India, over large tracts. Yet this joint-stock principle is that which has been by far the commonest in the world, and that which the world began with.”
William Paley, in Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy, says: “Land, which is now so important a part of property, which alone our laws call real property, and regard upon all occasions with such peculiar attention, was probably not made property in any country, till long after the institution of many other forms of property, that is, till the country became populous, and tillage began to be thought of.
“There is a difficulty in explaining the origin of property in land consistently with the law of nature; for the land was once, no doubt, common; and the question is, how any particular part of it could justly be taken out of the common, and so appropriated to the first owner as to give him a better right to it than others, and what is more, a right to exclude all others from it.”
The idea that land is only one out of several kinds of property and is not materially different from them, is not supported by political economists. Our greatest living British economist, Professor Alfred Marshall, in his Principles of Economics, says: “When we have inquired what it is that marks off land from those material things which we regard as products of the land, we shall find that the fundamental attribute of land is its extension. The right to use a piece of land gives command over a certain space – a certain part of the earth’s surface. The area of the earth is fixed: the geometric relations in which any particular part of it stands to other parts are fixed. Man has no control over them; they are wholly unaffected by demand: they have no cost of production, there is no supply price at which they can be produced.
“The use of a certain area of the earth’s surface is a primary condition of anything that man can do. It gives him room for his own actions, with the enjoyment of the heat and the light, the air and the rain, which nature assigns to that area. It determines his distance from, and in a great measure his relations to, other persons. This property of ‘land ‘it is, which, though as yet insufficient prominence has been given to it, is the ultimate cause of the distinction which all writers on economics arc compelled to make between land and other things. It is the foundation of much that is most interesting and most difficult in economic science.”
Professor J. E. Cairnes, in his Political Economy, sums up the position in these words: “Sustained by some of the greatest names, I will say by every man of the first rank in political economy, from Turgot and Adam Smith to Mill, I hold that the land of a country presents conditions which separate it economically from the great mass of the other objects of wealth.”
And the unique nature of land is thus stated by John Stuart Mill in Principles of Political Economy: “The essential principle of property being to assure to persons what they have produced by their own labour and accumulated by their abstinence, this principle cannot apply to what is not the produce of labour, the raw material of the earth. … No man made the land; it is the original inheritance of the whole species. … The land of every country belongs to the people of that country.”
In his Essay on Coleridge, Mill also says: “By the early institutions of Europe, property in land was a public function, created for certain public purposes, and hold under condition of their fulfilment; and as such, we predict, under the modifications suitable to modern society, it will again come to be considered. In this age, when everything is called in question, and when the foundation of private property itself needs to be argumentatively maintained against plausible and persuasive sophisms, one may easily see the danger of mixing up what is not tenable with what is, and the impossibility of maintaining what is an absolute right in the individual to an unrestricted control, a jus utendi et abutendiover an unlimited quantity of the mere raw material of the globe, to which every other person could originally make out as good a natural title as himself. It will certainly not be much longer tolerated that agriculture should be carried on (as Coleridge expresses it) on the same principles as those of trade; that a gentleman should regard his estate as a merchant his cargo, or a shopkeeper his stock; that he should be allowed to deal with it as if it only existed to yield rent to him, not food to the numbers whose hands till it; and should have a right, and a right possessing all the sacredness of property, to turn them out by hundreds and make them perish on the high road, as has been done before now by Irish landlords. We believe that it will soon be thought that a mode of property in land which has brought things to this pass has existed long enough.”
J. B. Say, in his Economic Politique, says: “The earth, as we have already seen, is not the only agent of nature which has a productive power; but it is the only one, or nearly so, that one set of men take to themselves, to the exclusion of others; and of which consequently they can appropriate the benefits. The waters of rivers, and of the sea, by the power which they have of giving movement to our machines, carrying our boats, nourishing our fish, have also a productive power; the wind which turns our mills, and even the heat of the sun, work for us; but happily no one has yet been able to say, ‘The wind and the sun are mine, and the service which they render must be paid for.'”
Adam Smith, in his Wealth of Nations, shows that the rent of land is simply the price paid by one man to another for a licence to use the earth that once was common to all. “The wood of the forest, the grass of the field, and all the natural fruits of the earth, which, when land was in common, cost the labourer only the trouble of gathering them, come, even to him, to have an additional price fixed upon them, when land has become private property. He must then pay for the licence to gather them, and must give up to his landlord a portion of what his labour either collects or produces. This portion, or what comes to the same thing, the price of this portion, constitutes the rent of land.
“The landlord sometimes demands rent for what is altogether incapable of human improvement. Kelp is a species of seaweed, which, when burnt, yields an alkaline salt, useful for making glass, soap, and for several other purposes. It grows in several parts of Great Britain, particularly in Scotland, upon such rocks only as lie within the high-water mark, which are twice every day covered by the sea, and of which the produce, therefore, was never augmented by human industry. The landlord, however, whose estate is bounded by a kelp shore of this kind, demands a rent for it as much as for his corn fields.
“The sea in the neighbourhood of the islands of Shetland is more than commonly abundant in fish, which make a great part of the subsistence of the inhabitants. But, in order to profit by the produce of the water, they must have a habitation upon the neighbouring land. The rent of the landlord is in proportion, not to what he can make of the land, but to what he can make both by the land and the water. It is partly paid in sea-fish.
“The rent of land, therefore, considered as the price paid for the use of land, is naturally a monopoly price. It is not at all proportional to what the landlord may have laid out upon the improvement of the land, or to what he can afford to take; but to what the farmer can afford to give.”
Ricardo, in his Principles of Political Economy, says: “Rent is that portion of the produce of the earth which is paid to the landlord for the use of the original and indestructible powers of the soil.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his essay on Man, The Conservative, says: “The youth, of course, is an innovator by the fact of his birth. There he stands, newly born on the planet, a universal beggar, with all the reason of things, one would say, on his side. In his first consideration how to feed, clothe, and warm himself, he is met by warnings on every hand that this thing and that thing have owners, and that he must go elsewhere. Then he says, ‘If I am born into the earth, where is my part? Have the goodness, gentlemen of this world, to show me my wood-lot, where I may fell my woods, my field where to plant my corn, my pleasant ground where to build my cabin.’
“‘Touch any wood, or field, or house-lot, on your peril,’ cry all the gentlemen of this world,’ but you may come and work in ours, for us, and we will give you a piece of bread.’
“I find this vast network, which you call property, extended over the whole planet. I cannot occupy the bleakest crag of the White Hills of the Alleghany Range but some man or corporation steps up to me to show me that it is his. Now, although I am very peaceable, and on my private account could well enough die, since it appears there was some mistake in my creation, and that I have been missent to this earth, where all the seats were already taken – yet I feel called upon in behalf of rational nature, which I represent, to declare to you my opinion, that, if the earth is yours, so also is it mine. All your aggregate existences are less to me than is my own; as I am born to the earth, so the earth is given to me, what I want of it to till and to plant; nor could I, without pusillanimity, omit to claim so much. I must not only have a name to live, I must live. My genius leads me to build a different manner of life from any of yours. I cannot then spare you the whole world. I love you better. I must tell you the truth practically; and take that which you call yours. It is God’s world and mine; yours as much as you want, mine as much as I want. Besides, I know your ways, I know the symptoms of the disease. To the end of your power you will serve this lie, which cheats you. Your want is a gulf, which the possession of the broad earth would not fill. Yonder sun in heaven you would pluck down and prevent shining on the universe, and make him a property and privacy if you could; and the moon and the north star you would quickly have occasion for in your closet and bed-chamber. What you do not want for use you crave for ornament, and what your convenience could spare your pride cannot.”
Thomas Carlyle, in Past and Present, says: “From much loud controversy and corn-law debating there arises, loud, though inarticulate, once more in these years, this very question among others, who made the land of England? Who made it, this respectable English land, wheat-growing, metalliferous, carboniferous, which will let readily hand over hand for seventy millions and upwards, as it here lies: who did make it? ‘We,’ answer the much-consuming Aristocracy; ‘We,’ as they ride in, moist with the sweat of Melton Mowbray. ‘It is we that made it, or are heirs, assigns, and representatives of those who did.’ My brothers. You? Everlasting honour to you, then; ye are as gods that can create soil. Soil-creating gods there is no withstanding. … Infatuated mortals, into what questions are you driving every thinking man in England?
“Properly speaking the land belongs to these two: To the Almighty God and to all His Children of Men that have ever worked well on it. No generation of men can or could, with never such solemnity and effort, sell Land on any other principle; it is not the property of any generation, we say, but that of all the past generations that have worked on it, and of all the future ones that shall work on it.
“Again, we hear it said, the soil of England, or of any country, is properly worth nothing, except the ‘labour bestowed upon it.’ This, speaking in the language of Eastcheap, is not correct. The rudest space of country – equal in extent to England, could a whole English nation, with all their habitudes, arrangements, skills, with whatsoever they do carry within the skins of them, and cannot be stript of, suddenly take wing and alight on it – would be worth a very considerable thing. Swiftly, within year and day, this English nation, with its multiplex talents of ploughing, spinning, hammering, mining, roadmaking, and trafficking, would bring a handsome value out of such a space of country. On the other hand, fancy what an English nation, ‘once on the wing,’ could have done with itself had there been simply no soil, not even an inarable one, to alight on? Vain all its talents for ploughing, hammering, and whatever else; there is no earth-room for this nation with its talents; this nation will have to keep hovering on the wing, dolefully shrieking to and fro; and perish piecemeal; burying itself, down to the last soul of it, in the waste unfirmamented seas. Ah, yes, soil, with or without ploughing, is the gift of God. The last stroke of labour bestowed on it is not the making of its value, but only the increasing thereof.”
John Ruskin, in Time and Tide, says: “Next, of wholly unjustifiable rents. These are for things which are not, and which it is criminal to consider as, personal or changeable property. Bodies of men, land, water, and air, are the principal of these things. … Bodies of men, or women, then (and much more, as I said before, their souls) must not be bought or sold. Neither must land, nor water, nor air, these being the necessary sustenance of men’s bodies and souls.”
And again, in Munera Pulveris: “These principles the professor (Fawcett) goes on contentedly to investigate, never appearing to contemplate for an instant the possibility of the first principle in the whole business – the maintenance, by force, of the possession of land obtained by force – being ever called in question by any human mind. It is, nevertheless, the nearest task of our day to discover how far original theft may be justly encountered by reactionary theft, or whether reactionary theft be indeed theft at all; and further, what, excluding original or corrective theft, are the just conditions of the possession of land.”
Leo Tolstoy, in The Great Iniquity, says: “The nearest and most obvious evil, private property in land. … The truth that land cannot be an object of property has become so elucidated by the very life of contemporary mankind, that, in order to continue to retain a way of life in which private landed property is recognised, there is only one means – not to think of it, to ignore the truth, and to occupy oneself with other absorbing business. So, indeed, do men of our time. … If Russian political workers do speak about land abuse, which they for some reason call the agrarian question – possibly thinking that this silly word will conceal the substance of the matter – they speak of it not in the sense that private landed property is an evil which should be abolished, but in the sense that it is necessary in some way or other, by various patchings and palliatives, to plaster up, hush up, and pass over this essential, ancient, and cruel, this obvious and crying injustice, which is awaiting its turn for abolition not only in Russia but in the whole world.
“In Russia, where a hundred million of the masses unceasingly suffer from the seizure of the land by private owners, and unceasingly cry out about it, the position of these people, who are vainly searching everywhere, but where it really is, for the means of improving the condition of the people, reminds one exactly of that which takes place on the stage, when all the spectators see perfectly well the man who has hidden himself, and the actors themselves ought to see him but pretend they do not, intentionally distracting each other’s attention and seeing everything except that which is necessary for them to see, but which they do not wish to see.”
And, again, the great Russian seer says: “The evil and injustice of private property in land have been pointed out a thousand years ago by the prophets and sages of old. Later progressive thinkers of Europe have been often and oftener pointing it out. With special clearness did the workers of the French Revolution do so. In latter days, owing to the increase of the population, and the seizing by the rich of a great quantity of previously free land, also owing to general enlightenment and the spread of humanitarianism, this injustice has become so obvious, that not only the progressive, but even the most average, people cannot help seeing and feeling it. But men, especially those who profit by the advantages of landed property – the owners themselves, as well as those whose interests are connected with this institution – are so accustomed to this order of things, they have for so long profited by it, have so much depended upon it, that often they themselves do not see its injustice, and they use all possible means to conceal from themselves and others the truth which is disclosing itself more and more clearly, and to crush, extinguish, and distort it, or, if these do not succeed, to hush it up.”
St. Gregory the Great, the bishop who gave all his great possessions to the poor, and founded the Christian religion in this country 1,300 years ago, gave utterance to the following noble sentiments, which are worthy of lasting remembrance: “This is the way in which we must preach to the people who keep what they have got and help not others. We must give them clearly to understand that the land has been given by God to be the common property of all men, and that its fruits ought to be used for the benefit of all, and that therefore it is ridiculous for them to think that they are not robbing others, and plundering, when they are simply retaining what they have got. I should say that they are committing just so many murders as they have rations locked up in their storehouses.”
Ernest Renan, in his Life of Jesus, says: “In our societies, established upon a very rigorous idea of property, the position of the poor is horrible; they have literally no place under the sun. There are no flowers, no grass, no shade, except for him who possesses the earth. In the East, these are gifts of God, which belong to no one. The proprietor has but a slender privilege: nature is the patrimony of all.”
Alfred Russel Wallace, the great naturalist, in The Why and How of Land Nationalisation, says: “Man cannot live without access to the natural products which are essential to life – to air, to water, to food, to clothing, to fire. If the means of getting these are monopolised by some, then the rest are denied their most elementary right – the right to support themselves by their own labour. But neither pure air, nor water, neither food, clothing, nor fire, can be obtained without land. A free use of land is, therefore, the absolute first condition of freedom to live; and it follows, that the monopoly of land by some must be wrong, because it necessarily implies the right of some to prevent others from obtaining the necessaries of life.”
Judge O’Connor, in his Special Report, as a member of the Royal Commission on Taxation, says: “Now between land and every other form of property there is an obvious, abiding, and essential difference. Every other form of property is transitory, wasting, and destructible, the temporary production of human industry, obtained by labour out of the material which the land supplies; but the land is not of human production; and as no man made it, so no man can destroy it; ‘no man, however feloniously inclined, can run away with an acre of it.’ Man’s very body is built up of its substance; he is taken from it and will return to it; while he lives he must live and labour upon its surface. Equity and right reason would appear to suggest that the product of human industry should be the absolute property of the person or persons who created it, whether the creation be of food, or habitation, or instrument, or any other thing. But with the land it is different. Equity and right reason here suggest that, as access to the face of the globe is for mankind a necessary condition of existence, and yet land is incapable of creation by human industry, the same rule of absolute and exclusive ownership cannot apply. On this point the law of England is in accord with common sense; and according to that law, land is not the subject of absolute property.’ No man is in law the absolute owner of lands. He can only hold an estate in them,’ and that estate he holds under the Crown as representative of the community.
“It is, then, in accordance at once with equity, reason, and the law, to say that England belongs to the English, that the land of England, with all that is beneath its surface, and all that it produces by the unassisted forces of nature, belongs to the people of England. Whatever may at any time be the authorised occupation of its surface, or any part of it, however turned to account – well or ill, or not at all – however its resources, in whatever hands, may be developed or neglected, it is true to say collectively that the land of England belongs to the people of England.
“‘The facts of the existing situation, however (it is not necessary to consider here how they may have been brought about), furnish an extraordinary contrast with this natural and equitable view. The 32,000,000 of acres of land which stretch from Berwick-on-Tweed to Land’s End, and which bear upon their bosom a population of 30,000,000 of human beings, are divided between a comparatively small number of freeholders, collectively holding only a tiny fraction of the inhabitants. These freeholders part with the occupation right of the different portions of the land only on terms, terms which, from generation to generation, and from decade to decade are continually advancing, whilst the overwhelming mass of the community, who are born, live, and labour on it, and are buried in it, can exist on it only on condition of payment to the freeholders. They could live in any other country on the same or perhaps better terms.”
The cumulative effect of the foregoing opinions of some of the foremost writers and thinkers, although not in themselves conclusive, can scarcely fail to show that there is a very strong prima facie case against the landlord system. And, when the facts are carefully studied, they will be found to prove to demonstration the inequity and impolicy of any longer allowing land to be bought and sold in the market as if it were an ordinary commodity made with human hands.