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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 37

How the People became taxed: Land Tenure

page 45

How the People became taxed: Land Tenure.

The illegal alienation of the Crown estates, partly by sale and partly by gift, is a scandalous chapter in English history. Against it the Parliament again and again protested, and often effected a resumption of the estates. Richard the First, after selling some of them and using the purchase-money, took back the lands himself, alleging that the sale had been essentially beyond his power.

Howeyer, after the abbey-lands had been distributed among the aristocracy by Henry the Eighth, Parliament was dumb, so many having eaten the sop; and the alienation of Crown lands went on, until at last the whole taxation of the country (which ought now, as originally, to have been defrayed by rent of land) was shifted off on to trade and industry. The landholders passed laws to exempt themselves from feudal service, so as to hold their rents for nothing, and presented the king with a tax on beer!

It is strange to add that the commercial part of the community was so far from resisting or resenting this great financial revolution (which was really a gigantic fraud on the nation, and peculiarly on the towns) that they practically aided it, owing to their great desire to see land converted into a purely commercial article.

No sooner' has a man become wealthy in trade than he desires to become master of a landed estate by purchase.

But the old law did not allow a nobleman or baronet to sell his estate; for it was a fraud on his successors to take in ready money the value of the land for ever!

The conspiracy went on against the law for two or three centuries between impoverished landholders, wealthy merchants, and cunning attorneys; whose combined force, aided be the decision of judges, overturned the old feudal theory and worked into the English mind the commercial idea of land, something to be bought and sold freely in the market.

The barons' courts were suppressed by those of the king; the barons' soldiers were thought less trustworthy than an army raised by the king's own functionaries, and paid by money from the Parliamentary taxes.

Thenceforward the crown left off caring that a large num- page 46 ber of men serviceable for war should be sustained on ever estate; Henry the Seventh's parliaments aided the king policy of breaking entails: commercial notions of land prevailed, and in process of time landholders claimed a right to their estates as if no one else had a right in them.

To eject the population in mass is a very modern enormity It is thought peculiarly Irish; yet nowhere perhaps was? done more boldly, more causelessly, and more heartlessly than from the Sutherland estates of northern Scotland early in 1808. Between the years 1811 and 1820, 15,000 person were driven off the lands of the Marchioness of Stafford alone; all their villages were pulled down or burnt, and their fields turned into a pasturage. A like process was carried on about the same time by seven or eight neighboring lords, The human inhabitants were thus ejected in order that sheer might, take their place—because some one had persuaded there great landholders that sheep would Pay Better than hum beings!

We read how William the Conqueror burnt villages at ejected the people by hundreds in order to make a hunting ground in the New Forest. This deed, which has bee execrated by all who relate it, seemed an extreme of tyranny yet our courts of law and our parliaments allow the same thing to be done by smaller tyrants. And the public sits by and mourns to think that people deal so unkindly with that which is their own.

Here is the fundamental error—the crude and monstrous assumption that the land which God has given to our nation is or can be the private property of Anyone. It is a usurpation exactly similar to that of slavery. The slavemaster calls himself slaveowner, and pleads that he has purchased the slave, and that the law has pronounced slaves to be chattels.

We reply that the law is immoral and unjust, and that to one could sell what was not his own, and that no number of such sales can destroy the rights of man.

All this applies to land. The land was not regarded as private property by our old law; it is not to this day treated by the law on the same footing as moveables; and there ate many other persons who have rights in a piece of land besides him who gets rent from it. The lord of the manor page 47 has his dues, but this does not annihilate the claims of others. For land is not only a surface that pays rent, but a surface to five upon; and the law ought to have cared, and ought still to care, for those who need the land for life as much as for those who have inherited or bought a title to certain fruits from it.

Economists have accepted as fact the commercial doctrine of land. Their science is not to blame for it; but some of them, as individuals, are to blame for having so much sympathy with the rich and so little with the poor, as not to see the iniquity of such a state of things; but rather to panegyrise English industry as living under glorious advantages; where the laborer on the soil has no tenure in it—no direct and visible interest in its culture—no security that he may not be driven off from it in order to swell the rental of on who calls himself its owner.

(Prof. Newman.)