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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 71

English Land Restoration League

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English Land Restoration League.


Whereas the English people have been gradually deprived of their rights in the soil of their native land:

And whereas the appropriation to the few of the land on which and from which the people of England must live is an efficient cause of dulness of trade, lowness of wages, the idleness of men who should be at work, the forcing of women and children to unnatural toil, the depopulation of agricultural districts, the crowding of city slums, the sapping of national strength by forced emigration, the physical and mental deterioration due to unwholesome employment and lodgings, and of the vice and crime that spring from poverty:

It is therefore the duty of all Englishmen to secure the restoration of England to its true owners, the people of England.

With this aim we ask the co-operation of all who agree to the following statement of principle and purpose:—

Land being the dwelling place, storehouse, and workshop of men—the natural element necessary to labour and life—it cannot be treated as the private property of individuals without enabling the idle to live upon the industrious, and giving to individuals undue control of the industry, happiness, and lives of their fellows.

The equal right of every citizen to life involves an equal right to the use and enjoyment of the land of his country. This right begins with birth, and terminates with death, attaching to each human being while he lives, and no longer: so that no number of individuals can justly grant away the equal right of other individuals to land, and no generation can grant away the rights of future generations.

While the land of every country, by indefeasible title, thus belongs in common to the living people of that country, unfettered by any grants, bargains, or sales made by preceding generations, it is equally manifest that the produce of labour rightfully belongs, by similar indefeasible title, to those whose industry and skill produce it. To secure this right of property in the produce of labour—a right which is necessary to the improvement and use of land—the user or improver of land must be guaranteed its secure possession, subject to the acknowledgment of the proprietary right of the whole people to the land itself, and to payment to the community of a fair equivalent for those advantages which attach to its use by reason of the growth and progress of the community. Therefore, the value of land as distinguished from the value of the improvements made upon it by the user—a value created not by the particular user or improver, but by the growth of the whole community—belongs rightfully to the community, and should be taken for public uses, leaving the producer the full recompense of his industry.

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To secure the equal rights of all to their native land, while at the same time securing the full right of private property, it is therefore necessary to reassert the ancient English principle that land is not, and cannot become, the property of individuals, but belongs inalienably to the whole people, of whom all holders of land are tenants. In accordance with this principle, all rent for the use of land is due to the people, constituting a common fund, to the benefits of which all are equally entitled, and which may he used for the defrayal of common expenses, or for such purposes as the people, by such governments as they choose to create, may deem best.

As the easiest and best method of reasserting these ancient English principles, and restoring England to the ownership of the English people, we propose to reverse the process by which the landowning and law-making class have gradually escaped from the payment to the State of the rents and dues originally annexed to grants of land, and have thrown upon industry the burden of taxation.

We propose to abolish all the taxation which now bears upon labour, improvement and thrift, which increases the cost of commodities and enjoyments, and titles men for adding to the common wealth.

We propose to increase taxation on land until the whole annual value is taken for the public benefit; and, finally, to make the English people themselves the landlords of England.

As a first step to this end, we shall demand of our representatives in Parliament a re-imposition of the tax of four shillings in the pound on the current value of land, irrespective of whether it is rented, used, or kept idle by the holder. And we shall also demand, at the same time, a measure giving all local governments the power to collect rates from an assessment upon the value of land, exclusive of buildings or improvements, and irrespective of use.

We propose to achieve our end—the complete restoration of English land to the English people—as rapidly as may be. Yet such is the strength of the opposition to be overcome, that our progress must be gradual, during which ample warning will be given, and all interests be afforded opportunity to adjust themselves to the new order of things. The question of compensation is therefore a purely theoretical one. But since it has been raised, we prefer to meet it by declaring that we cannot tolerate the idea that the people of England shall be compelled to buy back the land which is theirs by natural right, or to compensate those who now appropriate their earnings for the loss of power to appropriate those earnings in the future. Whatever plan the classes who have profited by, and are responsible for, the existing injustice may choose to adopt to equalise among themselves any losses they may suffer in the restoration of the soil of England to the English people, we insist that those who have suffered, and are now suffering, from this injustice shall not be called upon to bear part in it.

The English Land Restoration League asks the co-operation of all who accept the principle thus set forth.

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The Landlord's Claims on Society.

Many years ago a company of tradesmen united themselves into a guild, and each one had to relate what he could contribute to its support.

First the blacksmith came forward and said:

"Gentlemen, I wish to become a member of your organisation."

"Well, what can you do?"

"Oh, I can make springs and axles for your carriages, shoe your horses, and make all kinds of implements."

"Very well, come in, Mr. Blacksmith."

The mason applied for admission into the society.

"What can you do, sir?"

"I can build your bains, bridges, houses, and stables."

"Very well, come in; we cannot do without you."

Along comes the shoemaker and says:

"I wish to become a member of your society."

"Well, what can you do?"

"I can make boots and shoes for you."

"Come in, Mr. Shoemaker; we must have you."

In turn all the trades and professions applied, till at last an individual came who wanted to become a member.

"And what are you?"

"I am a landlord."

"A landlord? And what can you do?"

"I can hunt and fish and win prizes at pigeon matches."

"But what do you do for a livelihood?"

"Oh, I take toll of all of you. The labourer pays me for the right to dig, the miner to burrow in the earth, and the bricklayer to build a house."

"But what can you do?"

"I can make your laws, and when I have made them I can administer them. If a man snares a hare I give him six months; if he shoots a snipe J give him three. I can drive men to desperation, and to the uttermost parts of the earth. I can prevent the erection of cottages, or the building of a Methodist chapel. I can look on, and take the larger share of the prosperity of the farmer, the shopkeeper, and the manufacturer; I can keep up an army of paupers."

"And what else can you do?"

"I can bring the grey hairs of the aged to the grave with sorrow; I can break the heart of the wife, and blast the prospects of men of talent and enterprise, and till the land with more than the plagues of Egypt."

"Is that all you can do?"

"Good heavens! is not that enough?"

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The People's Jubilee.

The Bible and the Land Question.

A few years ago we were all talking of the "Jubilee.'

What is a "Jubilee"? The Hebrew books which we call the Old Testament will tell us. The Bible Jubilee was not a "Queen's Jubilee," for the Hebrews were warned by their great religious and political teachers against the evils of monarchy (I. 8am. viii. 10). It was not celebrated by the erection of an "Imperial Institute," or of a "Church House," or by the passing of a Coercion Act. But it was the "People's Jubilee"; and it was kept by a great Act of Land Restoration.

The teaching of the Bible about the Land condemns Landlordism. There is only one land-lord—the God who created the land—and for any one of God's creatures to call himself a landlord is an act of blasphemy against God and of robbery against man. "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." "The earth is the Lord's"—and not "the landlords'." "The earth hath He given to the children of men"—not to a few individuals, or a few thousand privileged families, but to the whole human race. "The land shall not be sold for ever (i.e., ' in perpetuity 'or' in freehold ') for the land is Mine," saith the Lord, "for ye are strangers and sojourners with Me" (Levit. xxv. 23).

Such were the principles upon which the Mosaic Land Laws were based. The land itself cannot be the absolute property of any individual: it belongs to God alone. The use of the laud belongs in equal right to all God's children—to the whole human race, and to every generation of it. "So that no number of individuals can justly grant away the equal rights of other individuals to land, and no generation can grant away the rights of future generations."

The Hebrews in Canaan carried out these principles in their own national life. As they all had equal lights to the land, they made an equal division of the common heritage (Numb. xxvi. 52). In fact they nationalised the land: that is, they gave effect in their law to the principle that the land was the common possession of the whole body of the people. And as they were a nation of farmers and shepherds, all wanting to work directly on the land, the best way of nationalising the land was to divide it equally among the people; though this would be by no means the best way, or a good way at all, in a commercial and manufacturing country like ours. They classed the man who tried to rob another of his equal right to the land among the vilest of criminals (Deut. xxvii. 14—26). "Cursed be he that removeth his neighbour's landmark. And all the people shall say, Amen."

Thus, when the Hebrews began their national life in Canaan, they page 11 all "started fair." Every man had direct and free access to the soil upon which and from which all must live, and no landlord could compel him to pay rent for the right to live and work, flow different would life be in England, which calls itself Christian, if every one of us had a "fair chance" of getting an honest living by his own industry.

But this same "fair chance" was equally the right of each new generation. And so every fifty years came the Year of Jubilee, to preserve and restore this just system of land nationalisation. If a man had lost his share in the national heritage—by carelessness, or drunkenness, or idleness, or misfortune—the law did not allow that his children should be condemned to live all their lives as outcasts and paupers. At the next Year of Jubilee they were restored to their rights, "all contracts of sale to the contrary notwithstanding." (See Levit. xxv.)

When a man lost his hold upon the land, he sank into the condition of a wage-slave; that is, he was obliged to go and work as a "hired servant" upon land belonging to someone else (Levit. xxv. 39-41). But the Year of Jubilee set the wage-slave free, by restoring to him his equal right to the use of the land. So, too, if we wish to set free the wage-slaves of our great cities from their grinding toil, we must work for the Restoration of the land to the People.

This is why the Year of Jubilee was called a year of liberty. "Ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a Jubilee unto you." True liberty does not exist where the land is the monopoly of the few; the man who owns the land practically owns the men who live upon the land. The wage-slaves in our English towns are often worse fed, worse clothed, worse housed, and harder worked than were the chattel slaves in the cotton fields of the Southern States. Landlordism is disguised slavery, and is the more dangerous because of its disguise. Perhaps this is why Moses, the Hebrew legislator, permitted slavery under certain severe restrictions, but would not permit landlordism under any conditions whatever.

Let those, therefore, who wish to bring about a real Jubilee—a Jubilee of the people—join the English Land Restoration League, which is working for the abolition of landlordism.

Let us say through our Members in Parliament what the Hebrew statesman Nehemiah said to the landlords of his day:—

"Restore, I pray you, to them, Even this Day, their lands, their vineyards, their olive-yards, and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money, and of the corn, the wine, and the oil, that ye exact of them."

Will English landlords answer as honestly as did the Hebrew landlords before them?

"Then said they, we will Restore them, and Will Require nothing of them; so will we do as thou sayest" (Neh. v. 11-12). F. V.

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A Story about Wind-Lords.

"It is related that a certain Eastern potentate fell into the impecunious condition common to many of his predecessors, and set his wits to work to devise a remedy. A farmer of imposts, who had often aided him in this dilemma, came to his rescue. He offered him sixty thousand tomans for all the winds that should ever blow over Cashmere. The monarch at first affected to be staggered at the proposition. He was unable to find anything in precedents to warrant it, but although a believer in the doctrine that whatever is is right, he was forced to admit that a monarch may introduce useful innovations. Of course it was assumed that he was the supreme owner and disposer of all things in his dominions, not only for his own brief, erratic span of life, but for all time, and so he came to the conclusion that as everything in the world had been sold which could be sold, there was no good reason why the winds, unstable though they might be, should be exempted if a purchaser could be found. After a proper amount of preliminary haggling, a sale was made, and the transaction legalised by all that signatures, seals, and parchment could do for it.

"Before the public had fairly got over laughing at the absurdity of this novel bargain, the owner of the wind issued a proclamation forbidding all persons in Cashmere from using his wind to turn their windmills, winnow their corn, propel their vessels, or employ it in any other manner, until they had first entered into agreements with him, and obtained leases for the various localities, covenanting to pay certain amounts for the privilege. Then the laughing turned to lamentation. The monarch met the torrent of petitions and complaints by affecting to deplore the circumstance. He could not foresee, of course, all that had occurred, but his sacred word was involved. Rulers of that type are usually very particular about their sacred word. Driven to desperation, the inhabitants contributed the amount that had been paid for the wind, and tendered it to the sovereign, so that this unheard-of transaction could be cancelled.

"The matter was not to be so easily arranged. The owner of the winds of Cashmere would not think of such a thing. He had acquired a vested right in them. Since it had become purchasable the wind had greatly risen—in price at least. Wind stocks were on the upward market. The owner insisted that his title was good. He did not claim it merely by his right of discovery of the commercial value of the wind, or that he had been the first to pre-empt this privilege, but he had fairly bought it from the representative of government, and declared that his title was begirt, and founded on all that was sacred in law on the theory of eminent domain and supreme authority. It would be altogether unfair to ask him to surrender this valuable page 13 privilege for anything less than what it might bring him in case he should be allowed to keep it. The proposition of the people was merely a bald scheme of robbery. It was subversive of all property rights; was socialistic, agrarian, and revolutionary: and to force him to accept of a price so inadequate would strike a fatal blow at the best interests of society, and undermine the whole fabric on which the rights of property rested.

"This reasoning was, of course, entirely conclusive to the monarch, who was undoubtedly the confederate of the fanner of imposts: but, as human endurance can only be stretched to certain limits, it was agreed between them that a fair price for the winds, at that date, would be ten times what was originally paid for it. This amount was finally raised by a long-suffering people, who merely exacted a promise from the commercial monarch that he would never sell the wind again, but permit it in God's providence to blow over them free and unrestricted as of yore."

How absurd this tale appears! But, when we have done laughing at these foolish people of Cashmere, let us remember that Laud is at least as necessary to life and labour, and is quite as much the free gift of Nature, as are the Winds of Heaven. Yet we have foolishly allowed nearly all the land (and a good deal of the water) of England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, to become the private "property' of individuals; and some of these are now demanding "Compensation' before they will allow the people to use their own.

[For the little story quoted above we are indebted to Mr. W. A. Phillips' "Labour, band, and Law: A Search for the Missing Wealth of the Working Poor." (New York: Scribner). The idea of making a charge for the use of the wind is not so extravagantly absurd as may at first sight appear. Many people now living can recall the time when the very light of Heaven was taxed to pay for war. The people were deprived of ventilation as well as of light by the Window Tax, for it was forbidden to knock a hole in the wall of a room in case light should enter as well as "wind."]

All who are willing to aid in circulating leaflets on the Land Question are earnestly requested to communicate with Fredk. Verinder, Secretary of the English Land Restoration League, 8, Duke Street, Adelphi, London, W,C, from whom specimens and all information may be obtained.


Printed by D. J. Wrrght, Albert Street, Auckland,