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THE TENURE OF LAND.
BY A. G. JOHNSON, ESQ.
(Concluded from page 432, Vol. II.) After a careful consideration of the facts which we have given, we think no candid reader will deny that the tenure of land has an important influence upon the people and government of every country, and that the condition and character of the former, and the form, spirit, and duration of the latter are intimately connected with, and modified by the laws regulating the ownership, transfer, and inheritance of land. We now proceed to the discussion of some of the questions which grow out of the subject.
And first, are large or small farms most favourable to production ?
In India, where the land was divided into small allotments, cultivated by the owners who could not alienate their estate; where pasturage was excluded, and agriculture was aided by a religious probibition of animal food; where the only tax was a fixed tribute paid by a district to the native prince or Rajah; and the existence of caste prevented the degradation of the higher, or the elevation of the lower classes, the fertility of the earth was tasked to the uttermost, and no other country ever supported so dense a population to a square mile.
In ancient Egypt, while the priests were agriculturists, and each had his parcel of land; while even the warrior caste, the hereditary soldiers of the state, formed a standing army of farmers, each possessing his inalienable acre; while every inhabitant of the thronged cities had a distinct allotment of the Nile's alluvion, the production of the country was more than sufficient for its over dense and well-ordered population, and the people of other lands, in times of scarcity and famine, found “corn in Egypt.” In that age, too, were raised the obelisks, the pyramids, the cities, and temples,
“Of which the very ruins are tremendous.” Palestine, which in the days of Abraham was a common pasturefield for the flocks and herds of the shepherd patriarchs, subsequently, under the agrarian law of Moses, and the system of universal tillage produced by its operation, and while the periodical restoration of the sand to its original proprietors preserved a certain equality among the citizens of the commonwealth, became fertile, populous, and powerful, and never again knew a time of scarcity and famine like that which drew Jacob and his sons into Egypt. Its agricultural system was the VOL. III. DEC. 1849.
recuperative power, which renewed the strength and wealth of the nation after its destroying civil wars, and the desolating invasions of the Assyrian and Persian conquerors. This system, which gave vitality to the nation, was not wholly broken up till the destruction of Jerusalem, and the dispersion of the Jews by Vespasian and Titus. Since that time the plains of Palestine have been the battle-fields where the Roman and Parthian, the Byzantine emperors and Arabian caliphs, the Crusader and Saracen, have struggled for faith and for dominion.
Greece was never very populous, and whenever the citizens of the leading states became too numerous for their agricultural resources, a swarm would be sent forth to seek a habitation elsewhere. The coasts of Asia Minor and Italy, the islands of the Mediterranean, the shores of the Adriatic and Black Seas, were settled by Grecian colonies. Colonization, and incessant wars at home or abroad, relieved Greece of its supernumerary citizens. The land owned by the aristocracy, and cultivated by slaves, did not produce enough to sustain the population. Poverty and idleness was the lot of the great mass of freemen, and the demagogue who would obtain their suffrages had to feed as well as fatter them.
After the destruction of Carthage, the agriculture of Italy no longer sufficed to support its population. Sicily became the granary of Rome. The senators monopolized all the wealth of the state; the population of the city was chiefly composed of slaves and freedmen; the citizens were enlisted in the legions, and employed in constant aggressive wars.
every interval of peace they clamoured for a division of the land acquired by their valour, but usurped by the nobility. War withdrew from the walls of the city the turbulent freemen, and enabled the aristocracy to add to their own possessions, and at the same time feed the populace from the spoils of the world. Their power lasted till the last nation of the civilized world submitted to their sway, and then passed into the hands of Cæsar. Henceforth, senators and citizens, patrician and plebeian, wore the same yoke. Cæsar crushed the empty shell of the commonwealth-Roman liberty had perished long before.
In Holland, which is more densely populated than any other country in Europe, the land is minutely divided for agricultural purposes. Vast lakes and morasses are drained, and kept dry by ineans of pumps worked by wind-mills and steam engines. The drained lands are called polders. Nearly all the agricultural land of the Netherlands is thus redeemed from the water by the operation of wind-mills. It is said that there are in Holland 9000 of these mills, and that each mill drains 600 acres. This vast system of drainage is accomplished in two ways. Companies are formed under the authority of government, who build dykes, erect mills, make the land dry, and then divide it among themselves, or sell it to others. Or, if the work is too great and expensive for private enterprise, the government undertakes the drainage, as in the case of the Harlaem sea, and then sells the land,
the purchasers being bound to maintain the dykes, and keep it dry at the common expense. All newly poldered land is exempt from taxation for twenty years. These poldered lands are divided into lots, and cultivated by the owners, or farmed out to tenants.
In England, Scotland, and Ireland, the people all, nominally, enjoy personal freedom. The agricultural labourers are neither serfs or slaves. But, as in the Sclavonian countries, there is a privileged nobility who are the great land-holders and hereditary rulers of the country. Almost all the cultivated land is leased from year to year, or for short periods, at enormous rents. In England, the tpass of the people is employed in mercantile, mechanical, or manufacturing business. The products of agriculture meet with a quick and certain sale. A deficiency is readily supplied by importation from America, or the continent. But owing to the fact that the commerce and manufactures of England give employment to so large a number of the poor and landless, the agricultural labourers bear a less proportion to the whole population than in any other country in the world. The land is not subdivided into such small farms, and the profit to the lessees is greater than if they were compelled to lease smaller tracts. But these farmers have to furnish all the stock, all the implements of husbandry, pay all the taxes, and then an enormous rent for the privilege of cultivating the land.
The people of Ireland have no commerce, no manufactures. Agriculture is their sole business. The land is leased in small allotinents, and at such high rates that nothing but good health and good weather will enable the tenant to live; the failure of either exloses him 10 starvation. The rental of Ireland is the running issue which drains the life.blood of the nation. Most of the land owners live abroad, and their income goes to pay the interest on mortgages, or is spent in the dissipations of London and Paris. If the potato crop fails, a famine is inevitable. Not because the land has not yielded its increase abundantly, but because every thing but the potato goes to the landholder, and rent and tithe are exacted to the utmost farthing. During the late horrible famine, the exports of grain from Ireland were of more value than all the contributions of the charitable.
In France, when from any cause there happened to be a more equable distribution of land than at other periods, the age was characterized as the time of the gooil Louis Eleventh, or the good Henry Fourth. The epochs thus distinguished, happen to be when the crusades or civil wars had destroyed and impoverished the aristocracy, and they were obliged to sell their land to the rich merchants and farmers. In 1792, the constituent assembly abolished all feudal rights and tenures. Laws were passed by which real estate was divided equally among heirs, male and female, and the right to devise it by last will and testailent denied. The code Napoleon did not materially alter these laws. The result of this new dist:ibution of land and property was seen throughout France. An excessive stimulus was every where imparted to French industry. Notwithstanding the expense of Napoleon's wars, France incurred no national debt, and after the slaughter and carnage of twenty-five years, she was more populous in 1815 than in 1790. The proprietors of land number about half of the population, and however sorely the ouvriers of Paris and the manufacturing cities may suffer for want of work and bread, the rural population was never so well fed, so well clothed, and independent.
Probably the most profitable cultivation in the world may be found on the baronial estates of Germany; in Saxony, Silesia, Moravia, Wirtemberg, Bohemia, Hungary. But whose is the profit? The baronial lord's. For him the serf and the peasant toil." He lives in luxury and magnificence, while they have a bare subsistence. All the surplus production of these great estates, over and above what is essential for the most frugal maintenance of the serf or peasant, is sold for the benefit of the great landbolder, and his is all the profit. The fine wool of the estates of the princes Lichnowsky and Esterhazy finds its way into the looms of Holland, France, and England, whilst the poor peasant and serf, whose labour and care have produced the staple of the soft fabrics, is clad in the coarsest stuffs. The value of his production goes into the coffers of Lichnowsky and Esterhazy, and supplies the funds to maintain their castles and palaces in splendour and magnifi
An important inquiry connected with this subject, is whether a nation of small proprietors is as capable of conducting a defensive war as a nation of large landholders.
During the middle ages, when the serfs were unarmed, and all battles were but contests between armed horsemen, no military defence of the open country was possible, and the only places of safety were castles and fortresses, built with high walls and battlements upon inaccessible precipices. Before the musket and pistol equalized the strength of men, and rendered defensive armour useless and cumbersome; before the Swiss farmers at Morgarten had annihilated the splendid cavalry of Charles the Bold of Burgundy, it was thought that peasants and labourers could not make soldiers. From the days of Charlemagne to the French Revolution, was there ever a war waged for the rights of the people, except the defensive wars of the Swiss mountaineers ?
Was not the weakness of Poland, and is not the liability of all Sclavonian countries to be overrun by invasion, owing to the fact that the cultivators of the soil have no interest, and take no part in any war? The nobility, too, are ninety-nine hundredths of them landless, and poor, improvident, proud, and purchasable, and gold is as efficacious in making traitors in council and field, as Philip found it in opening the gates of Grecian cities.
Who does not remember and admire the unflinching and unconquerable resistance of the German Tyrolese to the French invaders, and
the terrible defeat and murderous slaughter with which they repulsed every effort to subdue their hills and valleys? Allison tells us that these men have homes as well as wives.
In our revolutionary war, the only portions of the country permanently occupied by the British, were the cities, and the only cities held for any length of time were those surrounded by territory owned by large landholders. Howe was driven from Boston by a swarm of the small proprietors of New England, and Burgoyne was surrounded by farmers from the east, each of whom brought his rifle or musket, with which he had been accustomed to make war upon the inhabitants of the forest.
In our recent war with Mexico, who anticipated so easy a conquest? Why was it possible for six thousand men to penetrate to Monterey, and for twelve thousand to march through a populous country to the city of Mexico? May we not solve the mystery of Mexican weakness, and explain the facility of American conquest by the fact that the land of Mexico is the property of a few great proprietors, whose avarice, selfishness, pride, and ambition, are the bane of the government, while the mass of the people is a lack-land, poverty-stricken, ignorant, superstitious, degraded, amalgamation of Indian, Negro, and Spanish races, whose labour is perpetually mortgaged to the aristocratic landholders, a legal relation equivalent in its debasing tendencies to slavery or serfage?
Another question connected with the subject is, the danger which statesmen have apprehended, that the usurpation of a popular demagogue could not be so well resisted by a people among whom the land was minutely divided, as by a people among whom there was a class whose great wealth and consequent power could hold in check, and overawe the ambitious. The fact that every aristocratic government, except England, whether its executive head was a consul, an hereditary, or elective king, has gradually changed into an unlimited and unmixed despotism, ought to stagger these doubters, and put an end to such apprehensions.
As France and the United States are the only countries in which, to abolish all titular distinctions, and promote the distribution of land and the general diffusion of property, have been the great aims and object of governmental policy, it is in their history and fate that this problem is to be settled.
The question was so ably discussed by the Hon. Daniel Webster in a speech delivered as long ago as 1821, in the Massachusetts convention for altering the constitution, that we will quote his remarks, calling the attention of our readers to the remarkable conjecture, contained in the last paragraph, and which has proved to be a prophecy fulfilled.
“A most interesting experiment of the effect of a subdivision of property, on government, is now making in France. It is understood that the law regulating the transmission of property in that country,