Frederic Clemson Howe.

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Published March, 1910








Down to the beginning of the nineteenth century
government was merely the will of a class. Politics
mirrored the wish of the privileged orders. And the
motive which inspired the governing classes was
primarily an economic one. This interpretation of
politics has only begun to influence the writing of
history. Yet in this motive is to be found the cause
of wars and of peace, of intrigue and of diplomacy,
of force and of fraud, of practically all legislation
relating to religion, taxation, industry, and the rela-
tion of classes. The struggles of kings and parlia-
ments, of burghers and peasants, of cities and over-
lords had their origin in the desire to use the
agencies of government for the advantage of one or
the other of the contending orders. We have only
to study the Parliamentary struggle which has just
closed in Great Britain, to see a confirmation of
this fact. In this instance the conflict was carried
on by peaceful means. But the motive of the
struggle was the same. It was a warfare of classes,
organized through parties instead of with armed
retainers, but bent on the control of the govern-
ment for economic advantage.


During these centuries religion was the hand-
maiden of the class which ruled. It aided in the
creation of a moral code which kept the masses of
the people in subjection, and contented with their
lot. It taught the paralyzing ethics of obedience,
of reverence, of humility, of duty. All of the rela-
tions of society were created by the class which
ruled. And the class which ruled was the class
which owned. Its constant aim was to control the
distribution of wealth.

When society emerged from the anarchy of the
Middle Ages, law was substituted for the reign of
force, which the ruling classes had employed in an
earlier age. And by means of law humanity was
made to obey. By law the feudal lord reared him-
self above the serf just as the patrician had reared
himself above the pleb. And through the aid of
religion, education, and the administration of justice,
law was given a solemn and religious sanction.
Through these agencies the economic framework of
society, as well as the relations of classes, was ad-
justed to suit the will of the ascendant class.

''The holders of riches always appropriate to
themselves political authority," says Achille Loria,
the eminent Italian economist. This ''is common
to the various historical phases of capitalistic prop-
erty. It is the class that predominates economi-
cally that holds the political power in each historical
period. Thus in the Grseco-Italian world it was


the slave-owning class, in the Middle Ages it was
the feudal lords, and at the present epoch it is the
bourgeois proprietors who are politically supreme."'

To what extent has democracy shifted this
ascendancy? How far do the laws of America re-
flect the popular will and the economic relations of
men correspond to the new distribution of power?
Has the political revolution of the nineteenth cen-
tury carried with it a revolution in the economic
environment, which, in the last analysis, controls
the life, the liberty, the morals, and the well-being
of humanity? For man's^whgle Jife is moulded by
his economic environment^ And this is made by
law. Not by natural law, not by moral law, not
alone by the common law, but by the laws enacted
by Congress at Washington, by the legislatures of
our states, and by the councils in our cities. More
than anything else, statute law determines the well-
being of the people. More than anything else, it
controls the distribution of wealth.

In the past, at least, law has been the fountain
of servitude as well as of liberty, of injustice as well
as of justice, of poverty as well as prosperity, of
crime as well as of the punishment which it sought
to prevent. And many are asking to-day whether
conditions have really changed. Do not the few
still elevate themselves upon the backs of the
many by means of law, by means of the control of

' The Economic Foundations of Society, p. 28.


government and the agencies of justice and public
opinion? Is there not truth in the suggestion that
society itself is responsible for the wreckage which
industry has cast upon our shores? Are not pov-
erty and the attendant evils of ignorance, disease,
vice, and crime the children of our own flesh and
blood? Have not the liberties, which represent
centuries of sacrifice and suffering, only conferred
upon humanity the shadow of power, while the sub-
stance is still in the hands of an ascendant class,
which has made use of the new machinery as readily
as it did the old ? These are questions which under-
lie all others in the unrest which is expressing itself
in city, state, and nation. These are the questions
which are challenging authority in every country
in the world. And it is these questions that tliis

book aims to consider.

Frederic C. Howe.

Clevelaj^d, Ohio, January, 1910.



I. The Lure op the Land 3

II. The Economic Foundations op Democracy . . 18

III. The Rape of the Nation 28

IV. The Strangle Hold of Monopoly 45

V. The Tools of Privilege 58

VI. The New Serfdom 71

VII. Some of the Costs op Tenancy 83

VIII. The Evolution of Serfdom 94

IX. The Tyranny of the Dead 106

X. The Servitude op To-morrow 113

XI. The Unearned Increment 122

XII. A Feudal Survival 138

XIII. "From Him That Hath Not Shall Be Taken

Away Even That Which He Hath "... 148

XIV. Some op the Costs of Land Monopoly. . . . 160
XV. The Future op Labor 173

XVI. The Distribution of Wealth 185

XVII. The Ascendancy of Privilege 202

XVIII. An Overlooked Cause op Poverty 215

XIX. The Cause op Civilization and Decay .... 231

XX. The Economic Foundations of Morals , . . 243

XXI. The Remedy Proposed 255

XXII. The Remedy Considered 264



XXIII. The New Dispensation 276

XXIV. The Open Dooe and the Open Highway . . . 287
XXV. The Democracy op To-morrow 294

Appendix I 303

Appendix II 306

Index 311



In the development of America may be seen the
development of Western civilization. Here as else-
where evolution has followed a sequence as orderly
as it was inevitable. All Europe as well as all
America has been fashioned by the same economic
influences and the political, social, and industrial
problems of the present day all trace their origins
back to beginnings in very early times, while the
long migration of peoples, which has finally reached
an impassable barrier by the western seas, is but
the continuation of a movement which has been in
progress since long before the Christian era. As the
eminent Italian economist, Achille Loria, says:
''America has the key to the historical enigma which
Europe has sought for centuries in vain, and the
land which has no history reveals luminously the
course of universal history."

This is most obvious in the migrations of peoples,
migrations which are not confined to those of the
barbarian hordes, which swept over the face of Eu-
rope in the centuries which followed the dismember-
ment of the Roman Empire. For the population of
the world has been in migration from the beginnings



of recorded history, and so far as Western civiliza-
tion is concerned the movement has always been
away from the east. The centre of civilization
shifted from the rivers of Mesopotamia to Egypt
and Palestine. Thence it passed on into Greece,
where in the fifth and fourth centuries B. C. it gave
birth to a philosophy, literature, and art that have
remained the inspiration of subsequent centuries.
Colonies were settled all about the shores of the
Mediterranean Sea. Then, as now, men were lured
from their ancestral homes by the dreams of new
countries where opportunity still was free. Among
the colonies so founded was Rome. From the seven
hills upon the river Tiber the settlement expanded
into a nation, just as, many centuries later, the settle-
ments in Massachusetts and Virginia were the seeds
of a new people. Roman arms carried the Roman
eagles over the entire peninsula of Italy. In time
all Spain, Germany, Africa, and the East acknowl-
edged the dominion of the Republic.

During the first few centuries of the Republic
conditions of life were simple in the extreme. The
amount of land which the individual could own was
limited to what he could cultivate. Substantial
equality was thus secured to all. Upon each farm
was a citizen soldier who fought for his home and his
household gods. Conditions were not dissimilar to
those which characterized the first two centuries of
the American colonies.


With the expansion of the city of Rome into a
nation the government became more complex.
PoUtical control passed into the hands of an economic
class. It finally centred in the Senate, which repre-
sented the moneyed, landed, and creditor class. Im-
mense areas of land were added to the republic by
conquest. This land belonged by law to all the
people. It was the ager publicus, the folk land of the
nation. It was not unlike the Northwest Territory
acquired from Great Britain by the American colo-
nies. But the members of the aristocracy in control
of the government leased this land to themselves at
nominal rentals instead of allotting it among the
people to whom it belonged. They divided it into
great plantation estates, which were used for grazing
or were worked by slave labor. As time went on
the land was needed for settlement. Population in-
creased and the legions desired a home for them-
selves and their children, just as did the American
colonists after the war with France. But the mem-
bers of the aristocracy refused to relinquish the land
which they had illegally enclosed. They resisted
every effort to have the land allotted. They even
abolished the nominal rentals which they had agreed
to pay the state and assumed the right of absolute
private ownership instead.

By these means the aristocracy of Rome acquired
possession of nearly all Italy. The free citizens,
who had been the nation's strength, were driven to


the city or reduced to slavery by the cruel laws of
debt which the senatorial class had enacted. Here-
in was the beginning of national decay. It seems to
have been fearfully rapid in its extension. Accord-
ing to Marcus Philippus ''there were not two thousand
individuals in the commonwealth who were worth
any property" by the second century B. C. When
Tiberius Gracchus passed through Tuscany to Nu-
mancia he ''found the country almost depopulated,
there being hardly any free husbandmen or shepherds,
but for the most part only barbarians, imported
slaves." * It was this change, says Mommsen,
"which tended most directly to accomplish the ma-
terial and moral annihilation of the middle classes." ^
The Roman historian Pliny has testified that "the
great estates have ruined Italy."

The small farmer was ruined by debt and tax-
ation. He was unable to compete with slave labor.
He was driven to the city or to foreign lands by
the monopoly of the land. By this process Italy
was almost denuded of free citizens at a time
when Roman arms had conquered the world. The
Roman freeman was driven from his native soil by
the patrician class who had acquired possession of
the land of his fathers. It was this that drove
him into Gaul, into Spain, into Germany, even into
distant Britain.

' Plutarch's Lives, Tiberius Gracchus.
2 History oj Rome, Vol. I, p. 347.


It was this that peopled Europe with Roman
colonists. In time all Europe became crowded, just
as Greece and Italy had been many centuries earlier.
As population increased, so did the demand for land.
It came to have a monopoly value. So long as the
land was held by feudal tenure, with the fixed and
customary services which feudalism involved, the
worker was secure in his holding. He could not be
dispossessed by the overlord. Neither his rent nor
his services could be increased. The interest of the
tenant was the same as that of the lord. They were
joint owners of the land.^ But just as the Roman
freeman was driven from Italy by the creation of the
latifundia or plantation estates, so the freemen of
Europe were reduced to poverty by the substitution
of money rents for feudal services. Through this
change the overlord became the absolute owner of
the land. All Europe was divided into private
estates, worked by serfs subject to competitive rents.
It was this that led to the settlement of America
just as it led to the settlement of Europe at an earlier

For many centuries the people of England were a
nation of home-owners. A part of the land was in
individual holdings. A much larger part was held in
common by the village. This was modified by the
Norman Conquest. The land of England was dis-
tributed by the Conqueror among his followers. It

' See chapters VIII and IX.


was divided into great estates. The great barons
in turn divided it among their vassals. King, lord,
vassal, and serf were united by mutual services and
mutual obligations. The nexus of all relations was
the land. There was little money and no standing
army. The state was supported by military and
personal services which took the place of rent and
taxes. Land was the source of all political and
social power. This was the feudal state which ex-
isted all over the face of Europe during the middle

The feudal relationship began to disintegrate dur-
ing the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The
Black Plague of the fourteenth century hastened
it. It reduced the population of England by one-
third.^ The position of classes was changed. So-
ciety was revolutionized. The labor supply was so
reduced that the villeins abandoned their feudal
holdings in order to accept something better. They
gave up the land which was theirs by right and under
a fixed rent, in order to be wage-earners or leasehold-
tenants. Instead of rendering personal services, they
now began to pay money rent. Herein was the be-
ginning of the break-up of the old relationship which
insured to the tenant a permanent position and at a
rent fixed in perpetuity. Through it the mass of the
people lost their hold on the land. They became
competitive tenants instead of joint owners under

' Six Centuries of Work arid Wages, Thorold Rogers, p. 223.


customary rent. This has profoundly influenced
Great Britain. It explains the degraded and im-
poverished condition of her agricultural population,
which, unlike that of many of the farmers of Europe,
is but little better than the condition of the casual
worker in the towns. ^

For some centuries after the Black Plague rents
continued low. Land was cheap because labor was
dear. In the fifteenth century land began to rise in
value. The Spanish conquest of South America
flooded England with gold and silver. This facili-
tated the change from feudal services to money rents.
During the reign of Henry VII the landed aristocracy
began to enclose the common lands which comprised

* The early feudal relationship of lord and vassal, in which the
rent of the tenant is fixed and constant, still persists, with some
modifications, in certain portions of Europe where custom or tra-
dition has prevented the overlord from assuming the right of abso-
lute ownership in the land. The old relationship is still to be found
in parts of Italy, France, and Holland. It also exists in the old
French manors on the lower St. Lawrence in Canada, where the
farmers still pay a small quit-rent to the seigneurs. Under these
tenures the rent remains unchanged from year to year, no matter
what the value of the land may be. Speaking of conditions in a
particularly favored region of Holland, Mr. Broderick says: " M. de
Laveleye's ideal of agricultural felicity in Holland is to be found in
the province of Groningen, where much of the land is cultivated
under a species of hereditary lease, known as Beklem-regt, at a
moderate and invariable rent. This system, he (i. e., Laveleye)
says, derived from the middle ages, created a class of semi-proprie-
tors, independent, proud, simple, but withal eager for enlightenment,
appreciating the advantages of education, practicing husbandry not
by blind routine and as a mean occupation, but as a noble profes-
sion by which they may acquire wealth, influence, and the consid-
eration of their fellowmen." Cobden Clvb Essays, Systems of Land
Tenure in Various Countries, p. 133.


a great part of the area of the nation. There ''com-
menced a struggle of the most fearful character. The
nobles cleared their lands, pulled down the houses,
and displaced the people. Vagrancy on a most un-
paralleled scale took place. " ' Henry VIII seques-
trated the lands of the monasteries, which amounted
to one-fourth of the area of the kingdom. He
turned their holdings over to favorites who con-
verted them into sheep preserves or raised the rents.
This still further increased the poverty of the coun-
try and the extent of vagabondage.

The remonstrances of the yeomen and the peasants
to Parliament were all to the same effect. They
said (1542) of the new landlords: ''They cannot be
content to let them [the lands] at the old price, but
raise them up daily, even to the clouds, so that the
poor man that laboreth and toileth upon it is not
able to live. "

The enhancing of rents, and the enclosing of the
land by monopolists, was freely denounced as
destroying the commonwealth. The famous sermon
of Bishop Latimer before the king in 1549 voiced
the protest of the people. "You landlords, you
rent raisers, I may say, you step lords, you unnatural
lords, you have already too much. " For that which
before "went for £20 or £40 by the year (which is
an honest portion to be had gratis in one lordship of
another man's sweat and labor), now it is let for £50

' History of Landholding in England, Fisher, p. 54.


or £100 by year/' so unreasonably are things en-
hanced. "For whereas have been a great many of
householders and inhabitants, there is now but a
shepherd and his dog. "

By the end of the sixteenth century the bulk of
the land of England had passed from the people into
great holdings. The new landowners did not want
small tenants; it was more profitable to raise sheep.
Farmers were driven from their holdings. Vaga-
bondage increased with frightful rapidity. There is
a tradition that 72,000 persons were hanged for this
offence during two years of Henry VIII's reign.
During the sixteenth century the peasants revolted.
Land monopoly was the cause of these peasant
risings. The remonstrances of the poor who had
been driven off their lands by the processes described
were met with massacre. From this time on pov-
erty became more and more unmanageable and mis-
ery more universal. Hanging having proved im-
practicable, the Poor Laws of Elizabeth were enacted.
Wages were fixed by law. Then followed the en-
closure acts. The first was early in the eighteenth
century. They continued into the nineteenth. Be-
tween 1709 and 1820, 3,387,883 acres of the people's
lands were enclosed by the landowners in control of
Parliament. This still further impoverished the
agricultural population which was dependent upon
the commons for pasturage and fuel. Despite the
poverty and vagabondage, population increased very


rapidly. According to Thorold Rogers, the popula-
tion of England doubled during the seventeenth cen-
tury/ This increased still further the competition
for the land. Rents rose in consequence, while the
enclosure of the common lands and the use of the
land for sheep-raising diminished the supply availa-
ble for cultivation. It was by these processes that
the land of England was monopolized. It was this
that destroyed the yeomen. It was this that im-
poverished England.

It was this that led to the settlement of America.
Land monopoly drove the Puritan from England in
the seventeenth century just as land monopoly drove
the Catholic from Ireland two centuries later. The
emigration of the present day confirms this. It is
only the dispossessed who come. And they come
almost exclusively from those countries where land
monopoly and competitive rents remain the least
impaired. Wherever peasant proprietorship is the
rule the population remains at home.

Switzerland, Holland, Denmark, and France are
countries of the small proprietor. These countries
have added little to our population. It is England,
Ireland, Scotland, Germany, and Austria, and now
Russia, Italy, and the Baltic provinces, where the
land is still held in great estates, that have sent their
landless peasants over the face of the earth in search
of a new chance, free from the servitude which land

^Six Centuries of Work and Wages, p. 463.


monopoly everywhere involves. It is rarely the well-
to-do, rarely the home-owner, rarely, even, the tenant
with an interest in the soil who migrates. Men care
but little about the form of government under which
they live as long as they are industrially free.
Neither political nor religious persecution dislodges
the property-owning class. So strong is the tie of
property, of even a little property, that men suffer
every sort of oppression rather than abandon their
native homes. It is poverty that drives men to dare
the unknown. It is land monopoly that has sent the
English colonist to every quarter of the globe. It is
this that explains the expansion of Russia into Siberia,
of Japan into Korea, and of all Europe into America.
To satisfy one's desires with the minimum of effort
is an elemental law to which all nature responds. It
is the moving force of all life. All nature follows
the line of least resistance. The dumb animals of
the forest are blindly guided by this principle which
nature has implanted in all animate beings. Life is
inconceivable with this motive absent. It underlies
every activity; it explains every movement of life.
It lies at the bottom of all psychology, as well as of
all political economy. To satisfy one's wants in the
easiest possible way is as fundamental to biological
and social science as the law of gravitation is to
physics or the heliocentric theory is to astronomy.
In response to this instinct, nations, tribes, and in-
dividuals have abandoned ancestral homes to build


their fortunes anew in unknown lands. Inspired by
this motive, men have crossed the seas and pene-
trated into the untouched wilderness — they have
braved the Arctic Circle and the jungles of the tropics.
For this they have pushed their way into the forests
and prairies of the distant West. It was the desire
for economic freedom, for the satisfaction of their
material wants with a minimum of effort, that lured
the Argonauts around Cape Horn and across the
deserts during the gold fever of 1849, just as it lured
them into the heart of the Yukon during the closing
years of the last century.

Free land has been the call to which this blind
instinct of man has been attuned. It has been the
controlling motive of our life. For three centuries
the descendants of the early settlers, together with
the incoming immigrants, have responded to this call.
The frontier was pushed back along the rivers and
over the Alleghany Mountains like a great glacial
moraine. It spread out into the north-west territory.
Thousands of soldiers were settled by the govern-
ment. In the closing years of the eighteenth century
land companies opened up Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky,
and Tennessee. New states were carved out of this
territory. Long before the Civil War the settler found
his way beyond the Mississippi River, inspired as were

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Online LibraryFrederic Clemson HowePrivilege and democracy in America → online text (page 1 of 19)