Frederic Clemson Howe.

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This loss in home ownership is not confined to any
one section of the country. It characterizes Massa-
chusetts as well as California; it appears in Kansas
as well as in Florida. Out of a total aggregate of
613,659 homes in Massachusetts but 207,579 are
owned by their occupiers, and of these only 109,494
are free from encumbrance. The remainder are hired
or held subject to mortgage. In Pennsylvania out
of 1,320,025 aggregate homes but 328,989 are owned
free, or one-fourth of the total. In Kansas, a state


of generous fertility, new conditions, and widely
heralded recent prosperity, but one home out of three
is owned free, and less than 60 per cent, are owned
at all by those who occupy them/

As is to be expected, the newer states show a
larger percentage of ownership than do the older
commonwealths. Free home ownership is lowest
in the north Atlantic division of states, being only
22.3 per cent. It rises in the north central division
to 35.3 per cent., while the western division shows a
still further increase to 42.7 per cent. Free ownership
is lowest in New Jersey, the District of Columbia,
Massachusetts, and New York. It is highest in the
far Western territories, rising to 80.5 per cent, in
Alaska, 66.9 per cent, in New Mexico, and but little
less in Oklahoma, Idaho, and Utah.

It is apparent that we are rapidly becoming a
homeless people, differing only in degree from the
tenants of Ireland and England, of Russia and
Germany, of Spain and Italy. No constitutions or
bills of rights can protect us from the operation of
economic laws; no guarantee of personal liberty will

•The following table of states taken from the Twelfth Census,
Vol. II, indicates the conditions of home ownership in 1900:

Total homes,

Total homes,

Homes owned,


Massachusetts .




New York . .




Ohio ....




Nebraska . ,




Kansas . . .




Georgia , . .





avail against the relationship of landlord and tenant
so long as the land is subject to private monopoly.
Already one-half of the people of America are tenants.
The growth of population will increase their number.
Future generations will have no alternative but to
pay the price which is demanded by those who own
the soil. This tribute will increase with each on-
coming generation. From now on the father of a
family will look forward, not to increasing oppor-
tunity for his children, but to an ever-increasing
burden to be paid to those who own the land.

This tendency will be further stimulated by other
causes. Up to the present time, the franchises of
our cities, the financing of railways and transporta-
tion agencies, the exploitation of the mineral re-
sources have offered the most inviting fields for
capital. Here returns were most immediate. But
the transportation agencies have been consolidated,
the mining opportunities have been appropriated,
the land has been denuded of its forests, and the
cities despoiled of their franchises. The develop-
ment of the future will be in the line of further con-
solidation or the perfection of operation. More-
over, so long as free land existed in the West, agri-
cultural land was of little value. Rent was slow
to rise. Men would not willingly work for another
when they could work for themselves. But the vir-
gin prairies are now enclosed. Future generations
must find their homes on land already appropri-


ated. This will stimulate agricultural rent. This
is already apparent. It has been remarked by the
Census Office and the Agricultural Department, which
report a tremendous increase in land values in the
last few years. The millions of dividends which
are pouring into the money centres will now find
their way into land speculation. For land is the
safest of all investments, and capitalistic agriculture
is profitable. Moreover, land has become a monop-
oly, a monopoly not yet so complete as other indus-
tries, but none the less a monopoly. From now on,
therefore, we may expect increasing investments in
land and a constant growth in the plantation system.
This change marks a revolution in the economic
foundations of American society. It is the most
revolutionary change that could be imagined. For
the universal opportunity which for three centuries
America offered to all the world has finally come to
an end.


Agricultural tenancy is more precarious in
America than in any country in Europe. Tenure is
subject to the arbitrary will of the owner. There
is nothing to check the operation of the law of de-
mand and supply, nothing to protect the tenant in
his occupancy. In many of the countries of Europe
the traditions of feudalism have softened the rela-
tions of landlord and tenant. Competition has been
mitigated by the long-continued occupancy of the
land by certain families. The hand of the landlord
is restrained by this fact. In some countries rents
have remained fixed during long periods of time.
Custom has established a fair rent. It may not be
changed except by agreement with the tenant.

In Ireland an attempt has been made to re-
establish by statute the idea of customary rents, to
give security to the tenant, to indemnify him for his
improvements, and to protect him from the landlord.
Tribunals have been created with power to fix rents
at a reasonable rather than a competitive figure.
Provision is also made for the compulsory purchase
of land, and its resale to the peasants on instalments,
with the aim of creating a peasant proprietary class.



More recently similar legislation has been passed for
England, by the aid of which the local authorities
may acquire land in large areas and subdivide it
among petty proprietors.

In America there is no such custom, no such tra-
dition of the personal relations of feudalism, no such
legislation to protect the agricultural tenant from the
increase of rent. There is nothing to relieve the
struggle for existence and the right of the landlord
to charge whatsoever he pleases. And it is doubtful
if the Constitution would permit any such fair-rent
legislation. The landlord can dismiss the tenant at
will, he can and does appropriate all of the im-
provements which have been made. The tenant
has no right to an3^hing which has become fixed
to the realty. He may take away the crops, but
nothing more. All of the betterments pass to the

In consequence the tenant does nothing to im-
prove the land. He makes no repairs. He culti-
vates for the present only, he selects such crops as
will give an immediate return with the least possible
labor. He permits the buildings and improvements
to go to decay; he exhausts the land itself by failing
to fertilize it. In time he abandons the property
because it is no longer profitable.

The same influences lead to indifferent cultivation.
The stimulus of security is absent. The tenant is
wasteful and careless. His rent is fixed by what the


land is supposed to yield; it is determined by what
another will pay for the same holding. If he in-
creases its fertility, it is made an excuse for an
increase in the rent. If he is thrifty and indus-
trious, if he makes the farm more attractive, if
he drains and irrigates it, the advantage accrues
to the owner or to some other tenant who will
offer an increased rent for the property because
of his exertions.

Agricultural land in America is usually rented
from year to year. The tenant is subject to eviction
upon a few months' notice. He has not even the
security of a long-time grant. There is nothing to
stimulate his pride, nothing to awaken his interest.
Every incentive is lacking. Competitive tenancy,
such as everywhere exists in America, is utterly de-
structive to good farming; it leads to indifference
on the part of the worker, and a rapid deterioration
in the farm itself.

These conditions are already common in many
parts of the country. The tenant farm, with its
dilapidated buildings, with barns and fences going
to decay, with fields badly cultivated or grown up
with weeds, may be seen in any section of the East.
The tenant farmer is but little better off than the
worker in the city; he can rarely accumulate any
capital or make any provision for the morrow. He
has little more security in his position than the farm


The Public Lands Commission, appointed by Pres-
ident Roosevelt, has described in very moderate
language the extent and effect of tenancy in the
West. The report says:

"The disastrous effect of this system [of tenant cul-
tivation] upon the well-being of the nation as a whole
requires little comment. Under the present condi-
tions, speaking broadly, the large estates usually re-
main in a low condition of cultivation, whereas under
actual settlement by individual home-makers, the
same land would have supported many families in
comfort, and would have yielded far greater returns.
Agriculture is a pursuit of which it may be asserted
absolutely, that it rarely reaches its best develop-
ment under any concentrated form of ownership.

"There exists and is spreading in the West a ten-
ant or hired-labor system which not only represents
a relatively low industrial development, but whose
further extension carries with it a most serious
threat. Politically, socially, and economically this
system is indefensible. Had the land laws been
effective and effectually enforced, its growth would
have been impossible.

"It is often asserted in defence of large holdings
that, through the operation of enlightened selfish-
ness, the land so held will, eventu-ally, be put to its
best use. Whatever theoretical considerations may
support this statement, in practice it is almost uni-
versally untrue. Hired labor on the farm cannot
compete with the man who owns and works his land,
and if it could, the owners of large tracts rarely have
the capital to develop them effectively.

"Although there is a tendency to subdivide large
holdings in the long-run, yet the desire for such


holdings is so strong and the behef in their rapid in-
crease in value so controlling and so widespread,
that the speculative motive governs, and men go to
extremes before they will subdivide lands which they
themselves are not able to utilize. "^

Bad as these conditions are, they are only begin-
ning to appear. Land is still relatively cheap. Popu-
lation is still far from dense. The free homestead in
the West and the demands of industry have relieved
the demand for land. From now on, however, agri-
cultural rent is bound to increase. In time compe-
tition will be carried to such a point that agriculture
will suffer. The worker will not be able to save
enough to stock and maintain the farm. He will
abandon those crops which require a capital outlay
for the coming season, and will limit his planting
to those which are most easily harvested. Com-
petition will go even further than this. With in-
creasing population the worker will offer a greater
share of the produce, or a higher rent for the
land, than he can produce. He will do this as a
means of escape from starvation, or to prevent
another, as hungry as himself, from taking the
land from him.

Ireland is the country in whose history we can
best study the results of competitive agricultural
tenancy. From her experience we can forecast our
own. For here as there no limit existed to the right

* Senate Document No. 154, 58th Congress, 3d session, p. 14.


of the owner to do as he willed with his land. John
Stuart Mill has thus described the conditions of com-
petitive tenancy in Ireland:

^'It is scarcely possible," he says, ''that cottier
[competitive tenancy] agriculture should be other
than miserable. . . . The competition for land makes
the tenants undertake to pay more than it is possible
they should pay, and when they have paid all they
can, more almost always remains due.

'''It may fairly be said of the Irish peasantry,'
said Mr. Revans, the secretary of the Irish Poor
Law Enquiry Commission, 'that . . . the rents
which they promise, they are almost invariably in-
capable of paying; and, consequently, they become
indebted to those under whom they hold, almost as
soon as they take possession. They give up in the
shape of rent the whole produce of the land, with the
exception of a sufficiency of potatoes for a subsist-
ence; but as this is rarely equal to the promised rent,
they constantly have against them an increasing
balance. In some cases, the largest quantity of
produce which their holdings ever yielded, or which,
under their system of tillage, they could, in the most
favorable seasons, be made to yield, would not be
equal to the rent bid; consequently, if the peasant
fulfilled his engagement with his landlord, which he is
rarely able to accomplish, he would till the ground
for nothing, and give his landlord a premium for
being allowed to till it. . . . The full amount of the
rent bid, however, is rarely paid. The peasant re-
mains constantly in debt to his landlord; his mis-
erable possessions — the wretched clothing of himself
and of his family, the two or three stools, and the few
pieces of crockery which his wretched hovel contains
would not, if sold, liquidate the standing and gener-


ally accumulating debt. . . . Should the produce of
the holding, in any year, be more than usually abun-
dant, or should the peasant, by any accident, be-
come possessed of any property, his comforts cannot
be increased; he cannot indulge in better food nor
in a greater quantity of it. His furniture cannot be
increased, neither can his wife or children be better
clothed. The acquisition must go to the person
under whom he holds.'

*'As an extreme instance of the intensity of com-
petition for land, and of the monstrous height to
which it occasionally forced up the nominal rent,
we may cite from the evidence taken by Lord
Devon's Commission, a fact attested by Mr. Hurly,
clerk of the Crown for Kerry: 'I have known a
tenant bid for a farm that I was perfectly well
acquainted with, worth £50 a year; I saw the
competition get up to such an extent that he was
declared the tenant at £450.'

''In such a condition what can a tenant gain by
any amount of industry or prudence, and what lose
by any recklessness? If the landlord at any time
exerted his full legal rights, the cottier would not be
able even to live. If by extra exertion he doubled
the produce of his bit of land, or if he prudently ab-
stained from producing mouths to eat it up, his only
gain would be to have more left to pay to his land-
lord; while if he had twenty children they would
still be fed first, and the landlord could only take
what was left. Almost alone amongst mankind the
cottier is in this condition, that he can scarcely be
either better or worse off by a'ny act of his own. If
he were industrious or prudent, nobody but his land-
lord would gain; if he is lazy or intemperate, it is
at his landlord's expense. A situation more devoid
of motives to either labor or self-command, imagina-


tion itself cannot conceive. The inducements of free
human beings are taken away, and those of a slave
not substituted. He has nothing to hope, and noth-
ing to fear, except being dispossessed of his holdings,
and against this he protects himself by the ultima
ratio of a defensive civil war. Rockism and White-
boyism were the determination of a people, who
had nothing that could be called theirs but a daily
meal of the lowest description of food, not to sub-
mit to being deprived of that for other people's

'' Is it not, then, a bitter satire on the mode in which
opinions are formed on the most important prob-
lems of human nature and life, to find public instruc-
tors of the greatest pretensions imputing the back-
wardness of Irish industry, and the want of energy in
the Irish people in improving their condition, to a
peculiar indolence and insouciance in the Celtic race?
Of all vulgar modes of escaping from the considera-
tion of the effect of social and moral influences on the
human mind, the most vulgar is that of attributing
the diversities of conduct and character to inherent
natural differences. What race would not be indo-
lent and insouciant when things are so arranged
that they derive no advantage from forethought or
exertion? If such are the arrangements in the midst
of which they live and work, what wonder if the
listlessness and indifference so engendered are not
shaken off the first moment an opportunity offers
when exertion would really be of use? ... It speaks
nothing against the capacities of industry in human
beings that they will not exert themselves without
motive. No laborers work harder in England or
America than the Irish; but not under a cottier
system. " ^

' Principles of Political Economy, Bk. II, chap. 9.


Such are the logical and inevitable results of com-
petitive tenancy. The condition of the peasant
farmer in England is but little, if any, better than
that of the cottier in Ireland. He is subject not
only to industrial but political and religious subjec-
tion to his landlord. On the Continent the same is
true. Much of the land of Belgium is held on short-
time leasehold. The tenant has somewhat more se-
curity than the Irish cottier, but he is rack-rented
nevertheless. Emile de Laveleye, the celebrated
Belgian economist, said of the system which prevails
in that country:

''The tenant is not encouraged to improve, and
if he does make improvements he can hardly be
said to reap the benefits of them. The landlords
will not grant longer leases, because they want, in
the first place, to keep a hold upon their tenants;
and secondly, to raise the rents when the leases
expire. It may be said, that throughout Belgium
such increases of rent take place regularly and peri-
odically."^ This process of rent increase is proven
by statistics. From all of the provinces of Belgium
the average rent per one hundred acres of land
increased in thirty-six years from $11.45 per unit
to $20.40, or nearly one hundred per cent. Unlike
Ireland, Belgium blossoms like the rose. It is won-
derfully productive. Yet the population of the

> " Systems of Land Tenure in Various Countries, " Cobden Club
Essays, p. 466.


country is the most illiterate, in many ways the most
poverty-stricken and miserable, of any in western
Europe. *'I think it is certain/' says Professor
Laveleye, "ihsit the Flemish farmer is much more
ground down by his landlord than the Irish tenant."^

One has only to cross the borders into Holland to
find an entirely different state of affairs. Holland,
like Denmark and Switzerland, is a land of comfort,
high degree of education, and happiness. Laveleye
says of this country: '^The farmers of Holland
lead a comfortable, well-to-do, and cheerful life.
They are well-housed and excellently clothed. They
have chinaware and plate on their sideboards, tons
of gold at their notaries, public securities in their
safes, and in their stables excellent horses. Their
wives are bedecked with splendid corals and gold.
They do not work themselves to death. On the ice
in winter, and at the Kermesses in summer they en-
joy themselves with the zest of men whose minds are
free from care."^

The reason assigned by M. de Laveleye for the pros-
perity of the Dutch farmers in comparison with the
Belgian is that the land in Holland has remained al-
most entirely in the hands of the peasants, who work
their lands for themselves rather than for another.
They do not fear an increase in rent with every im-
provement in production nor eviction in favor of
another willing to offer a higher rent for the land.

^Cobden Club Essays, supra, p. 483. *Idem, p. 133.


It is true America has not yet reached the condi-
tions described in Ireland and Belgium. The ulti-
mate results of competitive tenancy have not yet
appeared. The free lands of the West have kept
down rents. It has offered an outlet for the East.
But America already has a large tenant class. The
number of renters is bound to increase and increase
with great rapidity. This is inevitable. For the
land is practically all enclosed and population is in-
creasing with no sign of abatement.

Ultimately, as in Ireland, the operation of the law
of demand and supply will reduce the standard of
living of the tenant to the lowest point. The sum
which men will offer for the use of the land will be
determined, just as is the price of a loaf of bread
among starving men. Millions in Europe are al-
ready offering all save a potato diet for the mere
right to work upon another's land. And millions
more have promised more than they could possibly
produce in order that they might anticipate a hun-
gry competitor. It is this struggle for the land that
is sending the population of Russia, Hungary, Ger-
many, and Italy to America to-day. And it is only a
matter of time when the conditions which they have
left behind will reappear in their new home.


History has touched but lightly on the evolution
of private property in land. Yet the introduction
of this idea and its development into a system of
tenure is probably the most important social fact
in the history of Christendom. It has moulded
modern society. It explains the rise and fall of na-
tions. It is the cause of vice, misery, and poverty.
In a large view of history the changes which have
taken place in the customs and laws of land tenure
are of colossal import to society.

The beginnings of private land ownership in its
present form are definite and clear. They are trace-
able to the last three centuries of the Roman repub-
lic, when the -senatorial class appropriated the
public lands of Italy to themselves, and converted
the free citizens into tenants and slaves through the
monopoly of the land and the law of debt.

During these centuries the Roman law became a
completed system. It reflected the economic in-
terests of the ruling classes. It sanctioned the ab-
solute private ownership of the land and destroyed

the early traditions of economic freedom.



Through colonial expansion the plantation system
of the later republic was carried to the furthermost
corners of Europe. Roman law and Roman legis-
lation became the basis of the jurisprudence of a
great part of the modern world. It was assimilated
into the barbarian codes. It underlies the Code
Napoleon, as well as the imperial law of Germany.
It was fused into the common law of England. The
methods of land tenure of Europe, of the United
States and Australasia, all trace their lineage back
to the patrician-made laws of the Roman senate,
designed to dispossess the Roman people from their
common lands. ''The Romans were the first," ac-
cording to Laveleye, ''to establish exclusive individ-
ual property in land, and the principles they adopted
on this subject still serve as the basis of law for Con-
tinental states. " ^

Historians differ as to the sources of the feudal
system. It is certain, however, that by the fourth
century A. D. most of the land in the empire was in
the hands of the senatorial nobility of Rome.^ It
was divided into great estates, just as it had been
in Italy. The free owner had all but disappeared.
The land was worked by colonii, or by serf labor.
As the imperial power declined, the plantation own-
ers assumed sovereign powers. They acted as mag-
istrates and dispensed justice. They collected such

' Primitive Property, p. 163.

^ Medieval Civilization, Munro-Sellery, p. 18.


taxes as were paid, and provided their quota of men
in time of war.

Here was the relation of lord and vassal. Here
was the hierarchical organization of society about the
manor. When the barbarian hordes settled upon the
territory occupied by Roman colonists they found
a political, social, and industrial system, which, as
years went on, developed into the feudal system.
For the Roman, like the feudal, system was based
upon the manor.

The Roman idea of private ownership under the

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Online LibraryFrederic Clemson HowePrivilege and democracy in America → online text (page 6 of 19)