Landlord Abuses: and a plan for the extinction of Landlordism (1885)
Spencer Jackson

GREAT complaints have been made from time to time of the unequal division of land in England, arising from its monopoly by powerful and rich landlords. I therefore wish to give some information to such of my readers who have hitherto paid no attention to the teachings of political economy, of which the land system forms a great part. There is a species of tyranny in the power of the landlords of England, which, though not always exercised to the full extent allowed by law, is still used more or less by every landlord claiming to be the absolute legal owner of his estate. This power of the landlord over the domestic happiness and liberties of the people is without example in other nations, for it is found in no other civilised country.

There are three modes of governing nations. The despotic, where the ruler is absolute, as in Russia; the limited monarchy, as in England, consisting of the Sovereign, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons; and the republican, as now existing in the United States and in France. But there is yet another form of government not mentioned in books, viz., the oligarchal, or the despotic government of a nation by a few powerful and rich families; and this last government is that which has enslaved the British nation, consisting of nearly thirty-five millions of people nominally called free, but, in fact, in the power of an oligarchy of a few despotic landholders.

Some of these landlords are in the House of Lords, some in the Commons; but the majority consist of rich private gentlemen having large estates. All these oligarchs have despotic power over their several estates; not only over the land, but partly over the people who live upon it. For the landlord claims the whole surface of the land upon his estate, and the rivers or lakes also. The law gives the owner of the land absolute power to claim every building on his estate as his own, although the houses have been built sometimes a hundred years before he was born. The inhabitants of the towns and villages, and all the private houses situated on a great estate, have to pay what is called a chief rent or ground rent to the landlord for the privilege of living upon his land. For the landlord claims everything upon the land and everything under the land—all the mines of coal, iron, copper, tin and lead, down to the very centre of the earth; and therefore he claims the whole body of the solid earth as his own by law. A Psalm of David begins with these words:— "The Earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof," and this I always believed to be the truth, until of late years I learned that in England, Ireland and Scotland, the land is not the Lord's, but that it belongs to certain rich landlords. This put me on considering how the landlords had originally stolen the Lord's land from the people; and without going so far back as the Norman Conquest, I found that during the reigns of Henry VII., Henry VIII., and Elizabeth, a despotic body of landlords drove out the farmers and their labourers from their estates, and laid down the land in grass. England was at that time a wool-exporting country, and sheep-farming paid the landlords better than any other crops; and, without caring for consequences, they pulled down the houses and cottages of the labourers, and drove them out with their wives and families into the world. Thousands of these poor creatures died of famine or disease. They were called "sturdy beggars"; many were imprisoned or otherwise dealt with, until Queen Elizabeth, in sheer compassion, established poor-houses to keep them from starvation. The landlords of Ireland and Scotland have acted with similar barbarity ever since that period, under the pretext that the law gives them full power to do so. It would seem incredible that in a Christian country a remorseless landlord should have power given him by law to commit these atrocities.

The following paragraph appeared in a paper dated August 21, 1884:— "A painful scene occurred yesterday at an eviction near New Ross, when the wife of the tenant, eighty years of age, was carried on her bed out into the road. Her husband, who is an imbecile, ninety-four years of age, was also turned out. The furniture was then removed. It is alleged that, notwithstanding a certificate that the old woman was dangerously ill, the landlord's attorney insisted on the eviction being carried out. £139 was owing for rent of land occupied for generations by the tenant's family!" Hundreds of such notices appear in the newspapers. In a pamphlet written in 1880, giving a list of Irish monopolists, the author says:-" We have here a list of large holders of land in Ireland, none of whom hold less than 5,000 acres of land. They number 761 persons, and as landlords they hold 10,364,900 acres of land, equal to an average of 13,620 acres to each landholder." The vast monopoly of the land held by a portion of our nobility will be seen by a list of twenty-seven of our dukes, who hold 4,564,127 acres of land, irrespective of their estates in London. This gives an average of 168,300 acres to each duke, and an income from rents to each of £84,962; of course, some have much more and others less. There are 438 peers in the House of Lords, holding 14,251,132 acres of land, being an average of 32,536 acres to each. Indeed, on examination, we find that nearly the whole of the land of the United Kingdom, comprising 67 million acres of land (and there are but 72 million acres altogether) have been, by an unjust land law, taken from the people and transferred to a body of despotic landlords. Only a few of these oligarchs are in the House of Lords or the House of Commons, the great majority of them have estates all over the country. Each landlord has despotic power over his own estate. All the houses upon it belong to him, and the inhabitants pay him black-mail or ground-rent for the right to live in the houses they themselves have built or bought, and if they refuse to pay the ground-rent he can turn them out and keep the houses himself. Such despotic power is not known or exercised in any other country in the world. Now, it must be borne in mind that these cruel oppressive laws were made by the very men who profit by them—by landlords, before the people were represented in England. They are part of the old feudal system which so long prevailed in this country.

It is the duty of the Commons in Parliament to free the people from the effect of these oppressive laws, and I hope there are some patriotic men in our House of Commons who will prepare a Bill for the total repeal of all these unjust laws.

We do not wish to dwell longer on the iniquities of past landilordism. The gradual rise of our ruling families will be found in The Great Governing Families of England (Blackwood, 1865, 2 vols.). But these books contain only a few of the families who rule England. The vast majority of the oligarchal families belong to the class of wealthy private gentlemen. These two classes of landlords have taken possession, as legal owners, of nearly all the agricultural land in the United Kingdom. They hold 67 million acres of land, and they draw in rentals upwards of 70 millions of pounds sterling, under the pretext that, by law, the land belongs to themselves. If the people of England have to pay 70 millions a year, now paid to landlords, and also if householders have to pay ground-rents for the small plots of land on which their houses stand (which last must amount to fabulous sums of money), let these immense sums be paid to the State. The State, at least, will be merciful to the poor.

The inhabitants of the United Kingdom would gain immensely by the transfer to the State of all the land now claimed by the landlords, rents would be reduced at once, and a very large class of farmers and farm labourers would take farms under the State, at half the rents now paid to the landowners. The labourers would have the privilege of renting small holdings of from one to five acres each, and would also become small independent farmers under the State.

The landlords, in fact, have no moral or just right to the land at all, for the land is not property—it cannot be property. All property is created by the labour of man, and the land was not created by the labour of man. The land, like the atmosphere, the seas, and the rivers, is given to the inhabitants of the earth by the Lord for the use and enjoyment of his creatures. This fact is so little understood that very few men have thought on the subject at all, and the vast majority of both rich and poor think, as a matter of course, that land, like other property, must belong to somebody. The great mass of the nobility and gentry look upon their estates as their own property, just as they do on the furniture of their houses. The millions of middle-class men and the labouring poor, however they may feel the great wrong, acquiesce in it only because they are supremely ignorant of the truth that land cannot possibly be the property of any man, or of any body of men; the only natural or just right any man can have to land is a life interest in its use, and on his death its use descends to some other man. Landlords who were aware of this truth contrived the system of entails, by which they were enabled to keep their estates from generation to generation in their own families, which practically had the effect of keeping vast estates in the hands of a few wealthy families, while the great mass of the agricultural population were landless, and living in poverty as they do now.