I propose to talk to you to-night of the
Crime of Poverty. I cannot, in a short time, hope to convince you of much;
but the thing of things I should like to show you is that poverty is a
crime. I do not mean that it is a crime to be poor. Murder is a crime;
but it is not a crime to be murdered; and a man who is in poverty, I look
upon, not as a criminal in himself, so much as the victim of a crime for
which others, as well perhaps as himself, are responsible. That poverty
is a curse, the bitterest of curses, we all know. Carlyle was right when
he said that the hell of which Englishmen are most afraid is the hell of
poverty; and this is true, not of Englishmen alone, but of people all over
the civilised world, no matter what their nationality. It is to escape
this hell that we strive and strain and struggle; and work on oftentimes
in blind habit long after the necessity for work is gone.
The curse born of poverty is not confined
to the poor alone; it runs through all classes, even to the very rich.
They, too, suffer; they must suffer; for there cannot be suffering in a
community from which any class can totally escape. The vice, the crime,
the ignorance, the meanness born of poverty, poison, so to speak, the very
air which rich and poor alike must breathe.
Poverty is the mother of ignorance, the breeder
of crime. I walked down one of your streets this morning, and I saw three
men going along with their hands chained together. I knew for certain that
those men were not rich men; and, although I do not know the offence for
which they were carried in chains through your streets, this I think I
can safely say, that, if you trace it up you will find it in some way to
spring from poverty. Nine tenths of human misery, I think you will find,
if you look, to be due to poverty. If a man chooses to be poor, he commits
no crime in being poor, provided his poverty hurts no one but himself.
If a man has others dependent upon him; if there are a wife and children
whom it is his duty to support, then, if he voluntarily chooses poverty,
it is a crime—aye, and I think that, in most cases, the men who have no
one to support but themselves are men that are shirking their duty. A woman
comes into the world for every man; and for every man who lives a single
life, caring only for himself, there is some woman who is deprived of her
natural supporter. But while a man who chooses to be poor cannot be charged
with crime, it is certainly a crime to force poverty on others. And it
seems to me clear that the great majority of those who suffer from poverty
are poor not from their own particular faults, but because of conditions
imposed by society at large. Therefore I hold that poverty is a crime—not
an individual crime, but a social crime, a crime for which we all, poor
as well as rich, are responsible.
Two or three weeks ago I went one Sunday evening
to the church of a famous Brooklyn preacher. Mr. Sankey was singing and
something like a revival was going on there. The clergyman told some anecdotes
connected with the revival, and recounted some of the reasons why men failed
to become Christians. One case he mentioned struck me. He said that he
had noticed on the outskirts of the congregation, night after night, a
man who listened intently and who gradually moved forward. One night, the
clergyman said, he went to him, saying: My brother, are you not
ready to become a Christian?
The man said, no, he was not. He said
it, not in a defiant tone, but in a sorrowful tone; the clergyman asked
him why, whether he did not believe in the truths he had been hearing?
Yes, he believed them all. Why, then, wouldn't he become a Christian? Well,
he said, I can't join the church without giving up my business;
and it is necessary for the support of my wife and children. If I give
that up, I don't know how in the world I can get along. I had a hard time
before I found my present business, and I cannot afford to give it up.
Yet I can't become a Christian without giving it up.
asked, are you a rum-seller?
No, he was not a rum-seller.
Well, the clergyman said, he didn't know what in the world the man could
be; it seemed to him that a rum-seller was the only man who does a business
that would prevent his becoming a Christian; and he finally said: What
is your business?
The man said, I sell soap. Soap!
exclaimed the clergyman, you sell soap? How in the world does that
prevent your becoming a Christian? Well,
the man said,
it is this way; the soap I sell is one of these patent soaps that
are extensively advertised as enabling you to clean clothes very quickly,
as containing no deleterious compound whatever. Every cake of the soap
that I sell is wrapped in a paper on which is printed a statement that
it contains no injurious chemicals, whereas the truth of the matter is
that it does, and that though it will take the dirt out of clothes pretty
quickly, it will, in a little while, rot them completely. I have to make
my living in this way; and I cannot feel that I can become a Christian
if I sell that soap.
The minister went on, describing how he laboured
unsuccessfully with that man, and finally wound up by saying: He
stuck to his soap and lost his soul.
But, if that man lost his soul, was it his
fault alone? Whose fault is it that social conditions are such that men
have to make that terrible choice between what conscience tells them is
right, and the necessity of earning a living? I hold that it is the fault
of society; that it is the fault of us all. Pestilence is a curse. The
man who would bring cholera to this country, or the man who, having the
power to prevent its coming here, would make no effort to do so, would
be guilty of a crime. Poverty is worse than cholera; poverty kills more
people than pestilence, even in the best of times. Look at the death statistics
of our cities; see where the deaths come quickest; see where it is that
the little children die like flies—it is in the poorer quarters. And the
man who looks with careless eyes upon the ravages of this pestilence, the
man who does not set himself to stay and eradicate it, he, I say, is guilty
of a crime.
If poverty is appointed by the power which
is above us all, then it is no crime; but if poverty is unnecessary, then
it is a crime for which society is responsible and for which society must
I hold, and I think no one who looks at the
facts can fail to see, that poverty is utterly unnecessary. It is not by
the decree of the Almighty, but it is because of our own injustice, our
own selfishness, our own ignorance, that this scourge, worse than any pestilence,
ravages our civilisation, bringing want and suffering and degradation,
destroying souls as well as bodies. Look over the world, in this heyday
of nineteenth century civilisation. In every civilised country under the
sun you will find men and women whose condition is worse than that of the
savage: men and women and little children with whom the veriest savage
could not afford to exchange. Even in this new city of yours with virgin
soil around you, you have had this winter to institute a relief society.
Your roads have been filled with tramps, fifteen, I am told, at one time
taking shelter in a round-house here. As here, so everywhere; and poverty
is deepest where wealth most abounds.
What more unnatural than this? There is nothing
in nature like this poverty which to-day curses us. We see rapine in nature;
we see one species destroying another; but as a general thing animals do
not feed on their own kind; and, wherever we see one kind enjoying plenty,
all creatures of that kind share it. No man, I think, ever saw a herd of
buffalo, of which a few were fat and the great majority lean. No man ever
saw a flock of birds, of which two or three were swimming in grease and
the others all skin and bone. Nor in savage life is there anything like
the poverty that festers in our civilisation.
In a rude state of society there are seasons
of want, seasons when people starve; but they are seasons when the earth
has refused to yield her increase, when the rain has not fallen from the
heavens, or when the land has been swept by some foe—not when there is
plenty. And yet the peculiar characteristic of this modern poverty of ours
is that it is deepest where wealth most abounds.
Why, to-day, while over the civilised world
there is so much distress, so much want, what is the cry that goes up?
What is the current explanation of the hard times? Overproduction! There
are so many clothes that men must go ragged, so much coal that in the bitter
winters people have to shiver, such over-filled granaries that people actually
die by starvation! Want due to over-production! Was a greater absurdity
ever uttered? How can there be over-production till all have enough? It
is not over-production; it is unjust distribution.
Poverty necessary! Why, think of the enormous
powers that are latent in the human brain! Think how invention enables
us to do with the power of one man what not long ago could not be done
by the power of a thousand. Think that in England alone the steam machinery
in operation is said to exert a productive force greater than the physical
force of the population of the world, were they all adults. And yet we
have only begun to invent and discover. We have not yet utilised all that
has already been invented and discovered. And look at the powers of the
earth. They have hardly been touched. In every direction as we look new
resources seem to open. Man's ability to produce wealth seems almost infinite—we
can set no bounds to it. Look at the power that is flowing by your city
in the current of the Mississippi that might be set at work for you. So
in every direction energy that we might utilise goes to waste; resources
that we might draw upon are untouched. Yet men are delving and straining
to satisfy mere animal wants; women are working, working, working their
lives away, and too frequently turning in despair from that hard struggle
to cast away all that makes the charm of woman.
If the animals can reason what must they think
of us? Look at one of those great ocean steamers ploughing her way across
the Atlantic, against wind, against wave, absolutely setting at defiance
the utmost power of the elements. If the gulls that hover over her were
thinking beings could they imagine that the animal that could create such
a structure as that could actually want for enough to eat? Yet, so it is.
How many even of those of us who find life easiest are there who really
live a rational life? Think of it, you who believe that there is only one
life for man—what a fool at the very best is a man to pass his life in
this struggle to merely live? And you who believe, as I believe, that this
is not the last of man, that this is a life that opens but another life,
think how nine tenths, aye, I do not know but ninety-nine-hundredths of
all our vital powers are spent in a mere effort to get a living; or to
heap together that which we cannot by any possibility take away. Take the
life of the average workingman. Is that the life for which the human brain
was intended and the human heart was made? Look at the factories scattered
through our country. They are little better than penitentiaries.
I read in the New York papers a while ago
that the girls at the Yonkers factories had struck. The papers said that
the girls did not seem to know why they had struck, and intimated that
it must be just for the fun of striking. Then came out the girls' side
of the story and it appeared that they had struck against the rules in
force. They were fined if they spoke to one another, and they were fined
still more heavily if they laughed. There was a heavy fine for being a
minute late. I visited a lady in Philadelphia who had been a forewoman
in various factories, and I asked her, Is it possible that such
rules are enforced?
She said it was so in Philadelphia. There is
a fine for speaking to your next neighbour, a fine for laughing; and she
told me that the girls in one place where she was employed were fined ten
cents a minute for being late, though many of them had to come for miles
in winter storms. She told me of one poor girl who really worked hard one
week and made $3.50; but the fines against her were $5.25. That seems ridiculous;
it is ridiculous, but it is pathetic and it is shameful.
But take the cases of those even who are comparatively
independent and well off. Here is a man working hour after hour, day after
day, week after week, in doing one thing over and over again, and for what?
Just to live! He is working ten hours a day in order that he may sleep
eight and may have two or three hours for himself when he is tired out
and all his faculties are exhausted. That is not a reasonable life; that
is not a life for a being possessed of the powers that are in man, and
I think every man must have felt it for himself. I know that when I first
went to my trade I thought to myself that it was incredible that a man
was created to work all day long just to live. I used to read the Scientific
and as invention after invention was heralded in that
paper I used to think to myself that when I became a man it would not be
necessary to work so hard. But on the contrary, the struggle for existence
has become more and more intense. People who want to prove the contrary
get up masses of statistics to show that the condition of the working classes
is improving. Improvement that you have to take a statistical microscope
to discover does not amount to anything. But there is not improvement.
Improvement! Why, according to the last report
of the Michigan Bureau of Labour Statistics, as I read yesterday in a Detroit
paper, taking all the trades, including some of the very high priced ones,
where the wages are from $6 to $7 a day, the average earnings amount to
$1.77, and, taking out waste time, to $1.40. Now, when you consider how
a man can live and bring up a family on $1.40 a day, even in Michigan,
I do not think you will conclude that the condition of the working classes
can have very much improved.
Here is a broad general fact that is asserted
by all who have investigated the question, by such men as Hallam, the historian,
and Professor Thorold Rogers, who has made a study of the history of prices
as they were five centuries ago. When all the productive arts were in the
most primitive state, when the most prolific of our modern vegetables had
not been introduced, when the breeds of cattle were small and poor, when
there were hardly any roads and transportation was exceedingly difficult,
when all manufacturing was done by hand—in that rude time the condition
of the labourers of England was far better than it is to-day. In those
rude times no man need fear want save when actual famine came, and owing
to the difficulties of transportation the plenty of one district could
not relieve the scarcity of another. Save in such times, no man need fear
want. Pauperism, such as exists in modern times, was absolutely unknown.
Everyone, save the physically disabled, could make a living, and the poorest
lived in rude plenty. But perhaps the most astonishing fact brought to
light by this investigation is that at that time, under those conditions
in those dark ages,
as we call them, the working day was
only eight hours. While with all our modern inventions and improvements,
our working classes have been agitating and struggling in vain to get the
working day reduced to eight hours.
Do these facts show improvement? Why, in the
rudest state of society in the most primitive state of the arts the labour
of the natural bread-winner will suffice to provide a living for himself
and for those who are dependent upon him. Amid all our inventions there
are large bodies of men who cannot do this. What is the most astonishing
thing in our civilisation? Why, the most astonishing thing to those Sioux
chiefs who were recently brought from the Far West and taken through our
manufacturing cities in the East, was not the marvellous inventions that
enabled machinery to act almost as if it had intellect; it was not the
growth of our cities; it was not the speed with which the railway car whirled
along; it was not the telegraph or the telephone that most astonished them;
but the fact that amid this marvellous development of productive power
they found little children at work. And astonishing that ought to be to
us; a most astounding thing!
Talk about improvement in the condition of
the working classes, when the facts are that a larger and larger proportion
of women and children are forced to toil. Why, I am told that, even here
in your own city, there are children of thirteen and fourteen working in
factories. In Detroit, according to the report of the Michigan Bureau of
Labour Statistics, one half of the children of school age do not go to
school. In New Jersey, the report made to the legislature discloses an
amount of misery and ignorance that is appalling. Children are growing
up there, compelled to monotonous toil when they ought to be at play, children
who do not know how to play; children who have been so long accustomed
to work that they have become used to it; children growing up in such ignorance
that they do not know what country New Jersey is in, that they never heard
of George Washington, that some of them think Europe is in New York. Such
facts are appalling; they mean that the very foundations of the Republic
are being sapped. The dangerous man is not the man who tries to excite
discontent; the dangerous man is the man who says that all is as it ought
to be. Such a state of things cannot continue; such tendencies as we see
at work here cannot go on without bringing at last an overwhelming crash.
I say that all this poverty and the ignorance
that flows from it is unnecessary; I say that there is no natural reason
why we should not all be rich, in the sense, not of having more than each
other, but in the sense of all having enough to completely satisfy all
physical wants; of all having enough to get such an easy living that we
could develop the better part of humanity. There is no reason why wealth
should not be so abundant, that no one should think of such a thing as
little children at work, or a woman compelled to a toil that nature never
intended her to perform; wealth so abundant that there would be no cause
for that harassing fear that sometimes paralyses even those who are not
considered the poor
, the fear that every man of us has probably
felt, that if sickness should smite him, or if he should be taken away,
those whom he loves better than his life would become charges upon charity.
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not,
neither do they spin.
I believe that in a really Christian community,
in a society that honoured not with the lips but with the act, the doctrines
of Jesus, no one would have occasion to worry about physical needs any
more than do the lilies of the field. There is enough and to spare. The
trouble is that, in this mad struggle, we trample in the mire what has
been provided in sufficiency for us all; trample it in the mire while we
tear and rend each other.
There is a cause for this poverty; and, if
you trace it down, you will find its root in a primary injustice. Look
over the world to-day—poverty everywhere. The cause must be a common one.
You cannot attribute it to the tariff, or to the form of government, or
to this thing or to that in which nations differ; because, as deep poverty
is common to them all the cause that produces it must be a common cause.
What is that common cause? There is one sufficient cause that is common
to all nations; and that is the appropriation as the property of some of
that natural element on which and from which all must live.
Take that fact I have spoken of, that appalling
fact that, even now, it is harder to live than it was in the ages dark
and rude five centuries ago—how do you explain it? There is no difficulty
in finding the cause. Whoever reads the history of England, or the history
of any other civilised nation (but I speak of the history of England because
that is the history with which we are best acquainted) will see the reason.
For century after century a parliament composed of aristocrats and employers
passed laws endeavouring to reduce wages, but in vain. Men could not be
crowded down to wages that gave a mere living because the bounty of nature
was not wholly shut up from them; because some remains of the recognition
of the truth that all men have equal rights on the earth still existed;
because the land of that country, that which was held in private possession,
was only held on a tenure derived from the nation, and for a rent payable
back to the nation. The church lands supported the expenses of public worship,
of the maintenance of seminaries and the care of the poor; the crown lands
defrayed the expenses of the civil list; and from a third portion of the
lands, those held under the military tenures, the army was provided for.
There was no national debt in England at that time. They carried on wars
for hundreds of years, but at the charge of the landowners. And more important
still, there remained everywhere, and you can see in every old English
town their traces to this day, the common lands to which any of the neighbourhood
was free. It was as those lands were enclosed; it was as the commons were
gradually monopolised, as the church lands were made the prey of greedy
courtiers, as the crown lands were given away as absolute property to the
favourites of the king, as the military tenants shirked their rents and
laid the expenses they had agreed to defray, upon the nation, in taxation
that bore upon industry and upon thrift—it was then that poverty began
to deepen, and the tramp appeared in England; just as to-day he is appearing
in our new States.
Now, think of it—is not land monopolisation
a sufficient reason for poverty? What is man? In the first place, he is
an animal, a land animal who cannot live without land. All that man produces
comes from land; all productive labour, in the final analysis, consists
in working up land; or materials drawn from land, into such forms as fit
them for the satisfaction of human wants and desires. Why, man's very body
is drawn from the land. Children of the soil, we come from the land, and
to the land we must return. Take away from man all that belongs to the
land, and what have you but a disembodied spirit? Therefore he who holds
the land on which and from which another man must live, is that man's master;
and the man is his slave. The man who holds the land on which I must live
can command me to life or to death just as absolutely as though I were
his chatter. Talk about abolishing slavery—we have not abolished slavery;
we have only abolished one rude form of it, chattel slavery. There is a
deeper and a more insidious form, a more cursed form yet before us to abolish,
in this industrial slavery that makes a man a virtual slave, while taunting
him and mocking him with the name of freedom. Poverty! want! they will
sting as much as the lash. Slavery! God knows there are horrors enough
in slavery; but there are deeper horrors in our civilised society to-day.
Bad as chattel slavery was, it did not drive slave mothers to kill their
children, yet you may read in official reports that the system of child
insurance which has taken root so strongly in England, and which is now
spreading over our Eastern States, has perceptibly and largely increased
the rate of child mortality!—What does that mean?
Robinson Crusoe, as you know, when he rescued
Friday from the cannibals, made him his slave. Friday had to serve Crusoe.
But, supposing Crusoe had said, O man and brother, I am very glad
to see you, and I welcome you to this island, and you shall be a free and
independent citizen, with just as much to say as I have except that this
island is mine, and of course, as I can do as I please with my own property,
you must not use it save upon my terms.
Friday would have been just
as much Crusoe's slave as though he had called him one. Friday was not
a fish, he could not swim off through the sea; he was not a bird, and could
not fly off through the air; if he lived at all, he had to live on that
island. And if that island was Crusoe's, Crusoe was his master through
life to death.
A friend of mine,
who believes as I do upon this question was talking a while ago with another
friend of mine who is a greenbacker, but who had not paid much attention
to the land question. Our greenback friend said, Yes, yes, the land
question is an important question; oh, I admit the land question is a very
important question; but then there are other important questions. There
is this question and that question, and the other question; and there is
the money question. The money question is a very important question; it
is a more important question than the land question. You give me all the
money, and you can take all the land.
My friend said, Well,
suppose you had all the money in the world and I had all the land in the
world. What would you do if I were to give you notice to quit?
Do you know that I do not think that the average
man realises what land is? I know a little girl who has been going to school
for some time, studying geography, and all that sort of thing; and one
day she said to me: Here is something about the surface of the earth.
I wonder what the surface of the earth looks like? Well,
I said, look out into the yard there. That is the surface of the
She said, That the surface of the earth? Our yard
the surface of the earth? Why, I never thought of it!
That is very
much the case not only with grown men, but with such wise beings as newspaper
editors. They seem to think, when you talk of land, that you always refer
to farms; to think that the land question is a question that relates entirely
to farmers, as though land had no other use than growing crops. Now, I
should like to know how a man could even edit a newspaper without having
the use of some land. He might swing himself by straps and go up in a balloon,
but he could not even then get along without land. What supports the balloon
in the air? Land; the surface of the earth. Let the earth drop, and what
would become of the balloon? The air that supports the balloon is supported
in turn by land. So it is with everything else men can do. Whether a man
is working away three thousand feet under the surface of the earth or whether
he is working up in the top of one of those immense buildings that they
have in New York; whether he is ploughing the soil or sailing across the
ocean, he is still using land.
Land! Why, in owning a piece of ground, what
do you own ? The lawyers will tell you that you own from the centre of
the earth right up to heaven; and, so far as all human purposes go, you
do. In New York they are building houses thirteen and fourteen stories
high. What are men, living in those upper stories, paying for? There is
a friend of mine who has an office in one of them, and he estimates that
he pays by the cubic foot for air. Well, the man who owns the surface of
the land has the renting of the air up there, and would have if the buildings
were carried up for miles.
This land question is the bottom question.
Man is a land animal. Suppose you want to build a house; can you build
it without a place to put it? What is it built of? Stone, or mortar, or
wood, or iron—they all come from the earth. Think of any article of wealth
you choose, any of those things which men struggle for, where do they come
from? From the land. It is the bottom question. The land question is simply
the labour question; and when some men own that element from which all
wealth must be drawn, and upon which all must live, then they have the
power of living without work, and, therefore, those who do work get less
of the products of work.
Did you ever think of the utter absurdity
and strangeness of the fact that, all over the civilised world, the working
classes are the poor classes? Go into any city in the world, and get into
a cab and ask the man to drive you where the working people live. He won't
take you to where the fine houses are. He will take you, on the contrary,
into the squalid quarters, the poorer quarters. Did you ever think how
curious that is? Think for a moment how it would strike a rational being
who had never been on the earth before, if such an intelligence could come
down, and you were to explain to him how we live on earth, how houses and
food and clothing, and all the many things we need were all produced by
work, would he not think that the working people would be the people who
lived in the finest houses and had most of everything that work produces?
Yet, whether you took him to London or Paris or New York, or even to Burlington,
he would find that those called the working people were the people who
live in the poorest houses.
All this is strange—just think of it. We naturally
despise poverty; and it is reasonable that we should. I do not say—I distinctly
repudiate it—that the people who are poor are poor always from their own
fault, or even in most cases; but it ought to be so. If any good man or
woman could create a world, it would be a sort of a world in which no one
would be poor unless he was lazy or vicious. But that is just precisely
the kind of a world this is; that is just precisely the kind of a world
the Creator has made. Nature gives to labour, and to labour alone; there
must be human work before any article of wealth can be produced; and in
the natural state of things the man who toiled honestly and well would
be the rich man, and he who did not work would be poor. We have so reversed
the order of nature that we are accustomed to think of the workingman as
a poor man.
And if you trace it out I believe you will
see that the primary cause of this is that we compel those who work to
pay others for permission to do so. You may buy a coat, a horse, a house;
there you are paying the seller for labour exerted, for something that
he has produced, or that he has got from the man who did produce it; but
when you pay a man for land, what are you paying him for? You are paying
for something that no man has produced; you pay him for something that
was here before man was, or for a value that was created, not by him individually,
but by the community of which you are a part. What is the reason that the
land here, where we stand tonight, is worth more than it was twenty-five
years ago? What is the reason that land in the centre of New York, that
once could be bought by the mile for a jug of whiskey, is now worth so
much that, though you were to cover it with gold, you would not have its
value? Is it not because of the increase of population? Take away that
population, and where would the value of the land be? Look at it in any
way you please.
We talk about over-production. How can there
be such a thing as over-production while people want? All these things
that are said to be over-produced are desired by many people. Why do they
not get them? They do not get them because they have not the means to buy
them; not that they do not want them. Why have not they the means to buy
them? They earn too little. When the great masses of men have to work for
an average of $1.40 a day, it is no wonder that great quantities of goods
cannot be sold.
Now why is it that men have to work for such
low wages? Because if they were to demand higher wages there are plenty
of unemployed men ready to step into their places. It is this mass of unemployed
men who compel that fierce competition that drives wages down to the point
of bare subsistence. Why is it that there are men who cannot get employment?
Did you ever think what a strange thing it is that men cannot find employment?
Adam had no difficulty in finding employment; neither had Robinson Crusoe;
the finding of employment was the last thing that troubled them.
If men cannot find an employer, why cannot
they employ themselves? Simply because they are shut out from the element
on which human labour can alone be exerted. Men are compelled to compete
with each other for the wages of an employer, because they have been robbed
of the natural opportunities of employing themselves; because they cannot
find a piece of God's world on which to work without paving some other
human creature for the privilege.
I do not mean to say that even after you had
set right this fundamental injustice, there would not be many things to
do; but this I do mean to say, that our treatment of land lies at the bottom
of all social questions. This I do mean to say, that, do what you please,
reform as you may, you never can get rid of wide-spread poverty so long
as the element on which and from which all men must live is made the private
property of some men. It is utterly impossible. Reform government—get taxes
down to the minimum—build railroads; institute co-operative stores; divide
profits, if you choose, between employers and employed-and what will be
the result? The result will be that the land will increase in value—that
will be the result—that and nothing else. Experience shows this. Do not
all improvements simply increase the value of land—the price that some
must pay others for the privilege of living?
Consider the matter, I say it with all reverence,
and I merely say it because I wish to impress a truth upon your minds—it
is utterly impossible, so long as His laws are what they are, that God
himself could relieve poverty—utterly impossible. Think of it and you will
see. Men pray to the Almighty to relieve poverty. But poverty comes not
from God's laws—it is blasphemy of the worst kind to say that; it comes
from man's injustice to his fellows. Supposing the Almighty were to hear
the prayer, how could He carry out the request so long as His laws are
what they are?
Consider—the Almighty gives us nothing of
the things that constitute wealth; He merely gives us the raw material,
which must be utilised by man to produce wealth. Does He not give us enough
of that now? How could He relieve poverty even if He were to give us more?
Supposing in answer to these prayers He were to increase the power of the
sun; or the virtue of the soil? Supposing He were to make plants more prolific,
or animals to produce after their kind more abundantly? Who would get the
benefit of it? Take a country where land is completely monopolised, as
it is in most of the civilised countries—who would get the benefit of it?
Simply the landowners. And even if God in answer to prayer were to send
down out of the heavens those things that men require, who would get the
In the Old Testament we are told that when
the Israelites journeyed through the desert, they were hungered, and that
God sent manna down out of the heavens. There was enough for all of them,
and they all took it and were relieved. But supposing that desert had been
held as private property, as the soil of Great Britain is held, as the
soil even of our new States is being held; suppose that one of the Israelites
had a square mile, and another one had twenty square miles, and another
one had a hundred square miles, and the great majority of the Israelites
did not have enough to set the soles of their feet upon, which they could
call their own—what would become of the manna? What good would it have
done to the majority? Not a whit. Though God had sent down manna enough
for all, that manna would have been the property of the landholders; they
would have employed some of she others perhaps, to gather it up into heaps
for them, and would have sold it to their hungry brethren. Consider it;
this purchase and sale of manna might have gone on until the majority of
Israelites had given all they had, even to the clothes off their backs.
What then? Then they would not have had anything left to buy manna with,
and the consequences would have been that while they went hungry the manna
would have lain in great heaps, and the landowners would have been complaining
of the over-production of manna. There would have been a great harvest
of manna and hungry people, just precisely the phenomenon that we see to-day.
I cannot go over all the points I would like
to try, but I wish to call your attention to the utter absurdity of private
property in land! Why, consider it, the idea of a man's selling the earth—the
earth, our common mother. A man selling that which no man produced—a man
passing title from one generation to another. Why, it is the most absurd
thing in the world. Why, did you ever think of it? What right has a dead
man to land? For whom was this earth created? It was created for the living,
certainly, not for the dead. Well, now we treat it as though it was created
for the dead. Where do our land titles come from? They come from men who
for the most part are past and gone. Here in this new country you get a
little nearer the original source; but go to the Eastern States and go
back over the Atlantic. There you may clearly see the power that comes
As I say, the man that owns the land is the
master of those who must live on it. Here is a modern instance: you who
are familiar with the history of the Scottish Church know that in the forties
there was a disruption in the church. You who have read Hugh Miller's work
on The Cruise of the Betsey
know something about it; how
a great body, led by Dr. Chalmers, came out from the Established Church
and said they would set up a Free Church. In the Established Church were
a great many of the landowners. Some of them, like the Duke of Buccleugh,
owning miles and miles of land on which no common Scotsman had a right
to put his foot, save by the Duke of Buccleugh's permission. These landowners
refused not only to allow these Free Churchmen to have ground upon which
to erect a church, but they would not let them stand on their land and
worship God. You who have read The Cruise of the Betsey
that it is the story of a clergyman who was obliged to make his home in
a boat on that wild sea because he was not allowed to have land enough
to live on. In many places the people had to take the sacrament with the
tide coming to their knees—many a man lost his life worshipping on the
roads in rain and snow. They were not permitted to go on Mr. Landlord's
land and worship God, and had to take to the roads. The Duke of Buccleugh
stood out for seven years compelling people to worship in the roads, until
finally relenting a little, he allowed them to worship God in a gravel
pit; whereupon they passed a resolution of thanks to His Grace.
But that is not what I wanted to tell you.
The thing that struck me was this significant fact: As soon as the disruption
occurred, the Free Church, composed of a great many able men, at once sent
a delegation to the landlords to ask permission for Scotsmen to worship
God in Scotland and in their own way. This delegation set out for London—they
had to go to London, England, to get permission for Scotsmen to worship
God in Scotland, and in their own native home!
But that is not the most absurd thing. In
one place where they were refused land upon which to stand and worship
God, the late landowner had died and his estate was in the hands of the
trustees, and the answer of the trustees was, that so far as they were
concerned they would exceedingly like to allow them to have a place to
put up a church to worship God, but they could not conscientiously do it
because they knew that such a course would be very displeasing to the late
Mr. Monaltie! Now this dead man had gone to heaven, let us hope; at any
rate he had gone away from this world, but lest it might displease him
men yet living could not worship God. Is it possible for absurdity to go
You may say that those Scotch people are very
absurd people, but they are not a whit more so than we are. I read only
a little while ago of some Long Island fishermen who had been paying as
rent for the privilege of fishing there, a certain part of the catch. They
paid it because they believed that James II, a dead man centuries ago,
a man who never put his foot in America, a king who was kicked off the
English throne, had said they had to pay it, and they got up a committee,
went to the county town and searched the records. They could not find anything
in the records to show that James II had ever ordered that they should
give any of their fish to anybody, and so they refused to pay any longer.
But if they had found that James II had really said they should they would
have gone on paying. Can anything be more absurd?
There is a square in New York— Stuyvesant Square
that is locked up at six o'clock every evening, even on the long summer
evenings. Why is it locked up? Why are the children not allowed to play
there? Why because old Mr. Stuyvesant, dead and gone I don't know how many
years ago, so willed it. Now can anything be more absurd?*
*After a popular agitation, the park authorities
since decided to have the gates open later than six o'clock.
Yet that is not any more absurd than our land titles. From whom do they
come? Dead man after dead man. Suppose you get on the cars here going to
Council Bluffs or Chicago. You find a passenger with his baggage strewn
over the seats. You say: Will you give me a seat, if you please,
He replies: No; I bought this seat. Bought
this seat? From whom did you buy it?
I bought it from the man who
got out at the last station, That is the way we manage this earth
Is it not a self-evident truth, as Thomas
Jefferson said, that the land belongs in usufruct to the living,
and that they who have died have left it, and have no power to say how
it shall be disposed of? Title to land! Where can a man get any title which
makes the earth his property? There is a sacred right to property—sacred
because ordained by the laws of nature, that is to say, by the laws of
God, and necessary to social order and civilisation. That is the right
of property in things produced by labour; it rests on the right of a man
to himself. That which a man produces, that is his against all the world,
to give or to keep, to lend, to sell or to bequeath; but how can he get
such a right to land when it was here before he came? Individual claims
to land rest only on appropriation. I read in a recent number of the Nineteenth
possibly some of you may have read it, an article by an
ex-prime minister of Australia in which there was a little story that attracted
my attention. It was of a man named Galahard, who in the early days got
up to the top of a high hill in one of the finest parts of western Australia.
He got up there, looked all around, and made this proclamation: All
the land that is in my sight from the top of this hill I claim for myself;
and all the land that is out of sight I claim for my son John.
That story is of universal application. Land
titles everywhere come from just such appropriations. Now, under certain
circumstances, appropriation can give a right. You invite a company of
gentlemen to dinner and you say to them: Be seated, gentlemen,
and I get into this chair. Well, that seat for the time being is mine by
the right of appropriation. It would be very ungentlemanly, it would be
very wrong for any one of the other guests to come up and say: Get
out of that chair; I want to sit there I
But that right of possession,
which is good so far as the chair is concerned, for the time, does not
give me a right to appropriate all there is on the table before me. Grant
that a man has a right to appropriate such natural elements as he can use,
has he any right to appropriate more than he can use? Has a guest in such
a case as I have supposed a right to appropriate more than he needs and
make other people stand up? That is what is done.
Why, look all over this country—look at this
town or any other town. If men only took what they wanted to use we should
all have enough; but they take what they do not want to use at all. Here
are a lot of Englishmen coming over here and getting titles to our land
in vast tracts; what do they want with our land? They do not want it at
all; it is not the land they want; they have no use for American land.
What they want is the income that they know they can in a little while
get from it. Where does that income come from? It comes from labour, from
the labour of American citizens. What we are selling to these people is
our children, not land.
Poverty! Can there be any doubt of its cause?
Go, into the old countries—go into western Ireland, into the highlands
of Scotland—these are purely primitive communities. There you will find
people as poor as poor can be—living year after year on oatmeal or on potatoes,
and often going hungry. I could tell you many a pathetic story. Speaking
to a Scottish physician who was telling me how this diet was inducing among
these people a disease similar to that which from the same cause is ravaging
Italy (the Pellagra), I said to him: There is plenty of fish; why
don't they catch fish? There is plenty of game; I know the laws are against
it, but cannot they take it on the sly? That,
never enters their heads. Why, if a man was even suspected of having
a taste for trout or grouse he would have to leave at once.
There is no difficulty in discovering what
makes those people poor. They have no right to anything that nature gives
them. All they can make above a living they must pay to the landlord. They
not only have to pay for the land that they use, but they have to pay for
the seaweed that comes ashore and for the turf they dig from the bogs.
They dare not improve, for any improvements they make are made an excuse
for putting up the rent. These people who work hard live in hovels, and
the landlords, who do not work at all—oh! they live in luxury in London
or Paris. If they have hunting boxes there, why they are magnificent castles
as compared with the hovels in which the men live who do the work. Is there
any question as to the cause of poverty there?
Now go into the cities and what do you see!
Why, you see even a lower depth of poverty; aye, if I would point out the
worst of the evils of land monopoly I would not take you to Connemara;
I would not take you to Skye or Kintire—I would take you to Dublin or Glasgow
or London. There is something worse than physical deprivation, something
worse than starvation; and that is the degradation of the mind, the death
of the soul. That is what you will find in those cities.
Now, what is the cause of that? Why, it is plainly to be seen; the
people driven off the land in the country are driven into the slums of
the cities. For every man that is driven off the land the demand for the
produce of the workmen of the cities is lessened; and the man himself with
his wife and children, is forced among those workmen to compete upon any
terms for a bare living and force wages down. Get work he must or starve—get
work he must or do that which those people, so long as they maintain their
manly feelings, dread more than death, go to the alms-houses. That is the
reason, here as in Great Britain, that the cities are overcrowded. Open
the land that is locked up, that is held by dogs in the manger, who will
not use it themselves and will not allow anybody else to use it, and you
would see no more of tramps and hear no more of over-production.
The utter absurdity of this thing of private
property in land! I defy any one to show me any good from it, look where
you please. Go out in the new lands, where my attention was first called
to it, or go to the heart of the capital of the world—London. Everywhere,
when your eyes are once opened, you will see its inequality and you will
see its absurdity. You do not have to go farther than Burlington. You have
here a most beautiful site for a city, but the city itself as compared
with what it might be is a miserable, straggling town. A gentleman showed
me to-day a big hole alongside one of your streets. The place has been
filled up all around it and this hole is left. It is neither pretty nor
useful. Why does that hole stay there? Well, it stays there because somebody
claims it as his private property. There is a man, this gentleman told
me, who wished to grade another lot and wanted somewhere to put the dirt
he took off it, and he offered to buy this hole so that he might fill it
up. Now it would have been a good thing for Burlington to have it filled
up, a good thing for you all—your town would look better, and you yourself
would be in no danger of tumbling into it some dark night. Why, my friend
pointed out to me another similar hole in which water had collected and
told me that two children had been drowned there. And he likewise told
me that a drunken man some years ago had fallen into such a hole and had
brought suit against the city which cost you taxpayers some $11,000. Clearly
it is to the interest of you all to have that particular hole I am talking
of filled up. The man who wanted to fill it up offered the hole owner $300.
But the hole owner refused the offer and declared that he would hold out
until he could get $1000; and in the meanwhile that unsightly and dangerous
hole must remain. This is but an illustration of private property in land.
You may see the same thing all over this country.
See how injuriously in the agricultural districts this thing of private
property in land afflects the roads and the distances between the people.
A man does not take what land he wants, what he can use, but he takes all
he can get, and the consequence is that his next neighbour has to go further
along, people are separated from each other further than they ought to
be, to the increased difficulty of production, to the loss of neighbourhood
and companionship. They have more roads to maintain than they can decently
maintain; they must do more work to get the same result, and life is in
every way harder and drearier.
When you come to the cities it is just the
other way. In the country the people are too much scattered; in the great
cities they are too crowded. Go to a city like New York and there they
are jammed together like sardines in a box, living family upon family,
one above the other. It is an unnatural and unwholesome life. How can you
have anything like a home in a tenement room, or two or three rooms? How
can children be brought up healthily with no place to play? Two or three
weeks ago I read of a New York judge who fined two little boys five dollars
for playing hop-scotch on the street—where else could they play? Private
property in land had robbed them of all place to play. Even a temperance
man, who had investigated the subject, said that in his opinion the gin
palaces of London were a positive good in this, that they enabled the people
whose abodes were dark and squalid rooms to see a little brightness and
thus prevent them from going wholly mad.
What is the reason for this overcrowding of
cities? There is no natural reason. Take New York, one half its area is
not built upon. Why, then, must people crowd together as they do there?
Simply because of private ownership of land. There is plenty of room to
build houses and plenty, of people who want to build houses, but before
anybody can build a house a blackmail price must be paid to some dog in
the manger. It costs in many cases more to get vacant ground upon which
to build a house than it does to build the house. And then what happens
to the man who pays this blackmail and builds a house? Down comes the tax-gatherer
and fines him for building the house.
It is so all over the United States—the men
who improve, the men who turn the prairie into farms and the desert into
gardens, the men who beautify your cities, are taxed and fined for having
done these things. Now, nothing is clearer than that the people of New
York want more houses; and I think that even here in Burlington you could
get along with more houses. Why, then, should you fine a man who builds
one? Look all over this country—the bulk of the taxation rests upon the
improver; the man who puts up a building, or establishes a factory, or
cultivates a farm he is taxed for it; and not merely taxed for it, but
I think in nine cases out of ten the land which he uses, the bare land,
is taxed more than the adjoining lot or the adjoining 160 acres that some
speculator is holding as a mere dog in the manger, not using it himself
and not allowing anybody else to use it.
I am talking too long; but let me in a few
words point out the way of getting rid of land monopoly, securing the right
of all to the elements which are necessary for life. We could not divide
the land. In a rude state of society, as among the ancient Hebrews. giving
each family its lot and making it inalienable we might secure something
like equality. But in a complex civilisation that will not suffice. It
is not, however, necessary to divide up the land. All that is necessary
is to divide up the income that comes from the land. In that way we can
secure absolute equality; nor could the adoption of this principle involve
any rude shock or violent change. It can be brought about gradually and
easily by abolishing taxes that now rest upon capital, labour and improvements,
and raising all our public revenues by the taxation of land values; and
the longer you think of it the clearer you will see that in every possible
way will it he a benefit.
Now, supposing we should abolish all other
taxes direct and indirect, substituting for them a tax upon land values,
what would be the effect? In the first place it would be to kill speculative
values. It would be to remove from the newer parts of the country the bulk
of the taxation and put it on the richer parts. It would be to exempt the
pioneer from taxation and make the larger cities pay more of it. It would
be to relieve energy and enterprise, capital and labour, from all those
burdens that now bear upon them. What a start that would give to production!
In the second place we could, from the value of the land, not merely pay
all the present expenses of the government, but we could do infinitely
more. In the city of San Francisco James Lick left a few blocks of ground
to be used for public purposes there, and the rent amounts to so much,
that out of it will be built the largest telescope in the world, large
public baths and other public buildings, and various costly works. If,
instead of these few blocks, the whole value of the land upon which the
city is built had accrued to San Francisco what could she not do?
So in this little town, where land values
are very low as compared with such cities as Chicago and San Francisco,
you could do many things for mutual benefit and public improvement did
you appropriate to public purposes the land values that now go to individuals.
You could have a great free library; you could have an art gallery; you
could get yourselves a public park, a magnificent public park, too. You
have here one of the finest natural sites for a beautiful town I know of,
and I have travelled much. You might make on this site a city that it would
be a pleasure to live in. You will not as you go now—oh, no! Why, the very
fact that you have a magnificent view here will cause somebody to hold
on all the more tightly to the land that commands this view and charge
higher prices for it. The State of New York wants to buy a strip of land
so as to enable the people to see Niagara, but what a price she must pay
for it! Look at all the great cities; in Philadelphia, for instance, in
order to build their great city hall they had to block up the only two
wide streets they had in the city. Everywhere you go you may see how private
property in land prevents public as well as private improvement.
But I have not time to enter into further
details. I can only ask you to think upon this thing, and the more you
will see its desirability. As an English friend of mine puts it: No
taxes and a pension for everybody;
and why should it not be? To
take land values for public purposes is not really to impose a tax, but
to take for public purposes a value created by the community. And out of
the fund which would thus accrue from the common property, we might, without
degradation to anybody, provide enough to actually secure from want all
who were deprived of their natural protectors or met with accident, or
any man who should grow so old that he could not work. All prating that
is heard from some quarters about its hurting the common people to give
them what they do not work for is humbug. The truth is, that anything that
injures self-respect, degrades, does harm; but if you give it as a right,
as something to which every citizen is entitled to, it does not degrade.
Charity schools do degrade children that are sent to them, but public schools
But all such benefits as these, while great,
would be incidental. The great thing would be that the reform I propose
would tend to open opportunities to labour and enable men to provide employment
for themselves. That is the great advantage. We should gain the enormous
productive power that is going to waste all over the country, the power
of idle hands that would gladly be at work. And that removed, then you
would see wages begin to mount. It is not that everyone would turn farmer,
or everyone would build himself a house if he had an opportunity for doing
so, but so many could and would, as to relieve the pressure on the labour
market and provide employment for all others. And as wages mounted to the
higher levels, then you would see the productive power increased. The country
where wages are high is the country of greatest productive powers. Where
wages are highest, there will invention be most active; there will labour
be most intelligent; there will be the greatest yield for the expenditure
of exertion. The more you think of it the more clearly you will see that
what I say is true. I cannot hope to convince you in an hour or two, but
I shall be content if I shall put you upon inquiry.
Think for yourselves; ask yourselves whether
this wide-spread fact of poverty is not a crime, and a crime for which
every one of us, man and woman, who does not do what he or she can do to
call attention to it and do away with it, is responsible.