TO PRESERVE the benefits of what is called civilized life, and to remedy
at the same time the evil which it has produced, ought to be considered
as one of the first objects of reformed legislation.
Whether that state that is proudly, perhaps erroneously, called civilization,
has most promoted or most injured the general happiness of man, is a question
that may be strongly contested. On one side, the spectator is dazzled by
splendid appearances; on the other, he is shocked by extremes of wretchedness;
both of which it has erected. The most affluent and the most miserable of
the human race are to be found in the countries that are called civilized.
To understand what the state of society ought to be, it is necessary to
have some idea of the natural and primitive state of man; such as it is at
this day among the Indians of North America. There is not, in that state,
any of those spectacles of human misery which poverty and want present to
our eyes in all the towns and streets in Europe.
Poverty, therefore, is a thing created by that which is called civilized
life. It exists not in the natural state. On the other hand, the natural
state is without those advantages which flow from agriculture, arts, science
The life of an Indian is a continual holiday, compared with the poor of
Europe; and, on the other hand it appears to be abject when compared to the
rich. Civilization, therefore, or that which is so called, has operated two
ways: to make one part of society more affluent, and the other more wretched,
than would have been the lot of either in a natural state.
It is always possible to go from the natural to the civilized state, but
it is never possible to go from the civilized to the natural state. The reason
is that man in a natural state, subsisting by hunting, requires ten times
the quantity of land to range over to procure himself sustenance, than would
support him in a civilized state, where the earth is cultivated.
When, therefore, a country becomes populous by the additional aids of cultivation,
art and science, there is a necessity of preserving things in that state;
because without it there cannot be sustenance for more, perhaps, than a tenth
part of its inhabitants. The thing, therefore, now to be done is to remedy
the evils and preserve the benefits that have arisen to society by passing
from the natural to that which is called the civilized state.
In taking the matter upon this ground, the first principle of civilization
ought to have been, and ought still to be, that the condition of every person
born into the world, after a state of civilization communities, ought not
to be worse than it he had been born before that period.
But the fact is that the condition of millions, in every country in Europe,
is far worse than if they had been born before civilization began, or had
been born among the Indians of North America at the present day. I will show
how this fact has happened.
It is a position not to be controverted that the earth, in its natural,
uncultivated state was, and ever would have continued to be, the common
property of the human race. In that state every man would have been born
He would have been a joint life proprietor with the rest in the property
of the soil, and in all its natural productions, vegetable and animal.
But the earth in its natural state, as before said, is capable of supporting
but a small number of inhabitants compared with what it is capable of doing
in a cultivated state. And as it is impossible to separate the improvement
made by cultivation from the earth itself, upon which that improvement is
made, the idea of landed property arose from that inseparable connection;
but it is nevertheless true, that it is the value of the improvement, only,
and not the earth itself, that is individual property.
Every proprietor, therefore, of cultivated lands, owes to the community
a ground-rent (for I know of no better term to express the idea) for the
land which he holds; and it is from this ground-rent that the fund proposed
in this plan is to issue.
It is deducible, as well from the nature of the thing as from all the histories
transmitted to us, that the idea of landed property commenced with cultivation,
and that there was no such thing as landed property before that time. It
could not exist in the first state of man, that of hunters. It did not exist
in the second state, that of shepherds: neither Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, nor
Job, so far as the history of the Bible may be credited in probable things,
were owners of land.
Their property consisted, as is always enumerated in flocks and herds, and
they traveled with them from place to place. The frequent contentions at
that time about the use of a well in the dry country of Arabia, where those
people lived, also show that there was no landed property. It was not admitted
that land could be claimed as property.
There could be no such thing at landed property originally. Man did not
make the earth, and though he had a natural right to occupy it, he had no
right to locate as his property in perpetuity any part of it; neither did
the Creator of the earth open a land-office, from whence the first title-deeds
should issue. Whence then, arose the idea of landed property? I answer as
before, that when cultivation began the idea of landed property began with
it, from the impossibility or separating the improvement made by cultivation
from the earth itself, upon which that improvement was made.
The value of the improvement so far exceeded the value of the natural earth,
at that time, as to absorb it; till, in the end, the common right of all
became confounded into the cultivated right of the individual. But there
are, nevertheless, distinct species of rights, and will continue to be, so
long as the earth endures.
It is only by tracing things to their origin that we can gain rightful ideas
of them, and it is by gaining such ideas that we discover the boundary that
divides right from wrong, and teaches every man to know his own. I have entitled
this tract "Agrarian Justice" to distinguish it from "Agrarian
Nothing could be more unjust than agrarian law in a country improved by
cultivation; for though every man, as an inhabitant of the earth, is a joint
proprietor of it in its natural state, it does not follow that he is a joint
proprietor of cultivated earth. The additional value made by cultivation,
after the system was admitted, became the property of those who did it, or
who inherited ii from them, or who purchased it. It had originally no owner.
While, therefore, I advocate the right, and interest myself in the hard case
of all those who have been thrown out of their natural inheritance by the
introduction of the system of landed property, I equally defend the right
of the possessor to the part which is his.
Cultivation is at least one of the greatest natural improvements ever made
by human invention. It has given to created earth a tenfold value. But the
landed monopoly that began with it has produced the greatest evil. It has
dispossessed more than half the inhabitants of every nation of their natural
inheritance, without providing for them, as ought to have been done, an indemnification
for that loss, and has thereby created a species of poverty and wretchedness
that did not exist before.
In advocating the case of the persons thus dispossessed, it is a right,
and not a charity, that I am pleading for. Nor it is that kind of right which,
being neglected at first, could not he brought forward afterwards till heaven
had opened the way by a revolution in the system of government. Let us then
do honor to revolutions by justice, and give currency to their principles
Having thus in a few words, opened the merits of the case, I shall now proceed
to the plan I have to propose, which is,
To create a national fund, out of which there shall be paid to every person,
when arrived at the age of twenty-one years, the sum of fifteen pounds sterling,
as a compensation in part, for the loss of his or her natural inheritance,
by the introduction of the system of landed property:
And also, the sum of ten pounds per annum, during life, to every person
now living, of the age of fifty years, and to all others as they shall arrive
at that age.
Means By Which The Fund Is To Be Created
I have already established the principle, namely, that the earth, in its
natural uncultivated state was, and ever would have continued to be, the
common property of the human race; that in that state, every person would
have been born to property; and that the system of landed property, by its
inseparable connection with cultivation, and with what is called civilized
life, has absorbed the property of all those whom it dispossessed, without
providing as ought to have been done, an indemnification for that loss.
The fault, however, is not in the present possessors. No complaint is intended,
or ought to be alleged against them, unless they adopt the crime by opposing
justice. The fault is in the system, and it has stolen imperceptibly upon
the world, aided afterwards by the agrarian law of the sword. But the fault
can be made to reform itself by successive generations; and without diminishing
or deranging the property of any of the present possessors, the operation
of the fund can yet commence, and be in full activity, the first year of
its establishment, or soon after, as I shall show.
It is proposed that the payments, as already stated, be made to every person,
rich or poor. It is best to make it so, to prevent invidious distinctions.
It is also right it should be so, because it is in lieu of the natural inheritance,
which, as a right, belongs to every man, over and above the property he may
have created, or inherited from those who did. Such persons as do not choose
to receive it can throw it into the common fund.
Taking it then for granted that no person ought to be in a worse condition
when born under what is called a state of civilization, than he would have
been had he been born in a state of nature, and that civilization ought to
have made, and ought still to make, provision for that purpose, it can only
be done by subtracting from property a portion equal in value to the natural
inheritance it has absorbed.
Various methods may be proposed for this purpose, but that which appears
to be the best (not only because it will operate without deranging any present
possessors, or without interfering with the collection of taxes or emprunts
necessary for the purposes of government and the Revolution, but because
it will be the least troublesome and the most effectual, and also because
the subtraction will be made at a time that best admits it) is at the moment
that property is passing by the death of one person to the possession of
another. In this case, the bequeather gives nothing: the receiver pays nothing.
The only matter to him is that the monopoly of natural inheritance, to which
there never was a right, begins to cease in his person. A generous man would
not wish it to continue, and a just man will rejoice to see it abolished.
My state of health prevents my making sufficient inquiries with respect
to the doctrine of probabilities, whereon to round calculations with such
degrees of certainty as they are capable of. What, therefore, I offer on
this head is more the result of observation and reflection than of received
information; but I believe it will be found to agree sufficiently with fact.
In the first place, taking twenty-one years as the epoch of maturity, all
the property of a nation, real and personal, is always in the possession
of persons above that age. It is then necessary to know, as a datum of calculation,
the average of years which persons above that age will live. I take this
average to be about thirty years, for though many persons will live forty,
fifty, or sixty years, after the age of twenty-one years, others will die
much sooner, and some in every year of that time.
Taking, then, thirty years as the average of time, it will give, without
any material variation one way or other, the average of time in which the
whole property or capital of a nation, or a sum equal thereto, will have
passed through one entire revolution in descent, that is, will have gone
by deaths to new possessors; for though, in many instances, some parts of
this capital will remain forty, fifty, or sixty years in the possession of
one person, other parts will have revolved two or three times before those
thirty years expire, which will bring it to that average; for were one-half
the capital of a nation to revolve twice in thirty years, it would produce
the same fund as if the whole revolved once.
Taking, then, thirty years as the average of time in which the whole capital
of a nation, or a sum equal thereto, will revolve once, the thirtieth part
thereof will be the sum that will revolve every year, that is, will go by
deaths to new possessors; and this last sum being thus known, and the ratio
per cent to be subtracted from it determined, it will give the amount or
income of the proposed fund, to be applied as already mentioned.
In looking over the discourse of the English Minister, Pitt, in his opening
of what is called in England the budget (the scheme of finance for the year
1796), I find an estimate of the national capital of that country. As this
estimate or a national capital is prepared ready to my hand, I take it as
a datum to act upon. When a calculation is made upon the known capital of
any nation, combined with its population, it will serve as a scale for any
other nation, in proportion as its capital and population be more or less.
I am the more disposed to take this estimate of Mr. Pitt, for the purpose
of showing to that minister, upon his own calculation, how much better money
may be employed than in wasting it, as he has done, on the wild project of
setting up Bourbon kings. What, in the name of heaven, are Bourbon kings
to the people of England? It is better that the people have bread.
Mr. Pitt states the national capital of England, real and personal, to be
one thousand three hundred millions sterling, which is about one fourth part
of the national capital of France, including Belgia. The event of the last
harvest in each country proves that the soil of France is more productive
than that of England, and that it can better support twenty-four or twenty-five
millions of inhabitants than that of England can seven or seven and a half
The thirtieth part of this capital of £1,300,000,000 is £43,333,333
which is the part that will revolve every year by deaths in that country
possessors; and the sum that will annually revolve in France in the proportion
of four to one, will be about one hundred and seventy-three millions sterling.
From this sum of £ 43,333,333 annually revolving, is to be subtracted
the value of the natural inheritance absorbed in it, which, perhaps, in fair
justice, cannot be taken at less, and ought not to be taken for more, than
a tenth part.
It will always happen that of the property thus revolving by deaths every
year a part will descend in a direct line to sons and daughters, and the
other part collaterally, and the proportion will he found to be about three
to one; that is, about thirty millions of the above sum will descend to direct
heirs, and the remaining sum of £ 13,333,333 to more distant relations,
and in part to strangers.
Considering, then, that man is always related to society, that relationship
will become comparatively greater proportion as the next of kin is more distant;
it is therefore consistent with civilization to say that where there are
no direct heirs society shall be heir to a part over and above the tenth
part due to society.
If this additional part be from five to ten or twelve per cent, in proportion
as the next of kin be nearer or more remote, so as to average with the escheats
that may fall, which ought always to go to society and not to the government
(an addition of ten per cent more), the produce from the annual sum of £ 43,333,333
From £ 30,000,000 at ten per cent £ 3,000,000
From £ 13,333,333 at ten per cent with the addition of ten percent
more £ 2,666,666
£ 43,333,333 £5,666,666
Having thus arrived at the annual amount or the proposed fund, I come, in
the next place, to speak of the population proportioned to this fund and
to compare it with the uses to which the fund is to be applied.
The population (I mean that of England) does not exceed seven millions and
a half, and the number of persons above the age of fifty will in that case
be about four hundred thousand. There would not, however, he more than that
number that would accept the proposed ten pounds sterling per annum, though
they would he entitled to it. I have no idea it would be accepted by many
persons who had a yearly income of two or three hundred pounds sterling.
But as we often see instances of rich people falling into sudden poverty,
even at the age of sixty, they would always have the right of drawing all
the arrears due to them. Four millions, therefore, of the above annual sum
of £5,666,666 will be required for four hundred thousand aged persons,
ten pounds sterling each.
I come now to speak of the persons annually arriving at twenty-one years
of age. If all the persons who died were above the age of twenty-one years,
the number of persons annually arriving at that age must be equal to the
annual number of deaths, to keep the population stationary. But the greater
part die under the age of twenty-one, and therefore the number of persons
annually arriving at twenty-one will be less than half the number of deaths.
The whole number of deaths upon a population of seven millions and a half
will be about 220,000 annually. The number arriving at twenty-one years of
age will be about 100,000. The whole number of these will not receive the
proposed fifteen pounds, for the reasons already mentioned, though, as in
the former case, they would be entitled to it. Admitting then that a tenth
part declined receiving it, the amount would stand thus:
Fund annually £ 5,666,666
To 400,000 aged persons at L10 each £ 4,000,000
To 90,000 persons of 21 yrs., L15 ster. each £ 1,350,000
-- £ 5,350,000
Remains £ 316,666
There are. in every country, a number blind and lame persons totally incapable
of earning a livelihood. But as it will always happen that the greater number
of blind persons will be among those who are above the age of fifty years,
they will be provided for in that class. The remaining sum of L316,666 will
provide for the lame and blind under that age, at the same rate of L10 annually
for each person.