Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 36.djvu/662

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644
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
ORIGIN OF LAND-OWNERSHIP.

By DANIEL E. WING.

IT has been asserted that nothing is so devoid of natural justice and moral right as private ownership in land — the sole dominion over a portion of the earth's surface which one man claims and exercises to the exclusion of the dominion of every other man therein. The proposition would be true, and private ownership in land would work the greatest injustice that the mind can conceive — human slavery absolute — if it were possible that one man or a set of men with one common motive could appropriate all land. But such a thing is absurd. And it is denied that private ownership in land as now constituted is unjust, or detrimental to the best interests of mankind associated in the social organization of the world.

Let us assume that primarily land was held in common, or a yet stronger proposition, that it is a law of nature that all land shall be so owned and enjoyed. By the same law of nature, and by reason, he who first began to use a particular spot or field acquired therein a kind of transient property that lasted so long as he was using it. The right to use it lasted so long as possession continued, and with death or removal, possession ceasing, the personal right of usage ceased also, and the land was open to the next occupant. That is, whoever was in occupation acquired for the time being a sort of ownership, a guasi-ownership for the purpose of subsistence, or rest if you please, and to drive him therefrom by force would be a violation of the same law of nature. But once he quitted it, another, having the same right of use and an equal claim to occupancy, might seize it without injustice. Applying this system to an imaginary or ideal state, to men having a common interest and few wants, and those supplied from nature by the simpler forms of industry, the result is a picture of comfort and competence for every one of the community; in fact, an extensive household, with its respected father or chief, around whom cluster the helpless and inexperienced.

But will any one say that no more stable way of holding land than this is required in a society teeming with population, where each man eager for gain is pressing, pushing, and jostling his neighbor — where the industry of one man may have added to the fertility and usefulness of his land what neglect and sloth have denied to that of another? Every man's hand would be raised against his neighbor, and there would be no domestic quietude or personal security; and, consequently, no social bond, civil government, or commercial life. This insecurity I apprehend to be the prime cause of establishing a more permanent property in land.