trespassers from his premises. But suppose a land-owner’s property is on a river-bank, and a drowning man, floating down the river, tries to make a landing. Here would be an instance of a smaller right yielding to a greater, and a land-owner who would, under these circumstances, push back the drowning man into the river, would become a murderer. And as every man has a right to life, so he has a right to the essentials of life, limited by the corresponding rights of others. With every child there is born a trust, and the child’s parents or relatives are its natural trustees; but if the child is a foundling, the trust becomes binding on society, and society through its proper officers must assume the trust. Every child thus has a right in personam as well as a right in rem; but its trust estate may be anything from the checked apron and homely food of the orphan asylum, to the environment of luxury that surrounds the cradle of the infant millionnaire. Such trusts determine when the child becomes of a proper age to earn its own living, but revive if the capacity for labor and the means of subsistence are removed. Our public institutions, whose object is to provide for those who cannot provide for themselves, are fast losing in the public mind the character of State charities, and assuming that of State trusts.
My object having been to defend only the justice of private property in land, I will not follow Mr. Clarke into that portion of his article which he devotes to its expediency. One thing seems certain: that if, as is expected by the advocates of George’s system, all the land now used and much of the land now unused would be taken up and cultivated under that system, and if the government would protect its tenants, as it would be bound to do, in the enjoyment of their rights to the exclusive use of the land for which they would have to pay, a landless man would be in the same predicament in which he now finds himself, and might still go “from the Atlantic to far beyond the Mississippi river, and from the Pacific to the great mountains,” without finding a place where he could legally dig a hole in the ground for shelter, or build a fire of sticks for warmth. Mr. Clarke’s faith in the system must indeed be great if he can believe that any legislation that neither increases the area of the land, nor diminishes the number of the inhabitants, can place all the people of this country, “so far as abundance of natural opportunities is concerned, where their predecessors stood sixty or eighty years ago.”
Land, as well as every other species of property, is subject to abuse; and the abuses to which the land is peculiarly liable, so clearly pointed out by Mr. Clarke, have already been noticed, and, in a measure, restricted by such legislation as the Statutes of Mortmain and Limitations, and the abolition of estates tail. The laws regulating the use of land are probably no nearer the standard of perfection than are the laws in any other department, and much improvement may probably yet be effected by means of prudent and conservative legislation. But is even the abuse of land worse than the abuse of other forms of property; and is the spectacle of one man owning 75,000 acres of rich land more deplorable than that of another man holding enough personal property to buy him out?
Paul C. Ransom.