Page:The Land Question.djvu/5

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about seven thousand acres, and that I have the misfortune to be personally interested in a small landed property, of which I have at present a hundred and fifty acres on my hands so that I address you to-night in the character of a distressed agriculturist.

Primogeniture and Settlements.

Now for some time past nearly all reformers have agreed that there are certain legal institutions in connection with land which ought to be swept away, because they artificially tie land up, and prevent that sort of natural dispersion of it which would bring land into the hands of those who have money to spend upon it. These artifices are generally described as the Laws of Primogeniture and Entail. This is not quite an accurate expression, for there is no law of Primogeniture except where a man dies without a Will; and instead of speaking of Entail we ought to speak of Settlements, for Entails, except in the case of a few estates, can be extinguished by a simple deed. It is not a law of Entail, but the custom of making Family Settlements from generation to generation, that ties land up. What usually happens is this. When the eldest son comes of age or is about to marry, a Settlement is made by which he becomes entitled after his father's death only to a life-interest in the estate, and it is settled in remainder upon his unborn eldest son. A power is given to him to charge the estate with annuities or capital sums for his younger children, and for his widow, if he leaves one; and thus the usual condition of an estate is, that the person in possession is only a tenant for life; that there is some one, perhaps an unborn person, entitled to it after him, and that there are charges upon the estate which perhaps take off fifty percent, of the nominal rental, and leave its possessor only half the income which he ought to have in order to do justice to the land, One evil of Settlements is that the person in possession of the land is only its partial owner and cannot deal with it freely. Another is, that where you have Settlements you inevitably have charges and mortgages on the land made, to avoid the necessity of selling part of it to raise money for young children; and when once land is heavily mortgaged there is an end of all improvements on the part of the owner. The farmer's rents are screwed up in order to meet the mortgage-interest and at the same time to keep up