Front Page Titles (by Subject) Ingalls: On Land and Liberty - Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1981, vol. 4, No. 3
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Ingalls: On Land and Liberty - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1981, vol. 4, No. 3 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Ingalls: On Land and Liberty
“Joshua K. Ingalls: Land Reformer, Opponent of Henry George, and Advocate of Land Leasing, Now an Established Mode.” American Journal of Economics and Sociology. 39 (4) (October 1980): 383–396.
The resurgence of interest in the political philosophy of libertarianism during the last thirty years has lead some historians to investigate the antecedents of the movement. Careful research has revealed that the individualist move ment in the nineteenth century (which began with the writings of Josiah Warren) was much more cohesive than previously recognized. In writings and speeches, Warren and his followers developed wide-ranging theories concerning the social implications of economic systems. One such individualist theoretician was Joshua K. Ingalls (1816–1898).
Born in Massachusetts in 1816, Ingalls moved quickly from ideas such as Quakerism, temperance, and dietary reform to economic radicalism, specifically land reform. His ideas on the evils of the current order were reinforced by his experiences as a legitimate member of the “laboring class,” a factor conspicuously absent from the careers of so many radicals.
In the land reform vs. abolition controversy which raged before the Civil War, Ingalls stressed that, far from being separate priorities, those two questions were indissolubly linked to the social dilemmas of the day. “The right to life,” he said, “involves the right to land to live and labor upon. Commercial ownership of land which enables one to exclude another from it, and thus enforces involuntary idleness, is as destructive of human freedom as ownership of the person, enforcing involuntary service.” Nonetheless, most abolitionists, Frederick Douglass included, rejected any coupling of the two issues. The relevance of connecting them was not fully realized until after the Civil War, when the plight of impoverished freedmen aroused the concern of reformers. In the 1840s and ‘50s, however, the times were not yet ripe for an appeal to land reform as a prerequisite to the emancipation of slaves.
The growing popularity of Henry George (1839–1897) inspired Ingalls to a detailed analysis and critique of George's economic theories. As Ingalls saw it, Henry George's failure to understand the true nature of capital and capitalism constituted his “greatest weakness.” For Ingalls, land and labor were the only factors of production. It followed therefore that, for fullest use of both those factors, there must be freedom from any and all arbitrary control over them. For example, any control over the soil other than by the cultivating occupant “can but fetter and cripple labor and retard production.” As a result, the landlord (not the capitalist) was the great perpetrator of injustice against labor and the most potent hindrance to the production of material wealth. For Ingalls, exclusive dominion of the land resulted in poorly and partially cultivated soil, as well as in a mass exodus to cities by the thousands who had been dispossessed of their inheritance.
As the best means of redistributing land among its occupants and cultivators, Ingalls urged the simple repeal of old land ownership laws rather than the passage of new ones. He would establish “occupancy and use” as the only title to land, as it was during the early history of mankind.
Under Ingalls' plan, governments would remove legislative sanctions from the concept of private property and would issue land leases to actual occupants and users—a method now used successfully for the allocation of certain resources (mineral and oil exploration, grazing rights, disposition of numerous urban sites, etc.)
Part of Ingalls' iconoclasm, even with in the radical land reform movement, can be explained by his distrust of government and the political process. Control of land, he said, was the basis of all power. As a result, monarchy and democracy were but variations of the same game. As long as inequitable distribution of land prevailed, equality of citizenship was impossible. Fearing the domination of individuals as much as he feared that of the collectivity, Ingalls was not an anarchist. Nevertheless, he conceived an extremely limited role for government. In Ingalls' system, “there would only be courts of equity as to matters of personal interest and relations. No laws of masters and slaves, of land-owner and tenant, of creditor and debtor, etc....but only of persons equal before the tribunal.”
Ingalls, Prof. Halls asserts, is of interest and significance in what Pedro Schwartz has described as the “history of opinions” branch of the history of economic thought. A study of Ingalls re-establishes the sometimes forgotten fact that land reform was long a part of a radical movement in nineteenth-century America and was also part of the beginnings of the progressive movement that was to fluorish in the early twentieth century.
The Ethics of Liberty
The following summaries confront important issues crucial to the ethical foundations of individual liberty. Are there limits to personal freedom, as the advocates of paternalism claim? Should the individual subordinate his choices and actions to the allegedly more enlightened judgment of others? What are the logical connections among individual rights, liberty, justice, and property? Is equality necessarily hostile to freedom? These are a sampling of the questions debated in the ethics of liberty. In the process of these inquiries, much light is cast on such historical contributors to the doctrines of individual liberty as John Stuart Mill, John Locke, and Jean Gerson. [Those seeking information on how Gerson ingeniously helped to develop natural rights from his theological-philosophical perspective, many consult Richard Tuck, Natural Rights Theories: Their Origins and Development, London: Cambridge University Press, 1979, 25–30].