Front Page Titles (by Subject) 155.: Land Tenure Reform  18 MARCH, 1873 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIX - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part II July 1869 - March 1873
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155.: Land Tenure Reform  18 MARCH, 1873 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIX - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part II July 1869 - March 1873 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIX - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part II July 1869 - March 1873, ed. John M. Robson and Bruce L. Kinzer (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988).
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Land Tenure Reform 
Land Tenure Reform Association. Report of the Public Meeting, held at Exeter Hall, London, on Tuesday, March 18th, 1873 (London: Offices of the Association, 1873), pp. 3-8. Reported on 19 March in the Daily Telegraph and the Daily News. Reprinted in the posthumous fourth volume of Dissertations and Discussions (London: Longmans, 1875), pp. 278-87. Some of the audience’s responses are taken from the newspaper accounts. The large evening meeting was chaired by Mill, the President of the Association, who was enthusiastically received, and spoke first.
in invoking the assistance of this meeting to our efforts for Land Tenure Reform, many explanations that would have been absolutely necessary as lately as two years ago may now be dispensed with. It is no longer necessary to begin at the very beginning to show how there comes to be a land question, and what the question is. The newspapers and the speeches of Members of Parliament and others are full of it; friends and enemies have alike helped to bring it into notice; and we now read everywhere of Land Tenure Reform, and the unearned increment of rent.
Most of you probably know, at least in a general way, the creed and aims of the Land Reformers, and I need only, at present, briefly remind you of them. We hold that land—in which term we include mines (cheers) and the whole raw material of the globe—is a kind of property unlike any other. The rights of private individuals to something which they did not make, or help to make, but which came to them by bequest or inheritance from people who also did not make it, or help to make it, are a totally different thing from the right of everyone to the product of his own labours and sacrifices, or to the product of the labours and sacrifices of those who freely gave it to him. (Hear, hear.) What a man has earned by his labour, or by the expenditure of what has been saved from previous earnings, he has a fair claim to do what he likes with, subject only to the general rules of morality. But he who detains the land—a thing not made by man, a thing necessary to life, and of which there is not enough for all—is in a privileged position. Whether it is right or wrong that he should be in such a position, he is so. He is, in a word, a monopolist (loud cheers); and a monopoly should be exercised, not at the mere will and pleasure of the possessor, but in the manner most consistent with the general good; the State has exactly the same right to control it that it has to control, for instance, the railways. (Cheers.)
The Land Reformers are of opinion that the time has arrived for the State to re-assert this right, to correct the abuses of landed property, and adapt it better to the wants and interests of the community considered as a whole. How far the modifications should reach is a point on which all Land Reformers are not yet agreed. I need only speak of those which are advocated by this Association. Without going the length of those who think that the nation should re-possess itself of all private lands, subject to a just compensation, we yet maintain that at least no further appropriation of lands which are not already private property should be permitted. (Cheers.) We protest against the conversion of public or corporate lands into private property. (Cheers.) Still more indignantly do we protest against any more Acts of Parliament for dividing the common lands of the country among the neighbouring landholders. (Loud cheers.) Instead of giving the lands to the rich, and a miserable apretencea of compensation to the poor, we insist that the lands should be for the poor, and the compensation for the rich (laughter and cheers)—compensation for what their manorial and other rights now bring in to them; for the most part a very small value. (Hear.) We further maintain that permission to own the land does not necessarily carry with it a right to the increase of value which the land is constantly acquiring by the mere progress of the public prosperity. We affirm that this spontaneous increase of value may justly be taken for the public by means of special taxation. These are the two chief points of our programme:—First, no more land, under any pretext, to become the private property of individuals (cheers); secondly, taxation on the land, in order to give the benefit of its natural increase of value to the whole community, instead of to the proprietors, these being allowed the option of relinquishing the land at its present money value. (Cheers.)
Let us consider these points one by one.1
Few persons are less inclined than I am to call hard names; it is generally best, even when we are protesting against an injustice, to protest against it under the most moderate appellation which it admits of. But there are cases when things ought to be called by names which throw no veil over their enormity, and I confess that I cannot speak of the existing practice of dividing the common lands among the landlords by any gentler name than robbery—robbery of the poor. (Cheers.) It will, of course, be said that people cannot be robbed of what is not theirs, and that the commons are not the legal property of the poor. Certainly not; our masters have taken care of that. (Cheers.) They have taken care that the poor shall not acquire property by custom, as all other bclassesb have done. But if the commons are not the property of the poor, they are just as little the property of those who take them. They cannot make them their property without an Act of Parliament, and they have had no difficulty in obtaining any number of such Acts from two Houses of their own making as often as they pleased, whether the Government was Liberal or Conservative. (Hear.) It is only in the last three years that they have been forced, to their own great indignation, to grant a temporary respite, chiefly by the public-spirited exertions of Professor Fawcett2 (cheers) and of that very valuable body, the Commons Preservation Society.3 The commons are not the private property of anyone. Their history has been written in several recent books,4 and should be known to every man, woman, and child. There was a time when much of the land of the country was not appropriated, but was open to all the population of the neighbourhood to feed their cattle, and occasionally to grow corn upon it, turn and turn about, without permanent occupancy. When, for the sake of better agriculture, this system had to be given up, the land ought at least to have been fairly portioned out among all who were interested in it. Instead of this, a great part was usurped with a high hand by the powerful landholders, at a time when few dared resist them; another great part has since been filched away by the successors of the same people, in the more civilized method of Enclosure Acts.5 The commons of the present day are what is left. We are willing to condone the past, if they will only leave us the remainder. (Loud cries of No, no.) The private rights that exist in those lands are limited rights. The Lord of the Manor has rights, the principal of which is the exclusive right of killing game. The neighbours have what are called rights of common—that is, rights of pasturage, of wood-cutting, of turf-cutting, and, in general, rights to the spontaneous produce of the soil; and those rights have hitherto been sufficient to prevent the land from being enclosed and cultivated.
The question is therefore quite fresh, and open to the judgment of the nation, whether it will suffer these lands to be enclosed and cultivated; and, if at all, for whose benefit? Hitherto, it has been for the benefit of the landlords. The Law Courts hold that none but landholders have rights of common, and that no one else is entitled either to a share of land or to compensation for its being taken caway from thec people. It matters not though every cottager who had a cow, or a pig, or a goose, may, from time immemorial, have turned them out to feed on the common. The Courts are constantly making new law; but they would not make law for that. Yet they could have done so if they liked. They have never had any difficulty in converting custom into law. The bulk of our law consists of customs which have been made law by decisions of the Courts. (Hear, hear.) They could just as easily have decided, had they so pleased, that the whole population had common rights as that the landlords had; but they did not so please. In spite of this, however, the commons are not property for purposes of cultivation; and when Parliament, by a special Act, removes the obstacles to their cultivation, Parliament by so doing creates a new and valuable property which has not yet passed into private hands, and which, retained by the State, would be a source of considerable revenue. If Parliament dprofessd to give this property away gratis, is it to the rich that it should be given? (No!) To create a valuable property for the rich by expelling the poor from that use of the land for pasturage which they enjoyed in practice, though not by legal right, and along with it from the use of the land for healthful recreation, and from the power of wandering over it at will when they have no other place in which to enjoy Nature except dusty roads—can anything be more like Ahab the King’s seizure of Naboth’s little vineyard,6 or the rich man in the parable, who, with his great flocks and herds, could not be happy without robbing his poor neighbour of his single ewe lamb?7 (Hear, and cheers.)
I shall be accused, I suppose, of exciting your passions. (Laughter.) I am not ashamed of the charge. I want to excite your passions. (Cheers.) Without passion we shall never get this great iniquity put an end to. (Hear, hear.) Our Liberal Government is as bad on this subject as the Tories (hear, hear)—perhaps even worse. (Loud cheers.) The passion of the many is needed to conquer the self-interest of the few. (Cheers.) That is the proper use of political passion. Its improper use is when it is directed against persons. Great allowance ought to be made for people who merely go on doing what they and their predecessors have long done, and have never until quite recently been told that it was unjust. Let them learn that, without any hatred of them, we stand here for justice. Once take away their power of doing this wrong, and before long their eyes will be unsealed, and they will see the injustice as clearly as we see it. (Cheers.)
The other of the two chief points of our programme—the claim of the State to the unearned increase of rent8 —requires rather more explanation, as it is not yet equally familiar, though the time has already come when it is listened to, and it is probably destined to become an article of the creed of advanced reformers.
The land of the world—the raw material of the globe—in all prosperous countries constantly increases in value. The landlord need only sit still and let nature work for him; or, to speak truly, not nature, but the labour of other men. (Cheers.) What is it that has produced the prodigiously increased demand for building land, which has created the colossal fortunes of the Grosvenors, the Portmans, the Stanleys, and others of our great families?9 It is the growth of manufactures and the increase of towns. And what has produced that? Your labour and outlay; not that of the landlords. (Cheers.) The same labour and outlay—namely, yours, not theirs—produces a steady increase of demand for agricultural and mining products, causing prices to rise and rents to increase. No other portion of the community has a similar advantage. The labouring classes do not find their wages steadily rising as their numbers increase; and even capital—its interest and profit—instead of increasing, brings a less and less percentage as wealth and population advance. The landlords alone are in possession of a strict monopoly, becoming more and more lucrative whether they do anything or nothing for the soil. (Hear, hear.) This is eof littlee consequence in a country like America, where there is plenty of unused land, waiting for any one who chooses to go and cultivate it; but in an old country like ours, with limited land and a growing population, it is a great and increasing grievance.
We want the people of England to say to the landlords, “You are welcome to every increase of rent that you can show to be the effect of anything you have done for the land; but what you get by the mere rise of the price of your commodity compared with others—what you gain by our loss—is not the effect of your exertions, but of ours, and not you (cheers), but we ought to have it.” (Loud cheers.) They will say, “But we bought our land as a property increasing in value, and the probable increase was considered in the price.” Our answer to that is, “If you are dissatisfied, give up the land (cheers); we will pay you back what you gave for it, and even what you could have sold it for yesterday morning. (No, no, and cheers.) That is all you have a right to; we give you that, and the nation will gain the difference between the present and future value.” It does not seem to me possible to contest the justice of this arrangement, provided it can be made to work, but many persons think that it would not work. They say it would be impossible to ascertain the amount of the unearned increase of rent. It would be impossible, if we attempted to cut too close. The amount could not be ascertained within a few pounds.
But we do not want to attempt anything impracticable: neither do we wish to be harsh. We are willing to leave an ample margin for mistakes; but we demand the recognition of the principle, that a kind of property which rises in value while other kinds remain stationary or fall, may justly on that account, be subjected to special taxation. When it is notorious that rents have increased, and are increasing, not only where there has been improvement by the landlord, but where there has been no improvement, or improvement solely by the tenant, a tax which takes from the landlord no more than that increase is within the just rights of the State. It might be necessary to have a periodical valuation of the rental of the country, say once in ten or once in twenty years. The landlords could easily keep a record of their improvements. Let them retain all increase which they could show to be of their own creating, make a fair allowance for any diminution of the value of money, give them the benefit of every doubt, and lay on the remainder as a tax to the State. If the country continues prosperous, this tax would in time produce a considerable revenue, to the great relief of the taxpayers; while any landlord who thought himself harshly dealt with could avail himself of the option of resigning his land on the terms originally offered—namely, at the price he could have obtained for it before the introduction of the new system. (Cheers.)
This is our doctrine of the unearned increment, and you may depend on it that the difficulties which people are afraid of would prove, when fairly faced, to be little more than phantoms. The valuation of land for purposes of taxation is the general practice of Europe; a re-valuation is made occasionally everywhere, and periodically in the greater part of British India. It would only remain to have a valuation of improvements, fbut thisf is now acknowledged to be not only practicable, but indispensable, as the basis of a just tenant right. There is nothing a Government can do that does not look frightfully difficult, until we consider how much more difficult things a Government already does. Every attempt to apportion taxation fairly among the different members of the community is as difficult and in its complete perfection as impossible as what we propose. gItg is far easier than to make a just income-tax, and would not give rise to anything like the same amount of unfairness and fraud. (Hear, hear.)
Let us, then, with steady perseverance, continue to spread our principles and we need have no fear that the seed will fall on barren ground.10 (Cheers.) There are many circumstances at the present time to encourage us, and the most encouraging of all, as it is the most unexpected, is the awakening of the agricultural labourers. (Loud cheers.) That most neglected, and, as it hhas hithertoh seemed, most helpless portion of the labouring ipopulationi , has risen up, and has found a voice, which can, and which will, make itself heard by the makers of our laws. (Cheers.) No class has so direct an interest in the reform of the land system as the farm labourers; it is on State lands that they may hope to see the experiment tried, fairly and on a sufficient scale, of the management of the farm by and for the hands that till it. (Cheers.) For the first time, the Land Reformers have the prospect of intelligent support from those who would gain more than any one else by their success. The Agricultural Labourers’ Union is a most important ally to us (hear, hear); and we, I hope, shall be useful allies to them.11 Already they and we have worked together at several public meetings, and we are working together to-night. But whether there be concerted and organized co-operation or not, whatever is gained by either is a gain to both. We may therefore look forward with full confidence to a rapidly increasing success. (Loud cheers.)
[The first resolution condemned the division of common lands among landlords, and opposed the passing of Crown or public lands into private hands, asserting that they should be administered for the general interest and in particular for the labouring classes; it was passed unanimously. A second, opposed to primogeniture, entail, and the system of land transfer, was moved and an amendment in favour of nationalization having failed to obtain a majority in the view of the Chair (though some of its supporters disagreed) was approved. A third resolution, favouring special taxation of any increase of rent not resulting from labour or capital, was carried unanimously. A vote of thanks to the Chair was carried with cheers as the meeting concluded.]
Fun, 28 March, 1868, facing p. 28
[1 ]For the first, see Art. VIII of the Programme of the Land Tenure Reform Association, in CW, Vol. V, p. 695.
[2 ]On 20 April, 1869, Henry Fawcett had moved for a Select Committee on the Inclosure Act (PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 195, cols. 1286-7), and the resulting “Report from the Select Committee,” 7 July, 1869 (PP, 1868-69, X, 327-505) recommended, as he wished, that the annual Inclosure Bill should always be scrutinized by Parliament (p. 332).
[3 ]For the activities of this body, on whose Executive Committee Mill sat, see its Report of Proceedings, 1868-9 (London: printed Grant, 1869), pp. 5-14.
[4 ]E.g., Charles Isaac Elton (1839-1900), A Treatise on Commons and Waste Lands (London: Wildy, 1868 ); Henry James Sumner Maine (1822-88), Village-Communities in the East and West (London: Murray, 1871), reviewed by Mill in the Fortnightly Review, n.s. IX (May 1871), 543-6; and Erwin Nasse (1829-90), On the Agricultural Community of the Middle Ages, and Inclosures of the Sixteenth Century in England (in German, 1869), trans. H.A. Ouvry (London: Macmillan, 1871).
[5 ]The General Enclosure Acts, 41 George III, c. 109 (1801), 6 & 7 William IV, c. 115 (1836), and 8 & 9 Victoria, c. 118 (1845).
[c-c]DN,DT by other
[d-d]DN,DT chooses rather
[6 ]I Kings, 21.
[7 ]II Samuel, 12:1-14.
[8 ]Art. IV of the Programme, CW, Vol. V, p. 690.
[9 ]The Grosvenor and Portman estates in London increased enormously in value with the growth of the fashionable areas in the West End; the Stanleys benefited from the industrial development of Lancashire.
[e-e]DN,DT not of so much
[f-f]D&D and that
[g-g]D&D This which we propose
[10 ]Cf. Matthew, 13:3-8.
[11 ]The National Agricultural Labourers’ Union began to form in 1872 under the leadership of Joseph Arch (1826-1919).