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LETTER X.: TO THE EDITOR OF THE SCOTS CHRONICLE. - John Millar, Letters of Sidney, on Inequality of Property. To which is added, a Treatise of the Effects of War on Commercial Prosperity 
Letters of Sidney, on Inequality of Property. To which is added, a Treatise of the Effects of War on Commercial Prsoperity (Edinburgh: the Office of the Scots Chronicle, 1796).
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TO THE EDITOR OF THE SCOTS CHRONICLE.
October 28. 1796.
It is happy for man, that what is unjust is never really useful; that crimes, so far from being of advantage to their perpetrators, are always attended by natural punishments. Views of utility, thus, give stability to the rules of morality, and even self-interest pleads the cause of virtue. There are few subjects which exemplify this connection between justice and expediency, more clearly, than that which we are now confidering; for, as nothing could be more unjust than an equalization of property, so nothing could be more destructive of the prosperity and happiness of mankind.
The first effect of carrying a system of levelling into execution, would be a complete suspension of labour. The education and habits of the rich unfit them for productive labour; accustomed to a life of ease and effeminacy, they are destitute of the requisite patience, strengh, and address; and would have a long apprenticeship to serve, before their utmost exertions could be beneficial to themselves or the community. Nor could we expect the poor to continue their present industry and frugality. It is a natural consequence of their present situation, that they should look upon labour as the greatest evil, ease and indolence as the supreme good. When they were for some time enabled to live in idleness; when they found themselves possessed of a property, trifling indeed compared to the wants which would immediately beset them, but great, compared to their former indigence; when the pressure of the moment, the only motive to exertion to which they have been accustomed, was removed: In such new circumstances, the poor, indulging in comforts formerly unknown, would totally remit thoir labours; all the vices which spring from idleness and dissipation would be multiplied; and the whole people being occupied, not in productive labour, but in consuming those riches which already exist, universal poverty would immediately ensue. The habits of idleness and debauchery produced, or rather extended, by this division of property, would soon impel those who had squandered their portions, to seize on the property of their neighbours. All other means of retrieving their affairs, or maintaining their families, would be effectually precluded: the capital of the country would be annihilated; there would no longer be any funds destined for the support of labourers and mechanics, nor would any inhabitant be sufficiently rich to purchase the produce of the siner manufactures. Part of the people might be employed in agriculture and in manufactures of immediate necessity; but the rest, unless they emigrated to a more happy country, would be forced either to rob for their subsistence, or to perish miserably from want. The nation would quickly be reduced to the most extreme and immediate poverty and despair.
The ruinous consequences of a division of property would never cease, until the principle, from which it proceeded, was completely abandoned. No scheme has yet been formed for rendering men equal in industry, frugality, and good fortune; and, till this is done, the duration of any forced equality of property must necessarily be very short. In the course of a week, it would be infringed; before the termination of a year, no vestige of it would remain. Unless we had recourse to a second division, any advantages expected from the first would be lost. We should have overturned the foundation of the right of property; we should have committed the grossest injustice; we should have caused the most cruel reverses of fortune; we should have corrupted the morals of the nation; we should have at once annihilated industry, and the whole of that capital which makes industry productive;—we should have done all this, without, in any degree, approaching to our object. Among those perishing from want, would be found many whose fortunes had been shared among their poorer neighbours; and it would be the most aggravated injustice to refuse to apply that principle to their present relief, which had formerly been used to operate their ruin. A constant succession of divisions would therefore be indispensible; and surely, of all inventions for bringing misery on mankind, this would be the most effectual. Each man would hasten to enjoy and consume his property, while it was yet in his power. Who would labour, when the fruits of his industry were to be gathered by the indolent? Who would be temperate, when he knew that his economy was destined to feed the insatiable appetites of the profligate? Industry, temperance, frugality, would completely disappear, and mankind would exhibit an uniform and disgusting picture of sloth, extravagance, debauchery, and crimes. The miseries arising from inequality of property, and from the worst of tyrannies which the world has witnessed, would be happiness, compared to such a condition.
How then ought we to proceed? Having found the evils arising from inequality, though serious indeed, far overbalanced by those which would spring from a new division of property, ought we to stop here and acquiesce in the smaller evil? Certainly not. We ought, on the contrary, to use our utmost endeavours to regulate what we cannot altogether prevent. Although we cannot abolish inequality, we may discourage excessive accumulation; although we cannot extract the poison, we may, by judicious application, diminish its virulence* . In attempting this, however, we ought to pay the most scrupulous attention to rigid justice, and to distrust all schemes, howsoever promising, which are, in the smallest degree, contrary to the rights of man, of which property is one of the most important.
The proposals, Sir, which I am to submit to the consideration of your readers, consist of three distinct parts;—to make alterations on the rules of legal succession;—to restrict the power of making testaments;—and to relieve the poor and middling ranks from the weight of taxes, by throwing the burden chiefly on the rich. I trust I shall be able to show, in the following Letters, that these regulations are recommended to us both by important considerations of expediency and of justice. I am, Sir,
[* ]“C’est précifemént parce que la force des choses rend toujours á detruire l’egalité, que la force de la lêgislation doit toujours tendre a la maintenir.”—Rousseau du Contrat Social, Liv. II. Chap. XI.