Front Page Titles (by Subject) LETTER XIV.: TO THE EDITOR OF THE SCOTS CHRONICLE. - Letters of Sidney, on Inequality of Property. To which is added, a Treatise of the Effects of War on Commercial Prosperity
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LETTER XIV.: 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.
November 15. 1796.
It is frequently asserted, that a desire of establishing a great family, operates as an additional spur to industry and frugality; but, I apprehend, a little attention may convince us, that this is rarely, if ever, the case. A man, entering into life, exerts his industry in order to procure the objects of his immediate wants; he afterwards practises economy, that he may be secured against the vicissitudes of fortune; having attained this object, he is actuated by the desire of that distinction which is attached to riches; and in his old age, he is too frequently rendered avaricious by the almost irresistible effects of long continued habits of the strictest parsimony. The vanity of raising a family is the effect, not the cause, of accumulation, and is often resorted to, merely as a self-deception, to hide the deformity of an avarice which has no end in view but to amass useless wealth. It is seldom the man born to moderate opulence, who, from his outset in life, might have perceived a probability of enriching his posterity, that becomes the founder of a family; it is, on the contrary, he who has struggled with hardships in his youth, who has been long accustomed to the most rigid economy, and who, after having amassed riches, can no longer discard those habits which arose from his original poverty. Should the person whom he has destined for his heir die before him, he will continue his former penurious life, and will at last allow the law to dispose of his property, or perhaps endow an hospital. His conduct is influenced, not by vanity, but by avarice.
No relaxation of industry could follow from the abolition of testaments: there would still be sufficient motives to prompt us to exertion; the desire of insuring to ourselves the enjoyment of the necessaries and comforts of life; the wish of arriving at that notice and respect which are the concomitants of riches; that affection for our friends which incites us to do them good; the habits arising from a long continued economy. These motives might, indeed, in a very few cases, be less powerful than family pride; but such instances of inordinate vanity are extremely rare, and that degree of avarice, which such a feeling is fitted to produce, is perhaps the most degrading of all the vices.
Testaments have been more successfully defended, as the best means of rewarding kindness and of punishing neglect. Every man must be sensible of great difference in the treatment he receives from his different relations; and, while it is a virtuous gratification to him, to leave some token of his gratitude to those from whom he has received kindness, the power of disinheriting may procure him a certain decent attention, even from those who would otherwise be inclined to treat him with disrespect. This argument appears to me perfectly just; but I hope, Sir, we may grant all that it fairly proves, without admitting an unlimited power of devising property by will.
The proper return for kindness is not of a pecuniary nature, but consists in gratitude and a return, if in our power, of reciprocal kindness and friendship. If attentions are shown to us from the expectation of their being repaid in money, they deserve no recompence beyond a just indemnification for the time and labour employed; but if they have proceeded from better motives, whatever shows a grateful sense of obligation will be an ample reward. If then we allow the power of making testaments to a certain degree; if we permit one fourth of his effects to be disposed of by a man who has no children, and one sixth by him who leaves descendants, we shall have fully provided for this exercise of gratitude* .
But, with respect to the punishment of neglect or bad usage, greater powers must be allowed. It is not sufficient that a testator should mark his disapprobation of such conduct; he should also be enabled effectually to punish it. For this purpose, it would be requisite to permit him to exclude any of his natural heirs by name, and, at his pleasure, to diminish their portions; but, in order to prevent abuses, it ought to be provided, that whatever was so forfeited should go to the nearest relations beyond the line of immediate succession. By this restriction of testaments, property would be gradually diffused, while the testator would be enabled to evince his gratitude for kindness and attention, and to punish all neglect or ill treatment he had received.
A farther extension of the power of making testaments has been introduced, in modern Europe, by means of entails. Not satisfied with directing the disposal of land after their decease, some have aimed at perpetuating their power, by preventing their successors from alienating the estate, or from changing a long line of succession which they chose to appoint. Nothing can be more absurd; a dead man cannot for ever retain the right of property, which, from its own nature, must be as fully vested in the present possessor, as it was in those who preceded him. The rights of the present generation cannot be cut off by those who now sleep with their fathers; they had the free disposal of the things of this world while they were here, and we are now entitled to the same privilege: each proprietor has therefore as good a title to abrogate an entail, as his ancestor had to establish it. But on this subject I believe it is unnecessary to detain you, by any lengthened arguments. An entail infringes the right of property in the living; it prevents the proprietor from punishing or rewarding the conduct of his children; it precludes cultivation, by rendering the possessor merely a liferenter, by preventing him from disposing of part that he may improve the rest, and by inducing him to extort, under the name of fine or grassum, that capital which ought to remain with the farmer; it prevents a father from giving such portions to his younger children as might enable them to engage, with prospects of success, in commerce or manufactures; it is a fertile source of frauds and bankruptcies; and, to sum up all, it is a potent engine for supporting inequality of property* .—I am, Sir,
[* ]The new law of testaments in France is founded on this principle, but I have not seen the specific regulations.
[* ]Perhaps your readers may wish to know Dr. Smith’s opinion upon this subject; it is as follows:—