TO LORD BROUGHAM AND VAUX,
lord high chancellor of england, &c. &c.
Change in the situation of the Lord Chancellor—Reasons for believing that his former liberality of sentiment was assumed.—The Lord Chancellor's attack upon the author.—Changes in Europe.—As they have not led to social happiness, men will and necessarily must inquire into the Right of Property.—Other proofs of this necessity.—Answer to the statement, that these doctrines lead to no legal improvement.—It has been shewn that property is not regulated by human laws, and therefore society is not.—The power which has regulated it in past times must be trusted in future.—Source of the alarm as to property, and reasons for believing it unfounded.—Conclusion.
I certainly did not dream, when I began these letters, that before they saw the light, you would be Lord Chancellor of England. I cannot, however, congratulate you on your elevation, for since you have occupied the woolsack, you have forfeited the chief title you had to my respect. When you boasted, soon after your accession to power, of sending forth the sword of the law to smite the poor unhappy victims of the system of mis-government which you had long denounced, and when you took the jurors of London to task, on Sept. 8, 1831, for violating, not an oath, but a form of words, rather than be the ministers for executing what is called our sanguinary criminal code, which means the cruel orders of men, long since dead, who were even more cruel than modern lawgivers, you convinced me that your love of liberty and humanity, when out of office, had served as a stepping stone to public confidence and political power; and that in heart and mind, in argument and speech, you are a mere lawyer, setting up, high above the principles of justice, the maxims of that abominable system of fictions, absurdities, and cruelties, at the head of which you are now placed. The respect I had for you, as a lover of the best interests of the human race, has accordingly vanished, and I have only to regret that I ever believed the professions of a lawyer, all his life accustomed to look at words as usurers look at money, only to be lent out at large and profitable interest. To such a general and public motive for changing my opinion, I have to add, a special and private one. A particular circumstance has made me suspect, that your love of literature, your professions of liberality, and your often expressed wishes to educate the people, meaning to drill them to your own, or to Whig purposes, were all, like your love of humanity, displayed to the public as a mountebank tells his audience coarse jokes, in order to amuse them while he is taking them in. Having now attained the height of your ambition, you have no repugnance to propagate error and delusion, upholding them by persecuting, as far as the present usages of society will allow, those who do not agree with you in dogma and in doctrine.
I am pleased that I am able to remind you, that the last observation, in my last letter, written upwards of two years ago, was a comment on some errors put forth by your society, commonly called “The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge,” because that observation shows, that I was then attentive to its proceedings, and prepared to expose some of its undeserved claims to public respect, before I had a personal motive for pointing my remarks. Since then, your society has published a book, entitled, “The Rights of Industry, Capitaland Labour,“ one great object of which is, to refute, and failing to refute, to decry my little work, called, “Labour Defended against the Claims of Capital.“ In your book, for you are the avowed patron and protector of the society, and for aught I know, the author of this very work, the present legal right of property is held up to the admiration of the people, through a whole chapter, and the impugners of that right, myself among the number, are stigmatized as “bitter enemies of the people,” as “blind guides,” as “ministers of desolation,” as “destroyers,” and as possessing, many other ugly antisocial characteristics. Pretending to be the instructors of the people, though the works of your society have ever been distinguished for the incorrectness of their logic and the meagreness of their knowledge, here we find you and it defending a natural wrong, because it is a legal right; and like a set of religious bigots, whose language and conduct are as intolerant as those of Mr. J. E. Gordon, we find you, the Lord Chancellor, the man whom we once honoured as Henry Brougham, we find you and your pretended liberal society, pronouncing all the anathemas that can be heaped on crime, against a mere difference of opinion. Is not to think, then, as you and your fellow scribblers think, worthy of the severest punishment? I am taught by this, my lord, that you only want the power, not the wish, to be as great a tyrant as was Castlereagh, and I conclude, that the love of truth and good has no abiding place in your lordship's bosom, or it is stifled and suppressed by the individual love of power. For the proceedings of your society I hold you responsible, and detesting any species of persecution for opinion's sake, and as the individual unhandsomely attacked, I must take you to task for supporting, like other champions of error, what is wrong, by as much violence as the hu mane temper of the present age will permit you to employ. The man pretending to be a friend to literature and to education, who either abuses those who differ from him in opinion, or countenances its being done by others, has no claim to my respect, even though he sit on the king's right hand, and be the keeper of the king's conscience.
For you to countenance illiberal abuse, on account of a difference of opinion, excites my astonishment, because you hold that belief is involuntary, and can have, therefore, no more pretence for abusing those who disbelieve either political or religious dogmas, than you have for abusing the immense variety of minerals, plants, and animals, with which the world is not more adorned, than it is by an immense variety in the shades of human thought. Your society, by drawing attention to the crippled and decaying legal right of property, while it shews the importance of the subject, can only hasten its ruin. Personally I thank you for the interference, for it gives a weight to my opinions, which, unnoticed by you, they would never have obtained. It must be hoped, however, that you defend other principles on better grounds than your society defends the legal right of property, or woe be to those who trust you! What you and your society have done is this; you have taken up a vulgar prejudice without investigation, and you boldly and crudely defend an error, because it exists, and because you fancy it is your interest to maintain it. Like the priests of Ephesus, you and your fellow craftsmen cry aloud, because your craft is endangered. You and your society labour like the borough mongers, like the Tory press, like the bishops, like all the offspring of error and the spawn of corruption, to uphold our present mischievous system, and the obvious motive you now have for cherishing the delusion, ought to deprive you of all the confidence of the people. Those who defend the legal right of property, seek to perpetuate misgovernment, and the misery and degradation of the industrious classes. Seeing you so engaged, being convinced by your late conduct, that you place the law above justice, though I could quote a speech of yours, when you were Mr. Brougham, in which you exalt natural rights far above legal wrongs, —seeing that since you have been in power, you have embraced and acted on nearly all the principles of those who preceded you in office, I cannot, I repeat, congratulate you on the conversion of the liberal-minded patriot, to whom my letters were addressed, into the arrogant politician and dogmatic inquisitor, to whom I have now to direct this postcript.
If the change be great in you, my lord, since these letters were begun, the changes in society have been even still more astounding. Three years ago Europe was in a state of internal tranquillity, and remained so till some time after these letters were finished. The practised eye might possibly foresee that some great changes were preparing, but Charles the Tenth then seemed firmly seated on the throne of France, Belgium was closely united with Holland, and the demand for Reform had almost died away in England. But even then, misery existed to a considerable extent in all the countries of Europe, and voices were heard exclaiming against the right of property, such complaints being no transient theme, the consequence of temporary excitement, produced by the contrivances of an intriguing party, and destined to be forgotten when the prime agitator disappears, or is provided for; but a permanent and enduring subject of controversy. Even then, when the demand for reform was unheard, when the voice of sedition was every where still, when rebellion had not shook thrones, and perplexed the monarchs whose thrones it did not reach, the Saint Simonians had risen up, and were extending themselves in France; and even in America, where men have scarcely any political evils to complain of, the legal right of property was called in question and denounced. That right is now a subject of almost universal controversy, and be assured this controversy will never pass away, till that right be securely based by all men acknowledging the eternal decrees of justice.
The political agitation which began, or rather was first made manifest, even to careless observers, by the expulsion of Charles X., the unquietness which, from that, spread over Europe, destroying forms of government, and changing political institutions, without leading to the diminution of public charges, or relieving individual poverty, has given to inquiries into the right of property, an extensiveness and an intensity, which must speedily lead to a general and a thorough reform. As those political changes have not effected, and cannot effect the expected benefits, men will necessarily turn away from political alterations as unproductive of good, and inquire into the sources of evil, and means of drying them up. They must come to that great source, the opposition between the legal and the natural right of property, and which of these two rights they will choose, and which they will cling to, you have told us in the speech I have just quoted. They will cling to that “ancient law, which is of higher authority than the law of the land,” in which “their judgments agree, and which unite their hearts together.”
As a proof of the necessity of you politicians instituting inquiries into the right of property, before you meddle with several subjects, I may mention, that the whole doctrines of the distribution of wealth, embracing all that can be said about rent, profit, and wages, depend altogether on the right of property. I defy any man to explain either of those without assuming, as the basis of his argument, the present legal right of property, and I am sure that no man can be acquainted with the modern doctrines on these subjects, without being thoroughly sensible, that, by assuming the present legal right of property to be the natural right, the whole of those doctrines are founded on a false basis, and give a false notion of the natural laws which regulate the progress of society. They do a most bitter injustice to nature, they cast unworthy and even impious reflections on God, by representing him as placing those limits to human welfare, which are laid down by the ignorant legislator. These errors, however, are now beginning to be seen through; discussions on the right of property are connected with the science of political economy; and at least one gentleman, Mr. Reid, has had the honesty to avow, even in embracing and defending the legal right, that the laws of distribution and the natural limits to the progress of society, can only be correctly studied, in conjunction with the established right of property.
At present public attention is directed to the Reform Bill, but while its opponents loudly assert, that it will give the people no relief whatever, its advocates only claim for it, a capability of ultimately effecting that by improving the government and lessening the burden of taxation. Experience, however, warrants me in assert ing that changes of government more frequently lead to derange trade, and to augment that burden, than to diminish it. Thus, my lord, it is probable, indeed, in its immediate effects, it is certain, that the Reform Bill will and must disappoint any hope of relief which people have formed from it. If you look, however, at the intense suffering of the children of our manufacturing districts, if you look at the derangement to which trade is already liable, if you are at all sensible that farmers can no longer obtain any profit, and that even their capital has been melting away, while the peasantry are almost starving, you must conclude, that these great and pressing evils are too violent, too extensive, and the pangs of hunger are too sharp, to wait for relief by the slow progress of improving the government through the means of the Reform Bill. But what can you, my lord, or what can your colleagues in the ministry, expect will be the result of exciting the hopes of a long suffering people, only to disappoint them? Be assured, my lord, and prepare yourself for this consequence, that the disappointed desire for relief, will infallibly turn back the attention of mankind, with tenfold force, on the first principles of government and of property, and the institutions of society will only be preserved, as far as they are founded in reason. Why not put an end, at once then, to this paltering with the hopes of mankind, this juggling with the public reason; and why not at once say, that political change will not give relief from poverty? Why, my lord, will you hasten the overthrow of the present system, by directing all the natural discontent of mankind to the deluding institutions of the politician?
To relieve this distress, only one of two things can possibly be done; either the quantity of wealth must be augmented, or it must be better and differently distributed. But the quantity of wealth, and this is a very singular circumstance, is at present too great. What is meant, my lord, by “those gluts” of which we have heard so much, both in parliament and in the public at large, for the last fifteen years? What is meant by “labourers being too numerous,” by “machinery being too extensively employed,” of which we now continually hear, but that the productive power of the country has been too much augmented? I shall, as I have already stated, not inquire into the cause of production actually exceeding the wants of the owners, nor into the absence of all principle regulating the production of wealth, from which arise gluts and commercial revulsions, I shall content myself with observing, that the complaint of the farmer is, that he cannot get a remunerating price for his corn, and he, therefore, will not consent to food being imported; that the complaint of the manufacturer is, that he is overwhelmed with the cheap-made produce of other countries, and finds no sufficient sale for what he is able to produce; that the labourer complains that there is no market for labour, and that wages are too low; that all classes of producers, in short, complain that they can find no sufficient vent for their commodities; that there is too much of them; that prices are too low; and all agree in complaining, that each has more of his own peculiar produce, or useful commodity, than he knows what to do with. It is a plain matter of fact, notwithstanding the theory of Mr. Malthus, that more wealth is now produced, or can be produced, than can find a market, and that consequently the great remedy for all the evils of society, as far as poverty and wealth are concerned, must be found not in augmenting the quantity of wealth, but in altering its distribution. In other words, my lord, the right of ownership or property must be im proved. The present condition, then, of all classes, as well as the attacks every where making on the right of property, give to the subject of this inquiry a preeminent importance.
Consider too, my lord, the difficulties in which, persisting in upholding the legal right of property, now involves all the discussions of the legislature, and all the actions of different classes. Look, for example, at the question of tithes, the legislature labouring by threats of fine and imprisonment to enforce the legal right, while the people, grounding their resistance on the natural right, are, in this country, calling for the amendment, and in Ireland compelling, by force, the abolition of the legal right. Can any process of legislation reconcile these two conflicting rights? If it cannot, my lord, if the legal right must, as I have shown you, come to an end, is it wise, is it commonly expedient, is it decent, is it humane, is it even honest, for you and your colleagues to pass laws for the purpose of enforcing, at the expense of fine, imprisonment, riots, and bloodshed, the legal right? Look too at the disputes, as to whether these tithes be the property of the state or not, and whether they ought and will go into the pockets of the landlords. My lord, they are the property, the natural property of those who produce the pigs and poultry, the potatoes and the milk, which the parsons unjustly claim, and the legislature as unjustly attempts to appropriate to their use. What right have you, or what right has any man, or any set of men, whatever may be their names or titles, to take away from the Irish peasant the produce of his labour, and confer it on the priest. Neither the state nor the priests own this property, and the state has no more business with it than have the South Americans. The state, in fact, is now only another name for boroughmongers, and what have they to do with the property of the people? Only to plunder it. Be assured, my lord, that you and the whole gang of legislators are exceeding your power, and that until you learn to respect the laws of nature, there will be a continuance of those crimes which you pretend to deplore.
But admitting, my lord, the necessity of making inquiries, you may taunt me by saying, that my inquiries lead to nothing, that my conclusions are all vague and unprofitable, that I propose no schemes for relieving distress, no measures for reforming the state, that I look only to futurity, and counsel men, who are on the verge of starvation, to live upon hope; that I propose nothing, that I advise, even in these stirring times of reform, to leave things alone, and that my doctrines will please neither the great vulgar, who fancy they can confer happiness by making laws, nor the little vulgar who, unfortunately, trust only to the law-maker for restoring prosperity. But am I to blame, or are those laws of nature to blame, which I humbly, but zealously endeavour to interpret? All my remarks are directed against legislation, and you cannot expect me to be so inconsistent, as to propose to redress wrongs by inflicting them. My object has been to show, that even the distribution of property is regulated by natural laws, and if that be the case with property, which is tangible and measurable, and seems to come within the grasp of legislation,—if those natural laws have set aside human laws, is it not clear, is it not certain, that every other part of society,—from the trade to South America to the daily huckstering at our own doors,—from the propagation and increase of the species, the very source of society, to the invention of the minutest art, the steel pen with which I write,—from the growth of nations in wealth to the decay and falling to ruin of individuals,—is it not certain, that every part of society is also regulated, as well as the right of property; and can you expect me to be so mad as to propose regulations for any part of that, all of which, I believe to be regulated by the highest wis dom? No, my lord, I am not so mad. I aim at establishing no system; I recommend no plans; I advise only inquiry, patient inquiry, and confidence in the power which has hitherto subverted your laws and preserved the order of society.
To me, indeed, it is abundantly strange, after so long an experience of the inefficacy of laws to attain the objects proposed by them, all the systems devised by man for the government of society, having been gradually swept out of existence, that the good and the wise, as well as the depraved and the ignorant, should yet place their hopes on the decrees of such a motley assembly as that which collects at St. Stephen's. Not attempting to account for the mistrust in the passions and desires of human nature, which is so general, nor for the confidence in some of their effects, in the shape of systems of government, neither attributing it to the sinister influence of priests, nor the ambition of legislators, nor ascribing it to any peculiarity in man himself,—I may, nevertheless, remark, that it is singular to see the most pious men, even those
“Who see God in clouds, and hear him in the storm,”
those who find
“Tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing,”
even those can not find God in the mind and thoughts of man; they treat the human being, not including themselves, as altogether evil. They never allow his passions to be worthy of having a tongue. The voice of trees, the mute sermons of stones, the impressive lessons of the the insect world, are all listened to as speaking of the goodness of the deity, but the desires and passions of man, his heart and mind are regarded as outcasts from the great system of creation, as the offspring of the devil, and as continually needing the correction of priests and legislators. I am content, my lord, to trust to these despised passions, guided and enlightened as they may, must, and will be, by the recorded knowledge of their consequences.
My main object has been to show, that even as to property, some power constantly over-rules the decrees of the legislator, which being, however, generally admitted as an abstract truth, the delay in making the universal and thorough application of it to society, in all its details, is more to be wondered at, than that it should now be insisted on. But so much in love with their systems are our vain and blundering politicians, whether they be actual legislators, or only aspirants to this dignity, that they even condemn any observations as mischievous, which are opposed to their own systems. According to them, the observations of a Cobbett, or of a Paine, who merely speaks of the things he beholds, are the causes of the overthrow of their systems, just as they attribute the rebellion of the slaves in the West Indies to the preaching of some missionaries Such nonsense implies, that neither political oppression, political plunder, nor slavery, is, of itself, an abomination hated of God, hated of men, and quite diabolical enough to generate continually, in its victims, the desire of vengeance; but that it is only made hateful by the eloquence of an individual. When tory newspaper writers and members of parliament declaim against those as incendiaries, who merely use their tongues, or their pens, in expounding truth, do they take counsel from their own experience? Have the speeches of the gentlemen of St. Stephen's, though wafted by every journal to every corner of the empire, have the loyal comments of learned editors, have the admonitions and instructions to obey the law, which all parties continually put forth, have the ever weekly-renewed admonitions of the parsons to honour the king and respect the tithes, have they all had the desired effect? All the eloquence of the senate, of the bar, and of the press, has not saved the dominion of the law from being questioned and overturned. When hired scribblers, and hired pleaders, and hired priests, denounce the observers of social phenomena as mischievous, when authors abuse and legislators persecute, for the sake of some falling systems, they are worse than that philosopher, described by Dr. Johnson, who refused to see the experiments by which his theory was overturned. The facts noticed by those who interpret nature, are the proofs of the wickedness of these systems, and to repress the voice of the interpreter, is wilfully to close the ears to information. To point out the inevitable consequences of erring systems of policy, whether they be intended to secure the dominion of the whites over the blacks, or of the landlords of England over their former slaves, whether they be intended to preserve superstition erect, and men groveling in political slavery, is, or ought to be, as far as society is concerned, the one great and only duty of observers, whether they assume the character of political or religious missionaries. To recommend regulations is quite proper in those who expect to make something by carrying them into effect, and by those who set the wisdom “of the critic fly, whose vision scarce exceeds the expanse of an inch,” deciding against the work of a Wren, above the wisdom of the architect of St. Paul's, though this is a feeble comparison of those “critic flies,” who not merely decide against nature in constructing society, but attempt to correct her errors.
When conceited politicians ask me what I would substitute for their systems, my answer is, that I propose no substitute. My argument is, that individual man does not make society, and that man cannot organize it. Society is the offspring of the instincts of the human animal, not of his will, and it cannot be modelled by an individual as he makes a watch or a steam engine. My answer, my lord, to all your fears, on which you found restrictions and criminal laws, is, that you have not brought society to its present state; that laws do not hasten on improvement, but follow in its wake; and that I trust to that great power, call it Nature, or call it God, which has brought society forth out of the wilderness, to provide for its future welfare. When you ask me for plans and schemes, my reply is, trust in that power, do justice, and fear not. It is certain, my lord, that nine-tenths of the crimes which the laws punish, are mere violations of the legal and unjust right of property. Men revolt against it, and inflict misery on themselves and others, in their blind efforts to correct wrong. You know, my lord, from the criminal returns of both France and England, that the number of crimes of personal violence has diminished in both countries; that murder, except from cupidity, is rarely or never heard of in England, and only very rarely in France; while murder, from a desire of gain is unhappily, as witness the Burkers, yet too frequent amongst us. Jealousy, as a frantic passion, is almost unknown in England, and a bloody desire of vengeance is no where preserved but in the statute book. When I am asked then what I propose, to prevent crimes, I answer, “Amend the laws as to property; for all the crimes which afflict society grow from them.” The law itself is the parent of those crimes which the law attempts to stifle or repress by severe penalties, in addition. Sin, struggling with her own death-begotten offspring, is the apt type and resemblance of our cruel penal laws for the protection of legal property.
This, my lord, opens to our view a delightful prospect for our posterity, and from contemplating which, we even now may derive considerable enjoyment. I have shown you that the legal right of property is undergoing subversion, and that no earthly power can stop it. I have now remarked, that this legal right, and the laws made to uphold it, are the sources of almost all crimes; and, therefore, when fearful, timid, mistrustful politicians tell me, that society would fall into anarchy if their hold of it were to be relaxed, and if the incubus of their regulations were removed, I answer them, and I answer all such schemes, and all such apprehensions, by pointing to these facts, and calling on them to believe that the God of nature has appointed a means, not merely for the repression, but for the extinction of crime.
The general change adverted to in my former letters, consisting of the growth and extension of the middle classes, is to me another ground of consolation and hope. The utility of mechanical inventions is too often supposed to consist only in the physical results, and the moral effects are entirely overlooked. But the moral effects are as important as the physical. Now one of the distinguishing circumstances of this age is the great extent of mechanical improvements, and one of the moral consequences, least noticed, is the prodigious, comparative, multiplication of the middle classes; that is, of men who labour a little, by, or in conjunction with, this machinery, who are at once labourers and capitalists, who do not suffer from the stigma which is cast on ordinary or long practised labour, because that was done formerly by slaves,—new occupations, as they arise in society, being exempt from that stigma,—and who, without being relieved from the necessity of labouring, are placed far above the condition of the great majority of slave-labourers and their descendants. On that class of men, who have something to lose by change, and nothing to gain by the continuance of the tax-gatherers and tithe-gatherers exactions, I place my best hopes. That class has multiplied amazingly within the last fifty years, that class must multiply still more extensively, with new occupations and new machinery, and that class must gra dually extinguish both the mere slave-labourer and the mere idle slothful dolts, who live on the rent of land or the interest of money.
Politicians, my lord, of your description, object to stirring the important subject of property. You are already conscience-stricken, and you know that inquiry must end in the discomfiture and overthrow of your political systems. Hence you, in the House of Lords, put forth such unsound doctrines, as that “the property of the church rests on the same foundation as other property,” and hence your diffusion society praises the legal right, and endeavours to consign those to infamy who question it. From a bad conscience also arises that great alarm which exists among all the wealthy classes, and amongst all those who are made rich by means of the extortionate and unjust law, and they cry out with vehemence on every occasion, that the only object of the poor is to appropriate to themselves the wealth which the upper classes love and desire so much. Allow me to make one or two remarks on the subject of the apprehension and the alarm.
The alarm is first generated in the minds of those who possess property without having any natural right to it; the alarm is, founded on the consciousness of injustice committed on the labouring classes, who, though they create all property, are allowed to possess none; and this alarm is then sought to be spread as to all property, and to those who possess it by a good natural title. But is it to be believed, that the great mass of men are inimical to that which they produce, and to that for which they strive and struggle? No. They are only inimical to its unjust appropriation. What, however, must we think of the legal right of property, when it is supposed, by those who derive enjoyment from it, to make the labourer hate the ingenious work of his own hands? What too can you think of a right, which those who possess it, fancy must be the source of hatred in other men, to them and to their possessions? A right producing hatred.” Above all, what can you think will be the result to society of different classes and conditions being animated with such deadly and destructive feelings? Life, skill, talents, affections, &c. are possessions we each and all derive from nature, are they like the legal right of property, the bitter sources of hatred, fear, and a thirst for vengeance? Do we hate beauty and strength? Do we hate ingenious contrivance, splendid eloquence, and a cultivated taste? No. How then should men come to hate the objects and possessions they are calculated to obtain? When they are isolated and strangers to each other, speaking different languages, clothed after different fashions, neither buying nor selling, they may dislike, despise, contemn, or hate each other; but to say that the inhabitants of the same community, those who associate together, whose labours are mutual, who must work into each other's hands, to produce food and raiment, whose dresses and diversions are similar, whose speech is identical, to say that they hate or dislike, or dread each other, is contradicted by the whole frame and structure of modern society.
You, my lord, are not insensible to the advantages derived to all classes from the great scheme of division of labour, which would perhaps be better called combined exertions. Of this scheme one great consequence is, that no single labourer completes, by himself, any one article necessary to subsistence. The very instant this scheme comes into operation,—and in what state of society is it not in operation? for where does not the man perform one task, and the woman a separate and distinct task, equally necessary to the subsistence of themselves and families?—the very instant this scheme comes into operation, and wherever it exists, men become dependant on one another, and as it is extended, so the more dependant does each individual become on the combined exertions of all the rest. To talk of mutually dependant labourers, who cannot live without each other's assistance, hating each other,—of the hunter hating the man who makes him his how; of the weaver hating the loom-maker; of the merchant hating the cotton grower, or the shipbuilder, is like saying, that the right hand hates the left. No, my lord, the weaver cannot hate the spinner, the spinner cannot be the enemy of the engine maker, the engine maker cannot dread the iron founder, nor can any one of them be the foe of the farmer, and the baker, and the butcher. The division of labour, then, which is now so extensive in every part of society, must appear to every reflecting man a complete and perfect guarantee, that the great mass of the labourers who constitute, in fact, the whole useful community, cannot and dare not quarrel with each other. The supposition is absurd, because the thing supposed is impossible.
But, besides the labourers, besides all those, who, by their mutual and dependant exertions, contribute to clothe and feed, and preserve the whole society, there are classes who do not labour, who live by the produce of the labour of others, and who make or uphold laws to dispose of what does not belong to them; besides the weavers and the spinners, the engine makers and the farmers, the merchants and the ship builders, the butchers and the bakers, &c. &c. there are also, the law makers, the land owners, the mere capitalists, the clergy, &c. &c. who have no other security for their incomes,—their receipts growing from no natural cause, like that which confers on industry the fish it catches, or the game it kills,—than the law of the land. All these legally fed men may hate the working classes, and may justly dread them; but to suppose that the different classes of industrious men, whether living in the same or in different countries who trade or labour together—to suppose that they should hate and dread each other, is a monstrous error, not to be surpassed by any creation of the wildest fancy. Such a sentiment may be, and unfortunately is attributed to them by the law-makers, who, borrow it from their own schemes and acts of injustice and oppression; but it exists not in the minds of the labourers themselves. Its prototype is the wrong done in the olden times by these upper classes, and now continued by the laws; and the labouring classes are only to be blamed for suffering this wrong-born idea of their masters to sway, in any degree, their thoughts, theories, and practices. If they, at any time, look upon each other with mistrust, if the farmer dreads the shopkeeper, and the merchant the ship-owner, it is because they have been taught to do so by the law-maker. Such mistrust is not the natural result of their mutual dependance, which in practice teaches only mutual confidence—but of the system established by their oppressors, of which the labourers are, one and all, the victims.
As for the particular property possessed by the rich, of which they suppose the poor to be so envious, let me ask what use the laborious and honest artizan, or the hard-worked and half starved peasant could make of your sumptuous palaces? He would feel distressed by their finery, and would be only anxious to escape back to his cottage, or his hovel, to his bench at the ale-house, and to his pipe, and to his usual habits and usual companions. Of what service would your fine bound books be to him? What would he care for your pier glasses, your chandeliers, your ottomans, and your rose wood tables? He might like, from that unnatural hatred against the misappropriated work of his own hands, which you have nourished in him, to make a boufire of them, but use them he could not and would not. What would he do with your carriages? He would pine to death when pent up in them, deprived of the use of his limbs. What use could he make of your horses, for he has never learnt to ride? Would he desire your high-priced wines? Alas, no; his taste is corrupted by the deleterious spirits, your commercial restrictions, your excise laws, your duties on malt and hops, and on foreign wines, have brought him acquainted with, and made his only drink. Do you think he would need gold to buy the smiles of the high-priced courtezan, who solaces the hours and empties the pockets of the wealthy stripling? She would be too much of a lady for him, and he would willingly leave her to do her proper work of corrupting and debasing his oppressors. It is idle then, and even monstrously absurd, to be afraid of the poor man desiring your wealth, except to destroy it. What he desires is to enjoy the fruits of his own labour, and to have plenty of that bread, and meat, and clothing, he makes both for himself and his oppressors, though small be the share which he now receives.
But I would beg leave to remind you, that the poor and the labourers are like all the rest of mankind, the children of habit. They could not be tempted, therefore, by any arts, to use your fine clothes, fine houses, fine pictures, fine books, fine wines, fine women, and costly statues. To them the habit of labour is a second nature, and with that is conjoined the habit of obedience. Dreadful then must be the outrages committed upon them, when they break through these habits, and so far violate their own feelings, as to attack that property they can never use, and seize that power they are the next moment ready to resign. The dread which some people entertain of the great body of the people violating the natural right of property, is the mere idle coinage of the brain, and has no foundation in the laws of nature.
But though there can be no rational dread of the people doing more than breaking out into temporary fits of violence, let the legislator beware how he goes on in his present career of outraging and plundering the labourers; let him beware how he nourishes that hatred he already dreads; let him beware how he violates by taxes and tithes, that right of property he obtains power to protect, and professes to respect,—let him beware how he seeks to perpetuate oppression by “the sword of the law;” for be assured, falling, as the law is, into contempt, decaying as the class of legislators is in public esteem, any attempt to preserve your power and its authority by violence, will only call a counteracting violence into life, which may for ever extinguish, in blood, your political systems.
But, my lord, I must stop, I have not, perhaps, entered as fully as I ought, and certainly not as fully as I might, into the advantages which would arise from the legislator recognizing and acting on the natural right of property, and into all the disadvantages which do actually flow from his continual struggles to uphold an unjust right of property. I have not contrasted, as I might have done, the works of nature and man. Not that I am one of those ascetics, who think man can effect nothing good within his proper sphere, his works are noble, and no person admires, more than I do, his manifold and wondrous achievements in every branch of art. But, my lord, the regulation of society is as much beyond individual skill, as reining in the storm. My disparagement of the lawgiver's labours, therefore, arises not from the religious dogma, “that all man's works are evil,” but from a conviction that, in attempting to regulate society, he has miscalculated his power; and I beg to be understood as treating with the most complete scorn, those who preach the doctrine that all men are weak and sinful creatures, and yet act with as much arrogance and presumption as if they were thoroughly exempt from the general weaknesses. If I have not contrasted the advantages of the natural principle with the disadvantages of the legal error, if I have not dwelt on the one hand at length on the independence of equality, on the fearless boldness which results from man not having a master, on the blessedness of comfortable competence being universal, on the total absence of all temptation to theft, where all are nearly alike, of the impossibility of crimes existing against property, where the natural right of property is respected by the law; and if I have not dwelt, on the other hand, on the miserable dependance of rich and poor, on the debasing timidity which distinguishes both the master and the slave, on the arrogance of the one and the brutal servility of the other, on the miserable idleness, “the waste of feelings unemployed,” which result from one class having all their wants supplied without exertion, and on the excessive, wearisome, unbroken toil which that imposes on another class, on the excessive misery which the latter feel from extreme poverty, and the former feel from the dread of losing their excessive opulence,—if I have not contrasted, as I might have done, the blessings of the natural right of property, and the horrors of the legal right, that has been, I assure you, from no disposition to depreciate, like our blaspheming priesthood, the mind of man and the work of man's hands, but from a want of time and opportunity. But whatever may be my conviction of the advantages of observing the natural right of property, they cannot be made manifest to others, because they have, in fact, never existed; and though the principle may warrant me in deducing them, my adversaries may and will deride the deduction as the work of my own imagination. I do not deny that it would be, but I know not why one moral or social fact, or principle, being given, the imagination may not deduce as complete and logical consequences from that, as the mathematician deduces from any one quality of space. I am not persuaded that the universe within the mind is not as perfect and harmonious as the solar system, and not convinced that one part being known, we may not with undoubted accuracy infer all the other parts. I will not, however, enter into such topics, which are I am afraid, equally, remote from the studies of both classes of the vulgar, who are at the extremes of the political scale. Our successors, my lord, who will see more of the social system developed than we see, will be able to describe it better, and contrast more forcibly than I can do, the effects of the natural and the legal systems of society. To them I must leave this important task, conceiving myself fortunate in having been allowed to go so far; and contented, at present, with being suffered thus to complete the little I have undertaken.