Thomas Skidmore, The Rights of Man to Property, 1829.



If a man were to ask me, to what I would compare the unequal distribution of property which prevails in the world, and has ever prevailed, I would say, that it reminds me of a large party of gentlemen, who should have a common right to dine at one and the same public table; a part of whom should arrive first, sit down and eat what they chose; and then, because the remaining part came later to dinner, should undertake to monopolize the whole; and deprive them of the opportunity of satisfying their hunger, but upon terms such as those who had feasted, should be pleased to prescribe.

Such, now, is the actual condition of the whole human race. Those who have gone before us, have been the first to [356] sit down to the table, and to enjoy themselves, without interruption, from those who came afterwards; and not content with this enjoyment, they have disposed of the whole dinner, in such a manner, that nine-tenths of the beings that now people this globe, have not wherewith to dine, but upon terms such as these first monopolisers, or those to whom they pretend they have conferred their own power as successors, shall choose to dictate. It is, as if, after dining till they were satisfied, a general scramble ensued, for what remained on the table; and those who succeeded in filling their pockets and other receptacles, with provisions, should have something to give to their children; but those who should have the misfortune to get none, or having got it, should lose it again, through fraud, calamity, or force, should have none for theirs, to the latest generation.

Such is the exact resemblance of the present order of things. Ye proud and rich possessors of the earth, look at this, and see if it be not so; and being so, and seeing that it is in your power to consent to a more honorable method of obtaining title to possession; say, if ye will not do so? I do not ask you, because it is in your power to confer any favor by giving such consent; for, this community, and every other, whenever they shall understand their rights, will have power enough in their own hands to do what they shall think fit, without seeking for any acquisition from you; but because it will be more agreeable to your own true happiness, to give such consent freely; than, with the ill, but unavailing grace of reluctance. Three hundred thousand freemen, in this State, hold votes in their hands, which no power that you can command can take out; and of these freemen, more than two hundred and fifty thousand are men whom a preceding generation, together with yourselves and their own ignorance of their rights have conspired to place in situations such that they [357] have no property in the State of which they are citizens; although their title to such property is as good as that of any man that breathes.

The first possession of this State, by the ancestors of its present inhabitants, was acquired by means, partaking of the nature of fraud, cunning, purchase and conquest, the latter predominating; acting upon ignorance, and want of the power of resistance. So far is this emphatically true that in 1609, on Hudson's return from the place where Albany now is, whither he went, in the very first voyage which led to the discovery of the river which bears his name,

"a considerable number of Indians had assembled at the head of the island, [Manhattan, on which this city now stands,] and as he approached, assailed him with a volley of arrows from their canoes. By a few discharges of cannon, and muskets, which killed several of the savages, the attack was repulsed, and the assailants put to flight."
So that from this historical circumstance, in the absence of other history which I need not refer to, it is evident that some previous aggression had provoked this attack.

But it is not necessary now to say more, in objection to titles obtained, by possession, by conquest, or by any other imaginary species of acquisition. It has been shown already, throughout these pages, I trust to the satisfaction of the reader, that title to property exists for all; and for all alike; not because others have been; nor because they have not been; not because they had a certain being for a parent, rather than another being; not because they appear later, or earlier, on the stage of life, than others; not because of purchase, of conquest, of preoccupancy, or what not; but BECAUSE THEY ARE: BECAUSE THEY EXIST. I AM; THEREFORE IS PROPERTY MINE; as much SO as any man's, and that without asking [358] any man's permission; without paying any man price; without knowing or caring farther than as my I equal right extends, whether any other human I being exists, or not. Such is the language of nature; such is the language of right; and such are the principles which will justify any people in pulling down any government; which denies, even to a single individual of the human race, his possession, his real tangible possession, of this unalienable right of nature; or its unquestionable equivalent. How much more so, then, is it the duty of any such people, to destroy their own government when more than nine-tenths, it may be, are deprived of rights which the Creator gave them, when he gave them existence?

Before I approach the termination of this work, it may not be amiss, that we ask ourselves, how has it happened, that wealth, or in other words, possession, has succeeded in making itself so unequal in the world as it appears; and appears, almost without exception, ever to have been? Immediately there are hundreds, who are ready to cry out, "It is conquest that has done it." And having so said, they seem to say, by the acquiescent manner in which it is spoken, that having been brought about by conquest, it is, therefore, impossible to undo what conquest has done.

Conquerors, undoubtedly, have their rights, as well as other men. But, these rights they have, as men, and not as conquerors. Often, no doubt, with the sword, they have won what truly belonged to them of right; but, then, it was not the sword that conferred the right; it only gave possession of it. The right existed before the sword was made to belong to him who wielded it. It came into existence with his own being, and departed only with it. But its possession, its enjoyment, often may depart without it, as has happened, I might say, almost for ever.

But how came conquest? How came men to be willing to hire themselves out to those whom we call chieftains? [359] To be pierced with spears and arrows? To be penetrated with sword and ball for price? How came man to set himself up, as a mark to be shot at, for six-pence a-day? We need not go to remote ages to find an answer to this question. Ask only at our Forts; enquire only of our Navy, and they will tell you. They will say, that if society had given them all a competence, (or rather the means of acquiring it,) such as all men might have, under proper circumstances, they would not have consented to be where they are. And this would be true of all nations. Let the men of all nations be made equal among themselves, in point of property, and then will wars be immediately self-extinguished for ever. Keep up this unnatural inequality in wealth, which now exists, and they will exist as long as two nations shall be found in existence. Nay, more, they will exist even yet longer; for when only a single nation shall be found, civil wars will not fail to appear, as they do now, and from the same causes.

It appears, then, that conquerors, grow out of a state of unequal possession of property; and without such an unequal possession, they would never have existed. It appears, also, that by destroying this inequality every where, conquerors and warriors would be destroyed also. The question, then, again comes up; how came this inequality to exist? How had it beginning? For we can all easily understand how it would continue unequal, and the inequality increase in magnitude after it has once had a beginning. For it is even proverbial that "money makes money"; whereas, the true proverb should be, that man makes money. It is quite as ridiculous to say, that "money makes money," as it would be to say that one plantation makes another. Between the owners of these two plantations, there may be certain relations, by which the one owner comes to be possessed of both; but still it is [360] an absurdity of the grossest kind, to say that one plantation ought to have, that is, makes, or earns another. However, as the world now is, "money makes money." And so true is it, that if a little globe of gold, as large as that of the head of a large brass pin, say the one-sixteenth of an inch in diameter, were let out on compound interest, at 5 percent a year, in a little more than 1300 years it would amount to another solid globe of gold, greater than this whole earth! Interest, therefore, is like a magnet, which daily gains more and more power, as you append more weight to it; and that without doing anything to acquire or increase this power. But, to recur again to our question: How did inequality begin?

To ascertain, we must go to those countries, in whose first settlement conquest had no agency; and when we have arrived there, we must ascend to the earliest age of the people who inhabit it. What shall we find there? No history can tell us anything; for at such periods of time, men were not able, and if they were able, had no motive to write one. We are, therefore, left to follow nature by analogy; and from the little we do know, to infer what we do not know.

At that early age, we may understand a great extent of country before us. We may understand, also, that there were very few people. We may consider them ignorant and helpless. Their resources of subsistence would be the fruits and roots of trees; animals and fish; and their clothing, as far as they might have any, would be, perhaps, the skins of the beasts they had killed for food. Habitation they would have none; or if any, it would be for rest, a cave, or a hollow tree, or the recess of some super-impending rock. If, in process of time, they should learn, as they would, that the animals on which they subsist, might be rendered docile and tractable, it would lead them to [361] discover that those which they now take in the chase, with great labor and difficulty, and frequently at great intervals of time, producing great distress from hunger; might be bred up in a domestic way; and they would adopt the practice. This change would lead them from the state of hunters, to that of shepherds. At first, these would locate themselves no where. They would ramble about for food: and as there is supposed to be a great superabundance of territory, and but few people, there would be no objection, because there would be no collision of interest; and, therefore, there would arise no investigation of rights. For rights are never investigated, whenever all have more than they know what to do with. It is only when privation begins to bear hard, and oppression to manifest itself, that inquiry into rights begins to take place.

But if they did not, at this stage of their existence, inquire into the rights of this shepherd, to this temporary location; and of that, to another; because there was no need of it; so also did they not inquire, (as men, now, do not inquire into their rights,) why one should have a larger flock than another; or why one shepherd dying, a certain person, or persons, rather than any other person, or persons, should become the owner of it. All had enough for their own simple wants, and this was sufficient to render inquiry unnecessary. If, indeed, any inquiry could have arisen, at that early period, it is not to be doubted, that the principle of equal rights would have prevailed; and this, if necessary, would have proceeded to the greatest extent possible. Thus, not only would it have been forbidden to any one to monopolize one location rather than another; a larger flock rather than a smaller; but the right, in preference to another, to sleep even in a hollow tree, would have been contested, and contested with the same zeal and [362] animosity, as that with which armies now contend for the acquisition or preservation of empire.

In progress of time it was discovered, that these flocks could be raised with less labor and risk, if cultivation were added to their store of resources. But this required a permanent location. It called upon the shepherd to fix upon some place. In this there would be no difficulty. For inasmuch as territory is very abundant, and population thin, there is room enough, and more than enough, for all. Why should they differ? Differ they did not; and not differing, no inquiry was made, why this location should belong to one rather than to another. Had any such investigation arisen, as a matter of course, the affair must have been settled by convention. Agreement must have assigned this to this; and that to the other; and no one could have said, such and such are mine, to your exclusion. Battle would have been the consequence of such a declaration, and the right of the strongest would have prevailed; but it is not to be known here, whether it would have been the right of justice. Yet, during this natural progress of things, experience has not taught them; they do not perceive, the future tenacity with which possession, now simply not objected to, will be retained, on the principle, as it will be called, of right in the holder, by virtue of this same possession.

During all this time, population increases; but increases slowly. Deaths happen. Parents more or less keep their children around them. When the former die, as there is little wealth anywhere, little or no inquiry is started, as to whose are the flocks that the father possessed? Probably none at all. Land is abundant every where; and all have opportunity to have flocks of their own, and to cultivate, little as they may do, fields of their own. The children are, therefore, left in possession. [363]

Nor, if two shepherds immediately adjacent to each other, should die, at the same time, one having, it may be, five children, and the other only one; would inquiry arise why the one child should have the flocks of the one father, and the five children have only the flocks of the other father? In general among all such nations, and I believe, always, hospitality prevails, to a great extent, and if need should arise, for the numerous family to receive of the flocks of the richer son, hospitality would afford it. Besides, land still greatly abounding, new locations would be taken, new flocks reared, and new fields cultivated; without any investigation of their actual original rights.

I said, fields would be cultivated; but the tillage they would undergo, would hardly deserve the name of cultivation. Every thing would be extremely rude. Nor, in most cases, would those fields have any fences. The locations would be without lines or limits. There would be no boundaries, for the simple reason that there is yet more of soil than any of them want. If fence be made at all, at this period, it is such, perhaps, as that which may be sufficient to inclose their flocks, and keep them from straying, while their owner sleeps.

The handicraft arts would begin to make some progress. Accidental circumstances would give some much more taste and skill, in their prosecution, than others could acquire. This superior taste and skill would be turned to account, to supply the wants of their possessor. He would look less to land, and the ordinary resources, than others are obliged to do. He would soon become indifferent, more or less, to the possession of the soil. By imitation, too, his children and associates would, more or less, adopt his mode of life, and acquire similar facility in the same pursuits. If they did not, they still could get land as much as they might want. [364]

In this way, society advances in numbers. The arts also advance in number, perfection, and the population engaged in them; and still there is land enough for all, and more. But they find it in their common interest to divide, almost without knowing that they have done so, their occupations. Still the principle prevails, and gains strength, that whoever is near the dying man, at and about the latter part of his life, succeeds to his possessions. Nor is there yet any great harm in it: for there would be very little alteration produced for the common benefit, if the attendants upon the dying man, (being generally his children,) should abandon his location, and take another. For as yet there is more land than any and all want.

The children of those, too, who pursue handicraft trades, succeed to the possession of their father's effects; because the principle is seen to be similar; and because it is perceived, that they will better understand the use of them; and can better employ them in the satisfaction of the wants of others.

In the course of time, however, land is taken up so much, that there begins to arise some inquiry as to the extent of rights; none, however, as it regards the rights themselves. Long established custom having sanctioned the latest, as well as the earliest locations, it does not occur to them, to go back to periods of times anterior to their first fixation. All they conceive they have to do, is to assign limits or boundaries to such locations, as they now find them; and this, of course, is done, by what may be called the public authority. They lose sight of that original question, which they would have had to discuss, if, instead of coming through this long and tedious process, it may be, of some thousand years, to their present condition, in point of numbers, and knowledge; they had just arrived, for the first time, to the possession of the territory they now occupy. [365] In the latter event, they would have to enquire, why this location, rather than another, should belong to this man; or why another should belong to a second instead of a third; and why also a son or brother, rather than any other person, should have it, or either, after the assigned owner has left it. All these are questions, now, which they do not discuss; and for the simple reason, there is no subject requiring their interposition, but that of boundaries or limits, to each man's possessions. As yet there is land, there is property enough for all; and therefore, again, they do not enquire about their rights.

At the same time, too, that limits are assigned to these locations, they are made transmissible, like ordinary personal property; and probably now, or before this time, money is invented.

Here a great change takes place. Population continues to increase; and now they can find no more unsettled land. Of if they can, they must go farther for it, than they are disposed, or are able to afford the means necessary. Sooner than do this, they prefer to enter into a treaty with him or those who have, and may spare. For the first time, the land-holder begins to feel that he has power. He tastes the advantage of it; and his thirst increases for more. Here, then, has avarice begun. Nor could it begin, until some human being was found, out of whose distress, arising in consequence of his wanting possessions, such as his fellows enjoy, the sweets of another's labor, were to be extracted.

Necessity arising from a deprivation of their natural and original right to property, compels many to make a treaty, whereby they surrender a portion; a small portion, at first, it is true, of their labor. Numbers continue to increase, but the land itself does not increase. Greater and greater exactions are made, till, at last, they become so great that [366] more cannot be given; for more is not in being to be given. Still population increases yet more; and men, needy and wretched; finding that they cannot obtain the means of supporting life, but by engaging in the interest of some large possessor, who has cause of quarrel with another, they consent; and thus do we see the origin of the soldier. And so does this state of things continue to increase, in inflicting misery and wretchedness upon the race, till it arrives at the condition in which we now see mankind suffering.

In all the principles of the rights of property which are thus seen to have been almost insensibly adopted, there is not one which has been adopted on any consideration, correct or otherwise, of its own merits. Usage has done every thing. Custom, practice, habit, has made all the law; and made it at times, and under circumstances, in which it was of no consequence to the generation then being, whether the principles involved in the custom, were good in themselves, or not; whether they would be productive of immense injury or not, when they should come to have a dense population to act upon; whether they were consistent with the rigid rights of their own generation, or not; whether they preserved the rights of posterity, or sacrificed them with a most unsparing hand. To them, it was all the same, whether they had good principles, or bad, or none at all. And the latter was the fact. For it is not to be said that any principle prevails, where no investigation is had, of the effects which the practice, whatever it may be, will produce, when carried out to the fullest extent.

Thus, in detail, do we see, how the present state of things has had its origin. In the origin of the soldier, the material of conquest, do we see also, the origin of every other miserable and dependent human being. And when [367] conquest has once created for itself an existence; how frightfully rapid does it transfer into its own keeping, as it were, the whole property of the globe. Look at the early history of this country, and see how vast are the possessions that owe their origin more or less, to this source. Look, also, at South America. Is there any legitimacy of title in all this? And now, that suffrage, and the printing press, have come to the redemption of man's rights; shall not man undo the wrongs of the sword? Shall he not correct those errors that gave the sword its existence and its power? Shall not man, now, even at this late date, when myriads of millions have gone to their graves, without ever having once enjoyed their rights; shall not man, now, rise in the majesty of his strength, and claim that which as much belongs to him, as does his life and liberty?

Let it not be said, that man is yet unfit to enjoy these rights. Who, or what is it, that has made him so? Is it not the very evil of which I am speaking, if it be anything? And is it to be said that man is to be made fit, by keeping him under the operation of the same cause that has made him otherwise? Besides, why should it be said, that man's right to property, in the light in which I present it, his real and true right, is more to be kept from his possession and enjoyment, than a right in the same person even, to property coming to him in the ordinary way? No man, now, undertakes to say, that an heir at law, as now the law is among us, shall not come into possession of a legacy, because people, whoever they may be, choose to say he is unfit to receive it. Even if he be truly unfit, he nevertheless receives it, by way of guardian or trustee. Why then is it to be said, that men generally shall not have their rights, in the acceptation in which I understand them, if they shall be of opinion, that this acceptation is correct, on similar terms? Ask them, when they shall have made up their [368] minds, what their rights are, if they are to be kept out of their possession, by any such frivolous pretexts?

But not to treat these frivolous pretexts either with a levity or a severity unbecoming our subject, it would be easy, I think, to show, in any age, and particularly the present, that the poor and the middling classes, those whose condition would be benefited by the adoption of the system recommended in this work, are now possessed of higher intellectual, and better moral acquirements and habits, then belong to those whom we call rich. And the proof is, as it regards the comparison of knowledge, both theoretical and practical, between the two parties, that if, this day, their opportunities of displaying it, were made equal, by making property equal, those who now fill the lower ranks in life, would live better and happier, on the same amount of exertion, than those who fill the higher. This, then, I take it, is evidence of the fact. For if knowledge be not that which enables us thus to live better and happier, I have yet to learn in what it consists. Any knowledge of a character different from this, I apprehend, is not worth having, and deserves to be considered as either worthless or hostile to human happiness. He, therefore, is surely no friend to the race, who, on any such unfounded pretence, as that of unfitness, want of knowledge, etc. etc. objects to the immediate enjoyment, by the numerous class of whom I am speaking, of their right of property, as well as of every other right. And as to the question of comparative morality of the two classes, every one knows that the poorer is the most virtuous.

Besides, how ridiculously absurd must those political physicians appear, who shall oppose, or attempt to postpone such enjoyment of their rights by the great mass of the people, until they shall receive as the phrase is, the benefit of education. If they be sincere in their belief that such [369] education is so very indispensable as a previous step to this enjoyment; and that the people are not now sufficiently instructed, let me ask them how, under present circumstances, is it ever possible to give it? Is a family, where both parents and children are suffering daily, in their animal wants; where excessive toil is required to obtain the little they enjoy; where the unkind and the unfriendly passions, generated by such a wretched condition of things, reign with full sway; is such a family in a situation to receive instruction? Even if the children attend public institutions of education, as punctually as may be wished, where is that equality of rank and condition, as well between their parents as between themselves, which is so necessary to banish even from among children, those envious remarks on dress, etc. etc. which now render our public schools in a measure abortive? Political dreamers! Reformers, if ye prefer that I should call you so! Feed first the hungry; clothe first the naked, or ill-clad; provide comfortable homes for all; by hewing down colossal estates among us, and equalizing all property; take care that the animal wants be supplied first; that even the apprehension of want be banished; and then will you have a good field and good subjects for education. Then will instruction be conveyed without obstacle; for the wants, the unsatisfied wants of the body will not interfere with it. In the mean time, let all remember, that those who undertake to hold back the people from their rights of property, as shown in this Work, until education, as they call it, can first be communicated, (though as already shown, they now know more of all that is valuable among men, than those who attempt to teach them,) either do not understand themselves, or pursue the course they are pursuing, for the purpose of diverting the people from the possession of these rights; that they may be held in bondage, even yet longer. It becomes [370] the people to consider, and reflect, how far it is proper for them, to suffer themselves to be thus decoyed out of the enjoyment of their rights, even for a single hour, by any such fallacious pretexts. And fallacious they must undoubtedly appear, since the entire accomplishment of all that I have marked out in this work, as well the form of government it exhibits, as the method of bringing it into existence, is a matter as plain as that of the equal division of an estate, which the father of twelve children may have left, without a will, and therefore left to them all equally. These, although not one of them could read or write a letter or understand any thing of what is called science in all its thousand branches, could nevertheless divide it among them with the most equal and impartial justice. It would be the veriest nonsense to talk first of lecturing these heirs into knowledge; if you please, into the knowledge of Astronomy, Chemistry, Botany, Anatomy, Medicine, Painting, Sculpture, Mathematics, etc. etc. etc. knowledge which has no kind of necessary connection with any correct understanding of our rights, before giving them their property; but not more so, than it is now to say, that the people are not fit to have their property given to them, until they have first gone through a course of education.

The truth is, all men are fitted for the enjoyment of their rights, when they know what they are. And until that time, they do not desire them. They languish in misery and wretchedness; every new day being a new day of sorrow to them, when they do not perceive them; and seem rather disposed to charge their evil condition to some "bad luck," as they call it; to some imaginary decree of destiny; to some superstitious interference with their happiness; than to any possession by others of property which belongs to them. Thus is it the case with the poor and the rich, passing now in review before us. The former does not [371] imagine that it is the latter which renders his life miserable and wretched. He does not conceive that it is he who fills his cup with bitterness, and visits himself and his family with the afflictions of slavery. "Still, slavery, still thou art a bitter draught; and though thousands have been made to drink of thee," without knowing that thou comest in the shape of the rich man, holding in his hands that property which belongs to his fellow-men; "still thou art not the less bitter on that account." So would Sterne have said, and so say I.

In the same wandering and benighted spirit, do both the poor and the rich, the proprietor and non-proprietor, he who has every thing and he who has nothing, cheat themselves, daily, with self-delusions. How came this to be your property? If I ask a man such a question, he immediately replies, "I bought it of such a one." Well, then, I suppose he had a right to sell it to you? "Certainly," he answers. How came he by it? I ask next. "He purchased of such a one." And he, I suppose, had a right to sell, too? "Undoubtedly." And so we go on inquiring, till we come even to the days of Adam. How came he by it is the next question. And the true, but hurried answer is, "God gave it to him.!" Here, for the first time, reason begins to awake, and see where rights originate. What! And did God give rights to Adam, which he has not given to you? Did God declare, to the man of his first creation, that he not only should have the use of this fair paradise, as it is said to have been, free of all charge, but should also have the power to say, that no human being after him, should have the use of it at all, for ever? For, if Adam have the power to sell, so also has he power not to sell; he has power to deny its use to any or to all. Better, far better for mankind, if such is a correct foundation for our right to property, that Adam had never been; for then we [372] should have possessed it; without buying of him who never bought himself; and to whom it was never given, for the purpose of selling to others; but for the satisfaction of his wants, so long as he should have any; that is, so long as he should live.

But the absurdity does not stop here. If, in his lifetime, Adam should sell the property of the world; supposing him to have the right, he might do so; if, indeed, it be not a contradiction, when there can be nothing to be received in payment and on which to support himself. And if he wait till he is deceased, how can he sell then? Can the dead sell? In our day, we do not see bargains made in this way. Both buyer and seller are living persons. Perhaps it will be said, that before a man dies, he may agree to sell, and to deliver at a future day; and that day may be the day of his death! A strange day this for the consummation of a bargain! But suppose it to be so, can the dead make delivery of property, any more than they can make sale of it? Is it to be done by proxy? Proxy I have heard of, in relation to the living; but never to the dead. Besides, if proxy is competent to make delivery for the dead, so also is it competent to make sale or disposition, and that without any consultation with him who has once owned it. And this places the matter where it ought to be.

Thus does it appear that one generation cannot sell, give, or convey, even if it had the right, to another. The reason is, that the one is dead; the other is living. The one is present; the other absent. They do not, and cannot meet, to come to a treaty; to make delivery; to give or receive. He who is dying, is present: so soon as he is dead, he is past, and is no nearer to us, in an instant after life has departed, than if he had died a thousand centuries ago. Patience becomes exhausted in thus chasing [373] away the phantoms on which possessors of property found their title to it; and on which, too, the poor yield their assent to the validity of such title? But it is useful to dispel such errors from the minds of both the one and the other: that one may not put up a claim, which he shall see he cannot support; and that the other may not confirm it, through a misunderstanding of its real character.

But, if property thus derived, does not give to its possessor title, how are debts to be founded upon it? How am I to purchase of another that which is already truly my own? How is a man truly to sell that which does not belong to him? If it do not belong to him, in unimpeachable right, he cannot give unimpeachable title; and unless he can give such title, he cannot have any just claim to receive consideration. If he think he has such title, he may be very honest in his opinions; but this would not make it the better for him. Title does not come into any man's possession, merely by the force of imagination. It has other origin than this. To allow a man to sell that which is not his, would be to compel some one to pay for that which, in true right, is already his own, without payment at all, of any kind, or of any amount. Let no man, therefore, say that another owes him; and ought to pay him: let him rather first inquire into the title by which he has held that which he pretends he has sold; let him inquire fast, if it was his own to sell. Let him ascertain if the pretended debtor, through his ignorance of his own rights, has not been placed, by his own government, in necessitous circumstances; and that himself has, by the same government, been placed in unjust affluent circumstances. If both of these suppositions are true, then there is no debt existing between them; he who is called the debtor has only received that which belonged to him, of right; and he who calls himself the creditor, has only [374] parted with that which he never had the right to possess or retain. Debts, therefore, and the same is also to be said of contracts, in the present order of society, are obligations having no moral force; especially as between rich and poor; and so long as it exists never can have any.

But, in confirmation of these positions, nothing would be easier, if it were necessary, than to show, even more plainly than it has yet been done, that there is, in the present order of things, no such thing as just debt or valid contract, Or valid possession of any property whatever, which has been obtained of the poor by the rich; and that simply on the principle of what lawyers call duress. And these do not fail to call it to their aid as often as they can. It means no less than this; that no man is entitled to possess what he has obtained, or expects to obtain, where imprisonment, force or constraint of any description whatever, has been employed to acquire possession, or the promise of it. Thus, as between the rich and the poor, if the latter now owe, or owe payable at a future day, any thing to the former, such debt is null and void, if the debtor, by the organization of the social institution in which he lives, have been deprived of his equal share of the property of the State; and along with it, of his equal education and instruction, in all that any of his fellow citizens enjoy, and which is so necessary to enable him to supply his future wants.

It is true, in the instance I take, that it may not be the fault of the supposed rich creditor himself, that his debtor, as he is termed, is under the duress in question; but it is his fault, if he take advantage of, or profit by it! And this, it would seem, can scarcely be less than self-evident. For it is certainly not more just, and therefore, not more legal, that I, for example, should obtain possession, or the promise of it, of that which belongs to him, whom another has [375] placed under any species of constraint, than if I had done it myself. Nor can it alter the relations of equity and justice between the parties, that the government which presides over both, is the one who is guilty of placing the debtor in this duress, as well by withholding from him that which is truly his own, of right, as by any other species of constraint whatever.

Nor, in a case in which the government, by giving existence to the operation of wills, may have given to any one of its citizens, even more than belongs to him in equal right with his fellow citizens; and who, under the moral influence exerted upon his mind by a state of things which supplies him with unmeasured (as he deems it) and unmerited wealth, squanders it with a profusion, which, sooner or later, reduces him to poverty; I say, even in this case, the claim of this unfortunate being to an equal share with any and every citizen, in the proposed division of the property of the State, is not to be less respected than that of any other man. For although it be true, that in his time, he has received more, much more, than his equal share; yet he has received it under such moral circumstances, as not to have the power to retain even that which, in equal and exact justice, is truly his own. The very fact, of giving to such, or rather to almost any man, enormous possessions, is, of itself, of such a character, and accompanied with such a tendency, as, in most instances, to unfit him, by the moral action it exerts upon him, even to retain that which is justly his, and indispensable to the happiness of his existence

Whenever therefore, it happens that wealth has descended hereditarily into any man's hand, and has subsequently departed, leaving the former possessor in poverty; such possessor is as effectually under the operation of duress, as if he had originally been, and continued to be, [376] deprived of his equal share of property. No contract or debt, therefore, can justly be said to exist between him and a rich creditor, any more than between the same creditor and him who is, and always has been poor. And as between two rich men, or two men of unequal possessions, if any claim is found to rest at all, when there is no title for any thing; such claim is against the richer party in favor of that which has less.

Nor does it avail to say, that inasmuch as the people of all governments have ever had the power to have given to each individual member of it, his equal share of the property, and along with it equal maintenance and instruction during the years of minority; they have therefore, tacitly at least, consented to the unequal possession which prevails, and have no right to complain. This is not true; for if it be a fact, that they have tacitly consented; still the origin of this consent, such as it is, is founded in ignorance, in a want of knowledge of their rights. In political justice, as well as in the principles of law acknowledged by the prevailing jurisprudence, it is laid down, as it ought to be in every system where moral rectitude is pretended to govern, that no man is to be injured, by any concessions, express or implied, growing out of his ignorance, or want of a knowledge of his rights. So true is this, that it often happens in our courts of law, as now organized, that men, even men learned in the law, as the expression is, who have made concessions or stipulations incompatible with their just rights, from not rightly understanding them, have had them set aside, and rendered null and void, by the proper authority. On the ground, then, even of consent, since it could have arisen, or been obtained only, through ignorance, there is no reason to cease to consider almost all men as in a state of duress, (the rich for the time being only excepted,) and as a consequence that [377] there is no such thing as debt at all. With this conviction, the mind of the reader, I think, cannot fail to see the entire and perfect morality of the abolition and renunciation of all debts recommended in Article 1st, page 137; although, for obvious reasons, in some subsequent pages I have discussed the question of the existence of such morality, as though it were a matter of doubt. This doubt, I trust, is banished, and the judgment satisfied, that debt cannot now be justly considered as having any actual moral existence.

To entertain an opinion to the contrary of this, would be to sanction the idea, that nations may rob a portion of their citizens or subjects, of their rights of property; and that such other of these same citizens or subjects, as shall receive the avails of this robbery, may nevertheless, of right, make valid contracts with the party robbed! Thus, in the first settlement of this State, one man, of the name of Van Renssellaer, (see note at the bottom of page 339,) received an enormous grant of more than three hundred thousand acres of land, having a location second to none, except to this city and its vicinity, in advantages of every kind; and yet any contract entered into, between this large possessor, and the thousands and tens of thousands who were denied their equal rights With him, is to be considered as moral and good !

Thus, too, in the year 1066, when William the Conqueror took possession of England, seven hundred barons only, were made owners by him, of the whole soil of the nation, with only a trifling exception; while a million, perhaps, (for I know not the number,) of other human beings, having rights equal to and with these same barons and their sovereign, were denied possessions of any kind whatever!

If valid contract can exist between the dispossessed [378] and their dispossessors, in this instance; then must it be because the barons and their Sovereign alone had rights; the residue of the nation having none! If this be not the cause, and still it be contended that valid contracts may be made between the parties, although one is an aggressor upon the other; then must it be because injury or aggression of any kind being made use of, to obtain a contract, does not vitiate such contract itself, but leaves it as good and as moral between the parties, as if they had stood in the presence of each other, in the full possession of the rights that belong to each, and in the total absence of every thing like deprivation, constraint, or duress! With this doctrine before us, the mass of nations may indeed be first robbed of their rights, and then be bound by contract, so as to be compelled to surrender up to those who rob them, the full labor of their lives, with the exception only of so much as may barely keep them in existence, and all will be right! But without it, there can be no such thing as contract, or debt, arising from contract; or just possession of property, or labor ,or the avails of labor, growing out of payment of any such supposed debt.

Let society, however, be so modified, as to give to each man his original right to property, at the proper season of his life, equal to that of any other man's, together with equal, early, and ample education; and then, debts will have a good moral foundation on which to rest. At present, debt is little more or less than extortion, practised upon the needy, who have not, and never have had, what is their own, by those who have not only their own, but also what belongs to those to whom they undertake to sell. It is like the thief, selling his stolen goods, to the true and original owner. [I have not thought proper, in this Work, to propose, that in the new organization of society which it contains, no laws shall be passed for the collection of debts. I apprehend, however, whether such laws shall be passed or not, that the fact will be, that there will be little of debt in either case; inasmuch as all, with very few exceptions, indeed, will have the means of present payment; and credit, of course, will neither be given nor required; at least to any such amount as to deserve the name. Let us anticipate then, how happy it will be for our species, when the hosts of lawyers, judges, sheriffs, jailors, legislators, &c. &c. which now swarm around us, shall nearly all disappear, and instead of preying upon producers, shall become producers themselves.] [379]

Man, in his ignorance of the laws which govern the operations of nature, as well those that are near at hand, as those that are remote, and almost invisible, is a being o feebleness as it regards his power of supplying his own wants. Circumstances, in the early stage of his social existence, which none, at the time had the power to control, because they had not the power to foresee the future, enabled some men, as it were, to make prisoners of others, and compel them to supply wants, which they were not, of their own individual and equal resources, able to supply themselves. What is called wealth, therefore, is nothing less than the power to make prisoners of our fellow men; and to compel them to erect for its possessor, a palace of marble, for example, when of his own equal or equivalent industry, he could not erect it himself.

But it is time, that those who desire to be rich, should desire to be so, without enslaving their fellow men. And it is altogether easier to do so, without such a crying injustice, than it is with it. Every morning do I have on my table, what the mightiest of the Roman Emperors could not have had at all, in the best days of his power. And yet [380] I have no means to go forth, and arrest men, who are my equals; and make them contribute to the satisfaction of my wants. What, then, can this be? A newspaper. Yet this is the result of the extension of knowledge in the human mind. Society should be, and under proper circumstances would be, a garden, in which the tree of knowledge would flourish luxuriantly. It is, in discoveries, therefore that all men should look for the source of their wealth. For, when, by reason of discoveries, men come, for example, to be able, each, to do as much as five thousand men could do, previous to such discovery; it is precisely the same thing as if each one of us could go forth, make prisoners of this number, and compel them, without cost to us, to contribute to our use the full quantum of all the labor they are able to perform.

To become sensible that such is the true source of all wealth that is honest or legitimate; and that it is the way to make the most of it, too, we need only recur to the power of producing wealth which the printing press affords.

"In the year 1272, the wages of a laboring man were just three halfpence a day; and at the same period, the price of a Bible, fairly written out, was 30 sterling. Of course, a common laborer, in those days, could not have procured a copy of the Bible, with less than the entire earnings of thirteen years! Now, a beautiful printed copy of the same book can be purchased with the earnings of one day."

Take another view of the subject. An ordinary clerk cannot make a fair manuscript copy of the Bible, in less than three months. With a common printing press, work equivalent to printing a copy of the whole Bible, can be done in ten minutes; and with a steam-press, of the most approved construction, the same work can be done in three minutes,"


In the first view abovementioned, it appears, that with thirteen years of his labor, a laboring man can now purchase 4800 Bibles; whereas, before the invention of the printing press, with the same amount of labor, he could purchase only one; and that, of an inferior kind. Here is precisely the same quantum of wealth placed into the hands of this laboring man, as if, when manuscript, afforded the only means of furnishing copies of any work; he could have gone forth, and by conquest, force, stratagem, cunning, or fraud, made prisoners of 4800 men, and compelled them to work for him for nothing.

In the subsequent view, two considerations are blended. Thus, it is not a single person, that is capable of using the printing press; either of the common kind, or of that driven by steam; whereas the case supposed, allows us only one copier of manuscript. It has relation, therefore, to time, to rapidity of execution, rather than to comparative labor done. Thus, by one common printing press, copies are multiplied faster than could be, by a single copyist, in the proportion of 13,104 to one! And in the case of the steam press, as 43,680 to one!

Such, and similar, too, is the case with innumerable other inventions, which the benefactors of mankind have bestowed upon the human race. Nor, notwithstanding, so much have been done by those who have gone before us, is there yet little left for us to do. The discoveries, that yet remain to be made in every department of human knowledge, are inexhaustible, as will be the wealth which they will afford to the generations that shall make them, and to those that shall succeed them. But, in order that we may have a multitude, and the greatest multitude possible, of explorers of new truths; the situation, the condition, in one word, the possessions of all men, at their first mature entrance into life, together with their education, must be equal. [382] Artificial and unequal wealth must not be nor remain built up, by the suicidal consent of society, to place those who possess it, in situations of ease, such as they need not, desire, and will not care to contribute their quantum of knowledge and discovery, to the common fund; nor must others be depressed into the gulf of poverty, discouragement and degradation, by withholding from them that which is their own, in right of their being; and without which, they also, will add little to the stock of science, and be unable even to preserve that which is now in existence.

Under the present unequal distribution of property, where labor is the sole resource the poor have, by which to maintain their existence, degraded as it is, by the slavery in which they are plunged, it is not wonderful that they have been found to be opposed to the introduction of improvements. Fruitless and unavailing as such opposition is, it is yet less unreasonable than at first sight it may appear to be. It is true, that one consequence of such improvement, as we have already shown, is, that a poor man even, may obtain 4,800 times as much as he could obtain without it: yet, it may be asked, may he not be an ultimate loser? May not improvement extend to such a degree, that there will be no demand for his labor? Or if it does not reach this point, will it not approach so near it, as to make him an extreme sufferer? Let it not be forgotten, that while on the one hand, labor-saving machinery is advancing in its march to perfection, with rapid strides, and diminishing demand for labor; so on the other, are the numbers of the poor, among whom this demand is to be shared, augmenting in a fearful ratio. It will be said, perhaps, that by reducing price, the direct and certain consequence of improvements, (otherwise they do not deserve the name,) consumption is augmented; and, therefore, the demand is increased. This is true only in a limited [383] degree; for, as these improvements supersede, sooner or later, in a great measure, all demand for the labor of the poor; it dries up their resources faster than it multiplies them; this, in the end, diminishes, rather than increases the demand; and the consequence is, that as inventions, any more than revolutions, never go backwards, are never given up, when their benefits are once tasted; that the whole laboring population must perish, as it were, in a sort of self-destruction, like useless beings on the earth, where, it would seem, they have no right to appear; or that they must avert such a calamity, by the best means in their power.

That they cannot destroy the existence, and even increase of labor-saving machines and processes, is evident from this; that every one of those whose feelings are enlisted against their inutility to them, on account of their destroying demand for their labor, whenever he has occasion, purchases, because they come cheaper, the very productions afforded by the agents which he so much deprecates. Of what use, then, is it, for a laboring man to cry out against improvements, when he goes and buys a coat, for example, or rather the materials of it, at a low price, which these very improvements have made? It is reward that keeps these improvements in existence; and it is not a volley of hard words and abuse that will do them any injury. If, then, the poor themselves contribute, and as they do, by an unavoidable necessity, to the support of that which threatens their own destruction, what hope have they to escape? It is not the rich, certainly, that will; even if it were right that they should; and, we see the poor cannot forego the advantages, individually speaking, of these inventions; how then, are they to avert so great a calamity?

The Steam-Engine is not injurious to the poor, when [384] they can have the benefit of it; and this, on supposition, being always the case, instead of being looked upon, as a curse, would be hailed as a blessing. If, then, it is seen that the Steam-Engine, for example, is likely to greatly impoverish, or destroy the poor, what have they to do, but TO LAY HOLD OF IT, AND MAKE IT THEIR OWN? LET THEM APPROPRIATE ALSO, in the same way, THE COTTON FACTORIES, THE WOOLEN FACTORIES, THE IRON FOUNDERIES, THE ROLLING MILLS, HOUSES, CHURCHES, SHIPS, GOODS, STEAM-BOATS, FIELDS OF AGRICULTURE, &.c. &c. &c. in manner as proposed in this work, AND AS IS THEIR RIGHT; and they will never have occasion any more to consider that as an evil which never deserved that character; which, on the contrary, is all that is good among men; and of which, we cannot, under these new circumstances, have too much. It is an equal division of property that MAKES ALL RIGHT, and an equal transmission of it to posterity, KEEPS IT SO.

Amidst the multitude of efforts, which at different times, and in different countries, have been made to accomplish for the people what I have endeavored to accomplish for them in this work; it may be expected that I should take some notice of the labors, in the cause of humanity, which, among others, have distinguished Mr. Robert Owen, of New Lanark, in Scotland. That his intentions have been those of the purest character, there can be no doubt. But of what use can a system of the kind be, when it is only to be established, not on the rights of those for whose benefit it is expressly intended, but on the permission of those to whom, according to his plans, it is necessary to apply, before any one of his communities can be allowed to have an existence? Before any number of unfortunate [335] human beings, without property of any kind, or of any amount, can be allowed to have "a local habitation;" I might almost have added, "and a name," it is necessary for them to enter into a treaty with those who now possess the property of the world, for permission to enter into its possession; and as an inducement to the holder to give such permission, the future labor of the community is to be given up, precisely in manner as now happens throughout the world. Even Mr. Owen and his associates, from the labors of those whose welfare they consulted, drew an annual interest, on their capital, of twelve and a half per cent. [Byllesby's Observations on the Sources and Effects of Unequal Wealth, p. 144.] That those in their employ were evidently greatly improved in their moral, intellectual, and physical condition, is undoubtedly true. But what does this import? Does it mean, that because their condition is evidently greatly ameliorated, that, therefore, their rights are recognized to their fullest extent? If it does not, why then should not a better system be sought and this renounced? It has been the purpose of this Work to show, and I trust no one will read it without the conviction that I have shewn, that every thing paid to any one, in the shape of interest, rent, or profit, beyond payment for service rendered, is an invasion of the right of him who pays for the unjust benefit of him who receives it. If this be so, why should it be paid more to Mr.Owen than to another? He, certainly, I am persuaded, would be the last man to desire it, if he were convinced of its impropriety. How, then, when he has been searching into the causes of human misery; how has it happened that he has not found an abundant fountain of it in himself; in his own person? Take away from the possessors of the world their dividends, their rents, their profits; in one word, that which they receive for the use of it, and which [386] belongs, freely belongs, to one as much as another; and what would become of the present miserable condition of the human race? It would be annihilated for ever. But these dividends, these rents, these profits, these prices paid for the use of the world, or of the world's materials, will never cease to be paid, till the possession of these materials is made equal, or substantially equal, among all men; till there shall be no lenders, no borrowers; no landlords, no tenants; no masters, no journeymen; no Wealth, no Want.

But, allowing Mr. Owen's system to be good; where shall we find more men like Mr. Owen? It is no new thing in the world that Kindness is a greater Despot than Cruelty. It is no wonder, then, that he and his associates, at the same time that they gave more happiness to those under their care, than they might have obtained elsewhere, drew also to themselves greater returns than others are in the habit of obtaining as their reward; yet still the question recurs, where shall we find more Owens? Until it shall be shown that they can be found, a system is of little use, which can only exist during the lifetime of a single man.

Besides, there is something uncongenial with the best feelings of the heart, (to say nothing of original right,) when it is compelled to contemplate the happiness it enjoys, be it little or much, as flowing from another; even though it be from a benefactor. It subtracts half the value of such happiness, to feel that it is dependent on another for it, instead of having it indissolubly connected with us, as a part of our existence. Disguise it, as it may be, there seems something silently, but too audibly to tell us; that though we may be happy, we owe it to a master. And yet who, better then the poet, has expressed it?

Man knows no master, save creating Heaven,
Or those whom choice or common good ordain. -- Thompson,

I approach, then, the close of this Work. I hasten to commit it to the hands, the heads and the hearts of those for whose benefit it is written. It is to them that I look, for the power necessary, to bring the system it recommends into existence. If they shall think I have so far understood myself, and the subject I have undertaken to discuss, as to have perceived, and marked out the path that leads them to the enjoyment of their rights, their interests and their happiness, IT WILL BE FOR THOSE WHO ARE SUFFERING THE EVILS, of which I have endeavored to point out the causes and the remedies, TO LEAD THE WAY. Those who are enjoying the sweets of the labor of others, will have no hearts to feel for the misery which the present system occasions. And the first throe of pain, which they will feel, will be that of alarm, that they are soon to be ordered to riot on the toils of others no more for ever! But those who suffer, will feel no cause of alarm. The very intensity of their sufferings, since now they understand their origin and cure, will add double vigor to their exertions to recover their rights. But let them understand, that much is to be done, to accomplish this recovery. IT IS TO BE THE RESULT OF THE COMBINED EXERTIONS, OF GREAT NUMBERS OF MEN. These, by no means, now understand their true situation; but when they do, they will be ready and willing to do what belongs to their happiness. If, then, there be truth; if there be reason; if there be force of argument, in the work which I thus commit to the hands of those for whose benefit it is written; let them read; let it be read; let it be conversed about, in the hearing of those whose interest it is, to hear whatever of truth, of reason, and argument it may contain; and as often, too, as there may be opportunity. Let them awake to a knowledge of their rights, [240] and how they may be obtained, and they will not be slow (since it will then be so easy) to reclaim them.

Let the poor and middling classes understand that their oppressions come from the overgrown wealth that exists among them, on the one hand, and from entire destitution on the other; and that as this overgrown wealth is continually augmenting its possessions, in a rapid ratio, the public sufferings are continually augmenting also; and must continue to augment, until the equal and unalienable rights of the people shall order otherwise. Let the parent reflect, if he be now a man of toil, that his children must be, ninety-nine cases in a hundred, slaves, and worse, to some rich proprietor; and that there is no alternative, but the change proposed. Let him not cheat himself with empty pretensions; for, he who commands the property of a State, or even an inordinate portion of it, HAS THE LIBERTY AND THE HAPPINESS OF ITS CITIZENS IN HIS OWN KEEPING. And if there be some dozen, or fifty, or five hundred of these large proprietors, they are neither more nor less than so many additional keepers. He who can feed me, or starve me; give me employment, or bid me wander about in idleness; is my master; and it is the utmost folly for me to boast of being any thing but a slave.

In fine, let the people awake to their rights; let them understand in what they consist; let them see the course they must pursue to obtain them; let them follow up that course, by informing each as many as he can, his fellow citizens, of the truth which this Work contains; let all co-operate in the early and effectual accomplishment of the objects it recommends, and these objects will easily and speedily be achieved, and none will have labored in vain.

At the moment of taking leave of the reader, it occurs [389] to me, that it would be well to add a single remark. If ever the principles of this Work are to prevail; if ever they are to find their way among men, and to restore to them their rights, it is only to be done, by each doing all he can, single and separately, to open the eyes of his fellows, to the perception of the evil that oppresses him, its origin and cure. While this is doing, and doing too in many parts of the State, of the Union, and the World, at one and the same time; for such is the co-extensive and contemporary energy; with which the productions of the press operate; the rich, now and then, will cast their eyes on this Work; and they, too, will see that the system which it proposes, must, sooner, or later, take place. Ultimately, the whole of them will come to the same conclusion. So many of them as shall dread its approach, and shall not have the moral honesty to surrender up to the disposition of their fellow citizens, all that they have, will, of course, conceal as much as they can. And that which is the most desirable to conceal, and the easiest concealed, is money. Now, whenever it shall appear, correctly or otherwise, it is no matter, to the rich generally, that the great mass of the people have very nearly awakened to the determination to resume their rights, and pursuant thereto, to order a General Division of property; these concealments will take place very suddenly; and, perhaps, to such an extent as to withdraw the precious metals entirely from circulation, out of the banks, as well as elsewhere. In such an event, the banks would be broken; and as there would be no circulating medium, all business would be instantly suspended. Those who now carry on extensive business, would have nothing with which to pay off their hands; and if they had, they might be as willing as others, to bury it in the earth, for the purpose of defrauding the community out of it. [390]

In such an event, which is far from being impossible, the wished for change would arrive earlier, than is already anticipated in this work; and in manner somewhat different. For the reader understands, that I have intended, that a State Convention, to be chosen by the people, for the purpose, shall order the suspension of all business, which, by this operation of withdrawing all the gold and silver from circulation, and burying it in the earth by the rich, would be anticipated. If it should so happen, it will not be the fault of this Work, or of the great mass of the people, and may not be that even, of the majority of the rich; for even a very few of them, would be able to put away all the precious metals, that are to be found in the State; and as to other States, they could no more spare their precious metals than ourselves, without coming in contact with a similar catastrophe; and of which, they too, will be in similar danger. Besides, as to personal property in the city of New-York, alone, there is probably more in value than all the specie money in the United States, twice, or even thrice told. So that it will be no difficult thing, if dishonesty prevail, even to a small extent among the rich, to bring about the withdrawal of which I am speaking.

Under such circumstances, it may be said, that the government has suddenly ceased to exist; that it has expired, as it were, in a fit of apoplexy; and it will then be incumbent on the people to organize a temporary committee of safety; and take care, immediately, that no property leaves the State, or is wasted, or destroyed, further than is necessary for subsistence; until a State Convention can be assembled, to form a new government, on principles corresponding with all the rights of man; and which, as it ensures his happiness, by preserving his equality, and that of all succeeding generations, we may confidently hope will be eternal.