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




There is no man of the least reflection, who has not observed, that the effect, in all ages and countries, of the possession of great and undue wealth, is, to allow those who possess it, to live on the labor of others. And yet there is no truth more readily, cheerfully, and universally acknowledged, than that the personal exertions of each individual of the human race, are exclusively and unalienably his own.

It would seem, then, to be no bad specimen of argument, to say, inasmuch as great wealth is an instrument which is uniformly used to extort from others, their property in their personal qualities and efforts -- that it ought to be taken away from its possessor, on the same principle, that a sword or a pistol may be wrested from a robber, who shall undertake to accomplish the same effect, in a different manner.

One thing must be obvious to the plainest understanding; that as long as property is unequal: or rather, as long as it is so enormously unequal, [4] as we see it at present, that those who possess it, will live on the labor of others, and themselves perform none, or if any, a very disproportionate share, of that toil which attends them as a condition of their existence, and without the performance of which, they have no just right to preserve or retain that existence, even for a single hour.

It is not possible to maintain a doctrine to the contrary of this position, without, at the same time, maintaining an absurdity no longer tolerated in enlightened countries; that a part, and that a very great part, of the human race, are doomed, of right, to the slavery of toil, while others are born, only to enjoy.

I, for one, disavow every such doctrine. Even if it be admitted that the present possessors of property, in any country, are the true and rightful owners of it, beyond any question, still I maintain that they have no just right to use it in such a manner, as to extract from others, the result of their labors, for the purpose of exempting themselves from the necessity of laboring as much as others must labor, for a like amount of enjoyment. The moment that any possessor of property, makes such use of it, I care not how, nor under the sanction of what law, or system of laws, as to live in idleness, partial or total, thus supporting himself, more or less, on the labors of others; that moment he contravenes and invades the rights of others; and has placed himself in the condition which would [5] justify the party injured, in dispossessing the aggressor, of the instrument of his aggression.

But the work which I thus present to the consideration of my fellow citizens and others, does not rest here the defence of its principles. It does not rest contented with merely showing, in this way, that men have no right to their property, (as they call it) when they use it, for the purpose of converting their fellow beings into slaves to labor for their use. It goes farther. It attempts to shew, that the whole system of the laws of property, in all countries, is such: that no man has any just and true title to his possessions at all: that they are in fact, possessions growing out of injustice, perpetrated by all governments, from time immemorial and continued down to the present hour. It depends then upon the success of this attempt, whether I have added strength to the position I have assumed, that all men should live on their own labor, and not on the labor of others. If in the course of the following pages, I have shewn that the present possessors of enormous property, (I mean more particularly these,) have no just title to their possessions; and if it is apparent, as I trust it is, than when property is enormously unequal, that the men of toil, of all countries, can never have the full enjoyment of their labor; it will be conceded, no doubt, that I have shewn enough to justify my fellow citizens in pulling down the present edifice of society, and to induce them to build a new one in its stead, provided I have [6] also shewn how to organize this new government in such a manner as to compel all men, without exception, to labor as much as others must labor, for the same amount of enjoyment; or, in default thereof, to be deprived of such enjoyment altogether. Of this, however, it is for the reader, and for every reader, to judge.

As to the manner in which this work is executed, it becomes me to say but little. I am sensible, however, that it contains abundance of imperfections. I am aware that there are hundreds and thousands, who, entertaining the same sentiments that I do, could have supported them in a manner much more acceptable to the public than I have done. But I trust, if the frame of civil society which I have erected upon its pages, shall find friends and advocates, that there will not be wanting men who shall do justice to its principles. With this observation, I commit myself to the judgment of an impartial community; and await, with pleasure, the destiny to which they will consign these labors, which have had only for their object the promotion of the welfare of the public, and the equal interest which I myself have therein, as one of their number.