THE ENFRANCHISEMENT OF THE LAND.
-LIVEN the limited promise made by the true Radicals about .121 the Land, the promise which we described last week, the promise to make it as saleable as Consols, will involve more trouble, thought, and risk of injustice than some of the land reformers seem as yet to perceive. They talk as if the abolition of primogeniture would clear the title to Leicester Square—a real puzzle in the way of tenures—and as if the abolition of entail and settlement would free all England now, instead of beginning to be perceptible about thirty-five years hence. Property in land is heaped with dying laws, and even when they are removed, two main principles will remain to be secured, at a cost which, unless we are careful, it may well appear too difficult to pay. Before the ideal is reached, that is; before it is possible to transfer any acre in Great Britain in five minutes at a cost of a shilling, two enormous changes will have to be effected. We shall have to create perfect owner- ship—now existing as to only a small portion of the soil—and we shall have to establish a perfect Register of landed property. For some reason we do not understand, it is always under- stood even by experienced men that the latter would be suffi- cient; but difficult as that is of attainment, it would only be half the work to be done, which is first to settle that John Smith may sell, and secondly, to provide a method whereby John Smith may grant a perfect title in the smallest time and at comparatively no expense. Till we know who is owner, giving the owner rights will not help us much.
To enable John Smith to sell at all, the Government must upset the whole Land system of the country, the part of it which is popular as well as the part which is disliked, the " security " of land—that is, the difficulty of conveying it by fraud—as well as the immobility of land—that is, the difficulty of conveying it at all. In the first place, John Smith must be made " owner," —that is, if there is to be no confiscation, pro- vision must be made whereby all the different claims now existing against John Smith and the land he nominally owns can somehow or other be satisfied without robbery. At present he is only owner in name. He possesses a life-interest, increased under certain statutes by rights of improvement ; but James Smith, his son, has an absolute reversion under settlement; and Andrew Smith, his grandson, a minor, has a reversion contingent on his reaching twenty-one years ; and Jane Smith, his wife, has right of dower ; and all these persons have claims not only to the money value of their rights, but to the actual pieces of land upon which those rights are secured, with any increment which may accrue to the value of the land itself. There is no owner to Grosvenor Square as there is an owner to Bank Stock. To enable John Smith to sell absolutely we must first create a State Trustee, to receive the capital value of Jane's dower, for otherwise she will receive an imperfect security instead of a perfect one,—which is confiscation ; then provide for the safe bestowal of James's reversion, which can be managed also through a State Trustee ; and then decide whether Andrew is or is not entitled to compensation for loss of the increased value which forty years hence will probably be his. Unless we can do all these things, we must let all existing encumbrances run out before perfect ownership begins, that is, we must pass, in the teeth of all aristocrats, plutocrats, and solicitors, a grand law, which will not be fully operative before the expiration of half a century at least, —that is, will disappoint all that popular expectation and all that scientific enthusiasm by aid of which alone we can hope to pass it at all. We presume that we shall not go too fast, that we shall only enable the life-owner and his next successor to sell, because that will constitute real ownership, though in a copartnership instead of an in- dividual, and that we shall deal roughly only with the ultimate freeholder, probably a child. How are his claims to be disposed of ? Is he to be secured nothing but the present value, which is easy through the State Trustee, or is he to be secured also the possible increase he might gain if the land remained in the family possession ? Is he to be assured the value of Grosvenor Square as it is now, or of Grosvenor Square as it will beforty years hence ? There will be a raging battle round this point, which in the case of the great heredi- tary properties is of the last importance, and the very first principles of our Property system will be brought up for discus- sion. We presume, as the Encumbered Estates' Act was passed by the Lords, that Act will be regarded as a precedent, and permitted sale for public ends will be considered just to the reversionary owner, but even then we shall have to provide these things :—That a Marquis of Westminster, now a life- owner, may sell absolutely. That the value he receives in money shall be secured to the next heir as absolutely as if it were still in land, and that the reversionary owner shall not be de- prived of his proportion of certainty. Those ends must be secured if we are not to rob, and though they can be secured, for they are secured in many countries, yet securing them and abolishing future claims of the same kind will tax the whole intellect of our law-givers, and will require the adoption of methods, such as the creation of a State Trustee, for which there is no precedent whatever. Without him strict justice is impossible, for no compensation can be sufficient, the compen-
sating money being always liable to the one evil from which land is free—namely, theft. The Marquis of Westminster—we beg his pardon for the illustration—can bolt with millions. He cannot bolt with Grosvenor Square.
a Register of Landed Property, which cannot be assailed, the ceremonials which for the past week have been trans- perhaps the most formidable job of work ever undertaken acting themselves in a more or less dignified manner at Chisle- in an old country. John Smith's field must be marked hurst, and which have occupied so unnecessary a space in the on the topographical survey and numbered, and must London journals. The lying-in-state seems to us to have been a then be John's Smith's own by Act of Parliament, mistake, the assumption on behalf of the dead of an imaginary with liberty of transfer on appearance before the Registrar position, and to have been marred, as it was sure to be, by the and payment of a fee of a shilling an acre. That is simple, obtrusive vulgarity of English sightseers, who shoved and pushed is it not ? Certainly, when it has been done once, as in and tore each other's clothes, and crushed girls and broke the arms France and Bengal ; but till it has been done once, it is about of women, in their wild efforts to assist at a spectacle which ought the most difficult, worrying, passion-exciting operation it is to have been left to Frenchmen alone, and Frenchmen to whom it possible to conceive, one which will make sensible squires like was at once melancholy and solemn. That the courtiers and Mr. Henley ready to rebel in arms.In the first place, WHOSE friends and partisans of Napoleon should have wished for a field is it ? John Smith says it is his, but before he can be put last opportunity of seeing their master's features and paying on the Register he must prove his title ; flat is a most trouble- respect to his memory was natural or praiseworthy, but some wearisome, and dangerous search for title must be gone through, whether John likes it or not, at John's expense. We may lessen the worry, if we like, by giving John the possessor the presumption of ownership, and by decreeing that twenty-one years' possession shall be sufficient—claimants older than that losing right to the land, and only retaining right to its cash equivalent from John—and so on, but to expect John to like the process is simply ridiculous. Half the titles in England have some defect in them, and though John Smith will receive enormous compensation in the increased value of his land—we will say ten years' purchase, but believe it will be more—be will have trouble, anxiety, and insult, or what he will consider insult, without end,—will have, in fact, to go on a moral treadmill for the benefit of his family and the State. It needs no Yankee to guess that John will fight, and the reformers will be very lucky indeed if, backed by the family lawyer, whom the Register will ruin off hand, he does not fight in a way that will daunt any House of Commons. He certainly would have done, but for the Ballot, and even with the ballot we should not wonder to see him bring in an amendment declaring the tithepayer the Parliamentary owner without more ado, and so settling title by robbing all potential claimants in the name of indignant virtue, and the Eighth Commandment. Clear Parliamentary title without inquiry would compensate him for anything. but then if he is to have that, somebody must be stripped of some right, if it be only that of going to law. And then—and this is the still more important question - WHAT is Smith's field ? Before anything like a final Register can be made conveying Parliamentary title, boundaries must be settled, and we need not tell any one acquainted with English country life that to settle boundaries is to settle Orange has no personal foe, and the Belgian title is disputed by half the potential law-suits of the country. Who knows a State—Holland—rather than by any individual. No one except Victor Emanuel pretends to be King of Italy, and no one puts forward a claim to be the heir of Denmark. Among the separate countries, indeed, only two can be said to be seriously attacked, and of these only one has a claim to be regarded as of the first rank. There are pretenders enough to bits of kingdoms, "illegally," or "violently," or "irregularly" turned into pro- intelligible to the purchaser ? We confess we do not see, and vinces ; but their pretensions are scarcely now claims to that we dread a compromise in the interest of the lawyers, thrones, andare only put forward in occasional protesta- -namely, a clause making Parliamentary title good as to tions. Francis of Bourbon claims Naples, and the Duke of boundaries only so far as the seller's title was good,—that is, Cumberland maintains his right to Hanover, and the Duke of creating a new necessity for search into titles nearly as bad as Augustenburg says the "sea-surrounded" Duchies should have the old one. That is, we imagine, the course adopted in the Passed from Frederick of Denmark to him, and Don Miguel de United States ; and unless our lawyers are very clever in Braganza claims Portugal, and a shadowy personage who emerges carrying out arrangements which they detest and which every five years or so alleges disconsolately, but quietly, that he will cut their profits in two, that will be the course ought to be King of Sweden. Oddly enough, his chance is, ultimately adopted here. There is an alternative, to treat the among minor pretenders, perhaps the best, for if the line of Berna- increased value involved in a Parliamentary title as a Parlia- dotte failed, and Scandinavia shrank from the terrible dangers the mentary compensation for small losses ; but we very much proclamation of a Republic would entail upon her children, the doubt if it will be adopted, and if it is not adopted, many of Swedes might think it dignified to summon a representative of the oldest and heaviest grievances of tenure will remain. It the national House of Vasa. But the only active pretenders to will take us three Sessions, we predict, to make the laws great Crowns, the only men whose chances of reaching thrones essential to the enfranchisement of the land, and many a Session are at once considerable enough to affect European politics, and more to amend those laws when made. They have got a are denied, are the heirs of the houses which have reigned in Register in France, but they got permission to make it at a Spain and France. Carlos de Borbon is actually fighting through time when a Judge could declare prescriptive title a di s-
whose the watercourse is, whose the bye-road is, whose the hedge is, whose that little strip of woodland might be, if only one fought a law-suit about it ? To let the Royal Engineers settle such questions offhand and arbitrarily will seem to the country gentlemen a sort of sacrilege, a violent robbery under forms of law ; yet if they are not settled, however is the Register to be made up, or the title to land made smooth and qualification for ownership. "You have had the land for centuries! Is it not, then, time your poor neighbour should have it now ? " Lord Derby, we may be sure, will not be turned out of Knowsley upon that principle, yet it is only on that principle that a summary law of enfranchisement such as some reformers dream of could be so much as attempted.