TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE FREEHOLD LAND PROJECT MEASURED. Mn. COBDEN'S Freehold Land scheme is a great improvement on Mr. Feargus O'Connor's, but it is quite as little of a national movement. Although it is not all that it professes to be, its financial calculations are more honest; the extravagance or dis- ingenuousness of its promoters lies in the promises of certain large results from comparatively small causes working by de- vious and uncertain channels. Let us take Mr. Cobden's own account of the scheme, and see what it is, before we show what it is not.
"The object of the Metropolitan Freehold Land Society," Mr. Cobden says, " is to purchase large estates, comparatively speaking, and divide them among the members of the associa- tion, [who are to be persons of the middle or shopkeeping class and the working class] at the cost price." Mr. Feargus O'Con-
nor's plan was similar so far; but it differed in the mode of rais- ing the purchase-money. Mr. O'Connor proposed to collect penny subscriptions, to purchase land as funds accrued, and to
divide that land by lot among the subscribers until all should be satisfied ; the allottees further paying annual rent or instalments until they should have replaced the purchase-money out of' the land. That, if we remember rightly, was Mr. O'Connor's scheme, the failure of which we have all witnessed. Mr. Cobden pro- poses that the allottee shall lay down the purchase-money ; his association being in fact, first, a savings bank to amass the money of the industrious man, and secondly, a land-agency to effect the purchase at the smallest cost. In that way he assumes that the
society will be an instrument for raising the condition of the working class : which is in some degree true. The object
originally put foremost in this movement, however, was the crea- tion of a new electoral class of county Voters, which was to have the twofold function of obtaining political .power forthe new free- holders, and to afford support for those -measures of renovated statesmanship which Mr. Cobden has most at heart, especially "financial reform." We will not flow raiseany question about the direct success of this movement, but will merely glance at the qualifying abatements set forth by Mr. Cobden himself. Mr. Cobden states that the society will proceed under the Building Societies Act ; which " makes no provision for buying estates and dividing them," but the process will be effected through " the directors," " at the risk of the parties buying the estate,'" who will it Five the members the refusal of the land " ; and he has full confidence in the "high character" the " truly responsible moral " character, of the Trustees. The title, then, is to be effected under a mode of stretching an act of Parliament passed for a different purpose ; and subscribers must trust their money and its ultimate appropriation to " the Directors" or " the Trustees," in whom, at present, Mr. Cobden has full confi- dence. The procedure, therefore, is one marked by considerable uncertainty. He will not promise to obtain the forty-shilling freehold at 20/, or 301., for it may cost 40/., or even 50/.; a large sum, which may no doubt be saved by individual working men, but we doubt whether great numbers will save even 201., at all events until they are better educated,—a condition that does not apply to the present day. Mr. Cobden will not undertake to pro- mise that the 20/., 30/., 40/., or 50/. shall purchase the freeholder an estate " at his own door"—it may be "a few parishes off" ; but it will " give him an investment in the '-firm set earth; which never does run away," as railway shares may do ; farmer, a man "may claim to poll in any part of the county," even for property situate at the other -end of his division • and the free- holder would .not care so that he had a good title and received his rent by the penny post ": which is true. As to the title, we have seen how circuitous must be the process of attaining it ; and as to the rent landlords even ofrtenants well to do, often receiv excuses in lieu of rent. The success of the project must depejAd, first and secondly, as Mr. Cobden admits, on "the correctne s of the calculations in forming the society," and " on-tbe cha serer and stability of those who have the responsible manage ent of the society "; but, thirdly and fourthly, it must depe• on the solvency of the humble landlord's tenant, and on theftalidity of the land-title, on which the vote itself, the ultimatej6bject, is to be based. Uncertain in its operation, "the work gould not be accomplished in a day "; "it would be a long and h d straggle "-; but "'if his health and strength permit," Mr. Cobden would be willing to devote " to this question" " some p tion of his time, every working day, for the next seven years." t is, then, to be a seven-years agitation for the objects which w have described in Mr. Cobden's own terms.
Supposing the seven-years labour to ac mplish success, it is not yet made clear what proportion of tb new freeholders would consist of working men, and what of the smaller ahopkeeping class ; most probably, a far larger pr• .ortion of the latter. The effect, therefore, in elevating the co - , ition of the working man, must be very partial ; and when w are talking of "'the People' alias "the millions," it may be said that the influence will be wholly insignificant—merely a senefit in individual cases.
As to the political effect, stir' y that is greatly over-estimated, even in the modestpromises ( f Mr. Cobden ? The county voters . ,
are 512,000 ; the tenants-at- in, " which constitute the strength of the squires," are 108,0014. The latter class, however, is not the whole "strength of the squires," but only the absolutely dispo- sable strength ; and it/would- scarcely be antagonized by the 5000, Voters at the disposal of the town societies. And even-if tlt ivere probable, there is nothing to prevent "the quires" froni setting about a counter-manufacture of freeholds. For our data we have not :gone beyond the statement of Mr. Cobden him- self- and even by that we are enabled to perceive how very little trust is to be reposed in "the calculations made in forming the society," either economically or politically. We believe that we:put no unfair construction on Mr. Cobden's langua„ge in concluding that, his scheme ispropounded. i'means of resformg "the ancient riglato and privileges of Englishmen," and'obtaining political power for "the People "; but we can- not join in expecting from such a project any such -result. We do not judge only by the very damaging kind of lenient criticism, patronizing support, or open quizzing, which constitute its reception by the press ; we judge wholly and solely by the na- ture of the plan. The process involves a money qualification of all 'the beneficiaires to the [fluctuating] value of 20/. or 501.; which in itself makes the application of the plan exclusive. Viewed in another way, the scheme is one for enabling the work- ing, classes to beat the moneyed classes in a money contest ; which is in its terms a project impracticable. Inapplicable to "the masses," or "the People," it can have small interest for the People, who will see in it nothing but an attempt to make a slight extension of the middle class at the expense of the People. Weide not overlook the fact that members of the working classes attend the meetings, cheer, vote, and even subscribe ; but the last are evidently exceptional cases ; and the facts are too palpable, especially when brought to the money test, for popular miscon- ception. The project, therefore, does not constitute a national movement ; is not calculated to evoke a national feeling, even so much as the perfectly definite and nationally-operating repeal of the Corn- laws. It is not capable of bringing the people into political ac- tion: Were the prospects of the country altogether smiling, we should not think it worth while to point out that defect. But the gloomy apprehensions for the coming winter in the agricul- tural districts, coupled with the incendiary fires that pierce these dark freezing fogs, and the commencing combinations among the iron-workers of the North, remind us that it is not safe to have the People without political objects, the labouring classes without political relative to the upper classes. It would be well to have a national movement, for that reason alone; well also for Mr. Cobden's reason:-the want of some power to press for good government, not passive administration. But it is working, not wishing, which obtains tools for any enterprise; and if our poll- ticians want a national movement—if they want to recall the People into the political action of the day—they must set up a "cause' that shall appeal to the feelings of the People. If that is a hard necessity for our timid routine statesmen or middle-class politicians, it is only the condition which has prevailed in all times and countries. If you want the people you must obtain their good-will by something that pleases them, not .yourself. You must be broad and bold. A Cobden who should stand up in the markel-place and call for universal suffrage, would take the breath out of the mouth Of the Cobden who is going to get up a mecha- nical-seven-years agitation for a new little Chandos franchise under-Alto Building Societies Act. A Lord George Gordon who shoulftroclaim, in Bethnal Green Or Wiltshire' Bolton or,Dor- setshhie; nil effective Poor-law,—or an agrarian reformer who should procliiin, as Mr. Linton proposes through the Nation in Ireland, great tend-tax as the sole source of revenue and a compo- sitionafalltie poor man's "right to the Ini4r7e7he,would be troublitiegier customer, this wintlr, for wiser pcads than his Own, unlesitilfieylitia found means t anticipate mad supersede hint; Popullitervernents are z tbrdUl$ jibout by ince,,,rehnmg,,lawe yerliketentrrianiiii for circu , ,s of Parliament ;,. and while4Wlialitiela'ail ?dont' -e ct, Akeulf tl?e371 /NIA* On- tent tav tiPopiiithwt . a vjpg ttlat,vsk,..q.uplkous, A fa,lo• osues-tityl,h4rd Winters. ettlitiPpol ; 9n,#.A e tuntjaffiental,pusk-, 11014001* Eh h 0 '13 4401 fv,intiP-, of 46-6084-2-tiliew ence of the 'People from
must possess stab. influence With the people. It is the omission of this essential which aria to o r home politics so negative and passively-
gravit-6 artten. -- --- It glet dr -eat art which has stultified the revolution- ary le1AfMAP-el,td'$till leaves her statesmen_ powerless,-- or obltee them to a4.•11 eiy throngh the temporaryieoereion ag great 'atiea. For arillieriiire fOrce, but they are.trkig stability. It is that,neglect which film AT W-PruSS_ig Vic oxii4g out pro-
jects or'ebnatitutiehal recOn n which Annie. 40 nothing;
leavinglkhe Ring as arbitiary ,, as helplem ; as,. ever i which; makes tig'see Austria—immense,.A yfprful Austria—eking out her
- vast materialstrength with intrig tion port politic as the to enj mans
man tfl a backed _the state-4i State i k tt action which enables 't heritpcizreat partiesin the state," ^e called, (those'" two great dinner.-parties in the stater) \
&nate office, and muddle on with rare efforts of states- lie people never originate political ideas; the states-. . .
e ideas, but lacks force and momentum unless he is eople; and therefore,is it that a truly flourishing a condition, of active political advancement- en in the exercise of personal intercourse and • , bre', appear irs TovibrIess 11'006 itafh, or even as the wiry rev°. lutionarieiand,deinagegitellw 'they have put down. Austria has produced men capable' of 'understanding these things, better perhaps than we Englishmen, who have :such easy sleepy lives. It is remarkable that an Austrian, the Prince of Leiningen, now the one among statesmen to proclaim the indubitable fact that there can be no Safe' issue to this chronic conflict of iiiiiierfect - powers in Germany,' except through a German Congress of states- men remiesenting both governments and peoples.. As affairs now stand, not a class, not a party, not a public body in Europe, can effect its will and establish its policy; because none has posses: sion of the people. The position is our own. Virtually we are at this moment no station ; and Mr. Cobden's, movement is not large enough to make us one.