TOPICS OF THE- DAY.
LORD HARTINGTON AND THE LAND.
TJORD HARTINGTON'S remarks upon the Land Question have a special value just now, when the election is so close at hand. There can be no doubt that one of the unfore- seen difficulties with which the Liberals will have to contend, especially in the South and East, will be a certain want of heart on the part of the great Liberal landlords. There are more of these men in England than urban Liberals always acknowledge, they have been faithful to Liberalism for many generations, and they are often on certain sides of their minds genuinely Radical, sympathising at least as much with labourers as with farmers. Just now, however, they are a little dispirited and sore. They are the victims of an illusion, which speeches like Lord Hartington's will do much to dissipate. They are pre- pared in the interests of justice, and in obedience to the spirit of the times, to make what they consider the immense concession of a Democratic reform in county govern- ment, which may endanger, and in time destroy, the county position of which they think so much. They are willing to give up primogeniture, to abate the Law of Settlement, and to remove all the obstacles which can be removed by legislation to the speedy and cheap transfer of small parcels of land. They raise no objection to the equalisation of the death-duties, though that reform will hit them severely ; and they will not resist, though they will with good reason wince under, a fairer system of assessment upon their parks and houses, even when the former are mainly kept up, as so often happens, for the public good. But they have an idea that their conduct will be in no degree appreciated, that they are objects either of dislike or envy to the more advanced Radicals, and that they will be specially attacked by legislation. Their tenantry, they fear, will be invested with perpetual leaseholds in spite of contract ; even in cases where—as, for example, throughout the Bedford Level, and on thousands of reclaimed acres—the landlords have at their own expense, and through their own energy, actually made the soil. They dread special taxes not falling on other property, they expect orders to surrender land to cottagers, and they apprehend that they may be treated as a class whose existence is injurious to the common weal. Naturally a landlord who so believes grows sore, and grows sore in exact proportion to his expendi- ture for the common good ; and though, as a rule, he still fights for Liberalism, he begins to be less hearty in the cause of a party apparently so ungrateful. One has to be very strongly convinced of a faith to fight for it, when it brings not only martyrdom—which rouses in man something better and stronger than reflection—but humiliation and petty ill-treatment just insufficient to strengthen the virtue of resignation. When a man at immense expense opens forty miles of rides and roads through his profitless woodlands, which actually cost their whole produce in foresters' wages, in order that all England may enjoy them as he himself does, the statement that these woodlands prove him to be a landgrabber, and a fit object for penal taxation, strikes him as, to say the least of it, just a little hard. He does not see, as he is told he ought to see, that in preserving the dreamy beauty of his forests for the whole population, he is injuring his fellow-men. Under such circumstances, those landlords who remain faithful to Liberalism,—and happily they are many,—feel as if they knew what political despair meant, and as if they understood why the cultivated in America so often forswear politics. They can, they say, get no justice even from their own political friends.
Their soreness arises in the main from an illusion. We do not believe that English Radicals either intend to steal, or, when it comes to the point, will steal, anything whatever, certainly not any private property. We do not believe that when discussion has fairly commenced they will make victims of any class whatever, or will insist on taxing the least fruitful of all properties in excess of the taxes they lay on property which yields more. They have never done it yet either in England or America, and we see no reason to fear that they are about to begin. Apart altogether from principle, they all hope for property of their own too strongly to wish to make property a disagreeable burden. To believe other- wise is as foolish as to believe that Irish tenants will accept Mr. George's theories about nationalising the land,—that is, will not only steal, but steal for the benefit of somebody else. They may be incurably immoral, and still want their stealings for themselves. And finally, we do not believe that rate-
payers, already savage about payments which in parts of Essex we are assured rise to 10s. an acre, will pay yet higher rates in order that local Councils may job in expropriated allot- ments, or set up shops to crush out village commerce at a blow. We believe none of these things ; but landlords, often. men of a Liberalism which is in their army veins, do be- lieve it ; and it is well that men in the position of Lord Hartington should tell them that the Liberal Party, as a whole, has no such policy. Altogether apart from his rank in politics as heir-apparent of the leadership, Lord Hartington has a right to speak oat. Upon this point, at least, he is no Liberal of the morrow. It is years since, at a time when free-trade in land seemed hopeless, we pointed out that the heir of the Cavendish estates was, on the subject of land, utterly Radical ; that he had formally given up the old prejudice in favour of realty, as against personalty ; that he was prepared to abandon the supposed privileges of his order as to the devolution of estates ; and was also not merely ready, but anxious, to make land as saleable as it is possible for human ingenuity to make anything saleable which is limited in quantity, which cannot be carried about, and which has no• visible edges. He was then among great landlords a Radical of Radicals, and he has not altered yet. He goes as far as he ever went, and he always went straight up to the line at which the Eighth Commandment begins to operate, and at which the majority of Englishmen, who are a great deal more alike than the apprehensive landlords imagine, will be sure to pause. Now what is there in his speech to which the most timid of landlords, if he is also a Liberal, can take exception I If he wants the old order to continue, and to devolve all landed property on one son without a will, or to restrict the breaking-up of estates, or to prevent labourers and citizens from acquiring land, he will, of course, be disgusted ; but if not, what has he to fear? He will have under Lord Hartington's scheme to help to govern his district as its repre- sentative just as he helps to govern England. He will have to draw his will about his estates as carefully as he draws it about his Consols. He will have to face the chance that he or his descendants may sell land in patches, and that industrious little persons or disagreeable citizens with money may buy it and make themselves a nuisance. He will have to pay more per annum for the con- sequence which a park gives him ; and his heirs, when he dies, will have to pay like their neighbours for the safe transmission of their inheritance. That is all. His property will be just as safe as it ever was ; and he can, with the necessary exertion, " keep it together " just as well as he ever could. All he loses,. it is just he should lose, and if the Liberal Party is to hold together he will lose no more. It is enfranchisement, not spoliation, which Lord Hartington promises, and Lord Harting- ton represents the Liberal Party at least as fully as Mr. Chamberlain.
That is the fact, which the author of the manifesto in the Birmingham Post will do well to remember. He says in effect
that if Lord Hartington adheres to his views the Radicals are ruled out of the Liberal Party ; that they will not bear this, intending, as they do, to hold a higher position in the next Cabinet ; and that, consequently, Lord Hartington must, upon this question of land, reconsider himself. We do not know if Mr. Chamberlain is either directly or in- directly responsible for this document, to which the con-
ductors of the Post evidently desire to direct attention ; but if he is, the tone he takes is neither wise nor becoming.
As a matter of party discipline, Mr. Gladstone is still the leader ; he has not spoken yet, and we doubt if he will go a step beyond Lord Hartington ; while, as a matter of policy, the latter is much closer to the general view of Liberals than his opponent. The programme to be laid down is not the future history of English tenure, but the best measure which it will be possible for the next Parliament to pass, and that measure must be the one on which there is most nearly a consensus of opinion. There is such a consensus about free-trade in land, with its consequences,—the abolition of primogeniture, the modification of settlement, and the enactment of a rapid and cheap method of land-transfer.
There is no such consensus about the further schemes which Mr. Chamberlain appears to favour, and which are so far visionary that the opinion of the class which is to benefit by them is not ascertained, and the machinery which is to work them is not yet constructed. Let us at least have our Coun- cils, before we make them Land-Banks ; and hearken to the labourers' representatives, before we plunge into Socialism for the labourers' advantage. Let us make sure of the first steps in
the old way before we step off into the air. The English people, once fully awake to what is going on, are sure to reason in this way; and if the Agrarian Radicals secede, as the Birmingham Post half threatens they will do, they will simply injure the party without in the least increasing their power to realise their own dreams. As for "ruling out" the Radicals, the danger of such an occurrence cannot arise unless they insist on ruling out those who desire to adhere to the old and well-tried economic principles of Liberalism. They must consent, as the Moderates must consent, to waive some of their ideas in order to arrive at general harmony ; and if they refuse, opinion will punish them as Intractables, just as in the converse case it would punish the Whigs as Impracticables. We desire, at least as strongly as Mr. Chamberlain, to see half a million more pro- prietors fixed upon the soil, and therefore predisposed to protect property ; but we do not desire to see this end attained by despoiling the landlords, or by investing untried and as yet invisible bodies with unlimited powers of expropriation and corruption. Let us do what we can, like sensible men ; and what we can do in the next Parliament is to abolish primogeniture, to render land completely saleable, and to pro- tect any tenant against the loss, without compensation, of the value he has added to the soil. We can also, if all goes well, equalize taxation on realty and personalty ; but if, without some years of discussion, and before the new constituencies have grown accustomed to responsibility, we go a step farther, we shall produce a recoil such as has not been witnessed in this generation.