Matthew, P. Greatest national evil. The system on land occupancy in Britain incompatible with improvement. Farmer’s Magazine, Ser. 3 Vol 19 (1861, Jan-Jun), pp.388-91
(Letter dated March 12)
In this article, Mathew returns to the question of the British system of land tenancy (see his article of Sept 1849). Matthew’s views on this are passionate, and he writes a series of increasingly strongly worded articles on the subject over the next two years. He argues that the issue should be resolved “quietly” (i.e. via reform), but warns that if this does not happen then in any case it will be resolved “unquietly” (i.e. via revolution).
An excerpt from the article follows:
In taking a parting and comprehensive view of this most important subject, we see the capital [wealth] of the British empire prevented, by the want of security, by the want of a tenant-right, from being directed to the improvement of the British land, and so driven out of the country, to very precarious foreign investment, when it might most profitably, and more securely, be invested at home. We see that the energies of the farmer are not called forth by natural competitive selection; we find the farmer fettered, degraded, in complete dependence upon the will of another, who can at any time drive him from his home, and piratically seize upon any improvement he has made in his farm. We see the manure of the country, augmented by so much foreign food import, which, rightly directed, would render Britain the richest soil in Europe, swept away, in United States fashion, by our rivers, defiling their purify, destroying our river fisheries, and also poisoning or asphyxiating our riverside population as well as the fishes. We see our land, instead of being gradually enriched in soil, and the soil also doubled in depth (as, were the shackles to improvement removed, it would be), retained in an exhausted and unproductive condition — not allowed to be enriched, I am ashamed to state, by the grasping desire for despot power of a landlord class. Need I hint that conveyance of produce from foreign is becoming every year more facile? Hence there is a necessity for everything repressive of improvement in home agriculture being removed.
I intended to have closed here, but the magnitude and flagrant injustice of the evil — the vast national injury — force me to proceed. I am anxious that the landholders should view this subject aright — impartially view it: myself cultivating my own lands, and my sons cultivating their own lands, I speak impartially. In a civilized country we ought no doubt all to be dependent upon one another; kindly, but not despotically dependent; not crushingly, not destructively dependent. No class ought to have despotic power over another — no indirect slavery; every one exerting himself for the general, as well as the individual, or family good. We ought not to be as brute animals and plants are — the strong trampling down the weak. We have a moral sense, a knowledge of good and evil, to direct us (of which we may term the principles of Christianity the simple embodiment), and he who is not so actuated is a mere brute. Every thing opposed to our agricultural prosperity, to the general good, should be put down — quietly put down. If it is not, it will be, some time, unquietly; or the British race will go down.