by Joseph Leggett

Professor James Edwin Thorold Rogers deserves to be revered by those concerned with the well-being of mankind. As an original investigator into past industrial conditions of the English people, Rogers is without peer. The value of his studies is incalculable. The importance of his work has never received the recognition it deserves, despite its import.

After a brilliant career as a student at Oxford, Rogers entered the ministry of the Church of England but soon abandoned the calling, devoting himself to other pursuits.

Having acquired a high reputation for classical scholarship, he was chosen professor of political economy at the University of Oxford in 1862. From that time until his death in 1890, he confined his studies to economics. Immediately upon his appointment as professor he began the investigations which made him famous. As he proceeded in his work, he published its results in successive volumes of his “History of Prices”. Guided by their natural instincts, the Tories deprived Rogers of his professor­ship and elected Bonamy Price in his stead in 1868.

He entered Parliament in 1880, was re-elected in 1885, but was defeated in 1886, going down with Gladstone on the home-rule issue.

On the death of Bonamy Price in 1888, Rogers was re-elected to the professorship at Oxford until the time of his death in October 1890. Goschen, the Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer who voted for Rogers’ reappointment, declared him to be the only man in England who ought to fill the post. That Professor Rogers keenly felt the punishment the Tories inflicted upon him in 1868, is evident from the following statement, made by him in a lecture to the students at Oxford after his restoration: “…. I was unjustly deprived because I traced certain social mischiefs to their origin twenty years ago.”

A writer in the Westminster Review (Vo1.134, page 604), referring to his original appointment in 1862, said: “Never was an appointment more thoroughly justified”. The same writer says further: “Although his labours had not received the recognition to which they were entitled, his patience and his devotion to his economic work never ceased. We never yet had before Thorold Roger’s time anything like a satisfactory account of the condition of the English people. None of them (the historical schools of economics) did original work of such magnitude as this. He loved to linger over the details of social and industrial life in former centuries. He had an intense dislike of theory not guaranteed by fact. He was one of the best of men in private life.”

In 1884 he published “Six Centuries of Work and Wages”, and in 1888 “The Economic Interpretation of History”. These two books contain in condensed and popular form the results of the investigations to which he devoted the greater part of his life’s work. And it is to the facts recorded in them that I propose, for the most part, to confine the present discussion.

The conditions and the modes of life of the people of England at different periods of their history and progress can be ascertained with an accuracy and completeness unattainable in the case of any other people. Rogers states the reason for this is: “No other country possesses such a wealth of public records. The information from which the economic history of England, the facts of its material progress can be derived become plentiful, and remain continuously numerous from about the last ten or twelve years of the reign of Henry III.”     (“Work and Wages”, page 18).

The facts contained in the works of Professor Rogers are derived from records made at the time and are, therefore absolutely reliable. And it was the facts brought to light by him, and not his deductions from them “that had affrighted the representatives of the wealthy and the privileged classes of England in 1868.”

Of all the facts ascertained by Professor Rogers through his indefatigable investigations, the one that most surprised the world and most troubled the privileged class of England, was the fact that during the three centuries preceding the middle of the sixteenth century, the condition of the masses of English people, that is, of the labouring and producing classes – was more comfortable and prosperous than it has ever been at any time since. We moderns are inclined to regard skeptically the accounts of ancient golden ages, but he has clearly shown that prior to the reign of Henry VIII there was a veritable golden age for English labour. He says: “I believe, indeed, that under ordinary circumstances the means of life were more abundant during the Middle Ages than they are under our modern experience. There was, I am convinced no extreme poverty.” (Economic Interpretation of History, page 16).

“The fifteenth century and the first quarter of the sixteenth were the golden age of the English labourers” (W. & W. page 326). “Men got just as good wages in the fifteenth century whether they were employed for a day or a year; nor, as I have already observed, were the hours long.  It is plain that the day was one of eight hours” (W. & W. page 327).   “As the century goes on the wages of labour tends decidedly upward” (page 327). “The English labourer for a century or more became virtually free and constantly prosperous.” (page 271).

Speaking of the plenty that marked the first half of the eighteenth century he says: “But this plenty was as nothing to the golden times of the fifteenth, when the earth brought forth by handfuls, and the yeomanry were planted in England”. (page 271) Again he says: “I can assure my hearers that a mason in Oxford four hundred and forty years ago was paid relatively better wages than he is paid in London for fifty-six hours work at present. The fifteenth-century workman worked for only an eight-hour day.” (Economic Interpretation of History, page 303)

And, speaking of the fourteenth century, Rogers says: “The greater part of the handsome churches and conventional buildings of that age were the work of the artisans themselves, ‘who could draw their own plot’. It needed no common or brief training to enable a mason to himself design these structures from the foundations to the roof, and then resign his work to an equally skilful carpenter.” (E.I.H. page 304). And again, referring to the centuries which I have mentioned, he says: “During all this time the mass of English labourers, by no means claiming more than the reasonable reward for their services, were thriving under their guilds and trade unions, the peasants gradually acquiring land and becoming the numerous small free-holders of the first half of the seventeenth century, the artisans, the master hands in their craft, contractors in the same period for considerable works, planning the solid and handsome structures in what is known as the perpendicular style, and withal working with their own hands on the buildings which their shrewdness and experience had planned” (E.I.H. page 34).

These conditions were maintained in spite of the efforts of the privileged classes, who were the only lawmakers of the time, to depress the condition of labour by Acts of Parliaments. He says: “Now, I have told you how, for two hundred years and more, the representatives of Rent tried to depress wages by force of law, in the interests of Rent and failed. So complete was the failure that in 1495 the legislature enacted that scale of wages for which the workmen had contended: and so left them in possession of the situation” (E.I.H. page 239). “The labourers had won the day.” (E.I.H. page 33). During the last half of the reign of Henry VIII, however, an ominous change in the condition of the English masses began: vagrants and beggars swarmed throughout the land, and the most harsh and cruel statutes were enacted for their punishment and suppression.

In the twenty-second year of Henry VIII an act was passed providing that any person, being whole and mighty in body, and able to labour, found begging or being vagrant, might be arrested by a constable, and a justice might in his discretion cause every such idle person to be taken to the nearest town and there tied to the end of a cart, and to be beaten with whips throughout the town “till his body be bloody by reason of such whipping” and this whipping was to be repeated as often as he made default.

In the twenty-seventh year of Henry VIII an act was passed providing that if the vagrant persisted in his course after being whipped, he should have the upper part of the gristle of his right ear clean cut off, and if he still persisted he was to be tried, and executed as a felon. And a writer narrates “how Henry VIII, executing his laws verie severile against such idle persons … did hang up three-score and twelve thousand of them in his time.” Similar statutes were enacted and barbarously enforced during the reigns of Edward VI and Elizabeth. In the first year of Edward VI an act was passed providing that a vagrant “Might on conviction be marked with a letter V and adjudged to be a slave for two years of the person buying him, giving him only bread and water or small drink, and such refuse of meat as the master should see fit.” If he ran away, the justices, “on conviction were to have him marked on the forehead or ball of the cheek with a hot iron with the letter S and adjudge him to be the master’s slave for life”. If he ran away again, he was to be executed as a felon. The vagrant’s children between 5 and 14 years of age might be adjudged the servants of apprentices of any were enslaved for life. The master of these slaves might put a ring of iron about the neck, arm or leg of a slave, any person willing to take them until the age of 24 if males, and 20 if females.

If they ran away they were to be enslaved for life. The master of these slaves might put a ring of iron about the neck, arm or leg of the slave, and any person helping the bondman to take it off was subject to a penalty. The slave who resisted correction was to be executed as a felon.  And these slaves might be sold or devised like other property.” (Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol XIV, page 168, 10th or 11 ed.)

An act passed in the fourteenth year of Elizabeth recites that “all the parts of this realm of England and Wales be presently with rogues, vagabonds, and sturdy beggars exceedingly pestered, by means whereof daily happeneth in the same realm horrible murders, thefts, and other great outrages, to the high displeasure of Almighty God, and to the great annoy of the commonweal.”

Another portentous sign and proof of the incredible change that had taken place in the condition of the English people was the alarming growth of extreme poverty and destitution. The existence of this evil is also evidenced by the legislation of the time. By the act twenty-seventh of Henry VIII it was provided that “every preacher, parson, vicar and curate, as well in their sermons, collections, bidding of beads, as in time of confessions, and at the making of the wills and testaments of any persons, at all times of the year shall exhort, move, stir, and provoke people to be liberal. And by the act of first Edward VI it was provided, for the furtherance of the relief of such as were in unfeigned misery, that the curate of every parish should, on every Sunday and holiday, after reading the gospel of the day, make (according to such talent as God hath given him) a godly and brief exhortation to his parishioners, moving and exiting them to remember the poor people and the duty of Christian charity in relieving of them which be their brethren in Christ, born in the same parish and needing their help”.   (Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol XIX, Page 463).

Legislation for the relief of the poor, at first by voluntary contribution, began with the year 1541. Between this date and 1601, inclusive, there were twelve acts of Parliament passed with the distinct object of providing relief against destitution. (E.I.H. page 241). “It was at first believed that private benevolence would fill up the void in wages, but private benevolence can never grapple with a national calamity. It is possible that Henry and his son’s guardians fancied that private charity would fill the void. It is certain that the anticipation was disappointed”.    (E.I.H. page 242).

The earlier of these acts claimed only voluntary gifts, and ecclesiastical discipline was relied on to enforce the claim. “Very soon the appeal for voluntary aid was followed by exhortation to the richer fold to give of their abundance. Soon the caitiff who would not give was to be delated (reported) to the bishop, who was to exhort him. Very soon compulsion followed. The rich but covetous man who remained obdurate was to be sent to gaol, and an assessment levied on his goods. Finally a general assessment was ordered.” (E.I.H. page 242).

Thus came in the English poor rate, or tax levied for the support of paupers. This system for the legal relief of the poor was inaugurated by the act of 1601 which was substantially the law down to the year 1835. And so rapid was the growth of pauperism that “in the latter part of Charles II’s reign it was returned at 665,365 pounds according to Davernant, or more than a third of the whole revenue in time of peace.”(E.I.H., page 486).

In 1785 the poor rate was 2,004,238 pounds. In 1802 it was 4,267,965 pounds, in 1813 it amounted to 8,640,842 pounds.(Work and Wages, page 410). The total amount raised between 1601 and 1890 is estimated at 734,000,000 pounds. The deplorable change in the social condition of the English people, which I have briefly sketched, appalled thoughtful men of the time in which it began, and has perplexed and puzzled the thinking men of every succeeding generation from that day to this. I have found no writer who, in my judgement, has assigned any adequate or sufficient cause for the origin and growth of English pauperism and the degradation of English labour.

But a careful study of changes that have taken place in the social condition of the people of our own country (U.S.A.) within the memory of the present generation will, I think afford a key to the solution of the question.

American labour has had its golden age too. Men still living, remember well the time when the “tramp” had no existence in this country and “industrial armies” were never dreamed of: when the possibility of millions of men being permanently unemployed in this country seemed inconceivable; when the means of life were more abundant than they had ever before been in any age or country, and when the standard of living was higher than was ever enjoyed by the workers of the world at any other time or place. Within the present generation we have had the tramps and vagrants and industrial armies, and the innumerable hosts of the unemployed swarm upon us as they swarmed upon the people of England in the reigns of Henry VIII and his immediate successors.

On the statute books of every State in the Union are now to be found laws passed for the punishment and suppression of vagrants, tramps and beggars, as harsh and cruel for our time as were those of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Elizabeth for their times. The appeals for charity made by our churches are as general and as strenuous as were those made then by the state church by direction of Parliament. And frantic appeals are being made to us through the schools and through the various agencies of charity, organised and unorganised. Nor is this all.  The state is called upon, out of moneys raised by general taxation, to make provision for the support of the poor. American legislators display a natural aversion to the pauperization of their follow citizens, and this aversion is creditable to them.  But they will not able much longer to postpone the evil day, and an American poor rate is as inevitable as was the English poor rate.

We shall find out, as Henry VIII and his son’s guardian did, that, as Professor Rogers says: “Private benevolence can never grapple with a national calamity”. In fact, we have already found it out. Police stations are, in the theory of our laws, places of temporary detention for persons accused or suspected of crime. We know that all over the United States they are being largely used as poor houses, and our hospitals and asylums are to an increasing extent used in the same way.

The same cause that made English pauperism inevitable after Henry VIII’s time is operative in this country now, and must produce a like effect. This change in the condition of the English masses was brought about by the introduction of the system of absolute private ownership of land, with its attendant rack renting. And this was, I am convinced, effected principally through the sale by Henry VIII of the lands of the church, which his Parliament confiscated upon the dissolution of the monasteries. Professor Rogers says these lands “are over and over again said to have been one third of the whole area of the kingdom.” (W. & W. page 297)

What did Henry do with these lands? It is, I think, very generally supposed that he gave them away to his courtiers. A careful analysis of Henry’s character ought to convince anyone that such an assumption is inherently improbable. He was not the kind of a man to give away anything that he could sell, and by the sale of which he could obtain means to gratify his insatiable appetite for display and wanton extravagance. He inherited from his penurious and miserly father, Henry VII, an immense accumulation of wealth, which the latter had acquired by mean and cruel methods.

The son scattered what the father had gathered. Professor Rogers says: “He was extravagant to such a degree that he succeeded in ruining the unfortunate people over whom he reigned. The wastefulness of Henry was incredible. The establishments of each of his infant daughters were more costly than the annual expense of his thrifty father. He had fifty palaces, whims of the hour, in which profusion was constantly going on. He was incessantly building, altering, pulling down, by day and night on Sundays and festivals from year to year.” (W. & W. page 321)

But there is a positive proof that Henry never intended to give away what he took from the church. After squandering what his father left him, he appealed to his Parliament to replenish his exhausted exchequer by the levy of taxes from his people. And these demands grew year by year until the burden became intolerable. Finally, he cast longing eyes upon the lands and accumulated wealth of the monasteries, and upon his demand his obsequious Parliament confiscated these lands and this wealth for the crown. Professor Rogers says: “It was said that Henry entered into the possession of one-third the area of England.

It is certain that he promised if this grant were made to him, that he would ask his people for no further taxes. It is equally certain that he broke his word. It is quite as certain that the whole of what he appropriated disappeared in a marvellously short time, and that before he died he was reduced to the greatest straits and resorted to the most disgraceful frauds in order to extricate himself.” (E.I.H. page 420)  “Henry had spent his own substance and that of his people.   The treasures of the religious houses had been squandered in an incredibly short time; hurled away in the wanton waste of his boundless extravagance.” (W. & W. page 341)

If he had intended to give away these lands, how could he promise to ask for no more taxes? If he intended to sell them he might well believe that their sale would supply a fund sufficiently large to meet even his extravagant demands and render further taxes unnecessary. We have some historical testimony to the fact of the sale of the confiscated lands. In Knight’s “History of England”, Vol.2 page 465, it is said: “There were abbey lands to be sold or let.”   Professor Rogers, speaking of Tandridge, a village in Surrey, famed for the completeness of its ancient records, says: “It possessed a hospital, to which charity a good deal of the parish was annexed. This foundation fell at the dissolution into the hands of Mr Froude’s patriot king, as indeed nearly everything fell, and was it seems, parcelled out among numerous proprietors, probably to a great extent purchasers of the hospital lands.” (E.I.H. pages 484-485)

In 1886 Hubert Hall, of Her Majesty’s public record office, published a book entitled “Society in the Elizabethan Age”, on pages 26 and 27 of which the author, speaking of the sixteenth century, after the final accomplishment of the so-called reformation of the temporal position of the church, says: “Land was no longer regarded as a military or labour fee, but as a serious industry and profitable investment. For half a century a violent land fever raged in town and country.  The Crown was a ready seller, and found still more eager buyers. These new men, officials, merchants, lawyers, usurers, jostled the ancient owners, impoverished by mismanagement and extravagance, and each other. Both alike joined in an attempt to wrest from the sub-tenant his vested interest or fixity of tenure in the land.”

Garnier, in his “History of the English Landed Interest (Early Period)”, pages 270-271, says: “But if the labourer had invaded the towns, the trader turned the compliment by invading the country. He bought up the crown lands with avidity, and he pounced down upon the confiscated properties of the monasteries. There was a great land hunger, in these Tudor times.”

Of these new proprietors it is said in “Social England, Vol.3, page 115, edited by H.D. Trail: “They regarded land as a commodity to be dealt with like any other, for the profit to be gained, and not merely a source of sustenance; a view which has since become so universal that we can hardly appreciate the storm of anger that greeted its first introduction at this period.”

Professor J.S. Brewer, in his “Reign of Henry VIII”, Vol.1 page 49, speaking of the complaints made by petition to the Parliament of Henry VIII, says: “The bright sunset of a departing age, from which men were rapidly and unconsciously drifting still fascinated many minds, and filled them with wistfulness and regrets.    When every man was contented, say the petitioners, with one farm, there was plenty of everything. Now, in a town of twenty or thirty dwellings, the houses are decayed, the people are gone, the churches in ruins, and in many parishes nothing more than a neathered or shepherd or a warner is to be seen”.

And Green, in his “History of the English People”, Vol.11, page 19, says, speaking of this period: “The new wealth of the merchant classes helped on the change. They began to invest largely in land.”

The merchants had the money that Henry so much needed to gratify his desire for profusion and extravagance, and he had the lands in which they desired to invest, with a view   of founding families and of securing admission into the ranks of the privileged classes. Hubert Hall says that the mercantile interest was “athirst for those political and social distinctions which a connection with the land alone afforded.” (Society in the Elizabethan Age, page 33) And he says the trader was “ever on the lookout for a profitable investment in land.” (page 41)  This is a process that has gone on in England from that day to this.

And this is the genesis of English landlordism.

Modern landlordism, as the word is now understood, was a thing unknown in England before the time of Henry VIII. It came into existence as a logical result of the sale of the church lands by that monarch. Professor Rogers says: “From the earliest period of recorded agriculture, by which I mean such accounts as give us an insight into the occupation of land, till some time after the middle of the sixteenth century – i.e. for fully three centuries – the rent of agricultural lands remains unaltered at from 6 pence to 8 pence per acre.” (E.I.H. page 167)  The mere statement of this fact is sufficient to convince anyone that there was no landlord of agricultural land, in any modern sense, during those three centuries. A rent of 6 to 8 pence per acre was not rent in any sense of the term with which we are familiar. And Professor Rogers says, “No one who knows anything about economical history can doubt that rent was originally, and for centuries, a tax imposed by the strong on the weak in consideration of a real or pretended protection of the tenant. The invariable and fixed character of the tax seems to me to prove this, and the fact that no attempt was made to alter the fixed rent, save by open or disguised violence or fraud, is to me conclusive” (E.I.H. page 172).  And again he says: “And it is proof of Adam Smith’s sagacity that, without the materials before him from which the facts could be demonstrated, he saw that rent was originally a tax, and that a long interval must have occurred before farmers’ rents became real and oppressive.” (W. & W., page 58)  And on pages 235-236 of “The Economic Interpretation of History” he says: “Undoubtedly in the earlier stages of this and other societies, rent was a tax, levied by downright force, either with or without the pretence of an equivalent, or as the rep­resentative of reciprocal advantage, as defence and payment of administration, or as mere blackmail, the rent receiver, in consideration, refraining from plunder.” Of the thirteenth century he says: “In the thirteenth century there was no rent paid, in the ordinary sense of the word.” (W. & W., page 56)

In a lecture delivered in 1888 at Oxford, and printed after his death in October 1890, he says of the fourteenth century: “Good arable land was let in the fourteenth century at 6 pence an acre. I have never found a higher price.” (Industrial and Commercial History of England, page 209)  In “Work and Wages”, page 293, he says: “It is certain that during the fifteenth century the landowner was unable to screw them (his tenants), and that the rack-rent is a product of the early part of the sixteenth century”.  And at page 296 of the same work he says: “It was not till the sixteenth century that the rack-renting began.”

Now as the rack-rent is a “rent nearly equal to the annual value of the property rented”, it is clear that its first appearance marks the advent of the modern landlord.

When the merchants of Henry VIII’s time “began to invest largely in land, they carried into their speculations in the land the same business methods that they had acted upon in their commercial dealings. They figured out the cost of an acre of land and fixed its rent at interest on that amount. It is safe to assume that, when the first purchases of Abbey lands thus set the pace of rack-renting all the other landowners in England were not slow to follow his example.” But we are not left to mere assumption on this point. We have indubitable historical proof. In Vol. 11, page 465, of Knight’s “History of England” it is said, speaking of the period: “Rents were everywhere rising.” And in Cunningham and McArthur’s “Outlines of English Industrial History” at page 181 it is said: “rent comes to have the clear and obvious character of a payment for the use of the soil.”

Professor Rogers says: “From the middle of the sixteenth to the middle of theseventeenth, rack-renting of a very harsh kind occurred and with very disastrous effects”. (“Ind.& Comm. History of England”, page-208)  And in the “Economic Interpretation of History”, page 174, he says: “The rents of the seventeenth century, small as they seem to us, began with competition rents, which rapidly slid into famine rents, by which I mean rents which leave the occupiers with a bare maintenance, without the power of either improving or saving.”  …  “The earliest writer on husbandry in the seventeenth century admits the fact of competition rents, defends the lord’s actions in taking what is offered him, and treats the farmers’ remonstrances with ill‑disguised contempt.” (E.I.H.) And this raising of rent went on until by the year 1879 the rent of agricultural land, which had for three centuries prior to the middle of the sixteenth century remained fixed at an average of from 6d. to 8 d. an acre, had risen to an average of more than 45s.(pages 179 and 293). But the most striking and important historical evidence on this point is to be derived from the sermons of dauntless old Hugh Latimer, who was burned at the stake at Oxford in 1555. Of these sermons, a writer in the Encyclopoedia Britannica says “It is possible to learn from them more regarding the social and political condition of the period than perhaps from any other source.”

On the 7th March 1548, the year after the death of Henry VIII, Latimer preached in the King’s private garden at Westminster, before the young King and his courtiers, the first of a series of seven sermons in which he says: “You landlords, you rent raisers, I may say you steplords, you unnatural lords, you have for your possessions clearly too much. For what here before went for twenty or forty pound by year (which is an honest portion to be had gratis in one lordship of another man’s sweat and labour) now is let for fifty or a hundred pounds by year.  Of this too much cometh (that) that this monstrous and portentous dearth is made by man, notwithstanding God doth send us plentiful the fruits of the earth, merciful and contrary to our deserts. Notwithstanding too much which these rich men have causeth such dearth the poor men (which live of their labour) cannot with the sweat of their face have a living, all kinds of victuals is so dear: pigs, geese, capons, chickens, eggs, etc. I will tell you, my lords and masters, this is not for the King’s honour, also it is the King’s honour that the commonwealth be advanced, that the dearth of these aforesaid things be provided for, and the commodities of this realm so employed as it may be to the setting his subjects on work and keeping them from idleness. Furthermore, if the King’s honour (as some men say) standeth in the great multitude of people, then these glaziers, enclosiers, and rent rearers are hindrers of the King’s honour, for where as have been a great many householders and inhabitants there is now but a shepherd and his dog. So they hinder the King’s honour most of all.

I know where is a great market town, with divers hamlets and inhabitants, and the vicar that serveth (being so great a cure) hath but 12 to 14 marks by year, so that of this pension he is not able to buy him books nor give his neighbour drink. All the great gain goeth another way. My father was a yeoman, and had no lands of his own, only he had a farm of three or four pound by year at the uttermost, and hereupon he tilled so much as kept half a dozen men. He had walk for a hundred sheep, and my mother milked thirty kine. He was able and did find the King a harness, with himself and his horse, while he came to the place that he should receive the King’s wages. I can remember that I buckled his harness when he went to Blackheath Field.  He kept me to school, or else I had not been able to have preached before the King’s majesty now. He married my sisters with 5 pounds or 20 nobles apiece, so that he brought them up in godliness and fear of God. He kept hospitality for his poor neighbours, and some alms he gave to the poor. And all this he did of the said farm. Where he that now hath it, payeth 16 pounds by year and more, and is not able to do anything for his prince, himself, nor his children or give a cup of drink to the poor. Thus all the enhancing and rearing goeth to your private commodity and wealth.

So that there you had a single too much, you have that, and since the same, ye have enhanced the rent and so have increased another too much. So now ye have double too much which is too too much. But let the preacher preach till his tongue be worn to the stumps, nothing is amended. We have-good statutes made for the commonwealth as touching commoners, enclosers, many meeting and sessions, but in the end of the matter nothing cometh forth. Well, well, this is one thing I will say unto you, from whence it cometh I know, even from the devil. I know his intent in it. For if ye bring it to pass that the yeomanry be not able to put their sons to school, (as indeed universities do wonderfully decay already) and that they be not able to marry their daughters to the avoidance of whoredom, I say ye pluck salvation from the people and utterly destroy the realm.

For by the yeomen’s sons the faith of Christ is and hath been maintained chiefly. But verily they that should look to the redress of these things be the greatest against them. In the realm are a great navy of folks, and amongst many I know but one of tender zeal, at the motions of his poor tenants hath let down his lands to the old rent, for their relief. For God’s love let him not be a ‘Phoenix’; let him not be alone; let him not be a hermit closed in a wall; some good man follow him as he giveth example. Surveyors there be, but the commons be utterly undone by them. Whose bitter cry ascending up to the ears of God of Sabbath, the greedy pit of hell burning fire (without great repentance) do tarry and look for them. A redress God grant. For surely, surely, but that two things do comfort me, I would despair of the redress in these matters.

One is that the King’s majesty when he cometh to age, will see a redress of these things so out of frame. Giving example by letting down his own lands first and then enjoy his subjects to follow him. The second hope I have is, I believe that the general accounting day is at hand, the dreadful day of judgement I mean, which shall make an end of all these calamities and miseries.”

There was in England, during the period in which the awful transformations I have sketched took place, at least one clear strong, logical and observant mind that fully grasped its meaning and clearly perceived its efficient cause. No question of money, or transportation of machinery could obscure or hide from Latimer’s clear and earnest mind the real cause of the calamities and miseries that had fallen upon his country. He knew, and knowing, dared declare, that they were the work of the landlord, the rent raiser and the incloser, who had shut men out from the land which the Creator had freely given to all his creatures, robbed them of the product of their sweat and labour.  To the thoughtful American mind of today, it ought to be equally apparent that the calamities and miseries that have come upon this once prosperous and happy people, having for their heritage the most goodly land the sun ever shone upon, are due to the same cause that has blighted and pauperized the once happy and prosperous land across the sea. For nearly a century, from the first organisations of this Government, the American people enjoyed a prosperity such as no other people had ever enjoyed before, because they had abundance of good land open to American labour on even easier and better terms than the English people had for the three centuries preceding the middle of the sixteenth century. English land was open to English labour during these three centuries at 6d. an acre rent.

During the first century of the existence of this Government, American land of the best quality was open to American labour at an annual rent of a little over 6 cents an acre. (The Government price of $1.25 an acre, divided by 20). So long as that condition of things lasted American labour was prosperous. But as soon as the supply of Government land became exhausted, the same phenomena that followed the sale of the church lands in England began to appear in this country. The scrambles for Government land in Oklahoma, at the Sisseton Reservation, at the Cherokee Strip and at the Kickapoo Reservation have merely served to make patent to the general public a fact that has been fully known to thoughtful observers of passing events – that is, that the supply of Government land fit for occupation and use had given out.

No one who will give the matter consideration can fail to observe how close is the parallel between the social and industrial conditions that developed in England about the middle of the reign of Henry VIII, and the social and industrial conditions that have developed in this country during the last twelve or fifteen years, since the supply of public land has become practically exhausted. A few years after Henry VIII began to sell the confiscated lands of the church, England swarmed with vagrants and sturdy beggars, and Green tells us that “England for the first time saw a distinct criminal class in the organized gangs of robbers which began to infest the roads, and were ready to gather round the standard of revolt. The gallows did their work in vain – the social disorder, in fact, baffled the sagacity of English statesmen.” (History of English People, Vol.11, page 20). A few years before the mad rush for land in Oklahoma sounded the alarm that our public lands were practically exhausted, the tramp made his first appearance and the unemployed became a permanent class with us.  Like causes must produce like results, and men denied access to the land from which and on which alone they can live, whether in the sixteenth or in the nineteenth century, whether in England or in the United States of America, could have, or can have but one alternative: to die or take the roads as tramps and vagrants or as highwaymen.

The English Parliaments of the sixteenth century attempted to suppress and exterminate the landless tramps and vagrants of that time by harsh and cruel laws, which were executed with barbarous severity. American legislators, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, have attempted to attain the same end by the same means. The experience of the race during intervening centuries has taught us no better method of dealing with our landless tramps, our submerged and disinherited ones. The prevalent altruism of our times will not permit our legislators to ordain that the unfortunate tramp shall have his ears cut off or that he shall be executed as a felon, and in most of our States it will not permit him to be whipped. The Commonwealth of Kentucky did, however, by an act approved May 6th, 1890, provide that any male person over 16 years of age should, upon conviction of vagrancy, be “punished by a whipping of not less then five or more than fifty lashes with a leathern whip, well laid on his back.” (Session laws of 1889‑90, chapters 1303, page 259) The spirit of our legislation on this subject is essentially the same as that of the legislation of Henry VIII’s time. And, indeed, it may well be doubted if our method of dealing with the victims of landlordism is any improvement on that of the Tudor Sovereigns of England 350 years ago.  The Tudors mercifully put them out of the way by hanging them. We slowly torture them to death by starvation or drive them to suicide. In another respect the parallel between England in the sixteenth century and our country at the present time is striking.

In the first year of the reign of Edward VI, who succeeded Henry VIII, a law was passed authorizing the sale into slavery of vagrants. On the 19th June, 1883, the supreme court of the State of Missouri, in the case Re Thompson (117 Mo.83), declared section 8849 of the Revised Statues of 1889, authorizing a vagrant not accused or convicted of any crime to be hired for six months to the highest bidder after the determination of the fact of such vagrancy by a jury before a justice of the peace, to be a violation of both the State and Federal constitutions which prohibits slavery or involuntary servitude, except in punishment of crime, whereof the party accused shall have been duly convicted. But in States that farm out convicts to contractors the same end is accomplished in another way. Vagrancy is made a crime, and the tramp, upon conviction, is let out to the contractor. In a considerable number of towns and cities in this country the tramp, upon conviction, is sentenced to work in the chain gang upon the public streets. Thus it appears that our modern American lawmakers have taken more than one leaf from the statute books of the time of the Tudors. I have already directed attention to the parallel between Henry VIII’s time and our own time in the matter of appeals for charity. In dealing with the destitute, as in dealing with the vagrants, we are but blind and helpless imitators of our ancestors of three and a half centuries ago. We still “exhort, move, stir, and provoke people to be liberal in giving alms.” We know how utterly futile is the attempt to eliminate destitution in that way, and so we keep up our frantic appeals for charity. The English poor law, inaugurated by the Act of 27th Elizabeth, and continued to the present day, is far from being a monument of human wisdom in the field of legislation. But American lawmakers have not improved upon it very much. Our country poorhouses are mostly modelled on the English workhouses, and our plan of supplementing them with the police stations is certainly anything but an improvement. And yet it seems to me that notwithstanding the inability of our modern legislators to find it, there is a rational remedy for vagrancy and pauperism, a sure preventive of both. If I have succeeded, as I believe I have, in proving that the efficient cause of these evils was and is the exclusion of men from the land, is it not clear that the only effective remedy or preventive must be to restore them again to the essential element from which they have been excluded? If a gardener, on his early round some morning, should discover that some malicious intruder had, during the previous night, pulled up his plants and left them on the ground to die, would he not at once set to work to restore them to the ground before they wilted and died? Vagrants and paupers are but human beings divorced from the land. Professor Rogers perceived this fact, for he says: “The growth of the poor rate was due to the enclosures, the consequent exclusion of the poor from small agriculture. The poor became more and more straightened, even when prices had not seriously risen, because they were more and more divorced from the soil.” (E.I.H. page 246).

The only way in which vagrancy and pauperism can be cured and prevented is to restore the vagrant and pauper to the land. And this the single tax (collection of the Economic Rent) will do without jar or disturbance. Adopt the single tax unlimited, and vagrancy and pauperism will soon become but the hideous goblins of a night forever past.

I have said that I have been unable to find any modern writer who has assigned any adequate or sufficient cause for the origin and growth of English pauperism. Professor Rogers has assigned four causes, and they are as valid I think as any I have come across anywhere else. They are: (1) Deluge of base money; (2) confiscation of guild lands and the loss of benefit societies funds; (3) rise in prices; and (4) the enactment of the statute of fifth Elizabeth, chapter 4, known as the statute of labourers of that year. The first was due to the debasement of the coin in the latter years of the reign of Henry VIII, which was carried to such an extent that when Elizabeth called in the coin with a view to undoing the mischief which her father had done, she found that about 60 per cent of the coin was base metal.

The confiscation of the guild lands took place under Edward VI. During the golden age of English labour which preceded the reign of Henry VIII,the trade guilds and labour unions had acquired extensive holdings of land all over the kingdom, the revenue from which supplied a benefit fund for their members. The guardians of Edward VI confiscated these lands as Henry had confiscated the lands of the church, and under the same pretence, viz. that they were being applied to superstitious uses. The land boom that followed the sale of the church lands naturally raised the price of all commodities. Of the statute of Elizabeth, Professor Rogers says: “This famous Act, which consummated the degradation of the poor, made pauperism inevitable and misery universal, was really of new legislation. The acts repealed all the statutes of labourers and re-enacted all the provisions of those acts. It did not provide any new machinery, for the administration of the old laws had been in the hands of the justices for nearly two hundred years, and sometimes the right of making assessments. What it did was to seize the opportunity when the workmen were helpless to consolidate all the old statutes to draw up rigid rules of apprenticeships so as to make agriculture the residuum of all labour, to enact exhaustive penalties, and to leave no loophole through which workmen could escape, so as to better themselves in the struggle with their employers. The English statute book contains many atrocious acts, most of them with hypocritical preambles. This act of Elizabeth is, in my judgment, the most infamous of them, for it was levelled against every right of the poor to live and entirely in the interest of Rent.” (E.I.H., pages 240-241)

Now let us test these assumed causes by the experience of our own time and country within the last twenty-five years. I have shown that the same change has within that time taken place in this country that took place in England in the sixteenth century. But we have had no deluge of base money. On the contrary, we have had what the gold men call “sound” money during all that time that dread change has been going on. As to the second cause our trade unions have had no land to be confiscated, and their benefit funds, such as they have, have not been interfered with by the Government. As to the rise in prices, our calamities have fallen upon us at a time when prices are lower than they have ever been known to be in the history of civilization.  And finally, we have no legislation like the statute of Elizabeth. Now it is apparent that, if an effect follows when an assumed cause is absent and when it is present, the assumed cause cannot be the real cause.  The real cause that consummated the degradation of English labour, made pauperism inevitable and misery universal in England, was the exclusion of English labour from English land. The real cause that has brought the tramp and the vagrant in this country, that has filled our streets with unemployed and our roads with industrial armies, that is degrading and pauperizing once free and independent American citizens, is the exclusion of American labour from American land.

Now, in conclusion, let me ask my thoughtful reader to consider the question. Where are we, and whither are we tending? If I am correct in the inference I draw from the facts I have presented in the foregoing pages, we are entering upon the descent to an abyss of misery and degradation, poverty and pauperism, in many respects more dire than that down which the English passed after the middle of the sixteenth century; a descent into conditions that will be the more intolerable by reason by the memories of our past prosperity and happiness and of the superior intelligence and greater refinements of the masses of our people. And the worst of it is that this downward movement is the necessary result of the operation of natural laws, that is, of the law that impels the landlord to take all he can get as a condition precedent to his permitting labour to have access to his land, and of a law that compels labourers to bid against each other in their efforts to gain access to the landlord’s land, without which they must perish. And is this awful fate inevitable? Must we and our posterity drink to the dregs the bitter cup of misery that had been held to the lips of the English people for the last three and one half centuries? Must poor houses rise in every township of this broad Republic as they have risen in every parish in England? Must our children and children’s children be driven into exile from the land of their birth as millions upon millions of the people of England, Ireland and Scotland have been during the past three centuries? Shall the plowers forever plow the backs of a class condemned to toil, in this once free and happy land? The Single Taxers reply “No!” They say these things must and shall not be. They are setting the axe to the root of the deadly tree which produces these evil fruits, and their brave and sturdy blows are beginning to tell. With the hope that inspires to high endeavour and a faith that falters not, they are pressing forward in every increasing numbers to the goal where equal opportunity shall be secured to all, where all men shall be not nominally, but really free:



Joseph Leggett


This excellent article was initially put together from handwritten and typewritten notes forwarded to the office of the Henry George League, Melbourne, without the author’s name, in 1979.

Following its publication on this site on 13 July 2015, Wyn Achenbaum from the USA advised on 14 July 2015 that the piece was actually written by lawyer, Joseph Leggett, and it appeared in the San Francisco Star in 1896. Reference to Leggett’s article was also made in the San Jose Letter of 1 February 1896.

ps.  There’s a great chart by the Rev WPD Bliss (editor of the Encyclopedia of Social Reform), based on Thorold Roger’s work, here.

pps. When re-reading this telling account of Henry VIII selling off the monastery lands of England and the origins of landlordism, I was reminded of the Chinese company Shenhua having recently bought up rich farmland in Northern New South Wales for coal mining purposes, and how many Australians have directed themselves into becoming landlords as a means of getting ahead.  In view of the historical evidence in this article and subsequent Georgist studies, any hope that the current Australian land bubble does not end in much the same sort of misery and crime into which Henry directed England would seem to be misguided.