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therefore to see without surprise, the different systems of rents which in this state of things have arisen out of the peculiar circumstances of different people, forming the main ties which hold society together, Origin and determining the nature of the connection between Rents. the governing part of the community and the governed, and stamping on a very large portion of the population of the whole globe their most striking features, social, political, and moral.
If indeed it were true, as some have fancied, that lands were always first appropriated by those who are willing to bestow pains on their cultivation; if in the history of mankind it were an ordinary fact, that the uncultivated lands of a country were open to the industry or necessities of all its population; then some time would elapse in the progress of agricultural nations before rents made their appearance at all; and when they did appear, still, while any portion of the country remained unoccupied, the rents paid on the lands already cultivated would only be in exact proportion to their superiority, from position or goodness, over the vacant spots.
Such a state of things might occur; it is an abstract possibility: but the past history and present state of the world yield abundant testimony, that it neither is, nor ever has been, a practical truth, and that the assumption of it as the basis of systems of political philosophy, is a mere fallacy.
When men begin to unite in the form of an agricultural community, the political notion they
BOOK I. seem constantly to adopt first, is that of an exclusive right, existing somewhere, to the soil of the country they inhabit. Their circumstances, their Origin and prejudices, their ideas of justice or of expediency, Rents. lead them, almost universally, to vest that right in their general government, and in persons deriving their rights from it.
The rudest people among whom this can at present be observed are perhaps some of the Islanders of the South Seas. The soil of the Society Islands is very imperfectly occupied; the whole belongs to the sovereign; he portions it among the nobles, and makes and resumes grants at his pleasure. The body of the people, who live on certain edible roots peculiar to the country, which they cultivate with considerable care, receive from the nobles, in their turn, permission to occupy smaller portions. They are thus dependent on the chiefs for the means of existence, and they pay a tribute, a rent, in the shape of labor and services performed on other lands1.
On the continent of America, the institutions of those people, who before its discovery had resorted to agriculture for subsistence, indicate also an early and complete appropriation of the soil by the state. In Mexico there were crown lands cultivated by the services of those classes who were too poor to contribute to the revenue of the state in any other manner. There existed too a body of about 3000 nobles possessed of distinct hereditary property in
"The tenure by which the great body of the
'people held their property was very different. In every district a certain quantity of land was mea- Origin and "sured out in proportion to the number of families. Division of “This was cultivated by the joint labor of the whole: "its produce was deposited in a common storehouse, "and divided among them according to their respec"tive exigencies1." While in Peru "all the lands capable of cultivation were divided into three "shares. One was consecrated to the Sun, and "the produce of it was applied to the erection of "temples, and furnishing what was requisite towards "celebrating the public rites of religion. The second "belonged to the Inca, and was set apart as the pro"vision made by the community for the support of "government. The third and largest share was 'reserved for the maintenance of the people among "whom it was parcelled out. Neither individuals, "however, nor communities had a right of exclusive
property in the portion set apart for their use. "They possessed it only for a year, at the expira"tion of which, a new division was made in propor"tion to the rank, the number, and the exigencies "of each family2."
Throughout Asia, the sovereigns have ever been in the possession of an exclusive title to the soil of their dominions, and they have preserved that title in a state of singular and inauspicious integrity, undivided, as well as unimpaired. The people are there universally the tenants of the
1 Robertson's America, Book vii.
BOOK I. sovereign, who is the sole proprietor; usurpations of Sect. 1. his officers alone occasionally break the links of the chain of dependence for a time. It is this uniOrigin and Division of versal dependence on the throne for the means of supporting life, which is the real foundation of the unbroken despotism of the Eastern world, as it is of the revenue of the sovereigns, and of the form which society assumes beneath their feet.
In modern Europe the same rights once prevailed, but here they were soon moderated, and finally disappeared. The subordinate chiefs, who followed in crowds the leaders of the barbarian irruptions, were little accustomed to tolerate constant dependence and regular government, and utterly unfit to become its support and agents. Yet even by them, the abstract right of the sovereign to the soil was very generally recognized. Traces of it are still preserved in the language of our laws; the highest title a subject can claim is that of tenant of the fee, and the terms of this tenancy made originally the only difference in the extent of interests in estates.
The steps by which beneficiaries became the real proprietors are familiar to almost all classes of readers; it is enough for our present purpose to see that in Europe, as in Asia and South America, the soil was practically appropriated by the sovereign or a limited number of individuals, at a time when the bulk of the people were wholly dependent on the occupation of portions of it for their subsistence, and when they became therefore, inevitably, tributary to its owners.
The United States of North America, though Book I. often referred to in support of different views, afford another remarkable instance of the power vested in the hands of the owners of the soil, when its occu- Division of Origin and pation offers the only means of subsistence to the people. The territories of the Union still unoccupied, from the Canadian border to the shores of the Floridas, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, are admitted, in law and practice, to be the property of the general government. They can be occupied only with its consent, in spots fixed on and allotted by its servants, and on the condition of a previous money payment. That government does not, it is true, convert the successive shoals of fresh applicants into tenants, because its policy rejects such a measure. Its legislators inherited from the other hemisphere at the outset of their career the advantages of an experience accumulated during centuries of progressive civilization: they saw, that the power and resources of their young government were likely to be increased more effectually by the rapid formation of a race of proprietors, than by the creation of a class of state tenantry. It has been suggested, that they may have acted unwisely in overlooking such a mode of creating a permanent public revenue. Had they perversely entertained the will to do so, unquestionably they had the power. Their rapidly increasing numbers could have been sustained only by the spread of cultivation. As fresh settlements became necessary to the maintenance of the people, the government might have made its own terms when granting the space from which