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THE LAND STRUGGLE OF ROME.
AMONG all the causes that contributed to conspicuous among these far-sighted the downfall of the great Roman Empire legislators. the spread of large estates and consequent . It is impossible to understand the destruction of the peasant-proprietors in significance of Gracchus' attempt for land Italy stands first and foremost. The reformers of all ages without a sketch of course of events may be expressed roughly the Roman land system as it existed prethus:-Rome gained her Empire and con- viously. Such a sketch may throw some quered the world by means of great armies light upon the land problems of modern of small proprietors. But many of these society, and perhaps help us to decide left their holdings never to return. Their whether the aid of law can be called in to bones whitened on the plains of Spain, save us also from a moral degeneration Africa, or Asia, while the great capitalists similar to that which resulted in Rome who followed in their track and were from the absorption of the land in the enriched by their conquests returned to hands of a few. buy up their deserted holdings. Or if In the first place, from the very earliest they survived, and came back to Italy beginnings of the Roman community, the after twelve or twenty years' foreign land was theoretically the possession of service, they would often find that a strong the State alone, and held by individuals neighbour had seized their homesteads merely temporarily and on sufferance. perhaps on the plea of debt incurred in But the mistake was that State-ownerthe absence of the bread-winner-and ship was not combined with Statedriven their helpless wives and children taxation, and the land consequently into the towns. For such wrongs there slipped by force of custom and prewas no redress ; possession then, as now, scription out of the hands of an owner was nine points of the law. Or, lastly, who never enforced his rights. For all even if they found their holdings untouched, land, whether cultivated, waste, or the long years of military life had inca pasture, was granted to individuals with pacitated them for the peacesul drudgery out the exaction of any payment of rent of agriculture, and they quickly gravitated in return. The only difference made was towards the towns, where there were that cultivated land was allotted in small street broils and gladiatorial shows to portions, usually to the poorer classes, suit their acquired tastes. Thus slowly whence “allotment” was always then as but surely between the years 200 B.c. and now, the poor man's hope-while waste 133 B.C.* the small estates with free
land was granted for the asking to anyone labour gave place to large estates with who would cultivate it, and as much as slave labour. The towns, on the other he would cultivate. Lastly, grazing land hand, became crowded to repletion with was granted to cattle farmers in far larger evicted peasants and returned soldiers. quantities than cultivated. Any legal A great cry rose up from these despairing limitations were easily got over then, as thousands for the necessities of existence. now, by influence or money. The rich Deprived of the rural industries and with often mistook cultivated land for waste no town industries to take the place--for land, and did not find out the mistake in ancient societies the slaves monopolised until they were comfortably settled on it, the functions of the modern artisans-a and it was too late to move. The limit great mass of humanity stood face to face of five hundred cattle on pasture land was with almost certain starvation. To avert
more honoured in the breach than the this the true friends of the people the observance. But the most important democrats-strained every nerve to put
limit of all and that round which the them on the land again and thus to restore Roman land struggle centred—was that to them their lost independence and self. | imposed by the Licinian law of 366 B.C. reliance. Tiberius Gracchus was most According to this law, no allottee was * The “Golden Age" of Roman Agriculture,
allowed to possess more than five hundred dated from about 400 B.C. to 200 B.C. Previously acres of land. Thus the land of Italy to 400 b.c, the tenure was mostly communal. might be alienated from the orignal
holders, but was forbidden to accumulate. seventy thousand allotments were made But the combination of alienability with by the Commission, who sat for about non-accumulation can only be effected by four years and were then paralysed by a the imposition of a state-rent, if it can be political ruse worthy of modern Toryism. effected at all. A state-rent makes a large There were always two consuls annualiy uncultivated estate an unprofitable if not appointed at Rome as supreme ministers of a ruinous concern, and thus makes la petite the State. On to one of these the duties of culture a necessity. In the absence of this the Commission were laid, and the Comstate-rent at Rome, the only alternative mission itself abolished, “in order” (we would have been a strict enforcement of may imagine the ministerial statement to the law in spite of natural tendencies. have run) “ to give the Honourable ComBut during the great wars in which she missioners a beneficial rest after four conquered the world, Rome-like England years of arduous toil." Now, by a very during the Napoleonic wars-paid the curious coincidence, it was discovered penalty for her victories in being governed that the presence of this same consul at home by a government of nobles. So far was indispensably required in Illyria. was such a government from desiring to This little manœuvre brought the execuenforce the legal limit, that they openly tion of Tiberius' Land Act to an abrupt winked at its non-observance, and when conclusion. It was as if a Tory Govern. Rome emerged in 133 B.C. from a long | ment had vested the execution of Mr. period of storm into a period of peace, it Gladstone's Land Act in the Irish Secrewas to find that, while the poor had been tary and then sent that gentleman on a fighting the battles of their country abroad, mission to France. Such things could the rich had been quietly robbing them happen without attracting notice before at home in their absence. Great estates! the invention of the penny Press. Tiberius all over Italy defied the laws of the land. Gracchus himself had been murdered
Such was the state of affairs when three years before by the party of law Tiberius Gracchus flung himself into the and order in the streets of the capital, breach. He was the Gladstone of Rome. and as most of his fellow reformers had Like Gladstone, he appointed a Com-| fallen at the same time there was a lull mission, but for a far more drastic in the business of land reform at Rome. purpose. He could not revise rents, for Never again, in fact, were the proceedings there were none to revise. The Roman of the Commission seriously resumed, and lords had no tenants; they had only | never again were precisely similar slaves beneath them, for eviction was measures undertaken with precisely far more simple than sub-letting, and similar objects, although the annals of grazing far more profitable than wheat the last century before Christ are covered growing. On the contrary, Tiberius im- | with land reforms. posed a rent payable to the State, and so It is interesting to see how Tiberius far anticipated Mr. Henry George. But Gracchus' legislation was repealed. First by far his most revolutionary, though, the provision against alienation, next strictly speaking, entirely legal proposal, the small land tax, and lastly the limiwas that the old limit of five hundred tation to five hundred acres, all went acres should be once more enforced, with by the board. The seventy thousand the sole modification of an addition of new allottees, owing to their inexperience two hundred and fifty for each son if there of agriculture and the attractions of the were not more than two. All land in town, gradually left the soil to be accumuprivate possession above this limit was to lated anew by the now victorious lords. be confiscated by the Commission without This tendency was accelerated by the any compensation to the owners, and the land action of the false friends of the people, thus reverting to the State was to be dis. the demagogues, who neutralised all the tributed anew to poor leaseholders in good effects of Tiberius Gracchus' legissmall allotments, which were to be lation by bringing in great poor laws, inalienable. Thus Tiberius Gracchus, by more pernicious than even those which imposing these two checks-inalienability existed in England before the abolition of and a state-rent — hoped to re-establish the Corn Laws. The first of these was the Italian peasantry in permanent | introduced in 121 B.C. by Caius Gra possession of the soil. In point of fact, the brother of Tiberius-and many others were introduced afterwards by returned from a victorious campaign he Livius Drusus, Saturninus, and Clodius. took advantage of the principle of State In fact, it became the chief “plank” in tenure to bring in a Bill for confiscating the platform of the city demagogues, who great tracts of land and distributing them thus pandered to the idleness of a great to his soldiers. In this respect Sulla, city proletariat. These laws enacted that Pompey, and Augustus acted all alike. every citizen should have an inherent | Julius Cæsar was an honourable excepright to receive corn at a nominal price, tion. In Italy the land passed quickly or sometimes even gratis, from the State. | through the hands of those clumsy Just as the Tory landlords profited most artificial agriculturists into those of great by our English poor laws,—which enabled speculators, who were always on the alert. the poor to live artificially at the expense The soldiers themselves either swelled the of the middle classes under a grinding town population or passed from peasants and otherwise impossible regime of high to robbers, and called for fresh armies to rents and low wages, -just so the great suppress them. Tory Roman landlords profited by the poor Julius Cæsar was the only land laws of the Roman demagogues, which reformer at once genuine and successful stayed the hand of the land reformer and in the period that intervened between threw a pernicious veil over the injustice the death of Gracchus and the fall of the of the rich and strong by a superficial Roman empire. He allotted a large tract remedy for the evils which it produced. / of land, in fact, the whole of Campania, All such laws are an opiate given by the but made no attempt to prevent the alienrich to the poor to still their complaints, ation of the allotments. The consequence while they increase their real misery and was that they were quickly reabsorbed, degradation. Wherever workhouses and it even seems doubtful whether the exist side by side with palaces, the whole scheme was carried out. economic conditions are at fault, and the After this attempt (in 59 B.C.) all land distribution of the produce of labour has reform ceased, and the old pernicious been tampered with hy selfish legislators. causes-slave labour, cheap corn, and For such remedies do but “ skin and film idle capital-were left to produce the old the ulcerous place.” The real need is to effects of a degraded town populace, an stop the evil at its source by securing | incapable and luxurious aristocracy, and remuneration, not for the idleness, but a deserted Italy. Strabo, the historian, for the labour of the people.
says that a traveller might go through In Rome these pernicious laws had Italy for miles upon miles without seeing the double effect of increasing the a cottage. attractions of city as against country The plain fact is that by this time (at life, and of destroying the corn trade of the end of the first century) the forces in the Italian farmers. It was as if the the direction of evil were too great for any English government had at once given individual to withstand. The poor laws, the final blow to our corn-growing and for instance, were abolished by Sulla, depopulated our rural districts by setting | but street riots in Rome quickly produced up great granaries in London, where corn the repeal of his abolition. Human affairs or bread should be had for the asking. are such that evils which are curable if The provinces of Rome-such as Sicily taken at the right moment, often become and Sardinia—were exhausted of corn in incurable when that moment is past. order to pauperise the Roman citizens for No human power could persuade the the benefit of the great landlords, while Romans to do without poor laws. And the broad lands of Italy were converted yet their existence rendered all land into sheep-walks or great parks, worked reform impossible. For, as long as corn by gangs of wretched slaves, whose under was supplied almost gratis at Rome, the ground dungeons took the place of the holdings of Italy were not only unable to small cottages which had formerly dotted pay any rent, like 500,000 holdings the beautiful plains of Italy.
(according to Professor Caird) in Ireland Again, even the law of Gracchus was at the present moment, but could not made into a precedent by the governing even supply the non-rented tenant with oligarchy for adding to the evils of the the necessities of existence. State. For whenever a great general Under these circumstances it was in
an army of slaves under Spartacus. So profoundly dependent is even such a virtue as courage on economic conditions.
This sketch of the Ronian land struggle speaks for itself. It proves—if there were any need of the proof-that the rich and powerful will not only take advantage of the letter of the law to deprive the poor and the weak of their rights, but will also violate the law both in letter and spirit if it stands in the way of their desires. For the Roman lords monopolised the land of Italy in defiance of the law of their country just as readily as the English lords take advantage of every letter of that law--and break it, if need be,to secure a like monopoly. This comparison brings out with startling clearness the fact that the landlord class obey the laws only when such obedience is to their own interest.
E. HAROLD Spender.
vain that Virgil wrote four books on agriculture, or that Horace by singing the joys of the country life tried to inspire enthusiasm for a profitless trade. The writers of the period mirror the real course of events by their perpetual laments over the extinction of small and the growth of large estates. Virgil puts into graceful verse the lament of an evicted peasant, which might come from the lips of an Irish tenant. Cicero cries that the great landlords care more for red mullets than for the safety of the State. But the loss of the yeomen class was more than a mere sentimental loss to Rome. By means of them Rome had conquered the world, and now the question arose, could she keep the world without them ? Augustus found it impossible to enlist soldiers from among the corrupt townsmen. "Give me back my legions,” he cried, when he heard of the loss of 20,000 soldiers in Germany. Henceforth Rome had to depend on hirelings for the defence of her Empire. In the social struggle the idle and unproductive classes had won the day—the drones had killed the bees or converted them to the gospel of dronery. But these idle classes were now in their turn threatened by tribes of Northern barbarians not yet corrupted by an unhealthy banishment from the soil into the great cities. For several centuries the Romans were able to hold these barbarians at arms' length by means of great armies of faithful mercenaries. But at last the barrier broke down, and the general corruption invaded even these disciplined hirelings. The Rhine was crossed by the Vandals and the Goths, and in the fifth century after Christ the Roman lords were robbed in turn of their stolen estates by the avenging peoples of the North. Vengeance was slow but sure.
Thus the decline of Rome goes side by side with the decline of her land system. When the Roman people lost their hold on the soil, they lost their hold on all the qualities—energy, perseverance, and discipline-which brought them to greatness. When the masses of the people were “ cribbed, cabined, and confined ” in the towns by the “landgrabbing" of the capitalists, they quickly lost all their sinew and muscle. The people that conquered Pyrrhus and Hannibal ended by running away from
MR. GLADSTONE ON THE CHANNEL TUNNEL." Sir Edward Watkin is one of those men who are wicked enough to desire that a tunnel should be constructed under the Channel to France. (Laughter.) Gentlemen, what is truly painful to me is that I am compelled to confess before you, and I do it publicly, that I am one of those men who are wicked enough to agree with him. (Laughter.) But there will be no difficulty upon that subject. Public opinion will settle that matter. (Hear, hear.) We believe that it will dispose of part of that luxury of terror, that indulgence in the production of panic, which unquestionably has become the most powerful agent of late years in the management of national concerns—I am afraid chiefly in retarding benefit. But while we look upon it with patience we know it will go by after a while.".
The following quotation from the life of Bishop Fraser, by Tom Hughes, shows that thirty years ago the same evils existed, of which wenow complain. Can anything be so sickening, the bishop writes, “as the system of appointments to offices of the highest trust in both departments, in spite of past warnings, which is at this very moment going on? There is just appointed to the command-in-chief in Ireland, Lord Seaton, who in the next paragraph we are informed, is in his eightieth year. They have just sent out, to command a division in the Crimea, Lord Rokeby, who is as deaf as a post. The seals of the War Office are being offered to Lord Panmure, but it is doubtful if his health will allow him to accept of them. Sir James Graham is also to give the nation the benefit of as much of his valuable time and services as gout will allow. Now here are four men to put into four of the most important administrative posts at such a crisis as this; a valetudinarian at the War Office, a gouty cripple (his naturally petulant temper probably aggravated by disease) at the Admiralty; a deaf man to lead a division, and an octogenarian to stir again into activity the dormant military en- · thusiasm of Ireland,
The Times, the Spectator, and the Saturday | issue, therefore, is-Is England to be Review have at last worried the Govern governed like Ireland, or is Ireland to be ment into proclaiming the National governed like England ? Spalding, CovenLeague. It matters very little. The powers try, and Northwich have answered with of the National League,"broad-based no uncertain voice. upon the people's will”-cannot be destroyed by any fiat of a “five o'clock tea . This difference in our executive me. Cromwell” like Mr. Balfour. The procla thods, and this plain issue before the mation will only result in the glorification nation, can only be properly emphasised of those who defy it, just as the “suspects”. by Englishmen going over to Ireland and of 1881 became the heroes of 1882. I helping the Irish in their political war. “ Through jail to Westminster" is the fare. If the Irish are imprisoned and the history of many an Irish Member of Par. English go scot-free for identical actions, liament. Indeed, if the executive resolves then the difference in our treatment of to imprison every Irishman who refuses Englishmen and Irishmen will be as clear to relinquish the right of political com as daylight, and the people's sense of bination without a struggle, we shall then justice cannot fail to be roused. If, on think shame of our fellow citizens across the other hand, both Englishmen and the channel if the present prisons are suf Irishmen are imprisoned, then the people ficient to contain those who will have to will realise that a man is locked up for be sent to them. The next thing will be saying in Ireland what he might say in for the Government to introduce a vote in England with impunity, and that fact the Irish Estimates for the building of when fully realised will open the eyes of new Irish jails. Why not erect a Bastille many. If, lastly, both Irish and English in Dublin straight away? But let the are allowed to go untouched, then our Government remember how the last Bas object will have been attained without tille fared at the hands of the people. more ado, and the democratic principle For so will fare their attempt, however will have prevailed over the autocratic. made, to destroy the National League in Ireland.
The Irish Land Bill has been rendered
nugatory by the refusal of the Liberal A blow of this kind at the democracy | Unionists to press on the Government of our sister isle is a blow by implica the all-important question of arrears. tion at the democracy in England. The The peculiar and especial malady of weapons which our aristocracy have the Irish peasantry at present is that sharpened for use against them they will they are hampered with the arrears of a use in turn against us. There is already rent which has been pronounced unjust a tendency-shown in little things such | by the Cowper Commission, and which as the case of Miss Cass or of the Socialist they cannot pay. With the usual folly Pole- towards executive despotism in of Governments, this is just the one point England. For such methods are infec which the present Ministry refuse to tious. When an autocratic Secretary touch. And what is their excuse? Why, for Ireland and a democratic Home that you must not draw a distinction Secretary sit in the same Cabinet, they | between debts due to landlords and debts are apt to forget the difference between due to other creditors. This is their the forms of government prevailing in “ fundamental principle.” One feels in. their respective departments, and the clined to say with Sir William Harcourt, Home Secretary is tempted to ape that | “ your fundamental principle is all noninsolent contempt of the people's will sense.” For is not this distinction prewhich is the recognised principle of his cisely the meaning of their clauses for the colleagues. A democracy cannot live al revision of judicial rents? Have they, double life, be democratic in England. introduced any clauses for the revision of and autocratic in Ireland. One principle | shopkeepers' claims in the future, as they will invade and suppress the other. The have with landlords'? No. Then here