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Substance (with omissions and corrections) of three articles in the Morning Chronicle of 11th, 13th, and 16th January 1847, in reply to MM. Mounier and Rubichon and to the Quarterly Review, on the Subdivision of Landed Property in France. I.
THE reviewer makes an extraordinary slip at the threshold of his subject, in estimating the extent to which the morcellement has actually proceeded. He finds it stated, that among nearly five millions and a half of landed proprietors, there are 2,600,000 the revenue of whose land, as rated to the land-tax, does not exceed forty shillings, which sum, he very candidly says, should rather be sixty, as the rated value is very much lower than the real value. On this he exclaims, “There already exist in France millions of examples that a propriétaire may be poorer than a peasant. 2,600,000 families, comprising 13,000,000 persons, of each of which families the rated income does not exceed forty shillings, but say sixty shillings sterling, for the maintenance of five persons—and these are proprietors! The poorest day labourer would earn four times as much.” He seems actually to suppose that these small proprietors, like great landlords, live only upon the rent of their land, forgetting that they have its whole produce. He might have known from the very documents he has quoted, and might have guessed if he had not known, that the forty shillings at which the land is rated in the collector's books are not the gross produce of the little estate, but its net produce; the surplus beyond the expenses of cultivation; which expenses include the subsistence of the cultivators, together with interest on the capital. The reviewer himself shows that the rated revenue of all the landed property of France is about 4 per cent of its rated value, and does not therefore much exceed a reasonable rent. A writer who can mistake this for the whole income of a peasant cultivating his own land, gives the measure of his competency for the subject, and of the degree of attention he has paid to it. We will now attempt to discover, from the reviewer's data and those of his authors, what may really be the condition of these 2,600,000 proprietors. As the French Government estimates the land-tax at one-tenth of the revenue of the land, proprietors rated at #2 (or 50 francs) pay, it is to be presumed, five francs. The average of the contribution foncière for all France is 24 francs per hectare, and in the southern half of the kingdom, which is the most divided, two francs. A hectare being about 24 English acres, this gives from five to between six and seven acres as the portion of land which falls to the lot of each of the reviewer's forty-shilling or sixty-shilling freeholders. But, it may be said, this is not the average but the marimum of their possessions. We will therefore take another estimate grounded on official documents, from the reviewer's authorities, MM. Mounier and Rubichon. “It is hardly credible,” they say, “that there are in France more than four millions of proprietors so poor, that they pay no more than 5f. 95c.” (say 6f) “to the contribution foncière.” In this case the 5f. 95c. are certainly the average. Six francs of land-tax corresponds to six acres per family on the average of all France, and to seven and a half on that of the southern division, which contains the greatest proportion of small proprietors. A still more favourable result is given by the calculations of M. Lullin de Châteauvieux, a much better authority than these authors, who estimates the average holdings of the 3,900,000 poorest proprietors at eight acres and a half. Now, take any one of these computations in a fertile country like France, suppose as bad an agriculture as exists anywhere in Western Europe, and then judge whether a single family, industrious and economical as the French of the poorer classes are, and enjoying the entire produce of from five to eight and a half acres, subject to a payment of only tenpence an acre to the Government, can be otherwise than in a very desirable condition ? We do not forget that the land is sometimes mortgaged for part of the purchase money, and the reviewer makes a great cry about the tremendous incumbrances by which the land of France is weighed down; not amounting, however, on his own showing, to forty per cent on the rental, which we should think is as favourable a return as could be made by any landed aristocracy in Europe. The interest on the mortgages of all France is estimated at twenty-four millions sterling for one hundred and fourteen millions of acres—less than five shillings per acre. The owner of from five to eight acres could afford to pay double this amount, and be very well off. We are aware that this is an average, and that four millions of properties, averaging, according to M. de Châteauvieux, eight acres and a half, imply a great number of proprietors who have less. But there must be a proportional (though not an equal) number who have more; and it must not be supposed that this statement includes the large properties, one of which would be enough to keep up the average against a hundred extremely small ones. No properties are included which pay so much as twenty francs land-tax, corresponding on the average of France to twenty acres—on that of the south to twenty-five. When it is considered that of the whole soil of France only a third” is in the hands of peasant proprietors, and that this third is not more subdivided than we now see, it will probably be thought that hitherto at least, the mischiefs of subdivision have not reached a very formidable height. [Facts of a less conjectural character than the above have been afforded by the researches of M. de Lavergne. Of five millions of small rural proprietors, three millions, at least, according to that high authority, pay less than ten francs of taxes, and possess, on an average, only one hectare, (2} acres). Two millions pay from ten to fifty francs, and possess, on an average, six hectares, or fifteen acres. These last, says M. de Lavergne, “enjoy sometimes a real affluence. Their properties are divided by inheritance; but many of them are continually making new acquisitions by purchase, and on the whole their tendency is more to rise than to descend in the scale of wealth.” Respecting the amount of debts with which the peasant properties are encumbered, the facts are highly and unexpectedly favourable. By the latest authentic returns, the average indebtedness of the entire landed property of France, does not, according to M. de Lavergne, exceed one-tenth of the value; and in the case of rural property, it is only half that average, or onetwentieth. The burthen of interest he estimates, not at 40 per cent on the rental, but at 10 per cent only; and even this, he thinks, would now be an overstatement, “car les dernières crises ont amené une tendance générale vers une liquidation.”f] But it is not what France now is, so much as what she is becoming, that is the material point. Is the morcellement increasing, or likely to increase? The apologists of the French system have never
denied that the land in many parts of France is too minutely divided. What they deny is, that this is a growing evil. They assert that the subdivision has reached its height, and that the reunions, by purchase, marriage, and inheritance, now balance the subdivisions. How stands the fact in this respect P Are the small properties tending to become still smaller, or not ? The reader will be surprised when he finds that, with all their straining, M. Rubichon and his reviewer have failed of proving that the morcellement, in this sense of the term, is making any progress at all. The reviewer has a curious theory on the subject. He thinks that “on the calculated average of three children to each inheritance,” the piece of land now held by one proprietor must necessarily be divided among three in the next generation, and among nine in that which follows. Under what system of landed property could a population increase at this rate, and not be reduced to starvation ? But is it a fact that population is anywhere trebled in the space of a generation P. We have here blunder within blunder of a very complicated description. In the first place, he should not have said three children to one inheritance, but to two inheritances; for as the French law in questions of property observes that impartial justice between the two sexes in which other laws are so often deficient, the mother's patrimony is on an average equal to that of the father. In the next place, could not the reviewer have taken the trouble to ascertain at what rate the French population is actually increasing 2 If he had, he would have found that in the 27 years from 1815 to 1842 it only increased 18 per cent, and during that period with progressively increasing slowness, namely, in the first eleven years 9 per cent, in the next nine years less than 6 per cent, and in the seven years from 1835 to 1842, 3/5th per cent only.” This retardation we must take the liberty of attributing mainly to the prudence and forethought generated in the poorest class by this very subdivision of property. Instead, therefore, of trebling in a generation, the population increased in that period about 20 per cent; and if the growth of
* These facts are taken from M. Passy...We may now add, in the ten years from 1847 to 1856 not quite 1: per cent. Between 1851 and 1856 the increase in all France was not equal to that of Paris. Nearly all the poorer departments had diminished in population. See the Journal des Economistes for February 1857.
towns, and of employments not agricultural, in the same space of time, is sufficient to absorb this increase, there needs not be, and will not be, even if the law does its worst, any increase of subdivision. Now, the towns of France have increased, and are increasing, at a rate far exceeding the general increase of the population. We read only the other day in the Siècle, as the result of the census just concluded, that Paris, which in 1832 had only 930,000 inhabitants, had in 1846 more than 1,350,000, an increase of nearly fifty per cent in fourteen years.” There is every reason, then, to infer, from these general data, that the morcellement is making no progress, What facts have M. Rubichon and the Quarterly reviewer to oppose to these ? One fact; which at first sight appears a very strong one. Between 1826 and 1835, the number of properties rated to the land-tax exhibited an increase of more than 600,000; being about six per cent in ten years. Let us first remark, that 600,000 separate assessments are equivalent only to about 300,000 proprietors; it being the common estimate of French writers, that on the average about two côtes foncières, or separate accounts with the land-tax, correspond only to a single proprietor. But if the reviewer had consulted his author just ten pages further on,t he would have found a cause sufficient to account for a considerable portion of this increase. There were sold between 1826 and 1835 domains of the State, to the value of nearly 134 millions of francs, or five and a half millions sterling. The very nature of such a sale implies division. And we are the more inclined to ascribe much of the apparent increase of division to this circumstance, because in the ten years preceding those in question, the côtes foncières increased in number by little more than 200,000; an alarming proof, according to the reviewer, of the progressive advance of the evil; but, as we suspect, arising partly from the fact, that during the earlier decennial period a smaller, though still a considerable, amount of public domains were alienated. In addition to the State lands, a great extent of Communal lands
* In 1856 the department of the Seine, which consists almost entirely of Paris, had risen to 1,727,000 inhabitants; while Lyons, Marseilles, St. Etienne, Bordeaux and Nantes (or at least the departments containing them) had largely increased in population. + Mounier and Rubichon, vol. i. p. 110.