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success in life are habitually measured, are an ample security for their being pursued with sufficient intensity and zeal. As to the deeper consideration, that the diffusion of wealth, and not its concentration, is desirable, and that the more wholesome state of society is not that in which immense fortunes are possessed by a few and coveted by all, but that in which the greatest possible numbers possess and are contented with a moderate competency, which all may hope to acquire; I refer to it in this place, only to show, how widely separated, on social questions, is the entire mode of thought of the defenders of primogeniture, from that which is partially promulgated in the present treatise.
The other economical argument in favour of primogeni. ture, has special reference to landed property. It is contended, that the habit of dividing inheritances equally, or with an approach to equality, among children, promotes the subdivision of land into portions too small to admit of being cultivated in an advantageous manner.
This argument, eternally reproduced, has again and again been refuted by English and Continental writers. It proceeds on a supposition entirely at variance with that on which all the theorems of political economy are grounded. It assumes that mankind in general will habitually act in a manner opposed to their immediate and obvious pecuniary interest. For the division of the inheritance does not necessarily imply division of the land; which may be held in common, as is not unfrequently the case in France and Belgium; or may become the property of one of the coheirs, being charged with the shares of the other by the way of mortgage; or they may sell it outright, and divide the proceeds. When the division of the land would diminish its productive power, it is the direct interest of the heirs to adopt some one of these arrangements. Supposing, however, what the argument assumes, that either from legal difficulties or from their own stupidity and barbarism, they would not, if left to themselves, obey the dictates of this obvious interest, but would insist upon cutting up the land bodily into equal parcels, with the effect of im
poverishing themselves ; this would be an objection to a law such as exists in France, of compulsory division, but can be no reason why testators should be discouraged from exercising the right of bequest in general conformity to the rule of equality, since it would always be in their power to provide that the division of the inheritance should take place without dividing the land itself. That the attempts of the advocates of primogeniture to make out a case by facts against the custom of equal division, are equally abortive, has been shown in a former place. In all countries, or parts of countries, in which the division of inheritances is accompanied by small holdings, it is because small holdings are the general system of the country, even on the estates of the great proprietors.
Unless a strong case of social utility can be made out for V primogeniture, it stands sufficiently condemned by the genəral principles of justice; being a broad distinction in the treatment of one person and of another, grounded solely on an accident. There is no need, therefore, to make out any case of economical evil against primogeniture. Such a case, however, and a very strong one, may be made. It is a natural effect of primogeniture to make the landlords a needy class. The object of the institution, or custom, is to keep the land together in large masses, and this it commonly accomplishes; but the legal proprietor of a large domain is not necessarily the bona fide owner of the whole income which it yields. It is usually charged, in each generation, with provisions for the other children. It is often charged still more heavily by the imprudent expenditure of the proprietor. Great landowners are generally improvident in their expenses; they live up to their incomes when at the highest, and if any change of circumstances diminishes their resources, some time elapses before they make up their minds to retrench. Spendthrifts in other classes are ruined, and disappear from society; but the spendthrift landlord usually holds fast to his land, even when he has become a mere receiver of its rents for the benefit of creditors. The
same desire to keep up the “splendour” of the family, which gives rise to the custom of primogeniture, indisposes the owner to sell a part in order to set free the remainder; their apparent are therefore habitually greater than their real means, and they are under a perpetual temptation to proportion their expenditure to the former rather than to the latter. From such causes as these, in almost all countries of great landowners, the majority of landed estates are deeply mortgaged; and instead of having capital to spare for improvements, it requires all the increased value of land, caused by the rapid increase of the wealth and population of the country, to preserve the class from being impover
§ 3. To avert this impoverishment, recourse was had to the contrivance of entails, whereby the order of succession was irrevocably fixed, and each holder, having only a life interest, was unable to burthen his successor. The land thus passing, free from debt, into the possession of the heir, the family could not be ruined by the improvidence of its existing representative. The economical evils arising from this disposition of property were partly of the saine kind, partly different, but on the whole greater, than those arising from primogeniture alone. The possessor could not now ruin his successors, but he could still ruin himself: he was not at all more likely than in the former case to have the means necessary for improving the property: while, even if he had, he was still less likely to employ them for that purpose, when the benefit was to accrue to a person whom the entail made independent of him, while he had probably younger children to provide for, in whose favour he could not now charge the estate. While thus disabled from being himself an improver, neither could he sell the estate to somebody who would; since entail precludes alienation. In general he has even been unable to grant leases beyond the term of his own life; “for,” says Blackstone, “if such leases had been valid, then, under cover of long leases, the
issue inight have been virtually disinherited ;” and it has been necessary in Great Britain to relax, by statute, the rigour of entails, in order to allow either of long leases, or of the execution of improvements at the expense of the estate. It may be added that the heir of entail, being assured of succeeding to the family property, however undeserving of it, and being aware of this from his earliest years, has much more than the ordinary chances of growing up idle, dissipated, and profligate.
In England the power of entail is more limited by law, than in Scotland and in most other countries where it exists. A landowner can settle his property upon any number of persons successively who are living at the time, and upon one unborn person, on whose attaining age of twenty-one, the entail expires, and the land becomes his absolute property.
An estate may in this manner be transmitted through a son, or a son and grandson, living when the deed is executed, to an unborn child of that grandson. It has been maintained that this power of entail is not sufficiently extensive to do any mischief: in truth, however, it is much larger than it seems. Entails very rarely expire; the first heir of entail, when of age, joins with the existing possessor in resettling the estate, so as to prolong the entail for a further term. Large properties, therefore, are rarely free for any considerable period, from the restraints of a strict settlement; though the mischief is in one respect mitigated, since in the renewal of the settlement for one more generation, the estate is usually charged with a pension for younger children.
In an economical point of view, the best system of landed property is that in which land is most completely an object of commerce ; passing readily from hand to hand when a buyer can be found to whom it is worth while to offer a greater sum for the land, than the value of the income drawn from it by its existing possessor. This of course is not meant of ornamental property, which is a source of expense, not profit; but only of land employed for indus
trial uses, and held for the sake of the income which it affords. Whatever facilitates the sale of land, tends to make it a more productive instrument for the community at large; whatever prevents or restricts its sale, subtracts from its usefulness. Now, not only has entail this effect, but primogeniture also. The desire to keep land together in large masses, from other motives than that of promoting its productiveness, often prevents changes and alienations which would increase its efficiency as an instrument.
$ 4. On the other hand, a law which, like the French, restricts the power of bequest to a narrow compass, and compels the equal division of the whole or the greater part of the property among the children, seems to me, though on different grounds, also very seriously objectionable. The only reason for recognising in the children any claim at all to more than a provision, sufficient to launch them in life, and enable them to find a livelihood, is grounded on the expressed or presumed wish of the parent; whose claim to dispose of what is actually his own, cannot be set aside by any pretensions of others to receive what is not theirs. To control the rightful owner's liberty of gift, by creating in the children a legal right superior to it, is to postpone a real claim to an imaginary one.
To this great and paramount objection to the law, numerous secondary ones may be added. Desirable as it is that the parent should treat the children with impartiality, and not make a favourite of an eldest son, impartial division is not always synonymous with equal division. Some of the children may, withoạt fault of their own, be less capable than others of providing for themselves : some may, by other means than their own exertions, be already provided for: and impartiality may therefore require that the rule observed should not be one of equality, but of compensation. Even when equality is the object, there are sometimes better means of attaining it, than the inflexible rules by which law must necessarily proceed. If one of the coheirs, being of a quarrelsome, litigious