H. M. Hyndman, 1882

The Nationalization of the Land in 1775 and 1882

Title: The Nationalization of the Land in 1775 and 1882
Subtitle: Being a Lecture delivered at Newcastle-on-Tyne by Thomas Spence, 1775, reprinted and edited, with notes and introduction, by H. M. Hyndman, 1882
Author: Henry Mayers Hyndman
Source: Pamphlet published by E.W. Allen of 4, Ave Maria Lane, London and John Heywood of Manchester, 1882. Price one penny.
Date: March 7th, 1882
Transcribed by: Graham Seaman, 2015


The Representative of Newcastle-on-Tyne, who has stood almost alone among Englishmen in the House of Commons as the champion of the old English principles of Free Speech and Fair Play, this reproduction of the famous Lecture of Thomas Spence is dedicated by



THE remarkable lecture now reprinted was delivered to the Philosophical Society of Newcastle-on-Tyne on the 8th of November, 1775, one hundred and seven years ago. The author, Thomas Spence, was born in that town in 1750, of Scotch parents, who had removed from Aberdeen to Newcastle ten or twelve years before his birth. He was one of nineteen children, and at the time of the delivery of this lecture on the land question was earning his livelihood as a schoolmaster. In that position he wasted much time and energy in his endeavours to establish a phonetic system of spelling. But the young man was an enthusiast, and soon turned his thoughts to more important matters. The contrast between the wealth and luxury of the few, and the misery and starvation of the many set him to work to find out the causes of this woful disparity of conditions among civilized men. At this period the writings of the French economists and thinkers had much influence in England, repaying us in some sense for the effect which had been produced on France by English writers two or three generations before. But there is a good deal of originality in Spence's proposals for remedying the wrongs of the mass of mankind. He thought for himself on most of the questions which then troubled and still greatly perplex all thinking men.

"Spence was one of the warmest philanthropists of the day," is the testimony of Bewick, another distinguished Newcastle man. "The happiness of mankind seemed with him to absorb every other consideration. He was of a cheerful disposition, warm in his attachment to his friends and in his patriotism to his country; but he was violent against people whom he considered of an opposite character. With such he kept no bounds."

The upshot of Spence's lecture was that he was expelled from the Society, and not long after was driven out of Newcastle. From Newcastle he came to London, where he took up the trade of bookseller. Throughout his life he championed the opinions which had brought him into disfavour with his fellow-townsmen in Newcastle, and published many works advocating political and social reforms far in advance of his time, or even unfortunately of ours. His weekly "Pigs' Meat," which was a periodical devoted to the exposure of existing abuses, sold by thousands; but he soon found that fine and imprisonment were the fate of a reformer who dared to interfere even in theory with the sacred rights of private property. Thomas Spence, in fact, passed his life in a fruitless endeavour to check the growth of monopoly by cutting at its root, the monopoly of land. Like other enthusiasts, however, he formed a sect, who under the name of the Spenceans existed for years after the founder's death. He died in 1814, at the age of sixty four, and received a public funeral from his friends[1].

Such is in brief the life of one of the most genuine reformers of the last century. This lecture, on which Spence's fame will chiefly depend, is specially worthy of attention at the present time. It is a definite, practical and thoroughly English proposal for the nationalization of the land by the compulsory and uncompensated expropriation of the landlords. Thomas Spence was a man of the people, and he could not understand that a small class had a right to claim compensation for a monopoly which they had obtained by robbery of the mass of mankind, and kept possession of at the expense of starvation and misery for a large portion of the population. He therefore called boldly for the land for the people — the same cry which the Irish patriot, Michael Davitt, raised two years ago. Spence, however, had the wit to see that nationalization of the land without a complete democratic system of political institutions would be of little avail, and in his programme of reforms be included free education, adult suffrage, the ballot, and other measures which would enable all to take an intelligent part in the administration of the common property. As he acutely observes, in a conversation appended to one edition of his Lecture, no one ever yet heard of people who having obtained a tangible interest in the soil they live upon, did not keep hold of it with a most tenacious grip. Whence he argues, that if ever the parishes and municipalities of England should recover their right to the land for the benefit of all, they would be in no hurry to let it go again.

Nationalization of the land, then, in the sense that it should be owned by the parishes and municipalities in place of the landlords, was proposed in 1775 as a remedy for the ills of modern society by a north-country Englishman. Since that date many efforts have been made in the same direction. The monopoly of the source of all wealth has been denounced by reformer after reformer, but hitherto to no purpose. Since Thomas Spence's day 8,000,000 acres of common lands have been taken from the people of England for the benefit of those who own both Houses of Parliament; and the taxes which were levied directly on the land have been whittled away almost to nothing, by improper legislation and short-sighted redemption allowed contrary to the general interest. To-day, the greater part of England is held by a small minority of the population, whilst the widest schemes of reforms advocated by time-serving statesmen extend no further than a peasant proprietorship, which would render real nationalization more difficult, by interesting a greater number in the maintenance of individual ownership.

Yet the teachings on this great question of Spence, in 1775, of Feargus 0'Connor, of Ernest Jones, of Bronterre O'Brien, and the other men of '48, have not been wholly lost. Nationalization of the land in the widest sense, formed the first point in the famous Manifesto of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, published thirty-five years ago. Nationalization of the land is still the basis of the most vigorous working-class agitation regarding land in every country. Recently the subject has been more generally debated than ever, owing to the work of my friend, Mr. Henry George, on "Progress and Poverty."[2] This vigorous and brilliant book has brought home to all its readers the never-ending truth, that the rights of landlords mean wrongs to the community.

We are in a period of transition from one social state to another, and at such a time Mr. Henry George's proposals for the immediate appropriation of all competition-rent, by taxation levied on the land for the advantage of the whole country, could not fail to produce a great effect. Already there is a feeling among the ugper classes in England that agricultural and ground rents, and even royalties, are by no means so secure as they were. Among the people, the idea of nationalization in one shape or another spreads every hour.

Rent nevertheless is but one form of the robbery of labour due to the social state we live under.[3] What Spence could not see was, that a growth had even then begun which, though springing out of the monopoly of the soil in the first instance, would be even more injurious to the producers and the workers than landlordism itself. As has been pointed out by one of the greatest thinkers of modern times,[4] the domination of capital and the development of the grande industrie commenced at the end of the eighteenth century. The landlord class monopolizing the land take indirectly a large portion of the fruits of the labour of their countrymen for nothing. The capitalist class monopolizing machinery, capital, and credit, directly absorb a still larger proportion of such production for their own benefit. Thus in our civilization, we see the steady growth of a proletariat without means of production or any certainty of continuous employment on the one side, and a luxurious class living upon the fruits of their labour through legalized monopolies on the other. Fierce conflict between these two sections is inevitable.[5] The poverty-stricken multitude bred by existing social conditions will not always be content with their lot. But mere nationalization of land, on whatever plan, is no complete remedy for the evils of modern society, though it may be a palliative. The peeple should take back their land as a first step, but they should use the ground gained from the landlords as a means of overwhelming the more grinding and more degrading tyranny of capitalists.

Thomas Spence, in 1775, had the full courage of his opinions. It would ill become democrats in 1882 to be less bold than he. On every side we see that "free" competition under present conditions developes into rigid monopoly. The organized brute force of the few, has for generations robbed and tyrannized over the disorganized brute force of the many. It robs and tyrannizes to-day. What we need now, therefore, is the control not only of the land, but of capital and machinery, by the community in the interest of all. This will be brought about when the working-classes themselves understand that they must unite against those who oppress them, sinking petty jealousies and individual greed in one noble effort to secure the future well-being of their children, and the true glory and prosperity of their country. England has been great under landlordism, she has been great even under the infinite meanness of capitalism; she will be greatest under the rule of the people, when our democracy takes the lead in that social reorganization which Thomas Spence of Newcastle dimly foresaw.

H. M. Hyndman.
March 7th, 1882.


1. I am indebted for the above facts to Mr. Adams of Newcastle-on-Tyne.

2.In the United States, which Mr. George has had principally in view, the monopoly of land is merely a phase of capitalist production, dating from yesterday. In Europe the monopoly of land, though bringing about similar or even worse results, has been gradually created by a long series of evolutions extending over centuries. What is going on in America, is, however, as I have remarked on other occasions, most instructive to us here.

3.Rent arises from society and not from the soil.—Karl Marx, 'Misére de la Philosophie,' p. 166, 1847.

4.Those who have read and have understood Dr. Marx's "Capital," will have no hesitation in accepting this estimate of his position. Unfortunately there is as yet no English translation of that powerful work.

5.It does not necessarily follow that this conflict will take the shape of violence and bloodshed. That depends upon circumstances. If the working classes steadily maintain their rights and use their ever-increasing voting power to force on social changes for their own benefit, existing monopolies may be peaceably broken up to the advantage of all. But if attempts are made either by the landlords, the capitalists, or the middle-class, to stop this peacable movement from below, a furious social war of the most horrible kind is inevitable.


A Lecture read at the Philosophical Society in Newcastle, on November 8M, 1775, for Printing of which the Society did the Author the honour to expel him.[A]


It being my turn to lecture I beg to give some thoughts on this important question, viz.:- Whether mankind in society, reap all the advantages from their natural and equal rights of property in land and liberty, which in that state they possibly may and ought to expect? And as I hope you, Mr. President, and the good company here, are sincere friends to truth, I am under no apprehensions of giving offence by defending her cause with freedom.

That property in land and liberty among men in a state of nature, ought to be equal, few, one would be fain to hope, would be foolish enough to deny. Therefore, taking this to be granted, the country of any people, in a native state, is properly their common, in which each of them has an equal property with free liberty to sustain himself and family with the animals, fruits and other products thereof. Thus such a people reap jointly the whole advantages of their country, or neighbourhood, without having their right in so doing called in question by any, not even by the most selfish and corrupt. For upon what must they live if not upon the productions of the country in which they reside? Surely, to deny them that right is, in effect denying them a right to live. Well, methinks some are now ready to say, but is it not lawful, reasonable and just, for this people to sell or make a present, even, of the whole of their country, or common, to whom they will, to be held by them and their heirs for ever?

To this I answer, If their posterity require no grosser materials to live and move upon than air, it would certainly be very ill-natured to dispute their right of parting, for what of their own, their posterity would never have occasion for; but if their posterity cannot live but as grossly as they do, the same gross materials must be left them to live upon. For the right to deprive anything of the means of living, supposes a right to deprive it of life; and this right ancestors are not supposed to have over their posterity.

Hence it is plain that the land or earth, in any country or neighbourhood, with everything in or on the same, or pertaining thereto, belongs at all times to the living inhabitants of the said country or neighbourhood in an equal manner. For, as I said before, there is no living but on land and its productions, consequently, what we cannot live without we have the same property in as our lives.

Now as society ought properly to be nothing but a mutual agreement among the inhabitants of a country to maintain the natural rights and privileges of one another against all opposers, whether foreign or domestic, it would lead one to expect to find those rights and privileges no further infringed upon among men pretending to be in that state, than necessity absolutely required. I say again, it would lead one to think so. But I am afraid whoever does will be mightily mistaken. However, as the truth here is of much importance to be known, let it be boldly fought out; in order to which it may not be improper to trace the present method of holding land among men in society from its original.

If we look back to the origin of the present nations, we shall see that the land, with all its appurtenances, was claimed by a few, and divided among themselves, in as assured a manner as if they had manufactured it and it had been the work of their own hands; and by being unquestioned, or not called to an account for such usurpations and unjust claims, they fell into a habit of thinking or, which is the same thing to the rest of mankind, of acting as if the earth was made for or by them, and did not scruple to call it their own property, which they might dispose of without regard to any other living creature in the universe. Accordingly they did so; and no man, more than any other creature, could claim a right to so much as a blade of grass, or a nut or an acorn, a fish or a fowl, or any natural production whatever, though to save his life, without the permission of the pretended proprietor; and not a foot of land, water, rock or heath but was claimed by one or other of those lords; so that all things, men as well as other creatures who lived, were obliged to owe their lives to some or other's property, consequently they like the creatures were claimed, and, certainly as properly as the wood herbs, &c., that were nourished by the soil. And so we find, that whether they lived, multiplied, worked or fought, it was all for their respective lords ; and they, God bless them, most graciously accepted of all as their due. For by granting the means of life, they granted the life itself; and, of course, they thought they had a right to all the services and advantages that the life or death of the creatures they gave life to could yield.[1]

Thus the title of gods seems suitably enough to such great beings: nor is it to be wondered at that no services could be thought too great by poor dependent needy wretches to such mighty and all-sufficient lords, in whom they seemed to live and move and have their being. Thus were the first land-holders usurpers and tyrants; and all who have since possessed their lands, have done so by right of inheritance, purchase, &c., from them; and the present proprietors, like their predecessors, are proud to own it; and like them, too, they exclude all others from the least pretence to their respective properties. And any one of them still can, by laws of their own making, oblige every living creature to remove off his property (which, to the great distress of mankind, is too often put in execution) ; so of consequence were all the landholders to be of one mind, and determined to take their properties into their own hands all the rest of mankind might go to heaven if they would, for there would he no place found for them here. Thus men may not live in any part of this world, not even where they are born, but as strangers, and by the permission of the pretender to the property thereof: which permission is, for the most part, paid extravagantly for, though many people are so straitened to pay the present demands, that it is believed, if they hold on, there will be few to grant the favour to. And those land-makers, as we shall call them, justify all this by the practice of other manufacturers, who take all they can get for the products of their hands; and because that every one ought to live by his business as well as he can, and consequently so ought the land-makers. Now, having before supposed it both proved and allowed, that mankind have as equal and just a property in land as they have in liberty, air, or the light and heat of the sun, and having also considered upon what hard conditions they enjoy those common gifts of nature, it is plain they are far from reaping all the advantages from them which they may and ought to expect.

But lest it should be said that a system whereby they may reap more advantages consistent with the nature of society cannot be proposed, I will attempt to show the outlines of such a plan.

Let it be supposed, then, that the whole people in some country, after much reasoning and deliberation, should conclude that every man has an equal property in the land in the neighbourhood where he resides. They therefore resolve that if they live in society together, it shall only be with a view that every one may reap all the benefits from their natural rights and privileges possible.[3] Therefore a day [is] appointed on which the inhabitants of each parish meet, in their respective parishes, to take their long-lost rights into possession, and to form themselves mto corporations. So then each parish becomes a corporation, and all men who are inhabitants become members or burghers. The land, with all that appertains to it, is in every parish made the property of the corporation or parish with as ample power to let, repair, or alter all or any part thereof as a lord of the manor enjoys over his lands, houses, &c.; but the power of alienating the least morsel, in any manner, from the parish either at this or any time hereafter is denied. or it is solemnly agreed to, by the whole nation, that a parish that shall either sell, or give away, any part of its landed property, shall be looked upon with as much horror and detestation, and used by them as if they had sold all their children to be slaves, or massacred them with their own hands. Thus are there no more nor other landlords in the whole country than the parishes; and each of them is sovereign landlord of its own territories.[4]

Then you may behold the rent which the people have paid, into the parish treasuries, employed by each parish in paying the Government its share of the sum which the Parliament or National Congress at any time grants; in maintaining and relieving its own poor, and people out of work; in paying the necessary officers their salaries; in building, repairing and adorning its houses, bridges, and other structures; in making and maintaining convenient and delightful streets, highways and passages both for foot and carriages; in making and maintaining canals, and other conveniences for trade and navigation; in planting and taking in waste grounds; in providing and keeping up a magazine of ammunition, and all sorts of arms sufficient for all its inhabitants in case of danger from enemies; in premiums for the encouragement of agriculture, or anything else thought worthy of encouragement; and, in a word, in doing whatever the people think proper and not, as formerly, to support and spread luxury, pride, and all manner of vice.[5]

As for corruption in elections, it has now no being or effect among them; all affairs to be determined by voting either in a full meeting of a parish, its committees or in the house of Representatives are done by balloting, so that votings or elections among them occasion no animosities, for none need to let another know for which side he votes; all that can be done, therefore, in order to gain a majority of votes for anything, is to make it appear in the best light possible by speaking or writing. Among them Government does not meddle in every trifle; but, on the contrary, allows each parish the power of putting the laws in force in all cases, and does not interfere but when they act manifestly to the prejudice of society and the rights and liberties of mankind, as established in their glorious Constitution and laws. For the judgment of a parish may be as much depended upon as that of a House of Lords, because they have little to fear from speaking or voting according to truth as they.

A certain number of neighbouring parishes, as those in a town or county, have each an equal vote in the election of persons to represent them in Parliament, Senate, or Congress; and each of them pays equally towards their maintenance. They are chosen thus: all the candidates are proposed in every parish on the same day, when the election by balloting immediately proceeds in all the parishes at once, to prevent too great a concourse at one place; and they who are found to have a majority on a proper Survey of the several poll- books, are acknowledged to be their representatives.

A man by dwelling a whole year in any parish, becomes a parishioner or member of its corporation; and retains that privilege till he live a full year in some other, when he becomes a member in that parish, and immediately loses all his right to the former for ever, unless he choose to go back and recover it by dwelling again a full year there. Thus none can be a member of two parishes at once, and yet a man is always member of one though he move ever so oft.

If in any parish should be dwelling strangers from foreign nations, or people from distant countries who by sickness or other casualties should become so necessitous as to require relief before they have acquired a settlement by dwelling a full year therein; then this parish, as if it were their proper settlement immediately takes them under its humane protection, and the expenses thus incurred by any parish in providing those not properly their own poor being taken account of, is discounted by the exchequer out of the first payment made to the state. Thus poor strangers being the poor of the state are not looked upon with an envious evil eye lest they should become burthensome, neither are the poor harassed about in the extremity of distress, and perhaps in a dying condition, to justify the litigiousness of the parishes.

All the men in every parish, at times of their own choosing, repair together to a field for that purpose with their officers, arms, banners, and all sorts of martial music, in order to learn or retain the complete art of war: there they become soldiers! Yet not to molest their neighbours unprovoked, but to be able to defend what none have a right to dispute, their title to the enjoyment of; and woe be to them who occasion them to do this! they would use them worse than highwaymen or pirates if they got them in their power.

There is no army kept in pay among them in times of peace; as all have property alike to defend, they are alike ready to run to arms when their country is in danger: and when an army is to be sent abroad, it is soon raised, of ready trained soldiers, either as volunteers or by casting lots in each parish for so many men.

Besides, as each man has a vote in all the affairs of his parish, and for his own sake must wish well to the public, the land is let in very small farms, which makes employment for a greater number of hands, and makes more victualling of all kinds be raised.

There are no tolls or taxes of any kind paid among them by native or foreigner but the aforesaid rent, which every person pays to the parish, according to the quantity, quality, and conveniences of the land, housing, &c., which he occupies in it. The government, poor, roads, &c.,&c., as said before, are all maintained by the parishes with the rent;[6] on which account all wares, manufactures, allowable trade employments or actions are entirely duty-free. Freedom to do anything whatever cannot there be bought; a thing is either entirely prohibited as theft or murder; or entirely free to every one without tax or price! and the rents are still not so high, notwithstanding all that is done with them, as they were formerly for only the maintenance of a few haughty, unthankful landlords. For the government, which may be said to be the greatest mouth, having neither excisemen, custom-house-men, collectors, army, pensioners, bribery, nor such like ruin-nation vermin to maintain, is soon satisfied, and moreover there are no more persons employed in offices, either about the government or parishes than are absolutely necessary; and their salaries are but just suficient to maintain them suitably to their offices. And, as to the other charges, they are but trifles, and might be increased or diminished at pleasure.

But though the rent, which includes all public burdens, were obliged to be somewhat raised, what then? All nations have a devouring landed interest to support besides those necessary expenses of the public; and they might be raised very high indeed before their burden would be as heavy as that of their neighbours, who pay rent and taxes too.[6] And it surely would be the same for a person in any country to pay for instance an increase of rent if required as to pay the same sum by little and little on everything he gets. It would certainly save him a great deal of trouble and inconvenience, and government much expense.

But what makes this prospect yet more glowing is, that after this empire of right and reason is thus established it will stand for ever. Force and corruption attempting its downfall, shall equally be baffled, and all other nations struck with wonder and admiration at its happiness, and stability shall follow the example; and thus the whole earth shall at last be happy, and live like brethren.

A.Thomas Spence issued a number of editions of this lecture, gradually adding detail in response to criticism and political events. Hyndman appears to have used the fourth edition of 1793. [Graham Seaman]

1.The first man who, having enclosed a plot of ground, took upon himself to say "this is mine," and found people silly enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. How many crimes, how many wars, how many murders, how much misery and horror, would have been spared the human race if some one, tearing up the fence and filling in the ditch, had cried out to his fellows: "Give no heed to this impostor; you are lost if you forget that the produce belongs to all, the land to none." Rousseau, Discours sur l'Origine de l'Inégalité parmi les Hommes, 1753.

Rousseau goes on to observe that this growth of individual proprietorship was probably unavoidable in order to train mankind into a higher social and intellectual condition. Similarly, men are passing, as we may hope, through the infinite ills engendered by landlordism and capitalism into a higher and wider development. The great scientific discoveries of our time, if properly handled by the combined force of the people for the general benefit, will, beyond question, help on the change with increasing rapidity.

2.Then it was a question of the expropriation of the many by a handful of usurpers; now of the expropriation of the handful of usurpers by the many. [Karl Marx, Le Capital, p. 342, French edition.]

3.Thomas Spence was unquestionably right in insisting upon the need for holding land by and for all when once obtained. This necessity is even more clear to-day. The operation of capitalism in dispossessing free-holders or long lease-holders is not fully understood. In India we can see that the soucar, shroff, banis, or mallajun —the village money-lenders, or the large bankers—are gradually reducing the ryots to the position of serfs. They are aided in this process hy the relentless rigidity of our taxation and the effects of our drain to England; but it would go on to a less extent in any case. In Europe the same causes are at work. In Russia, Germany, and France the Land Mortgage Banks, the Jew money-lenders, institutions of the nature of the Credit Foncier, &c., are steadily pressing upon the small proprietor. In Ireland, even if the tenantry become absolute owners of the soil it is a mere question of time for the gombeen men and bankers to absorb their profits under existing conditions, and reestablish the large estates. So it would be in England if, other things unchanged, the tenants were given the fee-simple of their farms, or peasant-proprietary were established. Money-lords would replace landlords, and the mass of the people would be mere wage-slaves as before. Even in America the monopoly —the ever-growing monopoly—of communications currency and credit in the hands of great corporations and powerful individual capitalists enables these people gradually to oust the small owner or get him into their power. So in Australia, where the free selector and cookatoo farmer find, in the majority of instances, that they have worked far more for others than for themselves. At the same time the great change in the means of conveyance which has taken place since Spence's time, and the absolute necessity for central control in some matters render the parish arrangement, as proposed in the text, obsolete. As I have said before also, we are in a period of transition. and the mere appropriation of competition rents by the State, municipality, or parish, is a very roundabout and incomplete remedy for present social ills.

4.It is a remarkable fact that under the old village systems in their most perfect form—in India, in Mexico, in Peru &c.—the inhabitants were always provided with from one to four years' supply of food ahead of their consumption. If all mankind were properly fed in proportion to the heat or cold of the climates in which they dwell, we, the human race of today, are at least four years behind our consumption. And yet there are reasoning men who would wish to stereotype this sort of civilization, based as it is upon starvation and overwork for the mass of their fellows.

5. Spence had not fully grasped the idea that in a society organized for the good of all, the bitter competition for individual gain by which he was surrounded would come to an end. The quaker John Bellers, who wrote nearly a century before, saw farther than Spence in this direction.

6.In the face of the enormous accumulation of wealth in this country, and the undoubted fact that far more labour could be profitably used on the soil than is applied to agriculture at the present time, shallow sciolists are clamouring for subsidized emigration. Let us have nationalization of the land first, and then we can afford to talk about the need for emigration.


  1. Adult Suffrage.
  2. Triennial Parliaments.
  3. Equal Electoral Districts.
  4. Payment of Members and of all Election Expenses out of the rates.
  5. Bribery, Treating, and Corrupt Practices at Elections to be made acts of Felony.
  6. Abolition of the House of Lords as a Legislative Body.
  7. Legislative Independence for Ireland.
  8. National and Federal Parliaments, including Representation of Colonies and Dependencies.
  9. Nationalization of the Land.

Mr. W. J. SADLER, Secretary.

Terms of Membership: General Agreement with Programme, and One Shilling a Year.