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other continental nations clearly shows, that, where encouraged or enforced by law, they are far from being as favourable as they are generally represented to be, either to masterly cultivation, to social well-being, to political tranquillity, to progressive development, or to high civilisation, yet we cannot but feel that, in a country like ours, where equal rights and equal freedom lie at the basis of our polity, and where the enjoyment of the franchise is expressly attached to the possession of land so emphatically so, that even a forty-shilling freehold entitles its owner to the suffrage - artificial and indirect impediments to the acquisition of that which the Constitution points out as the special means of obtaining a vote, can be defended on no tenable plea, and must always be felt to be irritating and inequitable.
We are surprised that this consideration has not had more weight with Conservatives of all sections those who are Conservative from great possessions, and those who are Conservative from political predilections. In these days of search and question, when every ancient claim is investigated with the keen eye of hostility or envy; when every time-honoured privilege is sharply disputed or dogmatically denied; when every longdescended right is called upon to prove its justice in courts of inquiry, where, if it finds a fair field, it certainly can look for no favour; when prescription is no longer admitted as a valid plea for claims which can be defended on no other ground, it is good policy, to say the least, on the part of those individuals or classes who have anything valuable to conserve, to make their position as impregnable and unobnoxious as they can. At a time too, when the unlimited right of property in land is questioned, not by envious and needy prolétaires, but by profound thinkers and disinterested critics, and when the very principle on which that right is based finds many to deny it, and many thousands to applaud and echo the denial,—it seems specially incumbent on all possessors of landed property to render that exclusive possession as little invidious as possible, to remove from it all that bears the semblance of injustice, and to be prompt and eager to remedy every collateral consequence, not essential to its safety, which presses on the mass of the community. Generally speaking, the defence of Conservative policy is rendered difficult, not by its inherent injustice or native indefensibility, but because it is surrounded by a multitude of vulnerable, objectionable, and provoking out works; because its advocates are perversely fond of taking up untenable positions, and of regarding as part of it, and bound up in its existence, diseased and unnatural excrescences, which are the sources of its greatest weakness, and are its
Difficulties in Acquisition of Land.
worst internal foes. It is the clear and paramount interest of all classes to abandon at once every untenable position; and, instead of battling tenaciously for every rotten bastion and venerable buttress, to retire into their impregnable citadel, and to resign, promptly and with a good grace, every point which is in any way oppressive or unjust; thus proclaiming these points to be essentially unconnected with those rights and privileges which they still hold to be sacred and inalienable.
Now there are several consequences connected with the tenure of land in this country, which are looked upon with an evil eye by the unpropertied classes of the community; which are, in themselves, utterly unjust and inadmissible; and which have been mainly instrumental in bringing landed proprietors into odium, and the right of landed property into question. Some of these are the relics of feudal times; some have grown up unconsciously during the lapse of centuries; some have been intentionally enacted by landowners, in days when they had greater power than at present of working their own selfish will. Such is the whole system of legal titles, which surround the sale and purchase of land with so many difficulties and such enormous cost, as to render it impracticable to the poor man, and almost to forbid the acquisition of small freeholds. Such is the law of distraint-giving to landlords an unfair, and (as is now believed) a suicidal advantage over other creditors. Such is the exemption of landed property from legacy duty. Such was, till a few years ago, the provision by which landed property was secure from the claims of simple contract creditors. Of all these, probably the difficulties which have gathered round the transfer of land and its purchase in small quantities have been particularly odious and practically oppressive. They are peculiar to this country. They arise from the old feudal notion, that land differs from other sorts of property, is more sacred than any other, and must be dealt with on different principles. A title is required in the case of land, which is needed in no other case. Before land can be safely purchased, this title must be traced for at least sixty years; every claim and incumbrance that has ever existed upon it must be carefully sifted; and any mistake or omission in these tedious and costly processes may vitiate the title of the purchaser, and deprive him of his honestly acquired possession. But while all these heavy requisitions have been made, the means of fulfilling them at a reasonable cost of trouble and money have been steadily withheld. A general office (or offices in all the counties) for the registration of title-deeds, mortgages, and sales, which has been so long demanded by the country, has hitherto been obstiVOL. XCV. NO. CXCIV.
'nately refused; and the difficulty of obtaining a cheap and certain title to an estate you might wish to purchase, has amounted to an impossibility. Lord Campbell's Registration Bill, introduced last Session, will in part remedy this deplorable deficiency a deficiency peculiar to England. England is (we believe we are correct in stating) the only civilised country in which such a registration does not exist, and has not long existed. Throughout almost the whole of Europe, land can be purchased, and a valid and absolute title obtained, without difficulty at a very moderate cost, because a bureau des hypothéques exists, in which the title to every estate, and the incumbrances upon it, are officially recorded; and a reference to this office at once enables any individual, who wishes to become a purchaser (or a mortgagee), to complete the transaction with complete and final security.
Now it may or may not be desirable that land should be extensively sold in small portions; land may or may not offer a profitable and generally beneficial investment for the savings of the working classes; it is very possible that they may burn their fingers in the attempt to become peasant proprietors; may pay dearly for their whistle, and learn wisdom by painful experience alone; but it seems abundantly clear that the Legislature cannot with justice, virtually and by a side wind, deny to the poor a privilege which it accords to the rich-viz. that of choosing in what way they shall employ their money, and of making a foolish employment of it if they will; nor can it be expected that the humbler section of the community will ever be reconciled to, or persuaded of the justice of, a law which debars them from a favourite mode of investment, on the plea of paternal watchfulness and benevolence, but to which alleged and suspicious motive they will give a very different interpretation.
The case of the franchise makes the collateral impediments now existing to the acquisition of small landed properties peculiarly unwise and indefensible. There is, on the part of a certain portion of the people, a demand for an extension of electoral rights. To this demand landowners generally, and Conservative landowners in particular, are opposed; and it is the more indispensable that they should put themselves in a position to oppose it fairly. The franchise, they say, is low enough. The Constitution gives to every man who possesses or can procure a freehold of the yearly value of forty shillings, a county vote of equal weight with that of the landlord whose territorial income is a hundred thousand pounds. Lower than this, it is contended, you cannot go, unless you wish to abolish a property qualification altogether. Every man possessed of the
Cost of Transfer of Land.
industry, steadiness, and intelligence, which alone can guarantee his fitness for the exercise of the franchise, can surely amass, by these qualities, the 50%. or 60%. requisite for its acquirement. The argument is good enough in theory, and would carry almost irresistible weight with it, if the enormous cost attending our abominable system of landed property and conveyance in the case of small estates, did not act as a direct bar, and often as an absolute preventative, to the poor man who wishes to obtain the elective franchise by purchasing a forty-shilling freehold. These artificial difficulties vitiate the plea, and neutralise the whole argument. It is a mockery to tell the poor man that the county franchise is within his reach, and is guarded by as low a qualification as possible, when, in order to obtain legal and secure possession of this franchise, he must pay away, independent of the purchase money, a sum equal to three, four, or five times. its annual value. He must pay for his privilege once to the vendor, and a second time to the lawyer and the Stamp Office. The Constitution enacts that he shall have a vote if he can purchase a freehold of a certain annual value. The conveyancer and the Government step in, and, between them, virtually nullify the constitutional enactment. The theory of the county franchise is defensible enough; but this monstrous abuse in its practical working embarrasses and silences all its honest advoTherefore we think that such an entire reform in this matter as shall render the purchase of small properties safe, cheap, and feasible, is absolutely essential in order to place the
* The usual stamp and law expenses (since the large reduction of the stamp duties) in the Session of 1850, attending the purchase, by poor men, of small plots of land up to 1007. in value, do not exceed from 51. to 157., because in these cases there is never any minute investigation of title. If the purchaser was a man to whom security was every thing and money nothing, and who therefore required a thorough examination of title, the expense would vary with the complexity of the title, and might reach from five to ten times the abovenamed sum. The insecurity, perhaps even more than the cost, is the real cause of the inexpediency of land as an investment for the savings of the poor man. It is at any time possible that he may be deprived of his little property by some claimant of whom neither he nor his solicitor has ever heard, especially if the abstract of title has been dispensed with. Even the sixty years' title' affords only a likelihood of safety. One or two of the most eminent conveyancers recently accepted a title of the usual length, which turned out to be perfectly worthless, owing to the circumstance of a tenant for life having lived ninety years; at whose death the reversioner would come in quite unaffected by the circumstance of the property having been dealt with as a fee for the sixty or seventy years preceding,
opponents of organic changes in a just or tenable position. We are fully aware that the difficulties to be got over are most serious, that the work is a great, and must probably be a slow one; but it is one thing to recognise an obstacle, and another to sit down under an assumed impossibility; it is one thing to preach patience during a gradual and tedious cure, and another to preach it under a permanent and hopeless malady.
Neither have we any fear lest the easy acquirability of small landed freeholds should lead in this country to the creation of a body of peasant proprietors to an inconvenient or perilous extent. Hitherto, we know, the tendency has rather been towards the swallowing up of such small properties as formerly abounded. The race of yeomen 'statesmen as they are termed in Westmoreland and Cumberland has long been in process of gradual absorption. The excess of landed subdivision, and its many evil consequences, have appeared in countries, not where all natural causes and motives are left free to operate, but where a special, forced, and almost irresistible influence has been brought to bear upon the population by directing and restraining laws. It is one thing to facilitate, and another to command ;and to render small properties possible is not to enact their prevalence.
There is another point in reference to this matter which landlords would do well to consider:- How many years' purchase would be added to the value of their estates by such a system of registration as should render the sale of land secure, simple, and inexpensive? - How many more years' purchase would be added by the greater number of customers who would come forward were the sale of small lots rendered feasible and easy? We all know how immensely the marketable value of any article is affected by facilities of transfer, and by the competition of a larger class of purchasers; but to what extent these causes might operate in raising the price of land in England we have as yet no means of calculating: - we can only guess at it from an observation of their effects in France and in the Rhenish provinces. In Ireland, the additional value conferred upon the properties sold under the Encumbered Estates' Act, by the mere fact of a cheap Parliamentary title, is, we believe, reckoned to do more than counterbalance the disadvantages of a forced sale.
As usual, evil breeds evil. Artificial stratagems are resorted to to counteract artificial obstacles. The principle of association is brought in to defeat and circumvent legal impediments. Freehold Land Societies' have been extensively formed for the avowed object of extending the elective franchise to those