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650 Enclosure Acts were passed between 1760, the opening of the Industrial Revolution, and 1774, the outbreak of the American War. But without insisting on Rogers' view, it is not denied that the weakest of the small yeomen sank into utter misery, becoming paupers or worse. On the other hand, of those stronger some emigrated to America, others who were among the ablest and the boldest, sought fortune as adventurers over the whole earth, and, like the grandfather of Chatham, brought home from India as smugglers or even as pirates, diamonds to be sold to kings for their crowns, or, like Clive, became the greatest generals and administrators of the nation. Probably, however, by far the majority of those who were of average capacity, found compensation for the confiscated commons in domestic industry, owning their houses with lots of land, and the tools of their trade. De Foe has left a charming description of the region about Halifax in Yorkshire, toward the year 1730, where he found the whole population busy, prosperous, healthy and, in the main, self-sufficing. He did not see a beggar or an idle person in the whole country. So, favored by circumstances, the landed oligarchy met with no effective resistance after the death of Cromwell, and achieved what amounted to being autocratic power, in 1688. Their great triumph was the conversion of the House of Commons into their own personal property, about the beginning of the eighteenth century, with all the guaranties of law. In the middle ages the chief towns of England had been summoned by the king to send burgesses to Westminster to grant him money, but as time elapsed the Commons acquired influence and, in 1642, became dominant. Then, after the Restoration, the landlords conceived the idea of appropriating the right of representation, as they had appropriated and were appropriating the common lands. Lord John Russell one day observed in the House of Commons that the burgesses were originally chosen from among the inhabitants of the towns they represented, but that, in the reign of Anne, the landlords, to depress the shipping interest, opened the borough representation to all qualified persons without regard to domicile.4 Lord John was mistaken in his date, for the change occurred earlier, but he described correctly enough the persistent animus of the landlords. An important part of their policy turned on the so-called Determination Acts of 1696 and 1729, which defined the franchises and which had the effect of confirming the title of patrons to borough property,5 thus making a seat in the House of Commons an incorporeal hereditament fully recognized by law. On this point so high an authority as Lord Eldon was emphatic.6 By the time of the American War the oligarchy had become so narrow that one hundred and fifty peers and commoners returned three hundred and seven members, or much more than a majority of the House as then organized.7 With the privileged class reduced to these contemptible numbers a catastrophe necessarily followed. Almost impregnable as the position of the oligarchy appeared, it yet had its vulnerable point. As Burke told the Duke of Portland, a duke's power did not come from his title but from his wealth, and the landlords' wealth rested on their ability to draw double rent from their estates, one rent for themselves, and another to provide for the farmer to whom they let their acres. Evidently British land could not bear this burden if brought in competition with other equally good land that paid only a single rent, and from a pretty early period the landlords appear to have been alive to this fact. Nevertheless, ocean freights afforded a fair protection, and as long as the industrial population remained tolerably self-supporting, England rather .tended to export than to import grain. But, toward 1760, advances in applied science profoundly modified the equilibrium of English society. The new inventions, stimulated by steam, could only be utilized by costly machinery in
4 36 Hansard, Third Series, 548. o 12 Hansard, Third Series, 396. sUnreformed House of Com- 1 Grey's motion for Reform, 30 mons, Porritt, L 9, et seq. Pari. Hist., 795. (A. D. 1793.)
stalled in large factories, which none but considerable capitalists could build, but once in operation the product of these factories undersold domestic labor, and ruined and evicted the population of whole regions like Halifax. These unfortunate laborers were thrust in abject destitution into filthy and dark alleys in cities, where they herded in masses, in misery and crime. In consequence grain rose is value, so much so that in 1700 prayers were offered touching its price. Thenceforward England imported largely from America, and in 1773 Parliament was constrained to reduce the duty on wheat to a point lower than the gentry conceded again, until the total repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. The situation was well understood in London. Burke, Governor Pownall and others explained' it in Parliament, while Chatham implored the landlords not to alienate America, which they could not, he told them, conquer, but which gave them a necessary market,—a market, as he aptly said, both of supply and demand. And Chatham was right, for America not only supplied the grain to feed English labor, but bought from England at least one-third of all her surplus manufactures.
The landlords, nevertheless, like most favored minorities, would not contemplate compromise. If a free American market were tolerated the price of English grain must fall to permit low wages, and rents would suffer; but if a proper tariff could be enforced in America all might be well. The proposition was simple. If continental goods could be excluded from America, and the Americans prevented from manufacturing for themselves, the Americans might be forced to buy goods from England at prices which would admit of wages which would enable British labor to subsist on grain grown on land which paid the double rent. Then the British Empire, consisting of India, the British Islands, the colonies and the West Indies, might form a practically self-sufficing unit which could maintain prices independent of the rest of the world. Thus America would be made to carry the burden of the landlords.
The test came when the oligarchy undertook to force America to relieve the East India Company of its surplus tea, which was bringing it near to insolvency. Had the oligarchy succeeded America would have been saddled with the payment of the double rent. As Pitt foresaw, America resisted, and the landlords, to test the issue, fought first from 1775 to 1783, when they made peace from exhaustion, and afterward from 1812 to 1815. Nor did the oligarchy frankly admit defeat until Wellington convinced them that they could not conquer America without a navy on the Lakes whose cost they could not meet, for, in 1815, labor was starving. Then the oligarchy surrendered and the inevitable confiscations followed. In T.783 Pitt, when he proposed reform, contemplated paying owners for the boroughs he might take, but in 1832 borough property of inestimable value was confiscated. For the value of the boroughs lay not in the income they yielded to patrons, large as that might be, but in the power to control prices which rested with Parliament. The reformed Parliament ignored the landlords and cheapened the cost of living. In 1846 it repealed the Corn Laws, in 1848 it ruined the West Indies to give England cheap sugar, in 1879 American competition pretty nearly wiped out the double rent, and since then Parliament has consistently legislated with the object of throwing the burden of cheap labor on the land monopoly. So generally is this policy recognized that landlords, like the Duke of Bedford, are apt to sell when they can. As Cobden observed, the fortunes of England have turned on American competition.
The fall of the oligarchy was the direct effect of the refusal to recognize the property rights of labor. When, after the close of the American Revolution, the oligarchy contemptuously rejected Pitt's offers of compensation for their boroughs, at the same time forcing him to raise the tariff on grain by the Act of 1791, they undertook, with their eyes open, to collect the whole of the double rent out of the wages of labor. To this end they made, what was tantamount to, a regular alliance with industrial capitalists, who were, in substance, guaranteed the power of fixing wages to their own liking. Legislation against combinations by laborers to constrain employers had existed in various forms since the reign of Edward I, but the onslaught on industrial labor combinations only reached its acute stage, at this precise moment, after the close of the American Revolution, culminating in the famous statutes of 1799 and 1800. These statutes, I take it, established a new legal principle. Before the American War, it had always, at least in theory, been assumed that in controversies between masters and journeymen, journeymen had rights in their wages which the State should protect, by, in the last resort, regulating wages by a judgment. The statutes of 1799 and 1800 put the law on a different plane. If I apprehend the legal proposition then adopted correctly, it came to this. The capitalist was assumed by those statutes to have such complete ownership of his factory and of all it contained, that a combination of his workmen to reduce the income his investment yielded him, by diverting more of his profits than he chose to assign to that purpose toward an increment in their wages, was as much a tort or a crime as any other wilful injury to the property of a neighbor would be, which had neither justification nor excuse. As Lord Jeffrey said at a dinner to Hume in 1825, the employer, if he chose to reduce wages by that method, might dismiss a thousand workmen at a given moment, but it was made a crime for those same thousand workmen to quit the service of the master in order to compel him to raise wages. And not only was this legal dogma enforced by savage penalties, but the oligarchy guarded their property rights in Parliament quite as jealously as ever any despot guarded his sovereignty. To agitate for a reform of Parliament, or, in other words, for the nationalization of proprietary boroughs, ranked as treason. That was the offense of Hardy and Home Tooke, who were indicted for treason by Eldon and defended by Erskine in 1794,