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Page:Harvard Law Review Volume 1.djvu/296

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Of all objections the one supported by the greatest weight of authority, and most confidently relied on, is that the change cannot justly be made without compensating present landholders. This objection, because it is free from timorous forebodings and appeals bravely to justice, deserves respectful and anxious consideration; yet it is difficult to express it in full without at the same time suggesting the obvious answer to it. If the landholder be supposed to say, “The land is my property, just as my coat or my house is my property; manifestly you cannot take it or damage it without being bound to compensate me,” the obvious answer is, “Of course; but why talk of compensation? If the land is your property in the same unqualified sense that your coat or your house is, that fact alone makes an end of George.” If it be said, “Admitting all that George claims; admitting that I have no better right to this land than all the rest of the people, yet I have always honestly thought that the land belonged to me exclusively; and upon the bona fide belief that that was so I have laid out much money and have labored the best part of my lifetime,” the obvious answer is, “You admit that the land is not yours. Why should others be kept out of their rights because of what you supposed? If another man had your horse and you demanded it, what would you think of him if he made such a claim as you do now? How long would his protestations of honesty and good faith, even though you fully believed them, keep you from having the law of him, if he did not give up the horse or pay you its value?” If it be said, “Both the nation and the state by their agents have encouraged the people to buy land, and they have in that way derived great benefits; the nation by the federal constitution and the state by its constitution and statutes said to me that land could be acquired as absolute property; I believed those representations; I had no reason to suppose they were not true; I bought this land relying upon them; the nation and the state cannot now in common decency, to say nothing of justice, treat this land otherwise than as my absolute property; their mouth is shut by their own words,” the obvious answer is, “Assuming that you are right as to those representations being made, the same reasoning which shows that every man has a natural right to land, limited only by the equal right of other men, and that such right can be secured only by the government retaining the power to regulate the use of land so as to give all the people equal natural opportunities and keep them equal —