Popular Science Monthly/Volume 36/March 1890/Correspondence



Editor Popular Science Monthly:

DEAR SIR: Is not the land question, viewed from an American standpoint, simply a disagreement about methods rather than ethical principles; and are not the distinctions sought to be established between absolute and relative political ethics more subtle than philosophical or accurate?

A great part of the land in the United States was in the beginning, and much of it is still, just in the condition demanded by Mr. Laidler and his confrères—the absolute property of the Government. Almost the whole country was at first "held by the great corporate body—society," without any suspicion of "violence, fraud, the prerogative of force, or the claims of superior cunning" in any way affecting the sources to which titles are traced. Government was free to do as it would with its possessions: either to sell, lease, or farm them in its own behalf. Government—that is, society—chose to sell or give away the public domain in fee-simple, reserving the right of eminent domain. The moment land is reduced to private ownership, it becomes subject to taxation, and must bear its share of the burdens of society. It contributes toward the maintenance of roads, schools, infirmaries, hospitals, and all the complicated machinery necessary to the well-being of the social fabric. If land, subject to private ownership, fails to pay its tax assessments, it is forthwith confiscated and reverts to the state, which finally sells it, without possibility of redemption, to some other person who will pay the taxes—that is, contribute to maintain society. Who decides what amount of burden land shall bear? Not the private proprietor certainly, but society. No private owner can evade this implied contract—namely, to contribute as much to the support of society as society may deem necessary. Hence every citizen may be said to have an interest to the extent of his political or social influence in all the lands of the commonwealth. And the tenure of every landholder depends on his ability to meet the burdens laid upon his land by non-owners, since these everywhere constitute a majority. Strictly speaking, therefore, there is no such thing as private ownership of land in the sense in which the expression is used in the discussion. The owner may sell, lease, or bequeath his holding; but the usufruct of society, which exists prior to all other claims, can not be avoided. Mr. Laidler's assertion, therefore, quoting from Mr. Spencer, that if men may make the soil private property, "then the Duke of Sutherland may justifiably banish Highlanders to make room for sheep-walks," is fallacious. This false assumption invalidates equally all of the ten sections which compose his argument. As land tenures exist in the United States, the landless men, instead of becoming subject to "expulsion from the earth altogether," would be far more likely to bring about the confiscation of all of the duke's vast possessions by the legitimate exercise of their constitutional powers of direct and indirect taxation.

It may be urged that the existing tenure of land in the United States does not represent the status of private ownership in older and densely populated countries, and still less so that possible condition of the earth and mankind contemplated by the expounder of absolute political ethics. The obvious reply is, that neither condition is essential to the continuation of private ownership. Let the Socialists direct their complaints against hereditary privileges and the abuses of private ownership, and not against that coincident form of land tenure which, when properly adjusted, is best adapted to realize their views. If all lands in Great Britain could be suddenly transferred to the crown, is there any way in which society could better manage or dispose of them than the United States has adopted? No better way, certainly, has yet been indicated. Government here—notably the State of Ohio in the management of her school lands—tried for many years all known methods of leasing these lands, and all ended in conspicuous failure. Her public men universally denounced the system of leases, after experimenting with it in all possible ways, until an act of Congress authorized the school lands to be sold. If society, after actual experience, has condemned and abandoned the methods advocated by the Socialists, and adopted the existing form of private ownership as the best which statesmanship has to offer, what reason is there to suppose that the resumption of public ownership, if it could be accomplished, would lead to better results in the future? Under the present form of private holdings, land is made to yield the largest possible returns, and to contribute of its products the largest possible contingent for the benefit of the landless. Can any theory of government or system of philosophy be true which is inconsistent with obvious facts?

James L. Taylor.
Wheelersburg, Ohio, December 30, 1889.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

I have read the article by Grant Allen in the October number of "The Popular Science Monthly," and I wish to say that if I knew even one woman of "advanced" ideas holding the opinions he attributes to them I should value the article in that proportion; but as I do not know a single one—and I have lived a good deal among women of "advanced" ideas—I can not help thinking the article worse than uncalled for.

As far as I know anything about it, those who shirk the duties of maternity have ideas very far from advanced: they are the poorer kind of society women, many of whom would be horrified at being suspected of intelligence or independence.

The charge used to be that women became spinsters because they could not get husbands, and that was considered sufficiently opprobrious. Now Mr. Allen charges them with unwillingness to take husbands; and yet states in the same breath that the marriageable men go off beyond reach when they "ought to be making love," etc.

Here is an arraignment indeed! Why not devote an article—any number of articles exclusively—to these marriageable men?

The great body of noble women who have thrown themselves into the struggle for equal freedom are behind no one in desire for true womanliness and femininity. Already we are well on the way to the emancipation that Mr. Allen pleads for, the sound bodies and minds that are to come from the free and entire development of girls and boys, and freedom from Mrs. Grundy; but all the progress made is due to these "women-question agitators."

If there exists this deplorable indifference to marriage on the part of women, is it not the consequence of the very state of things that these leaders are striving to abolish and also, perhaps, of the sacrifices that this strife entails, and of some of the characteristics that are inevitably developed by it, and that no one knows or deprecates more than these valiant workers themselves?

All reforms have their attendant evils; but it is the state of things that called for the reform that is to blame for them or the "nature of things."

We need patience, hands off, fair play without privilege, and that each should think most of his own duty.

A. A. M.
Boston, December 15, 1889.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

As I have more than seven hundred pupils under my charge, and that, too, in a State not backward in common-school education, I venture to protest against being lodged in a criminal-making class. Like Mr. Reece, I would ask, "Of what utility are facts and experiences unless their teachings are heeded and their meaning properly interpreted?" With Mr. Atkinson, I say," All statistics, unless qualified by sound judgment, are mere rubbish."

Mr. Reece mentions the fact of the increase of criminals since the period of modern civilization and science commenced, but he does not mention that the methods of tracking criminals have wonderfully increased, so that we may have a larger ratio of criminals caught than in days before the swift post, the telegraph, the police system, the photograph, and the extradition treaty. Surely he should give the public school the praise of supplying some of the means of catching the criminal after it has made him! I will say nothing about the increased accuracy of the statistics of 1880 over those of the earlier period.

While discussing criminality in New York State, he states that the common schools furnish eighty-three per cent of the inmates of Auburn and Sing Sing, while a little over nine per cent is credited to the illiterate population. Out of 2,616 convicts, 1,801 are credited to the common school and 238 to the illiterates. I can not see that even his own arrangement of the figures is against us. Surely nine per cent is a much larger ratio, when compared with the number of illiterates in New York, than eighty-three per cent would be if compared with the number of the common-school graduates. It seems to me that he should have taken as bases for his example in social arithmetic the number of illiterates and the number of common-school graduates. I have not the statistics of illiteracy in New York at hand, but I believe the figures will show fully three times as large a ratio of criminals to be credited to them as to the common school.

Mr. Reece cites various savage tribes as being examples to us in morals. He fails to see that temptations are increased a thousand-fold for the civilized man. There could not be many thefts where all property is held in common, when the property owned is so paltry as not to be worth the carrying away.

I do not contend that the public school is doing all it is able, but it is doing as well as the church and the family are doing in their spheres toward elevating the moral tone of the community. Writers like Mr. Reece seem inclined to find fault with us because we can not do the work of the family and the church. We are doing a good share of it, but, under the triple burden, we may sometimes fail to send out all good citizens.

Very truly
Charles S. Davis.
Lynn, Mass., January 15, 1890.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

My article in the January (1890) number of the "Monthly" brought me an inquiry from Quincy, Illinois, as to where the writer could get an olla (pronounced o-ya), and what it would cost. Here in southern California they are plenty, and the regular retail price is twenty cents a gallon. What the transportation would be I do not know.

Since my article was written I have heard of another way of keeping water cool, which I have never seen exemplified. A grain-sack, such as is used by the Eastern farmers, is painted and filled with water, and hung up in a cool place where the breeze strikes it.

The olla, too, must be kept in a breezy place. Wind will dry clothes or a field, and so it will evaporate the water oozing through an olla, or barrel, or, I suppose, the painted grain-bag. The evaporation is what does the cooling, according to a well-known principle of physics.

Henry J. Philpott.
Pasadena, Cal., January 13, 1890.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

Sir: With reference to Prof. Brooks's paper, "The Lucayan Indians," in the November number of the "Monthly," I have examined one or two caves during the past summer, and have been intending to make a more thorough search during the winter; so, if any of your readers should feel inclined to adopt the professor's suggestion, I shall be glad to co-operate.

Although no doubt the aborigines of the Bahamas had intercourse with Hayti and Cuba, the possession by them of stone implements does not, as Prof. Brooks supposes, prove it; for, although the islands consist solely of coral rock, yet stone, identical in appearance with that of which the stone implements are usually made, is constantly being washed up on the northern shore of New Providence, and probably elsewhere; so that the Lucayan implement-makers would have had plenty of material in the archipelago.

Also, it must not be too hastily concluded that all remains found in caves in the Bahamas are Lucayan. Negro skulls have been found more than once, and in one cave I found, consolidated into breccia, a number of bones which a local anatomist pronounced to be those of "some large vertebrate animal." They presented an appearance of great antiquity, and, had we not known that there were no large animals in these islands at the time of their discovery, they would certainly have been referred to pre-European days; whereas, they were probably the remains of an ox which had been killed and eaten by runaway slaves, for the surface of the rock showed traces of fire. Yours faithfully,

A. B. Ellis.
Nassau, N. P., November 28, 1889.