Rights of American Citizens: The policy which ought to be pursued by the federal government in relation to agriculture

old-plowing-teamThe Rights of an American Citizen: With a Commentary on State Rights, and on the Constitution and Policy of the United States by Benjamin Lynde Oliver published 1832

Continued from RIGHTS OF AMERICAN CITIZENS: The mode of obtaining redress for infringement of civil or political rights by officers of the federal government or of state governments


CHAPTER 1; Agriculture.

To Discover that condition of a country which contributes, in the highest degree, to the numbers, happiness and security of its inhabitants, is the principal object of political economy.

To consider the local and accidental advantages and disadvantages of a country, and by making the best use of the former, and by obviating the latter as far as practicable, to adopt such public measures, as shall place the country in the nearest approximation to such desirable condition, is the office of wise statesmen in authority.

Where the people of a country are as numerous, as the territory, under the best system of cultivation can support, and consequently every individual has an opportunity of earning a decent living by honest industry and moderate exertion, free from overburdening taxes; where justice can be had at an inconsiderable expense, and is administered promptly and impartially to all, so that the most powerful dare not attempt to practice oppression, and the humblest may, without danger or apprehension, assert his rights and enforce reparation for wrongs; where suitable schools for instruction in all the necessary branches of learning, are provided at the public charge, in order that the people may find it for their interest, As it is their duty, to see that all under their care should be so far instructed; where, on account of the justice, energy and respectability of the government and men in power, the citizens are well treated in foreign countries, and suffer no political oppression from petty domination within the territory of the nation, and consequently the nation is at peace abroad, and the people are in tranquility at home;—the condition of the country may be considered to be as happy as the lot of humanity permits.

If, however, any of these circumstances are wanting, the deficiency, as soon as perceived, points out the mode in which the condition of the country may be improved.

But, though it is the duty of the statesman, as it is the aim of a philanthropist, to fill the country with as many intelligent, virtuous and happy people as possible; yet, if, to increase the population of a country, is only to add to the number of those who are sunk in ignorance, vice and misery, no purposes of human wisdom or benevolence will be answered by any such accession; since neither the sum of human happiness will be enlarged, nor will augmentation result from it, either to the honor or the effective force of the nation. On the contrary, it is rather to be apprehended, that the consequence will be, that corruption in the rulers, and insubordination, profligacy, fraud and violence in the people, will ferment together, until the whole body politic has become a mass of abomination.

And, though in general, it should be the aim of a statesman to increase the wealth of the nation; yet, if it cannot be done without making a very unequal division of property, so that while a few live in magnificence and splendor, and perhaps riot in luxury and licentiousness, the rest suffer every species of hardship and privation,—it would be better to leave the nation in a state of mediocrity, with less difference in this respect. For, a people suffering such an inequality of condition, however opulent as a nation, is in fact miserable and debased.

CorruptGovtThe importance of inculcating religion and morality to the welfare of a people, cannot escape the attention of any friend to his country or to mankind. For, though a nation should be blessed with an abundance of all the necessaries, conveniences, and elegances of life, and should have a numerous population well educated in every respect except those of religion and morality; yet, it is probable, that the influence of bad principles would incline them to be profligate and faithless as individuals, and, as members of society, from too great a fondness for licentiousness under the pretense of liberty, would render them prone to excite public disturbances, insurrections and revolutions, so that the public mind could never hope to remain tranquil any considerable length of time. The destruction of life which results from these causes, seems to be a check, provided by nature to set limits to the multiplication of the worthless and depraved, which seems conformable to the common opinion, that everything bad tends to its own destruction, while everything good tends to continue itself. An increase of the population of a country, however, though it may be favored by the intelligence and virtue of the people, yet indirectly leads in the same proportion to an increase of vice and profligacy, which, having gained a certain height, again reduces the number of the population. And thus the progress of society completes its circle.

The happiness of society consists in the happiness of the individuals which compose it. In order to secure this desirable object, an instinct is implanted in each to induce him to provide for his own welfare. If he is able to do this, then the whole are happy. But as an individual, while pursuing his own happiness, is apt to forget that of others, the restraints of religion, justice, and general expediency are necessary for the equal protection of the rights of all.

To make each individual happy, the readiest way which can be adopted by the government, would seem to be to leave every one to exercise his natural liberty, of consulting his own feelings or taste, subject to those three restraints, viz., that he should do nothing contrary to religion; nothing that shall infringe the rights of others; nothing which the government has forbidden to every one, because contrary to the real or supposed interests of the whole society.

It is true, there are some persons so badly brought up, that they mistake what makes for their true interest; or, else, whose passions are so strong, that they readily fall into any snare which opportunity enables their propensities to set for their judgements; but, for persons subject to such frailty, so long as they keep themselves from crime, government is seldom intrusted with a power to provide any further restraint than what consists in removing, as far as practicable, all occasions for improper indulgences and pursuits; and for the ignorant, government cannot possibly do any thing better than establish institutions for education, in which all who are disposed may be suitably instructed in knowledge, wisdom, and virtue.

Cutting Grain-ReaperIn order that the population of a country should be contented with their condition, and should increase in number, it is indispensably necessary that they should have in their power the means of supplying themselves with all the necessaries and conveniences of life, without being compelled to labor beyond their strength. It is true, the population may continue, under a dearth or scarcity of food; but they cannot increase permanently; a temporary increase converts the inconveniences and privations of scarcity into the extremities and horrors of famine, which checks the growth of the population, by introducing new diseases, and an increased mortality. That countries do sometimes languish in this manner, is not to be denied; and, it happens on account of the unequal distribution of property, resulting from impolitic regulations; in consequence of which, the people, in such countries, instead of being on a level with each other, or, an approximation to it, are divided into three great classes, viz., those who are very rich, those who are in a state of mediocrity, and those who suffer extreme hardship and privation. It is true, these three classes will exist in a greater or less degree in all societies; but those societies will always be most happy, and will increase most fi numbers, in which the level of equality as to property is most nearly preserved. In countries suffering under the effects of such impolitic regulations, no remedy can be had, because the political power is in the hands of the two higher classes; the first of whom adopt such regulations, to keep up the splendid establishments of their families; the second make no objection, because they suffer little or nothing from the consequences.

It is a remark of Machiavel, that, “in the capacities of mankind, there are degrees; one man understands things by his own light, another understands things when they are explained to him; and a third neither can understand them of himself, nor when they are explained to him by others. The first are rare and excellent; the second have their merit, but the last are good for nothing.”

It is apparent, that the great mass of the people in all countries, according to the opinion of this modern Ahithophel, [Ahitophel was a counselor of King David and a man greatly renowned for his sagacity.] may be distributed into the two last classes. In all popular governments, therefore, like that of the United States, where the control of public affairs is left in the hands of rulers chosen by the people, if a bad policy is pursued for any considerable length of time, it can only be ascribed to the numerical majority of the third class, who, on account of their want of intelligence and information as to their true interests, are decreed to be the dupes and natural prey of political impostors. For, otherwise, if public affairs were badly managed, the majority, if consisting of the second class, would immediately perceive it, when pointed out to them, and would elect other rulers.

In this and the following chapters, the inhabitants of a country will be considered as classed under the heads of persons engaged in, 1. Agriculture: 2. Manufactures: 3. Commerce, and 4. all other pursuits, &c. Each of these classes bears a certain proportion to the rest, which however varies with the changing circumstances of a country, to which its number soon conforms. The whole population have a general interest in the prosperity of each of these classes; and yet, in certain particulars, the interest of each of these classes, is more or less at variance with that of the whole. This circumstance does not appear to have attracted much notice, though a disregard of it, would naturally occasion much doubt, perplexity and apparent diversity of opinion. Thus, it is for the interest of all persons engaged in agriculture, that the price of the produce of their labor should be as high as possible; and for this reason, they naturally wish to obtain as extensive a market for it as they can; for the same reason, they would naturally wish to prohibit the importation of the necessaries of life from foreign countries, in order that they may secure the home market to themselves.

But, in some of these respects, the interests of the rest of Society are contrary. For, they very naturally desire that the produce of the soil and all the necessaries of life should be as cheap as possible; and consequently, when agricultural produce is cheaper abroad than it is at home, it is for the general interest, that it should have a free admission into the ports of the country.

It is for the interests of persons engaged in agriculture, as well as all the rest of society, that their produce should be consumed within the country, if the producer can realize an – equal value for it, on account of the ulterior advantages. But whether he realizes an equal value for it or not, it is for the interest of the rest of society, that it should be retained within the country, because it will render the necessaries of life cheap.

horn-of-plentyAs the strength of a country depends upon the number of its inhabitants, and as the population cannot increase without a sufficient supply of the necessaries of life, an abundant supply of such necessaries, constitutes the true wealth of a country, because it constitutes a fund to support a population in proportion to it. In comparison with this object in a national point of view, the accumulation of money, or any other articles, however difficult to be obtained, and of whatever price, is of no real importance. But, where there is a great abundance of those necessary articles, they become proportionally cheap, so that the producer, with an equal quantity of them, is also proportionally less rich. To make the interest of the producer consistent with that of the rest of society, there is no other way, than to provide him with a home market, sufficient to engross all the surplus produce beyond what he raises for his own consumption. For, if any part of the necessaries of life raised in this country, are consumed abroad, it is demonstrable that the country docs not maintain at home so many inhabitants as it might, by the precise number of those persons who are supported abroad by such supplies.

The effect of a surplus produce of the necessaries of life, which is not exported, is to keep the price of provisions low. This will favor an increase of population, because the cheapness of the necessaries of life will render it so much the easier to support a family; if therefore no other home market is found, the increase of population will supply one, by keeping pace with the surplus production; on the supposition that the course of public measures is not changed suddenly.

As the people of the United States possess a new country, having in general a fertile soil and a healthy climate, it would seem unnecessary to make use of any other measures, to induce a proper proportion of the people to cultivate the soil, than to take off every species of check, discouragement or hindrance whatever, which could deter them from undertaking a business, in which their own interests as well as the interests of the whole, are so deeply concerned.

For, as it is calculated, that a man engaged in agriculture may, by his own labor alone, support from four to eight persons besides himself, according to circumstances, nature here performing from three fourths to seven eighths of all the work, a farmer skilful, temperate, industrious and prudent, having made a judicious choice of his land, will be pretty sure of getting a good living, and perhaps even of growing rich in property, whether he can sell his surplus produce or not.

It would seem therefore to be the true policy of a country thus situated, to render the price of land as cheap as possible to actual settlers, to whom it is apparent, one half of all the unsettled lands belonging to the United States, might.even be given away, if managed judiciously, without any loss; since the alternate lots or tracts would rise in value in consequence of the settlements, so that from them .the United States would ultimately realize more in value, than they will from the,whole, at the rate at which government lands are now selling.

To render the price of land cheap, no measure however should be adopted, which effects this purpose by reducing its value. To lay a heavy land tax would render it cheap, but it would be because it would reduce its value. This would be bad policy. It would operate as a discouragement to agriculture. It would be far better to exempt all government lands sold lo actual settlers, from all taxes for a certain number of years.

To render valuable land cheap, land speculators and monopolizers should be discountenanced as much as possible, because, being usually wealthy men, and having in their power the means of ascertaining pretty accurately the relative value of lands in different parts of the territories of the United States, they may buy up the most valuable tracts, for the purpose of selling them out again, at a great advance to actual settlers. This consideration will be of more importance at a future period, when public lands are more scarce than they are now. Land speculators should also be discountenanced, because they discourage agriculture, by raising the price of land, yet keeping it idle and unproductive.

But the encouragement of agriculture, after settlements are once made, seems to come more properly within the province of the state or local governments. The variety of soil and production in different states and territories, would render any general regulations, if congress could be considered as having any authority to make them, impracticable, or partially inapplicable. The policy of the states and territories would naturally be to render the partition of lands among heirs, as speedy and as little expensive as possible; because undivided estates are much less likely to be put in a high state of improvement, than those which are owned by a single individual. The same remark applies to the lands of minors, which, it would be for their interest as well as that of the public, to have sold, and the proceeds invested. The minors in this way, would receive a greater income, and the land would be improved by the interested enterprise of an owner, instead of languishing under the care of a guardian or trustee.

Until the supply of the necessaries of life is sufficiently abundant not only to provide for the present population, but is in a train to keep pace with the regular increase of such population ; and, until there is an abundant supply of all the raw material, which the people may manufacture to advantage, and which the country is well adapted to produce, it is not for the interest of any state, that any portion of its labor should be applied to the raising of any raw material for the foreign market. Because, it is better for the country rather to encourage home manufactures than foreign ones, when they come in competition. It is not intended to deny, however, that cases may exist, where it will be for the interest of individuals to raise the raw material for foreign manufactures.

For a similar reason, it can never be for the interest of a state, that any part of its soil should be used to raise articles of mere luxury, either for home consumption, or for exportation. In either case, neither the wealth nor the population of the country is increased by it. It is true, as in the former case, individuals may enrich themselves by it; but the advantage which they will derive from such an application of their labor, and of the soil, will be far less than society would derive from an application of their labor to the production either of the necessaries of life, or the raw material for home manufactures. If any such use of the soil tends to exhaust it, and after a few years render it barren and unproductive, the state will be rather impoverished than enriched by such a misapplication of its natural resources.

The effect of an abundance of provisions and of the necessaries of life, is to render the price of labor cheaper with regard to every thing but those necessaries. The consequence of this cheapness of labor would be, that more laborers might be employed in manufactures, for the same amount of wages; it would then follow, that manufactures also would become abundant, and, of course, would grow cheaper, until they found their level in this particular with the produce of agriculture ;—every other product or application of labor would also find its level in the same way. But if so, it may be asked, what advantage would follow? The answer is, that two advantages would result. 1. The population of the state would equally enjoy an abundance of every thing raised or produced within it, until it had increased so much, as, by its increased consumption, to raise the price of every thing again. But, if the increase of population were distributed among the various employments existing in the society, according to the existing proportion, and the same judicious measures were continued, the production of the necessaries of life would still keep in advance of consumption, until the territory of the state contained as many inhabitants as it could support. 2. The cheapness of labor, would render manufactures cheaper in comparison with foreign manufactures, so that there would be less occasion for protection by imposts, against their competition in the home market; it would also better enable home manufactures to enter into competition with foreign manufactures, in the various foreign markets abroad.

In order to secure these advantages, it would be good policy in an agricultural state, to adopt some such measures as the following: 1. To remit the land tax entirely in favor of all lands employed in the production of the necessaries of life: 2. To discourage all manufactures which have for their object, to convert any agricultural product, used for food and constituting one of the necessaries of life, into an article incapable of sustaining it, whether for home consumption, or for exportation: 3. To discourage the exportation of all articles capable of sustaining human life, and commonly used as food.

For, in order to insure an abundance of the necessaries of life, it is not enough to encourage agriculture; because, however abundant production may be, if it is either wasted, manufactured into a useless article of mere luxury, whether for home consumption, or to be sent abroad, and the price returned in similar articles of luxury, the state will derive no advantage from such abundant production; since the scarcity, and the high prices will be the same to the people of the state, as if less land had been cultivated, or the crops had been bad in proportion. It is not however intended to deny, that the producer or the manufacturer in such case, might have an opportunity of indulging himself in luxury and extravagance, or, if he were prudent, might enrich himself; the subject under consideration is the policy of the state.

On the contrary, where an adequate supply of the necessaries of life cannot be obtaiued, not only the irregularity in the transaction of business, but the misery and suffering occasioned by it, are necessarily very great. The weakest and humblest class of society, is that which feels it first. For, the day laborer will soon find that by working all day, he will not be able to earn wages enough to purchase the necessaries of life; and, if the evil continues long, the consequence will be, that deficient and improper food will king on an increased mortality upon the sufferers, until their numbers are reduced to correspond with the produce of the country, which is applied to the support of life. During such a period of distress, the price of labor becomes reduced to its lowest rate, because many persons will resort to day wages for the purpose of earning sufficient to sustain life. But, on this very account, as well as because many persons will then do their own work, who, if times were better, would hire it dorte, the demand for labor will be very small. And though, as a general rule, men will not work for less wages than are sufficient to furnish them with the necessaries of life; yet, under such circumstances, they will labor for whatever price they can obtain, in the attempt to shun famine and starvation. All other products of labor then immediately become very cheap, and yet the production of them diminishes, because no one can obtain a living by producing them. Where the necessaries of life are abundant, all other products of labor also will gradually become cheap, on account of their abundance. Where there is an extreme scarcity of the necessaries of life, all other products of labor will also become cheap, on account of their little value in comparison with those necessaries. In this latter case, these products of labor will be cheap, even though they may be scarce, and they will grow more scarce until they are reduced to a minimum. In the former case, they will still be produced, notwithstanding their cheapness, and while the same cause continues, will rather increase in production, to a maximum.

But, in any state within the United States, long before coming to any such extremity, a very different scene will be presented. For, as soon as all the lands are taken up by private proprietors, and from whatever cause, whether the unproductiveness of the soil, or misuse of produce, the necessaries of life become scarce and proportionally dear, those persons who cannot obtain a living by moderate exertion, and especially if they are bold and enterprising, will immediately remove to some of the new states, where the means of subsistence can be had with less labor, and where competency and independence will be more within their reach. The bad consequences of the impolicy before suggested, will here be very striking; because, the emigrants are in the vigor of life, and each carries more or less property with him. There is therefore a double loss to the state from which they emigrate.

Continued in Part III, Chapter II: Of The Policy Which Ought To Be Pursued By The General Government In Relation To Manufactures.

See the other parts of this series:
RIGHTS OF AMERICAN CITIZENS: General Rights; Division One
RIGHTS OF AMERICAN CITIZENS: General Rights; Division Two
RIGHTS OF AMERICAN CITIZENS: General Rights; The Social Compact
RIGHTS OF AMERICAN CITIZENS: The Powers delegated to the General Government in the Federal Constitution
RIGHTS OF AMERICAN CITIZENS: Powers delegated to the State Governments
RIGHTS OF AMERICAN CITIZENS: The Independence of the States
RIGHTS OF AMERICAN CITIZENS: The rights reserved to the people of the United States
RIGHTS OF AMERICAN CITIZENS: Of the right of suffrage and of elections
RIGHTS OF AMERICAN CITIZENS: The Liberty of Speech and of the Press
RIGHTS OF AMERICAN CITIZENS: The Power of Courts to punish for Contempts
RIGHTS OF AMERICAN CITIZENS: The Law of Libel in relation to Public Officers
RIGHTS OF AMERICAN CITIZENS: The mode of obtaining redress for infringement of civil or political rights

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