Land Reform and Working-Class Experience in Britain and the United States, 1800-1862

By Jamie L. Bronstein | Go to book overview

1
Three Movements, One Goal

To secure the right of the soil to ALL, it is necessary to limit the possessions of families, corporations, and communities;--to prevent all further traffic in land by the Government, and to make the public lands free to actual settlers, that every man, woman and child in the Nation may have a home--a home, to which each one may retreat, and rest in safety, 'under his own vine and fig tree.'

--Industrial Congress, 18451

Although the purpose of this study is to examine thematically the ideologies, organization, constituencies, and outcomes of the working-class land-reform movements of the 1840's, themes are of little use without an understanding of the basic narrative and cast of characters of each movement. A brief examination of the rise and fall of, respectively, the Chartist Co-Operative Land Company, the National Reform movement, and the Potters' Joint-Stock Emigration Society provides this schema. It also illustrates that land reform in both Britain and the United States grew out of existing working-class organizations. These groups sought land reform only when most other feasible options--petitioning, political organization, or trade unionism--had failed. In their elegance and simplicity, and in their claim to be able to solve working-class political and social problems with one simple economic equation, the land-reform movements quickly appealed to large constituencies--tens of thousands in the case of National Reform and Chartism; thousands in the case of the potters' society.

When the stories of the working-class land-reform movements are told, the differences among the movements also become immediately apparent. The Chartists' land scheme would be crushed by a combination of financial unwieldiness and harassment by the government, members of which claimed that the scheme would be detrimental to the interests of the working poor. In contrast, the same

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