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

By Jamie L. Bronstein | Go to book overview
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Land-Reform Rhetoric and the Currents of Reform

When the war is over, and our freedom won, the people must make a new declaration; they must declare the rights of man, the individual, sacred above all craft or priesthood or governments--they must, at one blow, put an end to all the trickeries of English law, which garnered up in the charnels of ages, bind the heart and will with lies. They must perpetuate republican truth, by making the HOMESTEAD of man a holy thing, which no law can touch, no juggler wrest from his wife and children. Until this is done, the Revolution will have been fought in vain.

-- George Lippard, Washington and the Generals1

The intellectual heritage of land reform, ranging as it did from the radical Spencean to the pragmatically Cobettian, provided land-reform leaders with a reasonable basis of authority from which to contest orthodox political economy. Reasoning from the experience of work and life, invoking both natural rights and a Christian moral economy, the philosophers of land reform shaped their arguments in a way which they ostensibly felt would appeal to a large audience. Although the pace of both industrialization and the growth of cities was uneven within and between Britain and America, the leaders of the land-reform movements produced similar arguments to support their promotion of land redistribution. The land-reforming ideology was generated by leaders whose social and occupational positions allowed them the time to craft those rhetorical elements which would have the widest appeal for their constituencies.

While the constituencies to which British and American land reformers appealed had different experiences of industrialization and of radicalism, the rhetoric which these leaders developed to justify land reform to workers was remarkably similar. Although the vol

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