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

By Jamie L. Bronstein | Go to book overview

4
The Competition for Reforming Attentions in the 1840's

I need not say how deeply I feel that every person needs to be the admitted owner of a parcel of land. This every person should be, without having to pay for it. But if a free ownership be withheld, still let there by an ownership whenever it can be bought, if for no other reason than that the more who are the admitted owners of land, the sooner will that ownership be acknowledged to be a natural, universal and inalienable right.

-- AbolitionistGerrit Smith1

As the previous chapter showed, the concepts developed in concert by British and American land-reform leaders constituted an ideology--"the system of beliefs, values, fears, prejudices, reflexes and commitments" of a social group. 2 Land reform was not just an instrumental reform to be achieved--it was an out- growth of support for producerism and distrust of rampant industrialization. Land reformers' vision of how the world worked also hinged on a more equitable distribution of property, argued for the strong impact of environment on the formation of character, and claimed that the only correct role for industrial activity in a healthy state was a diminished role. But this worldview was not created in a vacuum. In both Britain and the United States, the 1840's marked a decade of moral reform enlivened by evangelicalism and the belief in progress. 3 This being the case, land reformers in Britain and America developed their ideas and arguments in a lively process, by differentiating themselves from other active reforming groups historically described as having had a more "middle-class" character-- the abolitionist movement and the Anti-Corn Law League.

As this chapter will illustrate, American National Reformers occupied a variety of positions on slavery, but were forced to exaggerate

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