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The opening of these forfeited lands would be the salvation of that pitiable creature, the victim of the 8 per cent. grind. The homeless wanderer can get shade and shelter from the burning sun and driving storm, and with these is content, for he has long since resigned ambition to those who are willing to continue the hopeless struggle; but the man, on the 8 per cent. treadmill, who has not yet acknowledged defeat, has no way of escape from the glare of the master's eye, except by self-murder or the pauper's grave. There is nothing that excites our hatred against the infamous laws of our times as much as does the sight of this brave man struggling against the fate that is crushing him, and whose patriotism will soon be kindred to that of the Russian serfs, if it does not go to the other extreme and make him a nihilist or some other brand of the political desperado. It was from this quarter, forget it not, that the old flint locks came, "whose report was heard around the world," and the serf will never be his model, for the old spirit has still enough of life left for another blaze, as these new oppressors will find to their awful cost.
The burdens which these people are staggering under can be easily imagined when it is known that they have been paying interest on mortgages for years that the places would not now sell for, even after they were improved by years of labor and the outlay of much money. In the San Joaquin valley, for instance, there are homesteads by the thousands that will not sell for what they are mortgaged for, and the extraordinary spectacle was witnessed in the city of San Francisco last year of a bank having to close because it could not sell out the valley farmers for the mortgages due it. Of course these farmers obtained money from the bank, and the justice of the bank's claim is not what we are now trying to get at, but to show that if we had the laws that belong to a republic the people would not be the victims of bankers or any one else. Had they been allowed in the first place to take possession of all unimproved land without having to give up the savings of years to some land grabber, whose theft was authorized and sustained by law, and then loaded down with interest obligations, they would have had no more trouble in keeping their land than they would in keeping an arm or a leg.
With every one limited to 160 acres there would be so much thrown open to settlement that it would practically wipe out all mortgages on land, for the occupant of mortgaged premises, could give his owner the option of accepting what would be a fair price under the new conditions, and if it were refused then the occupant could simply back his wagon up, put his portables on and drive to some of the Government land nearest to him.
And it should not be so difficult to get the fencing and the lumber for the few small buildings that would answer till he could get better, and, once started, his condition would be a steady improvement, the interest he now pays remaining on the premises where it is made. At present there are the usual fences and buildings put up when the land is bought (part down, the rest at 8 per cent.), and these are the only improvements, outside of vine and tree growth, that can be made; the wear of time even cannot be repaired, for the occupant has nothing to spare for repairs or improvements, and even the necessaries of life are a tug, and as to decent clothing for himself and wife and other dependants that is not to be thought of while he is loaded down with that bane of modern life, interest obligations.
The cost of moderately sized buildings would of course depend on circumstances, but it should not exceed a few hundred dollars; and as it would be a more profitable investment for a county to help a settler, that is already on the ground, to get a start, than to spend the money trying to get him there, as is the practice now, there can be no serious reason why the voters should not authorize their local Government to extend the necessary aid, and make it optional with the borrower whether he shall pay in money or work; the length of time and other details to be governed by circumstances, but no interest to be charged. If this last causes some apparent loss, let it be charged to the old pumpkin fund.
There are people of small means who have taken mortgages on land, and these must be protected, as we have already done in the case of like investors in paper-represented property. But if these small lenders are already owners of one hundred and sixty acres they must make the best terms they can with their debtors, for it is a cardinal idea of this needed readjustment that no one shall own more than 160 acres. But if the lender does not own that amount of land, he can get and hold title as at present.
The result of the proposed change being to keep the income of the whole country within its own borders, it follows that every section must find itself with an abundance of capital such as was never known to them before, giving them the means to carry on improvements that are entirely beyond them now. At the present time, too, if a laborer, through errors of judgment, should lose the savings of his years of youth and strength, he can rarely recover the ground lost, and finds that paying his way from day to day thereafter is all he can do, and when his work days are gone for good he must either go to the poor-house or be cared for by his relations, whose own load is about all they can bear up under. With the income kept where it is made all this is would be changed, for then, instead of having work only a part of the time, and poor wages besides, the laborer, when his work for private parties gave out, could get work from the local Government, which always has it to give, and the money to pay for it. And should a laborer here and there through some unforeseen cause, be forced by poverty and age to accept food and shelter that he cannot pay for, his relations can provide for him, for the getting of the mere food and clothing will not be the momentous question that it is now. And this power of the local Government to give work will save many a one from a fate that should never overtake the honest and willing.
Pauperism and crime can never be eliminated from society, any more than the susceptibility to sickness and disease can be eliminated from flesh and blood, but as civilization grows older its accumulating wisdom should be more than a match for poverty, the parent germ of both pauperism and crime; but the discouraging fact is that these two diseases of civilized society are advancing faster than civilization itself, and we build larger poor houses and jails, and then sit down and nurse the hideous disorders, as if they were the incurable rot of leprosy instead of being the result of economic laws that allow the able to rob the weak.
There is not a county or State but what has plenty of work had it the money to do it. The question of good roads is becoming prominent, but if they are ever built under our present system of economics they will be built by slave labor pure and simple. It is absolutely out of the question for the people to raise the money for running the Government; pay interest on bonds; pay for the bonds themselves; pay pensions; carry on the costly work of giving the whole country macadamized roads, and care for the millionaire, and remain free at the same time.
Interest on bonds.
Care of millionaire.
To think of carrying such a load and remain free is madness.
We are contending that the country is already crushed with debt; that she is saddled with such a tremendous load, that, like the mortgaged farm, improvement and progress is utterly out of the question. We have the resources for any and every improvement that the country needs, but they are wasted and squandered paying interest to foreign capitalists, and supporting our mushroom growth of millionaire parasites, who are the cause of our poverty of capital, and the foreigners' ability to lend us money.
Do away with interest paying and the millionaire, and the required roads could be commenced at once, and as for the Nicaragua canal, we would make as light of it as does the farmer in hoeing a hill of beans.