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§ 1. AMONG the forms which society assumes under the influence of the institution of property, there are, as I have already remarked, two, otherwise of a widely dissimilar character, but resembling in this, that the ownership of the land, the labour, and the capital, is in the same hands. One of these cases is that of slavery, the other is that of peasant proprietors. In the one, the landowner owns the labour, in the other the labourer owns the land. We begin with the first.
In this system all the produce belongs to the landlord. The food and other necessaries of his labourers are part of his expenses. The labourers possess nothing but what he thinks fit to give them, and until he thinks fit to take it back; and they work as hard as he chooses, or is able, to compel them. Their wretchedness is only limited by his humanity, or his "enlightened self-interest." With the first consideration, we have on the present occasion nothing to do. What the second in so detestable a constitution of society may dictate, depends on the facilities for importing fresh slaves. If full-grown able-bodied slaves can be procured in sufficient numbers, and imported at a moderate expense, enlightened self-interest will recommend working the slaves to death, and replacing them by importation, in preference to the slow and expensive process of breeding them. Nor are the slaveowners generally backward in learning this lesson. It is notorious that such was the practice in our own slave colonies, while the slave-trade was legal; and it is said to be so still in Cuba, and in those States of the American Union which receive a regular supply of negroes from other States.
When, as among the ancients, the slave-market could only be supplied by captives either taken in war, or kidnapped from thinly-scattered tribes on the remote confines of the known world, it was generally more profitable to keep up the number by breeding, which necessitates a far better treatment of them; and for this reason, joined with several others, the condition of slaves, notwithstanding occasional enormities, was probably much less bad in the ancient world, than in the colonies of modern nations. The Helots are usually cited as the type of the most hideous form of personal slavery, but with how little truth, appears from the fact, that they were regularly armed (though not with the panoply of the hoplite) and formed an integral part of the military strength of the State. They were doubtless an inferior and degraded caste, but their slavery seems to have been one of the least onerous varieties of serfdom. Slavery appears in far more frightful colours among the Romans, during the period in which the Roman aristocracy was gorging itself with the plunder of a newly-conquered world. The Romans were a cruel people, and the worthless nobles sported with the lives of their myriads of slaves with the same reckless prodigality with which they squandered any other part of their ill-acquired possessions. Yet, slavery is divested of one of its worst features when it is compatible with hope: enfranchisement was easy and common; enfranchised slaves obtained at once the full rights of citizens, and instances were frequent of their acquiring not only riches, but latterly even honours. By the progress of milder legislation under the Emperors, much of the protection of law was thrown round the slave, he became capable of possessing property, and the evil altogether assumed a considerably gentler aspect.
Until, however, slavery assumes the mitigated form of villenage, in which not only the slave has property and legal rights, but his obligations are more or less limited by usage, and he partly labours for his own benefit; his condition is seldom such as to produce a rapid growth of population.
This cannot be from physical privation, for no slave-labourers are worse fed, clothed, or lodged, than the free peasantry of Ireland. The cause usually assigned, is the great disproportion of the sexes which almost always exists where slaves are not bred but imported: this cannot however be the sole cause, as the negro population of our West India colonies continued nearly stationary, after the slave-trade to those colonies was suppressed. Whatever be the causes, a slave population is seldom a rapidly increasing one. Slave countries, unless of very small extent or limited natural resources, are generally underpeopled in proportion to their cultivable land. The labour of the slaves, therefore, under any tolerable management, produces much more than is sufficient for their support; especially as the great amount of superintendence which their labour requires, preventing the dispersion of the population, ensures some of the advantages of combined labour. Hence, in a good soil and climate, and with reasonable care of his own interests, the owner of many slaves has the means of being rich.
§ 2. The influence, however, of such a state of society on production, is perfectly well understood. It is a truism to assert, that labour extorted by fear of punishment is inefficient and unproductive. It is true that in some circumstances, human beings can be driven by the lash to attempt, and even to accomplish, things which they would not have undertaken for any payment which it could have been worth while to an employer to offer them. And it is likely that productive operations which require much combination of labour, the production of sugar for example, would not have taken place so soon in the American colonies, if slavery had not existed to keep masses of labour together. There are also savage tribes so averse from regular industry, that industrial life is scarcely able to introduce itself among them until they are either conquered or made slaves of, or become conquerors and make others so. But after allowing the
full value of these considerations, it remains certain that slavery, even in the most mitigated form, is incompatible with any high state of the arts of life, and any real efficiency of labour. For all products which require much skill, slave countries are always dependent on foreigners. Hopeless slavery effectually brutifies the intellect; and intelligence in the slaves, though often encouraged in the ancient world and in the East, is in a more advanced state of society a source of so much danger and an object of so much dread to the masters, that in some countries it is a highly penal offence to teach a slave to read. All processes carried on by slave labour are conducted in the rudest and most unimproved manner. And even the animal strength of the slave is, on an average, not half exerted. The mildest form of slavery is certainly the condition of the serf, who is attached to the soil, supports himself from his allotment, and works a certain number of days in the week for his lord. Yet there is but one opinion on the extreme inefficiency of serf labour. The following passage is from Professor Jones*, whose Essay on the Distribution of Wealth (or rather on Rent), is a copious repertory of valuable facts on the landed tenures of different countries.
"The Russians, or rather those German writers who have observed the manners and habits of Russia, state some strong facts on this point. Two Middlesex mowers, they say, will mow in a day as much grass as six Russian serfs, and in spite of the dearness of provisions in England and their cheapness in Russia, the mowing a quantity of hay which would cost an English farmer half a copeck, will cost a Russian proprietor three or four copeckst. The Prussian counsellor of state Jacob is considered to have proved, that in Russia, where everything is cheap, the labour of a serf is
Essay on the Distribution of Wealth and on the Sources of Taxation. By the Rev. Richard Jones. Page 50.
+"Schmalz, Economie Politique, French translation, vol. i. p. 66."
doubly as expensive as that of a labourer in England. M. Schmalz gives a startling account of the unproductiveness of serf labour in Prussia, from his own knowledge and observation*. In Austria, it is distinctly stated, that the labour of a serf is equal to only one-third of that of a free hired labourer. This calculation, made in an able work on agriculture, (with some extracts from which I have been favoured), is applied to the practical purpose of deciding on the number of labourers necessary to cultivate an estate of a given magnitude. So palpable, indeed, are the ill effects of labour rents on the industry of the agricultural population, that in Austria itself, where proposals for changes of any kind do not readily make their way, schemes and plans for the commutation of labour rents are as popular as in the more stirring German provinces of the North."
What is wanting in the quality of the labour itself, is not made up by any excellence in the direction and superintendence. As the same writer† remarks, the landed proprietors "are necessarily, in their character of cultivators of their own domains, the only guides and directors of the industry of the agricultural population," since there can be no intermediate class of capitalist farmers where the labourers are the property of the lord. Great landowners are everywhere an idle class, or if they labour at all, addict themselves only to the more exciting kinds of exertion; that lion's share which superiors always reserve for themselves. "It would," as Mr. Jones observes, "be hopeless and irrational to expect, that a race of noble proprietors, fenced round with privileges and dignity, and attracted to military and political pursuits by the advantages and habits of their station, should ever become attentive cultivators as a body." Even in England, if the cultivation of every estate depended upon its proprietor, any one can judge what would be the result.
"Vol. ii. p. 107.” + Jones, pp. 53, 54.