The Foundations Of Our Nation

                    Selected Excerpts from:

                A G R A R I A N   J U S T I C E

                        by Thomas Paine




         To the Legislature and the Executive Directory
                    of the French Republic.

  The plan contained in this work is not adapted for any
particular country alone: the principle on which it is based is
general. But as the rights of man are a new study in this world,
and one needing protection from priestly imposture, I have
thought it right to place this little work under your safeguard.
When we reflect on the long and dense night in which France and
all Europe have remained plunged by their governments and their
priests, we must feel less surprise than grief at the
bewilderment caused by the first burst of light that dispels the
darkness. The eye accustomed to darkness can hardly bear at
first the broad daylight. It is by usage the eye learns to see,
and it is the same in passing from any situation to its

  As we have not at one instant renounced all our errors, we
cannot at one stroke acquire knowledge of all our rights. France
has had the honour of adding to the word Liberty that of
Equality; and this word signified essentially a principle that
admits of no gradation in the things to which it applies. But
equality is often misunderstood, often misapplied, and often

  Liberty and Property are words expressing all those of our
possessions which are not of an intellectual nature. There are
two kinds of property. Firstly, natural property, or that which
comes to us from the Creator of the universe, -- such as the
earth, air, water. Secondly, artificial or acquired property, --
the invention of men. In the latter equality is impossible, for
to distribute it equally it would be necessary that all should
have contributed in the same proportion, which can never be the
case; and this being the case, every individual would hold on to
his own property, as his right share. Equality of natural
property is the subject of this little essay. Every individual
in the world is born therein with legitimate claims on a certain
kind of property, or its equivalent....

                                          Your former colleague,
                                             Thomas Paine (1797)


  The following little Piece was written in the winter of 1795
and 96; and, as I had not determined whether to publish it
during the present war, or to wait until the commencement of a
peace, it has lain by me, without alteration or addition, from
the time it was written.

  What has determined me to publish it now is, a sermon preached
by Watson, Bishop of Llandaff. Some of my Readers will
recollect, that this Bishop wrote a Book entitled An Apology for
the Bible, in answer to my Second Part of the Age of Reason. I
procured a copy of his Book. and he may depend upon hearing from
me on that subject.

  The error contained in this sermon determined me to publish my
AGRARIAN JUSTICE. It is wrong to say God made rich and poor; he
made only male and female; and he gave them the earth for their

  Instead of preaching to encourage one part of mankind in
insolence... it would be better that Priests employed their time
to render the general condition of man less miserable than it
is. Practical religion consists in doing good: and the only way
of serving God is, that of endeavouring to make his creation
happy. All preaching that has not this for its object is
nonsense and hypocracy.

                                                   Thomas Paine.

                        AGRARIAN JUSTICE

  To preserve the benefits of what is called civilized life, and
to remedy at the same time the evil which it has produced, ought
to be considered as one of the first objects of reformed

  Whether that state that is proudly, perhaps erroneously,
called civilization, has most promoted or most injured the
general happiness of man, is a question that may be strongly
contested. On one side, the spectator is dazzled by splendid
appearances; on the other, he is shocked by extremes of
wretchedness; both of which it has erected. The most affluent
and the most miserable of the human race are to be found in the
countries that are called civilized.

  To understand what the state of society ought to be, it is
necessary to have some idea of the natural and primitive state
of man; such as it is at this day among the Indians of North
America. There is not, in that state, any of those spectacles of
human misery which poverty and want present to our eyes in all
the towns and streets in Europe. Poverty, therefore, is a thing
created by that which is called civilized life. It exists not in
the natural state. On the other hand, the natural state is
without those advantages which flow from agriculture, arts,
science, and manufactures.

  The life of an Indian is a continual holiday, compared with
the poor of Europe; and, on the other hand it appears to be
abject when compared to the rich. Civilization, therefore, or
that which is so called, has operated two ways: to make one part
of society more affluent, and the other more wretched, than
would have been the lot of either in a natural state.

  It is always possible to go from the natural to civilized
state, but it is never possible to go from the civilized to the
natural state. The reason is, that man in a natural state,
subsisting by hunting, requires ten times the quantity of land
to range over to procure himself sustenance, than would support
him in a civilized state, where the earth is cultivated. When,
therefore, a country becomes populous by the additional aids of
cultivation, art, and science, there is a necessity of
preserving things in that state; because without it there cannot
be sustenance for more, perhaps, than a tenth part of its
inhabitants. The thing, therefore, now to be done is to remedy
the evils and preserve the benefits that have arisen to society
by passing from the natural to that which is called the
civilized state.

  In taking the matter upon this ground, the first principle of
civilization ought to have been, and ought still to be, that the
condition of every person born into the world, after a state of
civilization commences, ought not to be worse than if he had
been born before that period. But the fact is, that the
condition of millions, in every country in Europe, is far worse
than if they had been born before civilization began, or had
been born among the Indians of North America at the present day.
I will show how this fact has happened.

  It is a position not to be controverted that the earth, in its
natural uncultivated state was, and ever would have continued to
be, the common property of the human race. In that state every
man would have been born to property. He would have been a joint
life proprietor with the rest in the property of the soil, and
in all its natural productions, vegetable and animal.

  But the earth in its natural state, as before said is capable
of supporting but a small number of inhabitants compared with
what it is capable of doing in a cultivated state. And as it is
impossible to separate the improvement made by cultivation from
the earth itself, upon which that improvement is made, the idea
of landed property arose from that inseparable connection; but
it is nevertheless true, that it is the value of the improvement
only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property.
Every proprietor, therefore, of cultivated land, owes to the
community a ground-rent (for I know of no better term to express
the idea) for the land which he holds; and it is from this
ground-rent that the fund proposed in this plan is to issue. It
is deducible, as well from the nature of the thing as from all
histories transmitted to us, that the idea of landed property
commenced with cultivation, and that there was no such thing as
landed property before that time. It could not exist in the
first state of man, that of hunters. It did not exist in the
second state, that of shepherds: neither Abraham, Isaac, Jacob,
nor Job, so far as the history of the Bible may be credited in
probable things, were owners of land. Their property consisted,
as is always enumerated, in flocks and herds, and they travelled
with them from place to place. The frequent contentions at that
time, about the use of a well in the dry country of Arabia,
where those people lived, also shew that there was no landed
property. It was not admitted that land could be claimed as

  There could be no such thing as landed property originally.
Man did not make the earth, and, though he had a natural right
to occupy it, he had no right to locate as his property in
perpetuity any part of it; neither did the creator of the earth
open a land-office, from whence the first title-deeds should
issue. Whence then arose the idea of landed property? I answer
as before, that when cultivation began the idea of landed
property began with it, from the impossibility of separating the
improvement made by cultivation from the earth itself, upon
which that improvement was made. The value of the improvement so
far exceeded the value of the natural earth, at that time, as to
absorb it; till, in the end, the common right of all became
confounded into the cultivated right of the individual. But
there are, nevertheless, distinct species of rights, and will
continue to be so long as the earth endures.

  It is only by tracing things to their origin that we can gain
rightful ideas of them, and it is by gaining such ideas that we
discover the boundary that divides right from wrong, and teaches
every man to know his own. I have entitled this tract Agrarian
Justice, to distinguish it from Agrarian Law. Nothing could be
more unjust than Agrarian Law in a country improved by
cultivation; for though every man, as an inhabitant of the
earth, is a joint proprietor of it in its natural state, it does
not follow that he is a joint proprietor of cultivated earth.
The additional value made by cultivation, after the system was
admitted, became the property of those who did it, or who
inherited it from them, or who purchased it. It originally had
no owner. Whilst, therefore, I advocate the right, and interest
myself in the hard case of all those who have been thrown out of
their natural inheritance by the introduction of the system of
landed property, I equally defend the right of the possessor to
the part which is his.

  Cultivation is at least one of the greatest natural
improvements ever made by human invention. It has given to
created earth a tenfold value. But the landed monopoly that
began with it has produced the greatest evil. It has
dispossessed more than half the inhabitants of every nation of
their natural inheritance, without providing any for them, as
ought to have been done, an indemnification for that loss, and
has thereby created a species of poverty and wretchedness that
did not exist before.

  In advocating the case of the persons thus dispossessed, it is
a right, not a charity, that I am pleading for. But it is that
kind of right which, being neglected at first, could not be
brought forward afterwards till heaven had opened the way by a
revolution in the system of government. Let us then do honour to
revolutions by justice, and give currency to their principles by

  Having thus in a few words, opened the merits of the case, I
shall now proceed to the plan I have to propose, which is,

    To create a National Fund, out of which there shall be paid
  to every person, when arrived at the age of twenty-one years,
  the sum of fifteen pounds sterling, as a compensation in part,
  for the loss of his or her natural inheritance, by the
  introduction of the system of landed property:

    And also, the sum of ten pounds per annum, during life, to
  every person now living, of the age of fifty years, and to all
  others as they shall arrive at that age.

                    MEANS BY WHICH THE FUND
                        IS TO BE CREATED

  I have already established the principle, namely, that the
earth, in its natural uncultivated state was, and ever would
have continued to be, the common property of the human race;
that in that state, every person would have been born to
property; and that the system of landed property, by its
inseparable connection with cultivation, and what is called
civilized life, has absorbed the property of all those whom it
dispossessed, without providing, as ought to have been done, an
indemnification for that loss.

  The fault, however, is not in the present possessors. No
complaint is intended, or ought to be alleged against them,
unless they adopt the crime by opposing justice. The fault is in
the system, and it has stolen imperceptibly upon the world,
aided afterwards by the agrarian law of the sword. But the fault
can be made to reform itself by successive generations; and
without diminishing or deranging the property of any of the
present possessors, the operation of the fund can yet commence,
and be in full activity, the first year of its establishment, or
soon after, as I shall shew.

  It is proposed that the payments, as already stated, be made
to every person, rich or poor. It is best to make it so, to
prevent invidious distinctions. It is also right that it should
be so, because it is in lieu of the natural inheritance, which,
as a right, belongs to every man, over and above the property he
may have created, or inherited from those who did. Such persons
as do not choose to receive it can throw it into the common

  Taking it then for granted that no person ought to be in a
worse condition when born under what is called a state of
civilization, than he would have been had he been born in a
state of nature, and that civilization ought to have made, and
ought still to make, provision for that purpose, it can only be
done by subtracting from property a portion equal in value to
the natural inheritance it has absorbed.

  Various methods may be proposed for this purpose, but that
which appears to be the best....

  The plan here proposed will reach the whole. It will
immediately relieve and take out of view three classes of
wretchedness -- the blind, the lame, and the aged poor; and it
will furnish the rising generation with means to prevent their
becoming poor; and it will do this without deranging or
interfering with national measures. To shew that this will be
the case, it is sufficient to observe that the operation and
effect of the plan will, in all cases, be the same as if every
individual were voluntarily to make his will and dispose of his
property in the manner here proposed.

  But it is justice, and not charity, that is the principle of
the plan. In all great cases it is necessary to have a principle
more universally active than charity; and, with respect to
justice, it ought not to be left to the choice of detached
individuals whether they will do justice or not. Considering
then, the plan on the ground of justice, it ought to be the act
of the whole, growing spontaneously out of the principles of the
revolution, and the reputation of it ought to be national and
not individual.

  A plan upon this principle would benefit the revolution by the
energy that springs from the consciousness of justice. It would
multiply also the natural resources; for property, like
vegetation, increases by offsets. When a young couple begin the
world, the difference is exceedingly great whether they begin
with nothing or fifteen pounds a piece. With this aid they could
buy a cow, and implements to cultivate a few acres of land; and
instead of becoming burdens upon society, which is always the
case where children are produced faster than they can be fed,
would be put in the way of becoming useful and profitable
citizens. The national domains also would sell the better if
pecuniary aids were provided to cultivate them in small lots.

  It is the practice of what has unjustly obtained the name of
civilization (and the practice merits not to be called either
charity or policy) to make some provision for persons becoming
poor and wretched only at the time they become so. Would it not,
even as a matter of economy, be far better to adopt means to
prevent their becoming poor? This can best be done by making
every person when arrived at the age of twenty-one years an
inheritor of something to begin with. The rugged face of
society, chequered with the extremes of affluence and want,
proves that some extraordinary violence has been committed upon
it, and calls on justice for redress. The great mass of the poor
in all countries are becoming an hereditary race, and it is next
to impossible for them to get out of that state themselves. It
ought also to be observed that this mass increases in all
countries that are called civilized. More persons fall annually
into it than get out of it.

  Though in a plan of which justice and humanity are the
foundation-principles, interest ought not to be admitted into
the calculation, yet it is always of advantage to the
establishment of any plan to shew that it is beneficial as a
matter of interest. The success of any proposed plan submitted
to public consideration must finally depend on the numbers
interested in supporting it, united with the justice of its

  The plan here proposed will benefit all, without injuring any.
It will consolidate the interest of the Republic with that of
the individual. To the numerous class dispossessed of their
natural inheritance by the system of landed property it will be
an act of national justice. To persons dying possessed of
moderate fortunes it will operate as a tontine to their
children, more beneficial than the sum of money paid into the
fund; and it will give to the accumulation of riches a degree of
security that none of the old governments of Europe, now
tottering on their foundations, can give.

  I do not suppose that more than one family in ten, in any of
the countries of Europe, has, when the head of the family dies,
a clear property left of five hundred pounds sterling. To all
such the plan is advantageous. That property would pay fifty
pounds into the fund, and if there were only two children under
age they would receive fifteen pounds each, (thirty pounds,) on
coming of age, and be entitled to ten pounds a-year after fifty.
It is from the overgrown acquisition of property that the fund
will support itself; and I know that the possessors of such
property in England, though they would eventually be benefitted
by the protection of nine-tenths of it, will exclaim against the
plan. But without entering into any inquiry how they came by
that property, let them recollect that they have been the
advocates of the war, and that Mr. Pitt has already laid on more
new taxes to be raised annually upon the people of England, and
that for supporting the despotism of Austria and the Bourbons
against the liberties of France, than would pay annually all the
sums proposed in this plan.

  I have made the calculations stated in this plan, upon what is
called personal, as well as upon landed property. The reason for
making it upon land is already explained; and the reason for
taking personal property into the calculation is equally well
founded though on a different principle. Land, as before said,
is the free gift of the Creator in common to the human race.
Personal property is the effect of society; and it is as
impossible for an individual to acquire personal property
without the aid of society, as it is for him to make land
originally. Separate an individual from society, and give him an
island or a continent to possess, and he cannot acquire personal
property. He cannot be rich. So inseparably are the means
connected with the end, in all cases, that where the former do
not exist the latter cannot be obtained. All accumulation,
therefore, of personal property, beyond what a man' own hands
produce, is derived to him by living in society; and he owes on
every principle of justice, of gratitude, and of civilization, a
part of that accumulation back again to society from whence the
whole came. This is putting the matter on a general principle,
and perhaps it is best to do so; for if we examine the case
minutely it will be found that the accumulation of personal
property is, in many instances, the effect of paying too little
for the labour that produced it; the consequence of which is,
that the working hand perishes in old age, and the employer
abounds in affluence. It is, perhaps, impossible to proportion
exactly the price of labour to the profits it produces; and it
will also be said, as an apology for the injustice, that were a
workman to receive an increase of wages daily he would not save
it against old age, not be much better for it in the interim.
Make, then, society the treasurer to guard it for him in a
common fund; for it is no reason, that because he might not make
good use of it himself, another should take it.

  The state of civilization that has prevailed throughout
Europe, is as unjust in its principle, as it is horrid in its
effects; and it is the consciousness of this, and the
apprehension that such a state cannot continue when once
investigation begins in any country, that makes the possessors
of property dread every idea of a revolution.  It is the hazard
and not the principle of revolutions that retards their
progress. This being the case, it is necessary for the
protection of property, as for the sake of justice and humanity,
to form a system that, whilst it preserves one part of society
from wretchedness, shall secure the other from depredation.

  The superstitious awe, the enslaving reverence, that formerly
surrounded affluence, is passing away in all countries, and
leaving the possessor of property to the convulsion of
accidents. When wealth and splendour, instead of fascinating the
multitude, excite emotions of disgust; when, instead of drawing
forth admiration, it is beheld as an insult upon wretchedness;
when the ostentatious appearance it makes serves to call the
right of it in question, the case of property becomes critical,
and it is only in a system of justice that the possessor can
contemplate security.

  To remove the danger, it is necessary to remove the
antipathies, and this can only be done by making property
productive of a national blessing, extending to every
individual. When the riches of one man above another shall
increase the national fund in the same proportion; when it shall
be seen that the prosperity of that fund depends on the
prosperity of individuals; when the more riches a man acquires,
the better it shall be for the general mass; it is then that
antipathies will cease, and property be placed on the permanent
basis of national interest and protection....

Back To The Index.

Back To The Top.

Back To The Political Page.

Mail to:

drupal statistics