Joshua King Ingalls was best known as a land-reformer, but he was also involved with the struggle for women's rights, and some of his most interesting writing happened when the two concerns came together. This essay, from The Friend of Progress, features that combination of concerns, and comes to a fascinating conclusion. Like many feminists of his day, including many of the most militant women, Ingalls associated women with the home and with nature (what he calls "the passive element"), and his argument here rises directly from that association. But while we might not think that the premises are terribly radical, his solution is at least striking.
WOMAN ITS TRUE OWNER.
BY J. K. lNGALLS.
Home, as a sentiment, is especially Anglo-Saxon. It is, however, strongly marked, as phrenologists say, in all the Teutonic branches of the Caucasian race. And if any race or people have no such word in their language, it is because an oppression for ages has deprived them of its natural rights and immunities; for among all the appliances ever seized upon by a soulless tyranny, to maintain its damning sway, that of “property in land” has proved the most effectual, the widest spread in its power and influence, and the most fatal to the true enjoyment of human rights and human happiness. Landlordry is the twin brother to the monster, “chattel slavery;” or rather it is the prolific mother of a family of monsters, of which slavery and polygamy are but the elder-born.
Whatever form of expression may have been given to the condition imposed upon the masses by this system of monopoly, and whether it be named “slavery,” “serfdom,” “villainage,” or simply “tenantry,” we see involved the same essential principle. Potentially the same monster wrong sits enthroned, and the same direful consequences follow its sway, modified only in external form, or by change in custom and education, and by the application of science to industry and to sanitary regulations, and of machinery to more rapid production of many of the necessaries of life.
Given a certain area of soil—say an island removed from the interchanges of commerce—and place one man as owner, then substantially it matters little what you call the special form of relation sustained by each and all others who are dependent on that soil for a habitation and support. Their happiness and its pursuit, their liberty and its guaranties, their very life and its prolongation, are subject to the pleasure of that single owner. There may be other elements possessed by certain persons. His helplessness, mentally or physically, or his cupidity, would undoubtedly force him to award certain privileges and conditions to others, and all might, by dividing the products of their toil, be enabled to eke out a tolerable existence. But, essentially, they would be all his vassals and slaves.
Now make that island represent the world, and that owner the class of owners, in whom all legal titles vest, and we see at once the position in which the industry of the world is placed. In our own favored country, where the lands are so abundant as to be almost beyond the grasp of Mammon, there is little actual suffering and degradation from this cause, compared with what exists in the “old world.” It is because most industrious and frugal people can become land-owners, that the condition of labor is in any respect different here from what it is under the worn-out monarchies of Europe.
It is very fine for politicians, who want our votes, to flatter us with the idea that we have no hereditary aristocracy, no nobility or governing class. But what is all this fine talk in the face of facts? For the whole period of our national existence, a system of chattel slavery, unequaled in atrocity since the days of imperial Rome, has been fostered in this Union, without a single effort on the part of our government to counteract its power or influence, until, to extend its area, it aimed a deadly blow at the very life of the nation.
In our own State, millions of acres are held by one man; and in this city there are several incomes which average a million of dollars annually from the rent of real estate. This is equal to the earnings of two thousand workingmen at an average of five hundred dollars per year. Now can you explain to me the difference, substantially, between the system under which this result is secured, and the ownership of those two thousand men, with the ability to compel their labor and reap its products? It is often remarked that the best way for a man to get a home or a farm is to work for it. But this is said with the full knowledge that in most countries the price of land is kept so high by monopoly, and the wages of labor so low, that the labor of a lifetime would fail of that result, even if nothing were expended in food, or clothing, or provision for the family. When duly considered, the saving is equally heartless with the attempted justification of slavery on the ground that some slaves have earned their freedom, and all might if they would.
The fact that lands change hands, and go into different families, is no justification of the system. It would be quite as well to have an hereditary aristocracy, as one which is constantly recruited with parvenus, whose vulgar scorn of the very class from which only their greed has emancipated them pecuniarily, renders them more bitter in caste prejudice. Now, a man, after struggling for the best part of his life to secure a home for his dear ones, may, by a single reverse, have it all taken from him and his family turned into the street.
Some changes have been made in our laws, within a few years, to protect the rights of married women. But these only alleviate certain incidents of the system; do not strike at the root of the great wrong. And no device will ever meet the requirements of the case, until the great principle is involved, that no one can be protected in the ownership of two farms or two homes, while any suffer the want of one. The great law of limitation must be applied here, as in all subjects of legislation securing rights. Our right to life is complete. Yet it is necessarily self-limiting. It can never justify taking the life of another, except in absolute self-defense. Our right to liberty gives us no permission to enslave another. Our pursuit of happiness must not be followed at the sacrifice of another’s. So the right to home and possessorship of the soil, no less sacred than either, must have its justly defined limits, where it will not exclude and render impossible the similar ownership by others.
I approach the question of ownership, as between the sexes, with much diffidence. And I propose to say as little as possible on the subject of marriage and its intricate questions. I prefer, indeed, to treat the man and woman as one in their relation to the home. “In the beginning God created them male and female, that they should not be twain, but one flesh.” But in law, the title must vest in one or the other. I am decidedly of the opinion that it should vest in the woman, and in her alone. In a word, the Home—the initial term and starting-point of the social scale—should be wholly withdrawn from the commercial stock-board; and the soil—the source whence all sustenance to life is drawn— should be free to all who wish to cultivate it, and no longer be placed in the market to gratify greed, or the insane desire of speculation; no longer be staked upon the dice-board of stock-gamblers, even if its value were specific, and the only sufferers the immediate victims, who are so often turned homeless upon the cold charities of the world. As one of the surest steps to give this security of home, I recommend the vesting of all titles to real estate exclusively in woman.
The woman corresponds to the passive agent; man to the active. He should control the movable, she the permanent possessions; and thus the sphere of her activity and influence would be naturally, harmoniously filled, without any danger of injury to her sweetness or delicacy of character. Being then under no necessity of seeking marriage for an establishment and a home, she would exercise her intuitive perception in choosing a congenial companion, whose cooperation and executive power, rightly exercised, would improve her possessions. The man would in one sense then earn his home; that is, make himself desirable as a companion to the legal owner, of whom he would be, so to speak, a “tenant at will.”
As the law of tenure now is, and as woman’s position affects herself and offspring, only the few, either men or women, can have homes, without a life-long toil. The woman is expected, in order to secure her home, to entrap some man who already has one, with the pretense of a love she would perhaps gladly bestow elsewhere. It may be replied, that to put woman in possession of the home would be to make her the dupe of the idle and vagrant, who will impose upon her credulity, and thus make her their victim. And with no corresponding change in the aims and purposes of life to her, this objection might have some force. But as every woman would have a home, and as men of activity and industry would then be admired as much as the mere possessors of wealth now are, and as genial companionship, and an intelligent and industrious partner, would then be her principal need, the risks she would run would only serve for a healthful restraint and discipline. Besides, whatever mistakes she might make, her husband could not alienate her home, or deprive her of its possession. By this arrangement, the man would have abundant scope for all his powers. In trade, in finance, in manufacture, and in the conduct of the farm, his full activities on the material plane would be called forth. With the removal of the great overshadowing care, which now bears so heavily upon man and woman, in view of the uncertainty of any provision which can be made against misfortune, they would both experience new impulses to attain excellence of mental culture and elevation in the social sphere.
In beautifying and rendering more productive the homestead, the man would enjoy the of Progress. satisfactory assurance that no event could give it to the grasp of the spoiler, while his loved ones would be turned homeless away. Though without legal ownership in his home, in any sense which would allow him to convey it away, or involve it for his debts, yet he would doubtless be able to arrange with the fair owner for an apartment exclusive to himself, if required; which is more than many men can now do, although the legal owners of their own homes, and of scores of others. At the same time he would have no such control as would enable him to ill-treat his wife, and force her to leave home and support, or put up with brutality; and the woman would have fuller opportunities for the exercise of her faculties and capabilities than now, either in cooperation with a consort or independent of one, if she chose to remain single. She would be at liberty to follow the bias of her mind in regard to marriage, and not be compelled by anxious parents, or by a weak ambition to shine in a genteel establishment, or by a real necessity for a support, to accept a husband as the only way of obtaining a home; and in which she must either become a house-drudge, an extravagant piece of furniture, or, turning the tables upon our sex, a genuine domestic tyrant.
But what is more important, it will release woman from that despotism of society growing out of the inverted state we have contemplated, and which compels her to a life of celibacy often against her will, and to live without the love for which she is by nature formed, because the man she would marry has not the home or has not sought her hand. Much has been said about what is necessary to the true development of woman’s capacities, and the wider sphere of activity she requires; but it is in vain that she changes her dress, or seeks more active employments. Until the Home is hers inalienably, and she has and exercises her queenly prerogative of choosing a companion, she will never attain her true social, political, or industrial position.
These sentiments may shock many, and none more than those poor victims who suffer most from the violation of natural rights. Men who regard woman simply as a dependent and minor, made to serve their pleasure, a plaything for their amusement and a slave to their passion, will also be shocked. While inflicting on woman the wrongs she has borne so meekly, such will raise the cry of indelicacy, and lift their voice in warning to her, “not to overstep the boundaries prescribed for her sex.”
One year has been mockingly accorded her in four, (leap year,) in which to assume her natural prerogative; but even without the social embargo, this privilege, if sincerely rendered, would avail her nothing. Without a home of her own, to offer herself is merely to invite herself to some one’s home; or, if her lover is poor, to invite him to charge himself with her support.
Marriage, indeed, under present social arrangements, is little more than the above. That it has not become wholly perverted proves it a divine institution. But with greater security to the Home, and greater freedom of the affections, the more its divinity and indissolubility will be seen, and the more attractive and truly delicate the character of woman will appear.
Source: The Friend of Progress. 1, no. 2 (December, 1864): 52-54.