Patrick Edward Dove

Charles B. Fillebrown

[Reprinted from the book, Natural Taxation, published 1917.
Part I / The Authorities / Chapter 3]

PATRICK EDWARD DOVE was born in Lasswade, near Edinburgh, Scotland, July 31, 1815. He came of an old and distinguished Scottish family. As a young man he traveled widely and lived for a time in Paris and in London. About 1840 he came into the family property in Ayrshire, Scotland. There he lived on his estate the life of a bachelor squire until 1848, when an unfortunate investment wiped doubt his fortune. Shortly after this he married and went to live in Darmstadt, Germany where he studied, wrote, and lectured. In 1850 he published his Theory of Human Progression. The work appeared in a limited edition published simultaneously in London and Edinburgh. It was read and praised by distinguished scholars, but never attracted general public attention. In his introduction to the edition of the book brought out in 1895 in New York, Mr. Alexander Harvey states:

Carlyle read and praised the volume. He is quoted as acclaiming it the voice of a new revolution, an education and economics. Sir William Hamilton, the great philosopher, pronounced the book epoch-making, and calculated to rally mankind to great reforms. Professor Blackie likewise praised it highly. Our own Charles Sumner was so impressed by it that he circulated many copies in the United States and persuaded Dove to write in behalf of the emancipation movement.

For all that the book failed to make its way and before many years was utterly forgotten. It became very scarce in time, and the demand for it on the part of a few scholars was supplied with difficulty. What Dove did for scholars, George achieved for the masses.

After publishing his book Dove left Germany and lived in Edinburgh for a time, later in Glasgow. He wrote somewhat extensively on economic, philosophic, and religious subjects. In his later years he interested himself actively in military science. In 1860 he was stricken with paralysis. He traveled to Natal in a vain search for health. He returned to Glasgow where he spent his last years in retirement, dying April 28, 1873.

The Theory of Human Progression[1] is a somewhat ambitious contribution to the science of politics. It was the author's name to formulate the principles by which the relations between man and man ought to be regulated. The work shows a peculiar mixture of intellectual characteristics. There runs through it a vain of naive piety side-by-side with a lode of freethinking. The style is marked by prolixity and repetition but in certain passages reaches heights of vigorous eloquence.

His treatment of the land question, to which he naturally gave large attention, also exhibits the effects of 18th-century teaching. He remarks that "the land produces, according to the law of the Creator, more than the value of the labor expended upon it, and on this account men are willing to pay a rent for the land." This is the old delusion of a magic property in the soil which rolls off a "net product," and thus gives rise to economic rent. Again, in another passage, he speaks of rent as "the profit that God had graciously been pleased to accord to human industry employed in the cultivation of the soil." Dove had, in fact, little comprehension of the nature of ground rent as essentially a social product.

Dove's discussion of the land question, which is outlined in our extracts from his book, might be summed up in three propositions as follows: (1) The land is a free gift of the creator to all men, and, as such should be common, not private property; (2) It is not practicable, however, to enforce this right of common property by dividing the land into equal shares and apportioning it among the inhabitants according to their number; (3) The solution of the problem lies in the taxation of rent, or, the appropriation of the annual value of the land.

Extracts from The Theory of Human Progression

(1) Arraignment of existing land laws. --

Under the present system of land occupancy, combined with labor taxation, want and starvation are the natural consequences. They may excite compassion, but they need excite no wonder. And until the present system is broken up, root and branch, and buried in oblivion, the laboring population of Britain and Ireland must reap the fruits of a system that first allocates all the soil to thirty or forty thousand proprietors, and then places the heaviest taxation in the world on the mass of inhabitants. [Chap. III, p. 244.]

(2) Right of the nation to change the land laws. --

There is no such thing as "the rights of landed property" separated from the mere dictum of the law, which the nation has an undoubted right to alter or abolish whenever it shall see fit to do so. And if the nation were to resolve the to resume and take back all lands which had been granted by the crown (with considerations affecting those individuals who had purchased), the nation would not be guilty of any crime, or wrong, or impropriety; but would be exactly in the same position as it is when it abolishes laws against witchcraft, or laws in favor of the slave trade, or laws which make it a legal crime to be a Jew or a Catholic.

Superstition, on this point, may endure for a few years longer; but no truth can be more certain than that God gave the land for the benefit of all; and if any arrangement interfere with, or diminish that benefit, then has man as man, as the recipient of God's bounty, an undoubted right to alter or abolish that arrangement, exactly as he alters his arrangements in agriculture, in medicine, in mechanics, or in navigation. No more crime, and no more wrong that catches to his alterations in the one case then in the other. [Chapter III, pp. 275 -- 76.]

(3) Problem of the equitable disposition of the earth. --

Is it equitable that any arrangements of past generations should cause one man now to be born heir to a county, or half a county, or quarter of a county, while the other inhabitants of that county are thereby deprived of all rights to the soil, and must consequently pay a rent to the one individual who naturally has not one particle of right to the earth more than they have themselves? And if such an arrangement be not now equitable, most undoubtedly it ought not to be allowed to continue; and if any government (instead of administering the laws of equity) use the armed power of the nation for the purpose of enforcing such arrangements, such government has departed from its proper intension, and is not entitled to obedience.

If, then, we admit that every generation of man has exactly the same free right to the earth, unencumbered by any arrangements of past ages, the great problem is to discover "such a system as shall secure to every man his exact share of the natural advantages which the Creator has provided for the race; while at the same time, he has full opportunity, without let or hindrance, to exercise is labor, industry, and skill, for his own advantage." Until this problem is solved, both in theory and in practice, political change must continually go on. [Chapter 3, p. 303.]

(4) The answer to the land question. --

The solution we propound (and which we hope to defend more at large at some future period) is the following, although, of course, there is no supposition that any general solution can be immediately applicable to the circumstances of this or any other country.

1st. Reason can acknowledge no difference of original rights between the individuals of which the human race is composed.

2nd. Equality of rights cannot be sacrificed by any arrangements which one generation of men make for succeeding generations; but equality of rights is perpetual, inasmuch as that equality derives from the human reason, which varies not from age to age.

Even if it were true that there ought to be an inequality of rights among individuals of the human race, it would be absolutely impossible to determine which individuals of the race should be born to more rights, and which individuals to fewer rights, than their fellows. And inequality of rights can only be based on superstition, and the very moment reason is substituted for superstition in political science (as it has been in physical science), that moment must men admit that no possible means are known by which an inequality of rights could possibly be substantiated. Even if it were true, for instance, that there should be an aristocracy and a serfdom, there are no possible means of determining which individuals should be the aristocrats and which individuals the serfs.

3rd. The state of England, then, would present a soil (including the soil proper, the mines, forests, fisheries, etc. -- in fact, that portion of the natural earth called England) which was permanent, and a population that was not permanent, but renewed by successive generations.

4th. The question then is, "What system will secure to every individual of these successive generations his portion of the natural advantages of England?" Of this problem, we maintain that there is but one solution possible.

5th. No truth can be more absolutely certain as an intuitive proposition of the reason, than that "an object is the property of its creator;" and we maintain that creation is the only means by which an individual right to property can be generated. Consequently, as no individual and no generation is the creator of the substantive, earth, it belongs equally to all the existing inhabitants. That is, no individual has a special claim to more than another.

6th. But while on the one hand we take into consideration the object -- that is, the earth; we must also take into consideration the subject -- that is, man, and man's labor.

7th. The object is the common property of all; no individual being able to exhibit a title to any particular portion of it. And individual or private property is the increased value produced by individual labor. Again, in the earth must be distinguished the permanent earth and its temporary or perishable productions. The former -- that is, the permanent earth -- we maintain, never can be private property; and every system that treats it as such must necessarily be unjust. No rational basis has ever been exhibited to the world on which private right to any particular portion of the earth could possibly be founded.

8th. But though the permanent earth never can be private property (although the laws make call it so, and may treat it as such), it must be possessed by individuals for the purpose of cultivation, and for the purpose of extracting from it all those natural objects which man requires.

9th. The question then is, upon what terms, or according to what system, must the earth be possessed by the successive generations that succeed each other on the surface of the globe? The conditions given are -- First, That the earth is the common property of the race; Second, That what ever individual produces by his own labor (whether it be on new object, made out of many materials, or a new value given by labor to an object was form, locality etc. may be changed) is the private property of that individual, and he may dispose of it as he pleases, provided he does not interfere with his fellows. Third, The earth is the perpetual common property of the race, and each succeeding generation has a full title to a free earth. One generation cannot encumber a succeeding generation.

And the condition required is, such a system as shall secure to the successive individuals of the race their share of the common property, and the opportunity, without interference, of making as much private property as their skill, industry, and enterprise would enable them to make.

The scheme then appears to present itself most naturally is, the general division of the soil, portioning it out to inhabitants according to their number. Such appears to be the only system that suggests itself to most minds, if we may judge from the objections brought forward against an equalization of property. All these objections are against the actual division of the soil; and certainly such a division is theoretically erroneous, especially when the fractional parts are made the property of the possessors. But independently of this, the profits are rising from trade, etc., would induce many individuals to forsake agriculture, and to abandon their portion to those who preferred the cultivation of the soil to any other pursuit. A purely agricultural population is almost impossible at any period; but when men have made considerable advances in the arts, etc., a general return to agricultural pursuits is a mere chimera, a phantom. Men must go forward, never backwards. To speak of a division of lands in England is absurd. Such a division would be as useless as it is improbable. But it is more than useless -- it is unjust; and unjust, not to the present so-called proprietors but to the human beings who are continually being born into the world and who have exactly the same natural right to a portion that their predecessors have had....

The actual division of the soil need never be anticipated, nor would such a division be just, if the divided portions were made the property (legally, for they could never be so morally) of individuals.

If, then, successive generations of men cannot have their fractional share of the actual soil (including mines, etc.), how can the division of the advantages of the natural earth be effected?

By the division of its annual value or rent; that is, by making the rent of the soil the common property of the nation. That is (as the taxation is the common property of this state), by taking the whole of the taxes out of the rents of the soil, and thereby abolishing all other kinds of taxation whatsoever. And thus all industry could be absolutely emancipated from every burden, and every man would reap such natural reward as his skill, industry, or enterprise rendered legitimately his, according to the natural law of free competition. This we maintain to be the only theory that will satisfy their requirements of the problem of natural property..... We have no hesitation whatsoever in predicting that all civilized communities must ultimately abolish all revenue restrictions on industry, and draw the whole taxation from the rents of the soil. And this .... because the rents of the soil are the common produce of the whole labor of a community. [Chapter III, pp. 305 -- 311.]


  1. Footnote not added to text.

PREFACE Ch. 1 - Adam Smith
Ch. 2 - John Stuart Mill Ch. 3 - Patrick Edward Dove
Ch. 4 - Edwin Burgess Ch. 5 - John MacDonnell
Ch. 6 - Henry George Ch. 7 - Edward McGlynn
Ch. 8 - Thomas G. Shearman, Pt 1 Ch. 8 - Thomas G. Shearman, Pt 2
Ch. 9 - A Burdenless Tax to the Threefold to Support Upon Which the Single Tax Rests Ch. 10 - Land -- the Rent Concept -- the Property Concept
Ch. 11 - Taxation and Housing Ch. 12 - Thirty Years of Henry George
Ch. 13 - Henry George and the Economists Ch. 14 - The Professors and the Single Tax
Ch. 15 - A Catechism of Natural Taxation ...