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Ten Acres Enough
Chapter II.—Practical Views—Safety of Investments in Land

There was not a particle of romance in my aspirations for a farm, neither had I formed a single visionary theory which was there to be tested. My notions were all sober and prosaic. I had struggled all my life for dollars, because abundance of them produces pecuniary comfort: and the change to country life was to be, in reality, a mere continuation of the struggle, but lightened by the assurance that if the dollars thus to be acquired were fewer in number, the certainty of earning enough of them was likely to be greater. Crops might fail under skies at one time too watery, at another too brassy, but no such disaster could equal those to which commercial pursuits are uninterruptedly exposed. They have brassy skies above them as well as farm­ers. For nearly twenty years I had been hampered with having notes of my own or of other parties to pay; but of all the farmers I had visited only one had ever given a note, and he had made a vow never to give another. My wife was shrewd enough to observe and remark on this fact at the time, it was so different from my own experience. She admitted there must be some satisfaction in carrying on a business which did not require the giving of notes.

Looking at the matter of removal to the country in a practical light, I found that in the city I was paying three hundred dollars per annum rent for a dwelling-house. It was the interest of five thousand dollars; yet it afforded nothing but a shelter for my family. I might continue to pay that rent for fifty years, without, at the end of that time, having acquired the ownership of either a stone upon the chimney, or a shingle in the roof. If the house rose in value, the rise would be to the owner's benefit, not to mine. It would really be injurious to me, as the rise would lead him to demand an increase of his rent. But put the value of the house into a farm, or even the half of it—the farm would have a dwelling-house upon it, in which my family would find as good a shelter, while the land, if cultivated as industriously as I had always cultivated business, would belie the flood of evidence I had been studying for many years, if it failed to yield to my efforts the returns which it was manifestly returning to others. We could live contentedly on a thousand dollars a year, and here we should have no landlord to pay. My wife, in pinching times, has financiered us through the year on several hundred less. I confess to having lived as well on the diminished rations as I wanted to. Indeed, until one tries it for himself, it is incredible what dignity there is in an old hat, what virtue in a time-worn coat, and how savory the dinner-table can be made without sirloin steaks or cranberry tarts.

Thus, let it be remembered, my views and aspirations had no tinge of extravagance. My rule was moderation. The tortures of a city struggle without capital, had sobered me down to being contented with a bare competency. I might fail in some particulars at the outset, from ignorance, but I was in the prime of life, strong, active, industrious, and tractable, and what I did not know I could soon learn from others, for farmers have no secrets. Then I had seen too much of the uncertainty of banks and stocks, and ledger accounts, and promissory notes, to be willing to invest anything in either as a permanency. At best they are fluctuating and uncertain, up to-day and down to-morrow. My great preference had always been for land.

In looking around among my wide circle of city acquaintances, especially among the older families, I could not fail to notice that most of them had grown rich by the ownership of land. More than once had I seen the values of all city property, im­proved and unimproved, apparently disappear;— lots without purchasers, and houses without tenants, the community so poor and panic-stricken that real estate became the merest drug. Yesterday the collapse was caused by the destruction of the National Bank; to-day it is the Tariff. Sheriffs played havoc with houses and lands incumbered by mortgages, and lawyers fattened on the rich harvest of fees inaugurated by a Bankrupt Law. But those who, undismayed by the wreck around them, courageously held on to land, came through in safety. The storm, having run its course and exhausted its wrath, gave place to skies commercially serene, and real estate swung back with an irrepressible momentum to its former value, only to keep on advancing to one even greater.

I became convinced that safety lay in the ownership of land. In all my inquiries both before leaving the city, as well as since, I rarely heard of a farmer becoming insolvent. When I did, and was careful to ascertain the cause, it turned out that he had either begun in debt, and was thus hampered at the beginning, or had made bad bargains in speculations outside of his calling, or wasted his means in riotous living, or had in some way utterly neg­lected his business. If not made rich by heavy crops, I could find none who had been made poor by bad ones.

The reader may look back over every monetary convulsion he may be able to remember, and he will find that in all of them the agricultural community came through with less disaster than any other interest. Wheat grows and corn ripens though all the banks in the world may break, for seed-time and harvest is one of the divine promises to man, never to be broken, because of its divine origin. They grew and ripened before banks were invented, and will continue to do so when banks and railroad bonds shall have become obsolete.

Moreover, the earthly fund for whose acquisition we are all striving, we naturally desire to make a permanent one. As we have worked for it, so we trust that it will work for us and our children. Its value, whatever that may be, depends on its perpetuity—the continuance of its existence. A man seeks to earn what will support and serve not only himself, but his posterity. He would naturally desire to have the estate descend to children and grandchildren. This is one great object of his toil. What, then, is the safest fund in which to invest, in this country? What is the only fund which the experience of the last fifty years has shown, with very few exceptions, would be absolutely safe as a provision for heirs? How many men, within that period, assuming to act as trustees for estates, have kept the trust fund invested in stocks, and when distributing the principal among the heirs, have found that most of it had vanished! Under cor­porate insolvency it had melted into air. No prudent man, accepting such a trust, and guaranteeing its integrity, would invest the fund in stocks.

Our country is filled with pecuniary wrecks from causes like this. Thousands trust themselves dur­ing their lifetime, to manage this description of prop­erty, confident of their caution and sagacity. With close watching and good luck, they may be equal to the task; but the question still occurs as to the probable duration of such a fund in families. What is its safety when invested in the current stocks of the country? and next, what is its safety in the hands of heirs? There are no statistics showing the probable continuance of estates in land in families, and of estates composed of personal property, such as stocks. But every bank cashier will testify to one remarkable fact—that an heir no sooner inherits stock in the bank than the first thing he generally does is to sell and transfer it, and that such sale is most frequently the first notice given of the holder's death.

This preference for investment in real estate will doubtless be objected to by the young and dashing business man. But lands, or a fund secured by real estate, is unquestionably not only the highest security, but in the hands of heirs it is the only one likely to survive a single generation. Hence the wisdom of the common law, which neither permits the guardian to sell the lands of his ward, nor even the court, in its discretion, to grant authority for their sale, except upon sufficient grounds shown,— as a necessity for raising a fund for the support and education of the ward. Even a lord chancellor can only touch so sacred a fund for this or similar rea­sons. The common law is wise on this subject, as on most others. It is thus the experience and observation of mankind that such a fund is the safest, and hence the provisions of the law.

Those, therefore, who acquire personal property, acquire only what will last about a generation, longer or shorter. Such property is quickly converted into money—it perishes and is gone. But land is hedged round with numerous guards which protect it from hasty spoliation. It is not so easily transferred; it is not so secretly transferred; the law enjoins deliberate formalities before it can be alienated, and often the consent of various parties is necessary. When all other guards give way, early memories of parental attachment to these ancestral acres, or tender reminiscences of childhood, will come in to stay the spoliation of the homestead, and make even the prodigal pause before giving up this portion of his inheritance.

Throughout Europe a passion to become the owner of land is universal, while the difficulty of gratifying it is infinitely greater than with us. It is there enor­mously dear; here it is absurdly cheap. It is from this universal passion that the vast annual immigra­tion to this country derives its mighty impulse. As it reaches our shores it spreads itself over the coun­try in search of cheap land. Many of the most flourishing Western States have been built up by the astonishing influx of immigrants. In England, every landowner is prompt to secure every freehold near him, be it large or small, as it comes into market. Hence the number of freeholders in that country is annually diminishing by this process of ab­sorption. This European passion for acquiring land is strangely contrasted with the American passion for parting with it.

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