Published in Lewis Masquerier, Sociology: or, The Reconstruction of Society, Government, and Property, 1877.


Lewis Masquerier

The name of Evans, who developed the turning-point from the present curse of land monopoly and tenure to the right and imperative want of every human being to a share of the soil, will brighten with the progress of civilization. Through heedless ignorance the whole body of mankind is but slowly advancing from one phase or modification of the same evil principle to another. Their civilization has progressed only in the knowledge of physical nature and the arts. What a bequest, then, has Evans left to mankind -- the true science of society!

He was born in Bromeyard, Hereford, England, March 25, 1805, and emigrated with his parents when a child to New York. At an early age he learned the printing business, established an office of his own, and commenced the publication of works of a reformatory character. He early espoused the cause of the anti-monopoly workingman's party, having for his co-laborers Thomas Skidmore and William Leggett. These made a powerful opposition to the banking system.

Possessing an original power of perception, Evans saw and exposed the evils of banking; and ignoring all mere party issues, he likewise sought to abolish the evils of land monopoly, which he considered one of the greatest afflictions of society. He finally removed to a farm in New Jersey, where he began the publication of the "Radical" in monthly numbers, through which he sought to propagate his land-reforming views. In March, 1841, he issued "The People's Rights," devoted to the following measures of reform: The freedom of the public land in a limited quantity to actual settlers only, and the discontinuance of their sale to non-residents; the exemption of the [93] homestead; and the limitation of the purchase of all other land to a certain quantity. His mode of agitation was to pledge the support of the anti-monopolists to such, candidates as would advocate their measures, and if they declined, a land reform ticket was nominated and voted for by his friends, with the view of holding the balance of power. After pursuing this policy for five years, the principles of the reform party began to be adopted into political platforms, and at last resulted in the present homestead law, granting the quarters in the alternate sections of the public lands to actual settlers after an occupancy of five years.

George Henry Evans saw that most of the revolutions and convulsions among men were the evil effects of alienation -- that the feudal had changed to the tenure, the monarchy to the representative, each to a worse phase of the evil, and that the only remedy was the securing to each human being a share in the soil. At first he was quite sanguine of the accomplishment of this result; but when he came to understand the ignorance of the people, and that all the institutions of governments and society were founded upon the laws of alienation, he realized that all he could do would be to start a new era of reform, and trust to an enlightened posterity for its consummation. The great sole aim of Evans' life was the improvement of society by improving the surroundings of men, advancing their condition of life, and making them independent, happier, and therefore better. He died in Granville, N. J., Feb. 2d, 1855.

While the attention of Evans was largely directed to the reforms above indicated, he was upon theological subjects a firm and consistent Infidel. He utterly discarded all the fallacies of a supernatural, revealed religion, and regarded Nature, or the Universe, as the Supreme Power. He had not the slightest sympathy with the oppressive system of priestcraft, which he clearly saw in the centuries that have passed away, has been an enemy to his fellow-men. His love of the human race was pa amount to all other sentiments or beliefs, and he naturally felt a strong opposition to everything and every influence which he saw that oppressed them or retarded their advancement on the road to prosperity and happiness. [95]

He was a brother to Elder Frederick W. Evans, a prominent leader in the Shaker Society at Mount Lebanon, and upon the subject of inspiration, revelation, heavenly guidance, and the necessity of opposing Nature's laws he differed widely from his brother in the view the latter adopted. Frederick looks to heaven and the spirits of departed friends for guidance and instruction, while George Henry Evans looked to Nature and Reason only and to their recognized laws.

With the above sketch of the life of Evans, taken from "The World's Sages, Infidels, and Thinkers," as published by D. M. Bennett, editor of "The Truth Seeker," we will now give a more particular account of his agitation of his land reform measures and movements. In February, 1844, he left his little farm in New Jersey, came into New York city, called some half a dozen of us together in John Windt's printery on Sunday. He proposed his plan for agitation, consisting of three sliding measures, as he called them. These measures were the freedom of the public lands, homestead exemption, and land limitation in the purchase and ownership of private lands. These measures were to be presented for the adoption of the candidates of all parties; any of them who pledged themselves to advocate and vote for these measures were to receive the votes of the land reformers. But any candidate who refused to pledge himself to these measures was not to receive their votes.

In March, 1844, Evans commenced the publication of "People's Rights," which he afterwards changed to the name of "Young America." His office was in a building since demolished, where now stands the tall "Tribune" building.

The half-dozen of us that were called by Evans, as mentioned above, were John Windt, Thomas Ainge Deveyr, James A. Pyne, James Maxwell, Lewis Masquerier, and himself. We then organized ourselves into a band of speakers, held meetings at the parks, and cross streets, up town, so as to catch the attention of workingmen on their return to their homes, with cans in their hands. We held evening meetings, also, in various halls, and finally held them in Croton Hall, corner of Bowery and Division street, for several years. The great portion of the notices of the public meetings were printed gratuitously by John Windt and Lewis Masquerier in their own [90] job-printing offices. All of us aided in getting subscribers and circulating the tracts. Mr. Evans avoided alluding to religious subjects, and confined himself to the secular measures of land reform. At this time Evans wrote a letter to Gerrit Smith, a wealthy land holder in Western New York, who replied in appreciation of the principles. Other advocates now arose in all parts of the Union; G. W. Julian, a member of Congress from Indiana, took the lead in advocating these principles.

Other able advocates now rallied to our standard. There were Messrs. Van Amringe, Bovey, Ranson Smith, J. E. Ingalls, Henry Beeny, William Rowe, Ryctman, and others. Mass-meetings, national and state conventions, were held for the discussion of these principles. Many of all parties met at a convention in Buffalo, in which they put out a platform advocating free soil, free men, free speech, etc. Van Buren, a candidate for President, could not advance to our idea of each human being's natural right to a share of the soil, but would grant the public lands, in consideration of the hardship and privation of settling on them. Eor several years some of the candidates who pledged themselves to go for our measures, neglected to do so, or but feebly urged them. We thus carried out our threat of nominating a ticket composed of land reformers; we nominated a full national and state ticket, with the exception of President. About six thousand votes were cast for the candidate for Governor in New York State. Our land reform movement stirred up the anti-rent movement in several counties around Albany, where the great Van Rensalaer, who for generations had extorted from the farmers around various articles as rents for use of lands, the titles to which had become obsolete. Mr. Deveyr now established a press in Albany, which he called the "Anti-Renter," and placed himself at the head of the movement; there were two other agitators called "Big and Little Thunder." The renters eventually obtained more favorable terms, and the agitation subsided.

Quite a number of states passed a homestead exemption law, securing a portion of the estate from debt and sale, but the homestead exemption law, granting a quarter section to every actual settler aad cultivator for five years, was never passed until our civil war was commenced. But a law limiting the [97] quantity of land any man may purchase as their own, has never been enacted.

But it is the only thorough remedy of land monopoly and tenure. Neither people nor statesmen yet understand what an inalienable right means, or can they perceive the power there is in perpetual ownership of the land, guaranteeing self-direction, and self-employment.

During our agitation of land reform, Rob't Owen held what he called the world's convention in New York City, urging the establishment of his form of communism. Evans asked him how he expected to get the land upon which he was to establish his communities. He replied, "that as he had always seen the land bought and sold, he expected to buy it." Evans said, " he did not see how hireling, landless tenant slaves could ever get the means to buy land." This shows how far Mr. Owen's mind was behind us, while he thought that we were an immense distance in the rear of him. We were pretty well satisfied that his communism was an error, but this shows that he had never reached to the idea of the perpetuity of a right; that the land should never have been bought or sold, any more than the bodies of men.

The writer of this sketch, when enlisting under Evans' banner, entertained the communistic views of Owen, and it was not until this paper was in circulation before I perceived the concentration and originality of his ideas. I had joined through the feeling of helping any cause that promised to relieve the burdens of mankind, but I had no sooner embraced his ideas of man's natural right to his share of the soil, than I generalized the idea of applying the same principle to the properties arising from the vascular, muscular, and nervous systems, which are life, motion, and sovereignty. If a share of soil must be owned by each human being, in proper person, so must a share of government be exercised and enjoyed also in person. Thus I struck at the principle that office-holding government is a profound error, whether the offices are hereditary or elective; so that universal suffrage is no more than the universal confirmation of alienated sovereignty. The renting the use of a house from among a parcel of landlords, does not give a title to it any more than the selecting of a candidate from among a [98] number of others, gives them the possession of their sovereignty. For the form of the institutions around them has already alienated them. A delegated and representative republic is, therefore, a chimera, and is only a modification or species of monarchy; officers, then, are persons who live by estates in sovereignty, as much as landlords live by estates in lands and houses, which should properly belong to those who are landless. When I advanced this doctrine in the columns of "Young Americe," Evans remarked that he thought I was right; that the same principle that he had applied to the soil should be applied to the exercise and enjoyment of the properties of man's body. And that, therefore, officery or office-holding governments must also be abolished as well as landlordism. Still he said he feared the doctrine would repulse the public mind by putting too much before it. He had been ardent in the belief that land reform would take a wild-fire run in the community: but when he saw that "hills peep over hills, and Alps on Alps arise," his ardor seemed to cool.

Evans perceived clearly that the land reform principle required an organization into townships throughout a nation. He proposed to have them laid off in six miles squares, as the United States government now surveys its land into townships of that dimension. He also proposed central villages in each township. I furnished him with a plan wherein I laid off his mile square in the centre into lots, varying in size from a park in the centre, and fronting upon streets running with the cardinal points. But I have since fallen out with that plan, and propose that there shall be no village lots, but the whole township to be divided into homesteads, never to be subdivided below the minimum of ten acres, necessary for a family support; this with the piece of public ground in the centre of each township, whereon to erect the town hall, college, mart, etc. With the dwellings, barns, and shops upon every homestead, with the garden ground, fields, orchards, and fuel timber will make a rural city of thr whole township.

Thus counties can be done away with, and townships only be the divisions of a nation, this will combine farm, village, and park into one.

This reconstruction of the map of the earth is destined to [99] draw all the smaller holders of property in these large cities into the townships; and have nothing but warehouses, ship yards, and foundries to accommodate international commerce at the great sea and river ports of the earth. The railroads are now driving the population into large cities to be rent-racked on starvation wages, the tenant hireling shares of landlords, manufacturers and traders.

Thus Evans started an idea which really in time will produce a new civilizaiion which never has been known so far as history has recorded. Yet his great idea is yet but a "still small voice." Notwithstanding the struggling and sufferings of the working masses, they are doomed to echo the surrounding institutions; to think what others have thought, and to do what others have done; that it will be ages before the sentiments of mankind can be changed to something better.

Evans was, in person, full middle size, regular features, broad forehead; he possessed great evenness of temper, he was mild and courteous in his intercourse with others; he made no parade of oratory, but spoke in a plain and clear manner -- direct to the point. He was patient in argument, and never allowed himself to arise to a passion. He kept his paper in circulation about five years, when he became worn out in health and means, and then retired to his small farm in New Jersey, where his first wife died in 1850, when he married a second one, and died himself March 25, 1856, of a cold he got by getting wet, which brought on a nervous fever. Thus died one of the most remarkable men of the nineteenth century, at the age of fifty-one.