This section of the book is from the "A Man and His Money" book, by Harvey Reeves Calkins , published in 1915.
Acknowledgment is not the same as recognition. To recognize the ownership of value is a matter of intelligence, but to acknowledge it is an act of honor. Perhaps an ordinary business transaction will help us to see the ethics of acknowledgment.
James Hill is a farmer. He does not own the land which he cultivates, but is a tenant-at-will of Clayton Field, who lives in town. According to their agreement, Mr. Field, who owns1 the farm, will be responsible for all government taxes, and for insurance on the farm buildings. Mr. Hill, the tenant-at-will, takes possession for an indefinite term of years and is to have entire charge of the farm, with the exceptions above named. He is to raise what crops he thinks best, and may market them at his own pleasure. He is to have full use of springs and pastures, may cut fuel for his own use, and may take wood for all needed repairs. He is to have entire occupancy of all farm buildings, and, on demand, after full and requisite notice, he is to turn over possession of them, together with the land and all its appurtenances, to the rightful owner. It is familiar language, both to the tenant-farmer and the farmer-landlord, and the like of it is found in every county in the land.
1 We are not stickling over mere words; "owns" is here used in its ordinary legal sense, though, as we have seen, this usage is incorrect and unchristian.
As a consideration for all these benefits, by him enjoyed, and in acknowledgment thereof, Mr. Hill, the tenant on the land, is to—but we are moving too fast! That is the very point we desire to consider. What is it that Mr. Hill shall do? and what does he expect in honor to perform? Is he to show himself courteous toward Mr. Field and his family, and offer them hospitality when they visit the farm? Is he to show himself even cordial, when he drives to church on Sunday, and leave a basket of strawberries on the Field veranda, or sweet corn, or early potatoes, or fall pippins in season? Shall he speak words of friendly testimony when Mr. Field's name is mentioned in the market square? Well, these are kindly things to do, and they will be appreciated; but none of them is the consideration that is named in the lease, it is not the acknowledgment.
What is the one thing that James Hill shall do? He knows that he does not own the farm, and that Clayton Field does own it. This is a matter of common intelligence, for the farm has been in the Field family for three generations. And, further, James Hill knows there is one acknowledgment of that fact, and only one, that is valid in law, in equity, and in common sense—the payment of the consideration that is named in the lease; that is, the rent. If he will relate himself in honor to that single consideration, all acts of courtesy and friendship are like sweet perfume to them both; but if he neglects or evades the one consideration that has been named by the owner of the land, his gifts of friendship become a bitterness, and his words of testimony are touched by the sinister shadow of insincerity.
There is no need to enter here into the economic doctrine of "rent," which would involve a complex, and, for our present purpose, an unprofitable discussion.1 The ordinary legal use of the word is accurate so far as it concerns our main consideration. Blackstone defines rent as "a certain profit issuing yearly out of lands and tenements, it being in the nature of an acknowledgment given for the possession of some corporeal inheritance." The legal recognition of rent is, primarily, the acknowledgment of another's ownership. The actual consideration agreed upon, and its economic bearing, are secondary matters. Sometimes the consideration, or "rent," is a sum of money, sometimes a certain portion of the crop, sometimes so many days or weeks of service, or service of a certain character. But, whatever the consideration, whether money, "kind," or service, the root idea is the same; rent (not in the economic, but in the legal sense) is an acknowledgment that the land occupied by the tenant is the perpetual property of another, and, so long as this acknowledgment is rendered, the physical possession by the tenant cannot cloud the title of the owner.
1 Economic Rent analyzes the profit arising from land and determines scientifically how rent shall be related to other economic subjects, such as price, interest, wages, taxes, etc. But this lies wholly outside the scope of our subject, and we shall not introduce it at all.
The grave importance of rent should be appreciated by every man or woman who "owns" a bit of land, or other property, and lets it out to tenants, and also by the tenants themselves. It is well recognized, as a principle in law, that uninterrupted and unchallenged possession culminates in, and is identical with, absolute ownership. In new settlements, as well as in older communities, many an inheritance has been fraudulently or ignorantly diverted from an absent owner, or from his heirs. The property was held by some citizen in actual use and possession; there was never an acknowledgment that it belonged to another—that is, no rent was ever paid, and none was ever demanded. After the lapse of years, it was currently believed that the tenant had become the owner, and his family inherited the property in this actual confidence. Although some heir of the forgotten owner may arise to claim the property, yet equity as well as law would contest his claim. Uninterrupted and unchallenged possession for many years had given a prima facie claim to ownership, which must now be disproved, a difficult thing to do. The colloquial "Possession is nine points in the law" has an ethical foundation. It is therefore evident that, while rent is no doubt a profit issuing out of property, it is much more than this: rent is a safeguarding of property itself.
Return now to our hypothetical tenant-farmer, James Hill. He holds in actual use and possession the property of Clayton Field. He controls the entire value-force of the farm. When the owner of the land invited him to occupy it, it was well understood by both of them that a certain proportion of the crops, that is, a certain percentage of their value, should be paid over each year to Clayton Field. It was not implied that a certain portion of the farm itself should be returned each year to the owner, say ten acres every twelve months. That would be unbusinesslike and absurd, for he could demand and take back the whole of it at any time. The primary consideration in business is always value and never things. Mr. Field did not want his farm at all, but a certain portion of the value-force issuing out of it, that is, a percentage of the crops. He would take that value in actual raw produce if needful—in wheat, barley, oats, etc.— but it was customary to receive it in money. He would therefore expect Mr. Hill to measure the value of his crops (he would assist him if desired), and render the correct percentage in that universal measure of value—money.
On receipt of the rent several interesting facts are developed. First, and underlying all the others, Mr. Field has received valid and truthful acknowledgment that Mr. Hill recognizes him to be the rightful owner of the farm. Mr. Hill might affirm publicly and confess privately that he recognized Mr. Field to be the owner, but recognition without acknowledgment is the sign of an amazing lack of practical knowledge, or of personal insincerity. However, the acknowledgment is rendered, and Clayton Field has no least doubt that James Hill recognizes perfectly the relation of owner and tenant that exists between them. There is no need of words, which are made of breath; the acknowledgment is written in sweat and self-denial. It will endure.
Second, the rent money itself now becomes no mean part of Clayton Field's income. It will enable him to carry out certain plans of development, which, otherwise, would be greatly delayed or wholly frustrated. To be sure, he has other properties—coal mines, and timber land, and much wealth besides; in fact, he is rich. Nevertheless, his plans are very wide, and allow for no waste. He depends on the rental from Mr. Hill for certain definite parts of his program.
But the best part of the acknowledgment is that which is really not part of the acknowledgment at all—the wholesome and cordial friendship between the two men, which is fostered by their honorable business relations. If this is not a part of "ordinary business," it is nevertheless based upon genuine human facts, and is coming more and more to characterize all permanent business. Mr. Field is a just man and despises oblique finance—most of all between friends— but he is eminently wise, thoughtful, and considerate. While he would not entertain the suggestion—indeed, the suggestion would never be offered—that rent be abated "because of hard times," yet he will pour back into the farm, for improvements and development, the full amount of the rent, and much more, in order that the land shall reach its maximum of productiveness. If the value of the land is thereby enhanced, and his own profit increased, it is also true that Mr. Hill's prosperity is equally enlarged. Owner and tenant must prosper together, or not at all. We shall not dwell
On that best portion of a good man's life, His little, nameless, unremembered acts Of kindness and of love, but there are silent reminders through the years that friendship prospers most where honor is most regarded. The acknowledgment never wavers, therefore kindly thoughts are favored by a kindly soil. In truth, throughout the land, honorable friendships grow stronger every day because of honorable business. If Clayton Field and James Hill are a parable, they are certainly true to life.
Law is crystallized custom. Blackstone's commentaries and other legal authorities do not make the law; they simply record what has grown up as human custom, rooted in presumably right principles. If a certain principle is recognized to be unrighteous, human society will, sooner or later, repudiate the law which springs from it; but if the principle is embedded in sound ethics, the lapse of time strengthens the validity of the law. Concerning the law of rent, there is unanimity of thought among all men, and, seemingly, there always has been. Rent, as an acknowledgment of ownership, seems to rest in some human intuition, for all men think alike concerning it. Before the days when Jesus Christ spoke the parable of the "householder who planted a vineyard and let it out to husbandmen," from the earliest history of the race, men have been accustomed to render oil, or corn, or wine, or some other sufficient acknowledgment, whenever they have dwelt on the land that was owned by another.
This ancient and human law, that "ownership" must be acknowledged, has been warped by human greed into an instrument of bondage. The real token that a people had been conquered in war was not the bloody battlefield; it was the tribute money which they were compelled to render. This was their bitter acknowledgment that the land had changed "owners." The Helots among the Greeks were not only compelled to pay acknowledgment money because their town of Helos had been conquered, but they were bound to the soil in perpetuity—no longer freemen, but serfs.
In time the very name "helot" became synony-mous with slave. In feudal centuries the vassal occupied the soil on the express condition that he should render military service at the call of his baronial lord, and this service became his "rent"—that is, the acknowledgment which he "rendered" or "gave back" to the owner of the land.1
But, in spite of these and other perversions of a righteous law, rent remains to this day, in all civilized nations, as well as among barbarous people, the unquestioned right of "ownership." Economists maintain that rent is inherent in the land itself, and, under normal conditions, that it must necessarily accrue, whether the land is occupied by the owner or by a tenant. Rent may be used, and is universally recognized, as an honorable profit. But this, as we have seen, is always of necessity a second and even a minor consideration. The "owner" who receives rent and the tenant who pays it are both operating under a primary law which lies in the background of every leasehold. The moment rent is placed in jeopardy, whether in city, town, or country, the force of this law is immediately recognized— "ownerships demands acknowledgment. Profit becomes a secondary consideration, for property itself is in peril, or may become so. "Owners" will accept, if need be, a smaller consideration, but they absolutely demand payment in some amount. Acknowledgment must be rendered, because "ownership" must be maintained.
1 The English noon, "rent," '» derived from the Latin reddita, plural of redditmm. from re and dare, meaning literally "to give again," or "to give back." The Engfiah verb, "lender," is derived in the same way, and has, of course, the same meaning, "Rent" is the thing "rendered," or given back.
Men did not receive their intuitions through a blind and stupid chance. If a man's title to and possession of property brings an intuitive claim to "acknowledgment," we are driven to the conviction that this common recognition is part of the moral inheritance which men have received from their Maker. An inevitable conclusion awaits us. It is this: God, the absolute owner of all things, expects men to acknowledge his ownership. Mark the word—acknowledge. Only cheap and irreverent smartness would suggest the corollary of "paying God rent" for the privilege of occupying the planet! The primal law of ownership is lofty, and it is absolute: Men must acknowledge the Sovereignty which they recognize, lest recognition should exalt itself and become the actual occasion of sin. This is not an exaction of arbitrary power. It rests in the very nature and necessity of the Creator and of the creature.
What, then, shall a man render? What human acknowledgment will be suitable to the High and Holy One that inhabiteth eternity? If intelligence shall be able to discover it, honor will surely perform it.