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contrast with America, where very man could sit under his own vine and fig tree. It is easy, therefore, to understand the feeling of consternation which prevailed when the census of 1880 revealed that over one-fourth of our farmers were no longer owners but had somehow become tenants in spite of homestead and other liberal land laws.
In 1930 about 53 percent of our farmers operated leased land, and 42 percent of them rented all of the land which they operated. The forces of depression appear to have increased this proportion, so that today it is estimated that not less than 45 percent of all our farmers are tenants.
The consequences of the failure to safeguard the principle of farm ownership by the operator of the farm is emphasized by the rapid development of farm tenancy in the States most recently settled under the homestead system. In North Dakota, for instance, where a large percentage of the land was homesteaded in the latter part of the last century, over 35 percent of all farmers in the State are tenants. The same development occurred in South Dakota, where almost half the farmers are now tenants. In Oklahoma, one of the last States to be opened for settlement, about two-thirds of all farms are now operated by tenant farmers. Our Federal reclamation policy was also urged as a means of creating farm homes operated by owners. Nevertheless, there was the same failure to safeguard the system against the land speculator and the absentee landlord. Consequently, we find that about 40 percent of the farms on Federal reclamation projects are operated by tenants. The growth of tenancy is all the more serious because in the main it has occurred on the better lands in each of the principal regions of the country. In some of the best prairie counties of Illinois, for instance, you will find 70 to 80 percent of the farms operated by tenants. Tenancy is closely associated with the specialized production of the major cash crops, the surplus of which has been troubling this country for more than a decade. Because it is associated with commercial farming and specialized crop production it is closely associated with and related to that other great evil of our land system-land speculation.
The fact that the tenant farmer has been intrusted with some of the best soils of the Nation is especially serious, because a large proportion of our tenants have little permanent interest in soil conservation. The average period of occupancy by tenants is only a little more than 4 years. Since few tenant contracts provide compensation for improvements made by the tenant and since both landlord and tenant are usually interested in the production of cash crops, it follows that in general tenancy is largely responsible for the serious and progressive depletion of soil fertility. We can hardly deal fundamentally with erosion and other types of soil wastage until we bring about a change in the relationship of tenant farmers to the lands they operate.
Some of the worst characteristics of the American tenancy system are found in the South. A great many people think southern tenants are mostly Negroes. On the contrary, of the 1,800,000 tenants and croppers reported in the 16 Southern States by the 1930 census, only 700,000, or less than 40 percent, were Negroes. Notwithstanding the tremendous increase in tenancy which occurred in the South between 1920 and 1930, all the gain was brought about by an increase in the number of white tenants. In fact, there was a slight decrease in the number of Negro tenants and croppers between 1920 and 1930, but there was a gain of 69 percent in the number of white croppers during that decade. A large number of southern owners and share tenants, particularly white owners and tenants, were forced to revert to the propertyless status of the croppers by the agricultural depression which started with the fall of prices in 1920.
The disintegration of the farm system in the South, particularly the plantation phase, has become progressively more rapid since the World War. Factors which contribute to this include the increased mechanization of cotton production, especially in the western areas and in the alluvial portions of the lower Mississippi Valley; adverse influence on older areas of the competition in cotton production by the newer western areas; soil erosion and depletion of soil fertility from the one-crop system; the gradual depletion of timber resources which formerly supplied employment and income in many areas; a series of price crises since the World War that impaired the ability of many landowners, supply merchants, and plantation operators to supply their tenants; and the pull of industrial employment which attracted labor from the South until the advent of the depression in 1929. Since the depression the displacement of southern tenants and the increase in the number of rural “ squatters ” has been sharply increased. This was a condition with which the A. A. A. was confronted when the first program was inaugurated to increase cotton income in 1932.
We recognize that the operation of the cotton programs has probably added to the immediate difficulties just as relief policies have injected additional complications into the usual tenant and farmlabor relationships. It is inevitable in a period of emergency that such disturbances should occur. But we should realize that neither the A. A. A. programs nor any relief program can really come to grips with the fundamentals of these conditions. At best, anything we might do either through the A. A. A. or relief would be temporary palliatives.
The present conditions, particularly in the South, provide fertile soil for Communist and Socialist agitators. I do not like the bitterness that is aroused by this sort of agitation, but I realize that the cure is not violence or oppressive legislation to curb these activties but rather to give these dispossessed people a stake in the social system. The American way to preserve the traditional order is to provide these refugees of the economic system with an opportunity to build and develop their own homes and to live on the land which they may call their own and on which they can make a modest living year after year.
There are some who may call this approach which I have suggested in the sentences immediately preceding radicalism. To my notion, it is fundamentally conservatism. Those who are tempted to call this radicalism could turn out to be in their approach to the problem men of the same narrow vision and nature as the Bourbons of 160 years ago.
Senator SHIPSTEAD. Mr. Secretary, you do not have to go so far back as that. The big landowners of Russia held the same view and they caused the revolution.
Secretary WALLACE. Yes; we find many cases in history, Senator Shipstead, where conservatives have not cared to be saved.
Senator SHIPSTEAD. I object to calling them conservatives.
Senator BANKHEAD. Mr. Secretary, my viewpoint-excuse me, Senator Shipstead.
Senator SHIPSTEAD. That is a prostitution of the term tive." There is nothing conservative about it.
Secretary WALLACE. You feel that they are really radicals but misguided ?
Senator SHIPSTEAD. I consider them the most destructive force in this country or any country.
Senator BANKHEAD. I think there are two types of radicals: one is the soap-box orator who is willing to destroy by force all our institutions. The other is the extreme, old line, stand-pat conservative element that is willing to risk destruction of everything we have in order not to lose anything that it has heretofore enjoyed. I think the latter element is just as dangerous to the country as the former, and they are both radicals.
Secretary WALLACE. And when the two join hands, you have a very dangerous condition.
Senator POPE. Yes.
Secretary WALLACE. In the South, as in many other regions, the real problem is to reassociate labor, land, and capital in such manner as to enable the people to maintain a better standard of living than formerly under more wholesome conditions of operation both for the people and the land.
Of course, you gentlemen are more familiar with the tenancy situation in the South than I, and you realize that it is a long, slow process to equip the tenants not only with the mechanism for acquiring land but also to equip them with an understanding so that they can operate that land to the best advantage. That is not a thing that can be done suddenly or rapidly, and men who would call our attention to that problem as one of the difficulties in working out your desires under this bill are quite right in calling our attention to it. But I am sure, Senator, that you recognize that situation fully.
Senator BANKHEAD. Absolutely; it is an evolution; an evolutionary matter.
Secretary WALLACE. We have been talking about the evils of farm tenancy in this country for a great many years. It is high time that America faced her tenant situation openly, and pursued a vigorous policy of improvement. Studies made by the Department of Agriculture, State experiment stations, and other research agencies have repeatedly shown that in communities where tenancy is extensive there is an unusual degree of rural instability and lack of a wellknit social life. It almost impossible for tenant families who move from place to place every 2 or 3 years, to participate in the activities of schools, churches, and other similar rural institutions.
In December of 1912, I spent some little time in Ireland, England, and western Europe studying conditions and especially the tenancy systems in those countries and their cooperative methods. I found that all of the students of agricultural economics with whom I met at that time believed that the fundamenal approach to a better
life for farmers was first, security of tenure, preferably by land ownership, that it was only when you had the same people living in the community year after year that it was possible to build up in that community that cooperative feeling which is necessary to run successful cooperatives over the years. So the first step which such thinkers as Sir Horace Plunkett advocated was ownership of the land, and then developing the ownership of the methods of doing business.
Senator Pope. Do you know what percentage of the farmers are tenant farmers in Ireland and England, as compared to the forty-odd percent in this country?
Secretary WALLACE. At the present time practically all of the Irish farmers own their own land but in the old days previous to 1880, practically all of them rented their land.
Senator POPE. What sort of plan did they evolve over there to change that situation, do you know?
Secretary WALLACE. Well, the tenants of the Irish farms developed the unpleasant habit of sitting behind a hedgerow and taking pot shots at the landlords.
Senator SHIPSTEAD. Maybe it would be a good idea to import some Irishmen over here. [Laughter.]
Secretary WALLACE. The situation became so intolerable after a time that the British, being a peace-loving people, under Gladstone, passed certain land acts which provided for the British Government furnishing credit for the purchase and buying out of the Irish landlords and the reselling of the land to the Irish tenants. I do not know just how many hundreds of millions of dollars the British finally put into that but it ran up into several hundred millions of dollars. I think it finally totaled pretty close to $500,000,000, but I am speaking from a rather hazy memory. The land was sold to the Irish tenants on the basis of an 80-year purchase, I think, and the amortization on the principal plus the interest amounted to about what they had formerly been paying as rent, and in a great many cases less than they had formerly been paying as rent. The situation has really worked out very well.
Senator POPE. Is that also true of the English farmers ? Secretary WALLACE. In the case of England, they have quite a different situation. As I remember it, I do not know what the mostup-to-date figures are but back 15 years ago, more than 80 percent of the English were tenants. It is in recent years that I think they have started buying their own lands but not in any thoroughly systematic way. The English have attempted to handle the situation by a kind of noblesse oblige on the part of the landowners who undertook to bring about permanency of tenure. I suspect the average British tenant is on the land for at least 20 years. That is just speaking from observation and not from an examination of statistics; that is, from talking with the people in England. Of course, the British objective is security of tenure. I must confess that I prefer ownership to tenancy but the British have under their system brought about a very happy situation.
Senator Pops. I have one other question. In the chart or tabulated list which appears here, apparently prepared by the Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, it appears that about 42.4 percent of all farmers are tenants in this country.
Senator BANKHEAD. That is 1930. The percentage is higher now. That was the census of 1930.
Senator POPE. During the last 10 years, what has been the status of tenancy? Has it been increasing?
Secretary WALLACE. Oh, yes.
Senator POPE. Do you have some figures to show how much that has increased in the last 10 years?
Secretary WALLACE. I introduced some figures on that earlier in my testimony. We can get you quite complete figures along that line to introduce into the record if you desire them.
Senator Pope. I simply want to know generally.
Secretary WALLACE. There has been a very decided increase in the period from 1920 to 1930.
Senator SHIPSTEAD. I understand that Dr. Myers has conducted survey or investigation of the tenancy of farmers recently and has made an up-to-date report but it has never been published. Do you know anything about it?
Secretary WALLACE. I do not.
Senator BANKHEAD. I will invite Dr. Myers to come up or send a representative to give us such information as they have. I will have him here either this afternoon or tomorrow morning.
Secretary WALLACE. I do not mean to imply that all tenant farmers are poor farmers or that all of them are migratory and unstable. Perhaps the best type of tenancy in America is that which arises when a farmer retires and rents his farm to a son, a son-in-law, or some other relative. In such cases the owner usually lives nearby and both he and his tenant relative are interested in the upkeep of the property. The owner continues to exercise considerable supervision. The tenant, after his period of apprenticeship, is likely to inherit the property or acquire it through some other family arrangement. This kind of relationship is to be found on about 19 percent of the farms of the United States, and it is especially prevalent in the Corn Belt and dairy regions. In one or two States as many as two-fifths of the tenants are related to the landowners. They are also many
other landlords not related to tenants who live near their farms and exercise a wholesome influence on the system of farm management.
Nevertheless, even in the Northern States a great deal of tenancy is characterized by instability of occupancy, absentee landlordism, soil exploitation, and lack of identification of the tenant with community life.
It seems to me that it will be virtually impossible for America to develop a rural civilization which affords security, opportunity, and a fully abundant life for our rural people unless she acts to convert tenants of this sort into owner-farmers. It is extremely unlikely that a satisfactory and stable rural civilization can be developed in communities where the land is owned by absentee landlords interested primarily in profit and farmed by tenants who are willing, if not encouraged, to mine the soil and allow the buildings to decay, with the thought that they can move on to a different farm every 2 or 3 years.