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SCOTCH ENTAILS CONSIDERED IN MORAL AND PO
AN is by nature a hoarding animal; and to secure what is acquired by honest industry, the sense of property is made a branch of human nature*. During the infancy of nations, when artificial wants are unknown, the hoarding appetite makes no figure. The use of money produced a great alteration in the human heart. Money having at command the goods of fortune, introduced inequality of rank, luxury, and artificial wants without end. No bounds are set to hoarding, where an appetite for artificial wants is indulFf2 ged:
* Book 1. Sk. 2.
ged: love of money becomes the ruling passion: it is coveted by many, in order to be hoarded; and means are absurdly converted into an end.
The sense of property, weak among savages, ripens gradually till it arrives at maturity in polished nations. In every stage of the progress, some new power is added to property; and now, for centuries, men have enjoyed every power over their own goods, that a rational mind can desire * they have the free disposal during life, and even after death, by naming an heir. These powers are sufficient for accomplishing every rational purpose they are sufficient for commerce, and they are sufficient for benevolence. But the artificial wants of men are boundless; not content with the full enjoyment of their property during life, nor with the prospect of its being enjoyed by a favourite heir, they are anxiously bent to preserve it to themselves for ever. A man who has amassed a great estate in land, is miserable at the prospect of being obliged to quit his hold: to soothe his diseased fancy, he makes a deed securing it for ever to certain heirs; who must without end bear his name, and preserve his estate entire. Death, it is true, must at last separate him from his idol: it is some consolation, however, that his will governs and gives law to every subsequent proprietor. How repugnant to the frail state of man are such swollen conceptions! Upon these, however, are found
* Historical Law-Tracts, Tract 3.
ed entails, which have prevailed in many parts of the world, and unhappily at this day infest Scotland. Did entails produce no other mischief but the gratification of a distempered appetite, they might be endured, though far from deserving approbation : but, like other transgressions of nature and reason, they are productive of much mischief, not only to commerce, but to the very heirs for whose sake alone it is pretended that they are made.
Considering that the law of nature has bestowed on man every power of property that is necessary either for commerce or for benevolence, how blind was it in the English Legislature to add a most irrational power, that of making an entail! But men will always be mending; and, when a lawgiver ventures to tamper with the laws of nature, he hazards much mischief. We have a pregnant instance above, of an attempt to mend the laws of God in many absurd regulations for the poor; and that the law authorising entails is another instance of the same kind, will be evident from what follows.
The mischievous effects of English entails were soon discovered: they occasioned such injustice and oppression, that even the judges ventured to relieve the nation from them by an artificial form, termed fine and recovery. And yet, though no moderate man would desire more power over his estate than he has by common law, the legislature, of Scotland enabled every land proprietor to fetFf3
ter his estate for ever; to tyrannize over his heirs; and to reduce their property to a shadow, by prohibiting them to alien, and by prohibiting them to contract debt, were it even to redeem them from death or slavery. Thus, many a man, fonder of his estate than of his wife and children, grudges the use of it to his natural heirs, reducing them to the state of mere liferenters. Behold the consequences! A number of noblemen and gentlemen among us lie in wait for every parcel of land that comes to market. Intent upon aggrandizing their family, or rather their estate, which is the favourite object, they secure every purchase by an entail; and the same course will be followed, till no land be left to be purchased. Thus every entailed estate in Scotland becomes in effect a mortmain, admitting additions without end, but absolutely barring alienation; and if the Legislature interpose not, the period is not distant, when all the land in Scotland will be locked up by entails, and withdrawn from commerce.
The purpose of the present Essay, is to set before our Legislature, coolly and impartially, the destructive effects of a Scotch entail. I am not so sanguine as to hope, that men, who convert means into an end, and avariciously covet land for its own sake, will be prevailed upon to regard, either the interest of their country, or of their posterity: but I would gladly hope, that the Legislature may be
be roused to give attention to a national object of no slight importance.
I begin with effects of a private or domestic nature. To the possessor, an entail is a constant source of discontent, by subverting that liberty and independence, which all men covet with respect to their goods as well as their persons. What can be more vexatious to a proprietor of a great landestate, than to be barred from the most laudable acts, suitable provisions, for example, to a wife or children? not to mention numberless acts of benevolence, that endear individuals to each other, and sweeten society. A great proportion of the land in Scotland is in such a state, that, by laying out a thousand pounds or so, an intelligent proprietor may add a hundred pounds yearly to his rent-roll. But an entail effectually bars that improvement : it affords the proprietor no credit; and supposing him to have the command of money independent of the estate, he will be ill-fated if he have not means to employ it more profitably for his own interest. An entail, at the same time, is no better than a trap for an improvident possessor: to avoid altogether the contracting debt, is impracticable; and if a young man be guided more by pleasure than by prudence, which commonly is the case of young men, a vigilant and rapacious substitute, taking advantage of a forfeiting clause, turns him out of possession, and delivers him over to want and misery.