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The Law, by Bastiat
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"The delusion of the present day ... is our attempt to enrich everyone at the expense of everyone else; to make plunder universal under the pretense of organizing it. "

--- Bastiat

Lesson 91 - The Industrial Revolution - The Enclosure Acts Print E-mail


There has been a great deal said about the so-called "Enclosure Acts", and of the detrimental effect that they supposedly had upon the lower classes.

To be sure, the forceful appropriation of lands from those who had by custom been able to occupy and to use them, created a sense of injustice and resentment.

However in fact, these lands had never been "owned".  Rather they had been reserved or set aside under feudal custom for the common or shared use of the lower classes, who did not and generally could not privately own property - since all property was legally and exclusively owned by the local lord or noble.

The charge is often made that these "enclosures" and seizures of land were done at the behest of the new mill owners, who were seeking workers and land for their new enterprises.

The evidence runs counter to this generally accepted view.  In fact, it is quite unlikely that most mill owners were even aware of the seizures, and there is no evidence that they conspired in any significant way to bring it about.

The result however, as temporarily disturbing to the commoners as it may have been, was quickly beneficial.  Many men and women who for generations had grown accustomed to living in one place in miserable poverty, were now inspired to migrate, seeking to improve their lot.

Many of these people found their way to the doors of the new factories and mills, and became gainfully employed, earning cash wages - again often for the first time in their lives.  The newly-enclosed lands were also put into active cultivation, with the benefits of increased food supply already mentioned.


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Fundamentals of Liberty