Gerrit Smith Virtual Museum Gerrit Smith Letter - January 11, 1850

Public Letters



PETERBORO, January 11th 1850.

John Cochran,
Isaac T. Hopper,
Daniel C. Eaton,
George H. Evans,
William Kemeys:


I proposed, last Spring, to make gifts to five hundred males and five hundred females, inhabitants of this State. I requested you to select from the City and County of New York seventy-five of each sex; and I requested persons in the other Counties of our State to select the remaining four hundred and twenty-five of each sex. You kindly and promptly undertook the labor, which I presumed to assign you; and I, now, have the pleasure to receive from you the one hundred and fifty names.

            I have come to the conclusion, that it is not best for the females to receive land from me. What land I have left, and my title to which is unquestionable, is, with small exceptions, unfit for farming. My gifts to colored people took all my large tracts of farming land, save one in the County of Franklin;--and this can, perhaps, hardly be called a farming tract. It is of inferior soil; and I cannot say, that it is very valuable in any respect. Notwithstanding some of the lots abound in pine, the tract is too far from market to make it very desirable for its timer. The Boston & Ogdensburgh rail road, however, passes within some 16 or 18 miles of it.

            This tract, which contains nearly nineteen thousand acres, and which my deceased father had his surveyor divide into farm-lots, I conclude to give to the five hundred men, each of whom will, as I formerly proposed, receive ten dollars, along with his deed.

            The five hundred females will each receive fifty dollars. This sum is sufficient to purchase forty acres of Government land. I hope, that each one, who does not so expend it, will expend it in the purchase of other land. To you, who know my heart on this subject, I need not say, how deeply I feel, that every person needs to be the admitted owner of a parcel of land. This every person should be, without having to pay for it. But, if a free ownership be withheld, still let there be an ownership, whenever it can be bought. If for no other reason than that the more, who are the admitted owners of land, the sooner will such ownership be acknowledged to be a natural, universal, and inalienable right, I would have every person get a parcel of land, who can get it.

            Alas, that good men should be so slow to see, that the acknowledged right of every generation, and the whole of every generation, to the use of the earth, as well as to the use of the sea, the light, and the air, is necessarily preliminary to that state of universal comfort, and happiness, and holiness, for which good men labor and pray! So vitally important, so indispensable, is this right in my view, that no person, who rejects it, can get my vote to be a civil ruler, or a moral instructor. How long will the people consent to be put off with bribes and toys and deceptions in the place of the acknowledgement of their rights? The Governments of the earth all refuse to acknowledge the right of the people to the soil. And yet the people, stripped though they are of this greatest right, of this only effectual security for all their rights, sustain and honor these Governments! And this they do, because their Governments help them pay their parsons or their schoolmasters, or bribe them in some other way. Only let the Governments of the earth give back to their subjects the rights, of which they are robbed; and their subjects will lack neither the ability nor the disposition to take the whole care, and bear the whole burden, of their schools and churches.

            I send you herewith 75 deeds of land and $750 for the 75 males you have selected, and $3,750 for the 75 females you have selected. Should the grantees wish to make inquiries respecting the land, I hope they will make them of you. I cannot even read, much less can I answer, all the letters, which I receive.

            To the Committees in the other Counties I will send deeds and ten dollars with each, as fast as I receive from them the names of the males, whom they select. My gifts to the females, whom they select, I shall not be able to complete in a less space of time than a year, or eighteen months, as my first duty with the moneys I receive is to employ a large share of them in continuing to reduce the great amount of debt, which I still owe. It is probable, however, that I shall, every month, pay the females of one or more Counties.

                                                                            With great regard,
                                                                                                  your friend,

                                                                                                                        GERRIT SMITH.

Peterboro, 1850

Source: Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division. Printed Ephemera Collection; Portfolio 121, Folder 1b.

1999- All rights reserved.