Thomas Spence

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Spence, Thomas (1750–1814). Artisan radical reformer and bookseller from Newcastle whose ‘Plan’ (first announced in 1775 and subsequently elaborated in later publications) argued that all land should be publicly owned. Spence believed that all injustice, inequality, and exploitation stemmed from the private ownership of land. He therefore proposed that the land and all wealth from it should be held communally by the inhabitants of each parish. Local hostility and personal misfortune in 1787 caused him to move to London, and from 1792 he was an active member of the London corresponding society. His numerous radical pamphlets and token coins attracted government attention, and he was arrested and imprisoned in 1792, 1794, 1798, and 1801. Spence originally hoped to effect his plan by education, and indeed advocated language reform. But after his prison experience, he conceded the probable need for physical force, though he was not implicated in the insurrectionary activities of some of his followers.

John F. C. Harrison

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Thomas Spence, 1750–1814, English agrarian socialist. A forerunner of the single taxers (see single tax), he devised a scheme by which the parishes would assume ownership of the land and rent paid to the parish corporation would be the sole tax. He devoted much of his life to agitating for these principles and founded a society of Spenceans. He set forth his ideas in The Real Rights of Man (1775) and other pamphlets.

See study by O. D. Rudkin (1927, repr. 1966).

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