Landlord

The patroons came from Holland to America, became landlords where none had been before
Soon one man owned half a million acres on both sides of the Hudson River shore
He invited families to move in and give him thirty percent
Of everything they grew each year, this is how they’d pay the rent

His name was Rensselaer, he became one of the richest men on Earth
In today’s terms ninety billion dollars is how much he’d be worth
All this for doing nothing but saying all of this was his
“I have the power of the state behind me and I’m in the landlord biz”

After two hundred years of this and one revolution won
Another Rennsalaer had another son
And this Rennsalaer was greedier than his ancestors dead and passed
It was now the 1840’s and things started changing fast

It was the straw that broke the back, the bottle was uncorked
They started organizing meetings, the tenant farmers of New York
They found the strength of numbers, they found the power of suggestion
They found each other asking the same question

Who gave you the right to be a landlord, to live a life of ease while others toil
Who gave you the right to be a rich man, while the rest of us pay you so that we can work this soil

They vowed that they would stop the rent collection, they vowed they’d bring this madness to an end
And when one blew the tin horn of distress, they’d soon find they had a thousand friends
Dressed in calico skirts with masks upon their faces, on horseback, armed with knives and guns
They chanted and they yelled, they kept their farms, and they kept the sheriffs on the run

They asked, who gave you the right to be a landlord, to live a life of ease while others toil
Who gave you the right to be a rich man, while the rest of us pay you so that we can work this soil

The governor’s militias tried to stop them, but nothing could be done to break their will
And by 1848 the landlords buckled and sold their holdings to the farmers in the hills
Yes they overthrew this feudal system, but it’s replaced now by speculators and banks
And you can still hear the homeless families asking of all the landed gentry in our ranks

Who gave you the right to be a landlord, to live a life of ease while others toil
Who gave you the right to be a rich man, while the rest of us pay you so that we can work this soil

Who gave you the right to be a landlord, to live a life of ease while others toil
Who gave you the right to be a rich man, while the rest of us pay you so that we can work this soil

Who gave you the right?

Buy/share the album:

Sheet music:
Landlord

“Landlord” originally appears on the 2013 Bandcamp album, Into A Prism, and later on the 2013 CD, If I Had A Hammer.

1848 was a big year for rebellion in much of the world, particularly across Europe.  The ruling classes in the US were also scared of the rebellion spreading, and it is probably no accident that after 9 years of tenant farmers across upstate New York refusing to pay their rent, it was in 1848 that the landlords decided they’d be willing to sell their lands.  This, after centuries of these landlord families descended from Dutch royalty making fortune after fortune from charging farmers for the privilege of farming on their land.  A feudal system which was exported from Europe to the “New World.”  This feudal system was partially overthrown on both sides of the Atlantic.  A partial overthrow which left the rich still rich, but gave the poor some rights, and in some cases, the right to land to go along with the less tangible, more ephemeral rights.  The land mainly came later, in the form of the Homestead Act of 1862.  Which was great for white settlers, and mainly very bad for the indigenous population, and not helpful for the slaves or their descendants, either.

Growing up only 100 miles or so from where the Rent Strike Wars took place, I never heard of them until long after I grew up and left home.  Certainly of the most formative, seminal events in 19th-century US history, but completely overlooked by mainstream historians, mainstream school textbooks, etc.  Why?  Because it doesn’t go along with the mainstream narrative — that of the beneficent government doing nice things like passing the Homestead Act.  Why the Homestead Act was passed in the first place is too dangerous to mention.  Because history is dangerous.

Next Gig

See all concerts

Concerts by Songkick

Sign up to Newsletter