Animal Rights:
A History

Henry J Salt  

The Deeper Minds Of All Ages Have Had Pity For Animals
Friedrich Nietzsche

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This page is part of the section: Animal Rights:A History

Henry Salt

The animal rights movement dates back to the 19th century as a result of the work of writer and social reformer Henry Salt, who greatly influenced Gandhi.

Born in 1851 Henry Salt grew up in Shrewsbury and was educated at Cambridge and taught at Eaton for a time. Although he could have lived otherwise Salt led a modest and frugal vegetarian life-style living in a remote cottage growing his own vegetables and earning a living as a writer.

Salt was was not only a tireless campaigner for social reform in the area of prisons, schools and economic


institutions but also in the treatment of animals and was a noted ethical vegetarian, anti-vivisectionist and pacifist, he considered that animals should be allowed to live their own lives and it was the responsibility of human to treat them justly with compassion.


He created an awareness of ethical matters concerning animals with the publication of the first books on animal rights issues and the importance of giving animals a place in the moral system, he was in fact the first writer to unequivocally state that animals should have rights as opposed to better treatment, in 1894 he wrote:

"If we are ever going to do justice to the lower races, we must get rid of the antiquated notion of a 'great gulf' fixed between them and mankind, and must recognize the common bond of humanity that unites all living beings in one universal brotherhood."

Salt wrote nearly 40 books forcefully urging social reforms in areas such as prisons and  schools and books advocating  animal rights and ethical vegetarianism. The most prominent of which includes The Humanities of Diet, Animal rights the Logic of Vegetarianism and Animals’ Rights: Considered in Relation to Social Progress. Below are various extracts from these writings and others along with a link to the entire work where possible.

The Animals, you say, were “sent”
For man’s free use and nutriment.
Pray, then, inform me, and be candid,
Why came they aeons before Man did,
To spend long centuries on earth,
Awaiting their Devourer’s birth?
Those ill-timed chattels, sent from Heaven,
Were, sure, the maddest gift e’er given –
“Sent” for Man’s usage (can Man believe it?)
When there was no Man to receive it!

Henry S Salt, ‘The Sending of the Animals’, in Cum Grano: Verses and Epigrams (1931)

But the sporting instinct is due to sheer callousness and insensibility; the sportsman, by force of habit, or by force of hereditary influence, cannot understand or sympathize with the sufferings he causes, and being, in the great majority of instances, a man of slow perception, he naturally finds it much easier to follow the hounds than to follow an argument.

Henry S Salt, Animals’ Rights Considered in Relation to Social Progress

As for the nonsense sometimes talked about the beneficial effects of those field-sports which bring men into contact with the sublimities of nature, I will only repeat what I have elsewhere said on this subject, that “the dynamiters who cross the ocean to blow up an English town might on this principle justify the object of their journey by the assertion that the sea-voyage brought them in contact with the exalting and ennobling influence of the Atlantic.’

Henry S Salt, Animals’ Rights Considered in Relation to Social Progress

In Animals' Rights: Considered in Relation to Social Progress, Salt wrote that he wanted to "set the principle of animals' rights on a consistent and intelligible footing, [and] to show that this principle underlies the various efforts of humanitarian reformers ...":

Even the leading advocates of animal rights seem to have shrunk from basing their claim on the only argument which can ultimately be held to be a really sufficient one—the assertion that animals, as well as men, though, of course, to a far less extent than men, are possessed of a distinctive individuality, and, therefore, are in justice entitled to live their lives with a due measure of that 'restricted freedom' to which Herbert Spencer alludes.

He wrote that there is no point in claiming rights for animals if we subordinate their rights to human interests, and he argued against the presumption that a human life necessarily has more value than a nonhuman one:

[The] notion of the life of an animal having 'no moral purpose,' belongs to a class of ideas which cannot possibly be accepted by the advanced humanitarian thought of the present day—it is a purely arbitrary assumption, at variance with our best instincts, at variance with our best science, and absolutely fatal (if the subject be clearly thought out) to any full realization of animals' rights. If we are ever going to do justice to the lower races, we must get rid of the antiquated notion of a 'great gulf' fixed between them and mankind, and must recognize the common bond of humanity that unites all living beings in one universal brotherhood."

Animals’ Rights: Considered in Relation to Social Progress
by Henry S. Salt


Prefatory Note
the object of the following essay is to set the principle of animals' rights on a consistent and intelligible footing, to show that this principle underlies the various efforts of humanitarian reformers, and to make a clearance of the comfortable fallacies which the apologists of the present system have industriously accumulated. While not hesitating to speak strongly when occasion demanded, I have tried to avoid the tone of irrelevant recrimination so common in these controversies, and thus to give more unmistakable emphasis to the vital points at issue. We have to decide, not whether the practice of fox-hunting, for example, is more, or less, cruel than vivisection, but whether all practices which inflict unnecessary pain on sentient beings are not incompatible with the higher instincts of humanity.

I am aware that many of my contentions will appear very ridiculous to those who view the subject from a contrary standpoint, and regard the lower animals as created solely for the pleasure and advantage of man; on the other hand, I have myself derived an unfailing fund of amusement from a rather extensive study of our adversaries' reasoning. It is a conflict of opinion, wherein in time alone can adjudicate: but already there are not a few signs that the laugh will rest ultimately with the humanitarians.

I have included chapter one of Animals’ Rights: Considered in Relation to Social Progress  by Henry H. Salt in its entirety as this is an important contribution to the progress of animal rights and relevant today as it was when it was first written.  It is considered one of the classic texts on Animal Rights philosophy.

Click the link below To read the entire work

Animals’ Rights Considered in Relation to Social Progress, by Henry S. Salt

To skip this and continue reading other writings of Henry J Salt in relation to animal rights beginning with a Plea for Vegetarianism, an essay that had a great impression upon Ghandi, click here

Animals’ Rights: Considered in Relation to Social Progress
by Henry H. Salt

Chapter I

The Principle of Animals’ Rights

have the lower animals "rights?" Undoubtedly—if men have. That is the point I wish to make evident in this opening chapter. But have men rights ? Let it be stated at the outset that I have no intention of discussing the abstract theory of natural rights, which, at the present time, is looked upon with suspicion and disfavour by many social reformers, since it has not unfrequently been made to cover the most extravagant and contradictory assertions. But though its phraseology is confessedly vague and perilous, there is nevertheless a solid truth underlying it—a truth which has always been clearly apprehended by the moral faculty, however difficult it may be to establish it on an unassailable logical basis. If men have not " rights "—well, they have an unmistakable intimation of something very similar; a sense of justice which marks the boundary-line where acquiescence ceases and resistance begins; a demand for freedom to live their own life, subject to the necessity of respecting the equal freedom of other people.

Such is the doctrine of rights as formulated by Herbert Spencer. " Every man, " he says, "is free to do that which he wills, provided he infringes not the equal liberty of any other man. " And again, " Whoever admits that each man must have a certain restricted freedom, asserts that it is right he should have this restricted freedom.... And hence the several particular freedoms deducible may fitly be called, as they commonly are called, his rights. '"[1]

The fitness of this nomenclature is disputed, but the existence of some real principle of the kind can hardly be called in question; so that the controversy concerning " rights " is little else than an academic battle over words, which leads to no practical conclusion. I shall assume, therefore, that men are possessed of " rights " in the sense of Herbert Spencer's definition; and if any of my readers object to this qualified use of the term, I can only say that I shall be perfectly willing to change the word as soon as a more appropriate one is forthcoming. The immediate question that claims our attention is this —if men have rights, have animals their rights also ?

From the earliest times there have been thinkers who, directly or indirectly, answered this question with an affirmative. The Buddhist and Pythagorean canons, dominated perhaps by the creed of reincarnation, included the maxim " not to kill or injure any innocent animal. '' The humanitarian philosophers of the Roman empire, among whom Seneca and Plutarch and Porphyry were the most conspicuous, took still higher ground in preaching humanity on the broadest principle of universal benevolence. " Since justice is due to rational beings, " wrote Porphyry, " how is it possible to evade the admission that we are bound also to act justly towards the races below us ? "

It is a lamentable fact that during the churchdom of the middle ages, from the fourth century to the sixteenth, from the time of Porphyry to the time of Montaigne, little or no attention was paid to the question of the rights and wrongs of the lower races. Then, with the Reformation and the revival of learning, came a revival also of humanitarian feeling, as may be seen in many passages of Erasmus and More, Shakespeare and Bacon; but it was not until the eighteenth century, the age of enlightenment and "sensibility, " of which Voltaire and Rousseau were the spokesmen, that the rights of animals obtained more deliberate recognition. From the great Revolution of 1789 dates the period when the world-wide spirit of humanitarianism, which had hitherto been felt by but one man in a million—the thesis of the philosopher or the vision of the poet—began to disclose itself, gradually and dimly at first, as an essential feature of democracy.

A great and far-reaching effect was produced in England at this time by the publication of such revolutionary works as Paine's "Rights of Man, " and Mary Wollstonecraft's " Vindication of the Rights of Women; " and looking back now, after the lapse of a hundred years, we can see that a still wider extension of the theory of rights was thenceforth inevitable. In fact, such a claim was anticipated—if only in bitter jest—by a contemporary writer, who furnishes us with a notable instance of how the mockery of one generation may become the reality of the next. There was published anonymously in 1792 a little volume entitled "A Vindication of the Rights of Brutes, "[2] a reductio ad absurdum of Mary Wollstonecraft's essay, written, as the author informs us, " to evince by demonstrative arguments the perfect equality of what is called the irrational species to the human. " The further opinion is expressed that "after those wonderful productions of Mr. Paine and Mrs. Wollstonecraft, such a theory as the present seems to be necessary. '' It was necessary; and a very short term of years sufficed to bring it into effect; indeed, the theory had already been put forward by several English pioneers of nineteenth-century humanitarianism.

To Jeremy Bentham, in particular, belongs the high honour of first asserting the rights of animals with authority and persistence. "The legislator," he wrote, "ought to interdict everything which may serve to lead to cruelty. The barbarous spectacles of gladiators no doubt contributed to give the Romans that ferocity which they displayed in their civil wars. A people accustomed to despise human life in their games could not be expected to respect it amid the fury of their passions. It is proper for the same reason to forbid every kind of cruelty towards animals, whether by way of amusement, or to gratify gluttony. Cock-fights, bull-baiting, hunting hares and foxes, fishing, and other amusements of the same kind, necessarily suppose either the absence of reflection or a fund of inhumanity, since they produce the most acute sufferings to sensible beings, and the most painful and lingering death of which we can form any idea. Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being? The time will come when humanity will extend its mantle over everything which breathes. We have begun by attending to the condition of slaves; we shall finish by softening that of all the animals which assist our labours or supply our wants."[3]

So, too, wrote one of Bentham's contemporaries: " The grand source of the unmerited and superfluous misery of beasts exists in a defect in the constitution of all communities. No human government, I believe, has ever recognized the jus animalium, which ought surely to form a part of the jurisprudence of every system founded on the principles of justice and humanity."[4] A large number of later moralists have followed on the same lines, with the result that the rights of animals have already, to a certain limited extent, been established both in private usage and by legal enactment.

It is interesting to note the exact commencement of this new principle in law. When Lord Erskine, speaking in the House of Lords in 1811, advocated the cause of justice to the lower animals, he was greeted with loud cries of insult and derision. But eleven years later the efforts of the despised humanitarians, and especially of Richard Martin, of Galway, were rewarded by their first success. The passing of the Ill-treatment of Cattle Bill, commonly known as " Martin's Act," in June, 1822, is a memorable date in the history of humane legislation, less on account of the positive protection afforded by it, for it applied only to cattle and " beasts of burden," than for the invaluable precedent which it created. From 1822 onward, the principle of that jus animalium for which Bentham had pleaded, was recognized, however partially and tentatively at first, by English law, and the animals included in the Act ceased to be the mere property of their owners ; moreover the Act has been several times supplemented and extended during the past half century.[5] It is scarcely possible, in the face of this legislation, to maintain that "rights" are a privilege with which none but human beings can be invested; for if some animals are already included within the pale of protection, why should not more and more be so included in the future?

For the present, however, what is most urgently needed is some comprehensive and intelligible principle, which shall indicate, in a more consistent manner, the true lines of man's moral relation towards the lower animals. And here, it must be admitted, our position is still far- from satisfactory; for though certain very important concessions have been made, as we have seen, to the demand for the jus animalium, they have been made for the most part in a grudging, unwilling spirit, and rather in the interests of property than of principle ; while even the leading advocates of animals' rights seem to have shrunk from basing their claim on the only argument which can ultimately be held to be a really sufficient one—the assertion that animals, as well as men, though, of course, to a far less extent than men, are possessed of a distinctive individuality, and, therefore, are in justice entitled to live their lives with a due measure of that "restricted freedom" to which Herbert Spencer alludes. It is of little use to claim " rights " for animals in a vague general way, if with the same breath we explicitly show our determination to subordinate those rights to anything and everything that can be construed into a human "want;" nor will it ever be possible to obtain full justice for the lower races so long as we continue to regard them as beings of a wholly different order, and to ignore the significance of their numberless points of kinship with mankind.

For example, it has been said by a well-known writer on the subject of humanity to animals[6] that '' the life of a brute, having no moral purpose, can best be understood ethically as representing the sum of its pleasures ; and the obligation, therefore, of producing the pleasures of sentient creatures must be reduced, in their case, to the abstinence from unnecessary destruction of life." Now, with respect to this statement, I must say that the notion of the life of an animal having " no moral purpose," belongs to a class of ideas which cannot possibly be accepted by the advanced humanitarian thought of the present day — it is a purely arbitrary assumption, at variance with our best instincts, at variance with our best science, and absolutely fatal (if the subject be clearly thought out) to any full realization of animals' rights. If we are ever going to do justice to the lower races, we must get rid of the antiquated notion of a "great gulf" fixed between them and mankind, and must recognize the common bond of humanity that unites all living beings in one universal brotherhood.

As far as any excuses can be alleged, in explanation of the insensibility or inhumanity of the western nations in their treatment of animals, these excuses may be mostly traced back to one or the other of two theoretical contentions, wholly different in origin, yet alike in this — that both postulate an absolute difference of nature between men and the lower kinds.

The first is the so-called "religious" notion, which awards immortality to man, but to man alone, thereby furnishing (especially in Catholic countries) a quibbling justification for acts of cruelty to animals, on the plea that they " have no souls." " It should seem," says a modern writer,[7] " as if the primitive Christians, by laying so much stress upon a future life, in contradistinction to this life, and placing the lower creatures out of the pale of hope, placed them at the same time out of the pale of sympathy, and thus laid the foundation for this utter disregard of animals in the light of our fellow-creatures.'' I am aware that a quite contrary argument has, in a few isolated instances, been founded on the belief that animals have "no souls." Humphry Primatt, for example, says that " cruelty to a brute is an injury irreparable," because there is no future life to be a compensation for present afflictions ; and there is an amusing story, told by Lecky in his "History of European Morals," of a certain humanely-minded Cardinal, who used to allow vermin to bite him without hindrance, on the ground that '' we shall have heaven to reward us for our sufferings, but these poor creatures have nothing but the enjoyment of this present life.'' But this is a rare view of the question which need not, I think, be taken into very serious account; for, on the whole, the denial of immortality to animals (unless, of course, it be also denied to men) tends strongly to lessen their chance of being justly and considerately treated. Among the many humane movements of the present age, none is more significant than the growing inclination, noticeable both in scientific circles and in religious, to believe that mankind and the lower animals have the same destiny before them, whether that destiny be for immortality or for annihilation.[8]

The second and not less fruitful source of modern inhumanity is to be found in the '' Cartesian '' doctrine —the theory of Descartes and his followers—that the lower animals are devoid of consciousness and feeling ; a theory which carried the " religious " notion a step further, and deprived the animals not only of their claim to 1 a life hereafter, but of anything that could, without ; mockery, be called a life in the present, since mere " animated machines," as they were thus affirmed to be, could in no real sense be said to live at all! Well might Voltaire turn his humane ridicule against this most monstrous contention, and suggest, with scathing irony, that God "had given the animals the organs of feeling, to the end that they might not feel! " " The theory of animal automatism," says one of the leading scientists of the present day,[9] " which is usually attributed to Descartes, can never be accepted by common sense." Yet it is to be feared that it has done much, in its time, to harden " scientific " sense against the just complaints of the victims of human arrogance and oppression.

Let me here quote a most impressive passage from Schopenhauer. " The unpardonable forgetfulness in which the lower animals have hitherto been left by the moralists of Europe is well known. It is pretended that the beasts have no rights. They persuade themselves that our conduct in regard to them has nothing to do with morals, or (to speak the language of their morality) that we have no duties towards animals : a doctrine revolting, gross, and barbarous, peculiar to the west, and having its root in Judaism. In philosophy, however, it is made to rest upon a hypothesis, admitted, in despite of evidence itself, of an absolute difference between man and beast. It is Descartes who has proclaimed it in the clearest and most decisive manner; and in fact it was a necessary consequence of his errors. The Cartesian - Leibnitzian - Wolfian philosophy, with the assistance of entirely abstract notions, had built up the 'rational psychology,' and constructed an immortal anima rationalis: but, visibly, the world of beasts, with its very natural claims, stood up against this exclusive monopoly—this brevet of immortality decreed to man alone—and silently Nature did what she always does in such cases—she protested. Our philosophers, feeling their scientific conscience quite disturbed, were forced to attempt to consolidate their ' rational psychology ' by the aid of empiricism. They therefore set themselves to work to hollow out between man and beast an enormous abyss, of an immeasurable width; by this they wish to prove to us, in contempt of evidence, an impassable difference.''[10]

The fallacious idea that the lives of animals have " no moral purpose " is at root connected with these religious and philosophical pretensions which Schopenhauer so powerfully condemns. To live one's own life—to realize one's true self—is the highest moral purpose of man and animal alike; and that animals possess their due measure of this sense of individuality is scarcely open to doubt. " We have seen," says Darwin, " that the senses and intuitions, the various emotions and faculties, such as love, memory, attention, curiosity, imitation, reason, etc., of which man boasts, may be found in an incipient, or even sometimes in a well-developed condition, in the lower animals."[11] Not less emphatic is the testimony of the Rev. J. G. Wood, who, speaking from a great experience, gives it as his opinion that " the manner in which we ignore individuality in the lower animals is simply astounding." He claims for them a future life, because he is " quite sure that most of the cruelties which are perpetrated on the animals are due to the habit of considering them as mere machines without susceptibilities, without reason, and without the capacity of a future.''[12]

This, then, is the position of those who assert that animals, like men, are necessarily possessed of certain limited rights, which cannot be withheld from them as they are now withheld without tyranny and injustice. They have individuality, character, reason; and to have those qualities is to have the right to exercise them, in so far as surrounding circumstances permit.

" Freedom of choice and act," says Otiida, " is the first condition of animal as of human happiness. How many animals in a million have even relative freedom in any moment of their lives ? No choice is ever permitted to them; and all their most natural instincts are denied or made subject to authority.''[13] Yet no human being is justified in regarding any animal whatsoever as a meaningless automaton, to be worked, or tortured, or eaten, as the case may be, for the mere object of satisfying the wants or whims of mankind. Together with the destinies and duties that are laid on them and fulfilled by them, animals have also the right to be treated with gentleness and consideration, and the man who does not so treat them, however great his learning or influence may be, is, in that respect, an ignorant and foolish man, devoid of the highest and noblest culture of which the human mind is capable.

Something must here be said on the important subject of nomenclature. It is to be feared that the ill-treatment of animals is largely due—or at any rate the difficulty of amending that treatment is largely increased —by the common use of such terms as " brute-beast," " live-stock," etc., which implicitly deny to the lower races that intelligent individuality which is most undoubtedly possessed by them. It was long ago remarked by Bentham, in his " Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation," that, whereas human beings are styled persons, " other animals, on account of their interests having been neglected by the insensibility of the ancient jurists, stand degraded into the class of things ; '' and Schopenhauer also has commented on the mischievous absurdity of the idiom which applies the neuter pronoun " it " to such highly organized primates as the dog and the ape.

A word of protest is needed also against such an expression as " dumb animals," which, though often cited as " an immense exhortation to pity,"[14] has in reality a tendency to influence ordinary people in quite the contrary direction, inasmuch as it fosters the idea of an impassable barrier between mankind and their dependents. It is convenient to us men to be deaf to the entreaties of the victims of our injustice ; and, by a sort of grim irony, we therefore assume that it is they who are afflicted by some organic incapacity—they are " dumb animals," forsooth ! although a moment's consideration must prove that they have innumerable ways, often quite human in variety and suggestiveness, of uttering their thoughts and emotions.[15] Even the term "animals," as applied to the lower races, is incorrect, and not wholly unobjectionable, since it ignores the fact that man is an animal no less than they. My only excuse for using it in this volume is that there is absolutely no other brief term available.

So anomalous is the attitude of man towards the lower animals, that it is no marvel if many humane thinkers have wellnigh despaired over this question. " The whole subject of the brute creation," wrote Dr. Arnold, " is to me one of such painful mystery, that I dare not approach it; " and this (to put the most charitable interpretation on their silence) appears to be the position of the majority of moralists and teachers at the present time. Yet there is urgent need of some key to the solution of the problem ; and in no other way can this key be found than by the full inclusion of the lower races within the pale of human sympathy. All the promptings of our best and surest instincts point us in this direction. "It is abundantly evident," says Lecky,[16] " both from history and from present experience, that the instinctive shock, or natural feelings of disgust, caused by the sight of the sufferings of men, is not generically different from that which is caused by the sight of the suffering of animals.''

If this be so—and the admission is a momentous one —can it be seriously contended that the same humanitarian tendency which has already emancipated the slave, will not ultimately benefit the lower races also ? Here, again, the historian of '' European Morals'' has a significant remark: "At one time," he says, "the benevolent affections embrace merely the family, soon the circle expanding includes first a class, then a nation, then a coalition of nations, then all humanity; and finally its influence is felt in the dealings of man with the animal world. In each of these cases a standard is formed, different from that of the preceding stage, but in each case the same tendency is recognized as virtue."[17]

But, it may be argued, vague sympathy with the lower animals is one thing, and a definite recognition of their " rights " is another ; what reason is there to suppose that we shall advance from the former phase to the latter? Just this; that every great liberating movement has proceeded exactly on these lines. Oppression and cruelty are invariably founded on a lack of imaginative sympathy ; the tyrant or tormentor can have no true sense of kinship with the victim of his injustice. When once the sense of affinity is awakened, the knell of tyranny is sounded, and the ultimate concession of "rights" is simply a matter of time. The present condition of the more highly organized domestic animals is in many ways very analogous to that of the negro slaves of a hundred years ago : look back, and you will find in their case precisely the same exclusion from the common pale of humanity; the same hypocritical fallacies, to justify that exclusion ; and, as a consequence, the same deliberate stubborn denial of their social '' rights.'' Look back—for it is well to do so—and then look forward, and the moral can hardly be mistaken.

We find so great a thinker and writer as Aristotle seriously pondering whether a slave may be considered as in any sense a man. In emphasizing the point that friendship is founded on propinquity, he expresses himself as follows : " Neither can men have friendships with horses, cattle, or slaves, considered merely as such ; for a slave is merely a living instrument, and an instrument a living slave. Yet, considered as a. man, a slave may be an object of friendship, for certain rights seem to belong to all those capable of participating in law and engagement. A slave, then, considered as a man, may be treated justly or unjustly."[18] "Slaves," says Bentham, " have been treated by the law exactly upon the same footing as in England, for example, the inferior races of animals are still. The day may come when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which could never have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny.''[19]

Let us unreservedly admit the immense difficulties that stand in the way of this animal enfranchisement. Our relation towards the animals is complicated and embittered by innumerable habits handed down through centuries of mistrust and brutality ; we cannot, in all cases, suddenly relax these habits, or do full justice even where we see that justice will have to be done. A perfect ethic of humaneness is therefore impracticable, if not unthinkable ; and we can attempt to do no more than to indicate in a general way the main principle of animals' rights, noting at the same time the most flagrant particular violations of those rights, and the lines on which the only valid reform can hereafter be effected. But, on the other hand, it may be remembered, for the comfort and encouragement of humanitarian workers, that these obstacles are, after all, only such as are inevitable in each branch of social improvement; for at every stage of every great reformation it has been repeatedly argued, by indifferent or hostile observers, that further progress is impossible ; indeed, when the opponents of a great cause begin to demonstrate its "impossibility," experience teaches us that that cause is already on the high road to fulfilment.

As for the demand so frequently made on reformers, that they should first explain the details of their scheme —how this and that point will be arranged, and by what process all kinds of difficulties, real or imagined, will be circumvented—the only rational reply is that it is absurd to expect to see the end of a question, when we are now but at its beginning. The persons who offer this futile sort of criticism are usually those who under no circumstances would be open to conviction; they purposely ask for an explanation which, by the very nature of the case, is impossible because it necessarily belongs to a later period of time. It would be equally sensible to request a traveller to enumerate beforehand all the particular things he will see by the way, on pain of being denounced as an unpractical visionary, although he may have a quite sufficient general knowledge of his course and destination.

Our main principle is now clear. If " rights " exist at all—and both feeling and usage indubitably prove that they do exist—they cannot be consistently awarded to men and denied to animals, since the same sense of justice and compassion apply in both cases. " Pain is pain," says an honest old writer,[20] " whether it be inflicted on man or on beast; and the creature that suffers it, whether man or beast, being sensible of the misery of it while it lasts, suffers evil; and the sufferance of evil, unmeritedly, unprovokedly, where no offence has been given, and no good can possibly be answered by it, but merely to exhibit power or gratify malice, is Cruelty and Injustice in him that occasions it."

I commend this outspoken utterance to the attention of those ingenious moralists who quibble about the "discipline '' of suffering, and deprecate immediate attempts to redress what, it is alleged, may be a necessary instrument for the attainment of human welfare. It is, per-haps, a mere coincidence, but it has been observed that those who are most forward to disallow the rights of others, and to argue that suffering and subjection are the natural lot of all living things, are usually themselves exempt from the operation of this beneficent law, and that the beauty of self-sacrifice is most loudly be lauded by those who profit most largely at the expense of their fellow-creatures.

But "nature is one with rapine," say some, and this Utopian theory of "rights," if too widely extended, must come in conflict with that iron rule of internecine competition, by which the universe is regulated. But is the universe so regulated ? We note that this very objection, which was confidently relied on a few years back by many opponents of the emancipation of the working-classes, is not heard of in that connection now ! Our learned economists and men of science, who set themselves to play the defenders of the social status quo, have seen their own weapons of "natural selection," "survival of the fittest," and what not, snatched from their hands and turned against them, and are therefore beginning to explain to us, in a scientific manner, what we untutored humanitarians had previously felt to be true, viz., that competition is not by any means the sole governing law among the human race. We are not greatly dismayed, then, to find the same old bugbear trotted out as an argument against animals' rights— indeed, we see already unmistakable signs of a similar complete reversal of the scientific judgment.[21]

The charge of " sentimentalism " is frequently brought against those who plead for animals' rights. Now "sentimentalism," if any meaning at all can be attached to the word, must signify an inequality, an ill balance of sentiment, an inconsistency which leads men into attacking one abuse, while they ignore or condone another where a reform is equally desirable. That this weakness is often observable among " philanthropists " on the one hand, and " friends of animals " on the other, and most of all among those acute " men of the world," whose regard is only for themselves, I am not concerned to deny ; what I wish to point out is, that the only real safeguard against sentimentality is to take up a consistent position towards the rights of men and of the lower animals alike, and to cultivate a broad sense of universal justice (not " mercy ") for all living things. Herein, and herein alone, is to be sought the true sanity of temperament.

It is an entire mistake to suppose that the rights of animals are in any way antagonistic to the rights of men. Let us not be betrayed for a moment into the specious fallacy that we must study human rights first, and leave the animal question to solve itself hereafter ; for it is only by a wide and disinterested study of both subjects that a solution of either is possible. " For he who loves all animated nature," says Porphyry, "will not hate any one tribe of innocent beings, and by how much greater his love for the whole, by so much the more will he cultivate justice towards a part of them, and that part to which he is most allied." To omit all worthier reasons, it is too late in the day to suggest the indefinite postponement of a consideration of animals' rights, for from a moral point of view, and even from a legislative point of view, we are daily confronted with this momentous problem, and the so-called " practical " people who affect to ignore it are simply shutting their eyes to facts which they find it disagreeable to confront.

Once more then, animals have rights, and these rights consist in the ''restricted freedom" to live a natural life—a life, that is, which permits of the individual development—subject to the limitations imposed by the permanent needs and interests of the community. There is nothing quixotic or visionary in this assertion; it is perfectly compatible with a readiness to look the sternest laws of existence fully and honestly in the face. If we must kill, whether it be man or animal, let us kill and have done with it; if we must inflict pain, let us do what is inevitable, without hypocrisy, or evasion, or cant. But (here is the cardinal point) let us first be assured that it is necessary ; let us not wantonly trade on the needless miseries of other beings, and then attempt to lull our consciences by a series of shuffling excuses which cannot endure a moment's candid investigation. As Leigh Hunt well says :

" That there is pain and evil, is no rule

That I should make it greater, like a fool."

Thus far of the general principle of animals' rights. We will now proceed to apply this principle to a number of particular cases, from which we may learn something both as to the extent of its present violation, and the possibility of its better observance in the future.



[1] " Justice, " pp. 46, 62.

[2] Attributed to Thomas Taylor, the Platonist.

[3] "Principles of Penal Law," chap. xvi.

[4] John Lawrence, " Philosophical Treatise on the Moral Duties of Man towards the Brute Creation," 1796.

[5] Viz. : in 1833, 1835, 1849, 1854, 1876, 1884. We shall have occasion, in subsequent chapters, to refer to some of these enactments.

[6] " Fraser," November, 1863 ; " The Rights of Man and the Claims of Brutes."

[7] Mrs. Jameson, " Book of Thoughts, Memories, and Fancies. "

[8] See the article on "Animal Immortality," " The Nineteenth Century," Jan., 1891, by Norman Pearson. The upshot of his argument is, that "if we accept the immortality of the human soul, and also accept its evolutional origin, we cannot deny the survival, in some form or other, of animal minds."

[9] G. J. Romanes, " Animal Intelligence." Prof. Huxley's remarks, in " Science and Culture," give a partial support to Descartes' theory, but do not bear on the moral question of rights. For, though he concludes that animals are probably '' sensitive automata," he classes men in the same category.

[10] Schopenhauer's " Foundation of Morality." I quote the passage as translated in Mr. Howard Williams's " Ethics of Diet."

[11] " Descent of Man," chap. iii.

[12] " Man and Beast, here and hereafter," 1874.

[13] " Fortnightly Review," April, 1892.

[14] In Sir A. Helps's " Animals and their Masters."

[15] Let those who think that men are likely to treat animals with more humanity on account of their dumbness ponder the case of the fish, as exemplified in the following whimsically suggestive passage of Leigh Hunt's " Imaginary Conversations of Pope and Swift." " The Dean once asked a scrub who was fishing, if he had ever caught a fish called the Scream. The man protested that he had never heard of such a fish. ' What!' says the Dean, ' you an angler, and never heard of the fish that gives a shriek when coming out of the water? 'Tis the only fish that has a voice, and a sad, dismal sound it is.' The man asked who could be so barbarous as to angle for a creature that shrieked. ' That,' said the Dean, ' is another matter ; but what do you think of fellows that I have seen, whose only reason for hooking and tearing all the fish they can get at, is that they do not scream?' "

[16] " History of European Morals."

[17] " History of European Morals," i. 101.

[18] " Ethics," book viii.

[19] " Principles of Morals and Legislation."

[20] Humphry Primatt, D.D., author of " The Duty of Mercy to Brute Animals " (1776).

[21] See Prince Kropotkine's articles on " Mutual Aid among Animals," " Nineteenth Century," 1890, where the conclusion is arrived at that '' sociability is as much a law of nature as mutual struggle." A similar view is expressed in the " Study of Animal Life," 1892, by J. Arthur Thomson. "What we must protest against," he says, in an interesting chapter on " The Struggle of Life," "is that one-sided interpretation according to which individualistic competition is nature's sole method of progress… The precise nature of the means employed and ends attained must be carefully considered when we seek from the records of animal evolution support or justification for human conduct."

A Plea for Vegetarianism

Here is what Gandhi said after reading a pamphlet by Henry Salt entitled "A Plea for Vegetarianism" :

I read Salt's book from cover to cover and was very much impressed by it. From the date of reading this book, I may claim to have become a vegetarian by choice. I blessed the day on which I had taken the vow before my mother. I had all along abstained from meat in the interests of truth and of the vow I had taken, but had wished at the same time that every Indian should be a meat-eater, and had looked forward to being one myself freely and openly some day, and to enlisting others in the cause. The choice was now made in favour of vegetarianism, the spread of which henceforward became my mission.
An Autobiography or The Story of my Experiments with Truth ~
Chapter four My Choice

Following are various extracts from A Plea for Vegetarianism:

There is much overwhelming proof that Vegetarianism is possible; there is an utter absence of proof that it is in any way detrimental to perfect health.  It is, therefore, at least worthy of some serious consideration than it has yet received; before it is ridiculed and condemned it should at least be tried.

But it must not be supposed that Vegetarians rely solely on personal experience and empirical proof - they, too can appeal with confidence to the teaching of science and physiology. The fact that the structure of the human body is wholly unlike that of a carnivora, and that the apes, who are nearest akin to us in the animal world are frugivorous, is a somewhat  strong indication that flesh is not the natural food of mankind. And if it has to be said than man, unlike other creatures, is omni-vorous, and has therefore to seek what is "natural" but what is best, than I readily accept the challenge , and reply that there is strong concurrence of proof, on economic, moral, and physical grounds, that a vegetarian diet is the most suitable and beneficial. Among various advantages, it has one inestimable blessing; it is less stimulating than
flesh-food, while it is equally nutritious. If people could only realise how much vice and violence  is caused by over-stimulating food, they would soon recognise the importance of a non-stimulating diet. On the other hand if they would only remember how much misery is caused by a lack of nutritious food, they would welcome a
diet- system, which by its vast economic saving, would bring within our reach an abundance of cheap and wholesome nutrient. From whichever point one may regard this question, utilitarian or moral, it will appear more and more marvellous that men should persist in squandering their money and repressing their finest moral impulses, in order to supply themselves with the costly food which they stupidly imagine to ne necessary for their  physical health.

It has been the unambitious object of this paper to show that Vegetarianism is worth more serious consideration than this, and it is not a mere foolish craze and hallucination. When charged with fanaticism and infatuation, the Vegetarian may well retort in the words of Hamlet -

My pulse, as yours, doth temperately keep time,
And makes as healthful music. It is not madness
That I have uttered: bring me to the test.

To bring a question to the test is, however, a process which to most people is particularly disagreeable. They greatly prefer the easier and expeditious method of shaping their ideas in accordance with the time-honoured traditions of custom and "society;" and hence, on the subject of food, they cling firmly to the notion that the roast beef of England is the summum bonum of dietetic aspiration. I believe that time will prove this to be a fallacy, and that the future and wiser generations will look back with amazement on the habit of flesh eating as a strange relic of ignorance and barbarism.

Excerpt from  pages nineteen and twenty

Below you will can access a digitised version of the complete work which is entitled: A Plea for Vegetarianism and Other Essays.

Pamphlet: On Certain Fallacies' by Henry Salt

The Humanities of Diet

Following are extracts from the The Humanities of Diet'

Some years ago, in an article entitled Wanted, a New Meat, the Spectator complained
that dietetic provision is made nowadays not for man as humanised by schools of cookery,but for a race of fruit-eating apes. We introduce bananas, pines, Italian figs, pomegranates,and a variety of new fruits, but what is really wanted is some new and large animal,something which shall combine the game flavour with the substantial solidity of a leg ofmutton1 Surmising that there must exist some neglected quadruped, which will furnish what we seek, the Spectator proceeded to take anxious stock of the worlds resources, subjecting in turn the rodents, the pachyderms, and the ruminants to a careful survey, in which the claims even of the wart-hog were conscientiously debated. In the end the ruminants won the day, and the choice fell upon the Eland, which was called to the high function of supplying a new fleshfood
for humanised man. This is not the sense in which I am about to speak of the humanities of diet. I have not been fired by the Spectators enthusiasm for the rescue of some neglected quadruped, nor have I any wish to see eviscerated Elands hanging a-row in our butchers shops. On the contrary, I suggest that in proportion as man is truly humanised, not by schools of cookery but by schools of thought, he will abandon the barbarous habit of his flesh-eating ancestors, and will make gradual progress towards a purer, simpler, more humane, and therefore more civilised diet-system.

There are many signs that the public is awaking to the fact that there is such a thing asfood-reform. The reception of a new idea of this sort is always a strange process, and has to pass through several successive phases. First, there is tacit contempt; secondly, open ridicule; then a more or less respectful opposition; and lastly, a partial acceptance. During the third period, the one at which the Vegetarian question has now arrived, discussion is often complicated by the way in which the opponents of the new idea fail to grasp the real object of the reformers, and pleasantly substitute some exaggerated, distorted, or wholly imaginary concept of their own; after which they proceed to argue from a wrong basis, crediting their antagonists with mistaken aims and purposes, and then triumphantly impugning their consistency or logic. It is therefore of importance that, in debating the problem of foodreform, we should know exactly what the reformers themselves are aiming at. Let me first make plain what I mean by calling Vegetarianism a new idea. Historically, of course, it is not new at all, either as a precept or a practice. A great portion of the worlds inhabitants have always been practically Vegetarians, and some whole races and sects have been so upon principle. The Buddhist canon in the east, and the Pythagorean in the west,
enjoined abstinence from flesh-food on humane, as on other grounds; and in the writings of such pagan philosophers as Plutarch and Porphyry we find a humanitarian ethic of the most exalted kind, which, after undergoing a long repression during medieval churchdom, reappeared, albeit but weakly and fitfully at first, in the literature of the Renaissance, to be traced more definitely in the eighteenth century school of sensibility. But it was not until after the age of Rousseau, from which must be dated the great humanitarian movement of the past century, that Vegetarianism began to assert itself as a system, a reasoned plea for the disuse of flesh-food. In this sense it is a new ethical principle, and its import as such is only now beginning to be generally understood.

I say ethical principle, because it is beyond doubt that the chief motive of Vegetarianism is the humane one.

You can read the complete work


Have Animals Rights? By Henry S Salt

The mention of “rights” brings us to the core of our subject. We claim for animals, as for men, in so far as it is compatible with the public welfare, a measure of individuality and freedom, a space in which to live their own lives—in a word, rights. Into the interminable field of discussion as to the fitness of this term I do not propose to enter, because my purpose is not an academic but a practical one, and in the redressing of social injustice Action cannot for ever wait for the good pleasure of Logic. It may be that, from a strictly logical point of view, there are no such things as “rights,” in which case it is obvious that we cannot claim for animals what is denied to men; but if, as is usually conceded, there are rights of men, then we assert there are also, in due degree, rights of animals also. “Every man,” says Herbert Spencer in his “Justice,” “is free to do that which he wills, provided he infringes not the equal liberty of any other man"; and again, “Whoever admits that each man must have a certain restricted freedom, asserts that it is right he should have this restricted freedom. . . . and hence the several particular freedoms deducible may fitly be called, as they commonly are called, his rights.” The essential part of my contention is that in this matter there is no absolute difference, no impassable gulf, between mankind and “the animals.” If man has reason, animals have the germ of reason. If man has rights, animals have the same—in kind

The above is a short extract to read the entire essay:

The Sanctity of Life
by Henry S. Salt

In an article which appeared in the Fortnightly Review in September, 1896, entitled “The Humanities of Diet,” I laid stress on the fact that the chief motive to which vegetarianism owes its progress during the past half-century is the humane one...

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This is a response to an attack on vegetarianism in an article by Sir Henry Thompson entitled “Why ‘Vegetarian?

An edited version of this essay was later published as 'Logic of the Larder' in Salt's "Humanities of Diet".


A review of 'The Savour of Salt' by Angela Smith, M.P. The review highlights Salt's contribution towards the formation of the League Against Cruel Sports.

Few League Against Cruel Sports supporters will have heard of Henry Salt and yet he was one of the early pioneers in the campaign against cruelty to animals and assisted in the early days of the League.

The League Against Cruel Sports grew out of the Humanitarian League which, founded in 1891 by Henry Salt and H Williams, saw the beginnings of an organised campaign against hunting. The forerunner of Wildlife Guardian, then called Cruel Sports, paid tribute to the Humanitarian League on the front page of its first issue in 1927...

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From the above website you can read an article about Henry Salt and his influence on the Animal Rights movement by clicking the link below . On this website  you will find an abundance of information about this dedicated social reformer and advocate of animal rights.

Henry Salt and 100 Years of Animal Rights
by Dena Jones Jolma

Be sure to look at the complete website dedicated to this often overlooked individual who contributed so much to the advancement of social justice including the rights of animals:

For more information concerning Henry Salt please visit the following web sites:

Important please note:

I am not an animal expert of any kind just your average person who loves animals, all animals, and feels deeply about the plight of many of our fellow creatures. Neither am I a writer, or any other expert. Therefore please keep in mind that the information included in this website has been researched to the best of my ability and any misinformation is quite by accident but of course possible.


Copyright, accreditations and other matters, please read