Life of Henry George

third period


1887-1889 AGE, 48-50

WHO is there to whom 'years have brought the philosophic mind,' – who, looking back over his own career, may not see how often what seemed at the time to be disaster has really proved a blessing in disguise; that opportunity has come out of disappointment; and that the thing which he at the moment most strove to gain would have proved the thing which it would have been worst for him to have?"

Thus wrote Henry George in "The Standard" immediately after the election of 1887. He expected a new hope to rise out of the great defeat. It was a repetition of the thought he had uttered to Louis F. Post on election night, that, though the old road had closed, a new way would open. And the new way did open within a few weeks, for President Cleveland sent to Congress a message advising a reduction of the tariff. It was not a free trade message; it expressly repudiated free trade. It was the weak little cry of "tariff reform." But it was a crack in the tariff dike that discussion would wear larger. The hitherto dominant rings and reactionary protectionist powers inside the Democratic party, and Mr. Blaine and the Republicans outside, made dire threats against this policy. But the President was firm. He prepared for a hard, stubborn fight. This could only be educational and bear upon the campaign in the fall of 1888, as a Republican Senate stood ready to checkmate anything the Democratic House of Representatives might choose to do in the matter.

This laying aside of the old war issues and raising the tariff question was precisely what Henry George had hoped for since 1876, when he made free trade speeches in California for Tilden, and to bring on which he several years later wrote "Protection or Free Trade?" For the abolition of the tariff was necessary to establish the single tax as a national policy. And because parties at all times had been nothing to him, but principles everything, he quickly announced that while he thought it unwise for single taxers to commit themselves to a line of policy so far in advance of possible changes in the political situation, yet it seemed to him that he would have to vote with the Democratic party and support Cleveland should Cleveland be renominated and should he continue his assault on the tariff.

Post, Croasdale, Johnson, Lewis, Shearman, Garrison of Massachusetts, Maguire of California and a great number of active single taxers in New York and over the country viewed the matter in the same light; and many so expressed themselves in "The Standard."

But there were others who wished to avoid the tariff issue. They desired to put an independent single tax candidate in the field. Some of these had left the Republican party, yet thought little good could come from the Democratic party. Others, headed by John McMackin and Gaybert Barnes, plainly said they favoured an independent campaign in the "doubtful" States of Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Indiana. When drawn into the debate in the columns of "The Standard" over the matter, Mr. George said that this did not look like standing up even for the single tax, but rather like leading the "United Labour Party into the same ignominious death trap into which Butler led the Greenback-Labour Party" in 1884 – Butler going into the field ostensibly as an independent candidate, but towards the end of the canvass showing an undisguised purpose to defeat the Democratic candidate, Cleveland, and elect the Republican candidate, Blaine.

This independent movement probably would have had no standing whatever but for the support of Dr. McGlynn. He had made speeches for Cleveland in 1884 and was still on friendly terms with him. Moreover, he was a thorough free trader. But he could not endure the idea of even the loosest kind of an alliance with Tammany Hall, the representative of Democracy in New York City. Tammany Hall had worked hand in hand with Archbishop Corrigan and his advisers in seeking to crush the land or single tax movement and those who headed it. Hence association with it was for him intolerable.

Barnes and McMackin had control of the central machinery of what was left of the United Labour Party. They also controlled the executive committee of the Land and Labour clubs. The names of both of these organisations were used in February in a call for a national convention. George was aspersed for refusing to join. And here, indeed, to the superficial was the spectacle of the prime mover in the single tax cause refusing to continue in the direct line of the single tax movement. Friction was bound to arise, and friction did arise, between those who were for George's policy and those against it. A split occurred in the Anti-Poverty Society. Not to make scandal, Mr. George and his supporters withdrew.

At this time, when feeling among single taxers all over the country was running high, Mrs. Frances M. Milne, the California poet, wrote a letter of approval to "The Standard" office in which, quoting a taunt that Henry George "belonged to a party," she exclaimed: "Belonged to a party! No! not even a nation, not even an era can claim him – he belongs to the world! to all time!" Mr. George replied (March 7, 1888), and none but Mrs. Milne saw this letter till after his death:


    "I am very glad to know that you approve of my course, and I thank you for your good opinion; but, to speak frankly, I do not like the extravagance of your praise. This is not affectation. Such praise is the deadliest poison that can be offered to the human soul, and were I ever to accept it, my power would soon be gone. What power I have had comes from the fact that I know my own weakness; and when duty lay on me, have neither feared blame nor sought praise. If you shall survive me, as in the order of nature will be the case, then, when you have heard that I am dead, and it can be said of me, he 'has fought the good fight, he has kept the faith,' write me a requiem song of gladness and hope."[1]

Before the Presidential battle opened other things of prime importance to Mr. George occurred. In January, 1888, "The Standard" had entered its second year. With subsidence of the excitement arising from Dr. McGlynn's excommunication and the State campaign, the circulation ran down to between 20,000 and 25,000. Though this was several times as large as other weeklies that were regarded as "good advertising mediums," its radical doctrines made advertisers shy and the journal had to follow the pathway of the elder Garrison's "Liberator" and of almost all social reform papers (go almost without advertising – the mainstay of a newspaper). It was being read by thinking people in the various walks of life and was having strong intellectual influence; but its large staff was expensive and Mr. George was financially drawing less and less from it. Lecturing, however, now began to yield something, yet this, like his books, did not return what many of his friends doubtless supposed. Only the year before (January 29, 1887), he wrote to his friend Gütschow of San Francisco:


    "That you should share in the notion that I have made so much money somewhat surprises me and not a little amuses. I allow all such newspaper statements to go uncontradicted and do not publish my real condition to the world; but the truth is, I have made very little out of my books – a few hundred dollars a year, that is all. With the exception of $2,000 I got for the English edition of 'Social Problems,' I have had almost nothing from abroad – and I am not a good saver, and besides my living expenses, have large demands to meet. But the net truth is that on the day I started 'The Standard' I was some thousands of dollars poorer than when I left San Francisco, owing that much more money. The sort of work that I have done does not pay. In lecturing, for instance, I have never made anything. The times that I have lectured for nothing and given up my fee have eaten up all I got in at other times. I merely mention this that you may know the real truth."

Mr. George sacrificed his copyrights or gave away books whenever he thought one or the other would help to spread his principles; and as for lecturing, he wrote to his wife from the West in 1887: "The working class won't come to high priced lectures and there is not enough of the other." At another time he wrote: "I can't go around assessing the people."[2] Happily this improved with time, for his pay lectures became increasingly attended. Yet 1888 was like many a year preceding – one of financial concern. Mr. George removed "The Standard" office up-town to 12 Union Square, and his residence from Harlem to East Nineteenth Street, the one in this way being brought within a short walk of the other.

What may have widened the belief that Henry George enjoyed ample means were frequent references in the newspapers to his obtaining a substantial bequest, some setting the figures as high as $30,000. Cynics marked how the philosopher "progressed from poverty." The truth of the matter is that this bequest, first and last, brought little but expense and trouble.

George Hutchins of Ancora, Camden Co., New Jersey, a retired farmer, dying in the fall of 1886, left the bulk of an estate officially appraised at something less than $10,000 to Henry George in trust for the dissemination of the George books. Mr. George had never before heard of this man, but regarded the bequest as a sign of the times and was prepared to enter upon the terms of the trust, when he learned from the widow that she had not been adequately provided for. Concluding that the entire estate was not more than she morally ought to have, he took legal advice with the view of refusing, in her favour, the bequest to him. But he found this step to be impossible, for the collateral heirs opposed. Indeed, they wished to break the will, hoping thereby to get two-thirds of the estate for themselves. They brought action and saddled big expenses for lawyer's fees upon the estate. Vice-Chancellor Bird in May, 1888, held the will void on the ground that Mr. George's books were opposed to public policy in declaring private property in land to be robbery.[3] Mr. George was indignant and disgusted over this condemnation of his principles, but notwithstanding his desire to vindicate them, he offered to forego appeal if the collateral heirs would allow the property to go to the widow. They refused. He therefore appealed and won,[4] his attorneys at this stage being James F. Minturn, Corporation Attorney of Hoboken, N.J., and L.A. Russell of Cleveland, O., neither of whom, as Mr. George himself said, "asked nor received even the cost of printing their briefs." Mr. George then tried to have the widow made trustee in his stead. Failing in this, he instructed his attorney not to oppose any claims made by her, and her share was thereby largely increased at the expense of the bequest. This left Mr. George as trustee a claim to the real estate (which he made over for nothing to Mrs. Hutchins) and $584 from the personal property. This money had been paid for him to John T. Woodhull of Camden, his former attorney. Woodhull handed George $256, of which the latter gave $70 to the widow and retained $186, to pay for the actual cost of paper, presswork and mailing of some of his books to fulfill the letter of the bequest. But George had to bring suit against Woodhull to recover money still in the latter's hands, and this suit dragged along for several years. The sequel came in 1892, when Mrs. Hutchins, the childless widow, was forced upon public charity. Her mind had been weakened by her troubles, and she had lost every penny she had obtained under the will and through Mr. George's efforts. The announcement was made in some of the newspapers that the woman whose husband had left Henry George $30,000 was in the almshouse! But this was corrected as soon as the real facts became known. Mr. George now quietly sent little sums of money for the care of the heartsick and brain-weary old woman; and when she died, which she did soon afterwards, he bore the expense of her simple interment in a grave beside her husband at Ancora.

But to go back to 1888: Grover Cleveland, despite strong opposition of the protectionists in the party, was renominated by the Democrats for the presidency, with United States Senator Allen G. Thurman of Indiana for the vice-presidency. Ex-United States Senator Benjamin Harrison of Indiana and Levi P. Morton of New York, were the Republican candidates. In his letter of acceptance, Cleveland stood by his guns, and the tariff became the main issue in the fight. "The Standard" went with might and main for absolute free trade. Mr. George made a number of speeches in New York State and several in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and he and his friends held a series of crowded mass meetings in Cooper Union. One of these latter meetings was of unusual nature in politics. The entire time was devoted by Mr. George to answering questions from the audience on the tariff issue. Another of these meetings marked the appearance of William Lloyd Garrison, the younger, in the cause. He had come to be interested in the single tax question by reading the controversy with the Duke of Argyll. He subsequently said:


    "It was at Cooper Union in New York, August 27, 1888, at a great free trade meeting, that I formally and publicly declared my adherence to the cause, unreservedly joining the ranks of the workers who are to know no pause or rest while life and strength persist. The baptism was complete. Thereafter, it was my privilege to stand on many platforms by the side of Henry George; to share the intimacy of his home, and to use my tongue and pen in behalf of the new abolition."

In these and other ways the single taxers carried on such a vigorous, radical canvass in support of Cleveland[5] as to make the moderate Democrats murmur, "deliver us from our friends" and to cause the Democratic managers in New York to give out as a marching refrain in the party parade the lines:

"Don't, don't, don't be afraid,
Tariff reform is not free trade."

Mr. George believed that this timid, defenceless position of the Democratic managers and lack of radical, aggressive tactics was the cause of Cleveland's defeat, just as a similar timidity had defeated Hancock in 1880. But looking beyond individual success or failure, he believed that the fight had brought the people face to face with the taxation question and helped to make way for their education on the single tax. As he had expected, Cowdrey and Wakefield, the United Labour Party's candidates for the presidency and vice-presidency had got an insignificant vote – in New York and Brooklyn, its strongest centres, less than eighteen hundred. It was charged that some of the managers had openly worked for the Republican candidate on election day. Perhaps the charge was made with reason, as one of the early acts of the new administration was to appoint several of the leading managers of the United Labour Party to Federal office.

There had been a year of hard work for Henry George. His English friend, William Saunders, M.P., who was about to return to London after a short business visit in the United States, invited Mr. George to take a run with him across the sea for a change of scene. Mr. George accepted, and left soon after the election. But, as he wrote back to "The Standard": "When I heard the shouts from the approaching tender in Southampton and saw the placards of 'Welcome,' and still more when, at the Waterloo Station, the surging crowds of Mr. Saunders' constituents, who had been waiting from two o'clock in the afternoon till half past ten at night, pressed round us, I realised that I should not get much rest in England."

In the four years since he had last been there the truths he held so dear had made great progress towards the last of those three stages into which the progress of an idea has been divided, viz.: I – It is too ridiculous to be considered; II – It is against religion; III – We always knew it. One striking sign of this progress appeared in the form of a text-book on political economy. It was by Professor J.E. Symes of University College, Nottingham, England, and was written from the single tax point of view. Another unmistakable sign was that in starting a daily newspaper in London, "The Star," T.P. O'Connor, one of Mr. Parnell's most brilliant parliamentary supporters, announced in his salutatory the "taxation of ground values" (the term used in England for single tax) to be one of the basic principles of the paper. Still a third sign was the utterance of Lord Chief Justice Coleridge in an address to the Scottish Judicial Society the year before, in which, speaking with reference to the land laws of the United Kingdom, he was reported as saying: "These may be for the general advantage, and if they can be shown to be so, by all means they should be maintained; but if not, does any man with anything he is pleased to call his mind deny that a state of law under which mischief can exist, under which the country itself would exist not for its people but for a mere handful of them, ought to be instantly and absolutely set aside?" Yet a fourth sign was an interview with Count Leon Tolstoi which appeared in the "Pall Mall Gazette." In it the great Russian moralist said: "In thirty years private property in land will be as much a thing of the past as now is serfdom. England, America and Russia will be the first to solve the problem.... Henry George had formulated the next article in the programme of the progressist Liberals of the world."

But without these and many similar signs, the size, character and warmth of the assemblages before which Henry George spoke during his short stay in Great Britain must have been to the most casual observer an unmistakable indication of the set and strength of the tide of thought. He addressed a gathering of clergymen of the Established Church in Zion College under the auspices of the Guild of St. Matthew, of which Rev. Stewart D. Headlam was chief spirit; the congregation of Rev. Dr. Parker at the midweek service in the City Temple; a conference of Congregational ministers in Memorial Hall, on invitation of Albert Spicer; a meeting of the Knights of Labour at Smethwick, near Birmingham; a meeting of the Council of the Financial Reform Association at Liverpool, by whom he was presented with an engrossed address; a mixed audience in the City Hall, Glasgow; another at Lambeth Baths, London, and an assemblage of banqueting friends before leaving. It was at the Lambeth meeting that he uttered the pithy sentence which has since been much quoted: "Don't buy the landlords out, don't kick them out, but tax them out."

So strong seemed the effect of the two weeks' visit, that the friends in Great Britain – Saunders, Walker, Durant, Burroughs, McGhee and the others – pressed Mr. George to return very soon and make an extended speaking trip.[6] This he consented to do. His stay in the United States was therefore short. After some lecturing in the West; an address on taxation matters, in company with Tom L. Johnson and Thomas G. Shearman, before an investigating committee of the Ohio legislature; and attendance at a tariff reform conference in Chicago as a delegate from the New York Free Trade Club, Mr. George early in March (1889) returned to England, accompanied by his wife, his two daughters and Miss Cranford, daughter of John P. Cranford of Brooklyn.

Measuring his strength by his zeal, Mr. George laid out an immense amount of work for himself. In addition to lecturing almost nightly and meeting and talking with great numbers of people, he planned to write weekly letters to "The Standard." He spoke through the length and breadth of Great Britain and twice in Ireland. His audiences were no larger than on the former trips, but their character was different. He said at the reception given to him on his return home:


    "The temper of the audience had changed. It was not this time to hear a strange thing that they gathered; it was to hear something of which they had more than an inkling. And the men who took part – who came forward to occupy the chairs – sat on the platform to move the votes of thanks that are customary there on such occasions – were men who formerly would not have thought of being in such a place. They were, generally speaking, the local notables, the file leaders, the active workers, as we here would say, of the Radical wing of the Liberal party.... Our ideas are in the air; men get them without knowing where they come from; men get them without thinking they are getting them, and men get them who still look upon us as cranks and visionaries. Mr. Henry Labouchere, M.P., for instance, recently declared in a speech to his constituents that he was not such a visionary as Henry George. He did not propose to take the land from the landlords and rent it out again. What he was in favour of was putting a tax upon land values!"

The first lecture was on the Eighth Commandment and was delivered in a London Church – Camberwell Green Chapel, Albert Spicer in the chair – and the last was on the world-wide land question in the Dublin Rotunda, Michael Davitt in the chair and making a straight-out single tax speech in introduction. "Heckling" on this, as on the former trips, was a distinct feature. We may pause for a moment for a glimpse of a meeting showing Mr. George's characteristics – a meeting of Welsh miners at Rhisga. [7] He opened in this way:


    "Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen: I shall gladly answer any questions after my lecture, but 'turn about is fair play.' Let me ask you a few questions first. How much can a collier earn? (A voice: 'From 20s. to 25s.') For how long? ('All the year round.') How much does that come to? ('Between �60 to �70.') Well, for �60 to �70 a year a collier can get steady work by risking his life and limb. It is not an easy occupation, I suppose? ('No.') And coal miners don't live as long as Lord Chancellors? (Laughter. A voice: 'Not usually.') But men get used to anything. It is no wonder that people worship snakes, that human sacrifices are made, that women's feet are squeezed so that they cannot walk. I believe we could do all this if we were only educated to it. Look at the advent of the steam-engine, the railway, the telegraph, the sewing machine. Everywhere around us we see amazing things invented by the ingenuity of man to facilitate production, to lighten labour. All these things should have increased wages. But they cannot have increased wages if colliers can earn only �60 to �70 a year. Prof. Thorold Rogers of Oxford University told me last night that after making calculations of the purchasing value of money in the reign of Henry VIII. and that of to-day, he found that the labourers in those days had �145 a year. In those days when neither skill nor science had advanced to help mankind, they got as much and more than labourers get to-day."

Here is a passage from a lecture in the Town Hall at Aston-under-Lyne, England (Rev. Thomas Green, M.A., Chairman of the Liberal Association, presiding), that put the audience in roars of laughter.


    "The man who owns the land, owns the air as well. (Laughter and applause.) ... There has been only one attempt that I have ever heard of to make air separately property.... Near Strasburg, in Germany, about the 12th or 13th century, there was a convent of monks, who put up a windmill. One of the lords in that neighbourhood – they would be called robbers now (cheers) – finding he could not get any tribute from them, set up a claim to the ownership of the air, and when they put up their windmill said, 'All the wind in these parts belongs to me.' (Laughter.) The monks sent in hot haste to the bishop, and told him of this claim. The bishop 'got up on his hind legs' – (laughter) – and cursed in ecclesiastical language. (Renewed laughter.) He said the baron was a son of Belial; that he did not own the wind in that province; that all the wind that blew over it belonged to Mother Church – (laughter) – and that if the baron did not take back his demand for rent, he would launch with bell, book and candle the curse of Rome. (Laughter.) Mr. Baron backed down. But if he had owned the land he would not have needed to set up a claim to the wind. Men cannot breathe the air unless they have land to stand on."

In Richard McGhee's words, "Henry George made a triumphant march through Scotland." The chief event was in the City Hall, Glasgow, where on Sunday evening April 28, Mr. George delivered a sermon on the subject of "Thy Kingdom Come," under the auspices of the Henry George Institute. Rev. J.M. Cruikshanks of St. Rollox United Presbyterian church, assisted by two choirs, conducted the services. Scarcely another person could have squeezed into the large hall.[8]

Among the more notable events during Mr. George's appearance in London were two debates – one in St. James's hall with Henry M. Hyndman, the accomplished socialist, and the other at the National Liberal Club with Samuel Smith, M.P., the highly esteemed Liverpool benefactor, who defended established interests. Hyndman reprobated the single tax for making no attempt to abolish industrial competition; Smith opposed it as immoral. In each case time was so brief that Mr. George contented himself merely with presenting the chief postulates of the single tax doctrine.

A respite from the hard work came towards the end of the tour when, accompanied by his family and by a party of English, Scottish, Irish and American friends, Mr. George went to Paris to join in a land reform conference that Michael Flurscheim of Germany, an energetic land reformer, availing himself of the encouraging auspices held out by the management of the exposition then in progress in the French capital, had got up at short notice. The conference was in no sense a single tax gathering.[9] All shades of opinion were represented and half a dozen tongues. The latter fact put Mr. George at much disadvantage, since he could speak only his native language. Nevertheless he met Michael Flurscheim of Germany, Agathon de Potter of Belgium and Jan Stoffel of Holland; the Frenchmen G. Eug. Sîmon, author of "The Chinese City," M.A. Toubeau, Professor Charles Garnier and Charles Longuet of the Paris City Council, besides other men of continental thought and action, who were interesting both for their personalities and views. M. Toubeau especially invited attention by showing that land ownership in France was more concentrated than had been the case before the great revolution.

Mr. George had deep private anxieties at this time. Almost as soon as the family reached Paris the eldest daughter was taken down with a malignant form of scarlet fever and had a slow recovery. But the more lasting anxiety came from "The Standard" office in New York. For more than a year Mr. George's eldest son had been acting as managing editor of the paper. But the staff, composed of strong, masterful men with individual personalities and opinions, and brought together by Henry George himself, was not as a whole to be controlled by his son or by any one else. Discord soon began to brew in the chief's absence, and T.L. McCready and J.W. Sullivan, each of whom in his own way had done telling work in the columns of the paper, went outside and published in a weekly just started by Hugh O. Pentecost what Mr. George regarded as an attack upon the policy of "The Standard." Mr. McCready did not wait for Mr. George's return to withdraw from "The Standard," but Mr. Sullivan nominally remained and was dismissed. Two months and a half later he published in the Pentecost paper a long article entitled "A Collapse of Henry George's Pretensions," which began with abuse and ended with a charge that "Progress and Poverty" was based upon Patrick Edward Dove's "The Theory of Human Progression." Mr. George would have ignored the article as unworthy of attention had not the charge of plagiarism been extensively noticed in the press and elsewhere. He therefore reprinted the Sullivan article in "The Standard" (October 19, 1889), passed over the abuse, and answered the remainder by showing the absurdity of the charge on its face and by pointing out that if similarity of thought and priority of authorship on Dove's part had proved George a plagiarist, then the same reasoning would prove Dove to have copied from Herbert Spencer, who wrote similarly and earlier; it would likewise prove that Spencer stole from William Ogilvie, Professor of Humanities in Kings College, Aberdeen, from 1765 to 1819; that Ogilvie took from Thomas Spence of Newcastle-on Tyne, who wrote an essay on the subject in 1775; and so on. Then Mr. George made a direct denial in these words:


    "When I first came to see what is the root of our social difficulties and how this fundamental wrong might be cured in the easiest way by concentrating taxes on land values, I had worked out the whole thing for myself without conscious aid that I can remember, unless it might have been the light I got from Bissett's 'Strength of Nations' as to the economic character of the feudal system. When I published 'Our Land and Land Policy,' I had not even heard of the Physiocrats and the impôt unique. But I knew that if it was really a star I had seen, others must have seen it, too. And so with 'Progress and Poverty.' I said in that book that it would come to many to whom it would seem like the echo of their own thoughts. And beyond what I then knew, I was certain that there must have been others before me who saw the same essential truths. And as I have heard of such men one after the other, I have felt that they gave but additional evidences that we were indeed on the true track, and still more clearly showed that though against us were ignorance and power, yet behind us were hope and faith and the wisdom of the ages – the deepest and clearest perceptions of man."

This ended the controversy.


[1] A few days after his death a requiem by Mrs. Milne, entitled "From the Battle," appeared in the San Francisco "Star."
[2] One of these letters to Mrs. George calls attention to a marked characteristic – preoccupation. "I flatter myself," he wrote, "that I lost nothing until to-night, when I found I had left my nice new dress boots somewhere."
[3] Hutchins vs. George, 44 N.J. Equity Reports, p.124.
[4] William S. Braddock exec. vs. George, 45 N.J. Equity Reports, p.757.
[5] Such was the enthusiasm among single taxers that Silas M. Burroughs crossed the Atlantic expressly to vote for Mr. Cleveland.
[6] At the Now York welcome meeting to Mr. George on his return from Great Britain, Louis F. Post announced that an enthusiastic single taxer who had selected the name of Henry George for a new comer expected in his family, had found it necessary, on the development of events, to compromise on the name Henrietta Georgina.
[7] A.k.a Rica, Monmouthshire, Wales: given as 'Rica' in original.
[8] At the Now York welcome meeting to Mr. George on his return from Great Britain, Louis F. Post announced that an enthusiastic single taxer who had selected the name of Henry George for a new comer expected in his family, had found it necessary, on the development of events, to compromise on the name Henrietta Georgina.
[9]This sermon, like many other of his Scottish addresses, was later printed in tract form by the Scottish Land Restoration League, and scattered broadcast through Scotland.


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