J.G.B. and L.A.B.

children of California and democrats with passion



Three generations ago Henry George electrified great numbers of our ancestors on both sides of the Atlantic and in Australia and New Zealand. In the history of the English-speaking world there is no other figure who quite compares with him. Driven by a demon of the spirit, an inner force which combined love of God with love of man and desire for fame, George managed to find the language with which to say what many men were ready, and some were longing, to hear.

This was especially true, and early true, in England. Progress and Poverty has fallen ‘on old and deep lines of thought in my mind,’ Philip Wicksteed wrote the author in 1882, from an inner circle of liberal thought and conscience in London. It lit the light he ‘vainly sought for’ himself. Through minds as keen as Wick-steed’s, and through leadership as gifted as Joseph Chamberlain’s, the ideas of Henry George influenced English thought, and, more than a little, England’s policy. George’s ideas deepened the Fabian movement; they helped to give force to trade unions; and they inspired the Radicals who were rising in the Liberal party.

The influence of George on the United States was hardly slower in becoming effective. By the middle ’80s surges of acceptance and rejection delighted or dismayed Americans, according to their sentiments. Then gradually his ideas worked their way into the deeper strata of public thought and conscience. When Georgism seized minds of legalistic bent, like Thomas Shearman’s, it impelled the single-tax movement, which began during 1887 and 1888 in New York. When it seized practical and political minds, Tom Loftin Johnson’s most notably, Georgism entered near its source the stream that later broadened to become the progressive movement of the twentieth century. When, at their farthest reach, the ideas of Henry George engaged literary and philosophical minds, such as George Bernard Shaw’s and Leo Tolstoy’s abroad, and Hamlin Garland’s and Brand Whitlock’s in the United States, the moral appeal of Progress and Poverty extended with added charm beyond the circle of those who had read George’s books or listened to his lectures or joined organizations, and had pondered his argument for themselves. No other book of the industrial age, dedicated to social reconstruction and conceived within the Western traditions of Christianity and democracy, commanded so much attention as did Progress and Poverty. Only Das Kapital, conceived outside that tradition, is fairly comparable in purpose of reconstruction, but this book was much slower to catch on than Progress and Poverty.

In one respect like Progress and Poverty itself, the present biography was begun in California; and more than half the time required for investigation and writing has been devoted to the regional origination of Henry George’s thought. Perhaps I should explain that I determined to do this book in the wake of the depression of the ’30s, but that I began without the slightest hostage in the Henry George camp. My family had been Republican since 1856; I had cast my first vote for Norman Thomas; and I believed, as I still do, that at the time the New Deal was essentially what the United States needed. I know now that if I had designed my own background to avoid contact with Georgism, I could have chosen no points of political attachment more indifferent to the ideas of the subject of this biography than these three — traditional Republicanism, Thomas socialism, and the New Deal. Only international communism, or some fascism like Huey Long’s, would have been wider of the present subject. The nearest American national politics has ever come to George —- and that not very close — was the democracy of Woodrow Wilson. Wilson and George, each in his own way, the later figure not uninfluenced by the earlier, did have a magnificent purpose in common. They each devoted a career to establishing a Jeffersonian ideology and policy for the America, and for the world, of the industrial age.

Although the effort that follows is a historical biography, my first incentive was a moral, rather than a historical, appreciation of Henry George. At an early stage of the investigation a professor of literature addressed me in a lowered voice one day, in the Huntington Library cafeteria, to inquire what is wrong with the argument of Henry George. He always gave a little time to Progress and Poverty, in the annual cycle of teaching, he said, and every year he was embarrassed because he knew no satisfying reply to the reform idea he thought must be mistaken. The question reassured me, because I had begun at about the same place. By that time, which was during the war summer of 1944, I was committed to examine the circumstances of Henry George: to try to discover the sources of his somehow persuasive and disturbing book, and to report the reactions of acceptance, rejection, and criticism with which his contemporaries did him honor. For a decade, Henry George has wearied me many days, but those days have always been interesting ones, and I retain the conviction with which I started, that moral problems are the most important problems to which an historian can address himself.

It would be wrong to try to reduce to some formula the California story of the growth of Henry George’s ideas, during his years in the state as journalist, observer, and servant of the Democratic party. Most of Part One is an embryology of the philosophy of Progress and Poverty, and such a study requires stage-by-stage reports of his western life. Yet the reader will have an easier time with those reports if he is told beforehand that from the very first until the very last, from the political ideas acquired in his parents’ home to the campaign that made him a martyr, seventeen years after he had left California, the axioms of his thought were always the same. They were the Jeffersonian and Jacksonian principles of destroying private economic monopolies and of advancing freedom and equal opportunity for everyone.

We shall of course discover a few exceptions along the way. The most glaring one will be Henry George’s Californian attitude toward Chinese immigration. But his liberal first principles inform every one of the major items of the economic program he conceived on the West coast: absolute free trade, the abolition of private-property values in land, the repeal of discriminatory taxes, and the public ownership of telegraph lines and other public utilities. The same principles underlay also the eight books he wrote, two in California and six in New York; and they are at the moral center of all the main causes for which he labored and fought, after Progress and Poverty was published: land reform in the British Isles, the labor party of 1886-8 in the United States, the exposing of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in New York politics, the single-tax movement, the establishing of a free-trade policy for the Democratic party, the Bryan candidacy of 1896, and the party he called the Democracy of Thomas Jefferson.

The reformer’s many undertakings were linked on a chain of consistent purpose, but much of the fascination of his life derives from the incredible largeness and flexibility with which at different times and in different situations he appeared the same actor in contrasting roles. During the Civil War he was a Republican but at other times a Democrat; between 1886 and 1896 he was, successively, a party bolter, a Cleveland man, and a Bryan man. He was an admirer of Roman Catholicism, and yet an extreme and effective critic of bishops and pope; indirectly he assisted socialism, but he fought socialists and their doctrines; the single-tax reform for which he is remembered was supported by lawyers and businessmen, principally, but the interest of working men was Henry George’s prime loyalty. In one lifetime he drew the threads together, and when he died he received a salute of the people’s affection as did no other American between Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt.

Time, money, access to books and manuscripts, and the sympathy of family and colleagues are needed to write a book. For enough of the first and second, and for a wealth of the third and fourth, I am more grateful than I can say.

Serious expenditures on behalf of this research and writing began while I was a member of the faculty of Stanford University. The Council for Research in Social Science of that university made possible the microfilming for me of the best of the Henry George Collection of manuscripts in New York. During the second half of 1944, a research fellowship at the Henry E. Huntington Library allowed me time free from my regular duties, and a wonderful opportunity to study the California background of my subject. This award, which like the Stanford one was derived from Rockefeller funds, was allotted from the Huntington’s grant for the study of the civilization of its own region of the United States.

In addition to the summer and autumn of 1944, I had time largely free from duty during the university year 1949-50. This was made possible, after only four years of service at the Johns Hopkins, by that university’s uncommonly generous policy toward members of the faculty. For a travel grant and other assistance during that year, I am indebted to the American Philosophical Society.

The libraries I have called on have been many. Though for years I have been accustomed to handsome treatment by library people, the quick responses I received to letters of inquiry concerning George materials, the aid efficiently given during stop-over visits, have been for me a revelation of efficiency and help. For this kind of accommodation, I owe thanks, on the West coast, to the California State Library, both the main institution in Sacramento and the branch in San Francisco, and to the library of the Sacramento Bee. For similar help in the Middle West and in the East, I thank the Wisconsin State Historical Society, the John Crerar Library in Chicago, the Historical Society Library of Illinois, the State Library of Indiana, the University of Michigan Library, and the libraries of Smith College, and Yale, Columbia, and Princeton universities. In nearly every case the goal of inquiry has been unique manuscripts, and these collections are mentioned in detail in the ‘Notes on the Sources’ at the back of the book.

For library hospitality sustained over long periods of investigation, my first West coast debt is to Stanford. At the Huntington, I had the use of rich and rare Californiana, both manuscript and printed, principally of the 1850s and 1860s. On many occasions, but specially during the summers of 1945 and 1948, the Bancroft Library of the University of California has helped me use its unique California newspaper and manuscript materials. On home ground, since 1945 the Johns Hopkins Library has provided, from its rich Hutzler Collection of American economic writings, a set of Henry George’s Standard and a number of rare editions of his works. The officials of Dartmouth College, in a region I have come to love, have made me feel that the Baker Library is a home institution also. I have used its generous resources freely for six summers of the present task.

Without any one of the libraries just mentioned, this biography would be less complete. Without the Library of Congress, especially the manuscript and newspaper materials, the book would be shorter than it is but would have taken a longer time to write. Without the unique Henry George Collection, given by Anna George de Mille to the New York Public Library, the book would not and could not have been written at all.

During the course of a decade — in the libraries, among colleagues in the universities, and among those I have consulted as participators in the Henry George movement — I have accumulated obligations which are quite as personal as professional. I should have liked to turn a phrase for each person in the list below; I hope that anyone who sees his name there will remember what he did, over and beyond the call of ordinary obligation, for I shall not forget. I am recalling ideas suggested, manuscripts, articles, and books turned up I had not the knowledge to seek for, uncommon courtesies and encouragements, criticisms that made a difference — and other forms of generosity. I thank: Thomas A. Bailey, Peter J. Coleman, Thomas I. Cook, Henry E. Cottle, Albert J. Croft, Father John Tracy Ellis, Ralph H. Gabriel, John D. Hicks, Robert C. Hill, Richard Hofstadter, Louis C. Hunter, Jeter A. Iseley, Sherman Kent, Edward Kirkland, Frederic C. Lane, Arthur S. Link, Will Lissner, Clarence D. Long, Margaret Lough, J. Rupert Mason, Broadus Mitchell, Fulmer Mood, Sidney Painter, Claude W. Petty, Belle Dale Poole, M.D., Robert E. Riegel, J. E. Wallace Sterling, Carl B. Swisher, Paul S. Taylor, Francis J. Thompson, and Louis B. Wright. For the memory of Anna George de Mille, Henry George’s youngest child, who answered every question I asked, and who enthused over the idea of my book, though she was writing another, I am deeply grateful.

Six associates, who otherwise would appear in the list above, have rendered freely those time-consuming professional services by which scholars help one another. Professors Merle Curti of the University of Wisconsin and C. Vann Woodward of the Johns Hopkins have read the manuscript entire. Professor Robert Cleland of the Huntington Library counseled an inexpert student of California, at the beginning, and read Part One in manuscript; and Professor G. Heberton Evans, Jr., of Hopkins read the same part from an economist’s point of view. Professor David Spring of Hopkins read chapters xi, xii, and xm; and Professor Howard Quint of the University of South Carolina, chapters xiv, xv, and xvi. Miss Lilly Lavarello, department secretary, editor, and associate, has put up with the delays and met the deadlines, and in every case improved the manuscript. During a year while I was a visitor at the American University of Beirut, Miss Siham Haddad ably carried on that work. My wife has borne with the strains of authorship from first to last; and, at the stages of pencil draft and typescript, she took on the duties of critic and editor in addition to all else.

The responsibility for what follows is mine alone. But whatever achievement may be discovered there is to be attributed, in a proportion for which the words above are far from sufficient, to those who are named, and to others, whose help may have been less in amount, but whom I no less sincerely thank.



The Johns Hopkins University 24 December 1954

Now, thirty-seven years later, I equally thank the Schalkenbach Foundation, publishers of the works of Henry George, for this second reprint edition. I hope it will draw many new readers, including those whose governments are in flux, to George’s ideas on economic justice.

C. A. B.

Santa Barbara, California April 1991



Preface, vii


1839-1855 A Boy from a Christian Home, 3


Independence by Sea, 17 hi


New Californian: Immigrant and Wage Earner, 34

1861-1865 Suffering and Exaltation, 49


San Francisco Editor versus California Ideas, 72


Fighting Monopoly and Pledging Utopia, 105


Trying Out Radical Ideas: The San Francisco Daily Evening Post, 155


Rounding Out an Editor’s Thought: The Post’s Utopia, 196



From Isolation: Speaking and Writing in Time of Crisis, 230


Before the World: Progress and Poverty, 265

Part Two: A CHRISTIAN EFFORT, 1880-1897


In the Tide of Idea and Opportunity, 307


Prophet in the Old Country: Ireland and England, 341


Prophet in the Old Country: England and Scotland, 378


Not without Honor in His Own Land, 417


Conquest in New York City: Labor Leader and Almost Mayor, 453


No National Labor Party To Lead, 482

1888-1890 The Father of the Single Tax, 508

xviii 1890-1897 Christian Democrat to the End, 552


The Martyrdom of Henry George, 588

The Triple Legacy of Georgism, 620 Notes on the Sources, 637 Index, 683



A Boy from a Christian Home 1839-1855

A man’s world contains the world he knew as a boy, and when things are right the legacy is strength-giving, a resource for life. Surely it was good fortune that Henry George was born and brought up in Philadelphia, during the age we name for Andrew Jackson. ‘Drawing my first breath almost within the shadow of Independence Hall,’ he said to the San Francisco audience which heard his first notable oration, ‘the cherished traditions of the Republic entwine themselves with my earliest recollections, and her flag symbolizes to me all that I hold dear on earth.’

It is hard to think that he could have had a more appropriate heritage. Had he been blessed to be born to the inspired circle of the village of Concord, and had he learned the ideas of freedom walking beside Ralph Waldo Emerson and listening to town-meeting debate and Unitarian sermon, he would, we may think, have reached the heights younger than he did, and commenced earlier his career of writing and speaking. A latter-day Transcendental-ist he might well have become, for he had that kind of sympathy and impulse; and in the Concord group he would have wanted Henry Thoreau for mentor and friend. Rephrasing American principles under these auspices, though, if environment suggests anything, he would have said more about religion than he did, and less about the social condition of man, less about land and population and trade, according to his best gifts.

Better for George’s first growth, it is reasonable to think, than even the community of the Transcendentalists could have been, was the bustling city where the great Declaration and the federal Constitution were written. In Philadelphia an idealist’s mind turns naturally to events of state and society; remembrance of things past attaches uniquely to the birth of the Republic and connects with the rise of common people. Philadelphia recalls Benjamin Franklin; it suggests Quaker inspiration and civic growth; it brings to mind congresses and conventions, Jefferson’s ideas and Washington’s strength, occasions of battle and victory, and the historic statement of great principles. Philadelphia’s buildings, especially the very greatest, have a meaning for Americans that monuments elsewhere can in no way rival. ‘I’ve seen the shackled slave under the shadow of Independence Hall carried by federal arms back to his master,’ Henry George told a Philadelphia audience thirty-six years after he had left the city.

Above all the place of his origin gave George as birthright the right to speak for the people of the world’s great cities. Philosopher of the land though he became, he was always a city man. The burden of the present history is to tell how he executed that spokes-manship, first in San Francisco and much in New York and London and Glasgow, but also around the world — in Sacramento, Dublin, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Liverpool, Paris, Melbourne, Cleveland, Chicago, and Minneapolis, and in perhaps a hundred other cities.

Life began for Henry George on 2 September 1839, in a brick row house on Tenth Street near Pine. This was close to mid-city then, as it is today. But what is now a blighted area was a century ago a good and convenient place to live. The distances of everyday life had to be walking distances; and the Tenth Street house was six blocks from Market Street, and about a mile from St. Paul’s Church. Somewhat nearer, nine blocks from home to be exact, the old statehouse known and loved as Independence Hall stood in matchless dignity. During Henry’s boyhood it was still as tall or taller than the near-by buildings, and of course gave Philadelphia its architectural climax. The Customs House, where Henry’s father worked many years, itself a classic in marble of Greek revival architecture, occupied an adjoining square. The fascinating waterfront of the nation’s second largest city — also second commercial and financial center — lay ten blocks from home, straight down Pine, or Spruce, or Lombard.

Though born the oldest son, Henry never knew an uncrowded household. At the time of his birth the family numbered six. Besides the parents and year-old sister Caroline, there was an older sister perhaps in her teens, Harriet, whom his father had adopted during his earlier marriage. Then there was Mrs. George’s sister Mary Vallance, an arthritic, who was to be the beloved Aunt Mary of thirty years of raising the George children, and who seemed to Henry the very embodiment of sacrificial love. During the 1840s and ’50s there came eight children more. A year after Henry, Jane, a lively girl and in time a great student, always his favorite sister; then four other girls, two of whom died in infancy, and three boys. The boys were too much younger than Henry for companionship, though family legend has it that they worshipped him, and that five-year-old Morris cried the most bitterly of anyone when he sailed away to California. During childhood and youth it was the three girls nearest his age with whom he shared most fully. But he never lost track of any of the family, and in due course the middle brother, John Vallance, became an associate, and in later life Caroline came to live in his household.

Back of the growing family known genealogical lines were short, but even so we may guess that they were more than average length for that time and place. Henry’s two grandfathers had come as immigrants of the later eighteenth century, and both had married and succeeded in the city. His father’s father had been born a Yorkshireman and trained a seaman under British colors. In America he became a shipmaster and in a small way a shipowner. Married here to Mary Reid, and the father of three children, of whom Richard Samuel Henry George, our Henry’s father, was youngest, Captain George had lived well, according to his prosperity. In the long reminiscence of Richard George, his home had been a bustling happy place, supplied to overflowing with good things to eat and enjoy, and amply tended by servants. Regrettably this backlog of family fortune had disappeared before Henry George’s day. His father’s brother, Duncan George, a businessman— whose son James preceded Henry to California — is the only relative on the paternal side who at all entered Henry’s young life in Philadelphia.

On the maternal side, Henry’s grandfather John Vallance had been brought as an infant from Glasgow to America. Trained as an engraver, Mr. Vallance achieved some prominence in his craft; and, to the advantage of the family which concerns us, he married Margaret Pratt. This grandmother of Henry George supplied the one quarter-section of his family which connected him deeply with Philadelphia history. She was a great-granddaughter of a member of Benjamin Franklin’s Junto, which had been made up of men of mind and enterprise; and she was related to many businessmen and artist-craftsmen of the city.

Unfortunately Margaret Pratt Vallance was widowed at forty and died a decade before her daughter, Henry’s mother, had married and settled. But her children and their families, two or three of them in Philadelphia, surrounded the Richard Georges. We shall hear especially of the Latimers — Aunt Rebecca Vallance Latimer, Uncle Thomas, and Cousin George. So, though Henry and his sisters and brothers never had grandparents to know and visit, they had plenty of relatives close at hand, who made life lively and sufficient in the city. None of the kin seems to have been at all wealthy. The one legacy of money mentioned in the family came to the sisters Catharine George and Mary Vallance in 1858, and probably amounted to little. Yet as Henry’s luck in his teens will indicate, the Vallance connections had not infrequently a favor to bestow, to ease the strains of a family’s struggle.

Before marriage, 19 April 1837, both Richard George and Catharine Vallance — he thirty-eight, she twenty-six — had been earning a living in small businesses of education. Indeed it was by reason of the school which she and her sister ran that Miss Catharine became acquainted with her husband. After the death of the first Mrs. George, the widower placed Harriet under the care of the Misses Vallance. This connection overlapped another. During the 1830s and most of the ’40s Richard George earned a living by publishing Sunday school and other books for the Episcopal Church; and for a while he had as partner Thomas Latimer, a brother-in-law of the teachers. These relationships indicate that things economic were essentially equal between the life partners; and they explain how fortune provided beforehand a school-teacher mother and a school-teacher maiden aunt for the conscientious training of the children. And, in a broader view, Richard and Catharine George, humble people by temperament both of them, derived from that creative, working and small-owning element in Philadelphia society, which Professor Briden-baugh now tells us was one of the earliest growing beds of social democracy in American city life.

The kind of living that the devoted father of the family could make for wife, sister-in-law, and nine children has been variously estimated by students of Henry George, but always with emphasis on poverty and insecurity, and with some implication that hard times during childhood embittered the mind of the future social critic and reformer. And indeed the solemn picture can be darkly drawn: the man who denied Ricardo suffered as a child from pressure of population in the family: the economist who offered to cure depressions was brought up in a household pressed by the crisis of the late ’30s and early ’40s; and as a teen-ager he was thrust from his parents’ home by the hard times of 1857.

But these unshaded lines sketch too impressionistically from the surface, and the picture requires lightening. Before 1831 Mr. George had been a clerk in the Customs House. Then he turned to publishing. Although there is no record of the business’s income, there is of its activities: Mr. George’s firm operated a bookstore, and for some time it had the depository of the General Episcopal Sunday School Union, the Bible and Prayer Book Society, and the Tract Society. Church publishing was a going business in America’s most enthusiastic age for missions and Sunday schools. Episco-palianism was growing, notably so in the middle states, and Mr. George was as active as a layman could be. His business weathered the depression of 1837 and after— the period of his marriage and the birth of several children. Only in 1848, when general economic conditions had improved, did he give up the firm and return to work in the Customs House. At that time large publishers were invading church publishing. Whether or not Mr. George was driven completely to the wall, all the arguments of common sense must have been on the side of a salaried job.

But abandoning one’s own enterprise is hard, and the point of change fixed the memory of poverty in the family mind. The father now became an ascertaining clerk; and, with seven or eight dependents, his government salary was $800 a year. Yet this austere statistic requires both understanding and revision. Besides his office duties, Mr. George took on extra work at Parkinson’s, the finest restaurant in the city, probably doing some bookkeeping.

From this source he made about $250, more than enough for a year’s house rent. Also by the ’50s his salary had risen to about $1100. Though it is true that the depression of 1857 caused him many anxieties, this was not until after Henry had left home; and then apparently Mr. George’s only immediate deprivation was his side earnings, a loss he felt he could bear. In 1859 a government economy measure withheld one month’s salary at the Customs House. The real risks of his job were political, and they did not materialize for him, as a Democrat, until 1861. Altogether his ordinary income of $1300 or $1400 during the ’50s, when Henry was of an age to worry about such matters, compares very favorably with the incomes of clergymen and teachers at the time. The whole period of Henry George’s childhood and youth was happily one of prevailingly low prices and rising standards of living; and Mr. George seems to have made a fair living. At darkest estimate it was genteel deprivation, not want or catastrophe, that pressed upon the George family during Henry’s childhood years.

This impression is confirmed by the way in which the family lived. Their first home, the house on Tenth Street, they equipped attractively and well. The Georges had their share of good furniture, mahogany upholstered with mohair; and on the walls, beside needlework and engravings, they hung family portraits in oil appropriate to Vallance family history. Apparently they suffered some loss of situation when the size of the family compelled them to move, during the ’40s, to a larger house of the same type on South Third Street, three doors north of Queen. This placed the family farther from Market Street than before, but about the same distance from the Customs House and Independence Hall, and only half a mile from church; and it brought the boy within three blocks of the water. The house was in the Southwark District, and likely most of the residents were working people; at any rate there were riots in the neighborhood on the tail of the 1837 depression. But rioting has no part in the George record; and this home was the one to which the cousins flocked, and to which, a quarter-century later when he was beginning to see the ugliness of slums, Henry George was happy to visit from California, and to send his young wife and babies for a long stay. Mr. George rented the Third Street house, gaslit and stove-heated, for $200 a year.

Letters to Henry written after he had left home in his teens tell us most of what we know about how life was lived in the place where he grew up. Of course the house was congested. With eight to a dozen people under the one roof, Henry and later his brothers chose to sleep in the attic and have a private headquarters where boys could read and talk. The other possibility, preferred but not commanded by the mother, wras to sleep on a sofa downstairs, where temperatures were less extreme. Although Mrs. George had hired help at least part of the time, everyone had to share in the housework. A letter to Henry described mother, aunt, and one sister doing the family ironing. An evening caller discovered a full circle of Georges: the father reading the newspaper in a big rocking chair, the mother with a magazine, Aunt Mary and Caroline sewing, Jane writing, Tom painting pictures, and the smallest brother happy with a birthday present of candy and a quarter-peck of apples. These must have been familiar scenes, full of nostalgia for Henry.

The family’s pleasures were pretty seasonal. Puritanical though they were, their Christmases combined festivity with worship: excitement, surprises, toys, guests, and turkey made the order of the day. They celebrated the Fourth of July with the enthusiasm and noise and fireworks which were habitual and appropriate in Philadelphia. Back of the house they kept a garden heavily planted; at fifteen Henry had certain rosebushes all his own. Some summers members of the family went to the country for a vacation, either to visit relatives in the Wyoming valley of northern Pennsylvania or to rest at a hotel. The family’s standards Mrs. George once summed up with authority: ‘neither poverty nor riches that is the happy medium. If only we can live comfortable and make both ends meet that is all I ask for. I hope that we will all possess the true riches, have an inheritance beyond the skies. This alone will bring true happiness.’ By other standards the family lacked many things: travel to distant places, higher education, large expenditures or possessions of any kind. But within the family’s natural orbit, Mr. George’s dollars somehow afforded a medium way of life and supported a loyal and happy family.

Looking backward we may reasonably associate much of the goodness of their life together with the domestic capacities of the mother and aunt, and with the steady habits of the father. Yet if asked the older Georges would have attributed the family’s solidarity not to themselves but to their Heavenly Father’s guiding hand. The family Bible on a pedestal table made a shrine at home, and there they all repaired for morning and evening prayers. Even a skeptical friend of Henry’s later teens said that Richard George’s family worship affected him deeply; and probably three out of four of the letters written to Henry in California contained passages which tell us that questions of salvation, worship, and Christian behavior were the ideas of greatest concern to the family. Caroline and Jane were as anxious for Henry’s spiritual well-being as were his parents.

The historic well where they refreshed their faith was St. Paul’s Protestant Episcopal Church, one of the most influential churches in Philadelphia. Only a few blocks from Independence Hall — roughly halfway between it and the Third Street house — St. Paul’s occupied a handsome brick and plaster building, which had been built before the Revolution in the great period of Philadelphia brick architecture. Splendid iron gates at the street and a gold and white interior stated the principles of eighteenth-century taste and simplification within the Church of England. Henry’s church attendance made an impression on Ignatius Horstmann, a contemporary who became a Roman Catholic bishop. He remembers the boy as, ‘every Sunday, walking between his two older sisters, followed by his father and mother, all of them so neat, and trim and reserved.’

A family could hardly have found more ways to become closely attached to a city church than the ways that connected the Georges with this one. Mrs. George’s mother was buried in the crowded church lot; her father and two brothers-in-law served as vestrymen; and her nephew George Latimer was called to the ministry there. But no member of the Vallance family served St. Paul’s longer than did Mr. George himself. While he was still in publishing, he taught the infant school. Thus Henry’s familiarity with the Bible ran back to church and home in his earliest days, but to the same teacher in the two places. Beginning in 1852, Mr. George served a seventeen-year term as vestryman, a term which included those of his brothers-in-law and also that of Jay Cooke, the famous banker (and Sunday school worker) who is said to have improved his contacts by moving from the Methodist to the Episcopal Church.

The Georges’ absorption in St. Paul’s meant more than Bible and church and conscience in Henry’s upbringing. Then as now these three could be lightly taken in a mild blend, in an Episcopal or other church. At St. Paul’s the blend was heady. The age of Jackson and Emerson was the age also of the fullest flow in American history of the spirit of evangelism. Some of the flamboyant achievements of religion, more often on the frontier than not — the Mormons, the Finney revivals in New York and Ohio, the camp meetings — have unduly obscured evangelism in the cities, and in the more conservative churches. St. Paul’s, appropriate to the name, illustrates the story of this little known side of the movement.

To sense the power of it, a word about Episcopal Church history is required. During the first half of the nineteenth century, the American Episcopalians, like the Church of England people, divided into High Church and Low Church inclinations. In this country High Church meant a maximum persistence of Anglican traditions and ceremonies, near to the Catholic order; and Low Church meant considerable assimilation of the less formal habits of Methodists and other evangelicals. The whole history of St. Paul’s placed it in a position of Low Church leadership. The first minister of the parish had led a sort of come-outer movement from Christ Church, the oldest and in the end the most famous and aristocratic High Church parish in the city. On the eve of the Revolution St. Paul’s got into ‘continuous difficulty’ with the Bishop of London, who had general discipline over all the Church of England parishes in America. Symbolically as well as physically, St. Paul’s stood near Independence Hall.

This momentum carried forward into Henry George’s day and life. During the first quarter of the nineteenth century St. Paul’s became the largest parish in the state; new parishes of the Low Church kind proliferated from it in the Philadelphia area; and, under the rectorship of a man inspired by John Wesley, the early Sunday school developed. Yet the climax of evangelicalism and Americanization in the parish waited for the rector of the Georges’ own time. This was Dr. Richard Newton, English-born American-trained member of a family of clergymen, his sons better remembered than himself. Dr. Newton conducted the services with ‘almost rural simplicity’; there was no bowing during the recitation of the creed, and there was much attention to Sunday school work and strong support for foreign missions, especially one in Liberia about which Henry heard a great deal. Year after year he preached a popular series of sermons on personalities of the Bible — and just possibly Henry George’s address on Moses, given on three continents during the last two decades of the century, was in some degree an echo of his pastor’s voice. Any radicalism that Dr. Newton may have entertained seems to have concentrated on church polity, where he took and debated very advanced grounds for an Episcopalian. Like his church generally, he took no prominent role in the slavery controversy; apparently he acquiesced in the institution and did no more for the Negro than sending assistance to Liberia. How well the elder Georges loved his emphasis on the saving of individual souls, and loved the preacher they made perfectly clear in letters to Henry during his first year in California. During the extensive revivals of 1858, St. Paul’s was holding daily services, they reported joyfully, and unbelievers in numbers were falling to their knees.

It is impossible to look forward to any period of Henry’s adult life, least of all to the twenty years after Progress and Poverty, and not believe that a main line of evangelical feeling runs continuously from the spirit of St. Paul’s to the spirit of his effort of the ’80s and ’90s for a transforming social change. We shall discover no more persuasive evidence of this continuity than his natural and easy renewal with Heber Newton, Dr. Newton’s son, in New York City, after they had both become prominent men. As children they had played together at the rectory, and had gone to school together; then in the ’50s they had separated into different courses of life which kept them apart for three decades. Yet, when they met, they converged in common effort. Heber Newton as minister had moved in the logic which by that time was carrying a segment of Episcopalianism, and Protestantism generally, from his father’s evangelical emphasis on the saving of souls to the new emphasis on bringing into being the Kingdom of God on earth. In the long run the two men, Henry George and Heber Newton, drew on a common source of energy and moved in a common direction.

In the shorter view, though, scraps of evidence tell us that Henry as a youngster bucked the current of piety at home. He was never confirmed at St. Paul’s, and after he left home his parents had a couple of years of worry about his spiritual condition. Perhaps there is a flash of antagonism in a story from catechism class, when he was seven or eight. Dr. Newton asked the boys why the grocery-man keeps netting over dried peaches. ‘To keep the flies out,’ sallied young Henry. Yes, to prevent stealing, the minister replied, his own face reddening. And shortly after arriving in California, still in his teens, Henry begrudged his admiration for Dr. Newton: ‘I like him better than any other minister I have ever heard,’ he told his sister, with some ambivalence. By that time Henry George was capable of thinking ill of a man who acquiesced in slavery. Perhaps only by reason of a streak of aversion for an intense man, or of a youngster’s feeling that he had been overdosed with religion, Henry at home had some reservation about St. Paul’s, and never reached full commitment of faith under its auspices.

Yet he was not to delay long in making a Christian commitment. And as for his loyalty to the church in which he was reared, he made an almost unconscious declaration in California. Editorializing during his thirties — at a stage when he was altogether concerned with public affairs and the least concerned with religion of any period of his life — his eye was caught and irritated by a comment on Episcopalian worship in the San Francisco Chronicle. Contrary to that paper, he declared in his own columns, American Episcopalianism had not always been highly ritualistic; the services of the church were often even plainer than those of Methodists, Baptists, and Congregationalists. Let us hope, he said, that the Episcopal Church may ever go its way, ‘meeting the child with words of promise, and soothing the mourner at the grave, and daily expressing in its liturgy the needs and aspirations of the human heart.’

The story of Henry George in school, though it is very short, gives the first line of individual record along which to follow his boyhood growth. After learning the R’s at home under the school teachers of the family, he was sent at about six to a private school in the Third Street vicinity, run by a Mrs. Graham. He remained three years. Then he transferred for a short term in the Mount Vernon School, a public grammar school in the rapidly growing and recently reformed Philadelphia system.

At the age of nine he changed to the Episcopal Academy of Philadelphia, which next to the older Friends’ schools was as historic as any in the city. It was housed in a handsome eighteenth-century building, and it represented the social and intellectual character of Episcopalianism generally. In the years just preceding Henry’s attendance, the curriculum had been reformed under the leadership of Bishop Alonzo Potter as chairman of the board. Modern languages, penmanship, drawing, and ‘graphics’ were offered the younger boys; a Divinity Department taught Latin, Greek, and Hebrew to the older students; and there was instruction in science as well. Unfortunately we have no way of following Henry’s course in this curriculum, three years and a half from February 1849 to June 1852, and no knowledge of the grades he made. Most likely his studies were all elementary, possibly with some beginning work (if so, all he ever had) in foreign languages.

For no plain reason the boy did not do well at the Academy and became so unhappy that he asked to be withdrawn. The family remembers that he was uneasy because his father paid only a reduced tuition fee, the same as for sons of Episcopal ministers. But the full fee was only $60 a year, and there were many free scholars. Possibly Henry used the fee question to cover some resistance to school piety, or to the Divinity Department looming ahead; or not unlikely at age thirteen he felt self-conscious at the Academy, coming from the Southwark District and being associated with sons of the city’s mansions. Whatever the reason, his withdrawing asserts for the first time a disinclination, which became lifelong, for education that was not vocational, or practical in some immediate way. Knowledge as tradition and cultivation, though in time he was to become a reader of poetry and the literature of ideas, never at any stage of his development appealed to Henry George.

After Henry left the academy, Mr. George placed him under a coach, a Mr. Henry Lauderbach, to prepare him for the public high school. This led to a half-year of good study. The pupil enjoyed the teacher; and the teacher found the boy apt and well equipped in basic knowledge. Much later Henry George looked back on this interval as the most effective part of his education, and in due course he tried to arrange to have his own son study under the same man.

The last stage of his formal education proved very brief. On 5 February 1853, at thirteen and a half, he entered Philadelphia’s new and excellent high school. His average score in the entrance examinations was 67, which placed him in the middle of the group of 115 boys admitted at the same time. Unfortunately the school records, which are so precise at the point of entering, become as silent as those of the Episcopal Academy about the quality of work he did. From the curriculum of the period, a present official of the school thinks that Henry must have studied the history of England, English composition, Latin grammar, bookkeeping, natural philosophy, phonography (stenography, correspondence style), and penmanship and drawing. But whatever he took, Henry did not sustain the diet. On 20 June, after only four and a half months, still less than fourteen years old, he quit school for good. His next full-time studies would not come until a quarter-century had passed, and he settled down to Progress and Poverty.

Amply, perhaps more amply than any other American city at the time, Philadelphia offered a boy chances for self-education, outside school doors. A century after Benjamin Franklin, the city’s good libraries, the American Philosophical Society, and the Franklin Institute sustained the effort to achieve a people’s culture which the great civic benefactor had been proud to start. Henry was a reading boy. The very last thing he did before going to sea in 1855 was to get a friend to return a book, and to arrange his withdrawing from the Apprentices Library. Like his mother he loved the romantic novels and poetry of the time, and both he and Jane read them avidly. Yet in this category of literature we have an instance of his boy’s taste straying beyond the orbit of the family: he had to smuggle the Scottish Chiefs to his bedroom for secret reading.

By the time he reached his middle teens he was reading at least a little history and contemporary thought. A diary which is dated 1855 but which includes entries from the next few years contains notes on Emerson’s new essays, the now famous Representative Men. Under a heading for English history, Henry listed dynasties and sovereigns: and, under American history, events from 1487 to 1777, and the presidents and vice-presidents from Washington to Pierce. Also in the diary, it would seem with a mind that was noticing affairs in Europe, he jotted down the areas and populations of Great Britain, France, Austria, and the principal Italian states. At the time when he was keeping these notes Henry belonged to a literary club, so styled, by the name of the Lawrence Society. Even in the midst of none too literary proceedings, Henry and his contemporaries wagged their tongues about Aristophanes and Byron, and had their say about public affairs. The sum of scattered indications is that by sixteen Henry George had read a fair amount and perhaps a great deal, and that much of what he read came from outside the domain of his family’s dominant, evangelical and Biblical, thought.

Much the same applies to the other varieties of his young experience in Philadelphia. Dancing and cards were forbidden in the family, and the theater also; but with the aid of Barnum, who disguised plays for the Philadelphia pious by announcing lecture -performances, Henry had a share of fun. He went also to the Franklin Institute, where his uncle Thomas Latimer was a member and able to get him in. The diary of 1855 shows that in the early months of that year he attended lectures on science three times a week, and enjoyed most the lectures on climatology and organic chemistry. Thus the legacy Benjamin Franklin left to the people of Philadelphia became in some way the boy’s own.

A good heritage and culture were Henry George’s during his childhood, not glittering and not overrich, yet more historic, more deeply informed by principle and tradition, and more varied and ample than first statements about family income, and austerity, and his own schooling would naturally suggest.

Independence by Sea 1855-1857

Out of school Henry found a job with Asbury and Company, importers of china and glass. They paid him $2 a week for long hours of copying papers, wrapping parcels, and running errands, and he stuck it out for a year or so, performing to satisfaction. Then he moved to a clerkship in a marine adjuster’s office. ‘Don’t you remember our conversations about the pitiful sums of your weekly earnings?’ his mother asked years later, when it was his brother Val’s turn to be dissatisfied, making $1.50 a week.

The way out was the water route. Though breaking from the family circle at age fifteen sounds pretty extreme for a proper George, going to sea was really not at all unnatural. It was only one step from his father’s office to the offices where Henry had his first jobs, and one step more from clerking in a maritime business to a ship’s deck. As a little fellow Henry had loved the sea stories his father told from the lore of Captain George — particularly the patriotic ones of his grandfather’s valor during the War of 1812 — and father and son had roamed the Philadelphia waterfront together. ‘One of our chief playgrounds,’ remembers William Newton, brother of Heber, ‘was about the wharves of the city. [Henry] had a friend who was a sea captain and I a cousin, and both of us had our minds set on a sea voyage.’ And in his own much later retrospections, Henry George cherished the education he had had, knowing and loving the port. He had seen the first iron steamship ever to put into Philadelphia, he once told an audience, and the fact of iron afloat had astounded him: in time the boy had thought of the hollowness within, and conceived for himself a notion of the displacement of water by a floating body. He made model brigs for the mantlepiece at home; and for the rest of his days he loved to sail, and to make sketches of sailing vessels.

Opportunity came in 1855, and he must have been watching for it. About the middle of January Henry noticed in the Herald that the Indiaman Hindoo had put into New York after a voyage from the Orient. This was the vessel on which a twenty-four-year-old fellow parishioner of St. Paul’s, Samuel Miller, sailed as mate. With the assistance of George Latimer the two met, at St. Paul’s Church it seems likely, and talked out Henry’s hopes. The boy learned that Miller expected by spring to be put in command of the Hindoo and sent to Australia and India; and Henry was promised that if the promotion came off he too could ship. Within a month or so, the friend, now Captain Miller, wrote that they could go ahead. He would gladly help with gathering a sea-going outfit; his one anxiety was that should anything go wrong the George family would never forgive him. ‘Any trouble would be my misfortune not my fault.’

At the point of decision making, Henry’s diary takes on a flavor of secrecy and conspiracy. Yet it is more likely that the elder Georges fooled the boy, by being undeceived, than that he brought off anything very secret. The fact that his cousin, who within a few weeks was to be ordained a minister, sat in on the conference, makes it pretty clear that family affairs never slipped out of adult supervision. At any rate, when Henry broached the matter, his parents, who had had a recent experience of his being willful around the house, did not object too much; and the arrangements of detail were made rather between Mr. George and Captain Miller than by Henry himself. He was to sail as foremast boy. In the hope that he would not have too good a time and want to go to sea again, the father asked that things not be made too soft. As his mother later reviewed the matter: ‘We had perfect knowledge of the Captain and he promised to watch and protect you as a brother which he did.’ On Sunday, 1 April, the day before leaving, St. Paul’s Sunday school gave Henry a new Bible, and George Latimer presented a copy of James’s Anxious Inquirer. (Some Sundays later the young minister pleased the family by praying for Henry during church service.) On Monday the moment of going was hard, and the boy almost faltered. But his father, two uncles, and half a dozen cousins and friends went with him to the Delaware river ferry; and from there he traveled with Sam Miller, ‘four hours brooding’ to New York. Some of the farewell letters from Philadelphia were pretty doleful, such as the one from a chum who told his ‘Dear Mackerel’ that he hoped this parting would not be the last one. Doubtless the railroad journey gave Henry his first and most emotional opportunity to read a poem signed ‘F. C.,’ and written out in the prettiest and primmest hand a girl could manage.

Thou Henry still art young,

And does not see the wonder Thou wilt tread The buoyant deck, and look upon the flood,

Unconscious of the high sublimity . . .

Blest be thy passage o’er the changing sea Of life; the clouds be few that intercept The light of joy. The waves roll gently Beneath thy bark of hope, and bear thee safe To meet in peace, thine other father,God.

The blurs and creases and turned down corners of the good paper on which this message is inscribed are the first signs of record that Henry was interested in Florence Curry, who was the daughter of a family friend, or in any girl.

The youngster bucked up in New York City. He signed the shipping articles at $6 a month, three-quarters as much net as he had earned gross at home. He had a few days for sight-seeing. The great city struck him much more happily in 1855 than it was to in 1869, when we shall find him making his next and crucial visit. He liked everything, perhaps excepting the Customs House, which he compared unfavorably with the one where his father worked. His eye was pleased by the regularity of the streets, and the brown-stone houses and the city gardens; and from the Battery the views of land and water entranced him. First experiences of living and working as a seaman were ‘a great deal easier than expected’: he mentioned sleeping in the after-house with carpenter and cook, and eating meals prepared by hands as clean as kitchen hands at Parkinson’s. With a God bless you all’ he ended his good-bys on 10 April as the Hindoo was pulled downstream for the long voyage.

The vessel, though twenty-five years old, was good size for then — 586 tons register, 1200 tons burden — and the outward cargo comprised half a million feet of lumber for Australia. The normal crew, Henry had understood beforehand, was nineteen men: fourteen able seamen, the cook, the steward, two mates, and the captain. On this trip the foremast boy, and possibly also the carpenter, was extra. The crew, the members of which Mr. Miller had some trouble picking up, was a properly mixed lot, men from the West Indies, a Spaniard, and an Englishman among them, and they all looked interesting to the youngest member.

Henry George’s fifteen months on the Hindoo became the natural occasion of his doing his first sustained writing. There was opportunity to mail letters at only three points: before sailing from New York, at Melbourne, the port of call, and from Calcutta, the destination. But for everyday a sailor may keep a journal, and Henry did a remarkable job. In interesting detail he put down his routine duties, keeping watch and doing odd jobs; and he recorded his introspections also — homesickness at first, Sunday thoughts of St. Paul’s, and remembrance of the pies his mother baked. It was all very normal: no emotions to excess, hard work but not too much to do.

Best of all the youngster’s mind reached out, noticing things and putting them down with clarity and force and economy of word. For instance, the story in his Sea Journal of the Fourth of July in the South Atlantic: ‘Weds. July 4. At 12 o’clock last night the day was ushered in by three discharges from a small swivel, which made a great deal of noise, rousing up all who were asleep. As soon as the smoke cleared away and the dead and wounded were mustered, it was found that it had not been without execution, all the glass on one side of the house being shattered (a loss not easily repaired), a port blown out; and the waddings (made of rope yarn, and very hard) had passed, one through the head of the new water cask, and another through the new foretopsail, which had not been bent a week ... At 12 m. all hands were called to reef. While reefing the foretopsail the parrel of the yard gave way, causing a great deal of trouble and keeping all hands from dinner. It was 2:30 p.m. before our watch got below to their plum duff, which had been allowed in honour of the day. The rest of the day was rainy, with wind constantly varying, keeping us hawling on the braces. Thus closed the most miserable 4th of July that I have ever yet spent.’

Not often in the journal did he turn from the facts to the feeling of what he saw. But we may look ahead, near to journey’s end, to see that at sixteen he could express an emotion and an impression too. On 28 May 1856, he noted: ‘I witnessed this afternoon one of the most beautiful storms that I have ever seen. It was about 4 p.m., the sun shining brightly. The squall or rather shower came up astern: the space over which it extended seemed not above \/4 mile in width and its bounds were as clearly marked on the water as those of a sandy beach. Where it was raining the sea seemed as though it were molten silver which contrasted strongly with the deep blues adjoining. The wind curling the tops of the waves made a most beautiful appearance. On the whole was suspended a small but most beautiful rainbow. The shower quickly came on us, but it was light, and as quickly departed.’ Evidently writing was fun; certainly there was no other reason than doing a task because he liked to do it, for Henry to keep this journal.

Outward bound the Hindoo swung far southeast. Far out of sight of land all the way, the vessel rounded the Cape of Good Hope about the middle of July, and from there ran into cold and gales in the southern Indian Ocean. At last on 24 August, the 137th day at sea, the ship put into Hobson’s Bay, the port of Melbourne. Here occurred the most difficult event of the voyage, apparently Henry’s very first experience of the conflict of working men with property and authority.

According to his Sea Journal, the sailors planned to leave the Hindoo in Australia, and they were in a hurry. He heard them talk about the region around Melbourne as a ‘Land of Promise, where gold was to be had by all.’ He sympathized with their haste, on the day of putting in, as he heard the men discussing ‘What they would do, where they would go, and how they would spend their money when they got it.’ But under their articles they were not free until the cargo had been unloaded, and here the crew balked. Fearing that, if they put the lumber ashore, Captain Miller would not pay them, they demanded immediate discharge. Of course this played right into the captain’s hands: he regarded the whole crew as a miserable lot, and naturally refused the demand.

Three days of tension passed aboard the Hindoo, riding anchor well out in Hobson’s Bay. Then as the crew had wanted, the American consul was brought aboard. Seated on the booby-hatch, he heard grievances and commitments. ‘Some complained of bad food,’ Henry recorded without stating his own judgment, ‘others of bad language and threats used to them by the officers, and some of blows and one of sickness caused by falling from aloft.’ The consul found in favor of the ship’s master; and Captain Miller followed the judgment by saying that once the cargo was unloaded, ‘he would pay them their wages and let them go in peace.’ Yet authority somehow lost power. The sailors demanded the captain’s promise in writing; he refused, and the men refused to work. The struggle ended with the striking sailors’ being convicted and taken to prison ship for a month’s hard labor. The lumber was discharged and ballast taken aboard, doubtless at lower cost to the business venture than paying sailors’ wages from New York.

We gather that, though legal right seems to have been all on the side of the young captain, Henry George tacitly sympathized with the strikers. Perhaps it was simple shock and resentment at first seeing maritime law, or any kind of labor law, in action. Or it may have been more: Henry may have felt some truth in the sailors’ incidental complaints and have judged Sam Miller too truculent in young authority. We may take the word of Henry George, Jr., and Anna George de Mille that his championing sailors’ rights, as an editor nearly twenty years later, connected in his mind with unforgettable scenes in Hobson’s Bay. In 1840, American enlightenment, in the person of Richard Henry Dana, had begun stating the facts and making the fight for seamen, demanding that they be treated essentially like other laborers and citizens. Henry George, in this as much as anyone Dana’s successor, made his background observations in Australia.

Though the Hindoo lay over nearly a month, Henry went to Melbourne only once, just long enough to remember at his visit of 1890 the city’s earlier San Francisco-like appearance: ‘its busy streets, its seemingly continuous auctions, its crowds of men with flannel shirts and long high boots, its bay crowded with ships.’ When the time came for economic writing, he always had an eye for what was going on in Australia and New Zealand.

In the Sea Journal, a couple of periods of being becalmed, one of them at the crossing of the equator, were the only matters of note for the remainder of the outward voyage. Then, in one of his most effective passages, he described the approach up the Hooghly River to Calcutta: ‘Mon. Dec. 3 . . . About 5 a.m. we were taken in tow by the steamer and proceeded up the river. The night air was misty and chilly and a monkey jacket proved very comfortable. The day soon began to break, revealing a beautiful scene. The river at times very broad and again contracting its stream into a channel hardly large enough for a ship of average size to turn in, was bordered by small native villages, surrounded by large fruit trees, through which the little bamboo huts peeped . . . On the banks the natives began to go to their daily toil, some driving cattle along, others loading boats with grain, while the women seemed busy with their domestic affairs. As we approached the city, the banks on both sides were lined with handsome country residences of the wealthy English . . . The river which [at Garden Reach] takes a sudden bend was crowded with ships of all nations, and above nothing could be seen but a forest of masts. On the right hand or Calcutta side, are the East India Company’s works, for repairing their steamers, numbers of which, principally iron, were undergoing repairs . . . One feature which is peculiar to Calcutta was the number of dead bodies floating down in all stages of decomposition, covered by crows who were actively engaged in picking them to pieces. The first one I saw filled me with horror and disgust, but like the natives, you soon cease to pay any attention to them.’

The Hindoo lay nearly all of December and the first half of January in Calcutta harbor, and Henry had freedom to explore a great deal in city and countryside. But the first matter for a boy away from home was a batch of letters, the only ones to reach him on the voyage. His mother had asked friends and relatives to write, and his father had made a packet of the letters: the effort seems to have been planned as group persuasion that Henry should stay at home next time. The letters brought an ocean of affection. From home, humor and teasing as well as words on the sadness of separation, and news of all the relatives; and, from a friend, the not too distressing item that Henry’s ‘dear Florie’ had cried the entire day of his departure, and now was looking ‘awful’ as she had grown ‘several feet.’ Thus reminded, the boy wrote the long letters which still tell the story of his visit to India. He shopped for presents to take home, and accumulated in Calcutta a parrot and many handkerchiefs, boxes, fans, and other ‘nic nacks.’ For himself he selected a pet monkey, a lively and comforting little beast which turned out to be the only member of a considerable menagerie brought aboard the Hindoo to survive the passage to New York.

In port the captain and the foremast boy were free to be friends and have their fun together. They suffered a little from change of diet at first, but the weather was beautiful, and during the ten days before Christmas they visited both Calcutta and Barrackpore, sixteen miles away. They saw a juggler perform, and a dwarf dance; and in a park Henry climbed a giant banyan tree. The captain thought it curious to see white and colored people mix promiscuously on the streets and was tempted to thump a colored gentleman walking with three white girls. Henry recorded no reaction to his commander’s attitude. The two found the stores open late on Christmas eve, and the churches crowded on Christmas day. They attended an early service in the cathedral of the Church of England, and then a late service in another Anglican church. They presented themselves with a holiday dinner and really must have had a glorious time. But most of their thoughts that day, the captain insisted, went back to Philadelphia. India was never mystic India to Henry George after this visit; it was an actual, grim, and suffering India. And in course of time, when as social critic he was ready to compare peoples and their problems, having seen the land was to make the literature of India the more fascinating to him, and his argument the more effective.

For the return voyage once again new sailors had to be signed, and Henry noticed that, though they came from more diverse origins than the outgoing crew, almost to a man they had been in the United States and now considered themselves to be Americans. There was room for thought in this: the fourteen ‘Americans’ included men from England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Holland, and Russia. As they were about to sail the boy noticed that the cargo was very ‘tight’ and the ship ‘deep.’ He predicted a long voyage, about 120 days, which would bring them into New York about the middle of May. He predicted his own situation also: on arrival home he would have about $50, ‘not much for 13 or 14 months.’ But not a bad net gain, either, one may think, considering that his total wages would have come to about $85 or $90, and that he had already seen the sights of New York, Melbourne, and Calcutta, on funds advanced.

The worst of the return voyage came at the very start, when adverse winds kept the Hindoo three weeks beating down the eighty-six mile stretch of the Hooghly River, a terrible annoyance. The Philadelphians were made happy though on 4 February, the day when at last the pilot could be dropped, because, as they were about to leave the river’s mouth, Captain Miller’s father brought in his splendid new ship, an American clipper. There was much visiting back and forth, in a small way a St. Paul’s reunion, before the Hindoo put out to sea.

During the first month the cook sickened and died, and for a few days the captain gave Henry duty in the galley, a job he hated. Otherwise the voyage home lacked much event. The monkey kept him company, and, says Henry, prevented the cockroaches from crawling on his face while he slept. On 13 April the Hindoo rounded the Cape of Good Hope again, two weeks later sighted St. Helena, and on 14 June put safely into New York harbor. An April entry in the Sea Journal, the last that requires quoting, tells us that the writer was relishing his adventure: ‘One year has passed since the Sunday when I took farewell of my friends — to me an eventful year; one that will have a great influence in determining my position in life; perhaps more so than I can at present see. O that I had it to go over again! Homeward bound! In a few months I hope to be in Philadelphia once more.’

It was a browned and much grown-up young fellow who returned to the Third Street home as summer came on, less than three months short of seventeen. Though he was proud of having gone to sea, in some degree his parents won their point. He showed no sign of wanting to go again; and in the future he thought of seamanship for himself only as the means to earn a passage, or in hard times as a very temporary make-do. Final advice against seamanship as a possible career for Henry George was written by Sam Miller, as he was about to sail again: ‘I hope you will find some agreeable and profitable employment before long, take my advice and never go to sea. You know the troubles of a sailor’s life before the mast, it never gets any better. [The] 2d mate leads proverbially a dog’s life, the mate and Captain’s very little better.’ Henry had now to set a new course for himself, and he knew it; but his bearings were far from clear.

Of course the first question was a job, but finding one was slow. Some unnamed errand took him on an overnight trip to Baltimore in August. He seems to have been doing some work for the uncle who paid his way, rather than looking for a position; and Henry put down in his diary only that he talked politics and wandered about the waterfront of the city. At last in September, and this time again through his father’s arranging, he got a job sufficient for the time being. This was an apprenticeship in the printing shop of King and Baird, and once more the pay was only $2 a week. But Mr. George thought of the printing trade as educational, and one to open doors, and Henry fell into step. They never did a wiser thing together.

As printer’s apprentice the boy learned fast. After eight months he could set 4000 ems a day ‘on common news work,’ an amount which would earn a journeyman printer about $10 a week, he boasted. He made friends and picked up ideas. ‘Henry George was a remarkably bright boy always in discussion with other boys in the office,’ Ned Wallazz tells us. ‘He got into the habit of appealing to me (I am seven or eight years older) for support as to his dates and facts, historical and political.’ This was 1857, the year when Pennsylvania’s James Buchanan became President, the year also of Dred Scott, and of the beginning of a depression. Henry George’s own recollection of print-shop talk fixes on an economic idea taught him by an old printer of the firm, the proposition — which might have been concocted out of the pages of Adam Smith himself, and which certainly conformed with the ideas of the laisser faire school, which prevailed in the United States almost as uniformly as in England — that in old and settled countries workmen are paid low wages, and that in new countries they are paid high. It was an idea to disturb a boy who remembered Australia, and who was beginning to hear and think about the American West coast. Philadelphia was an old city; and Henry had three years ahead at $2 a week, before at twenty-one he could become a journeyman and earn an independent living of his own.

The dimness and distance of his prospects in the printing office were matched by a certain incompatibility at home. Not that there was a sharp break, nor that the Georges failed to allow leeway for a lad in his later teens. Jo Jeffreys, one of Henry’s more spirited contemporaries, gives us an attractive description of how Henry entertained his friends in the attic bedroom, the gaslight dim and books spread around, with hours on hours of talk. When the host drowsed off, the friends filed out and let him rest. But Henry had not been home long when his father quarreled with him about the hours he kept; and he and his mother argued, not far from election time, about slavery. In this Democratic family the parents condoned slavery as sanctioned by Scripture, and they rejected abolitionism in the way President Buchanan did, as an altogether exaggerated and impractical movement. Henry retorted that his mother’s attitude rested ‘on policy not principle,’ and that the ownership of human beings gave slave masters too much power. Henry George was thinking of home and church in 1857, we may be sure, when he recalled much later, ‘how over and over again I have heard all questions of slavery silenced by the declaration that the negroes were the property of their masters, and that to take away a man’s slave without payment was as much a crime as to take away his horse without payment.’ Very likely Henry’s going one Sunday to the Swedenborgian Church of the New Jerusalem was a bit of a declaration of moral and spiritual independence.

During his months at home Henry’s most particular friends were Ned Wallazz, of King and Baird’s, Joseph Jeffreys, who was about to take up the study of law, and two old chums, the brothers Charles and Collins Walton. All shared in the Lawrence Society. Now, as apparently not before the voyage to India, that organization indulged in gay activities, some of them surprising for members and friends of the George family. What with boxing and fencing and general horseplay, ‘the exercises tended to promote the muscular rather than the literary character,’ says Charlie Walton; and there came times ‘when the test of merit, and the standard of membership, was the drinking of the most Red Eye, the singing of the best song, and the smoking of the most segars.’ Henry did not refuse. Writing to an absent member he explained that his letter would ‘savor the filthy weed,’ for he was smoking ‘one of the longest kind of pipes filled with Stead’s,’ and he told about ‘a drunk last Saturday night, when Jeffreys laid down in the street to be carried home and put to bed.’ The Georges knew that Henry smoked, and probably knew that he drank too. Certainly they knew about Jo Jeffreys, whom Jane George liked. ‘Confound it,’ Jo told Henry after a call, ‘when we are drunk we go just where we ought not to.’

Yet the Lawrence Society’s original interest in books and ideas persisted, and the boys did compositions on serious subjects. From 1857 we have two contributions by Henry, the very earliest known essays of his writing. The first deals with Mormonism. With a gay ‘Ho Brothers’ for salutation, Henry launched into denunciation: polygamy, he said, exposed the Mormons to incredible temptations; and their organizing and colonizing activities created for the leaders of the movement extra temptations, to exploit the common membership. (Was this already recurrent theme, that power corrupts, so soon even a half-serious idea with Henry George?) To his moralizing without benefit of facts Henry added unflattering estimates of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young; and he ended by arguing that the Latter-day Saints should somehow be brought to submit to government authority. Except for his antislavery feeling, this bit of social judgment is the first instance in the record of Henry George’s proposing to change the ways of men.

His other Lawrence Society composition concerns ‘The Poetry of Life,’ and it takes us closer to the inner man. Poetry, said Henry, belongs to him who sees life round and who nurtures the divine flame. It is denied to those whose views are narrowed ‘to the sole end of wealth.’ He alone knows the poetry of life who can withdraw from the noise and hustle, and ‘who strips the idols of common adoration to their nakedness, [and] views man as he was created, a being a little lower than the angels, but crowned in glory and honour, as a being awful in his powers and sublime in the rightly directed use of them.’ Poetry occurs in the universal experiences: in the hopes of youth, ‘in the first dawning of love,’ in ‘the fierce struggles of man with his fellows,’ at last in death itself. ‘If we would view men and things in their true effects and relations, we must withdraw from the turmoil and let the soul take her stand.’

We could easily say that as first essays the Lawrence Society papers, certainly the ‘Mormonism’ one, are better forgiven and forgotten. But the Sea Journal of 1855 and 1856 places them from the outset in the sequence of Henry George’s writing; and they demand notice as they fix the point of turning from the clear flow of descriptive expression, which first came bountifully to him, into more turgid channels of thought and writing. Aboard the Hindoo at fifteen and sixteen he had written with little self-consciousness, for himself alone, about external things; but now, and for a while in the future, self-consciousness and self-assertiveness were the order of the day. It may or may not be significant that Henry’s reading pieces of Emerson — exhortations toward self-expression, every line of them — occurred almost certainly between writing the Sea Journal and the Lawrence Society essays. As of 1857, the important thing is that, nearly a decade before he began to earn his living by his pen, Henry George had spontaneously phrased his boy’s thoughts in both the precise and objective and the hortatory and subjective modes of expression common in his day. It is only normal that at eighteen he was yet making no effort toward that difficult goal: welding the two together into a powerful tool of expression and persuasion. It would take a quarter-century and the writing of a great book to do just that.

Besides family, job, friends, and ideas, Henry had time for one other interest, Florence Curry and her family. The family as a whole was important to him: the widowed mother, Mrs. Rebecca Curry, who heard his troubles; the older daughters, Martha and Emma, especially Emma who wrote him when Florence did not, and who was an intimate of his sister Caroline; and Florence, apparently a few years his junior, who fascinated him. The Currys were friends of the family and fellow parishioners at St. Paul’s, and they had connections. Born a Kelley, Mrs. Curry had as brother no less a person than the Philadelphia judge who, as Republican Congressman, would presently be known as ‘Pig Iron’ Kelley, the most famous spokesman for the iron interests of the state. More to the concern of Henry, the widow’s nephew, George Curry, was now territorial governor of Oregon, and he invited his aunt and cousins to join him. Accordingly, in March 1857, Mrs. Curry packed up her family and left Philadelphia, to take charge of a new home on the Pacific coast.

On seeing the family depart, Henry was quite as desolated as Florence had been in 1855. He let his feelings be hurt because, though he stood by until their boat sailed, he received no farewell wave or glance, a deprivation he may have misunderstood; and he trudged back to the printing office in the doldrums, pondering ‘the mutability of human affairs.’ But within a month Emma was writing about an expectation which they had discussed at home; and during the summer Florence herself, ‘stony-hearted’ about letter writing though Henry called her, was mentioning it too: 'We will have a home to offer you and warm hearts to welcome you.’ The girls wrote most of the letters, but Mrs. Curry approved. Indeed the family could hardly have reached Portland before Henry wrote the mother that he was ‘still of the same opinion about going West; you know my reasons . . . I only wait for your promised account of Oregon, and advice to determine where and when I shall go.’ So it appears that during the winter of 1856-7, perhaps no more than six months after returning from India, again in conference with St. Paul’s people, Henry George decided to leave home for more than just a voyage.

His determination to go West, at a time to depend on circumstances and the advice of his friends, became the more important on 10 June. On that day he quarreled with the job-room foreman at King and Baird’s and had to quit. Possibly he was given extra courage by the latest word from the Currys: one of their friends, the editor of the Oregon Statesman, had said that if Henry would come he would pay him journeyman’s wages, $4 or $5 a day in the new territory. But no letter from Oregon put travel money in his pocket, and only after stalling a couple of days did he nerve himself to confess to his family that he had got himself out of a job. He returned home low spirited, he confessed to his diary, ‘and told Pop that I had left K&B. ******.’To the distant friends he wrote that he had been ‘learning little and making little . . . and would not quietly submit to the impositions and domineering insolence of the foreman.’ It was still too early for him to sense that he was unemployed in a year of economic contraction, and that opportunities western or eastern might close up on him at an abnormal rate, as presently they did.

For a short while he made do in Philadelphia. For six days he was hired to do the work of a journeyman compositor who was out on strike; the work ended when the strike ended, and he was paid $7.50, his largest wages to date, and the only scab wages of his life. Next, in July, he worked on a weekly sheet, The Merchant, and was paid only ‘better than nothing.’ Meanwhile his father discovered a possibility for him in the printing firm of Stavely and McCalla, at $2.25 a week, with more promised in the second year. But this was on condition that he stay with the firm until he became twenty-one, and Henry would have none of it. He was tired of being an apprentice. The stop-gap job he took in late summer, shipping to Boston and return on a coal barge, at least spared him more of that humiliation. He proved to a doubting skipper that he had strength and skill to man the wheel, and so earned the wages of an able seaman.

By fall the hard times had hit and he knew it. In a letter written but not sent to a brother in the Lawrence Society, Henry grieved: ‘The times are damned hard, and are practically getting worse every day . . . There are thousands of hard-working mechanics now out of employment in this city. And it is to the fact that among them is your humble servant, that you owe this letter. If you will send on without delay the V. you owe me, you will be doing the State a service by lessening the pressure of the hard times upon one of the hard-fisted mechanics who form her bone and muscle.’ And Henry demanded also to be told of any rich men or corporations his friend happened to know (‘I should much prefer the latter, especially if their rules and regulations are a little lax’) who might want ‘a nice young man of my well known talents and capacities.’ He was ready for a canal boat, he said, if only it would pay.

Yet even at this moment of anxious temporizing, Henry saw better things ahead. If we may trust a much later recollection, he had learned by the time of the Boston trip that a steamer was being fitted out in the Philadelphia Navy Yard for lighthouse service on the Pacific coast — a marvelous chance for a free passage. With his parents fully in counsel, he wrote to Congressman Thomas B. Florence, a Philadelphian who was interested in navy business. He wanted to become an ‘ordinary seaman or first-class boy’ on the Shubrick, he petitioned. His father backed him up with a personal appeal; and Mr. Florence promised to help. In addition Henry besought his uncle Thomas Latimer to influence people in the Lighthouse Bureau in Washington, so that he might be permitted to earn his way on the Shubrick without the normal commitment to remain on the crew after arrival. In due course he submitted testimonials; and he even stretched the truth to represent himself as ‘a graduate of the Philadelphia High School.’

The pressure moved the wheels. About six weeks after the approach to Representative Florence, Henry George was appointed steward of the bright new craft. The only hitch was that he was obliged to sign for a full year’s service; but even this was sweetened by a promise of $40 a month, much the best he had ever earned. He could now make his way to the Currys if he chose; or he would probably have a chance to settle into federal-government service, as his father had. Certainly he would see his married cousin James George, an older contemporary who was fairly well situated now as bookkeeper in a San Francisco clothing firm. In that distant western land, infinite possibilities lay open.

Things moved fast. Henry had to leave suddenly three days before Christmas; his orders came so late that there was no time for proper farewells. A picture was taken, disappointing compared to the daguerreotype of 1855. Though Ned Wallazz learned what was happening in time to write Henry a letter, Jo Jeffreys missed him, calling on the evening of departure. The lovable scamp, now his best friend, comforted the family by lending a picture he had, better than the new one, for duplication.

The parting was hard for the affectionate pious family. Aunt Mary and sister Caroline put solemn thoughts into their good-by letters, like those of 1855: their hopes that nephew and brother would do nothing dishonorable, and their faith that the day would come soon ‘when our dear Henry will be one of the lambs of Christ.’ Yet we may cheerfully doubt that in the rush such thoughts were said aloud. More likely spoken were the things the parents chose to write: they were completely satisfied with the job on the Shubrick, and they were confident that it would lead to good results. Though in a New Year’s letter the mother said how dreadfully she had missed Henry on Christmas day, she admitted that if she could she would not now wish him back: ‘I want you to be something and somebody in the world.’

As for the young man’s own view of how he would succeed in the future, he set himself in entire seriousness a thirty-seven point introspective examination of capacities. He used the scheme of phrenology, the fad and pseudo-science of the day. He judged himself to be ‘large’ or ‘full’ on the points of amativeness, combativeness, destructiveness, self-esteem, firmness, secretiveness, conscientiousness, hope, and individuality. Correct so far, we may judge, according to the record of his early years. He found himself lacking or ‘small’ in concentrativeness, acquisitiveness, mirthfulness, and calculation. Accurate again, he seems, though of all men he would be ‘concentrative’ in future years. He contradicted himself with his ‘large’ for caution; there is room to question his ‘moderate’ for language; and one would wish that he had not left blank the spaces on veneration, benevolence, and ideality, among others.

His one-word answers he enlarged by free self-characterization. He included the following comments: ‘An ardent, devoted, and constant lover; he will defend the object of his love with boldness, protect his or her rights with spirit. Will feel much stronger attachment than he will express ... Is not very fond of children . . . Chooses as his friends the talented, intellectual and literary, and avoids the ignorant ... Is extremely fond of travelling. Has an insatiable desire to roam about and see the world and afterwards to settle down ... Is patriotic and ready to sacrifice all in defence of his country . . . May get angry quickly, but, unless the injury is deep or intended, cannot retain his anger . . . Will be more likely to make a general than a critical scholar. May have bold and original ideas upon a variety of subjects yet will not without effort or excitement have a train of connected thoughts upon any . . . Is qualified to meet difficulties, overcome obstacles, endure hardships, contend for privileges, resent insults and defend his rights to the last . . . Desires money more as a means than an end ... Is inclined to enter largely into business and push his projects with so much energy and zeal as to appear rash and nearly destitute of caution; yet will come out about right in the end, and will seldom fail entirely in his projects, though he may be obliged to retrace his steps.’

In like vein of assurance Henry wrote his parents, aboard the Shubrick on 6 January, the eighteenth day from home, and asked them not to share the letter outside the family. After requesting them to write Mrs. Curry that he would see her soon, he declared: ‘I know my dear parents that you felt deeply the parting with me — far more so than I did. But let the fact that I am satisfied and that my chances are more than fair comfort you. As for me, for the first time in my life, [I] left home with scarcely a regret and without a tear. I believed that it was my duty both to myself and to you to go, and this belief assuaged the pain of parting.

‘I am now about setting out for myself in the world, and though young in years I have every confidence in my ability to go through whatever may be before me. But of that I will say nothing, let the future alone prove ... I remain your Loving child.’


New Californian: Immigrant and Wage Earner 1858-1861

Just to be taken on the crew of the Shubrick was a promise of adventure for Henry, and it gave an assurance of safety for the comfort of the people at home. Named for the admiral who was chairman of the Lighthouse Bureau, the vessel was a ‘first’ in two or three particulars. She was the first tender in the lighthouse service to be sent to the Pacific coast, and the first to be powered with steam. She was a hybrid, with a square-rigged foremast, yet was accounted good-looking, with black hull and funnels, and great red side wheels. She was armed with half a dozen cannon, and with a hot-water gun specially designed to discourage prowling Indians. Henry’s father went over the vessel with him and met certain members of the crew, a few days before sailing.

The start was auspicious, and so were the first three days at sea". But on Christmas day, at a point off Hatteras, the Shubrick ran into such a storm as Henry had never experienced on the India voyage. The little tender, ‘cockleshell’ he called her — she was 140 feet long, and carried a 371-ton burden —got caught in the trough of the waves and took a dreadful battering. Deck engine, deck lumber, and extra spars went overboard, and the seas stove in the starboard bulwarks and part of the wheelhouse. When the call came, between ten and eleven at night, for all hands to put overboard whatever would lighten the load, Henry worked with a Negro deckhand heaving sacks of coal. It was a perilous Christmas. But by daylight seas were calming, and five or six days later the

Shubrick put into Charlotte Amalie, the port of St. Thomas, one of the Virgin Islands, for refueling and refitting.

To spare his parents anxiety Henry made no mention of the hurricane. To them he admitted no more than ‘head winds and a rough sea’ so far — a not very successful ruse, for, when news of the storm came out in the Evening Journal, or ‘Evening Disturber’ as Collins Walton called the paper, it excited the Georges greatly. Writing home Henry slipped into the peaceful pictorial vein of the Sea Journal, and his description is not to be improved upon: ‘Here I am this winter’s afternoon (while you are gathered around the parlour stove, perhaps thinking and talking of me) sitting in the open air in my white sleeves almost roasted by the sun. I wish that you could view the scene which surrounds us. The noble mountains rising from the water, covered with perpetual vegetation of the tropics and varied in colour by the shadows of the clouds which seem to climb their sides; and the little town with its square red-roofed, Dutch houses and white forts, surrounded by the palm and cocoanut trees which line the head of the bay; the ships and steamers which deck the harbour; and the boundless sea stretching away to the edge of the horizon, glittering in the sunlight — form a picture which I know you would enjoy.’

While the Shubrick lay in the harbor, Henry had an interview with the commanding officer. Apparently before leaving Philadelphia he had been in some way disappointed about the $40 wages. At any rate Captain de Camp now promised ‘that if he could hit on any plan which would enable him to raise my wages to their original standard ($35.00) [sic] for the time occupied going out, he would do so, and I am certain of getting more as soon as we reach our destination.’ Putting to sea again, 9 January, Henry wrote the letter to his parents quoted at the end of the last chapter: the boy had his face to the wind, confident for the future as never before.

Rounding Barbados, the Shubrick touched Pernambuco and put into Rio de Janeiro. This should have been a high point of the voyage for an enthusiastic traveler. Yet all that Henry managed to write, and this in a letter not sent, was that he had paddled the harbor, ‘from one island to another in a canoe, the exact model of the famous one constructed by Crusoe,’ and that he had gone ashore in Rio only once, and then seen very ‘little of the town, for it was too infernally hot to walk the narrow streets.’

Again a failure to report to his parents was a covering up of unfortunate events. There was reason, for this time the crew of the Shubrick faced a more appalling danger than a storm at sea. Yellow fever was raging in Rio — a dread disease for a Philadelphian. No case developed before the Shubrick sailed, but after twelve hours at sea three men were stricken, and during the five-day run to Montevideo five or six more went down. All survived except one, a lovable fellow named Martin, the second engineer, whose agonies made the last few hours out of Montevideo a race for help. But, before the tender slipped into the mouth of the La Plata, Martin died piteously, in the presence of his young cousin, a fireman on the crew.

This was Henry’s first knowledge of tragic death. It turned him to his pen immediately, and in time he made it an event in his literary life. In two letters to Philadelphia — Engineer Martin was one of the crew whom Mr. George had met and liked — he told the story simply and with feeling. The stricken man had wished to be buried ashore, and his mates had sympathized; after he died Captain de Camp had consulted with the cousin, and burial at some lonely spot along the coast, from which the body could be removed home whenever opportunity availed, had been the decision. But when Uruguayan officials refused under quarantine regulations, that plan had to be set aside, and after a short run to sea the crew of the Shubrick gave Engineer Martin a sailor’s burial. Their effort failed. Though bored with holes and weighted with coal, the coffin floated, and a kedge anchor had had to be attached. Then, after ‘the desired effect’ had occurred and the vessel had returned to moorings, the tide brought the box back, right up to the side of the Shubrick. This decided the crew and captain. Now evading the watch of the port officials, they quietly took the body to a little valley not far from Montevideo and buried it as they had wanted to do. Henry’s account of all this shows him to have been deeply moved but not at all superstitious: his letters explain the failure of sea burial by the simple errors of insufficiently weighting the box and insecurely attaching the anchor.

Yet the event grew on him, and in time, with the encouragement of the interest in the occult which prevailed in California, it took on mystery and terror. Eight years after the voyage Henry George retold the little tragedy in one of his earliest pieces of published writings. Under the title, ‘Dust to Dust,’ he described a wild sky and scudding clouds as the background of Martin’s dying; he said that at the moment of death a prayer rose spontaneously from the crew, and instantly the sun came through and the heavens were crossed by a rainbow ‘of everlasting promise.’ The author had it that the crew had been quite superstitious. The coffin had ‘seemed almost instinct with life and striving to elude’ the anchor; and then, ‘as we steamed up the river, it was more than hinted among many of us that the strong desire of the dying man had something to do with the difficulty of sinking his body.’ The return of the corpse to the Shubrick gave the magazine story its climax: ‘Onward it came, through all the vessels that lay beyond us — now lost to our view, now coming into sight again — turning and tacking as though piloted by life, and steadily holding the course for our steamer. It passed the last ship and came straight for us. It came closer, and every doubt was dispelled. It was, indeed, the coffin. A thrill of awe passed through every heart as the fact became assured.’ For Henry George as writer, the magazine story signifies a beginner’s effort to join the company of writers, Melville the greatest, who, in that day better than in any other period of American letters, were putting into fiction the power and the mystery of the sea. In the words of the story, ‘There is something in the vastness with which nature presents herself upon the great waters which influences in this direction even minds otherwise sceptical.’ After Montevideo the passage through the Strait of Magellan, and a brief anchorage there, left a magnificent memory of dark water, great rocks, evergreens, and snow on distant mountains. It left also a poignant one of missionaries working with the ‘not at all attractive’ Tierra del Fuegians — missionaries whom, he later learned, were killed for their efforts and eaten by cannibals of the vicinity. On the passage north the Shubrick touched at Panama, apparently nowhere else, before it came to its destination. Though a bold salute from Henry George’s pen on entering the Golden Gate would have been appropriate to the mood of his leaving home, he seems rather to have been a little appalled by San Francisco. All we have is a couple of lines sent off to Mrs. Curry. Plans and moves would have to be worked out, he told this friend. He added that San Francisco struck him as ‘a dashing place, rather faster than Philadelphia.’

Within an hour of the Shubrick’s putting in, 27 May, James George met him and took him home. At once his letters began to indicate that he was ready for anything, and not too strongly determined for Oregon after all. His mother had guessed this before he left home. To be sure, Mrs. Curry wrote immediately; and she was warm and cordial as ever, and full of regret that he had not reached the West coast in time for Martha’s wedding. But she conspicuously had nothing to offer in the way of a job, on the Oregon Statesman or any other paper. On Henry’s side, ‘the old Oregon fever has not entirely died,’ he said; and certainly he had not forgotten Florence. A month after arrival he charmingly told Martha that Florence had kissed him in a dream, and added that ‘I will be almost afraid to meet her for I know she will awe me into bashfulness and silence at once.’ Yet at the same writing he showed that he was becoming excited, as San Francisco was, by Frazer River gold, and said that come spring he might go to the diggings far away.

All this projecting took for granted both that he would disregard his father’s advice to stay more or less permanently in government employment, and that he could somehow make himself free of his commitment to a full year of service — seven months to go — aboard the Shubrick. According to family record, the eighteen-year-old steward enlisted the sympathy of Ellen George, his cousin’s wife. At their home he went to bed, and she herself went to interview Captain de Camp. One may imagine a woman’s story of an ailing youngster who needed care, and one may think that the three concerned — Henry, cousin, and ship’s commander — all acted in full knowledge that desertion was a habit that had been more or less condoned in San Francisco Bay since Gold Rush days, when sailors, even sailors in the United States Navy, had hit for the mountains in droves. Whatever the pretense, the captain accepted Henry’s ‘retirement’ without effort to bring him back. Though the record of the Shubrick showed other desertions, it made no mention of Henry’s leaving; and the only damaging document in the dossier is an envelope addressed to him from Philadelphia and sent back with the marking, ‘Run away.’ His mother worried, and his father moralized a little; but it was his friend Jo Jeffreys who summed up the episode. ‘I think you did make a decided “jump” when you left the Shubrick so suddenly, though I hope you did not do so before you received what was due you. You must have been in a state of great anxiety when waiting for the expected visit of Captain de Camp, though I think the fact does credit to your ingenuity.’ Presumably Henry never received any of his accumulated wages.

Certainly the young man was in a risk-taking state of mind, and San Francisco was the place for it. We have the word of a future governor that the financial crisis of the late ’50s had hit earlier and harder there than in New York; and an editorial in the San Francisco Hesperian immediately after Henry’s arrival, trying hard to be optimistic, contained such not completely cheerful observations as these: that the new gold rush to the Frazer River in British Columbia had given work to many unemployed, that it was beginning to stimulate business, and that recently there had been fewer suicides in California. If it was true of nineteenth-century America generally, it was triply true of California during Gold Rush days that people gambled recklessly with their jobs. Positions were bandied as freely as stock certificates, and even those most vulnerable wage earners, the white-collar men, exchanged them readily as new chances offered.

Henry acted that way, quitting the Shubrick, and now his cousin did the same. The responsibility of wife and young children notwithstanding, James George abandoned his bookkeeping and entered a Frazer River venture with a San Francisco merchant. A century earlier, in days of Atlantic colonization, James would have been called ‘factor’ rather than partner, and the San Francisco man the ‘principal.’ The George side of the bargain called for setting up a store in Victoria, to do business with the miners. ‘Trade acknowledges no political boundaries,’ the Hesperian was now boasting, as California capital sought investment in British Columbia; and the magazine added that the boundaries of San Francisco’s commercial ‘empire will be as wide as those of western civilization.’ As enterpriser in this forward movement, James offered Henry a job as store clerk. And by August, possibly late July, Henry was on the job selling goods across the counter, under the British flag another thousand miles from home. Perhaps he had been in California long enough to know that some of the biggest money of the earlier ’50s, and some of the more stable accumulations, Leland Stanford’s among others, had been made by the storekeepers of Sacramento just behind the lines of the great gold diggings.

Yet Henry sailed from San Francisco none too anxious for store work; and at first he was probably more than half inclined to try on his own for river gold and a big find. Certainly his letters about getting rich quick, and the fact that he had to work his way north as a sailor, distressed the good people in Philadelphia. But by the time he arrived on Vancouver Island, floods on ‘the terrible Frazer’ had brought gold mining to a standstill, from which it never really recovered. He was lucky to have the store job to resort to, and to have the store for home. By putting up a sign for late and early customers, ‘Please give this door a kick,’ he offered something like twenty-four-hour service to his customers.

He had a very good time, at least for a while, and he seems to have thought there might be a prosperous future in the store. Thrusting his chest out a bit, he had printed a business card which brought a desirable reaction from Jo Jeffreys: ‘It looks quite important for you, old fellow. I wish I could lend you $500.’ Even members of the family who disliked the venture got some exaggerated ideas; Uncle Joseph van Dusen’s firm considered sending the George cousins a shipment of Philadelphia goods for sale. ‘Bless you, my dear little sister,’ wrote Henry after Jane had said something naive about his residence, ‘I had [no bed] to make. Part of the time I slept rolled up on my blanket on the counter, or on a pile of flour, and afterwards I had a straw mattress on some boards. The only difference between my sleeping and waking costumes was that during the day I wore boots and cap, and at night dispensed with them.’ The fun of the venture came many ways: he attended an Indian wedding and a powwow; a returning miner gave him a ‘big boat with sails’; and he looked forward to the ice-skating season.

But a British Columbia winter never came for Henry George. In the late fall some quarrel or difference, not permanent but painful, occurred between the cousins. We are told only that later he was contrite and admitted he had ‘behaved badly towards Jim George.’ He abandoned the store, borrowed money, and sailed steerage from Victoria back to San Francisco. He had never before been so completely alone in the world as at the end of 1858.

The one visible increment of the northern venture was a good start on his later famous set of chin whiskers. Years afterward he told audiences that on the voyage to Victoria he had for the first time had his eyes opened to the meaning of Chinese immigration on the West coast. An old miner, whom he quizzed, admitted that for the present the Chinese were merely working the diggings abandoned by white prospectors. But the workingman foresaw that in time Chinese competition would bring wages down for everyone. Though this kind of anxiety had not yet become the daily operation of Henry’s mind, he remembered later how deeply the prognosis had impressed him: ‘The idea that as a country grew in all that we were hoping it might grow the condition of those who had to work for a living must become not better but worse.’ In the wilderness this was the Adam Smith lesson of the Philadelphia printer again, but made ominous by the threat of the Orient, not too far away for its huge labor force to affect matters crucially. The lesson of old countries and low wages was relearned at an impressionable time for the learner. During the British Columbia interval, Henry George turned nineteen and went out of a job, almost simultaneously.

One phase of his affairs, his relations with the Currys, the northern trip had clarified completely. During the summer Martha, the oldest sister, had come with her new husband to Victoria, and the old friends had had a good visit and an exchange of confidences. Martha reported that Florence was not in love. Not in love with anyone else, appears to have been the idea Henry was to get; and the hint that the young lady was keeping an open mind about him, this year and a half since coming to Oregon, seems to have been strengthened by a bright letter which Florence herself wrote a little later. ‘Remember, Hen,’ invited the girl who had been on his mind for years, ‘if you ever come to Portland, that our hearts and homes are ever open to welcome you. I shall expect a letter in return to this, and expect to have the correspondence continued.’

Yet Henry delayed writing, and perhaps never wrote again to Florence Curry. When he took passage to San Francisco he passed up an opportunity to stop in Portland. And if a low state of pocket-book and wardrobe possibly explains his not visiting at the governor’s residence, this would not have prevented him from writing later from San Francisco. One recalls a self-judgment in the phrenological examination: Henry believed himself ‘strong in his attachments . . . yet may occasionally fall out of them.’ By all the signs, he had fallen out of attachment to Florence; and the possibilities of Oregon, for love or for work, never seriously entered his calculations again.

During the winter of 1858 and 1859, moreover, a series of hard events underscored the fact of personal isolation. On his return to San Francisco the boy had the comfort and security of visiting Ellen George, who was teaching school until decision could be made that she should take her children and move to Victoria. Apparently Henry’s trouble with James did not change his relationship with Ellen. But in February, James’s business having improved, she went to join him; and presently Henry learned that she had taken sick and died in British Columbia. Meanwhile word came from Philadelphia that, under depression stringency, his father’s salary was being withheld for a month — the aging clerk went to the Customs House every day nonetheless — and the family was strained and worried. And finally, later in the year, came the news of the sudden death of Joseph Jeffreys. Jane’s attachment to Henry’s old friend made the event doubly sad, and Mrs. George grieved also. ‘Oh his bright mind,’ she wrote her son, ‘his lonelyness, his sensitiveness, his love for you, made me feel an interest in him of no common kind.’

Henry owed Jo a great debt for understanding and counsel. Wishing him luck when he left Philadelphia, this friend had said things no one else could very well say. On the matter of liquor: ‘You and I have different natures, Harry, and what I may leave without regret you are too apt to cling to with all the ardency of your too-ardent soul . . . You have enjoyed yourself — that is right — you have endeavored to repay yourself for restraint and confinement . . . and in the wild excitement you have perhaps forgotten your aims, your hopes, your ambitions, and here you have been wrong.’ About the Frazer River move, and Henry’s shuttling around generally, Jo judged harshly, but admonished in affection: ‘If you enter a house as a clerk, stay at it, in God’s name. If you should unfortunately resolve to follow printing, follow it with all your abilities and energy until there shall no longer be any necessity for it. You will allow me to say that your great fault (and I think it is your worst one) is that of half-doing things, in this sense, that you vacillate about the execution of that which alone secures permanent success and lasting fame . . . Now you are competent for any labour to which your inclinations may direct you. You are not competent to succeed at a dozen employments, nor can you expect to amass a fortune by labouring at them alternately.’ Not even his worried parents spoke to Henry half so sternly, nor understood the hazards of his zigzag course quite so well. His friend’s death must have seemed to Henry the greatest loss he had suffered so far.

On the side of his West coast career, moreover, the year following his leaving Victoria brought him twice within a hairbreadth of disaster. He was a forlorn fellow who came back to San Francisco laden with debts instead of with nuggets, and possessed of very little beside the hand-me-down coat he wore and a blanket. Up to now, whether in Philadelphia or Calcutta, in San Francisco or Victoria, Henry George had operated always as a member of the George family. Every job and every adventure, possibly excepting the voyage to Boston, had hinged on the influence of his father or his uncles or his cousin. But now on his own, he was reduced to a human unit on the job market in San Francisco, which was during that year an especially crowded and lonesome place to be. As one among thousands returning from the Frazer River, he might well have had no choice except to go to sea again.

A stroke of luck saved him for the winter. By pure accident Henry met in San Francisco David Bond, an old friend from King and Baird’s. The printing-house connection led to a printing-house job. Henry was soon at work in Frank Eastman’s office, at $16 a week, the best wages he had ever made. There was no reason not to luxuriate a little. He settled comfortably in the What Cheer House, a temperance hotel for men which he described as ‘the largest if not the finest hotel in the place.’ Nine dollars a week paid for ‘a beautiful little room and first-class living.’ It was a grand relief. At this stage of great satisfaction with San Francisco he sounded out Jane, who was completing a teacher-training course at home, about possibly coming on. ‘Women are sadly wanted here,’ he urged, and school-teachers are well paid — fifty dollars a month for ‘A, B, C teachers,’ and one hundred dollars, Ellen’s salary, not unusual and not the highest pay. Only the desolation of the Christmas and New Year’s holidays dampened Henry’s spirit at this stage. One year away from home, he reacted to recent freedom with a season of austerity: he cut out smoking, paid no attention to girls, and even lacked the inclination for the theater or other amusements, he wrote his people.

For two or three months — about long enough for Mr. George to congratulate his son on returning to his trade and to confess his own reverses — this pleasant situation held. Then, coincidentally with Ellen’s departure, business slackened in the Eastman shop and Henry lost his job. He got by for the rest of the winter as a weigher in a rice mill. But in the hard spring of 1859 the mill closed, and on top of this Mrs. Curry wrote that, even if she heard of newspaper jobs in Oregon, she was ‘afraid that your free spirit would be disgusted’ with the work.

Evidently Henry was too discouraged to write home. We have only the unnecessarily shamefaced confession, decades later, that for a couple of months he was ‘in fact what would now be called a tramp.’ Like thousands before and since, he set out for the gold country, for Placerville — often called Hangtown — in the region of the Mother Lode east of Sacramento. He did not get that far. At some point in the interior he picked up farm work and he slept in barns, regular California hobo style. An exact contemporary, a self-confessed tramp who worked four months on a ranch near Sonoma, earned $26 per month and keep. In the early summer Henry made his way back to San Francisco. As ill chance had it, he arrived too late to follow up the one real job opportunity the Currys ever arranged for him — could it have been their reply to a distress signal? — a place like the one they had half offered him before he left Philadelphia, setting type on a Portland paper. He considered going to sea once more; and then again David Bond came to the rescue.

The new job this time was with a weekly newspaper of a kind that flourished with peculiar exuberance in San Francisco. Though the California Home Journal, subtitled California Literature, Romance, and the Arts, is an unknown in the larger history of journalism, the one available remaining issue — one on which we may be quite sure Henry George labored — suffices, with other evidence, to place it in the general class of literary papers of which the Golden Era is the most renowned. These papers existed on quite a different footing from that of such regular newspapers as the Alta California and the Bulletin, with their daily, rveekly, and other editions, and their main attention given to commercial and political news. As business undertakings the literary papers were generally a risky, short-lived lot. Yet somehow Henry’s particular paper, which sold for 12I/2 cents — ‘a bit’ — an issue, kept going for several years; and in his eyes the proprietor, Joseph C. Duncan, was a friendly employer and an admirable one.

Months earlier, while he was working at Eastman’s and living at What Cheer House, young George had had an urge to do a lot of reading, some of it the new literature of California; and now working on the Home Journal he had special reason to expand that interest. In the first instance the need to read had come from within himself, after a year at sea and at storekeeping; and the hotel he lived in gave him easy access to a collection of books famous in California history. As a kind of moral substitute for a bar, the proprietor of the What Cheer House, a New England Yankee, maintained a library and a museum of California wild life, for the edification of his guests. Among two or three thousand books and a generous supply of European, East coast, and California newspapers, Henry had a splendid opportunity. Biographies, Greek and Roman classics in translation, histories, and such British and American fiction of the century as the works of Scott, Dickens, and Thackeray, and Irving, Cooper, and Hawthorne were all available to him. Perhaps we should discount his own later impression that he actually read most of the books on What Cheer shelves. But we know that sometime he did a lot of reading, and the What Cheer House library may account for at least a part of it. One book he did not read demands mention: though Henry spotted Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations in the hotel library, he passed by a future favorite book, and it is safe to say that he had not read one line of book economics at this stage of his life.

To the satisfaction of discovering books in California for his pleasure, the job on the California Home Journal added the interest of first contact with literature in the making, and with literary criticism. Though the weekly invited ‘tales, romances, historical sketches, and articles on science’ without restriction to region, in San Francisco style Mr. Duncan made a policy of stressing California interests, and his columns contained such items as articles on Chinese gambling and reports of notable persons who came to the state. Regionalism with rainbows of local color was the essence of early California literature, and Henry George’s first durable and interesting job connected him with that kind of thought at a point of grass-roots origin.

Not only his work but the incidentals of his life indicate that by now George was becoming fond of the state where he had chosen to try his fortune. By temperament Henry was the kind of young man to delight in the spectacle San Francisco has always offered, and to let it grow on him. On Sundays, free from the composing room, he rambled in the hills outside the city. Telegraph Hill, before it became popular, charmed him most: the clouds and fog, sun and shadow, the green hills of springtime — he loved the whole color and feeling. Now finding a group of friends whom he enjoyed, he went to the theater occasionally; and with Isaac Trump, known to him since Shubrick days, he took a room on Dupont Street for a while, in the most polyglot section of town. The boys equipped themselves more or less Bohemian style with a couple of cots and chairs, a trunk for a table, a bottle for a candlestick, and a Dutch scene print for a window curtain. There they entertained their friends — when the rent was not overdue — with talk and fooling reminiscent of the Lawrence Society. Years afterward Henry George recollected with nostalgia their table-tipping and their talk about the mysteries of life, up and down the scale from ghost stories to the ideas of the Swedenborgians.

In this kind of life the young immigrant’s 1859 gave way to i860; and i860 meant in his anticipation September and the age of twenty-one, when he would cease to be an apprentice and as a journeyman could command twice as much as his present $12 wages. In this case the realization proved no less than the hope. When he did come of age he promptly joined the typographical union, and during a short interlude off the Home Journal he earned his first full California wages as a substitute printer on the San Francisco dailies. Then before the year’s end Mr. Duncan took him back and made him foreman printer. His wages jumped to $30 a wTeek, and for a few months Henry George had one of the more prosperous intervals of his life. All in all he owed a great deal to the Home Journal: it had tided him over in San Francisco from the crisis period of his relocation into the crisis period of the nation; it had restored him to his proper work, and justifying his coming West the paper had carried him over into a phase of attachment and feeling for California as a place to live.

But an immigrant is an individual with two loyalties of place, and in Henry George’s case the home loyalty, though it was a declining one, had vigorous spokesmen in the persons of his mother and his sisters. Naturally the womenfolk could not be easily reconciled to Henry’s absence. During his first year away the Victoria business had been distasteful to all the Philadelphia Georges; and then when hard luck hit in early 1859 the women especially begged Henry to come home. They could not bear to think of his settling down and sometime marrying, so far away. The boy’s answer was partly money and partly long-run opportunity in the West. Not the cost of passage home, ‘the rub isn’t there. It’s what shall I do when I get home. Wages are low and work is hard to get, and I might be unable to obtain anything for some time, while here I shall always be able to scratch along, at any rate, and have some chance of doing something more.’ The wanderer now found a phrase for the destiny that separates families and delays hopes: ‘It’s all for the best, you know.’ He entered it in many letters to Philadelphia.

Two events worked some reconciliation among his people to his being away. One was the secession of South Carolina from the Union, in the fateful November of i860. From the first fortnight of that crisis Mr. and Mrs. George, more accurately than many others, especially more so than people in California, anticipated bloodshed between South and North. They foresaw that in San Francisco the hazards would be less for a son of military age than in Philadelphia, and they admitted that he had better stay. The mother was not to stick to this judgment, and Henry was to want to go to war. But speaking for her husband and herself she wrote, on the last day of i860, that they had concluded it was better for him to be on the West coast ‘for a little while’ at least.

The other event of reconciliation was entirely personal, and had occurred about six months earlier: Henry confessed faith and joined the church. During his early months in San Francisco he had attended the Unitarian congregation, and liked it. Had Thomas Starr King, the Boston preacher who was to make himself the spiritual leader of Civil War patriotism in San Francisco, already taken that pulpit, it is hardly likely that Henry would have pulled himself away. But Unitarianism caused head shaking at home, and probably he had his own reservations. He tried the Episcopal churches, but found them too High Church. In the end he discovered a resting place when a friend took him to a Methodist church. Though he was not moved to much letter writing about his conversion, he assured his parents and sisters that they were not to be concerned about the sectarian location of it. Little difference to what part of the fold one belonged, he said, so long as one felt a true belonging. This confession drew from home heart-felt letters of gratitude and relief and appreciation.

Neither the humble little church in San Francisco nor Methodism as a religious movement was ever to prove a place of great loyalty or activity for Henry George. But his parents were not wrong to rejoice at what he wrote them. For their wandering son, now pretty well transplanted in California, had of his own inclination turned back to their values. This involved a commitment he was to keep in his own special ways of devotion, in crucial times, in historic places, as life advanced.

Suffering and Exaltation 186 r — 1865

During the Civil War the choices that young men of military age had to make were of course less prefigured than in our day. The draft was less certain; and no area of federal activity, from taxes to artillery, was as tightly organized then as now. But we should err if we slipped into saying that for Henry George’s generation the anxieties of 1861, the ultimates we phrase as the downfall or survival of civilization, seemed less tragic than the anxieties of 1917, 1941, and 1950 have seemed to people of our own day. Though there had been a generation of crying ‘wolf’ between North and South, perhaps no nation that has experienced war was ever so unready as the United States then was for compulsion, for the military, for the realities of battle and revolution. When the showdown did come, it was shocking in the extreme, and all that was most dear seemed to hang in the balance.

In George’s case awareness of abolitionism in the East gave meaning to the national tragedy, as he viewed its slow unfolding from a distance. As the son of an office-holding Democrat he might in easier times have found the party battles of the new state of his residence to be interesting, and the dominant position of his father’s party to be entirely to taste. Recent California politics had been not unlike Pennsylvania’s: a successful intrusion of Know Nothing native Americanism in 1855, and a clear victory for the Democrats in 1856. But, very unlike what he would do in the future, Henry at this stage took no notice of state or local politics. Perhaps he was

too young and too new in the state to know or care. Certainly he pitched his political concerns at the national and moral level appropriate to his personal history in Philadelphia. In 1859 he wrote to his old opponent in slavery discussion, his mother, that California displayed a contemptible provincial lack of interest in the John Brown affair. And early in the election year he troubled to read a constitutional history of the United States. His letters show him to have been intensely aware of the growing crisis.

Of course he voted for Abraham Lincoln, and we can imagine his home thoughts when letters told him that the older and younger members of the family were at sixes and sevens, variously for Douglas, Bell, and Lincoln. Voting for the first time, he must have experienced a special excitement. It was not only that he was differing from his parents, but the margin in California was so slight as to magnify the responsibility of the individual voter.

Nor did Lincoln’s victory end the anxieties of decision making in the state. While proposals were voiced first, that California lead a new secession movement and set up a Pacific republic, and second, that sympathy and aid be extended to the Confederacy, he endured the crisis within his heart. His family kept him informed about sentiment at home: ‘You cannot feel it as we do,’ his father said, ‘All around us is warlike . . . Nothing now but the sound of the drum and the marching of troops South.’ But Henry did feel it, as for him personally policy thinking yielded to pondering about the meaning of the war and about what his own duty might be.

He estimated that joining the army in California would lead to nothing more important than frontier duty keeping Indians quiet. In perhaps the longest, surely the most emotional letter of his life, the one written to Jane George on 15 September 1861, which we shall need to consider later as his ‘Millennial Letter,’ he said that if he were home, and situated as his friends were, he too would go to war. ‘Not that I like the idea of fighting my countrymen — not that I think it is the best or pleasantest avocation, or that the fun of soldiering is anything to speak of; but in this life or death struggle I should like to have a hand ... I have felt a good deal like enlisting, even here, and probably would have done so had I not felt that my duty to you all required me to remain, though I did not, and do not, think our volunteers are really needed or will do any fighting that will amount to anything; but I should like to place my willingness on record, and show that one of our family was willing to serve his country. We cannot tell. It may be my duty yet, though I sincerely hope not.’

All the rest of his life the Civil War was to be for Henry George not a bitterness personally experienced but a tragedy viewed in perspective and deeply felt. Another passage in the same letter should be quoted here, partly because the time of writing was yet so near his religious training and his conversion, and partly because it shows how very early, and also how self-propelling, he was in searching for a Christian point of view on the fratricidal war. ‘Truly it seems that we have fallen on evil days. A little while ago all was fair and bright, and now the storm howls around us with a strength and fury that almost unnerves one. Our country is being torn to pieces and ourselves, our homes, filled with distress. As to the ultimate end I have no doubt. If civil war should pass over the whole country, leaving nothing but devastation behind it, I think my faith in the ultimate good would remain unchanged; but it is hard to feel so of our individual cases. On great events and movements we can philosophize, but when it comes down to ourselves, to our homes, to those we love, then we can only feel; our philosophy goes to the dogs, and we but look prayerfully, tearfully, to Him who hath more care for us than for all the sparrows.’

Meanwhile during the spring and summer of 1861, the sale of the California Home Journal had put Henry George out of his job, and he had risked a business adventure. The opportunity he seized represented neatly the state of affairs in California journalism. Before November i860 most of the newspapers, like the preponderance of the votes, had been Democratic, but now the change of politics encouraged new ventures and new ideas. Though in later days important papers begun or reorganized during the Civil War period were to concern Henry George, in the season when Lincoln took office he was of course not ready to take up anything very weighty. But he did go into a shoestring proposition, in partnership with four or five other young men. They took over the San Francisco Daily Evening Journal, which under the name Constitution had supported the Unionist candidates, Bell and Everett, during the election. On terms of investing $100, money which he had saved from recent earnings, George became an equal partner, and an enthusiastic young entrepreneur into the bargain.

He pushed for a policy of literary-interest and human-interest journalism, like that to which he was accustomed on the Home Journal. To the bright young sister who wras now teaching school he addressed a request, the day before Sumter, that she send a ‘nice gossipy letter, once in a while, for the paper. You could do it exquisitely, I know. Try it, and if the paper is going on by that time (which there is little doubt of) I’ll pay you well. No political news, but town-talk, sensations among woman-kind, new books, scraps of sentiment, poetry, new fashions.’ About his own future he added: ‘I think we have a good prospect, and in a little while will have a good property, which will be an independence for a life-time.’

He had his way on Evening Journal policy, and Jane actually contributed a few letters, very feminine and bluestocking, during the summer and fall. In June the paper announced a circulation of 3000, a good number to grow on, and for an early-summer season, Henry George’s hopes ran high.

At just this point letters from Philadelphia indicated, at first fears, then the certainty, that Mr. George would lose his job at the Customs House. A Republican was now slated as collector and had let it be known that the axe would fall, on ‘the ground that with the Victor is the spoil, and rotation in office is just and proper.’ To this Henry responded with loyal bravado, assuring his people that he would sell his partnership if need be. In return came an outpouring of gratitude and refusal from home. ‘It shows me,’ his father said, ‘that my Dear Son far away was willing to make any sacrifice to help and assist his parents in distress and so with all my dear children.’

One hazard was passed, yet month by month life was becoming infinitely complicated. In August the Journal paid the partners only $6 a week apiece. As a small journal, which could not afford the new telegraphic news service, it confronted mounting wartime disadvantages. Unpaid bills forced Henry to set up a cot in the office and return to austerities reminiscent of British Columbia. Even so he professed to the people at home that the paper was growing and promised ‘a certainty (comparatively, of course).’ He predicted $30 a week for each partner, within a year. The San Francisco Call had been built up that way, why not the Evening Journal?

But it was not hope of business success which was really directing Henry’s course in the hard fall of 1861. He had no adequate answer for his parents, who, when they learned how the Evening Journal was actually going, changed their minds about the wisdom of remaining in California. The printing business was booming in wartime Philadelphia. Now he should come home, they urged. Yet up to this time not even Henry himself, still less the Philadelphians to whom he had given no intimation, quite suspected how fixed in California he was: that a girl was about to become the deciding influence on what he would do, where he would live, in the crucial next few months.

Annie Corsina Fox had entered his life on the evening of 12 October, a year earlier. Reluctantly Henry had let a friend persuade him to go to a party that night at the home of a Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Flintoff and Mrs. Flintoff’s mother, Mrs. Henry McCloskey. He had almost balked at the door. A huge crowd, a singing tenor, and altogether more show and side than he had ever been accustomed to quite chilled him off. Then his eye lit on the dainty person to honor whom on her seventeenth birthday the party was being given. ‘Let’s go in,’ proposed Henry George.

The girl who attracted him completely came from a British and Irish overseas background. As one of two children of the marriage in Australia of Elizabeth McCloskey to a major in the British army, Annie Fox had already behind her a story of domestic tragedy and much moving about. Her parents’ marriage had broken early. The known facts are: the McCloskeys were pure Irish and Catholic, and Major Fox a redcoat Anglican; Mrs. Fox had married at sixteen, and her husband was twenty years older; after a short while they separated and he disappeared completely; and a few years later, when Annie was ten, the young mother died of what the family called a broken heart. For the little girl this meant a bringing-up by her grandparents, coming and going with grandfather Henry McCloskey, who was a contractor, railroad builder, and speculator. After Australia the family had a year in Hawaii, and then came on to San Francisco. Annie and her sister were sent to school at the convent of the Sisters of Charity in Los Angeles, and Teresa had taken the veil. Annie had reached the point of doing a little teaching there — English for Spanish-speaking girls — when she was called to San Francisco to attend her grandmother, who was now widowed and in declining health. When she met

Henry George, Annie was engaged to be married to some man about whom the family records tell us nothing — an unhappy commitment according to the little that is said. In her own much later retrospect her whole situation in the FlintofT household was miserable, and she a very lonely girl.

She and Henry reached an understanding almost at once. Though the grandmother died, apparently in December i860, two or three months had been long enough for the old lady to approve the match in family councils, as Annie must have known. And at that time — these were still $3o-a-week Home Journal days for Henry — Annie’s uncle, Matthew McCloskey, who also lived in San Francisco and acted as a kind of guardian, agreed.

During the winter and afterward the young people kept constant company. We are told that they took walks and memorized poetry; and the man instructed the girl in the meaning of the national calamity. Their engagement was no secret to people who knew them in San Francisco, but Henry said nothing in letters to his family. Even after a visiting friend aroused suspicions in Philadelphia, Henry camouflaged the situation by telling a jealous sister that, ‘One thing is certain, if I do marry it will be no one but an orphan without relatives, so that I can pack her up, and come home at a moment’s notice, and stay as long as I please.’

By all the signs, love would have marched straight to the altar, and with the blessings of the McCloskeys, perhaps as early as the summer of 1861, had it not been for Henry’s hard times and his father’s. But the shortage of funds was a fact; and to a bad time of frustration, and to a head whirling with affairs and anxieties, we owe the Millennial Letter, from which Henry’s ideas on the Civil War and his sense of his own patriotic obligation have been quoted. To be sure he still refused to share with anyone at home the fact of the existence of Annie Corsina Fox; but everything else he poured out, and the concerns of young love penetrated every line he wrote.

Of course it is not at all unique to discover a young man suffering a season of sorrows. The war years, and the whole romantic century, abounded in them. It is scarcely less unusual that Henry took the comfort he needed, when the facts of life failed to square with hope, from mankind’s ancient comforting beliefs: the promise of immortality and the promise of Utopia. Yet the letter is engaging, because the boy wrote into it a connected estimate of his roles in life, as citizen, son, and Christian, and as a man of personal ambition. And the ideas and attitudes the writer displayed are important because they exhibit the faith and hope from which moral and intellectual growth — and in time the writing of a great book — sprang.

The passages quoted below will not be injured, nor their meaning twisted, by some rearranging and omitting of phrases and sentences, as the punctuation indicates. Henry began by saying how impatient he felt, as his affairs stood still and he could not make them move, and he drew from a great sea poem:

Storm or hurricane,

Anything to put a close

To this most dread monotonous repose.

What he thought the good society ought to be he called the millennium: ‘How I long for the Golden Age — for the promised Millennium, when each one will be free to follow his best and noblest impulses, unfettered by the restrictions and necessities which our present state of society imposes upon him — when the poorest and meanest will have a chance to use all his God-given faculties, and not be forced to drudge away the best part of his time in order to support wants but little above those of the animal.’

George applied local color to his vision of the Golden Age. First, he pictured unselfish family life as showing what human energy rightly disposed might mean. James George’s new marriage furnished a lovely illustration: ‘His wife is one of those women who makes the happiness and well-being of their husbands and children an art and a study. Whenever I go there in the evening I always find them together — a pretty, happy family.’ Then, the California hills he made romantic and millennial, too. ‘I had a dream last night ... I thought I was scooping treasure out of the earth by handfuls, almost delirious with the thoughts of what I would now be able to do, and how happy it would all be ... Is it any wonder that men lust for gold, and are willing to give up almost anything for it, when it covers everything — the purest and noblest desires of their hearts, the exercise of their noblest powers! What a pity we can’t be contented! Is it? Who knows? Sometimes I feel sick of the fierce struggle of our high civilized life, and think I would like to get away from cities and business, with their jostlings and strainings and cares altogether, and find some place on one of the hillsides, which look so dim and blue in the distance, where I could gather those I love, and live content with what nature and our own resources would furnish . .

The brother admitted to Jane homesickness in his emotions, a need for the old assurances and security. ‘At night when I lie down and think of the old times — when I wake sometimes at midnight, and I can almost feel the kisses that seemed to press my brow a minute or two before, and the voices that I heard in my dreams seem to linger in my ears yet, and I almost cry with mingled pleasure and pain . . . But it will be soon, not so very far off either I hope, though at present I cannot count the time.’

In a climactic passage, which he perhaps felt none too safe in writing, and yet pushed a little hard, Henry inserted a paragraph, his first recorded discussion of the idea of immortality. ‘What a glorious thought it is, that at last all will be over — all trial, all care, all suffering forever finished; all desire filled, all longing satisfied — what now is but hope become a reality — perfect love swallowing up all in one boundless sea of bliss. How the old hymn that we used to sing in Sunday School swells and peals through the mind, when one thinks of and realizes its meaning as a living truth, like a glorious burst of heavenly music, telling of the joys of the redeemed and freed.

“Oh that will be joyful . . .

To meet and part no more.”

What a thought. What a picture! With all we love or have loved here “to meet and part no more” — one unbroken family around His Throne. Can we be unhappy long, if we believe this?’ Although all George’s future passion and his sophistication about the idea of immortality had still to be born, his lifelong fascination with it had arrived this early.

With this passage the writer had explored almost every individual escape available to a young man who feels overwhelmed: to join the army, to strike it rich, to live by the soil, to go back home, to die. The fact that he did not even hint at the alternative which made his life famous — that a Christian or a democrat may strive to transform society, not wait but work to see the Golden

Age arrive — shows how far short he was, at twenty-two, from being generally reform-minded as in the future. His only conclusion was for personal action: ‘We must struggle, so here’s for the strife.’ It contained no economics except individualism, and no dedication except to self and the few he loved.

Within a month of the writing Henry tried some new moves. With two partners he dropped out of the Evening Journal, while the three who remained bought the shares of the sellers, on credit. He and Annie must have made their decisions together. At the moment of his selling out, she refused to leave San Francisco when Sister Corsina McKay of the Los Angeles convent — whom she loved so much as to have taken her name —- invited her back for some duty, presumably teaching again in the school. And also simultaneously, Henry confessed his love to Jane, at first to her alone, to sound out the situation at home.

The sister’s reply makes perfectly plain why he had kept up the deception toward Philadelphia. First, Annie’s Roman Catholic faith. ‘I know that our family will object to that, Ma especially,’ Jane wrote, ‘but still I do not think she will withhold her consent on that account.’ The sister herself regretted the religious difference, and admitted pangs of jealousy; and she argued that the new home be set up in Philadelphia. But the answer Henry craved came unqualified: ‘If you really love Aiinie, you marry her as soon as you are able to support her . . . Love is too precious a thing to be thrown away ... In the meantime do not forget me; do not cease to love me as much as ever, will you? There can be two places in your heart — one for Annie and one for me.’

The intense courtship displeased Annie’s guardian, who happened to be a real-estate developer. He troubled to make inquiries in Philadelphia. But reassurances concerning the family did nothing to improve the look of Henry as a provider, and on 2 December Mr. McCloskey forced a showdown. Discovering Henry calling, he ordered the young man to come less often. Tempers flared, and except for Annie’s intervening there would have been a fight.

After a night of much praying, Annie Fox decided that she could not bear to remain where she was, and told Henry that she had better go to Los Angeles to teach. This brought the tender decision. Henry George drew a fifty-cent piece from his pocket, and said, ‘Annie, this is all the money I have in the world. Will you marry me?’ Then she made reply, ‘If you are ready to undertake the responsibilities of marriage, I will marry you.’

Before evening the groom made what preparations he could. He borrowed money and clothes and arranged with the James Georges for a couple of weeks board in the home he admired so much. Isaac Trump agreed to go to the Flintoff door and ask for ‘Mrs. Brown.’ That was the secret signal. Carrying not much more than the books of poetry they loved, Annie rode off with Henry; and they went with Ike and Ike’s fiancee for a wedding supper at a restaurant. At about nine they proceeded to the Bethel Methodist Church of Henry’s membership. A handful of friends, including Mrs. George, although James could not come, attended the ceremony. Out of consideration for both bride and groom, the minister read the Episcopal service; and on Annie’s finger her husband slipped a ring that had belonged to Mrs. McCloskey. The couple announced their marriage in the newspapers, and a month or so later in Sacramento they secured a Catholic sanction.

For three weeks Henry got by on substitute printing. Then from a friend came word of a job in Sacramento, and on Christmas day Henry left bride and cousins for the 100-mile trip up bay and river. Fortune smiled. Though at first he found only substitute printing again, the work was on the Sacramento Union, the biggest paper in the state capital. Before long his job became regular and adequate, and even before that Annie, who was desolate at being left behind, joined him in what was then California’s second city.

Altogether typical of the coming decades, the couple had an easier time in Sacramento than in San Francisco. They located first in pleasant rooms near the capitol square; they saw the spring high floods without injury to themselves; they enjoyed the summer’s aridity and heat. The worst event of the season came early when Annie was obliged to go back to San Francisco to get the personal property she had left at her Uncle Flintoff’s. She was already mentioning the possibility of a baby. So soon pregnant, she had to face a family lawsuit; and the bride’s worst anguish was to discover how vindictive her uncles could be. Matthew McCloskey would do anything to badger Henry, she reported. That Annie George was not in touch with her sister Teresa for a period of years measures the completeness of her break from the McCloskey family.

Back in Sacramento events went very well. On 3 November 1862 was born a red headed boy, the future congressman, Henry George, Jr. Meanwhile Henry, Sr., had collected his credit, perhaps a couple of hundred dollars, from the sale of the San Francisco Daily Evening Journal. Now earning about $40 a week the young father was ready to take things a little easy for a change, he said.

On the Philadelphia side the parents and sisters in the family which meant so much to Henry George did everything in their power to welcome Annie as beloved daughter. Unfortunately unusual delays in the wartime winter mails had kept them in the dark more than two months about what the oldest son was doing. But then an outpouring of response to Annie’s appealing letters began the sealing of her lifelong affection for her husband’s family, and Mr. George wrote that he could get Henry a job at home, on the Inquirer. To Jane Henry wrote in June that, ‘Marriage has certainly benefited me by giving a more contented and earnest frame of mind and will help me to do my best in “whatever station it pleases God to call me.” This is the only difference I can perceive. Annie and I are so well matched in years and temperament that there is no violent change in either.’ In due course Mrs. George wrote the kind of letters appropriate for a grandmother.

Not unrelated to the values in life ultimately expressed in Progress and Poverty, all this devotion was raised to acute consciousness at midsummer, about the time of the Second Bull Run. Word of the sudden death of Jane George struck the newlyweds as though they lived next door. Typhoid fever had taken her. Henry kept his grief to himself one night while he worked at the press; then he told Annie, and wept. ‘Henry,’ wrote the mother, ‘how her mind developed! It was too much for her frail body. She read too much — nearly every day at the library besides bringing home books.’


second, the year of Vicksburg and Gettysburg to the east — show a very idyllic side also. The young couple moved from hotel and boarding-house to a comfortable place of their own: a house with four rooms and a garden, for which they paid $8 a month. They came to relish the climate of Sacramento and the wonderful profusion of flowers. Among other gains for security, word came from Philadelphia that Mr. George had found a new position, apparently with a sufficient salary. In every way their two years together were justifying the gamble they had taken, eloping on nothing but love.

As of 1863 the career and money sides of life demanded most of the attention of the man of the family. Little episodes demonstrate that the recent part-proprietor of the San Francisco Evening Journal had no mind to be contented for long with the income and status of a workman’s wages, and they offer agreeable testimony also that the future critic of speculation began with no immunity to the California disease. With a couple of friends, one of them John Barry of San Francisco, George explored the possibilities of establishing a printing business in Nevada; and with Ike Trump he looked into the chances of opening a Sacramento Union agency in Marysville, and also those of trying a newspaper of their own in the Russian River country. Though none of these projects came to risk and trial, George did put some money, with Trump, into mining stocks. He had seen his old boss, Joseph Duncan, make a killing, and many friends invested whatever savings they could spare. Unfortunately or fortunately, a few months of speculating decided him that paying assessments was worse than abandoning hopes for a quick clean-up, so he valued down his stocks from $462.50 to about half, and proposed to sell all but a few which still looked good. Chastened, he told Trump: ‘It is now nearly eight months since we determined to make our fortunes, and I am afraid, in spite of our sanguine hopes we have failed ... I have come to think if I get my money back I will be in luck.’

On the political side of life, one senses from these Civil War years in Sacramento a general influence on Henry George’s future, more readily than one discovers any practical and immediate steps in the education of a restless printer. His residence in the state capital coincided with the governorship of Leland Stanford, the successful storekeeper and coming railroad man in politics. As first Republican statesman in California, Stanford stood for the opposite of Pacific secession and fondness for the Confederacy, and under his administration the state made considerable economic, though inconsiderable military, contributions to the Union cause. For all the immediate, patriotic objects of the governor, George the young printer of course had perfect sympathy. At the same time, as is well known, the future president of the Central Pacific took West coast command in the planning and arranging -— the famous contact-establishing, contract-making, and statute-passing business in state and nation — that prepared for the transcontinental railroad. Though we have no contemporary comment from George, it is impossible to think that he did not hear a great deal of gossip about Stanford at this time. It is reasonable to assume that the respect which his future philosophy allowed for the role of the imaginative and aggressive capitalist in an industrial system, and the grudging admiration George never denied the man, stemmed in part from personal knowledge of the governor whose humble fellow townsman he had been.

For a future journalist as well as social thinker, Sacramento was a good place to be and work in for a while. San Francisco had all the lead in commercial and literary journalism; but, partly because Sacramento was the state capital and partly because (before the railroads were built) it had much more immediate contact with the mining and agricultural regions, the interior city had a big advantage for political and general newspapers. There were two especially strong ones, the Union, on which Henry George set type, and the Bee, of which James McClatchy was the famous editor. In later years George was to be intensely interested in the Bee, to regard it as an ally of his own paper, to contribute to it, and to become a personal friend of Mr. McClatchy. So far as we know there were few if any beginnings of that connection as early as 1862 and 1863. Yet it is safe to judge that George at this stage became acquainted with the Bee's ardency for land reform, which was a parcel of the newspaper’s radical Republicanism. McClatchy had worked under Horace Greeley, and in some degree he made the Bee a California model of the great nationalistic and reformist Tribune of New York City. With Governor Stanford on one hand and the Bee on the other, Henry George had close views of the contrasting elements that were going into the forging of the new Republican Party.

Though perhaps George would have become reform-minded earlier if he had worked for the Bee and not the Union, it was probably better for him as a journalist that he had his first experience on the larger newspaper. And also the Union fitted better with his family’s political tradition. Recently developed from Stephen A. Douglas Democracy into strong patriotic unionism, we may be sure that the young typesetter liked the paper’s slogan: ‘The UNION for the Union.’ Though often critical of the paper in later years, George looked back on the wartime editor, Henry Watson, as having been as great and influential a national patriot in California as Thomas Starr King. George must have been pleased in 1862 when the Union defended the Emancipation Proclamation, even though the editorial tone was milder than his own antislavery feeling. It is worth adding that during the Civil War the Union supported Governor Stanford and the other railroad builders, and that afterward it suffered regrets. In the postwar wisdom of one of the owners of the paper: ‘the railroad men had professed and pretended that everything should be conducted as fairly and squarely towards the people as could be; they were going to benefit the State of California . . . All of which we encouraged.’ The trouble was that the paper, like the people, had taken a bear by the tail: ‘We found by G-d after warming the [railroad] into life, that it was going to bite.’ This was the resentment of hindsight, which George in time would share.

All things considered, the years 1862 and 1863 in Sacramento seem to have been the period of Henry George’s California life when his ideas conformed the closest with the policy of the state and with the opinion of the newspapers of the city of his residence. He went with the Republican current during the mid-war period.

A personal conflict, however, suddenly caused him to leave the city and deprived his small family of their pleasant situation. Here once more, as at King and Baird’s printshop and in James George’s store, Henry George fell out with his boss. Whose fault it wras is not known. Henry George, Jr., tells us that like the quarrel in Victoria this one also was later made up. But at the moment the loss of a job returned him to San Francisco and opened a perilous period of his life.

As if to play for a repetition of the good luck of 1858 when he had gotten a new job so easily, George again took a room at the What Cheer House. But no David Bond appeared. The contemporaries second, the year of Vicksburg and Gettysburg to the east — show a very idyllic side also. The young couple moved from hotel and boarding-house to a comfortable place of their own: a house with four rooms and a garden, for which they paid $8 a month. They came to relish the climate of Sacramento and the wonderful profusion of flowers. Among other gains for security, word came from Philadelphia that Mr. George had found a new position, apparently with a sufficient salary. In every way their two years together were justifying the gamble they had taken, eloping on nothing but love.

As of 1863 the career and money sides of life demanded most of the attention of the man of the family. Little episodes demonstrate that the recent part-proprietor of the San Francisco Evening Journal had no mind to be contented for long with the income and status of a workman’s wages, and they offer agreeable testimony also that the future critic of speculation began with no immunity to the California disease. With a couple of friends, one of them John Barry of San Francisco, George explored the possibilities of establishing a printing business in Nevada; and with Ike Trump he looked into the chances of opening a Sacramento Union agency in Marysville, and also those of trying a newspaper of their own in the Russian River country. Though none of these projects came to risk and trial, George did put some money, with Trump, into mining stocks. He had seen his old boss, Joseph Duncan, make a killing, and many friends invested whatever savings they could spare. Unfortunately or fortunately, a few months of speculating decided him that paying assessments was worse than abandoning hopes for a quick clean-up, so he valued down his stocks from $462.50 to about half, and proposed to sell all but a few which still looked good. Chastened, he told Trump: ‘It is now nearly eight months since we determined to make our fortunes, and I am afraid, in spite of our sanguine hopes we have failed ... I have come to think if I get my money back I will be in luck.’

On the political side of life, one senses from these Civil War years in Sacramento a general influence on Henry George’s future, more readily than one discovers any practical and immediate steps in the education of a restless printer. His residence in the state capital coincided with the governorship of Leland Stanford, the successful storekeeper and coming railroad man in politics. As first Republican statesman in California, Stanford stood for the opposite 1862 was born a red-headed boy, the future congressman, Henry George, Jr. Meanwhile Henry, Sr., had collected his credit, perhaps a couple of hundred dollars, from the sale of the San Francisco Daily Evening Journal. Now earning about $40 a week the young father was ready to take things a little easy for a change, he said.

On the Philadelphia side the parents and sisters in the family which meant so much to Henry George did everything in their power to welcome Annie as beloved daughter. Unfortunately unusual delays in the wartime winter mails had kept them in the dark more than two months about what the oldest son was doing. But then an outpouring of response to Annie’s appealing letters began the sealing of her lifelong affection for her husband’s family, and Mr. George wrote that he could get Henry a job at home, on the Inquirer. To Jane Henry wrote in June that, ‘Marriage has certainly benefited me by giving a more contented and earnest frame of mind and will help me to do my best in “whatever station it pleases God to call me.” This is the only difference I can perceive. Annie and I are so well matched in years and temperament that there is no violent change in either.’ In due course Mrs. George wrote the kind of letters appropriate for a grandmother.

Not unrelated to the values in life ultimately expressed in Progress and Poverty, all this devotion was raised to acute consciousness at midsummer, about the time of the Second Bull Run. Word of the sudden death of Jane George struck the newlyweds as though they lived next door. Typhoid fever had taken her. Henry kept his grief to himself one night while he worked at the press; then he told Annie, and wept. ‘Henry,’ wrote the mother, ‘how her mind developed! It was too much for her frail body. She read too much -— nearly every day at the library besides bringing home books.’ In the Millennial Letter, addressed to Jane less than a year earlier, Henry had discussed immortality as though it were a promise, a rosy vague extension of lives already filled. But now he had to believe, he told his wife as he paced the floor, that the soul of the individual conquers death, and outlasts it, and proves it of no avail.

Altogether the fourteen months from the Millennial Letter to the birth of the baby had contained about all the crises to which young people are subject, and some of the strains had been extreme. Yet all had been the kinds that time does conquer, and in a backward glance the first and second years of marriage — especially the earlier if he had worked for the Bee and not the Union, it was probably better for him as a journalist that he had his first experience on the larger newspaper. And also the Union fitted better with his family’s political tradition. Recently developed from Stephen A. Douglas Democracy into strong patriotic unionism, we may be sure that the young typesetter liked the paper’s slogan: ‘The UNION for the Union.’ Though often critical of the paper in later years, George looked back on the wartime editor, Henry Watson, as having been as great and influential a national patriot in California as Thomas Starr King. George must have been pleased in 1862 when the Union defended the Emancipation Proclamation, even though the editorial tone was milder than his own antislavery feeling. It is worth adding that during the Civil War the Union supported Governor Stanford and the other railroad builders, and that afterward it suffered regrets. In the postwar wisdom of one of the owners of the paper: ‘the railroad men had professed and pretended that everything should be conducted as fairly and squarely towards the people as could be; they were going to benefit the State of California . . . All of which we encouraged.’ The trouble was that the paper, like the people, had taken a bear by the tail: ‘We found by G-d after warming the [railroad] into life, that it was going to bite.’ This was the resentment of hindsight, which George in time would share.

All things considered, the years 1862 and 1863 in Sacramento seem to have been the period of Henry George’s California life when his ideas conformed the closest with the policy of the state and with the opinion of the newspapers of the city of his residence. He went with the Republican current during the mid-war period.

A personal conflict, however, suddenly caused him to leave the city and deprived his small family of their pleasant situation. Here once more, as at King and Baird’s printshop and in James George’s store, Henry George fell out with his boss. Whose fault it was is not known. Henry George, Jr., tells us that like the quarrel in Victoria this one also was later made up. But at the moment the loss of a job returned him to San Francisco and opened a perilous period of his life.

As if to play for a repetition of the good luck of 1858 when he had gotten a new job so easily, George again took a room at the What Cheer House. But no David Bond appeared. The contemporaries of Pacific secession and fondness for the Confederacy, and under his administration the state made considerable economic, though inconsiderable military, contributions to the Union cause. For all the immediate, patriotic objects of the governor, George the young printer of course had perfect sympathy. At the same time, as is well known, the future president of the Central Pacific took West coast command in the planning and arranging — the famous contact-establishing, contract-making, and statute-passing business in state and nation — that prepared for the transcontinental railroad. Though we have no contemporary comment from George, it is impossible to think that he did not hear a great deal of gossip about Stanford at this time. It is reasonable to assume that the respect which his future philosophy allowed for the role of the imaginative and aggressive capitalist in an industrial system, and the grudging admiration George never denied the man, stemmed in part from personal knowledge of the governor whose humble fellow townsman he had been.

For a future journalist as well as social thinker, Sacramento was a good place to be and work in for a while. San Francisco had all the lead in commercial and literary journalism; but, partly because Sacramento was the state capital and partly because (before the railroads were built) it had much more immediate contact with the mining and agricultural regions, the interior city had a big advantage for political and general newspapers. There were two especially strong ones, the Union, on which Henry George set type, and the Bee, of which James McClatchy was the famous editor. In later years George was to be intensely interested in the Bee, to regard it as an ally of his own paper, to contribute to it, and to become a personal friend of Mr. McClatchy. So far as we know there were few if any beginnings of that connection as early as 1862 and 1863. Yet it is safe to judge that George at this stage became acquainted with the Bee's ardency for land reform, which was a parcel of the newspaper’s radical Republicanism. McClatchy had worked under Horace Greeley, and in some degree he made the Bee a California model of the great nationalistic and reformist Tribune of New York City. With Governor Stanford on one hand and the Bee on the other, Henry George had close views of the contrasting elements that were going into the forging of the new Republican Party.

Though perhaps George would have become reform-minded who speak of very good times in San Francisco in 1864 speak mainly of speculation and building, and certain war-stimulated enterprises. The other side of the coin was that forces of economic deflation and upset were also at work; and one exact contemporary of Henry George, though he was an engineer, had a very hard time getting and keeping jobs. Do not come to San Francisco, Frank Hinckley advised his brother: ‘a surplus of young men in the city [makes conditions] so that it is next to impossible for a man to get into business even with strong influential friends. There are many who would be glad enough to pay their board until better times come.’

Precisely so with Henry George. When Annie and the baby came on he moved from a good hotel to a shabby one; later they took rooms in a private house and finally wound up in a second-story housekeeping flat. George could locate no proper job. His old newspaper, the Evening Journal, had nothing better for him than soliciting subscriptions. And his good friend Trump, who had come down from the mining country out of work, had no better scheme than peddling clothes wringers. For a few days George put the two selling projects together, miserably tramping from house to house in Alameda County across the bay. Things must have seemed to be looking up when he found some substitute printing again; but the Evening Journal was slow to pay, and the work he got on the big Evening Bulletin — the paper he would later assault the most ferociously — did not amount to much.

Only in the spring of 1864 did he turn up anything which at all suited him, a six-month job on the Daily American Flag. This was another forgotten paper of the same class as the Home Journal and the Evening Journal. It was owned and edited by one D. O. McCarthy, an Irishman of vigorous anti-slave and unionist ideas like James McClatchy’s. But at best the job was stopgap, and George thought again of going into business in the mining country, perhaps Sonora or Silver Mountain. Finally he decided to try job-printing in San Francisco, in a partnership with Trump. Once more working on a shoestring, the two purchased part of the equipment of the same Evening Journal on which Henry had worked, and which had just expired.

The venture could hardly have been more awkwardly timed, or less successful. In December, the month of starting operations,

Annie George was pregnant, seven months or so along. The following is Henry’s diary entry for Christmas day, 1864. ‘December 25. Determined to keep a regular journal, and to cultivate habits of determination, energy, and industry. Feel that I am in a bad situation, and must use my utmost effort to keep afloat and go ahead. Will try to follow the following general rules for one week:

‘1st. In every case determine rationally what is best to be done. ‘2nd. To do everything determined upon immediately, or as soon as an opportunity presents.

‘3rd. To write down what I shall determine upon doing for the succeeding day.

‘Saw landlady and told her I was not able to pay rent.’

In January the question became literally that of having enough to eat. Some days there were twenty-five cents apiece for the partners to take from the printing-office till. Dinners for the Georges and for Ike Trump who ate with them dropped into a routine of cheap fish, corn meal, milk, potatoes, and bread. They continued to get milk by persuading the milkman to trade it for printed cards. Annie George took in sewing as long as she was able, and she carried all her trinkets, except the McCloskey wedding ring, to the pawnshop. Then on the morning of the twenty-seventh she was delivered of her second child, Richard. Possibly she really heard what she thought she heard, the doctor’s orders: ‘Don’t stop to wash the child; he is starving, Feed him.’

On this day of anguish, in a dismal rain, occurred the event often told of Henry George. In his own words: ‘I walked along the street and made up my mind to get money from the first man whose appearance might indicate that he had it to give. I stopped a man — a stranger — and told him I wanted $5. He asked what I wanted it for. I told him that my wife was confined and that I had nothing to give her to eat. He gave me the money. If he had not, I think that I was desperate enough to have killed him.’

The ordeal lasted for weeks. In February George surrendered to Trump his interest in the printing establishment with the understanding that, if a sale brought in any money, he would have a share. Next, about the first of March, Henry had several days of typesetting; and Annie paid $9 rent by the earnings of her needle. At this point $20 a week, if they could only have it regularly, looked about ideal to the wife and mother.

The need to redirect his life, which these hard times compelled him to acknowledge, is better expressed in Henry George’s words than in any possible rephrasing. ‘I am afloat again, with the world before me. I have commenced this little book as an experiment — to aid me in acquiring habits of regularity, punctuality, and purpose ... I am starting out afresh, very much crippled and embarrassed, owing over $200. I have been unsuccessful in everything. I wish to profit by my experience and to cultivate those qualities necessary to success in which I have been lacking. I have not saved as much as I ought and I am resolved to practice a rigid economy until I have something ahead.

‘1st. To make every cent I can.

‘2nd. To spend nothing unnecessarily.

‘3rd. To put something by each week, if it is only a five-cent piece borrowed for the purpose.

‘4th. Not to run into debt if it can be avoided.’

In the matter of getting on with people, George planned:

‘1st. To endeavour to make an acquaintance and friend of everyone with whom I am brought in contact.

‘2nd. To stay at home less, and be more social.

‘3rd. To strive to think consecutively and decide quickly.’

In this time of greatest trouble Henry George made the trial upon which hinged the decision of his lifetime. His diary dates the event to the hour, on the afternoon of 25 March 1865: ‘After getting breakfast, took the wringing machine which I had been using as a sample back to Faulkner’s; then went to Eastmans and saw to bill; loafed around until about 2 p.m. Concluded that the best thing I could do would be to go home and write a little. Came home and wrote for the sake of practice an essay on the “Use of Time,” which occupied me until Annie prepared dinner.’

The ‘Use of Time,’ which marks George’s decision for a writing career, was the first essay he had tried since the trifling days of the Lawrence Society almost a decade earlier, and the first sustained writing since the very private Millennial Letter. He was writing clearly again but there is little in the essay to indicate either that the young man’s natural skill as a writer had held up or that it had declined, in recent years. We do learn something about his values in life. As in 1861, money for himself occupied front position in his mind. Not just $20 or $30 a week but wealth was what he wanted, in an amount to open the doors to good things: ‘more congenial employment and associates,’ opportunities ‘to cultivate my mind and exert to a fuller extent my powers,’ and real capacity ‘to minister to the comfort and enjoyment of those whom I love most.’ Sizing up his present predicament, he felt remorse for the hours he had idled. ‘If, for instance, I had applied myself to the practice of bookkeeping and arithmetic I might now have been an expert in those things; or I might have had the dictionary at my fingers ends; been a practised, and perhaps an able writer; a much better printer; or been able to read and write French, Spanish, or any other modern or ancient language to which I might have directed my attention, and the mastery of any of these things would give me an additional, appreciable power, and means by which to work my end, not to speak of that which would have been gained by exercise and good mental habits.’

The young man, now twenty-five, recognized of himself that, entirely apart from the hazards of unemployment, he would never be satisfied to earn his living by his trade. He did not deceive himself into thinking that writing would build a sure bridge from poverty to riches, and he was not especially idealistic about that calling. Yet feeling his own way forward he did begin to generalize a notion of human capacity — a pretty democratic notion — which he would enlarge in his greatest writing. As he put it now: ‘To secure any given result it is only necessary to rightly supply sufficient force. Some men possess a greater amount of natural power than others and produce quicker and more striking results; yet it is apparent that the majority, if properly and continuously applied, are sufficient to accomplish much more than they generally do.’ So for himself George determined that, ‘I will endeavour to acquire facility and elegance in the expression of my thoughts by writing essays or other matters which I will preserve for future comparison. And in this practice it will be well to aim at mechanical neatness and grace, as well as at proper and polished language.’

A little surprisingly, because nothing previous, unless it be membership in the printers union, indicates conviction or idea on behalf of labor, George made his next piece of writing a plea for working men. He did this in a communication to the editor of the new Journal of the Trades and Workmen, the short-lived first labor paper to be published on the Pacific coast. ‘We, the workers of mankind,’ he began, live in the brightest day that has ever dawned for the ‘like of us.’ Without bothering to justify his optimism, but complimenting the editor, George estimated the service a labor journal could render: ‘At a time when most of our public prints pander to wealth and power and would crush the poor man beneath the wheel of the capitalist’s carriage; when one begins to talk of the “work people” and “farm servants” of this coast, and another to deplore the high rate of wages [this was true of the Alta California] ... I, for one, feel that your enterprise is one which we should all feel the necessity of, and to which we should lend our cordial support.’ Hortatory but innocent of program, the piece contains little foretaste of future ideas, and no suggestion of an economist’s analytical powers in the making. Only the simple identification of himself with a cause appears: in his very first published writing Henry George spoke for laboring men’s improving their economic situation.

While some time was to pass before the opportunity came to develop this vein, another effort of 1865 assures us that the paper in the Journal of Trades and Workmen was no sport, no misrepresentation of present interests. This text is lacking, but George’s own word tells us that he did an ‘article about laws relatinsr to sailors.’


It appears that in hard times his memory had brought back the struggle of the crew and captain of the Hindoo in Hobson’s Bay, and that he now made his first plea for maritime labor.

George’s second publication, which came out only a week after the first, shifted the scene of thought and elevated the level of publication. This time he did a ‘Plea for the Supernatural,’ quite in the California mode of being fond of the esoteric, and it was printed in the distinguished literary journal, the Californian, where Mark Twain and Bret Harte and ‘a lot of other bright young writers’ were appearing. Using the first person singular, George wrote of a psychological event during a voyage on the Indian Ocean. The sight of the Southern Cross, he said, had flooded his mind with memories of what his mother had taught him: the names of the stars, and ideas of the Creator’s love. A meteor had flashed. ‘To me it was an emblem of myself: having no part in the sweet glory around, it was quenched in darkness ... A voice called me . . . Before me stood my mother as she was years ago . . . That I could not hear and see this, on the trackless Indian Ocean, miles and miles from land, proves nothing. I did. Whether with the sense of the body I care not; but my soul saw and heard, and it knows.’

There is no way to tell whether, in the writer’s mind, the story was completely fictional or was developed from an experience of his own aboard the Hindoo, but we can be fairly sure that the ‘Plea for the Supernatural’ is not to be read as a very literal confession of belief. In a short interval George cashed in two or three times on San Francisco’s vogue for spiritualism. In the second chapter we anticipated from 1856 the best of the series, the ‘Dust to Dust’ story which, as he wrote it about this time, he embellished with a supernaturalism not his own at the time of the event. That story, too, appeared in the Californian. The important thing is that in this beginning of serious writing George picked up emotional themes, just as he had done as a youngster for the fun of the Lawrence Society. His native skill as reporter of external events, displayed in 1855, he had not yet begun to develop.

Within a fortnight of George’s debut in the San Francisco magazines came by wire from Washington the shock of the assassination of President Lincoln. The word arrived at ten o’clock in the morning, Saturday, 15 April, and the city’s chords of feeling vibrated almost out of control. Business stopped, the courts closed, speeches were improvised, and mourning was quickly displayed. Vengeance too broke out. Law and order yielded as inflamed persons broke into pro-Southern newspaper offices and scattered type and destroyed property. Ike Trump took some degree of leadership in the turmoil, and Henry George seems to have participated. Then in his little flat, with great emotion, George wrote a letter to the editor of the Alta California, the city’s oldest and most conservative paper, on which he was at the moment ‘subbing.’

It is a comment on the excitement of the day that the letter was printed, not in the regular edition but apparently in an extra, though perhaps it went no farther than proof. An editor’s line explained that the ‘stirring article’ had been contributed by a printer. Under the heading, ‘Sic Semper Tyrannisl’ George pictured the wounded president against the ‘glitter and glare’ of the theater. ‘They have struck down the just because of his justice, and the fate they have fixed upon him shall be theirs.’ Retributive justice and Christian atonement, George mixed his moral ideas. ‘What a fitting timel Good Friday! At this very moment . . . sounds the solemn wail of the Tenebrae. Now . . . again has Evil triumphed, and the blood of its victim sealed its fate ... As a martyr of Freedom— as a representative of the justice of a great Nation, the name of the Victim will live forever . . . Abraham Lincoln will remain a landmark of the progress of the race.’

It was an impulsive way to break into newsprint. Yet despite all crudities, ‘Sic Semper Tyrannis!’ won for the writer his first job as a newspaper reporter. The Alta commissioned him to describe the Lincoln mourning in the city, and the reports in that paper tell us that he thrilled to the occasion. On Wednesday, 14,000 citizens followed a catafalque through the city; the great Second Inaugural was read; Horatio Stebbins, Starr King’s successor, gave the principal address; the crowd sang thrillingly the Battle Cry of Freedom. The reporter put visual detail and feeling both into the Alta’s. stories that week.

Then unsolicited, Henry George wrote another letter, a very thoughtful one, and it was printed as a front-page editorial of the Alta in the regular Sunday edition, 23 April. The title was simply ‘Abraham Lincoln.’ ‘No common man, yet the qualities which made him great were eminently common . . . He was one of the leaders who march alone before the advancing ranks of the people, who direct their steps and speak with their voice . . . Hot blood called him slow, and cold blood called him hot; but the universal current, tempered by the moods and springing from the hearts of the times, pulsed through his veins . . . No other system could have produced him; through no crowd of courtiers could such a man have forced his way . . . And, as in our time of need, the man that was needed came forth, let us know that it will always be so, and that under our institutions, when the rights of the people are endangered, from their ranks will spring the men for the times . . . Let us thank God for him; let us trust God for him; let us place him in that Pantheon which no statue of a tyrant ever sullied — the hearts of a free people.’

Passion had evoked, and a week had brought from incoherency into coherency, the political affirmations of the young printer who had just one month earlier determined to write. In the common anguish he had turned from faddish supernaturalism, in which he could never have reached maturity, to the folk mysticism which democracy does produce. Unknowing of course, but in common with many of the great men of contemporary letters and as early as any, he had made a small but eloquent contribution to the legend of the fallen Lincoln.

The end of the war and his being so little employed very soon provided the occasion of George’s nearest approach to service in a military force. California, as the one unionist state adjoining Mexico, was particularly sensitive to the insult to the United States of the presence of the Emperor Maximilian on a throne created by Napoleon III, contrary to the Monroe Doctrine. Henry George felt the humiliation bitterly; and when a San Francisco group formed, in the old filibuster style, he joined it. He became a lieutenant under an Indian fighter named Burn; and a friend, probably John Barry, became a major. The project contemplated an invasion from the west coast of Mexico to help Juarez topple the foreigner from the throne.

Not that this was pure impulse with George, for in this undertaking money was offered at last, after two lean years. The Alta agreed to take any newsletters he would write from Mexico, and to pay Mrs. George. On D day Henry and Annie took the new baby to St. Patrick’s Church and had him baptized Richard Fox, after his grandfathers. Finally after more prayers at home, Lieutenant George joined his fellow officers in Platt’s Hall, where they swore in ‘a good many men’ at the last moment.

But that evening the Brontes expedition, so called from the name of the vessel to carry the force, collapsed by reason of the Brontes. Provisions were inadequate; and word got around that the scheme involved seizing a French transport, and possibly even an American mail vessel off Panama, to make up deficiencies. So the story rumored against Henry George in New York in 1886, that he had been mixed up in a piratical adventure, had a certain grounding in truth; and late in life George himself felt apologetic about it. In San Francisco that spring evening, talk of piracy proved to be more than official leniency could bear, and a revenue cutter dropped anchor in front of the Brontes.

For Henry George the episode meant that a zealous, foolish impulse had been frustrated, and that now he must find some new direction for taking his second step into journalism. His mind was not at all changed about Mexico. Very soon he and Annie joined the Monroe League, a fresh and short-lived organization to support a new filibuster; and this time they went through rituals and oath taking on a bare sword and a republican flag of Mexico. Mrs. George, twenty-two years old and the mother of two children, was the only woman member. Later, in the responsible position of editor, he vindicated the execution of Maximilian much as we justify the execution of war criminals. ‘It is a protest against the right of Kings to cause suffering and shed blood for their own selfish ends ... It will teach princes and princelings to be more cautious how they endeavour to subvert the liberties of a free people.’

A literary historian, Professor Franklin Walker, has noted accurately the incorrigible romanticism of Henry George in this period of utopianism and adventure seeking before he became an editor. His mind shared much of the American common lot. With just as much correctness an economic historian might observe that George’s periods of unemployment in 1859 and 1861 and 1864 and during his crisis of 1865 were more the normal than abnormal thing for young men in California. Many beaten men went home; others by the hundreds went out of work; probably few of the great fortunes of the state were accumulated without periods of reverse and anxiety in the experience of the accumulators. Yet over the twenty years, and despite his own sense of failure in 1864 and 1865, Henry George’s California story is a success story. The periods of defeat were quite temporary. It could be contended that his hard times in the state did not especially make him a man of suffering, no more than his father’s low income had made him a child of poverty in Philadelphia.

He had not suffered uniquely, but he had been hurt, and the crisis at the time of Richard’s birth was unforgettable. The unique thing in George’s case of course is that during Civil War years he reached a high intensity of self-awareness, and an awareness of ideas. His writing shows that he was beginning to see his own reverses as part of a social process, as part of the situation of all laboring men. He was beginning to see poverty in the light and shadow cast by Civil War aims, by Christian ideals, and by the ideals of the national heritage.

San Francisco Editor versus California Ideas i865—1868


In December 1865 Henry and Annie George returned to Sacramento. Again the state capital had a job for him when San Francisco did not, and again an interval there provided a stabilizing period in the battle for a living.

It was a printing, not a writing, job. Probably some friendship or connection accounts for a bit of preferment: at any rate the work was state printing, getting out the documents of the biennial session of the legislature, which opened on 4 December. George was pleased, and he now wrote his sister Caroline in much the same tone as he had written Jane when happy about an earlier new job: 'I am, for the present, only ambitious of working, and will look neither to the right nor to the left until I have “put money in my purse” — something it has never yet contained. I have abandoned, I hope, the hand to mouth style of living, and will endeavour, if not absolutely forced to do so, to draw no drafts on the future.’ In accord with his recent resolutions about being social and making contacts, George in Sacramento belonged to the Odd Fellows and the National Guard, and attended the Lyceum, where matters of public interest were debated.

An early incident of that program tells the story of Henry George’s first positive response to a specific economic idea. One

William H. Mills, later a high official of the Central Pacific Railroad, addressed the Lyceum in favor of the protective tariff. He spoke with knowledge of the laisser faire economists in the back of his mind — Smith, Ricardo, and Malthus. But the American nationalist, Henry C. Carey, was his mentor, and Mr. Mills stressed ideas familiar in California: that a protective tariff was ‘best calculated to produce the broadest industrial skill of our people, develop the natural resources of the country . . . confer the highest intelligence . . . and generally confer industrial and commercial independence upon the country.’

These had been Henry George’s own Republican ideas. We have his acknowledgment that, when the Confederate raiders were destroying trade, he considered ‘their depredations, after all, a good thing for the state in which I lived . . . since the increased risk and cost of ocean carriage in American ships [then the only way of bringing goods from the eastern states to California] would give to her infant industries something of that needed protection against the lower wages and better established industries of the Eastern states . . .’ He had even regretted that the federal constitution prevented a state tariff.

But the protective argument backfired that night in the Sacramento Lyceum. Mr. Mills gave the audience a favorable comparison of the nationalism of the tariff with the cosmopolitanism of free trade. Then, according to the speaker’s recollection and friendly judgment of his opponent, George thought fast on his feet. The young printer asked the audience to reject Mr. Mills’s preference. He pleaded that protective tariffs were causing ‘antagonism between the nations,’ and had ‘augmented their selfishness’ and ‘made standing armies and vast navies necessary to the peace of the world.’ He contrasted ‘free trade, as an evolutionary force,’ one which ‘made nations dependent, promoted peace among them, and urged humanity on towards a higher plane of universal fraternity.’

It is sometimes forgotten that free trade was the economic dogma second in prominence to the dogma about land in George’s ultimate economic teaching and preaching. The episode in the Sacramento Lyceum gives chronological first place to free trade. Though we have no evidence from which to explain the inner reasons for a crucial change in Henry George’s mind, the voicing of that change does fix the date of his first taking initiative in economic thought;

he did this a year earlier than his first writing about land policy, and two or three years ahead of his first questioning the rightness of private property in land. Nothing could have been more characteristic of George as an economic thinker than this beginning. Now as later his economic perceptions were inseparable from moral perceptions, in the working of his mind, and economic ideas once accepted assumed with him the force of moral law.

During this nine-month period in Sacramento, George carried on his writing according to program. Before he left that city, both the ‘Dust to Dust’ story and one other, his third and last in the vein of the mysterious and supernatural, had been finished and printed. ‘The Prayer of Kakonah’ he constructed from a legend he must have picked up in British Columbia; it is the only piece of his early writing that pretends to moral wisdom. In the allegory as George told it, Kakonah was an Indian chieftain who had learned ‘all that can be learned.’ When he died his people prayed the Lord of Life to let him come back awhile, for there was no successor to govern wisely. But only seven days of return to earth showed the folly of the arrangement. In Kakonah’s heart, now that his natural task was finished, all ‘his wisdom seemed foolishness, and his power was weariness . . . Where the Master of Life has set bounds, let none try to pass.’ So reflected Henry George, fifteen months after the death of President Lincoln, on the limitations of wisdom and the necessity of a people’s producing new leaders for new times.

By midsummer, a year after the fiasco of the Brontes expedition, he had his second try at journalism. This time the Sacramento Union took his articles; and, though the pen name he adopted for the series, ‘Proletarian,’ suggests a reversion to pro-labor preaching like that of 1865, much of what he wrote was quite different from anything up to now. In a sharp criticism of President Johnson, George took the side of the Radical Republicans and presumed for the first time to pass judgment on issues of constitutional procedure. Another article, closer home, criticized the administration of the state library in Sacramento. A splendid kind of public institution and worthy of tax support, he agreed, but the poorest proletarians would be glad of a slight extra public expense if it would make the books available when they could use them, after working hours. Between pieces for the Union, George reported the state fair in

Sacramento, including remarks on the productivity of the economy of California, for one of the San Francisco papers.

He was reaching out in every direction and, had he continued free-lancing and supporting his family this way and that, he would probably have tried a novel soon. He considered going east, after all. Yet he felt that he could manage the transition into the kind of life he wanted better where he had made a beginning than where he would have to start at scratch. As he put the matter to his father: ‘I want if possible, to secure some little practice and reputation as a writer here before going, which will not only give me introduction and employment there, but help me in going, and enable me to make something by corresponding with papers here. If I do not overrate my abilities, I may yet make position and money.’ He was not being too optimistic. The editor of the Union commended him strongly for the ‘Proletarian’ articles, calling them ‘clearly, forcibly, and elegantly written, evincing just views, thinking power, good taste, and excellent command of effective expression.’ Henry George promised to make ‘a valuable aid in the editorial staff of a daily journal,’ this editor believed.

The wanted opportunity came in November. On the fifth of that month an independent Republican paper, the San Francisco Daily Times, a newspaper completely of the new dispensation of California politics and journalism, brought out its first issue. Likely the paper was owned in part in Sacramento, or at least was planned among Republicans in the capital city. George knew about it long beforehand certainly, and applied for a position as ‘reporter or assistant editor.’ And, though warned that he was taking considerable chance in moving and though hired at first for the composing room, still a printer not a journalist, George went hopefully back to San Francisco. For once his optimism was justified. His best hope of late summer, 1866, that by early the next calendar year he would be earning $50 or $60 a week writing for the Times, proved to be only four or five months ahead of the actual fact.

A public disagreement between prominent people thirty years later, about who deserved the honor of having introduced Henry George to editorial writing, tells us something about that debut. Undoubtedly James McClatchy, the first editor of the Times, for a short term absent from the Sacramento Bee, was the man. According to information in the Bee years later, apparently written by his son, McClatchy and George were already friends when the Times was started; and, when the printer asked for a chance to show what he could do, McClatchy gave him some reporting and moved him into the local room, and very soon assigned him editorial writing. One guesses that George had talked things out with McClatchy before coming to San Francisco and had been given reasonable assurances that he would have a chance to write.

Noah Brooks, the second editor-in-chief of the Times, claiming to have been Henry George’s Columbus, seems rather to have been his second discoverer but to have been actually the first to advance him to place and responsibility. At any rate, after McClatchy quit the Times, George returned to the composing room without other assignment, and he was there when a foreman called him to Mr. Brooks’s attention. At first meeting the editor held off. He thought that the young man’s writing on affairs might have been plagiarized; and, as he noticed the unimpressive physique, the thinning hair, he was skeptical. But very soon he had George regularly on editorial work; and shortly, after a death on the staff, George became the third-ranking editor. This rise accounts for a major event of George’s life, occurring in June 1867, when a disagreement with the directors caused Noah Brooks and his first assistant to quit, as McClatchy had done. At that point, at the age of twenty-eight, Henry George became managing editor of the most interesting paper in San Francisco.

Unlike Sacramento, the great port city during the Civil War had not had a strong newspaper to speak the advanced Republican mind, zealous against slavery and ardent to make the South conform with the economy and civilization of the North. The first issue of the Times announced that it would assume that kind of spokesmanship. In the vein of policy which history names ‘Radical Republican,’ the paper’s own words of 5 November 1866: ‘The Times will be pronounced [sic] to aid in securing to the Republic and to mankind the legitimate fruits of our victorious arms, and to maintain the control of the State and the Nation in the hands of unquestioned loyalty.’ And three days later, an editorial said, more specifically, that though the Confederates had surrendered they had not yet accepted the spirit, and whole intention, of the North. ‘They yielded to our stronger arm, but not to our higher civilization . . . New ideas, new feelings, new leaders and new laws, must supplant the old. The conflict of ideas rages and will rage; but reason, general information, political integrity and the persuasive ballot, are the weapons of our new warfare.’ Later, under Brooks, the Times spoke for Negro suffrage and civil rights, though somewhat vaguely: ‘Political as well as physical bondage must be annihilated.’

Radical Republican politics and journalism has been much discussed of recent years, often in terms of Thaddeus Stevens, as having lacked the sweetest disposition, as having been needlessly unforgiving toward the recent enemy, and as having incorporated so many self-seeking and corrupt special interests of North and West as to have invalidated its claim to speak a true national idealism. Even after the most adverse judgment of the movement as politics, however, individual Radicals do still command respect as idealists and reformers. Senator Charles Sumner belongs among the sincere tramplers of the vintage; and so does Representative George W. Julian of Indiana, the abolitionist who continued to fight for human equality, as spokesman for land reform and women’s rights. Especially when considering the Pacific coast, where the Radical Republican frame of mind naturally lacked much interest in the persecution of defeated Confederates, the idealism of the movement demands high rating. In the West as in the East, Radicalism had power to ignite consciences even against Republican party leadership, and sometimes did.

In this area of opinion the Times began. Its editorials demanded reforms reminiscent of the labor propaganda of the Jackson period, and they called for policies quite opposite to recent Republican statute making. It developed the logic of free soil to speak for free land, and even free trade — in this not at all like Thaddeus Stevens. An editorial of 13 December, for instance, under the cautious title, ‘The Amelioration of Customs Duties,’ explained that ‘the abstract principle of free trade is manifestly a correct one.’ Working from a phrase Henry George might have written (and there is an indeterminable chance that he did write it) — ‘Restrictions upon trade and commerce are as antagonistic to the principles which underlie and facilitate the onward progress of the higher forms of civilization, as restrictions on the normal rights of man are destructive to the advancement of human liberty’ — the Times came out for downward revision of the customs duties. So arguing, it reported on, and followed the logic of, Commissioner David Ames Wells, a supporter of President Johnson, in tariff matters. That is to say it went with the most informed and liberal American thinking of the day.

The Times’ turning to Wells, we may note, was like Henry George’s later habit of studying that economist’s federal and New York state papers; and probably it set the habit for him. The same may be said of the newspaper’s coming out in favor of a slow and socially conscious policy of paying the federal debt from the Civil War years. Very rapid payment, however gratifying to creditor interests, would, the editorial page said, penalize the present generation which has already borne an incredible burden of war suffering. Too fast payment would raise taxes, restrict immigration and land settlement, and generally constrict the economy — a forceful argument which appealed to George, and which twentieth-century readers will understand.

Enough has been selected from the comment of the Times on national issues, before George took over editorial responsibility, to represent its line of thought and to suggest the heterodoxy of its Republicanism. The paper is so remembered in the larger history of journalism in city and state. Though it never made money, it achieved a reputation for good writing. And, under its too rapid succession of notable chief editors — McClatchy, Brooks, George, and Dr. Lewis Gunn, three of whom reached fame in the field of writing — the paper stirred the community. The power-conscious proprietors of the Bulletin, the city’s most entrenched newspaper and a dull one, admitted some admiration of the Times, while George was editor. When the paper failed, in 1869, an Oakland paper summed up justly. ‘The Times’ it said, ‘certainly did much to improve journalism in this state by exciting competition; had it been more vigorous, and marked out a field for itself, instead of following in the tracks of the Bulletin and the Alta, it might have made an early success.’

Being on the Times, then, meant for Henry George that his first editorial responsibility occurred in a vortex of idealism and eco-nomic-mindedness, as was very appropriate to his own ideas. We shall need to return to his leading editorials of 1867 and 1868 to see how he developed those attitudes. But, wheels within wheels, this phase of his thought cannot be studied with proper understanding of his intellectual growth unless it be connected with his opinions at the time concerning important state matters. California affairs were now so special, and so intense, that an analogy from George’s childhood suggests itself. In much the same way as Low Church evangelicalism had once penetrated his mind, and almost against his will created values for life, so now the problems of California’s society and economy took over, to be mulled and generalized for many years to come.

Specifically, these were the questions of labor supply and wages, and of land settlement, land policy, and landed property, and they comprised the very essence of current history in the state. Though earlier in life, beginning in Australia, he had noticed some of the unstable social phenomena of new-settled lands, and though for a long time now he had heard predicted disturbing possibilities for California’s future, he had never thought about such matters in any sustained way. Now he had little choice. All manner of writers judged the state to be tossed and bobbed in a tremendous economic storm. This was the period in California affairs when, as in the case of no other state in the union, state boundaries defined a region of economic as well as political development. At that time, during the lifetime of the Times, editorials in all the main newspapers, and thoughtful books as well as pamphlets, assessed economic problems: so it was really a huge debate of policy which George entered, ambition aflame, in 1867. An historical parenthesis is required, to explain that debate, before we can understand his role as editor, and still more to explain the ideas his mind presently grasped to hold for life.


It will do no harm to say again what Californians have been saying happily for nearly a century, that during the ten years (and more) after the Gold Rush the state accomplished some of the most incredible feats of social and economic building of nineteenth-century history. How could one think differently from the Methodist missionary, the Reverend Mr. William Taylor who, in the year of Henry George’s arrival, reviewed California’s progress during the ’50s? The miners in the Sierras, this parson observed, ‘are a hardy, muscular, powerful class of men, possessing literally an extraordinary development of hope, faith, and patience, and a corresponding power of endurance. They have in my opinion done more hard work in California, within the last eight years, than has ever been done in any country by the same number of men, in the same length of time, and I think I may safely say in double that length of time, since the world was made.’

What is easily forgotten about early days in optimistic California is that, even in that first American decade, the ugliness of the economic process set off criticism in force. A full ten years before Henry George turned somewhat gloomy prophet, a famous minister, Horace Bushnell, who came from Connecticut’s land of steady habits and formal villages, protested what the miners were doing to the mountains of the state. The erosion and defacement wrought by diggings, sluices, and flumes were running wounds in nature’s breast, to Bushnell. Not the first, he was one of the early eloquent contributors to the cause of conserving the natural resources of California. Even the literature of criticism assumed often that the state could be made into a kind of utopia.

Henry George’s life and thought would have been vastly different and his writing would have been less substantial if the regional discussions had not come rapidly down to earth and sometimes been done in a very expert way. In general, the economics of colonization was the appropriate language. Not differently from Iowa and Minnesota at the time, California was reliving, as all American communities have, the old story which had begun on the East coast two centuries earlier: settlement first, with labor and capital risked in hope and expectation; then stages of economic growth toward community productivity, solvency, and a degree of independence. But uniquely California had become a state almost as soon as she became a part of the United States; and her incomparable resources of gold and silver were expected to make her economically independent. These two factors made for an early sense of independence and vigor. And at the same time, the origins of the people who rushed to California — North and South American, English and continental European, and Asiatic — were so disparate as to prevent the occurrence of any future intimacy between the state and any older state or region of the United States such as connected, say, Wisconsin with New England during its early development. Credit came as settlers did, from London and

Paris notably, as well as from across the continent. California was a part of the United States, but as an economic enterprise it depended on the whole capitalistic colonizing world.

This set the frame of economic thought and made natural a rapid development of ideas. Broadly speaking, the 1850s produced promotional economic literature; and the 1860s produced the first sustained flow of economic self-criticism and particularism. Of course these two types of ideas overlapped: a certain amount of criticism, like Bushnell’s, cropped up early; and promotion kept up in the ’60s, as it has ever since. Nevertheless a distinction of attitude between the ’50s and ’60s is valid. American history bears a long-run analogy: during the period commonly called colonial, from Queen Elizabeth to George III, first, a century of promoters from Hakluyt to Penn advertised America to Europe; and, second, a group of protesters, among whom Franklin and Jefferson take first rank, argued the side of America’s free development and separation from the mother country. Roughly the same alternation occurred in California, but in a cycle of two decades rather than two centuries: a change of impulse, from simple expansion to sentiment in favor of economic solvency and autonomy.

Two illustrations from 1851 will show how early and how naturally, once gold and climate were discovered, California seized men’s minds as a place where might be tried daring solutions of economic problems. The first is a letter, now one of the fascinating originals in the Huntington Library, from a statesman and spokesman of the Old South, James Gadsden, to Thomas Jefferson Green, a leader in the California state legislature when it was very new. Gadsden asked for help in getting a big land grant. As he specified: it must be large enough for a self-sufficing community; the conditions must be right for cotton and a variety of other farm products; there must be a town site with available water transportation to the coast; there should be access to the mining country, as an outlet for seasonal operations by Negro slave labor. To come to California from South Carolina, Gadsden proposed to march with a company of immigrants in military order, all the way to whatever location, presumably on the San Joaquin, might be selected for settlement.

At first twentieth-century glance, the Southerner’s scheme seems preposterous. By provision of its constitution California was a free-soil state; and, even if that provision could have been nullified, the free-labor customs of the mining society would have made western soil poisonous for transplanting a growth of the Old South’s slave economy. Even so, James Gadsden’s letter today represents more than simply that California evoked imaginative varieties of economic planning among ambitious citizens, a century ago. Though Gadsden failed, many a Southerner did transmit plantation mores to the state, and adapting those mores — raising other crops than cotton, using Chinese coolies instead of Negro slaves — set a permanent pattern of large landholding for California’s agricultural society. In time nothing would annoy Henry George more than this silent, little-challenged victory by the plantation system, so opposite to his own convictions.

A contrasting northern instance of blueprinting an ideal future in California appears in a pamphlet published at Benicia, on the straits of Carquinez, before that little town had had its brief day as state capital, or had lost its hope of enormous development. The author was one J. J. Werth, otherwise remembered only as a writer for the Alta California. His title, A Dissertation on the Resources and Policy of California, Mineral, Agricultural, and Promotional, forecasts many a later and weightier volume. ‘Progression, Progression,’ he prophesied as ‘the Destiny of California.’ In three years since 1848 the state had accomplished what elsewhere would require a generation, he believed; and in the early future it would achieve a diversified economy, ample railroads, and cottage residences for a happy population. Thus, opposite the slaveholder’s, a freeman’s dream. A couple of years later a New York lawyer, E. S. Capron, noticed that San Francisco was already manufacturing jewelry at an amazing rate, and said that the suburbs of that city promised to develop like Birmingham or Pittsburgh — a prophecy of present-day industrialization on the fringes of the city.

At least as early as Henry George’s arrival in San Francisco, the promotional stage of regional economic thinking had achieved both quality in performance and popularity of interest; and, in the case of one famous writer, the critical spirit too had struck hard. The signs of popular interest occur everywhere: in the little newspapers which employed Henry George, for instance, and in books, and in the major literary magazines, such as the Pioneer, Hutchings Illustrated California Magazine, and the Hesperian, which published many an article on questions of economic development and condition. On the side of book publishing, the French economist, Ernst Seyd, brought out in London in 1858 a detailed economic description, California and Its Resources, a Work for the Merchant, the Capitalist, and the Lawyer. To capitalists of roving eye, M. Seyd presented California as ‘the fairest and most fertile’ land on earth. Interest was made to beckon at 2 or 3 per cent per month; living was represented as cheaper than in Australia, and labor as better paid. To this writer, and to other French writers, the growing cities of the state, with grand opportunities for profit and promises for culture, were peculiarly appealing. This emphasis of course designated one of the special phenomena of California’s frontier growth — cities ahead of countryside. This too we shall find important in the mind of Henry George.

Earlier than the social criticism of the ’60s, the mordant writing of Hinton Rowan Helper tells us all we need to know about the arrival in California of the economic objector’s point of view. The famous North Carolinian’s California book, The Land of Gold, Reality versus Fiction, published in Baltimore in 1855, won him less reputation than The Impending Crisis in the South, partly because in California he made his one-man attacks for the losing not the winning side. If others were promoters, he was the demoter of California. He hated San Francisco for the cold and fog, and he detested the speculators and exploiters in the state’s economy. Somewhat foolishly, Helper went to enormous lengths of statistical demonstration to show that California was an economic failure: the costs of acquiring the land, plus the expenditures of emigration from the eastern states, plus labor spent in California were a miracle of waste, to this writer. As outgo they added up to a total greater than the value of the mineral wealth which California had returned to the world to pay those costs: the deficit as of 1855 he found to be 60 millions. Helper’s use of figures was absurd. But as in his antislavery writing, the cantankerous Southerner had a point not to be dismissed because unpopular. He saw in the speculation and monopolism of California the oppression of free labor, much as he saw in slavery the oppression of white labor in the South. He conceded that California’s ‘spacious harbors and geographical position are her true wealth.’

Though there is no evidence that George ever read Helper or Seyd, or even knew of Werth or Gadsden, his protest and his utopianism about California came in time to overlap their ideas, and to continue some of them. Professor Paul S. Taylor has wisely noticed that, though California as a sovereign state was confronted by complex social problems which rose in chronological series — slavery or free labor in 1849, Chinese admission or Chinese exclusion, during the ’60s, ’70s, and early ’80s, and land monopoly or free land, a perennial issue — the series embraced just one basic issue: ‘What kind of a rural society do Californians want?’ Professor Taylor might permit reducing the question to simply: ‘What kind of a society do Californians want?’ At any rate, the 1850s were confronted with major choices. Then in the ’60s, Henry George’s decade of finding himself, new writers whom he did know, and journals which he did read, and to which he occasionally made contributions, brought the problems into the focus of the changing times. We have seen already, in terms of George’s being employed and unemployed, what perilous and depression-filled years the middle ’60s were.

Three books of the decade sum up the advance of regional economic analysis. Beginning in 1863, their chronological order is also the order of their importance in policy discussion, as follows: John S. Hittell, The Resources of California comprising Agriculture, Mining, Geography, Climate, Commerce, etc., etc., and the Past and Future Development of the State (Roman, 1863, and many later editions); Titus Fey Cronise, The Natural Wealth of California (Bancroft, 1868); and Bentham Fabian, The Agricultural Lands of California; A Guide to the Immigrant as to the Productions, Climate, and Soil of Every County in the State (Bancroft, 1869). All these were published in San Francisco, not in Europe or in the eastern states as such books often had been in the previous decade; and the authors were all men of much experience and observation in the state. Hittell was by far the best-known and most influential man of the group. As an editor, and a contributor, for years, of economic writing to the Alta California, his doing a book on The Resources of California was, in that time and place, like, say, Walter Lippmann’s doing a book on foreign policy today: it was the gathering of tested data and the publishing of a widely accepted set of ideas. Looked at in the perspective of later time, his book ranks with Professor Ezra S. Carr’s Patrons of Husbandry on the Pacific Coast, 1875, which included broad discussions of agriculture and landholding in California; and it ranks with the seventh and final volume of Hubert Howe Bancroft’s History of California, published in 1890, which contains remarkable chapters on contemporary agriculture, manufacturing, business, railroads, mining, and city-growth in the state.

Were this a general history of economic thought in California, a dozen reasons could be discovered for a close examination of all these regional descriptions, histories, and programs. As we are concerned, however, with the frame and setting of one young editor’s discovering his role, we may be guided by the time factor. In 1867, when George took over the Times, Hittell’s was the only one of the three major economic descriptions of the decade already in print. That writer’s own words indicate that he regarded himself as a promoter, and he was much like Seyd and other writers of the ’50s, although he was also much more critical than they. ‘I write of a land of wonders,’ he said. ‘With many drawbacks, which have been set forth clearly and unreservedly, California is still the richest part of the civilized world. It possesses most of the luxuries of Europe, and many of the advantages which the valley of the Ohio had forty years ago. In the few years of its history it has astonished the world, and its chief glories are still to come.’ Hittell and Cronise and Fabian alike put out a very literate propaganda and information that was encyclopedic. Lengthy chapters on the geology, zoology, botany, agriculture, and mining of California were not too much for the writers and readers of the ’60s. The improvement over the effusions of J. J. Werth was enormous.

On the critical side, no other regional analyst was quite so severe as was Hittell, and he spoke more strongly in the first than in the later editions of his book. In that edition he demanded no less than a transformation of the state’s economy. What was wanted may be understood by analogy with the Radical Republican program for reconstructing the South. To replace the instability of the economy created by the Gold Rush, the Alta California writer — and, more mildly, the others also — proposed to encourage social growth based mainly on homestead agriculture, and also on diversified, settled, and productive industries. With variations of their own, Hittell and the others offered the northern conception for the state, not different in principle from Werth’s, but now rendered in detailed blueprints. A grand increase in farming, to put to use the state’s promising soil and climate, was their principal idea. From that would flow food for the cities; there would be rural markets for industry; and prosperity and loyalty would flourish among the people. Hittell proposed this without especially idealizing farm life, and he certainly did not slip over into radical ideas about property in land. He hoped for prosperity in the mines as on the farms; and he saw the future arriving with deep digging already displacing placer mining, and with more capital equipment being taken into the Sierras. His goal for California was Hamiltonian, or Whiggish rather: a balanced economy, with city and country, extractive industry and refining industry, transport and commerce, labor and employment, all in sound relationships with one another.

Thus, for the long term, the grand strategy of California’s economists was based on achieving balance and prosperity by expanding the underdeveloped sectors of economic life. Ideally, according to prevailing economic ideas, the reaching of such a goal would not prove too difficult, but be a more or less automatic evolution. New doses of immigration and investment, the usual tonic for faltering colonies, could be expected to provide the stimulus. But present realities were hard, and the depression of the 1860s fore-bade leaving the matter on a completely laisser faire basis. For the time being the automatic flows were running in reverse: more emigrants were leaving the state than there were immigrants arriving. According to Hittell, a quarter-million workers, representing a million population, had recently departed. So a crisis operation was called for by the doctors — such economic surgery as would stop the bleeding. Once stability was accomplished, the international flow of credit and of population movement could be counted on to nourish California back to health.

This was the general position of economic expectation at which the three principal regional writers converged in agreement, all of them bringing out books within short years of George’s beginnings as writer and editor. Strikingly they agreed also about the point indicated for surgery. The situation of land distribution and land policy, they all said, was the festering sore — the specific removable cause of California’s depressions and unemployment. In his Resources of California, Hittell told the world that ‘the unsteadiness of business and the lack of employment of recent years’ could be traced mainly to the ‘want of unquestioned ownership of the soil.’

Settlers, he charged, had been driven unjustly from the land they occupied, with such disastrous results for themselves, and with such a huge destruction of values, that fifty years of peace would be required to place California where otherwise it would at present be, in point of economic stability and security. Hittell placed the responsibility on Congress. The famous act of 1851, intended to settle land titles, had really upset them, he and many others asserted. That national politics had most particularly damaged the regional economy was common conservative belief in San Francisco.

Since so much of the story in the next few chapters develops the idea of the magnitude of land problems and the seriousness of land policy in California, we need to notice, at this point of Henry George’s entering the debate, only that there were present in the state several varieties of political opinion on the matter, and that opinion reflected several facets of actual abuse. McClatchy’s Bee was already as aware of the problems of land monopolization as any of George’s papers would ever be — McClatchy himself had taken personal part in squatter riots near Sacramento, during the previous decade. And in the early ’60s a vigorous lobbyist, George Fox Kelly, took up the fight for dispossessed squatters in northern California, and appealed their case in the federal courts and to President Lincoln. The ‘most gigantic fraud organization ever known upon earth’ had deprived the people of that part of the state of rights in land which properly understood were inalienable, said Fox in his Land Frauds in California.

Viewing the state-wide problem (outside the cities) in the most general way, and with the guidance of recent historical research, we may picture a mountain phase and a valley phase of the land question. In the Sierras, the gold miners had set the pattern of landholding in their own way, without benefit of official surveys, registrations, or the taking of titles. Squatting on domain lands, they had simply established mining districts and district regulations, on an entirely voluntary basis. These procedures were well adapted to placer mining, a stage in which men were many and capital goods few. In due course we shall find Henry George praising the mining-district regulations as democratic, and as a successful system of landholding in use, rather than in ownership. But to Hittell and his conservative kind such arrangements were insecure and adverse to capital investment, and unfavorable to permanent settlement and family life in the mountains. Presently Congress did pass a law of the kind Hittell believed in, and freehold tenures, a protection to mining-company investments, became the normal thing in the mountains.

As for the agricultural valleys of the state, Hittell reviewed hard conditions and unintelligent policies. As present-day scholars agree, many of the richest and most convenient farm lands had been granted before 1846, in large and unsurveyed holdings which were intended for Mexican cattle ranchers; these holdings had been recognized by the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo; and the federal legislation of 1851 had provided that the Spanish and Mexican grants be examined and confirmed. Thus some of the causes of land aggregation were inherited from Mexico. But as modern scholars also agree, the processes of confirmation had been long and drawn out; they had been so managed as to destroy or place a shadow on titles which should in justice have been valid; and, instead of a normal process of breaking up the Mexican holdings by rapid sale, insecure titles had prevented sales to farmer-owners and had led to all sorts of irregularities — monopolistic speculating, squatting and the evicting of squatters, and tax dodging. Under unhealthy conditions land engrossment had reached proportions under American law never approached under Mexican law, and had entrenched itself in a way particularly repulsive to the settler, and peculiarly difficult to amend.

Hittell’s answer to the problem of the aggregation of agricultural lands was the same as his answer to the unusual situation in the mountains. Apply the traditional American system of fee-simple ownership, he advised, and he suggested no further steps in land reform. He did recommend minor reforms of other kinds for stimulating California’s economy: to cut out the ‘forestalling’ or cornering practices of the merchants of San Francisco, which placed unnatural restraints on trade; and to change the West coast habit of depending too much on long-term big-credit operations in business. He also proposed policies, not his alone, which George would later resist strenuously: reducing the interest rate and reducing the rate of wages. Hittell was a deflationist, all round, and one who put much reliance on laisser faire. His argument for fee-simple ownership, without further steps to break up the big holdings, rested on that basis. Security of ownership, and a reputation for security, would bring to the state an adequate flow of new settlers and new investment, he believed, and in that way California would soon have the ‘permanent improvement, and all these blessings of inestimable value which come only with fixed and happy homes, and the best regulated social order.’ In a free, secure market he expected the oversized landed estates to break up by reason of transfers of title, which would occur through sales and inheritances.

To sum up: in 1866 and 1867, when the San Francisco Times was taking hold, the problem of land monopolization in the state had been thoroughly discussed. Since by this time the federal courts had at long last given a series of rulings on the Mexican titles, and since, as we have seen, Congress had decided on fee-simple land-holding in the mineral-bearing region, the conservative, laisser faire answer to the land problem was due to have an extensive trial. The problem of insecure titles had been reduced; the problem of engrossment remained. In San Francisco there was no strong voice, yet, for extensive land reform; the strongest in the state was that of Henry George’s friend, James McClatchy.

But at this point, when discussion of land issues might conceivably have quieted for a period, a political situation blew up in San Francisco which, had it been so intended, could hardly have been more accurately designed to heighten the implications of land-title problems before the public eye. A legacy from the Spanish past, this particular land problem wras a little different and a little more spectacular than any such problem ever faced by any other city in United States history — unless possibly Los Angeles is a rival in this respect as in others. The public question arose: Did San Francisco as a community own in perpetuity the land onto which urban growth was inevitably pressing it? If possibly Yes, would the rising values of the land actually accrue to the city’s credit? Or, if the answer was No, must land speculators and with-holders, in a particularly unsavory spot, make a killing according to an American custom which was especially active in California?

To understand how a question of publicly owned land could arise in practical affairs, we must take a last glance at how the United States acquired California, and sense the strain on ancient institutions when Americans burst upon the thinly settled Mexican domain. From Spanish origins descended the tradition that community settlements, called pueblos, were provided by the king with grants of four square leagues of land — the equivalent of 17,636 acres. The principal question which this legacy placed before the United States courts was whether or not San Francisco had actually been such a pueblo and now retained such an endowment or the residue of such an endowment. There is no need to enter the historical and legal complexities of the issue here; it will suffice to record simply that in the end the federal-court ruling was affirmative: San Francisco had been a pueblo and did still possess certain lands in public ownership 011 that account.

This decision bore a moral suggestion of San Francisco’s wealth and respqnsibility. And quite naturally it involved political consequences. Once the principle was acknowledged, that San Francisco did possess a public domain of its own, the question arose whether the city’s property right devolved upon the individuals who had occupied parcels of the old pueblo land? The case was not entirely analogous to settlers squatting on, or making purchases from, or establishing homesteads upon, the national domain. United States policy favored quick settlement and individuals taking ownership 011 domain lands. But the debate about San Francisco’s pueblo rights, in the courts and on the press, acknowledged that Spanish usage had assigned the pueblos a function somewhat like that of steward for the king, and that individual settlers became the occupants and users of land, rather than owners in fee simple. The guaranty in the treaty of peace with Mexico, which promised that the United States would honor prewar property rights, could, moreover, be read to mean that the city of San Francisco owned its domain in perpetuity and could not rightfully permit any of that land to fall into private hands.

But Americans arriving in San Francisco of course never acted in that manner. Even before the Gold Rush, large ‘alcalde grants’ — so named from the Spanish title of the American officer who issued them — gave permanent titles to United States settlers. Speculation boomed; scandals occurred; litigation went on; and legislation to give firm titles seemed necessary, in both Sacramento and Washington. Certainly there is no other situation in the American record, to which a leading lawyer could refer in a court brief, as William J. Shaw did to this one, in i860, as follows: ‘Thousands of our people in the oldest settled counties have been educated into the belief, and today confidently believe, that the towns and villages existing in California actually owned the lands within their boundaries.’

Long before 1866 the courts made durable law of the early ad hoc actions concerning pueblo domains: private holdings were ruled to be valid as they had devolved through the city’s officers from a royal grant of Spain. But in that year the possibility of San Francisco’s retaining and operating at least a residue of city-owned land arose once more. This occurred when municipal authorities demanded that the ‘outside lands,’ so called, 7000 or 8000 outlying acres near the ocean front, which were claimed by private persons, be retained for the public. In this litigation a famous California judge, Stephen J. Field, who is remembered for his later career on the Supreme Court as a strong spokesman for laisser faire economics and law, had the final word. Presiding over the United States Circuit Court in San Francisco he issued decrees, not visibly in the laisser faire spirit, upholding the city’s right. And later, in Washington, when it seemed likely that the Supreme Court would reverse the decision, he drew the bill which California members introduced in Congress, and which as passed gave the city quiet title to the outside lands.

Today the fraction of the pueblo lands that remains in actual public ownership is Golden Gate Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, and for many years one of the most beautiful places of public enjoyment in the country. More important than the park, for Henry George or for any reflective mind, from this legacy of California’s Spanish past, was the residue of thought — the city that might have been. Suppose that four square leagues of land, radiating from the center of San Francisco, had in actual history been converted into a public reserve, its rents all going to the city treasury, its benefits all accruing to the people’s immediate use, and that use determined by the processes of government rather than those of private ownership! This was an idea for the social imagination to seize and not forget.


Henry George’s navigating the many-forked stream of California economic discussion waited, of course, on his assuming responsible control of the Times, in the summer of 1867. The first editorial he did, while working under McClatchy’s supervision, has a present-day interest because it concerned American relations with Russia. Three years earlier, when, in a well-remembered international incident, squadrons of the tsar’s navy had shown up in New York and San Francisco, their coming had been widely interpreted as expressing a sense of alliance between the United States and Russia. Both of those nations were in serious trouble with Great Britain at the time; and the Alta California and other California papers went with the prevailing opinion, as they printed editorials of sentimental friendship between the two.

So likewise Henry George in 1866. He saw the analogy between Russia’s expanding east and south, and America’s westward movement. He sensed a connection between that country’s natural economic growth and its internal reform, as the near coincidence of American Negro emancipation and the tsar’s freeing the serfs in 1867 suggested. Better Constantinople in Russian Christian than in Turkish hands, George thought; and wiser for the Western powers to watch with equanimity while Russia built her railroads and improved her social system and government, than to try to circumvent her. This first editorial gives an accurate clue to Henry George’s belief, a representative American one, that the Old World was accelerating its march toward liberalism and democracy. Almost a prophecy of his own role in 1882 and after, George editorialized in the Times on coming liberations in Europe, especially as the English working classes were now reading the lessons of the Union victory in the United States.

Before George assumed control, the Times took an editorial line on the economic problems of the state that in some respects paralleled and in others departed from the Hittell line maintained in the Alta California. Land problems, though the paper could rehearse the pueblo’s history from first to last, McClatchy did not make particularly prominent in the Times. In common with the writers of regional economics, the paper bespoke anxiety about the return east of California’s immigrants. As a prime remedy it proposed a policy, which Henry George was later to attack, that ‘State or National authorities, or both combined’ should subsidize the bringing of impoverished Europeans to the state.

As for steps that would help to keep the present labor force in California, the Times favored moderately the eight-hour work day, which was just taking hold in the California unions and in politics.

To the Times’ way of thinking, labor’s best hope of improvement lay in the long-run benevolent operation of impersonal economic forces — in the growth of technology and in the supply-and-demand processes of the employment markets. It lay very little in trade unionism or in labor legislation; and the working man’s best chance for advancement was to be found in education for the masses and in some participation in the co-operative movement. On the point of improving the condition of seamen — and we can only guess that George was the writer on the subject — the Times did take a fighting pro-labor stand. Yet it acquiesced in the Chinese coolie immigration, and in general pattern of policy, the Times stood quite close to the Alta in 1866 and early 1867.

When George took charge, the editorial concern of the Daily Times enlarged with respect to matters of land more than it changed in any other way. We cannot say that this meant that the managing editor had discovered his ultimate focus of interest. It is more likely that the award of the outside lands to the city and city and state politics forced the matter on George, or rather on the Times, than that he took great initiative. For now that the lands were legally in San Francisco’s domain, the question was whether the city and the state legislature, between which authority was shared, would conserve them for the public good, or whether they would permit another round of distribution to engrossers and graft.

In July 1867 was formed a Pueblo Land Association, the one object of which, according to its advertisements, was to defeat land grabbers by securing the ‘free distribution of the unappropriated lands of the Pueblo in small tracts to those of its inhabitants who need and will occupy them as homesteads.’ Again the Spanish custom was appealed to; the gift of the king was read as in trust to the pueblo, the lands not to be squatted upon or speculated in, but to be administered for the benefit of the people. The association arranged ‘large’ meetings in August. At one of them Governor Low presided; and a judge made a principal speech. At another meeting, with bonfires, fireworks, and a brass band, Senator John Conness took credit for having prevented very large speculators from getting control of land belonging to the public.

Henry George’s Times went no further than the Alta when, on 31 August, it applauded Senator Conness and approved the work of the Pueblo Land Association to keep out the speculator. Thus far it was on the common line. The paper’s liberalism came to the fore when it supported the bill drawn up by the association for the state legislature. More than just providing for homestead lots, the Pueblo Land Association would have established several sizable permanent city-owned areas: two 500-acre parks, a 200-foot drive and six plazas along the beach, and space for public schools, a college, firehouses, charitable institutions, and churches. The association wanted land classified for commercial use to be auctioned, and the remainder to be distributed gratis as home lots, to those who would build houses worth $200 or more. These proposals sound very much like the future Henry George, and the Times praised them, in an editorial of 14 December and at other times, as promising San Francisco a future as ‘the greatest, most beautiful and most independent city in the world.’

But the idea was too advanced, required too much state restriction on business operations, for San Francisco and California in those days. The city supervisors issued a famous order, no. 733, which, except for one park, made little reservation for the public and approved private grants without regard for size. The Times complained for the ordinary citizens, to whom this perfidy seemed to mean the difference between a ‘home or no home, ownership or rent, independence or poverty.’ In the issues of 14 and 24 January 1868, it said that a few speculators, men who might have placed a ‘ribbon fence’ around huge blocks of land, would now become ‘millionaires in a short time.’ Perhaps this was Henry George’s very first comment on the ‘unearned increment’ of land values in modern city-growth.

Though, in the final step, the state legislature did approve Order no- 733> the result was not as bad as the Times had anticipated. ‘A powerful organized interest has moved both bodies, and stripped the people of their land,’ said the paper, on 25 March, in first hot grief. ‘The consequence is that the city of San Francisco, with the richest patrimony of any city on the continent, will be compelled to buy back, for public uses, a few of her eight thousand acres.’ On this point the editorials in the Alta expressed great satisfaction; titles had been rendered firm, that paper noted, and some reservations for public use, including a 1000-acre park, would serve the city well. When the politics of the matter had cooled, the Times acknowledged some satisfaction in the park. From editorials of this time we may note that in the beginning George’s ideas about urban land came close to land-use planning; and we may anticipate that, though in the modern sense he never became an economic planner, this affinity of ideas would always persist.

In the education of Henry George the cardinal suggestion of the San Francisco pueblo-land problem was of course that the public ownership of land had and could become an actual issue in politics: he learned this almost certainly before he had even heard of the Ricardian theory of rent, or of any proposal, after Ricardo, to capture economic rent for the public. The pueblo-land question had an incidental effect of making contact for him in San Francisco’s Democratic politics. Against a different story in the Bulletin, the Republican Times had given Mayor McCoppin credit for having gotten a ruling through the supervisors which secured to San Francisco a certain reservation of land. Henry George’s editorial, ‘Honor to Whom Honor Is Due,’ even though due a Democrat, brought an appreciative letter from the city hall. Actually this was the second round of an exchange between editor and mayor; and their correspondence is the first sign of Henry George’s turning aside from the Republican party to the party of his father and Andrew Jackson, as a possible instrument of California reform.

On other phases of the land problem, the Daily Times under George had its say, piecemeal as the controversies arose. A series of editorials in March explained and approved proposals before the legislature, which were more or less identified with ex-Governor Milton Latham, and with W. C. Ralston, the glittering president of the Bank of California. The scheme was: to have enacted provision for railroad rights of way and space for terminals in San Francisco, on terms that would encourage the railroad company to skirt the bay and lay track up the peninsula and into the city, and yet would keep within the city, and out of the coffers of the railroad, the benefit of increasing land values near the railroad installations. As in the case of the outside lands, the Times took the side of the city’s interest. And, on the broader front of the use of agricultural land, the Times complained that the very slow dispersal by sale of the Mexican ranchos to immigrant farmers, notably in the Los Angeles and San Bernardino areas, was retarding the settlement of the state.

The young editor threw his weight, too, on the level of national policy. On 2 June 1868, not long before he left the Times, he wrote strongly against the gift of federal lands in support of state colleges, the historic policy of the Morrill Act then half a dozen years old. Not that this was a new idea; many objectors, earlier than he, had seen that the Morrill Act favored eastern states more than western, and land speculators more than anyone else. Now the Times found it working that way, as operators were engrossing huge chunks of college land in the San Joaquin Valley. Of the prices at which they were selling to settlers, five dollars or more an acre, only a fraction, which the paper estimated at twenty-five to sixty-five cents an acre, was reaching the colleges. This meant that the government’s donation was operating as a tax on settlers in California’s central valley: the labor of California farmers was supporting schools that were for the most part in the older states and was making rich an absentee class of landlords.

This complaint against the Morrill Act makes a good resting point for the first phase of the development of the editor’s ideas about land and land policy. Entering objection, he had shown accuracy and insight. Today high authority supports George’s judgment. Professor Paul Gates’s researches have recently shown that the Morrill Act has been honored above its deserts; that while doing something for education that law also strengthened a most undemocratic landlordism in American society.

George also showed reach of mind. In the editorial last quoted, discussing the wasteful hurried distribution of San Joaquin Valley land, he inserted a warning: ‘And when we cease to have cheap land we shall realize in full force the social evils which affect Europe.’ This sentence expresses the anxious thought George was going to make central in Progress and Poverty, Book VII, Chapter V, eleven years later; it pinpoints a perception that helped make Frederick Jackson Turner, twenty-five years later, an illuminating interpreter of the nation’s history. It is probably impossible to say which anxious observer of American nineteenth-century life happened first to think it necessary to change from Jefferson’s hope — that free land would make the republic strong — to Turner’s fear — that the end of free land would begin the withering of our liberties and equalities. But so far as California is concerned, Henry George was the early eloquent speaker. Written in a context of economic troubles, his editorials had by 1868 set him on reconaissance for the lifetime mission not yet disclosed: his personal war to bend to compliance with democracy the land institutions and policies of the United States, and of other countries.

Watching this fast development in the young editor, we have seen no reason yet to call him a radical, or to say that he differed from, more than he resembled, his contemporaries of the conservative San Francisco press. Yet the process of Henry George’s becoming different, of being a dissenter rather than a conformist, did begin at this time. An interesting early indication dates from June 1867, the month in which George assumed his editorship, when the Alta ran a few editorials, probably written by Hittell. These pushed the idea that local wage rates were much too high for California to succeed industrially, in competition with low-wage areas in the eastern states. The Alta ridiculed the labor unions’ eight-hour program, which the Times half-liked; and one of the editorials drew heavily on the wages-fund theory of contemporary economics to assert the priority of capital over labor. Though admitting a mutual dependence — ‘Capital cannot reproduce itself without labor, and labor cannot be put into action without capital’ — the commercial newspaper argued that capital maintains labor (from the wages fund) until the product becomes exchangeable; thus capital is the essential and controlling factor in economic production. On 8 August another editorial predicted that before long the California labor market would be invaded from outside, and the state would gain by reason of the fall in wages.

Though the time would come, Henry George was not yet ready to buck with opposite theories either the wages-fund theory or the iron law of wages. But he was willing to debate with the Alta. How ignorant that paper was, answered the Times of 9 August, to think that a result ‘detrimental to the interests of the workmen . . . would be a great boon to the State at large.’ The ‘fundamental principles of political economy’ protested such an absurdity. Then followed, I think for the first time, Henry George’s economy-of-abundance ideas which he later developed in his books. ‘The interests of the State are the interests of its citizens — the greater the rewards which labor receives, the higher the estimation in which it is held, the greater the equality of the distribution of earnings and property, the more virtuous, intelligent and independent are the masses of the people, the stronger, richer, and nobler is the state. Free trade, labor-saving machinery, co-operative organizations, will enable us to produce more cheaply, and with a positive increase of wages; but it would be better for California that she should retain only her present sparse but independent and comfortable population, than that she should have all of England’s wealth and millions with all of her destitution and pauperism.’ It would be interesting to know what writers or books George had in mind as the sources of his ‘fundamental principles of political economy.’ Perhaps he had drawn on some ideas of Wells or had been influenced by Henry Carey. His editorial reads more like the 1930s than the 1860s, and more like Henry George’s future books than like the British treatises on economics which might have come most readily to hand for reference.

The Times of course celebrated early in 1868, when the state legislature passed an eight-hour law, and almost simultaneously Congress prescribed eight hours as the working day for federal employees. The state law had too little force to deserve much praise; but even so the Times was happy that it had become policy to promise working people leisure, ‘in which to learn, to think, to plan, and to invent.’ Since labor’s human rights had been an article of George’s social faith from the time he began to have one, there was nothing new in his holding this opinion; but it was important for his development that at the time when he was achieving stature as an editor and was entering into prominent controversy, he asserted simultaneously land-reform ideas and pro-labor ideas, just as his Jacksonian predecessors had done.

Outside the orbit of questions of the California economy, yet not far afield, and nearly as important for George as he entered his career, a number of questions tangential to land and labor came up in 1867 and 1868. Railroad policy was one. Before he took control of the Times, the paper had criticized the federal government’s donation of lands to the projected, now building, transcontinental line. The Times professed satisfaction that there should be some public subsidy, as the roads were sure to benefit western growth; but it gave reasons why bond credit would have been a sounder procedure than huge gifts of land. Federal assistance should be extended ‘with a view mainly to reclamation,’ it said on 2 March 1867, ‘and not to enable corporations or individuals to take advantage of its munificence to promote selfish speculative designs’ — a proposition which, in the light of railroad history and economics, seems not to have been as obvious then as it is today. Rates were another problem involving government policy. That tariffs on California’s new and still unconnected lines were five times as high as in the East, though operating expenses were only a little more, was the Times’ opinion. After George took control, the paper spoke for a rate-fixing commission in the state, on the order of a Wisconsin proposal. Thus a future spokesman for government ownership of all utilities that are natural monopolies began on a pragmatic level — he was a spokesman for immediate, practical, public controls over railroads, in 1868.

But he did not halt with the immediate. In a way that was prophetic, both of national events about to occur and of his own development as thinker, he discussed the conflict of interests natural within the railroad business — and in more recent times, in all big business — between the managers and the owners of corporations. The Times considered the proposals of state ownership of railroads which were being advanced in England; and reviewed also the idea, presently put forward by the Sacramento Union, the now disillusioned pro-railroad paper, that the United States ought to run the railroads. The Times own suggestion was a little special, an idea Henry George most likely drew from the public-works canal and railroad system which the state of Pennsylvania had operated between Philadelphia and Harrisburg during his childhood. Let the railroads be a kind of highway, he proposed in an editorial of 28 April 1868. Let the army make the surveys and lay out the lines, and let the roadbed be built and maintained by private capital on a contract basis. Then let the rolling stock be operated by those who wish to ship privately, and by others who would contract to offer public transportation on appropriate terms.

This was George’s first pronouncement on the public ownership of railroads: an archaic half-way proposal brought forward from the Jacksonian day of America’s earliest steam transportation. It suggests his future, for he was never really to like either full private ownership and control, or full state ownership. Railroad policy would be a wobbly point with him for life. But he would not wobble on all ideas of public ownership, least of all on the telegraph system. An editorial of the Times, brought out five days earlier than the one on railroad ownership — and notably a full year before his famous New York fight with Western Union officials — called for a publicly owned and operated telegraph system, a system to be run by the United States Post Office as an adjunct of the regular postal service.

Of the many signs, in the Times, that Henry George, still under thirty, was growing fast and gaining confidence as a commentator on economic affairs, none is more convincing than a series of editorials on a question somewhat removed from the main concerns of the California economists. These were printed under the heading, ‘The Currency Question,’ during the last days of April and early in May 1868. Here George set forth a very full elaboration of the paper’s established idea that paying the Civil War debt should be a gradual process and should not be hastened and made upsetting to those who, by living and working through the war period, had already paid dearly. Questions of public debt and debt policy are always complex, and notwithstanding that at the time of writing George had still ahead of him most of his lifetime’s reading in economic treatises, he wrote his editorials in language that was about as technical as any he ever used. It seems wise to discount his own assertion, late in life, that he had been the original author of the ideas of federal finance which he developed in the Times. Not unlikely he owed, and later forgot, a debt of ideas to John A. Ferris, a San Francisco contemporary who wrote on public finance in a vein very similar to his own. But the greater possibility would seem to be that he adopted ideas currently being debated in the eastern states, especially Ohio. This was the time when the so-called ‘Ohio idea’ sponsored by George H. Pendleton, earlier a Democratic member of Congress and later a senator, was very prominent; and the Times in fact acknowledged a debt to the Ohioans, though it mentioned the Republican senator, John Sherman, rather than the Democratic leader.

The nub of the Times’ proposal — and a point which has a familiar ring in 1955 after a dozen years of Defense Bonds — was that United States bonds and United States money be made readily convertible, the one into the other medium of credit, the bonds to be purchasable in the ordinary routines of business by any who wished to buy. Like the Ohioans, the Times plotted a mid-course between such currency contraction as was national policy at the moment, and such impulse for paper-money inflation as certain

Mid-westerners were beginning to demand. As a Californian and as a pro-labor editor, George had two governing reasons to believe in gold and silver as being the only sound money desirable for the long-run policy of the country. The silver-and-gold-producing state never used any other kinds. And, from the days of Andrew Jackson’s struggle with the Bank of the United States, and especially since the appearance of the democratic money theories of Edward Kellogg, which the Ohioans were reviving, American labor had distrusted anything resembling an upper-class manipulation of credit conditions — that is how labor saw the existing system of national bank notes and depreciated greenbacks.

Very skillfully, within these lines of commitment, George argued in the Times for discontinuing the national banknotes (this meant reducing the powers and profits of bankers), for making the greenbacks issued by the government the one paper currency, for bringing the greenbacks gradually into equal value with gold, and for having federal money always convertible into bonds at a minimum interest rate, and bonds convertible into money. Interconvertibility would mean that all the people would have resort, in foul economic weather or fair, to a place of safe investment and a just return on savings; and that, in expanding times or as they wished, people could shift from federal credit into private investment and business operation. This was rough-hewn equilibrium economics indeed, by today’s understanding of that subject; but equilibrium economics it was, a vein which George explored no further until the very end of his career as writer. His intention of 1867, to promote the people’s independence from bankers as credit monopolizers and manipulators, is apparent in the terms of the articles.

In August 1868, with a good first crop of economic opinions raised, Henry George quit the Times. He did so without a summary or valedictory such as he came later to like to write, whenever occasion offered. But he could have made a considerable claim. He had taken a Radical Republican paper and maintained to the end its essential politics. A May editorial had regretted that President Johnson would probably not be convicted in the impeachment trial. Yet in the same month the Times denied being the ‘organ’ of any group and claimed to be ‘an independent paper,’ committed to ideas generally like those of Horace Greeley. This self-judgment rings true to the paper’s record of wanting co-operation with reform-minded Democrats, and true to the economic policies of the paper. The notions of Liberal Republicanism, already forming in the East in the minds of such men as Greeley and David Ames Wells, better express the direction of George’s Times than does any other political line.

Though there is no ground yet for talking about any system of Henry George’s ideas, he himself was perfectly aware that he was finding a role in a tradition of protest. On his first Fourth of July as editor — under the title, ‘To What Are We Drifting’ — he placed the Times in the current from Andrew Jackson. Only the iron will of that fighter in the White House, he had the paper say, had dethroned the second Bank of the United States. Jackson’s war against those who would have let American wealth and power be aggregated in the hands of a few was the Times’ answer to the question asked by the editorial. ‘Capital is piled on capital, to the exclusion of men of lesser means, and the utter prostration of personal independence and enterprise on the part of the less successful masses . . . In what manner should an individual employ the resources which Providence has entrusted to his keeping? Is he justified in using them to his mere personal advancement to the injury of his less favored fellow beings, by interfering with their political rights?’ Nearly every economic editorial in George’s Times, whether the matter was land or banking, wages or railroads, said one thing: Defeat the monopolizers, let all the citizens have access to the bounty of nature.

Within the not narrow area of his regional perceptions, Henry George did do a summary of his thinking of 1867 and 1868. This was his justly famous article, ‘What the Railroad Will Bring Us,’ written in anticipation of the great coming event. It was the leader in the fourth issue, October 1868, of the Overland Monthly, the new journal which — with the masthead phrase, ‘Devoted to the Development of the Country’ — quickly achieved stature as the best of the California magazines, in form and style much like the solid eastern reviews. Appearing there, Henry George was keeping company with his recent boss, Noah Brooks, one of the editors, and with John S. Hittell, Mark Twain, and Bret Harte, whose ‘Luck of Roaring Camp’ had appeared in an earlier issue.

A complacent Californian, George took for granted all the material bounties and developments commonly claimed for the state.

The Great West he conceived as the richest part of the country, and its resources such as to command a flow of capital and labor from abroad ‘like pent-up waters seeking their level.’ The Central Pacific and Union Pacific system, when completed, would just about fulfill the speculator’s hopes. San Francisco must become the second, and possibly the first, city in the country. Look at ‘the geographical position of the city, and all doubt of the future rank will be dispelled . . . the irresistible tendency of modern times is to concentration.’

From regional patriotism to regional utopianism, George moved with the current around him. ‘What constitutes the special charm of California, which all who have lived here long enough feel?’ he asked himself. Not climate, ‘heresy though it be to say so’; not the absence of social restraint; not the chance to make money. Not local attachment, for California is deficient in context and culture. ‘No: the potent charm of California, which all feel but few analyze, has been more in the character, habits, and modes of thought of her people,’ and in that ‘certain cosmopolitanism’ which ‘the peculiar conditions of the young state’ were bringing out. George wished to find a precise name for the sense of independence and equality prevailing in California, ‘born of the comparative evenness with which wealth was distributed,’ or at least of the even caprice by which men were one day well-to-do and the next day deprived of wealth.

But he did not relax his anxieties and criticisms. Working from the economics of the Times, he quarreled in the Overland, as earlier, with the ‘certain school of political economists’ which deplored high wages and high interest rates. High rates he asserted to be good: they were signs of natural wealth and effective production. The true evils, he said again, were speculation and monopolization. The fact had to be faced that great and potentially good forces in the economy made for concentration: ‘The locomotive is a great centralizer. One millionaire involves the existence of just so many proletarians.’ Beware of the ‘law that wealth tends to concentration,’ George told his readers, for it works in California as everywhere else in the modern world.

The sum of his judgment he rendered as a warning: nostalgia for what was passing, and fear and hope mixed, for what would come. San Francisco had already missed a chance which could never be recaptured. By failing to take up the pueblo lands ‘in time and in a proper spirit,’ the city had let go an opportunity for having ‘a population better, freer, more virtuous, independent, and public spirited than any great city the world has ever seen.’ Would the state as a whole do better? George predicted, ‘No.’ The coming railroad, though its benefits be acknowledged, would level California with the outside industrial world. Wages would fall. Especially because of the Chinese immigration, the labor problem would demand public attention. As ‘we cannot escape the great law of compensation which exacts some loss for every gain,’ Californians should anticipate that personal independence would diminish. Though universities and libraries would rise, and arts and letters flourish, class distinctions would also mount. And, for the city especially, ‘the political future is full of danger.’ More than ever, an ‘enthusiasm of humanity’ would be needed to keep the promise of California life.

These were accurate prophecies of 1868. Depression and Kearney’s type of labor politics, which we would now call fascist, would ride within a decade. The Nob Hill mansions would go up. And, in the same ten years, the University of California would rise, the Lick bequest for science be made, and the San Francisco public library be founded. Concerning all these events Henry George would have his say, and through them all increase his anxieties. With a mind bigger than Hittell’s, and a paper livelier than the Alta California, he would sharpen his challenge.

Fighting Monopoly and Pledging Utopia i869-1871


The fewness of the Henry George letters extant for the years 1867 and 1868 accords with the impression of his life given by the job on the Daily Times. He was at the grindstone, writing, reading, thinking, and deciding. Doubtless he was too busy, and in off hours too wrapped up in his own family, to send to the people in Philadelphia the old amount of detail about Annie, the children, and himself. And there were complications also.

The San Francisco family had grown by now to be five, for the fall of 1867 had brought them Jennie Teresa, their first daughter, whom they named for Henry’s sister who had died and Annie’s veiled one. The delight of a new daughter brought a nice coincidence into Henry George’s life, along with his increased responsibilities and income. This much is on the surface. But as unfortunate family events usually cast a shadow before, it seems that less cheerful changes which occurred when George left the Times must have been somewhat expected, and that the moves the family made must have been planned beforehand to take care of a case of distressing illness at home.

As for George’s quitting the Times, on 12 August, we are told no more than that he was refused an increase in salary, and that the separation occurred with good will on both sides. The next two events, which seem almost to contradict each other, require factors of long-range planning to explain. Within a week George took a managing editorship with the San Francisco Chronicle, then a new

paper; and within two weeks he had broken up his household and sent Annie and the three children on to Philadelphia. Of course there were the old pulls toward home. It was high time for his wife and children to get to know his parents; and also, for himself, there was always the chance of a bigger career in the East. These matters entered his letters. Possibly George’s moving to the Chronicle was mainly a jockeying for position, an effort to broaden journalistic contacts beyond the purely Republican ones the Times represented, before he himself departed. He wanted contracts, sometime, to write letters in the East for California papers. Considerations of economy and a willingness to gamble whether he should go a few months sooner or later may tell the whole story of his staying in San Francisco when Annie left. It is more likely, however, that his joining the Chronicle indicates simply that he took the best job when it was offered, and that Annie’s going east was in large degree a move separate from his career decisions.

Certainly the letter she sent him from Panama exhibited a serious condition. She had been desperately ill on the voyage south, a poor brave penciled scrawl informed him. What she said sounded like epilepsy: five seizures between San Francisco and the isthmus, and eight more on the gulf and Atlantic voyage. Her brother-in-law Tom met her in New York, and her father-in-law embraced her first in Philadelphia. Relief it was to be taken into the grandparents’ home, where domestic routines fell mainly on others’ shoulders. She and Mr. George established a wonderful relationship from the start; and with Mrs. George there was only a bit of mother-in-law trouble — she had to warn Henry to write more frequently to his mother.

‘Harry darling, all is happiness around me, but I am not happy, for “my heart is over the sea.” ’ Paying $15 a week, Annie contributed something to the family’s maintenance while she rested. Mr. George, just seventy, was in the coal business now with a little office opposite St. Paul’s, and he was not doing very well. Yet there was another side of the picture: ‘The folks home here have no idea of our situation. I spoke of getting a new cloak when I first came and Mother wanted to know which I would get, “cloth or velvet?” I said doth by all means. It amused me more than a little. They were astonished when they saw my wardrobe. They all dress nicely, have all got silk dresses too, and none of them have any idea of the troubles we have been through.’ As of the present she grieved that Henry had sold their furniture, yet thought the decision prudent; and she was pleased with the first news about the Chronicle, feeling that financial worries were now behind them. She wanted him not to deny himself too much: chewing tobacco was a poor economy in place of the things he preferred, she said; the amount of smoking he did would not hurt, and ‘I think a little liquor is good for you.’ About herself, the doctor had said that most of her trouble was in her head, she reported cheerfully, and added that she was really improving.

Before long, with an eye to the possible future, Annie began to size up the situation in Philadelphia. She could not like the climate or the city situation and noted that most people who had been in California wanted to return. She realized that Henry might probably be happier in the East, but warned him that they would have to live in better style than in San Francisco to have such congenial acquaintances as they were accustomed to. The oldest sister, Harriet, was living about as they had lived, yet her circle was a little ‘low’; and as for the older Georges and the children at home, though their furniture was no better than what she and Henry had had, they made a better show, and they had the friends and connections of many years. ‘They have never had poverty to contend with.’ Altogether she succeeded well in becoming a beloved daughter: ‘If I was an Episcopalian I think I would be all [Mother] would wish. That I cannot be. I would not exchange my liberal opinion for any creed much as I respect it. I go to church with Mother or Aunt Mary every Sunday, but being a Catholic in name is as bad as being practically a Catholic.’ To the pleasure of her new sisters and brothers, Annie succeeded in introducing a melodeon into the home, and even in encouraging a certain amount of dancing and card playing.

Whatever the tug and pull on Henry of those for the most part cheerful letters from an unwell wife, there was always the chance of such bad news as reached him in the late fall, and not from Annie alone. Ned Wallazz, the old friend of King and Baird days, wrote that he was alarmed. The George family doctor had ‘clapped the cups’ on Annie George’s temples. (The old practice of bleeding ill persons continued, in certain places, late in the nineteenth century.) Wallazz and his wife thought Annie to be right in doubting the doctor’s diagnosis of epilepsy, and in being dissatisfied with the treatment she was getting. It seemed to them that she was afflicted with some disorder of heart or brain, or possibly of the stomach, and that Henry should stop the cupping. This report fitted all too well with what Annie herself was writing: she once overheard the doctor say ominous things, when he thought her to be unconscious. Her last letters to San Francisco, before Henry George himself came on, were emotional and upset. One told him that three-year-old Dick was very ill. The other was written on their wedding anniversary: ‘Seven years of care, trouble, and sorrow,’ said Annie, ‘but also hope and love. We can look back and say we have indeed been one, sharing each other’s troubles and joys. But few husbands and wives are as nearly one as we.’

Meanwhile, on the coast, Henry George’s working for the Chronicle must not be pictured as though he were managing editor of that big paper today. Only three years of life were behind it, and those not as a regular newspaper but, under the title of the Daily Dramatic Chronicle, as a ‘theater house bill’ supported by advertising and circulated without charge. It had never lacked cleverness, however, and now under Charles de Young it had a large spark of ambition added. When, according to the editorial page of 20 August 1868, ‘mysterious controlling influences’ on the Times led to ‘an editorial exodus,’ it acted quickly, as up-and-comers do. ‘Old brains, relatively speaking, have gone out; new ones come in. The two unfortunate men recently escaped from [the Times’] office show great emaciation.’ So the Dramatic Chronicle hired Henry George.

Immediately the paper changed its name to the Daily Morning Chronicle and branched out into general journalism; and in its editorials we see Henry George loosening his tightest Republican attachments. Not that the Chronicle was Democratic. But an editorial of 3 September, for instance, announced that it would avoid partisanship as a curse. Look at the Times and the Examiner, it invited; though the two report identical events and affairs in the South under Reconstruction, they are equally destined to come up with absurdly opposed judgments. Working for this paper, George, the former abolitionist now seeking the middle truth, said the same moderate things about the Negro as President Lincoln had said. Editorials explained that while the Negro deserved economic freedom as much as any man because his labor belonged to himself by right, he should probably not be assimilated into the American social and political community — he was not ready for that.

There was preparation in this for one of the main events of George’s next year, 1869: the change of mind that made him an early opponent of the policy of admitting Chinese labor on the West coast. The Times had been fairly friendly toward coolie immigration; and, generally, in the East and in the West, a correspondence existed between those who favored Chinese admission, often Republican businessmen who wanted cheap labor, and those who persisted in elevating the southern Negro, the Radical Republicans. In this frame of reference, George’s inching out of extreme Republicanism, and out of the Radical line about Reconstruction, fitted him for the future. It would have been an almost impossible thing for a journalist on labor’s side not to come to hate the coolie immigration; and in the future it would be hard for him to avoid the web of racism, and easy for him to prefer the Democratic to the Republican line. The Chronicle represents a softening-up stage in certain of its editor’s first ideas.

Yet George did not shift opinions quickly, or change parties in time for the election of 1868. He worked for the Chronicle until late fall, and, with the recommendations of the paper, he voted Republican for one last time. Though the Chronicle asserted its character as a ‘bold, bright, fearless, and truly independent paper,’ it announced that it could only prefer ‘Grant and peace’ to ‘Seymour and the prospect of civil disturbance.’

In one respect George’s brief editorship molded the Chronicle into permanent form. In September and early October the paper hit harder at land speculation and made more of it as a public issue than the Times had ever done. In a three-day series of editorials beginning on 8 September, it attacked the San Francisco Bulletin, which a year earlier had stood about where the Times had stood in regard to the pueblo-land problem. Now the Chronicle charged the Bulletin with having followed the Alta into the camp of the speculators. The Bulletin's point that taxation would force land aggregations to fall apart sooner or later, and that ‘the purchase of land by capitalists, if pursued in a liberal spirit, may [through sales] prove beneficial to the people,’ Henry George scored as ‘a Jesuitical defense of land grabbers.’ He claimed the Sacramento Union as an ally in this protest. And when the Oakland News said that Henry George’s line sounded very much like robbing the rich to divide the plunder among the poor, the editor was not cowed. Suppose it does, he replied under editorial title of the ominous word, ‘Agrarianism': to do that would be better than robbing the poor and dividing among the rich. And when someone said that ‘old Californians’ had a right to gain by the rise of land values, George responded that old Californians were not profiting. The profits were going to scrip purchasers and eastern capitalists and absentee owners generally. Half a century after these sharp editorials, the San Francisco Chronicle’s historian credited Henry George with having originated the paper’s opposition to monopoly in landholding, and with probably having contributed editorials on the subject during the ’70s, when he was running his own paper.

Henry’s leaving the Chronicle dismayed Annie — she was ready to blame somebody’s spite on the newspaper staff — and her whole attitude enlarges the doubt that husband and wife had any deep-laid plan to move them permanently away from San Francisco. Though nothing much is clear about the break, it is altogether unlikely that George would under any conditions have gotten along well politically with de Young. And surely the husband must have felt impelled to take the chance when a new opportunity of journalism availed to send him across the continent. At any rate, almost before Annie knew what was happening, Henry was at her side in the old Third Street home. He came a couple of days too late to be a Christmas present, and before New Year’s he was off to New York on business. But for half a year, nearly, he was in and out of the city; and at the end of that period she was a stronger and more stable woman, and he a better known and more experienced man.


George crossed the continent in the employ of the San Francisco Herald, with a business rather than a writing assignment. He came the new way, by the not quite completed transcontinental railroad, and had an interesting time of it. The first leg of the journey, on the Central Pacific from Sacramento to the summit of the Sierras, he liked best; the engineering surpassed anything else he saw. But across the Nevada upland, the Central Pacific was guilty of hurry-up construction, and travel was incredibly slow. The wood for the locomotive was so green it would hardly burn; and, waiting for the steam pressure to rise, the passengers amused and warmed themselves by burning sagebrush along the right of way. Unnecessary curves had been put in the track, George believed, just to qualify for the higher government subsidy for difficult construction. On the Union Pacific leg of the journey east into Omaha, a berth was a relief though the traveler had to share it; and he said that the Union Pacific did better as to roadbed and speed than the Central Pacific in Nevada.

Sitting beside a talkative driver, during the cold ride on the ‘mud wagon’ stagecoach which connected the two railroads, George took the opportunity to ponder what American business and engineering were accomplishing, and the costs. As he summed up, the citizen and the ticket purchaser had plenty of reason to complain. With Central tariffs at ten cents a mile in coin, and Union at seven and a half, greenbacks accepted, the railroads had not lowered the expense of travel from coast to coast. Of all operations, he judged the Wells Fargo’s handling of the United States mails to be the most scandalous. And over and above all manner of visible inefficiencies and high charges for transport, George did not forget the costs to the public of the subsidies and land grants to the railroads, and the demoralization of the legislatures that had enacted them. Monopoly, monopoly now struck Henry George as being a national phenomenon rather than one especially concentrated in California.

His assignment for the San Francisco Herald doubled his reasons for being alert to monopoly questions. He was working now for John Nugent, ‘a very determined man and a very determined Democrat,’ in the judgment of a writer for the Alta California. An Irishman born who had worked for the New York Herald under James Gordon Bennett, this newspaperman had entered San Francisco journalism in the middle ’50s, bringing out his own paper under the famous name. Speaking of the staff he then assembled, one contemporary made him seem like the employer of a circle of latter-day Benjamin Franklins: a group of practical printers, but men wonderfully informed in languages and literatures, some of the sciences, and ‘indeed nearly all the garnerings of human information.’ But Nugent’s quick success with the San Francisco Herald had been practically wiped out in 1856, during the rule of San Francisco’s most famous vigilance committee. As is well known, the murder of the editor of the San Francisco Bulletin, rival of the Herald, was the sensational incident that called this committee into life. So corrupt and so impotent to control crime had San Francisco government been that historians have often judged that particular vigilantism favorably, as did most of the solid citizens at the time, the New Englanders of the Congregational Church, for example. But one aspect of the affair had been the suppression of free opinion in the city’s journalism. When Nugent dared speak for the minority party which opposed vigilantism, advertising was withdrawn and the San Francisco Herald was humbled. Nugent was able to fight back, to be sure, and he kept the paper alive, on a reduced basis, until i860, the summer before the election of Lincoln. Motives and intentions are not clear, but the facts are that the Herald was killed by the combined opposition of businessmen and rival papers, and that Nugent was forced from the field somewhat in the role of a martyr.

He decided to try to come back in 1868. He doubtless forecasted improving political weather for Democrats in California. He said that he was assured plenty of venture capital for a new Herald, and that he counted on the increasing supply of national and international news, which since the Civil War was being distributed by news agencies, as a factor in favor of making a fresh start. By the fall of the year he did, indeed, have all his arrangements made, except for one essential step. It was to negotiate a contract with the Associated Press, so that the Herald would have as good news service as any West coast paper, that Nugent employed Henry George to represent him in New York.

The difficulty was that Nugent was being cold-shouldered in San Francisco once more. California had a new monopoly. A decade earlier the San Francisco Bulletin, supported by the organized and agitated business community, had edged him out, and now that newspaper was consolidated with other newspapers in a state press association. This group alone had present access to the Associated Press dispatches coming across the country by wire. It was made up of the Sacramento Union, and of four San Francisco papers which were not in complete competition with one another: the Evening Bulletin, and the Morning Call, which would soon become the Bulletins partner; the Alta California, which was the senior newspaper in the city and the principal commercial one; and the Times, Henry George’s old paper, which was soon to sell out and lose identity in the Alta. The California press association was a tight organization; the Chronicle could not get in, nor any minor papers.

For this biography few missing documents would be more welcome than some undiscovered memoir by Nugent, saying how and why he happened to assign to Henry George the job of negotiating the Herald's independent way into the Associated Press in New York. It would seem that Nugent might have preferred to handle that business himself. The negotiator would have to deal with some of the nation’s top journalists and businessmen, and he would have to make decisions on which would depend the birth of the San Francisco newspaper. Clearly a great compliment of trust and confidence was paid the twenty-nine-year-old. It was to make an immediate arrangement for the new year, 1869, and to end waste and waiting in San Francisco that hurried George on from Philadelphia to New York, after no longer than a week-end visit with his people.

But he was doubtful from the start about doing business with the Associated Press. Thinking that time would be lost if he went direct to that headquarters, he approached first the people at Western Union. Though Vice-President McAlpine, the official with whom George dealt, refused a written contract, he did allow that for $900 a month the Herald could have 500 words a day in San Francisco, to be telegraphed from New York, Philadelphia, or Chicago, at the paper’s option. Put off by the Associated Press until a February meeting, George explored at once the other possibilities for getting the news. He reported to Nugent his future rather than immediate hopes: once a new French cable was laid, Reuters could be expected to bring in foreign news; and once an opposition telegraph began real competition with Western Union, domestic news too would loosen up. Such eventualities he thought near enough in the future to give the Herald something to count on, and he advised expedients for the present to launch the paper and tide it over. Even when the Associated Press advanced its meeting to mid-January, and shocked him by tabling unanimously the Herald’s application for membership, George favored going ahead at once. ‘The present news monopoly must be broken before long,’ he wrote his employer, ‘and you are certain ultimately to fight your way into the California association if you deem it desirable.’

His first expedients were rapid, loose-jointed, and ethically dubious, but effective. He returned to Philadelphia; he employed as assistant a boyhood friend, John Hasson; and he established himself in his father’s coal office. There he was able to buy the news, as he told Nugent he would. For a couple of days only he got the dispatches from a ‘principal editor’ in Philadelphia, and one dispatch ‘coup de main,’ not a reliable practice he admitted. Then Hasson arranged with the Harrisburg Patriot and Union to have its AP dispatches as soon as they were received and before printing. A clerk made copies; these were taken to the Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph office right in the Patriot’s building; and a generously tipped messenger brought them quickly to Henry George in Philadelphia. Thence on to Western Union, and to San Francisco.

On this basis Nugent launched the new San Francisco Herald, 19 January, and made a play of having the transcontinental telegraphic news. The state association was defeated. The expenses of the system ran high, however: besides the $900 a month to the Western Union, George was paying $21 a week to the Patriot, $5 a week for copying, a cent a word for telegraphing to Philadelphia, and $35 a week to Hasson. Outside his own pay, which (whatever it was) he had trouble enough to collect, the Herald was committed to a monthly outlay of about $1200, by George’s quick arranging. George reported the Harrisburg machinery as he contrived it, a matter of days after the paper began. So Nugent knew from the start that his agent was proceeding independently of the AP, and that they were taking chances.

George expected to win, but he did not rate the enemy low or expect him to yield without a fight. In 1869 the Associated Press was a new organization, but neither youth nor small size made it tender; it was a hard-boiled youngster not yet civilized up to its natural responsibilities. Specifically, the AP was a trade association: it pooled equally the cable and telegraph news received by its members, seven leading papers of New York City. It sold those dispatches, transmitted by Western Union, to papers throughout the country. In the person of one correspondent, it had just launched its overseas news gathering services. Events of 1866 had pointed up its character as a business monopoly. In that year strong mid-western voices, those of Murat Halstead of the Cincinnati Commercial and Henry White of the Chicago Tribune, had demanded better service.

But protest had come to very little; and, according to the AP’s friendly historian, that organization, at the time George confronted it, presented a very stony face indeed.

To make things completely difficult, moreover, the AP had recently elected as its general agent the hard-fisted James W. Simonton of San Francisco. No man could have been so utterly the opposite of George; no one else could quite so completely have identified the press associations of the two cities. Ten years earlier Simonton had purchased the share of the San Francisco Bulletin which had belonged to the murdered editor; since then he had been a member of the inner group of controlling owners of that paper; and as such he had been a part of the squeeze against the first Herald. His background and situation were such that one hardly needs to inquire whether he had read and been needled by George’s editorials in the Times denouncing the Bulletin as inaccurate to the point of dishonesty. Almost assuredly he had, and he was going to hear worse later.

At the start of his mission George learned from a confidant that Simonton was opposing a contract with the Herald, and that factor became a part of the report to Nugent. Next the story was that Simonton had learned, by bribing Western Union George guessed, that the Herald’s news was being sent from Philadelphia; and then that Simonton had come on from New York ‘to lay traps.’ But he did not learn about George’s Harrisburg arrangement; and George felt that unless he hired detectives he would not discover it. So George continued the operation and planned if necessary to repeat the procedure elsewhere, say from Pittsburgh next time. He felt that he had to stay out of New York City. To a San Francisco friend he wrote, when the operation was two weeks old: ‘It is a big thing to run full tilt against this Association, a bigger thing than you folks probably appreciate, and I regard success so far as a pretty big feather in my cap.’

George estimated a close understanding between the Associated Press and Western Union; but apparently he expected the telegraph company to stand by the oral contract and do business with him no matter what his relations with the AP. In this he assumed too much. Not detectives but telegraph officials put on the pressure for Simonton. After first merely refusing George the economy of using cypher in his San Francisco dispatches, Western Union gave notice that those dispatches would have to be sent from New York. This was contrary to the original agreement with McAlpine; and George identified the superintendent who served the notice as a friend of both Simonton and the proprietor of the Alta California. When the telegraph people went a step farther and pressed for information about his news gathering, George bluntly refused. But the pressure to move to New York he could not overcome. Accordingly, in the middle of February, after a month of jabbing holes through the news associations, George left his family for New York. He still assumed that his arrangements could be continued and stabilized sufficiently for the Herald’s need.

And in the lion’s den he did succeed in establishing new operating connections. A ‘supplier’ of dispatches was found, evidently a member of the staff of the New York Sun; and the New York Herald gave its namesake access to its ‘specials’ and to the Havana news. Western Union did not balk again for a while, and George planned a forward action and an eye-catching triumph.

The inauguration of General Grant made the occasion. George went down to Washington three days beforehand. Working through Senator Cole of California, he managed a promise from Grant’s secretary, General Rawlings, that he would be given a copy of the inaugural address at the AP office, immediately on delivery and as soon as any newspaperman received it. His scheme was to wire the speech direct to San Francisco, and also very early news about cabinet appointments and the like. The Herald would scoop all the San Francisco papers. And on 4 March, so far as he could tell, things went very well. Staying away from the inaugural ceremonies and seeing very little of the parade, George received his early copy, and nothing more untoward happened than a ten or twenty minute delay by the telegraph operator. His dispatches hit the wires early, and he was sure that they would reach San Francisco ahead of the AP news which had to clear through New York.

Then came the humiliation of being tricked. The AP papers in San Francisco actually received their news far ahead of the Herald, and taunted the challenger. George learned what had happened when the president of Western Union told him that a copy of the inaugural had reached the hands of the Associated Press in Chicago in advance of delivery and was released as General Grant was speaking. George’s fury shifted to the managing officials of the AP. For falsely stating that he was getting the release as early as any, George demanded explanations. Lacking satisfaction, he declared he would go with appropriate charges to the President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, General Rawlings, and the news-reading public, all of whom were affected.

Actually there was very little he could do beyond threatening. This event was the time, and might reasonably be accounted the immediate cause, of George’s dissolving whatever attachment he may have had left to the Republican party. In the Herald George’s correspondence gave Grant no higher credit than for ‘the best of intentions.’ The new cabinet he called ‘astonishing’; and, about the new appointments generally, he said, ‘There are many, of whom I confess I am one, who dislike to see enormous wealth and political power joined.’ To a friend who twitted him about his old party connection, George declared that he was no longer a Republican.

Back on the job in New York, the Washington episode must have struck him as an evil omen for the future of Nugent’s second Herald. John Hasson was having less and less success in gathering the news. When pressed by the AP, the New York Herald withdrew favors it had granted; and hopes, which George’s new friend, John Russell Young, encouraged as managing editor of the Tribune, that that paper would lend a hand, were soon destroyed by authorities at high level. Then Simonton discovered the paper, though not the individual, from whom George’s AP news had been tapped; and that well dried up. At last resort George turned to what he called ‘stealing the news.’ This procedure, which the name to the contrary hardly seems less moral than his earlier efforts, meant buying the New York papers as soon as they were out and telegraphing what he selected for the Herald, at once. He had to be on the streets between three and four in the morning, but with the advantage of the Pacific coast time differential, the scheme would work as long as the telegraph did.

In the second half of April, after three months of somehow doing the job for the Herald, Western Union refused service. Rather, it demanded impossible terms. The company notified George that the present arrangement would terminate in May, that to conform with a new contract with the Associated Press Western Union would in the future charge the San Francisco Herald $2000 a month — instead of the old $900. The 122 per cent increase was practically a death sentence. In George’s mind, this decision represented the last word in the power, caprice, and injustice of private monopoly.

Yet he was not too frustrated to be enraged, or so utterly helpless as to think the sentence as good as executed. During recent weeks his feeling had become greatly mixed about his employer. Nugent kept him constantly in arrears as to salary and working funds. He sent no instructions or letters; an occasional telegram and payment was all that George’s long reports drew from San Francisco. Even so, George now urged carrying on the newspaper and persisting in the fight. He predicted more specifically than he had earlier that a new telegraph would in less than a year open up news selling in competition with the AP. For the immediate present, if Nugent was unable for the waiting period to bear Western Union’s extravagant demands, George suggested reducing the size of the Herald — just as Nugent had done when the vigilance committee supporters took away his advertising — and sustaining always an editorial barrage against the monopolies. He proposed stealing the news in San Francisco if need be: this would ‘terribly torment the combination.’ But the main thing was to keep up the fight.

Though George’s advice did not set the course for Nugent, or save the Herald or even sustain his connection with his employer, the counsels he gave were sound. His prediction that the news gathering he and Hasson had been doing could be maintained proved accurate. Fifteen months later, this associate was to join forces with John Russell Young to found the American Press Association. Exactly as George now said, they were going to be able to give the Associated Press a run for its money and to crack through the California news monopoly.

At the same time he was advising Nugent, George himself, still in New York, practised his own fighting precepts. He took to the president and vice-president of Western Union a written review of the whole affair: he charged the telegraph company with intention to suppress the Herald and any opposition to the Associated Press. In George’s account of the exciting interview, Vice-President Mc-Alpine complimented him sincerely but cynically on the case lie had built up ‘as a writer.’ Neither McAlpine nor President William Orton made the least effort to justify Western Union. They freely admitted that for a long time the AP bad been urging them to do what they had just done. General Orton said that if George did not like it he could go back to California and build a telegraph of his own.

George made free to go to the public. He ordered printed 6000 copies of his history of the case, and he distributed many among New York newspaper people. He raised the moral question of the freedom of the press. But for the most part he presented financial facts: Western Union was demanding $2000 a month for 500 words of news daily. This was its ‘conforming’ with new rates being given the California press association papers — $3333 total, to be shared by 4 San Francisco dailies, for 2500 words a day. George did the arithmetic. While the Herald was being raised from 6.92 cents to 15.28 cents per word per day, the association papers were, pro-rating, being reduced from 2.4 to 1.28 cents per word. Under the old rates the telegraph company would have grossed $40,000 a year from California newspaper business, and under the new, though for more words, $40,000 from the combination alone.

The New York Herald printed George’s full story in the Sunday edition of 25 April about fifty inches in small print; and it ran an approving editorial. The German-language Demokrat chimed in the following Tuesday. But so far as George could discover, no other papers mentioned the affair, and his circular was virtually boycotted. He enclosed a copy with a note to Senator William Sprague of Rhode Island, whose recent anti-monopoly speeches he had written up for the San Francisco Herald. He wrote also to the recently elected Senator Eugene Casserly, requesting him — in vain, as he anticipated — to speak as Californian and Democrat against the monopoly. More than this he could not do in New York, and by the first of May he was ready and anxious to leave. Years later he rehearsed the matter before a Senate committee; and still later, forgetting editorials of 1867 in the San Francisco Times, he said that the events of 1869 had swung him to believe in a publicly owned telegraph system; he had been convinced ‘when General Orton forcibly presented . . . the argumentum ad hominem in its favor.’

So ended Henry George’s battle against the Goliath of contemporary journalism. The defeat confronted him with questions — they appear in his letters of spring and summer — about what he should do next. Continue in New York in some effort to beat the Associated Press? But, saying he did not wish to be a ‘purveyor’ or ‘sender’ of news any longer, he effectively gave up that choice by surrendering the New York work to John Hasson. Should he return to journalism or try other writing? Stay east or go west? In the end, though he had once said that of all possible jobs he would enjoy most being a correspondent in Washington, it was natural that he decided to go back to San Francisco for a while at least. Corresponding with Mayor McCoppin he let on that he might be a candidate for the legislature in the fall. And to his friend Sumner, on the staff of the Herald, he said that should Nugent withdraw the two of them could make the paper ‘spin.’ He also had other ideas: possibly a paper of his own in the mining town of White Pine, Nevada, and just perhaps an evening paper in San Francisco to match the Herald and oppose the Bulletin.

David had not succeeded, but his missiles had stung, and he was ready to deliver more from a western angle of firing.


The fight with the monopolies does not tell the whole story of Henry George’s half-year in Philadelphia and New York; nor does that fight compounded with the newspaper writing we have noticed and with the obligations and anxieties which attended his visits with the family in the Third Street house tell all. Yet the total excitement of these things together does seem to go far in explaining the climactic personal event of the sojourn. This was the famous vision and dedication of his life which occurred on a sidewalk of New York — much like the call to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, Father McGlynn would say after George had become an international leader.

There is a disappointing lack of testimonial about how George held up psychologically under the pressures of 1869. Thirty years later John Russell Young retained an impression that his friend had been breezy, openhanded, and western, and also unusually thoughtful and serious, and anxious to make friends among fellow journalists, during the long battle. The only contemporary indication we have, aside from George’s own letters already drawn upon, is a phrenological chart, the second and last in the book, which was recorded in humor by ‘Professor John Hasson.’ But it tells about a physical and nervous condition which was not amusing, and accords with the strains to which George had been subjected. He was very light, down to 113 pounds, and so tense he could sit at table no longer than fifteen or twenty minutes. It is hard to endorse Has-son’s finding that George lacked self-confidence, but perhaps the friend had perceived doubts or hesitations which do not appear in the letters to San Francisco.

We know, from George’s own retrospect of the vision, that part of the background lay in an emotional reaction against the cities he visited. Of course he had not been in Philadelphia since 1858, nor in New York since 1856. One recalls Henry Adams’ recoil, at precisely this time, when he returned to the United States and commented on New York especially, after spending the war years in Britain. The home city Henry George remembered from before his California days had been to him a decent place in which to live, and the New York he visited had seemed neat and lovely. But now New York confronted him, as it did the patrician from Quincy, with a terrible and an incredible social order. George never forgot the shock. Years afterward, when he was running for the city’s highest office, he described the distress of seeing and realizing; and still later he told a Chicago audience that in 1869 New York’s ‘conjunction of wealth and want’ had been ‘absolutely appalling to a man from the Far West.’

When in 1883 he did put into writing his memory of the vision, he made it very private. ‘Because you are not only my friend but a priest and a religious,’ he wrote to Father Thomas Dawson, an Irish brother in reform, ‘I shall say something I don’t like to speak of — that I never before told anyone. Once in daylight, and in a city street, there came to me a thought, a vision, a call — give it what name you please. But every nerve quivered. And there and then I made a vow. Through evil and through good, whatever I have done, and whatever I have left undone, to that have I been true.’ He spoke less as a mystic, more as a pledged reformer, when he told the story to the people of New York who wanted him to be their mayor. ‘Years ago I came to this city from the West, unknown, knowing nobody, and I saw and recognized for the first time the shocking contrast between monstrous wealth and debasing want. And here I made a vow from which I have never faltered, to seek out, and remedy if I could, the cause that condemned little children to lead such a life as you know them to lead in the squalid districts.’ These words were spoken on an especially stirring occasion, but even late in life George did not many times choose to mention the spiritual event.

The occurrence is not to be doubted, yet from tardy testimony there is little opportunity to examine it. Remembering the Millennial Letter of 1861, and recalling the Lincoln editorials of 1865, it is best to observe simply how capable George was of intense social feeling, of intense identification of himself with public situations. In this sequence the vision of 1869 becomes the culminating event of a series — there was to be only one more, and that one soon and a kind of supplement to this.

In another man, the vision and dedication might have led to drafting blueprints for a new utopia. But escape to alabaster cities was not George’s way. Typical of his own realism, he set himself rather, while still in New York, to solve the California problem that seemed at the time most likely to reduce laboring men there to the world’s low level. As we have anticipated, California’s Chinese question posed problems especially knotty for a moralist. Those who favored the immigration had available the arguments of human equality and international opportunity, and they had also the interest of the employing classes, as Hittell and the Alta illustrated in California. To oppose Chinese admission involved drawing the color line into politics, and tangling with Negro problems. George had to select his premises carefully as he now went all the way with labor in saying that the Chinese could not be assimilated into American life.

Evidently he found time to do the thinking during his weeks in Philadelphia. At any rate it was in one of the libraries of his home city that he searched and borrowed from John Stuart Mill’s Principles of Political Economy — the first certified occasion of his using that epitome of classical economics, the book that introduced him to the field. And because one particular idea became crucial in his later development, we must notice that at this point George adopted as his own the widely accepted, and highly pro-capitalistic, wages-fund theory of employment. From the conception that wage rates are determined by a ratio between the size of the labor force and the amount of funds which business assigns to wages, George reasoned that Chinese coolies were bound to bring down the normally high rates of the Pacific coast and to have effect across the land. The economic prospect which was meat to Hittell was poison to George. Lower wages he believed to be sure to reduce trade, and to injure everyone by decreasing sales. So explained George in his vein of economy of abundance, much as he had spoken in the San Francisco Times.

Arguing this way George succeeded in avoiding a racial opposition to Chinese immigration. He particularly said that individually the Chinese were known to be intelligent and teachable. But from San Francisco he knew also that the coolies really could not be considered as though they were free individual settlers like other immigrants; they were unfree transient laborers transported from and committed to return to a culture which he believed to be ‘in petrifaction.’ Mainly he conceived the Chinese immigrants, in the Malthusianism of the common mind, to be the advance party of an unlimited labor force, a threat to free workers more terrible than the Negro slave trade had ever been.

The writer submitted his essay in the form of a letter to the editor of the Tribune, and on 1 May 1869, within days of George’s leaving New York, that paper published it. The historian of anti-Chinese sentiment, Dr. E. C. Sandmeyer, judges that the argument was too involved to become popular or politically influential. But George had done the job in hope that the essay would be circulated for political effect among the ‘horny-handed’ in San Francisco, and accordingly he sent copies ahead of his return for republication there. Nugent published it with favorable comment, and with gauntlet down to the Alta and the Bulletin.

The Chinese letter was George’s biggest intellectual effort during the hectic half-year in the East, a very limited expression of his spiritual commitment, and yet an important first step in his study of economic processes. It was to influence his coming California career rather more as a student and editor and social critic than as a young man interested in practical politics.


When arrangements were made and Henry George put his foot on the train for Chicago, he traveled alone once more. Annie was better, but they decided that she and the children should stay on in Philadelphia until things worked themselves out. She was probably not ready to set up a new household in San Francisco, and he cannot have been in shape to pay for one. The Herald owed him $700. He was grim, but not too much so for humor, when he departed: ‘I am doing well for a young man ... I have already got the Central Pacific, Wells Fargo, and Western Union down on me, and it will be just my luck to offend the Bank of California next.’

Yet George left New York fortified with a pass on the Union Pacific and with a contract to correspond for the New York Tribune. This was arranged and signed by John Russell Young. During the trip it called for visits to Salt Lake City and White Pine, expenses paid: George was to send elaborate accounts of the mining country. After reaching San Francisco he was to write two letters a month, to he paid for at $5 a column, and Mr. George was to rank as the New York Tribune’s ‘chief resident and representative correspondent in California.’

His personal papers contain notes he made on the western trip; probably he intended them for rendering into Tribune articles. This time — 1869 was the year of completing the transcontinental link — he liked the Union Pacific better than in 1868. Pullman Palace cars went part way; the bridges were being improved; the railroad restaurant meals were good, especially at Laramie, at $1 or $1.25 each. It was a much easier trip than in 1868, and he must have traveled in a mood of relief and rising hopes.

But when he reached San Francisco he learned that he would do no corresponding for the Tribune and had no future of any kind with Nugent’s Herald. Samuel Sinclair, the publisher of the New York paper, had annulled his contract. Behind that event, George learned, his friend was being eased out as managing editor, to be succeeded by Whitelaw Reid.1 And as for George’s money and prospects with the paper which employed him, things were pretty desperate when he reached San Francisco. Nugent accused him of dishonest dealing and refused payment. George had to wire Hasson to hold up the eastern dispatches, and had to start a lawsuit, before he could collect. The San Francisco Herald died in the fall.

Even political hopes were disappointed. By August some campaigning within the Democratic party proved that George would not be nominated for the legislature. To be sure this was less than a defeat. As Annie wisely wrote: it had been too much to expect that he would be chosen; he had been a Republican; he must keep courage. Nostalgia and waiting, and catch-as-catch-can, were Henry’s fate for the summer and fall of 1869. ‘There is nothing out here like the old-fashioned farmhouses of the Eastern States,’ he wrote a sister: ‘There is some magnificent scenery and beautiful country; but the people have not been here long enough to make it a country like the East.’ He had an opportunity to eke out an existence when, for reasons unknown, the Bulletin hired him to write a few editorials. But before long he was doing a short turn at the printer’s case again. One compensation, it must have seemed a pathetic one, was leisure and some chance to read, more than he had had for four or five years.

Exactly the reverse of the year before, family events now supplied about the only bright spots in Henry George’s history. The politics of the city presently associated him with his Irish uncle-in-law, Matthew McCloskey, from whom he had been estranged since the event that forced him and Annie to elope. Their reconciliation gave joy to all concerned. And in Philadelphia, Annie did not have to report illness this year. Her hardest words for her husband were lovers’ quarrels: he must, she insisted, omit the ‘josh’ from his letters or his family would think that all the McCloskeys were drunkards. Wifely pride soared as she reported that Hasson had called, and, saying how much he himself admired Henry, confided that Young was going to want Henry George on his new $100,000 paper. Young, she wrote, ‘thinks there is no one like you, told Greeley they let the very man go they had been looking for for two years, when they let you go.’ But Annie’s new hope for a fresh start in New York had to die with Mr. Young’s stillborn paper; and the next spring, 1870, she thrilled to return to the West coast.

For the husband, the upturn came when to his amusement he was appointed for the period of a friend’s illness to be acting editor of the San Francisco Monitor, a Catholic weekly. He inserted Irish items from other papers — news stealing again — and wrote ‘miscellaneous’ editorials. What fun, he reflected, if he could only edit simultaneously an anti-Catholic paper. Then he could print the pieces that did not suit this one and have controversies with himself on the two editorial pages. The Times and the Examiner in pious miniature.

But before long Henry George was voicing on the Monitor, as he had in the Times, his own preferences. He spoke in behalf of Mayor McCoppin; and he spoke against the Bulletin, in which he now discovered a ‘Hanglo-Saxon’ slant. His reply to that paper, when it deplored the way in which Irishmen were getting into city politics, must be noted, because it gives us his own estimate of the political arena he wished to enter. One-quarter to one-half of San Francisco’s population was Irish, he observed. Yet only 5 native Irishmen held elective offices, out of 52 seats of office; and there were only 40 Irish policemen, as against 46 native Americans and 27 born of other nationalities. This was no time, said the Monitor, for a San Francisco Know Nothingism, such as the Bulletin was encouraging.

In anticipation of Henry George’s fight of 1886 and 1887 with Archbishop Corrigan, which almost led to the banning of Progress and Poverty to Catholic readers, there is rare irony that George now used a tiny Catholic paper to voice for the first time his proposition that every individual has a natural right to land. Of course this was not new as a general idea: labor reformers and others since Jefferson — as Irish as McClatchy of the Bee, many of them — had invoked natural-rights doctrine in favor of the homestead policy. And moral law as grounded in universal principles is of the essence of Catholic thought. Nevertheless Monitor editorials were George’s first step toward an ultimately radical result — putting philosophical underpinning beneath his protest against land monopolization.

Two editorials in one issue of the Monitor, that of 11 September 1869, tell the story. Like many another protest of this period, this one took the grievances of Ireland to demonstrate the grievances of the world. Inevitably Irish landlords would have to show cause why they monopolized the soil occupied and worked by millions, George asserted. Their discomfiture would affect other lands. For ‘beneath the Irish land question is the English land question . . . What is there in the laws of entail and primogeniture that should set aside the God-given law, that these who toil shall enjoy the fruits of the earth?’ Irish protest was to be read as a sign of class discontent, the world around. ‘The masses are beginning to think — beginning to feel their power and demand their rights; beginning to unite to obtain them. And sooner or later their just demands must be granted. Speed the day!’

It sounds almost as though Henry George was already at the point of denying that land should be held as private property. The major premises were laid. But when he came to the second editorial of 11 September, ‘The Land Question in California,’ he steered, more closely than later, by the local markings. Not that he thought that the state was in a unique position; on the contrary, tragically, he said, California was spiraling down the grooves familiar in the course of time. In place of the old world’s military conquests and feudal grants, he saw about him ‘Combinations of capitalists who have secured principalities for a nominal sum by the location of scrip, and who now demand extortionate prices or grinding rents of the actual settlers.’ California’s difference from the ancient past, he said, was political not economic. Though the Mother of Parliaments might probably fail to break up land monopoly in the old world, where the cake of custom was very hard, the California legislature could succeed if it would try. Economics poses the problems, politics can solve them. Henry George was one of the earliest industrial-age radicals to say just that.

Specifically, for the one state, he proposed: first, that big land aggregations should bear ‘full taxation’; second, that there be set by constitutional amendment a sliding scale of land taxes, higher rates for large estates and lower for small. The two implements were designed, of course, to cut the same way. By keeping assessments at full value, and by raising rates on large aggregations, George hoped to squeeze out the monopolizers, force the land back into public hands, and open it for proprietor-farmers to take over. This is quite different from his ultimate proposals. Yet in boldness, philosophical assumptions, and faith in the power of government, George had made a sizable step into his future; and his pledge for the poor, made in New York, was getting into the stage of the tool blueprints.

Later George looked back on this period, or rather on the entire two years between his return to California and his important writing of 1871, as the passage of a traveler westward across the high plains. A long course lay behind him, and he was pledged to distant goals. Immediately ahead lay the mountains of thought which were the hazard of his journey.


In the period since he had left the Times, George’s San Francisco contemporaries, whom we have called the Hamiltonians of the state, had themselves ventured a little into the highlands of thought. And, just as the first round of proposals in Hittell’s book and in the Alta had drawn from George his first sustained economic thinking and criticism, so now a second round from the same side drew him forward again. The propaganda of the California Immigrant Union, very similar to the economic regionalism of Hittell and the Alta, yet somewhat different, was more specific than anything else so far in proposing policies for California. This organization requires a short digression.

The Immigrant Union was a brand new body, and its principal spokesman was its president pro tem, Caspar T. Hopkins, who was also president of the California Insurance Company and something of an intellectual and writer as well. He never reached Hittell’s stature in this respect, but he is referred to as the well-educated son of an Episcopalian bishop and the author of a none-too-success-ful patriotic textbook in civics; he was an occasional lecturer at the University of California, a founder and writer for the Pacific Social Science Association, and the writer of memoirs. His presidency of the Immigrant Union associated him, not for the first time, with men famous in California history. Among the officers or trustees of the union appeared the following: Charles Crocker of the Central Pacific; A. D. Bell, a manufacturer; Charles Lux, of Miller and Lux, the holders of the hugest ranchlands in the state. Besides these there were a dozen or more others who can be identified as important bankers, merchants, or real-estate men; and on the honorary committee sat Governor Henry Haight, who was president ex officio, ex-governors Downey and Stanford, ex-senator Milton Latham, more businessmen, and the consuls of Italy and Peru. Just about all the large-property interests of the state, interests not always too friendly among themselves, and both political parties were represented.

A year earlier Henry George had predicted in the Overland that ‘the railroad and the consequent great increase of business and population, will not be a benefit to all of us, but only to a portion.’ Now the Immigrant Union was dealing with actualities much worse than George had foreseen. In Mr. Hopkins’ words, in a principal piece of propaganda, California was being ‘forced to stop and ask what there is in our civilization that is so shrunken and shrivelled by the magnetic current setting towards us through the iron conductor from the East. We are led for the first time in our existence — hitherto isolated — to look beyond the present moment, to study the past and contemplate the future, in order to derive from the experience of the remaining ninety-nine and a half per cent of the world’s population the facts and figures wherefrom to work out our own destiny.’

The Immigrant Union’s diagnosis was different from Hittell’s, principally because it was quite a bit more critical than his. California’s paralysis, said Hopkins, was land speculation. When mining-stock inflation had given way, investors had been ‘too impatient to wait the slow gains of mere industry, guiltless of any knowledge of political economy.’ They had turned to another gamble: Homestead, associations took the place of mining incorporations.’ Though for five months now, ‘the iron horse has crossed the Sierras daily, yet the population, the money, does not come to sustain these values.’ The fact that millions were wrapped up in the napkin of unproductive real estate — that is, of inflated prices and established monopolies — was preventing California’s growth. In later publications the Immigrant Union presented statistics on California immigration from 1862 through 1871 and kept the diagnosis up to date.

To renew the energies of the state’s economy, the writings of Hopkins and Alexander D. Bell, and other propaganda of the Immigrant Union, all urged the old idea that California needed more settlers. Hittell himself contributed. The familiar prescription was altered just a little: not just immigrants and capital, but immigrants with capital. With the adducing of many, many facts and figures, the union proposed that the state set up an official agency — mid-western states had done so — to promote and assist from overseas the right kind of immigration. The best agricultural skills available for developing California’s lands, and men and families, mainly from northern Europe, with sufficient credit with which to buy in when they came, were what the Union wanted.

The Immigrant Union thus put itself behind the northern utopia for the state: its goal a society of owner-farmers at center, a diversified commercial, mining, and manufacturing economy surrounding. Asking for immigrants with cash, it was fair-minded enough, on the home front, to ask also that California landholders subdivide and sell their lands at reasonable low prices. Economically this was logical in the vein of the regional writers: Hittell had asked for low wages and low interest, and this extended the deflationary policy.

There is no need to praise as altruistic the union’s exhortation to sell cheap; but a sincere idealism does appear in that part of the propaganda which differed most considerably from the old Hittell and Alta line. The Immigrant Union opposed the importation of Chinese laborers. Quite clearly this was President Hopkins’ idea, and his feelings resembled Henry George’s own. As a Lincoln Republican, and as a writer on civics who believed ‘that had the American people, South as well as North, been alike trained in the principles of American government, the Civil War would not have occurred,’ Hopkins now pursued a logic like that with which George has made us familiar. He would exclude the Chinese rather than have coolie labor stratified into a permanent peonage in California.

At first survey the program of the Immigrant Union may seem too sinall-farm-minded to fit comfortably under the designation Hamiltonian, which we applied to the first round of regional economics. But the aim again was a balanced economy, farms and industry and commerce. Furthermore the means, which the Immigrant Union proposed to use, involved the action of the state, and of voluntary groups within the state, in an almost neo-mercantilist pattern. In comparison with the earlier solvers of California’s crisis, the union relied much more on economic plan and positive action, and much less on the automatic forces of a laisser faire economy.

The scheme as a whole — deny as Hopkins did that it represented any conspiracy of land grabbers — conformed perfectly with the general interests of property. Even the plan of holding down the asking prices of farm lands was a means of sales promotion, and a shoring up of basic values. In these features lay the vulnerability of the plan to attack, from Jeffersonian premises. Given the newness of California values, and their dubious respectability not to say morality, should those values have been shored up? Was this the time for a mercantilists state policy to be put into action, in California?


It was inevitable that Henry George should want to quarrel publicly and prominently with Immigrant Union economics. What apparently was a chance meeting of late summer, 1869, with the governor of the state, led to opportunities for him to do just that.

The Democratic incumbent of California’s highest office at this time was Henry H. Haight, a Yale man and lawyer who might today be ranked no lower than second or third in the short list of California’s outstanding liberal governors. The occasion of his and George’s striking up an acquaintanceship was a San Francisco meeting of the American Free Trade League. We are free to guess what common interests drew the two together: perhaps the inclination of like minds did it, but not unlikely there was prearranging, say by Mayor McCoppin, or Matthew McCloskey, or James Barry of the Monitor. However the contact developed, Professor Destler has neatly caught the symbolism of it, in his essays in American Radicalism. The Free Trade League as an American movement derived in part from British example, but its domestic lineage traces back to the ’30s, and to the radical, pro-labor, Loco Foco wing of Jack-sonism, which centered in New York City. For Governor Haight and Henry George to strike up a connection at the meeting was to illustrate the continuity, here in the West, of post-Civil War protest from a pre-war protest which had occurred a generation distant in time, and a continent’s span distant in geography.

Shortly after the meeting, a recommendation by Governor Haight secured George a new editorship. Though this one lasted only from September 1869, to the middle of the next February, and the newspaper was suburban and not important, the event was big enough to restore Henry George to a proper job as editor, and moreover to launch him as a Democratic party newsman and as a political thinker into the bargain. Although not every personality of the Oakland Daily Transcript pleased him — the proprietors were a colonel on the governor’s staff and a real-estate man — George had enormous enthusiasm for supporting the state administration. Haight was now at the middle point of a four-year term;

and the election of 1871 was coming into sight. His claim to a liberal’s loyalty was a big one: principally that he and his party had brought about the repeal of certain railroad subsidies, and by doing so had reversed an ominous trend. The governor had also aligned himself with such projects as providing a state board of health and a fish commission and helping the state university. He proposed a special auction sale of valuable lands for the university — a truly Henry George way of securing to the state the actual present value of public lands.

So connected, George the editor tackled the state’s Hamiltonians once more. Though he took caution, now as before and always, to acknowledge the good that railroads and all manner of new technology were doing California, he directed editorial after editorial to sounding the alarm. The terms of his anxiety were much like Hopkins’ own: California was not getting its rightful share of America’s immigration and development. Significant of the degree of radicalism George had not yet reached, the Transcript underwrote the homestead-farm idea for California. The paper followed a new writer, Dr. John Todd, a New England clergyman, in an editorial of 23 December 1869, saying that such settlers as New England dairymen and farmers, men and families who would be content with ‘farms’ and not demand ‘plantations,’ would be ideal for the state.

But beyond these obvious stages of agreement, the Transcript differed from the Immigrant Union right down the line. All the means the Union proposed the newspaper called expensive and unnecessary. Immigrant aids, from advertising in Europe to travel assistance, could only end, it said, in high and uneconomic charges sure to fall for the most part on the immigrants themselves. Even when Governor Haight made moderate proposals, the Transcript was hardly lukewarm. In George’s analysis, all the costs of the private operation of the Immigrant Union would be thrust back into the price of the lands the immigrants would buy, and all public costs would come out of the taxpayers. The economic reasoning, which traced the flow of credit in the state’s economy, became pretty abstract.

In editorials of October, November, and December, however, George made his indictment plain and tough. The Immigrant Union would serve as a front for the land aggregators themselves, he said; and its operations would add to California’s record of speculation and quick profits. Its machinery, if set up, would present the state with a debt-ridden tenantry and would verge close to bringing contract labor to the country. Lands offered at ten dollars an acre, eight times the federal charge for domain lands, and the Immigrant Union’s wanting wage rates to drop the Transcript gave as indications that the Union had a strong owning-class bias.

George’s own solution was straight anti-monopoly and laisser faire. Assess great landholdings at full value, he said as he had said on the Monitor; then tax collection would begin the squeeze on aggregators to make them release their holdings at prices low enough to be attractive. Let all taxes except land taxes be reduced. With these charges down the immigrants would come, without state bureaus and outlays, said the Transcript: in due time the happy letters of new citizens would supply California’s advertising, and the movement of free immigration would flow according to the true drawing power of the state’s resources and charms.

The editor of the Transcript refused to be appeased by the prolabor plank of the Immigrant Union. The Alta and the Bulletin were keeping to their old opinion about coolies. There was no real break in the conservative front. George had thought through the Chinese immigration problem first, and he intended to make political capital of the ideas of exclusion. Now he conceived the notion of asking for a statement from the highest possible authority. Writing to John Stuart Mill, he particularly mentioned the old argument addressed to American working men in behalf of admitting the coolies. It was that this form of labor would affect the economy in the same way as new machinery did: the Chinese would do the work Americans disliked to do and raise the standard of living for all. Would the author of the Principles of Political Economy be so good as to comment?

On this particular point most definitely, but also in a general way, Mill’s long and generous letter, sent from his hideaway at Avignon, put a feather in George’s cap. ‘Concerning the purely economic view of the subject,’ he wrote, ‘I entirely agree with you; and it could hardly be better stated and argued than it is in your article in the New York Tribune. That the Chinese immigration, if it attains great dimensions, must be economically injurious to the mass of the present population; that it must diminish their wages and reduce them to a lower state of physical comfort and well being I have no doubt. Nothing can be more fallacious than the attempts to make out that thus to lower wages is the way to raise them, or that there is any compensation in an economical point of view, to those whose labour is displaced, or who are obliged to work for a greatly reduced remuneration.’

On other points Mill’s agreement was less complete. Where George could find nothing but faults in the Chinese as a social group, unsavory and unassimilable in California, Mill made distinctions and discriminations. While acknowledging absolutely that coolies, as found in ‘a form of compulsory labor, that is of slavery,’ should be excluded, he suggested that it was not justifiable to assume that all Chinese were of that order and kind — especially children exposed in the United States to ‘the most potent means that have yet existed for spreading the most important element of civilization down to the poorest and most ignorant of the labouring masses.’ Mill phrased as moral problems the questions whether or not ‘those who have first taken possession of the unoccupied portion of the earth’s surface’ have a right to exclude later comers, and in what degree ‘the more improved branches of the human species [should] protect themselves from being hurtfully encroached upon by those of a lower grade in civilization.’ He ended by saying it seemed that a little sharing in California would represent an improvement for the Chinese, those at home as well as the immigrants, which ought not to be withheld.

George printed the letter in full in the Transcript of 20 November, and, unlike other editorial writing, he signed his comment. He urged that the ‘nine-tenths’ predominance of the coolie element among the California Chinese justified labor’s anti-Chinese attitudes, by Mill’s own standards. He yielded little relevance to Mill’s hortatory comments. On the point of the Chinese children, though they had good natural capacity, he thought that their living in a miniature China and a sordid one, right in San Francisco — the ugly beginning of today’s Chinatown — would prevent them indefinitely from becoming assimilable into the common social and political life. After stating his reservations about Mill’s reservation, George added a grateful tribute to the generous economist.

He had brought off a journalistic coup, and more. For the first time Henry George stood as a leader for a cause, in his home community. The San Francisco press took notice. The Alta and the Bulletin discovered a demagogue in Oakland; and the Chronicle, a ‘vulgar, self-advertising, showman.’ On the other hand, the San Francisco Call gave George strong support; and the Sacramento Union, qualified support. Though five months of the editorial pages of the Transcript show George firming up other specific ideas — the critique of speculation, and his opposition to the national banking policy, for instance — nothing else equals his pushing of the Chinese problem, or comes near to being as important, in his effort to achieve prominence and recognition.

Indeed he had now fixed on an idea of policy which he was to hold for life as peculiarly his own. Up to a quarter century later, even after Chinese exclusion had become national policy by virtue of acts of Congress, George would be arguing the morals of the matter. At this time his friend and follower of illustrious name, William Lloyd Garrison II, opposed him. That he was a racist, George denied. In his words of 1893: ‘To your proposition that the right to the use of the earth is not confined to the inhabitants of the United States, I must cordially assent. But when you seem to think it follows that, “the humblest Chinaman has as much natural right to the use of the earth of California as yourself, and it is your inalienable right to change your residence to any land under the sun,” I must emphatically deny. Are men merely individuals? Is there no such thing as family, nation, race? Is there not a right of association, and the correlative right of exclusion?’ Thus from March 1869, Henry George’s thought had essayed the burden of asserting nationality while denying monopoly — surely as awkward a burden as a democratic theorist has ever undertaken.

Still separated from his family, still wrestling the problems he had tackled in New York, George had another moment of clairvoyance in Oakland. Though, as in the case of the vision and dedication on the sidewalks, his telling of the story puts no date upon it, about New Year’s 1870, is a likely time. His greeting to the new decade, a New Year’s editorial in the Transcript, seems to set the psychological stage: ‘Into the seventies again. A decade most noticeable in the annals of the Republic. God grant that in the years to come the same spirit that animated the fathers may animate the children, that the heritage they bequeathed may be preserved unimpaired.’

This time George was riding in the lovely foothills where the eye is drawn west, above the flats on which Oakland lies, across San Francisco Bay, to the world’s broadest waters beyond the Golden Gate. Especially in the winter season, when the rains let up, distant objects there seem poignantly sharp and near. This day he was absorbed in his own thoughts. Resting his horse, he ‘asked a passing teamster, for want of something better to say, what land was worth there. He pointed to some cows grazing off so far that they looked like mice and said: “I don’t know exactly, but there is a man over there who will sell land for a thousand dollars an acre.” Like a flash it came upon me that there was the reason of advancing poverty with advancing wealth. With the growth of population, land grows in value, and the men who work it must pay for the privilege. I turned back amidst quiet thought, to the perception that then came to me and has been with me ever since.’

‘Like a flash the reason seemed to light my brain,’ said Henry George again, about a quarter-century after the event. Although the illumination must have been almost as emotional, certainly more hopeful, than the New York experience, the overtones of mysticism were pretty well absent this time. In his posthumous book he says that the occurrence ‘crystallized my brooding thoughts into coherency.’ He ‘there and then recognized — the natural order — one of those experiences which make those that have not had them feel that they can vaguely appreciate what mystics and poets have called the “ecstatic vision.” ’ In his own judgment, George had not had a vision, but a less intense experience which would justify belief in visions.

With a little exercise of the imagination we can try to recapture the milling ideas of a dissatisfied editor, that day as he sought refreshment in the Oakland foothills. We know that the countryside itself seemed to speak to him, and perhaps he felt the same about the broad horizon of Pacific waters. But what about some possible tingling memory of books? Considering that the recognized treatises and handbooks on economics, of that day as now, specified and named the value of desirable land as producing ‘economic rent’ — and that none did so more clearly than John Stuart Mill’s Principles — it is almost incredible that the Oakland perception came to George without benefit of literature.

There is, indeed, no reason to question George’s assertions, late in life, that in 1870 he had taken nothing from either Adam Smith or the French Physiocrats, who are known for assigning high place in the economic process to the land and its tillers. And he might as well have included in the denials the writings of David Ricardo, the author of the widely accepted law of rent which he himself would soon accept. George, the Oakland editor, deeply read in local affairs, knew very little general economic literature.

Partly on this account, and partly because of the man’s transparent sincerity, we read with sympathy George’s defense, in his posthumous work, The Science of Political Economy, of the independence of the Oakland illumination. ‘It is a mistake to which critics who are themselves mere compilers are liable, to think that men must draw from one another to see the same truths or to fall into the same errors. Truth is, in fact, a relation of things which has to be seen independently because it exists independently.’ George was always an idealist in the philosophical as well as in the colloquial sense of the word: to him true ideas were real and permanent entities, available to right thinkers and the private property of none.

Yet the unanswered question persists of a present debt to classical economics, not unlikely to John Stuart Mill. All that is certain is that in the East George had read Mill for wage theory, and found what he could use. Certainly the Principles, in the early and current editions, contained the prevailing theory of rent; the book even contained a friendly presentation of the notion of land nationalization, which at this very time Mill was beginning to advocate on the ground that rent ought to be a public, not a private, income.2 I just hazard the guess that from his reading George had actually picked up some notions of rent theory, that they were in reserve in the back of his mind. He could easily have done this, any reader could, without realizing at first — the British economists

2 See Mill, Principles, 1864 edition, Ch. xvi. How interested George would have been had he known that, in 1868, his senior in land reform, Congressman George W. Julian, had like himself sought Mill’s advice. In reply the liberal economist had approved Julian’s 'endeavoring to prevent the sale of public lands to mere speculators.’ Mill often thought, he said of himself, 'that it would be much better if a new country retained all its lands as state property, giving, as we do in India, leases renewable forever at rents guaranteed against any augmentation except by a general measure . . . According to my own notions, absolute property in land, even when owned by the cultivators, is a prejudice and an abuse.’ Mill to Julian, 29 May 1868. Giddings-Julian Collection, LC.

themselves did not — that a rent theory drawn primarily from considering English rural landholding might apply more radically to American land, especially land in the vicinity of a rapidly growing city. George could quite naturally have failed to sense at first acquaintance the moral dynamite that resides in rent theory for Americans who — different from the British economists — reject as wrong any preference for a class-structured society.

If the Oakland perception was what it seems — an intense quick operation of mind — then there is no need to blame George very much for denying that he had stolen ideas. If he did not acknowledge handsomely, as of that date, a debt to Mill, we shall find much quoting and citing of the Principles on rent, when he came to write Progress and Poverty. But I think he made a contemporary acknowledgment. On 16 July 1870, about half a year after the Oakland vision, George inserted the following clause in a letter to the master himself: ‘In an endeavor to account for the continuance of pauperism in England, and the gradual sinking of the working-classes in the older parts of the states, I have come to conclusions which were cleared and strengthened by your works . . .’ This is not very definite, but I believe that it is George’s thank-you for ideas about rent, concerning which he was not yet ready to say more.


Henry George had been too big a man for the Oakland Daily Transcript, and his enlarging kit of ideas must have made the job in speculator-ridden Oakland doubly incongruous. Fortunately his new friend had another assignment for him. Before spring Governor Haight called him to Sacramento to take charge of the Reporter, a Democratic party organ which was being rebuilt out of the State Capital Reporter, of which ex-governor Bigler had been editor.

At last after nearly two years, family life could be restored to proper footing. ‘My poor darling you have been having a hard time,’ wrote Annie, when she received the glorious news. She was inexpressibly glad to be coming back to California; Hasson was helping her plan the trains. This would be their third recourse to Sacramento: the earlier ones had led to happy intervals of their life together. George made this new beginning the occasion of having his brother, John Vallance, come on with Annie and the children.

Though storms loomed ahead, for 1871 would be election year, there were many promising things about the job. George began with a ‘fair salary’ and a tender of one-fourth of the company’s stock. The battle he had first fought for Nugent was now won. Before the end of April the opposition telegraph, which he had predicted, had actually materialized: the Atlantic and Pacific, the system he had used between Harrisburg and Philadelphia, now leased the railroad companies’ wires along the transcontinental line. And his friends in New York were more than ready to send the news. Now in the capacity of ‘general agent’ of the American Press Association, Hasson wrote: ‘Oh Harry . . . It’s gay. Instead of waiting for the Sun to rise, we are beating the Associated Press, especially in foreign news, almost daily.’ And when his partner of last year appointed George as California agent of the new association, another friend endorsed the document, ‘This appointment is confirmed. Salary sentimental. In time material and practical . . . John Russell Young, President.’

The fun spread to California. The San Francisco Chronicle had no choice but to join up with the American Press Association, and this put George’s old employer, de Young, not his favorite, on a spot. George could ‘laugh loud and long’ when he heard that the Chronicle's proprietor objected to his being California agent for the APA; and he must have had even greater pleasure in learning Hasson had upbraided de Young ‘for defaming the man who had done more than any other man on the coast to build up the A.P.A.’ But the Chronicle came in with the Reporter, and George corralled several of the small papers of the inland towns as well. He triumphed as he kept down the total charge for the wire services to $800 a month, and triumphed again as he assessed the Chronicle for $100. The success of the APA he celebrated in vigorous editorials on the new free trade in news; he savored in irony the complaints of the California AP papers, as they now reduced their prices.

Meanwhile the Reporter moved in on a concession, even a monopoly, of its own. The legislature passed a bill — ‘your bill,’ George’s father called it — which authorized the publication ‘of certain legal notices in a state paper.’ This preference assisted the Reporter through and beyond George’s term of editorship; later, a Republican legislature repealed it in resentment after a different set of owners and editors had taken over. We do not know how important or unimportant the subsidy was to the paper’s income or George’s. However low the estimate, it makes an interesting preliminary to the state appointment, in some degree a sinecure, which was to sustain him after 1875, while he was writing Progress and Poverty.

On two fronts of his economic thinking especially, the editorship of the Sacramento Reporter was just the thing to stimulate George: on the state control of corporate monopolies, and on taxation. Although he had made the vow against poverty in the heat of a personal war on the giant corporation which monopolized transcontinental telegraphy, and the fight had confirmed his ideas about the need to nationalize at least the one monopoly, George had not given much thought to the public regulation of corporate institutions in any general way. He was always — especially by comparison with latter-day socialists and progressives, men like Henry Demarest Lloyd — to be light on that side. But he was not entirely negligent; and in 1870 he could not avoid that class of public business. With his shoulder next to Governor Haight’s, he had no choice except to give California’s railroads and railroad policy much fresh attention.

The governor’s attack denied any hostility to corporations ‘in their proper sphere,’ but he was old-line Democrat from first to last. ‘We object,’ he urged a friend, to the corporations’ being turned ‘into agencies of public plunder, and we object to placing the government into the hands of their managers and making the people their serfs and tributaries.’ To Haight it was ‘inexplicable that men claiming to be imbued with the democratic principles of the olden time should fail to denounce and resent this monstrous system of taxing out of existence farmers and small property-holders in order to add to the surplus of those already enriched out of the public treasury and the public domain.’ In this line Haight set up his case against railroad subsidies.

George went with him. In the Reporter the editor made no effort to build on the archaic idea he had ventured in the San Francisco Times: the notion of publicly owned roadbeds and privately owned rolling stock. He took the railroads as consolidated enterprises and tried, as the governor did, to think out ways of bringing them to terms with a people’s government. Protesting the subsidies, he admitted that new trackage would be put down less rapidly without them but said that slower growth would be better all round.

When a rival paper said that railroads were ‘essentially private property as much so as a wagon, a hotel, or steamboat,’ George answered with a justification of state regulation which might equally have served to justify state ownership. ‘Railroads are a peculiar species of property, exercising peculiar privileges, and in favor of which certain concessions are made ... No individual can build a railroad without obtaining from the state a grant of rights and powers that do not belong to individuals, and can only be exercised by them by virtue of the authority of the State. And furthermore, there is this difference between a railroad and other kinds of property. A railroad is from its very nature a monopoly, that is, its existence makes competition impossible. A railroad is not only a common carrier, subject to all the duties of a common carrier, but it is a common carrier with a monopoly of the business. Thus to the other titles by virtue of which the state may control and regulate railroads is added the highest right — the right of necessity.’

This ‘right of necessity’ to regulate corporate monopolies was not theoretically satisfying as a point of rest for a democratic ponderer of the ethics of property. Yet like nearly everything else in George’s mental history in 1869 and 1870, it shows an advance in his apprehending industrial-age problems — in this case the role and sphere of public utilities.

As for taxation, except to protest the complexity and costs of California practice and except for the reformist ideas he had voiced in the Monitor, George had not previously had much to say. On the Reporter he began lightly, at first with little foreshadowing of his life’s future, praising certain reductions brought about by the Haight administration. Then in the later spring he began to display a large new interest in taxes and related economic theory. All at once general problems of the tax structure, and of the whole distribution and flow of credit through society, became a field for his editorials to explore and estimate. There were ample reasons for this: the Oakland vision, and his criticism of the Immigrant Union, and perhaps some reconsideration of the matter of his 1867 editorials on money and banking all demanded working ideas about distribution. Also he may well have been affected by Governor Haight’s belief that railroad subsidies force money to flow from country to city and from class to class; and perhaps the writings of his San Francisco contemporary, John Alexander Ferris, affected him. Like Ferris, and like many another Westerner in due time, George envisaged the credit of California as being manipulated and exploited by Easterners and foreigners. The policies that impounded gold in San Francisco, or else drained the treasure east in monopoly charges, were actually ‘taxes,’ said the Reporter.

George puzzled and discussed the incidence of taxation on social classes. All citizens are affected by the federal war taxes, he agreed, but the large payers feel them only as a railroad feels a tax which it passes on in larger fares. Taxes really fall where the tax gatherer never visits, the garrets of the cities, the child laborers at the Massachusetts looms, in the eastern slums ‘where the man from the fresh new West cannot go without a sinking and a sickening of the heart.’ Taxes are our ‘main trouble,’ the writer was now beginning to think: they were obstacles to economic flow, and barriers enhancing the line between poverty and riches. Though Henry George’s own historic prescription of taxes was far from ready, and he had yet to begin a hard study of state taxation, his critical frame of reference was pretty well established.

In certain aspects of economic questing and answering, Henry George on the Reporter changed rather the intensity than the direction of his ideas. Sometimes there was a new dogmatism added, for instance this: ‘Free trade is the great NEED of California,’ and ‘We believe in the international law of God as Cobden called free trade.’ In regard to labor, over and beyond his familiar assertions for the eight-hour day and against Chinese immigration, on the eve of the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune, the editor hinted about possible social revolution. So different from his later sustained war on socialism and general distrust of all forms of European radicalism, his paper now thought a desirable result would follow if a little of labor’s international spirit, purified of ‘the wildest notions of the continental mechanics,’ were to cross the Atlantic. ‘We would wish it God-speed,’ he said on 24 May 1870. How much George knew in that year, or did not know, about the Marxist International Workingmen’s Association is not clear.

George deserves credit for being able to keep his eyes open and to make important and truthful observations about social conditions. On one crucial point, an editorial of the Reporter said that, although the wages paid to American working men had increased of recent years, their real earnings were diverted more to taxes and bought fewer goods and services than in earlier times. This was a hard but not a commonly admitted truth; forty years later a brilliant California-trained academician proved it statistically. And, in another issue, the Reporter quarreled with the advice of Greeley’s Tribune, that unemployed workers should go to the empty lands of the western frontier. Such a step was desirable but not practical, George countered, speaking against assumptions widely held for more than a century in the United States. How could a laborer out of work move his family to a farm and stand the costs and make the adjustments? Only since about 1930, with the help of a revision in historical studies, has the country learned that the West rarely if ever served as a safety valve for city population pressures, but rather that the cities provided a safety valve for the farm lands when times were hard. In very fact the decade from 1865 to 1875, during which George’s talent for interpreting the condition of labor flowered, was economically one of the most adverse in history for American working men.

In the summer of 1870 California events and conditions, which illustrated labor’s hard times, gave George a chance to return journalistic attention to the Chinese question, and to bring off a newspaper affair much like his coup while he was running the Oakland Transcript. While other wage rates in the state, according to George, were declining a bit, in line with the hopes of the regional economists, wages in the shoe and slipper industry dropped suddenly. This occurred immediately after 500 or so Chinese were employed; and at once a spate of bills to exclude Oriental immigration was brought into the legislature. Simultaneously on the political side, the Fifteenth Amendment now promised equal suffrage to all American-born Chinese. Responding to this convergence of events, the Reporter waxed alarmist. It advised the shoemaker’s union of San Francisco to expel the coolies from that industry; and it predicted that beginning in the next election — twenty-one years after the Gold Rush — Chinese Americans at the polls would begin a new chapter in the history of corruption. With votes at $2 apiece, George foresaw the buying of Oriental votes by American employers and more trouble for working men and the labor movement.

Once more George drew strength from John Stuart Mill. Proimmigration newspapers were charging him with having garbled or otherwise misrepresented the Mill letter, as he had printed it in the Oakland Transcript. George laid the matter, with evidence, before the English economist. Again Mill was very gracious: he acknowledged that George had printed his letter accurately and fully; he neither accepted nor debated correction on their points of difference. At about the same time George had a sympathetic note on the Chinese problem from Horace White. Thus the third round in the issue of exclusion firmed George, gave him an admirable chance to restate his ideas; and, an experienced propagandist now, he identified his case with the Democratic party of California at the official center.

A very large part of the story of George as editor of the Reporter, indeed, is his effort to give the party the imprint of his own mind. As we have already seen in the instance of the Immigrant Union, this was partly a business of saying ‘No.’ The Reporter criticized Governor Haight again when the administration showed reluctance to recognize the full force of the Fifteenth Amendment, on ratification. Teaching the Democratic party lessons mainly involved saying ‘Yes’ to reform, however; and this meant going beyond Governor Haight’s own field of fighting the Central Pacific Railroad.

George’s central theme of argument in the reform vein of thought was the idea of the unfinished Civil War — the obligation of the country to effect more completely its war ideals. Only the Democratic party could become the vehicle, he said in many an editorial: right ideas of reconstruction should be applied across the land, by no means in the usual terms of Reconstruction in the South. A few lines from the Reporter will chart the moral situation as he saw it. ‘We have despoiled the South of its state freedoms, now what of our own?’ ‘Swindle after swindle; corruption after corruption, is constantly coming to light; so tainted has the moral atmosphere in Federal circles become that it is literally thought no harm to steal.’ On the Fourth of July only the ‘graver thoughts’ came to the editorial mind: a present crisis, a ‘crucial test of our institutions . . . land dearer . . . class distinctions sharper . . . colossal fortunes . . . mammoth corporations ... We have lost that high regard for law.’ In this condition, the editor pleaded, the country should not belittle political parties; it should recognize that Democrats and Republicans do stand for different principles. To the Democratic party he credited four attitudes as right: a determination to limit the federal government; a racism (unqualified and acknowledged, this once) ‘that this government was instituted by and for white men and their posterity forever’; faith in free trade and opposition to tariffs; a fixed enmity to all monopolies. Richard Henry George, now signing himself ‘Old Pop,’ could hardly have judged more accurately than he did when he wrote about having shown the Reporter to some good old Jackson Democrats. ‘Many worme congratulations I have received that I have a son so bold to stand so firm for the good old Democratic Principals.’

By all the signs of editorial performance George at midsummer 1870, after half a year, was filling to satisfaction the job for which Governor Haight had called him to Sacramento. Yet suddenly, within days of the editorial last quoted, he was out. And very shortly he and his family moved to San Francisco again, for once with money to tide them over.

The story came out later. From San Francisco there appeared, one day, in the office of the Reporter, ‘an honest old gentleman’ who wanted to buy ‘a controlling interest in a good Democratic paper.’ The bidder denied any wish to change policy and offered good money. George was willing. (What he told Mill, about this time — that he was working out his ideas about the universal causes of poverty — is the only sign he gave, that he had other interests than journalism pressing.) As Governor Haight was out of Sacramento a message was sent; but before his telegram warning against a fast deal came back delayed, the sale had been made. When the smoke cleared away it was proved that the ancient gentleman’s bag of twenty-dollar gold pieces had come direct from the Central Pacific office on K Street. Two days after the sale a change of officers took place, and the Sacramento Reporter became, and was commonly recognized as, ‘the obsequious organ of the Railroad Company.’

Though the ex-editor of the Reporter and agent of the American Press Association must have been piqued at being tricked by a railroad henchman, he who had had no money now had some; and no purchase had bought his lasting silence.


Two years earlier George’s article in the Overland, ‘What the Railroad Will Bring Us,’ had epitomized his regional criticism and utopianism, as first conceived in writing for the Times. Now he summed up and moved forward again. This time the product was two pamphlets: one is today a forgotten piece of state-election campaign literature; the other is a minor classic of American criticism.

The first, entitled The Subsidy Question and the Democratic Party, consolidated into sixteen closely written pages the ideas he and Governor Haight shared on that bitter question. Written to support the governor’s fight for re-election, it used laisser faire theory against big business, and in behalf of labor and the small people — the opposite of twentieth-century habits of thought. George demanded, of course, that the railroad companies rely on private resources, with little or no staking by the government. His more doctrinaire ideas he embellished with quotations from the Democratic Review of 1837; and the practical results of government handouts and politics he illustrated from unappetizing recent history, especially from the case of the Los Angeles and San Pedro Railroad. Ideological though the pamphlet was, George’s detailed use of data and figures made it the most assimilative factual piece of writing in the author’s record so far.

Though Governor Haight was defeated by a Republican, Newton Booth, that event did not put the idea of the pamphlet too much on the losing side. In Sacramento the new governor soon developed a strong resistance to monopolies, as surprising to George as pleasing. Concerning this there will be more in the next chapter. Simultaneously in Washington, by 1871 the era of Congress’s lavish railroad grants was at last yielding to a period of grant forfeitures. Henry George’s policy for railroads must be accounted to have been part of a national reaction.

In the other pamphlet, Our Land and Land Policy, George reached a new level of intellectual achievement. A 48-page booklet, as published for 25 cents in San Francisco, 1871, it fills 130-odd pages in good type and modern book form. We have already caught the hint that he was working on the problem of poverty as early as July 1870. He was not yet reading economic literature broadly. Even so, a year of finding materials and establishing perspective, thinking, organizing, and writing would not have been too much for Our Land and Land Policy had he given it all his time. It was a first book in a virgin field.

The title of it is big enough to be right for the first two-thirds, the remembered portion of the text; it is too modest for the scope of the whole. Beginning with a colored map which indicates by bands across the country the routes of the western railroads and the share of the domain granted them as subsidies — an alarming generosity of the government — George made a Malthusian-minded presentation of America’s dwindling land surplus. He reasoned from the assumption, common in his day and based on population history, that the people would multiply at a rate of about 24 per cent each decade, or would double each quai.er-century.3 He took his figures on the domain lands from United States Land Office publications. The two together, population figures versus land figures, presented an unfamiliar and an unhappy conjunction.

Though we may bypass his statistics, we must not miss the common sense of his ideas, or the naturalness of his doing what he was doing. He had had an intuition that landholding had everything to do with the distribution of wealth. Very well, he was checking the data and reporting. He wrote in part from his old editorials; he also ventured new vistas of criticism. From the vast totals of Land Office figures, which included desert and waste, he cut down to the size of 450 million acres the actual ungranted and available part of the domain which might still be settled by farmers. This meant 12 acres per American, in 1870; or, according to his population predictions, if distributed among the new Americans of the next decade, 33 acres apiece; or again, 12 acres apiece among the new Americans from 1870 to 1890. Of course his population estimates ran too high. But his essential prophecy was true: America’s arable domain land would be dispersed before the beginning of the twentieth century.

In the second chapter George shifted from the general picture of federal resources and federal policy to a detailed analysis of ‘The Lands of California.’ This was the strongest criticism yet. Where Hittell had been satisfied to find fault mainly with the confusion of titles, George cut deep. In the greatest federal-land state in the union, and a thinly settled one, he found and said that ‘a large part

3 George’s Malthusianism here was conventional but not unstudied. He knew the old predictions of Elkanah Wilson and thought they set the right pattern for population study. On this kind of thinking, see Joseph J. Spengler, ‘Population Prediction in Nineteenth-Century America,’ American Sociological Review, 1 (1936): 905-21.

of the farming is done by renters, or by men who cultivate their thousands of acres in a single field.’ Remembering his writing for the Times, George spoke again of the pueblo, and of San Francisco’s lost opportunity. It might have been a city of light: ‘the size of London, dedicated to the purpose of providing every family with a free homestead,’ a city without poverty or crime, he still believed. He reviewed the Mexican-grant problem: he exposed the ‘floating grants’ and the faked ones; he demonstrated the utter corruption, state government acting as cat’s-paw for speculators, in granting away the so-called ‘swamp lands’ — often the best river-valley arable there was. ‘There never was a cat rolled whiter in meal,’ was Horace Greeley’s opinion of Congress’ policy of giving the ‘swamp land’ over to state-government control.

The recapitulation of the California chapter presented a parvenu class of ‘Marquises, Counts, Viscounts, Lords, and Barons,’ all elevated to property and power in twenty years of land grabbing. George named companies and men who are still famous in land engrossment. After the railroads and the individual holders preferred by the railroads, he specified a second group whose aggregations ran to the hundreds of thousands of acres apiece: Miller and Lux, the San Francisco butchers, whose cattle-range holdings exceeded all others; Abel Stearns, of Los Angeles, who had 200,000 acres and sold much; William Chapman of San Francisco, a leading scrip speculator; an ex-surveyor-general of the state and an exsurveyor-general of the United States, each said to have engrossed more than 300,000 acres. Without land monopolization, George reasoned as he had editorialized against the Immigrant Union, California would long since have been heavily populated by farmer-proprietors. But because of it there were instead the speculation, the coolie labor, the tenancy, the empty lands, the California tramps, the ‘general stagnation,’ the private monopolization of water supplies, and the absentee landlords living so dashingly in San Francisco and Europe.

These two, the first and second, chapters make a devastating indictment of a national policy and a state situation. Except locally, however, the edition caused hardly more than a ripple of policy comment in 1871, no more than the letter against Chinese immigration as printed in the Tribune. Major recognition waited for later times; perhaps the first such acceptance was Hubert Howe Bancroft’s still unequaled history of California, which in a general way seconded Henry George’s findings. Today’s experts do likewise. Professor Fred A. Shannon, a reviser of the frontier theory of American history, says that George’s strictures on land policy have never been refuted; and Professor Gates judges what George said about the grants to railroads to have been ‘the best criticism by a contemporary.’ This scholar’s own critique of America’s ‘incongruous land system’ recognizes the same incongruities of democracy and land distribution as George himself explored. Could we imagine a Pulitzer Prize committee in General Grant’s day, anxious to reward an exposer of corruption and a proponent of reform, we should be free to imagine also Henry George at thirty-two winning national kudos a decade ahead of the public excitement about Progress and Poverty.

Yet for the development of an intellect the third, fourth, and fifth chapters of Onr Land and Land Policy — the part of the book not comprehended by the title and quite naturally not noticed by students of the domain — are more revealing than is the critical realism of the earlier chapters. Facts combined with moral indignation against monopolizers were not enough for this writer. Why fight land engrossment? How phrase, how justify the ideas of the Oakland perception? Could he blueprint a course of action which just might make an inspiring and practical land policy for a democracy? These were the problems to which the forgotten one-third of Our Land and Land Policy was addressed.

To establish a base for logical reasoning, the author set up textbook definitions and assumptions from classical economics: land, wealth, labor, and so on. Only one of the definitions needs detain us, it is a little special: land is ‘that part of the earth’s surface habitable by man not merely his habitation but his storehouse upon which he must draw for all his needs, and the material to which his labor must be applied for the supply of all his desires . . . On the land we are born, from it we live, to it we return again — children of the soil as truly as is the blade of grass or the flower of the field.’ To Henry George, land included resources and location, and it had poetic meaning not separate from the economic. These factors blended now into an article of lifelong belief.

So also emerges a second idea — not as sharply and freshly as the wages-fund idea when he was thinking out Chinese immigration, but with similar, and more lasting, utility for reform purposes — the labor theory of value, common to classical economics. Perhaps twentieth-century readers should be warned, as George’s contemporaries would not have needed to be. There was nothing unusual that George should insert in his book, quite interstitially and without self-consciousness, that wealth is ‘the equivalent of labor,’ and that private property in goods is justified because it represents accumulated toil, either one’s own or someone else’s for which value has been given in exchange. In 1871 more complicated modern theories of wages and of prices were being developed, but they had not displaced the old labor theory in the economists’ kit of tools; and likewise, though Marx had by now used the labor theory in building his system, that system had not been rendered into English-speaking — and had not reached Henry George’s — awareness. In other words: the labor theory of value was not yet either outmoded or rendered suspect by having kept company with revolution. Like that other commonplace of British middle-class thought, the contract theory of government on which the American Revolution hinged, this theory stated ethical common sense. In the ordinary parlance of the textbooks it was kept reasonably disinfected and unexciting to readers; but the germ of social heterodoxy and protest always lurked in it just the same, not for Marx alone but for any thinker.

In Our Land and Land Policy Henry George, putting two and two together, began to make history with economic ideas. Value occurs in land, he now said — remember that his definition of land excluded improvements made by man’s labor — by reason of scarcity. And value in land means power: the ‘power which its ownership gives of appropriating the labor of those who have it not.’ An increase in land values, he pushed on, does not increase the wealth of a community; an increase affects the distribution of goods, not their production. It raises social classes. To the owners of land of heightened value, purchasing power does flow; from the users of such land, higher payments are demanded. In such terms, a year and a half or more after the experience, George found formulas and context for the Oakland perception. Weaving his own thought into the web of accepted economic theory, George did the most intelligent thing possible to strengthen his case and to persuade other people of its rightness.

Into the fabric of fact and theory of Our Land and Land Policy, moreover, the author assimilated the kind of utopianism he had put into ‘What the Railroad Will Bring Us,’ and the ideas of the universal rights of men which he had put into the editorials of the Monitor. The following will illustrate his blend of religion with economics and politics: ‘The right of every human being to himself is the foundation of the right of property. That which a man produces is rightfully his own, to keep, to sell, to give, or to bequeath, and upon this sure title alone can ownership of anything rightfully rest. But man has also another right, declared by the fact of his existence — the right to use so much of the free gifts of nature as may be necessary to supply all the wants of that existence, and as he may use without interfering with the equal rights of anyone else, and to this he has a title as against all the world. The right is natural; it cannot be alienated. It is the free gift of the Creator to every man that comes into the world — a right as sacred, as indefensible as his right to life itself.’

Lengthening his democratic vistas in the directions he had promised, George discovered that inequality of opportunity in England indicated a diagnosis of that country’s ills. He had been reading parliamentary papers and did not hesitate to judge. ‘Certain it is that the condition of the slaves upon our Southern plantations was not half so bad as that of the monopoly slaves of England.’ He made the diagnosis a dogma: ‘The Almighty, who created the earth for man and man for the earth has entailed it upon all the generations of the children of men by a decree written upon the constitution of all things — a decree which no human action can bar and no prescription determine. Let the parchments be ever so many, or possession ever so long, in the Courts of Natural Justice there can be but one title to land recognized — the using of it to satisfy reasonable wants . . .

‘We are not called on to give to all men equal conditions, but we are called upon to give all men an equal chance. If we do not, our republicanism is a snare and a delusion, our chatter about the rights of men the veriest buncombe in which our people ever indulged.’

Doing Our Land and Land Policy had taken the author back to first principles, and it had also taken him far into his future of reasoning, preaching, and reforming. Yet a caveat is required: the little book is not, as some have thought, Progress and Poverty in miniature; it is the great book in embryo only if the figure of speech allows for change in embryonic growth. The crucial difference is that in 1871 Henry George affirmed the homestead policy as about adequate for implementing American principles of equality. He did separate himself from the 160-acre tradition: 80 or 40 acres now seemed to him a better norm, more naturally what an owner-farmer could cultivate; and, Westerner that he was, he knew that homesteading did not work for cattle and sheep raising.4 But the exceptions prove adherence to the homestead rule; and, though George threatened non-conforming theory on one page — saying that there is ‘in nature no such thing as fee simple in land’ — he said on the next page that ‘it is also true that the recognition of private ownership in land is necessary to its proper use — is, in fact, a condition of civilisation.’

Differing from most land reformers, George was already prepared — though the ‘single-tax,’ properly so called, lay sixteen years in the future — to cope with the owners of land already monopolized. In Our Land and Land Policy he first built into extended argument the lesson of history discussed in San Francisco’s pueblo-land controversy: that the modern world should take from the Middle Ages the practice of fixing the cost of government on charges made on landholders. And in this connection, in a three-page passage, George began his career-long effort to demonstrate — what he now took from Mill’s Principles 5 — that a tax on land is the most collectable and the most fair of any tax ever devised.

For immediate action at federal level, Our Land and Land Policy recommended that grants from the domain be restricted to farms for proprietor-settlers, according to the terms of his judgment. He thought that railroad lands not yet fully transferred could be recaptured for the public. And, broadening his assault on the col-

4 Let the cattlemen and sheepmen have access to the domain as a public commons, he recommended, a sound idea, we now know, if backed up with due payments and restrictions against overgrazing. See Our Land and Land Policy, 99, 100.

5 George’s increased facility with economic ideas in this pamphlet might suggest a recent large amount of reading. But in a letter to David Ames Wells, 26 October 1871 (Wells Collection, LC), he said that he followed Mill in discussing the land tax. And signs in the text of Our Land and Land Policy that his reading did not yet extend much farther are confirmed in a note by his son (Complete Works, VIII, 82).

lege grants, he assured his readers that ‘the earnings of a self-employing, independent people, upon which the state may at any time draw, contribute the best school fund.’

At state level, Our Land and Land Policy proposed cutting down the protection California’s ‘possessory laws’ gave large holdings of dubious title. As before, he urged that the great aggregations be assessed to full value, the same as small. Admitting that these measures would not suffice for his purposes, he declared for an amendment to the state constitution; and, as an immediate step, he called for enacting a very high inheritance tax. To protect the weak, he incorporated his proposition that a minimum exemption from land taxes be allowed every holder.

Refocusing in conclusion, George sketched again the narrowing lines with which he had diagramed the domain in the West and placed them on a larger canvas. According to up-to-the-minute statistics, conditions in the industrial East, especially Massachusetts and New York, looked ominous for working men. So too, Great Britain; and, in France there were the rumblings of revolution. Movingly he cited a famous text for pessimism, one that became a favorite with him. This was the historian Macaulay’s denial of the opinion of that greater historian, Gibbon, that modern civilization would never go down. As Henry George phrased it, the world’s danger had returned to just where Rome had known it, ‘in the very heart of our great cities,’ where ‘poverty and ignorance might produce a race of Huns fiercer than any who followed Attila, and of Vandals more destructive than those led by Genseric.’ To the California writer this forecast for the twentieth century was a picture beside which his own utopia — a free, developing, egalitarian economy, its settlements not constricted or misshapen, its people confident— offered a vision infinitely luminous.

Read as a whole, the famous criticism of land policy and the little-noticed passages of theory and reform, George’s pamphlet reveals previously unrealized capacities for gathering and systematizing information, and like capacity for setting into pattern his proposals and reasons for economic and social change. It displays also the overwhelming contemporaneousness of the author’s mental operations. He had the strength, at this stage, of being up to date; he may possibly have fortified himself from articles of 1871 by the Treasury official, E. T. Peters, some of whose statistics he certainly borrowed from official sources. He had a corresponding weakness: the author who knew so little of Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine as to say that the founding fathers of the country had had no ideas like his own about land still had some reading to do to tighten his case.

Yet makers of history are not often writers of it, and George in Our Land and Land Policy was arriving as an original thinker. As a critic, as an editor and writer informed on public affairs, as an influence in the Democratic party, as a tractarian he had arrived.

Trying Out Radical Ideas:

The San Francisco Daily Evening Post 1871-1874


In the amazing surges of energy which have always given a special character to California’s economy, the decades of the 1860s and 1870s displayed sharper alternations of excitement and depression than often occur in regional growth. As the story of economic criticism has told us, the slowing down of expansion during and following the Civil War caused such a darkening of outlook, in contrast with the ‘golden fifties,’ as to cast gloom on the long-run prospects of the state.

But many newcomers to California soon showed that the anxieties of the Immigrant Union had occurred too late to be effective in stimulating immigration and an economic upturn. At the end of the ’60s and in the early ’70s, just as the propaganda began to flow, people came in numbers again, without benefit of the legislation the union had asked, and the state entered a period of flamboyant prosperity. It was not all gaudiness and superficiality. For about five years the diversifying process, which all the economic diagnosticians agreed was necessary, accelerated promisingly: grain production increased, and so did meat raising and vine and fruit culture. Then this was the time of the incredible accumulations and expenditures of the bonanza kings of the Comstock, and of the ‘big four’ of the Central Pacific. Stanford, Huntington, Hopkins, and Crocker.

With profits flowing into San Francisco, Ralston and his Bank of California had their golden moment; the Palace Hotel was put up with its tier on tier of balconies, and the overstuffed houses were built on Nob Hill. For a breathing interval in 1873, California’s boom seemed the brighter by contrast with the horizon of gloom, depression, and unemployment in the East.

Then, with a swifter impact on the state than any reverses of the preceding decade, bankruptcies in 1875 brought on new economic troubles with a vengeance. Hard times raised a cry for deep reform. The legislature did nothing that made a difference. Kearney spoke, and the famous sand-lot riots upset San Francisco as it had not been upset since 1856. Alarm crossed the line from fears for prosperity to fear for the security of the community. A convention was called at last in 1878, and a new constitution was written for the state. At this point the affairs of California became working men’s politics as well as farmers’, businessmen’s, and lawyers’ politics. The state is governed today by the instrument, amended time and again, which was drawn up and ratified in 1879.

Henry George’s career, as constructive successful newspaperman from 1871 to 1875, and as toiling author of Progress and Poverty from 1875 to 1879, corresponds to the phases of California history, precisely. He started his San Francisco life of the 1870s, it will be recalled, with something in the kitty for a change — his share of the gold pieces for which the Sacramento Reporter was sold. How far those funds went, and just how otherwise he supported his family is not at all clear. More than likely the coffers of the Democratic party assisted. Not only did George write The Subsidy Question and the Democratic Party; he gave considerable time to party business and apparently wrote Governor Haight’s Jeffersonian-minded platform for the 1871 campaign.

Indeed George was politician as well as political thinker and writer that year, and his hopes for state office rose higher than in 1869. In February a supporter urged him to be candidate for the secretaryship of state. ‘If I run for anything it will be for Congress,’ he countered in humor, ‘but whether for the upper or lower house I have not decided.’ In June he served as secretary for the Democratic state convention, which met in the assembly chamber in the capitol and passed resolutions according to his inclination; and then he did run for a seat in the state legislature. Henry George, Jr., has it, as we may well believe, that the Central Pacific went for the scalp of the man whose opposition to subsidies had not been quieted by purchase money. But until election night George thought he would win. Then, according to the same witness, who should have been in bed at the time, his father came home agitated. ‘Why,’ he told his family in loud voice, ‘we haven’t elected a constable.’ Meanwhile George did some magazine writing again. The February 1871 issue of the Overland carried the last story he ever wrote from the yarns of his voyages in the ’50s. This one, ‘How Jack Breeze Missed Being a Pasha,’ was an innocent blend of humor and adventure, unlike his earlier stories without even a suspicion of religious or ethical implication. His other Overland piece of the year could not have been more different. Since the subject was ‘Bribery in Elections,’ and in the article George declared for the Australian ballot, which would become the third main reform of his career in reform, we shall need to return to his argument in the proper place. Here the article concerns us because it helped boil the pot, and also because it gives the defeated candidate’s second and hot reaction to the state election. San Francisco had been bought, he charged, by a ‘more shameless and more extensive’ use of bribe money than at any time since the Vigilance Committee had cleansed San Francisco politics by fire; and now a more desperate situation could not be corrected by that ‘most hazardous remedy.’ Henry George’s situation in the fall of 1871 recalls 1868, before he went to Philadelphia and New York. Then he had broken with newspapers, the Times and the Chronicle, when their ideas did not please him and had found himself dangling without a proper job. Though he now belonged to the political camp he liked, the enemy had conquered, and for a few months he was at loose ends again. He had no office; he had no journal. Reminiscent too of the most unfortunate event of 1868, moreover, Annie George took ill again; and once more she and the children had to go to Philadelphia where they could have the support of a household of several women.

This time the symptoms suggested cardiac or circulatory difficulties, and most likely something of that kind had been at the bottom of her earlier troubles. Fortunately she did not suffer as much during this visit, and family adjustments were easier in Philadelphia. Mrs. George now exceeded all the others in affectionate attention to Annie; and the family, in a new house on Ninth Street, provided a lavish Christmas and many happinesses for the California members. Even so, Henry George received heartsick and homesick letters and had to live without those who comforted him, during many of the most strenuous months of his life in journalism. Had there been a John Russell Young or anyone else to offer him a job in the fall of 1871, or during a crucial interval early in 1872, Henry George would have had ample reason to go east for good, a decade earlier than he did.

Yet probably he would have decided to remain in California. For we may now understand as a factor in his attachment to the state a responsibility which had not had weight in 1868, and which would not again, in 1880. Call it western mission unfulfilled; and picture it in the obligation of the author’s preachment in Our Land and Land Policy, especially the chapter on California lands. The reception of the book in California gives the clue to why Henry George preferred to continue in the state where he had discovered his ideas.

Some flattering responses, actually, had come to him from the East, on an intellectual not a political plane. Congressman Julian had skimmed Our Land and Latid Policy and promised to do more: ‘A glance has shown me how well and thoroughly your work has been done,’ he wrote, and ‘It is timely too.’ Better than this was a letter from David A. Wells, who, since George had first known his writings as favorite material for the San Francisco Times, had shifted from a federal to a New York state commissionership, and was now getting out his famous reports as Commissioner for the Revision of the Revenue Laws of that state. ‘You have enunciated a principle relative to value of land and pauperism which strikes me as original and well put,’ Wells wrote; and this led to an exchange of letters in which George admitted that he had not studied taxation very much, but that he now regarded it ‘as the most important function of government.’

Perhaps the most ingratiating response of all came from Mr. E. T. Peters, some of whose statistics George had incorporated into his own. Mr. Peters not only wrote in appreciation of Our Land and Land Policy, but also in his own writing, as George correctly said to Wells, took ‘substantially the same ground in regard to the essentially appropriative nature of land values.’ And so it was, in general, with all the response of eastern appreciators of Our Land and Land Policy: they gave him the strength of knowing that, as he tried to apply to land policy the logic of liberal economic thought, he did not march alone.

Only from Chicago, east of the Sierras, came the least suggestion that Our Land and Land Policy might have an immediate effect on affairs. Horace White of the Tribune — the full control of that paper had not yet shifted to Joseph Medill and his brand of Republicanism — gave space to the booklet and promised more when Congress convened and ‘the land jobbers begin their annual raid.’ According to all other signs, though, away from home George’s manifesto had fallen on unpolitical soil.

In California there was more to work on. Though Our Land and Land Policy represents a second failure if George still nourished such hopes as he had allowed himself about the Chinese letter, that his writing would catapult him into prominence in working men’s Democratic politics, the book did get a broad newspaper reaction. Conspicuously not a single one of the larger papers challenged either the hard facts about California in chapter two or the general ideas of the whole. Even the Bulletin and its new associate, the Call, which the Simonton, Pickering, and Fitch partnership had recently bought, managed a few words of approval for George’s ‘patient research combined with knowledge of subjects treated.’

In both San Francisco and Sacramento, moreover, one strong paper went nearly all-out for Our Land and Land Policy. The Democratic Examiner, which had recently hired George to do an article on Well’s report on New York taxation, acknowledged that he had surpassed its own attacks on the ‘greedy speculators.’ The paper lavished space; it summarized with approval George’s population argument; it recommended ‘for earnest reflection’ the theory of the chapter on ‘Land and Labor’; and, though refusing assent to taxing land exclusively, it ventured so far as to say that ‘Mr. George supports his [tax] proposition in the strongest manner and places it in a light which is both novel and attractive.’ In Sacramento, Mc-Clatchy’s independent Republican Bee urged all its readers to study Our Land and Land Policy, and especially all members of the legislature. The Bee believed that George had illuminated ‘the leading question of the day — the one which is absorbing all others — and which must remain the leading question until the people in their wisdom have settled it wisely.’ Less enthusiastically, but in a friendly way, the Sacramento Union went with George; it quoted long passages and agreed that little prospect remained for the homestead farm in California.

Thus newspaper recognition would seem to have compensated for political defeat, for Henry George in 1871. More than that, there occurred at year’s end in Sacramento a remarkable harmony of assertion that the land problem, about as George envisaged it, was becoming a focal problem in state affairs. In his final message to the legislature, Governor Haight renewed a charge he had made in his first message: ‘Our land system seems to be mainly framed to facilitate the acquisition of large bodies of land by capitalists or corporations, either as donations or at nominal prices.’ And Governor Booth’s inaugural, three days later, might almost have been written by Henry George himself.

Tackling California’s tax problem, the Republican governor observed that ‘Among taxpayers the proportion paid by each is in reverse ratio to his ability’ — the wealthiest paying the least percentage on the value of their property. Then came the governor’s Plan of Taxation Suggested — the tax suggested was one on land values. ‘If land values (including, of course, village, city, and country) alone were taxed, the revenue of the state would be in the nature of a reserved rent, stipulated for at every transfer, and modifying the consideration at every sale.’ Such a tax would cut down speculation, and lands would be more generally cultivated by farmer-owners, the governor said; and, if the proper kind of law had only been passed early in the state’s history, it would have eliminated the need for other taxes. To be sure the governor admitted no debt to Our Land and Land Policy while he hypothesized so boldly; and he spoke to the legislators from behind a very conditional ‘if’ — for he did not now ask for action so upsetting to private property. Still and again, a joint committee of the legislature soon took the exact position George had taken on the educational land grants; and it also asserted in formal statement that ‘the earth which was fixed by irrevocable decree as man’s abiding-place was designed as the rightful heritage of the many, not as the privileged allotment of the few.’ Though George and his party had been trounced in an election, there was nothing out of date about the author of Our Land and Land Policy, in California in 1871.


Such a chance as he had dreamed of came at last, late in the year, at the time of the change of administration in Sacramento. More accurately, Henry George made his own chance. A printer friend, William M. Hinton, who admired Our Land and Land Policy, asked why he did not launch a San Francisco paper of his own. With enterprise and spirit the venture would win. Though Mr. Hinton did have capital to invest, he spoke disinterestedly: he said later that he had advised his friend as one who needed a job; he had had no thought of becoming involved in any way himself. Yet as George’s enthusiasm took over and arrangements shaped up, he did agree to come in as the partner in charge of the printing; and a business associate, Mr. A. H. Rapp, came with him as business manager and equal partner. Together the three men raised something like $1800 in risk capital. They named the paper the San Francisco Daily Evening Post — brave echo of William Cullen Bryant, a continent’s span away — and started publication on 4 December 1871.

While, pending examination of the editorial page, we must reserve judgment about the appropriateness and rightness of the Post in its time and place, we may notice at the outset that, at least as a business venture, the newspaper conformed well with California habits. Certainly nothing else in the economic history of Henry George compares with it. The Standard, of fifteen years later, also his personal journal, was to be a weekly, the organ of a reform movement, sustained by that movement. The San Francisco Post had to make money! As a printers’ paper it meant a living or not for the principal, and perhaps for his partners; and as a commercial venture it meant a chance taken toward capital accumulation and power.

The risks were great; the entrepreneurial spirit ran high. If Henry George had not had sufficient personal experience to warn him, he could have read in the Call the business hazards of new journalism. Five years earlier this successful parvenu, now the Post’s competitor, had estimated the situation: San Francisco’s voting population of 15,000 meant that a circulation of 12,000 was maximum and 7000 good. The Call believed that a paper would survive with 7000 purchasers, but that if it preferred a policy of low rates — the Call itself charged a bit a week, as against the Alta’s then four bits and the Bulletin's, three — it would be obliged to depend heavily on advertising. From $2000 to $3000 a week were required for normal operating turn over. This estimate appeared while George was working for the San Francisco Times, and in the interval the Call, though persisting in its low-price policy, had ominously sold out to the big enterprisers of the Bulletin and the Associated Press. Now the same paper brought newspaper economics up to date. To be sure, it pointed out, though California stood twenty-fourth state in population, it was near the top in newspaper publishing; it was producing 129 weeklies, and its 49 dailies were surpassed only by those of New York and Pennsylvania. But except for the San Francisco and Sacramento papers, California’s dailies were all either small-town or small-time journals; and the larger papers in the larger towns operated in tightening combination and competition. Fitch of the Bulletin currently estimated that the Alta California and the Sacramento Union were barely getting along with circulations of from 6000 to 10,000. Probably George knew in 1871, as he did later, that the Simonton-Pickering-Fitch combination had paid $125,000 for the Call—a symbol of the stakes and the toughness of the battle.

Like the San Francisco Herald, then, and the Call when it was new, and like the eighteenth-century Pennsylvania Gazette in the hands of Henry George’s favorite character in home-state history, the Post began as a long shot in personal journalism. The first innovation offered by George, Hinton, and Rapp was an eye-catcher: the Post hit the streets as a penny paper, the first on the Pacific coast. Of course the symbolism was right and was so intended. One-cent journalism had begun in Jackson’s day in the East: news and ideas for the working man at the lowest possible price. But in California, where the copper never circulated, sheer publicity-catching tells most of the story. Somehow the men of the Post persuaded the Bank of California to have and to release $1000 in pennies, timed right for 4 December. The first editorial page explained good reasons for welcoming the penny to San Francisco: it would accelerate petty business, such as the selling of fruit in the streets. Meanwhile purchasers of the Post had discovered that the newsboys were loaded to make change with the unfamiliar new coins.

For the bargain price, the partners offered a fairly good-looking paper, with all the essentials and some of the trimmings. The telegraphic news, American Press Association service, went in the middle of the front page; and the editorials began in the left column of that page and carried over into two columns of the second. On Saturdays a ‘Labor Review of the Week’ addressed itself to the main body of citizens the Post wanted to catch. For the first few weeks the sheet was pretty small, four pages, ioi/£ by 14 inches; and the print was tiny, though it was no harder to read than the print of the other San Francisco papers. Certainly the format of the Post represented the big improvement of a generation over the earliest penny papers. One of the neatest features was the front-page emblem: a seated female figure, center, bearing helmet and spear and representing the sovereign state; next to her, a California bear; and in the surrounding field appeared, left, mountains, flume, and cottage; and right, railroad and telegraph lines descending a mountain slope.

What were the chances of capturing California for the working man, or capturing the working man for a reform program in California? Henry George had too much honesty and too much mind not to have fears and doubts. Only the preceding summer he had privately expressed his deep anxieties, and his even deeper faith. To David A. Wells he admitted that his old-time ‘habitual view of the nation’ had turned into an outlook ‘far less rose-colored than it once was’: he was too appalled by the way in which the working classes were ‘deluded with words and led by demagogues’ to be very hopeful about their future. And yet, he said soberly, ‘the earnest honest man,’ the thinker like themselves ‘who would do what he can in his day and generation,’ had no real choice: he must sustain the effort for true democracy. Perhaps, George said to the learned economist, really questioning him, the time had come for ‘a new political organization ... I am quite certain that in some way co-operation between the liberal, free trade wing of the Republican party and the like wing of the Democratic party should be secured prior to the next election.’ Through a union of liberals transcending parties, George now thought, the opportunity approached for ‘the patriot, the true philanthropist, the true social reformers ... to replace bad economic laws with good ones.’ Though it was hard in California — ‘I am on the outskirts, intellectual as well as geographical’ — he pledged himself to make the effort.

As he spoke privately so he performed publicly in the columns of his newspaper. His pilot editorial in the first issue of the Post, on the ‘Great Work of Reform,’ demanded ‘a union of the good men of both parties’ and a four-point program for the nation. First, something like economy in government’; second, lower taxes; third, a reformed civil-service system; and fourth, a reverse of America’s trend toward concentrating wealth and power, mainly in industrial and landholding monopolies. George made a classconscious argument and a region-conscious one: colossal fortunes were being made while ‘the masses were growing poorer’; and California was being exploited by a ‘steady drain of federal taxes.’

But he nationalized rather than localized his argument; and he never talked down to working-men readers. Nor did he sustain party shibboleths. While he announced that ‘in the higher, wider sense of the term we are Democrats, and the Post will be Democratic,’ he insisted that for 1872 at least, while Reconstruction conditions persisted, the Democrats were fated to lose, and that they should not try a separate ticket. They had everything to gain by joining with liberal and free-trade Republicans. So, eleven months before the election, early enough to be noticeable in the Liberal Republican campaign, George went all-out for a fusion. Win or lose, the campaign would create a greatly needed new party, he believed, an assurance for the future of the Republic.

Although, as we shall need to understand later in some detail, George never abandoned thinking and writing about California’s economic problems and their remedy, his editorial focus of 1872 remained where the pilot editorial had put it, on the coming election. On 27 December, when the Post was less than a month old it noted with satisfaction that a political convention of organized labor was about to gather in Columbus; and the editor was pleased to predict that George W. Julian would be nominated. Mr. Julian had identified himself with ‘the popular side of the greatest of all questions — the land question,’ and the paper believed that a fight between him and President Grant ‘would be a square fight between labor and capital, and that is the real issue today in the United States.’ But the hope for Julian soon proved premature. In voicing it, George may have been too much impressed by the political possibilities of the National Labor Union, which, though it had recently succeeded in setting up new locals in California, was already fading in the national scene. At any rate the Post went with the current in looking for a different leader for the proposed fusion movement. For an interval Lincoln’s old associate, Judge David Davis, seemed likely; then Horace Greeley. In March the Post hailed Greeley’s declaration for the fusion as right, and it saluted Greeley himself, one of the principal founders of the Republican party and stalwart egalitarian friend of labor for three decades, as the best man for the nomination for president.

Henry George, the editor and proprietor, who now threw himself as he did his newspaper into the campaign, did so as a man of some power and influence, more than he had ever been before. His paper had already proved solid and strong. In less than its first month it had had to increase in size to allow for the amount of advertising ‘now crowding upon us’; and in less than two months it had ventured an occasional eight-page edition. Very soon it made the double-size issue a regular Saturday event. Perhaps success derived from the one-cent policy. The Post believed both that it had confirmed what had already been proved for the East, namely, that low price and mass appeal brought in the advertising, and that it could assert ‘without egotism’ that no other penny paper anywhere had ever carried so much news, or featured such attractive presswork, or depended so little on reprinted material.

The clinching evidence of success followed quickly on a surprise notice, 13 April 1872, when the Post was five months old: ‘My editorial connection with the Post ceases with this issue.’ A reshuffle occurred, evidently for the reason that Mr. Rapp, the business manager, wanted to get out. Whether for the sake of quick profits or for other cause, he sold his interest to H. W. Thompson, possibly a creditor of the Post, for $2500. Then, according to George’s reminiscence of a quarter-century later, ‘Mr. Hinton and I concluded that we had better withdraw, and we sold our interests, each getting $2700.’ So far, so good. If remembered figures are correct, an $1800 investment had sold for $7900. Even Annie George in Philadelphia, who was distressed about the loss of the paper and who hoped that her husband might return in a new partnership to control the editorial page, saw the point of collecting the gain of capital value. It would be nice to furnish a house without running into debt, she wrote to Henry.

Nor were wifely hopes too high. The Post dwindled under Thompson. Two months after selling, George and Hinton were given an opportunity to buy back the newspaper at a bargain price. They took a new third partner, this one on less than equal terms; and they started again, as they announced on 10 June, happily convinced that the control of the paper was theirs for as long as they pleased, and that they could make it succeed in every sense. The lucky timing of events on the Post worked out as neatly as could be: George took the saddle again just at the moment when the national-party conventions were becoming immediate business.

The local Democrats improved the coincidence. Along with exmayor McCoppin, Henry George was chosen a delegate from the fourth district to the national convention in Baltimore. He traveled by way of Philadelphia, where he picked up his wife and took her along. At the convention he became secretary of the California delegation, and had the satisfaction of casting an editor’s vote for the doughty editor whom the Post was saying stood for ‘the spirit of peace’ against the ‘spirit of war.’ And, after the convention and a trip with his delegation to New York to visit Horace Greeley at his home, George felt even more satisfied. Every Californian present had sensed, he told Post readers, ‘that in this sturdy, benignant old man we had a candidate round whom we could all rally, and who fittingly represented the grandest idea of the time — the idea of reconciliation.’

Restored to his editorial chair, during the summer and fall George made sage economic comments in the Post. That ‘the South has been made the Ireland of America’ was one of them. But the political spirit — which brought him to forecast at mid-July that Greeley would win, 225 electoral votes to 129 — led him to repeated extravagances. Though he admitted privately to Whitelaw Reid that the Liberal party in California was ‘utterly impecunious’ and apathetic and ‘cut up by our local quarrels,’ and was ineffective by contrast with the energy and bribe money of the Grant forces, the Post put no doubts into print earlier than

October, when defeats in certain state elections required open pessimism. Then, when the killing ‘rout — utter irretrievable’ occurred at the general election and Grant was returned to office, an editorial soberly questioned whether or not American democracy could ever succeed, given the limits set by the narrowness and prejudices of party-bound voting.

Within a month, having rendered its tribute to Greeley as martyr, the Post came up with a revision. Not a fusion of elements from the Civil War and postwar parties but a return to the old parties of the Jackson period should be tried, to renew the life of politics. The Whigs and Democrats had once faithfully fought the perennial issues between capitalistic nationalism and radical democracy; now let the battle be resumed and be won again, by the right side. Thus Henry George was ready to be a Democrat once more, so far as national affairs were concerned, a Democrat and nothing else. This was the first stage of a new political wisdom which he would distill in the columns of the Post during the middle years of his editorship.


George’s important advance during the early 1870s, as an original thinker on California affairs and on political and economic affairs generally, will be better understood if we first take time to notice his continuing success as a businessman in journalism. During the election year, and in 1873 and 1874, his first hopes and successes on the Post were more than consolidated. Now that the paper’s name and character was established, it could afford to change from the one-cent policy. George and his partners put up the price twice during 1872: at mid-summer to two cents, in October to five, the second rise ‘more to accommodate the price to the currency than for the sake of the addition.’ At the beginning of 1873 the regular subscription rate was fixed where it stayed, at fifteen cents a week or five dollars a year. This left the Post still the cheapest paper on the coast, and the owners justified the increase by enlarging content more than in proportion, and by improving and extending delivery service in the city and in the interior of the state. At the end of its first year, the paper claimed that it had the largest evening circulation west of Chicago, and that its ‘career so far has been one of unexampled prosperity.’

With newspapers, as with gold mines, increasing production called for larger outlays and heavier capitalization, and Henry George accepted the necessity with a true Californian alacrity. Six weeks before election he wrote Whitelaw Reid, Young’s successor on the Tribune, that he wanted more telegraphic news exclusive for the Post: ‘We have very frequently to counteract the Administration tendencies of Simonton’s news and keep up the spirit of the Greeley people by drawing on our own private wire which we keep coiled up in a box.’ This overture failed, though without injuring his improved relations with Greeley’s paper; and it was only one of several efforts, many of them successful, which George made to expand the scope of the newspaper.

During 1873 the Post sped up production by contracting for the afternoon use of the Chronicle’s new ‘lightning press,’ a piece of machinery which would print 30,000 papers as quickly as the old press would 12,000. Before the Post’s second birthday, a fifth enlargement increased the size to 171^ by 25 inches. The regular edition now contained four pages of eight very long columns; and, for one of its eight-page issues, the Post claimed to have produced the largest daily ever printed in California and, it believed, except for a few issues of the New York Herald, the largest ever anywhere in the United States. By the time the paper reached full size it maintained many regular departments: Telegraphic, Police Court, Amusements, Stocks, Mining Notices, Commercial and Financial, and so on. Perhaps the Post was a little on the sensational side, as the editor’s mother thought, bracketing in that respect with the Chronicle, and differing from the Alta California and the Bulletin; but by twentieth-century standards it seems quite sober. About half the space was taken by advertising.

We have to take from where we can find them the facts about how Henry George in his middle thirties carried the roles of editor and proprietor, and tribune of the people. His last office on the Post was a small room piled high with papers, magazines, and Congressional Records, and untidy with cigar ashes; he had a baize-covered sofa there, where he slept nights when he could not get away, or caught a cat nap as needed. He made a lively boss, and an interesting one. The male secretary who took his dictation recalls that, temperamentally high-strung, George drove himself incessantly and could be sharp with his associates. But the remembered events speak most of little-disciplined work habits, amusing to behold, and good deeds and generous attitudes, which endeared him to those around him. His editorials arrived habitually late; his door was always open. On one occasion he rescued by a reach from his own balcony a sailor in delirium tremens who was hanging from an adjoining one; and another time he tickled his associates by taking a shot of whiskey to buck himself for a temperance address. The stimulant more than worked, and he delivered a speech on land taxation.

A good fellow among journalists, he was elected to the Bohemian Club, becoming not a charter member but a regular one as early as the second week or so of that famous society’s life; and very soon he became a trustee. Here he had the association not only, notably, of fellow newspapermen from the journals he attacked, but also of men of future fame — Samuel Clemens, Ambrose Bierce, and the future senator and conservationist leader, Francis G. Newlands. It is pleasant to catch so earnest a man having fun under the motto, ‘Weaving spiders come not here’; and to learn that he participated in the ‘high jinks’ and other foolery at the club’s Russian River encampment.

Though the early San Francisco Post years were among George’s hardest as husband and father, because Annie and the children stayed long in Philadelphia, we do find them all together at last in 1874, as happy as they ever were while the children were young and before George’s greatest successes. They lived that year in the Mission District; and George rode to and from work on a bony horse which cost him many jokes and jibes. For him it was a time of pride in the three youngsters: especially in Richard, the child of the poverty of 1865, who now began to anticipate his future as artist and wished to send pictures home to his grandparents in Philadelphia. The most inward peep into family life comes from Annie George’s letter to her father-in-law about the celebration of her thirty-first birthday. Her husband and his partner had given her a square grand piano — ‘This is from the office, as neither can afford to pay cash for it’ — and she had also been given a biographical dictionary, a set of old English poets, a silver pie knife, a gold thimble, a box of candy, and an exquisite bouquet. Safe to say that never before in her life had Annie George had a birthday like that one. Had her husband been asked to explain how so lavish, doubtless he would have said privately what he had said publicly in his issue of 22 October 1873 about the ingredients of the success of the Post: it was ‘certainly not due to capital, nor yet so much to ability, enterprise, or application, as to the popular appreciation of our desire to deal honestly and justly. If we have struck hard, it has always been on the side of the poor, the wronged, and the oppressed.’ Very much like the famous muckrakers in the national magazines of about 1900, who were in a degree his spiritual successors, George made money fighting the good fight.

Crusading spelled success; and success stimulated the brainwork of the crusader. Of George’s whole life, the years on the Post were the time when his mind ranged the most freely, when he made his decisions and developed his ideas the most independently and pragmatically. His strategy cannot be called simple. Rather than just reasoning forward along lines laid down during his march with the Haight administration, and diagramed in The Subsidy Question and Our Land and Land Policy, George turned certain sharp corners, as we shall see in the next section of this chapter, and he penetrated new terrain of general economic ideas. But short of these major changes, as liberal editor he advanced also his modes of political thinking, and notably developed a number of policy convictions, as he discussed issues current in the state and in the city.

To his own surprise, the new administration of Republican Governor Booth pleased him, even while his disillusionment about liberal fusionism was still sharp after the Greeley fiasco of 1872. George noticed and praised in the Post, for instance, Booth’s inaugural address, the plea for taxes on land values which was quoted at the opening of this chapter; and he praised the governor as a man evidently far less committed to the Central Pacific than had seemed likely. These judgments placed George exactly beside James McClatchy, as that editor declared the policy of the independent Republican Sacramento Bee. They put him in the position of being less a man of state-party Democratic loyalties — at the very moment of becoming more a man of national-party ones — than he had been since returning to his father’s political party. Perhaps the new governor’s winning support from Democrats as well as Republicans may be seen as an early illustration of California’s present-day special habit of segregating state politics from national-party patterns.

Certainly cross-party reformism was the political method Henry George now made his own, in state affairs. Late in 1873, though he had recently criticized the governor for failing to live up to his inaugural address, he supported Booth when the legislature chose him for the United States Senate, ‘as coming nearer to being senator by common consent’ than any Californian had ever been. The editor likewise approved and criticized as he pleased the new ‘Dolly Vardens’ in California politics, the independent Republican followers of Booth who won control of the assembly in 1873. With like freedom, as occasions arose, George supported the intrusion of Grangers in state politics, yet sometimes criticized them sharply; and again, he backed independent fighters of land monopoly, notably John W. Days and Pascal Coggins. We may look far forward to Henry George’s own candidacies to be mayor of New York, the most heterodox of all such candidacies in American history, and discover him still true to the conception of local politics which he phrased first as editor of the San Francisco Post. ‘Let the people who desire reform vote independently of all parties,’ he said on 3 June 1875. ‘Where the office is mainly an administrative one, let them vote for the best man. Where the office is a political one, let them vote for the men who are pledged to cut down the number of offices and undue expenditures.’ George’s permanent conviction, in short, was that parties are instruments. At national level they generalize the broader differences which voters need to distinguish at the biennial and quadrennial elections. At lower level, however, grass-roots reformism, remaking parties by introducing new men and reintroducing right principles, is the essence of party growth and political life.

On the side of economics, regional and other, George withdrew after 1872 from some of the old insistences of his days on the Times, the Transcript, and the Reporter. He gave the figures, and rejoiced, along with his old opponents in the debate on immigration policy, when trainloads and shiploads of newcomers poured into California. Though one-sixth to one-fourth of the immigrants, according to the Post of 11 October 1873, were Chinese (and the editor never changed his mind on that subject), he did not voice so much alarm about any phase of immigration as he had put into the Oakland and Sacramento papers.

He even softened his comment on the railroad monopoly. True, Stanford and his associates had by now consolidated and expanded their control of California transport, and the Post said so bluntly. Their monopoly was fait accompli, and the paper acknowledged that the state should ‘be thankful that [Stanford] is not a worse man.’ The transcontinental railroads were still leasing their wires to the American Press Association, on which the Post depended; and a brief editorial gave ‘the devil his due.’ Following a declaration by Stanford that the Central Pacific had broken pre-existing monopolies, the Post of 13 September 1873 admitted that the old steamship lines to Panama had been ‘meaner and more oppressive, though smaller, monopolies’ and that four years after the railroad had been put through the state flourished better than when it had been robbed by them and by Wells Fargo and the California Stage Company — ‘It is the difference between one despot and a host of tyrants.’ George’s attitude toward Stanford in the Post probably echoes impressions he got in Sacramento in 1862 and 1863, and it conforms also with his lifelong habit of critical admiration for constructive capitalists. He had now arrived as a capitalist himself. He had been guilty of an election-year inconsistency in 1872, when he said that capital and labor are inevitably at war with each other.

So far as concerned industry or business, not landholding, Henry George’s anti-monopolism concentrated now on the objections to consolidating too much power in the hands of too few people, and most of all on the evils of absentee ownership and control. Be it remembered that his reading clientele was largely Irish. When the question came up of Vanderbilt control possibly extending to the West coast railroads, George preferred Stanford; and when there arose a likelihood that capitalists of St. Louis and San Francisco (this group under the lead of Caspar Hopkins, of the Immigrant Union) would combine to put through the Atlantic and Pacific railroad to compete with the Union Pacific and Central Pacific, the Post balanced judgment. For a while it presented advantages that might be gained from this competition of roads; then it considered a second possible new road. But throughout it feared the debts and burdens of an unnecessary installation. The several San Francisco papers went their separate ways on this problem, the Bulletin being strong for Caspar Hopkins’ A and P.

Without coming to clear-cut opinions on the immediate and practical problem, the Post took a turn at analyzing the more general and underlying issues of railroad economics and regulation. Accepting a lead from an Atlantic Monthly article, George endorsed the opinion that a cut in federal tariffs and taxes would do more to save the public’s money than would rate regulating by states, Granger style. Then George renewed his earlier probing toward public ownership. ‘Irresistibly’ railroad monopolism was forcing the country ‘on the horns of a dilemma,’ he said, ‘one of which we must choose — either the government must own the railroads, or the railroads must own the government.’ But this dilemma he evidently envisaged as still at some distance in the future, and not yet clear-cut; at any rate he allowed himself editorial leeway to go afield again and reconsider his old Pennsylvania notion, of the government owning the roadbeds and private companies running the trains. He never became dogmatic in the Post about public versus private railroads.

Indeed George editorialized with force and determination in favor of the government ownership of only one public service — the one indicated to him by General William Orton in 1869. With wire communication he unquestionably had experience on which to draw,, and recently he had had stunning good luck. Because his American Press Association had the use of the railroad wires, it had grown from Sacramento days to combine some interestingly opposite bedfellows. In addition to the Post and Chronicle in San Francisco, the Alta California had abandoned the AP and joined; and in Sacramento the Record, and then the Record-Union belonged when the railroad paper which succeeded George’s Reporter combined with the old Union. This meant that half the big papers in the state, and some of the minor ones, associated and depended on the anti-monopoly press service, and needed the telegraph service, which George had been the first to make available.

Yet, although the Post lived and profited by this success, and occasionally took advantage of it by printing words of self-congratulation for having defeated the Western Union-Associated Press combination, and although, perhaps more than George knew, the American Press Association was cutting sharply the profits of the Bulletin and the Call, the paper’s own situation was precarious. In spite of firm assertions that the telegraphic news came through freely and completely, there remained cause for embarrassment when the AP papers charged that Henry George, San Francisco’s attacker of railroad subsidies and monopolies, was himself depending on a railroad monopoly and was receiving a subsidy — all this by the simple compromising fact of receiving news from the wires of the Central Pacific Railroad.

Under these circumstances, George declared strongly for public ownership. He was not alone, and the position he took is not at all to be thought of as indicating socialistic doctrines. In the second issue, and in one of the Post’s few editorials ever to praise Ulysses S. Grant, that of 5 December 1871, it commended the President for asking Congress to establish telegraph service within the operations of the United States Post Office. Then and thereafter the Henry George argument for a postal telegraph was simple and obvious: telegraphy indicates a national monopoly; the competitive duplication of wires is wasteful; government operation promises low and reasonable rates and assures access to the wires, without discrimination or favoritism, to any and all.

This policy of the Post was ‘academic’ only in the sense that the United States government did not change, or come near changing, the system of private telegraph communications. The issue represented actual and acute affairs in California and it signified the Post’s participation in a nation-wide debate. When the Alta dropped out of the Associated Press group, the Post said that the senior paper had actually been pushed out, for the reason that its editorials favored a postal telegraph. Stanford’s ‘oppressions’ grow dim, compared George, before the infamy of such an abuse to the freedom of the press. Though not feeling that nationalization could become a practical issue, the Sacramento Bee believed that there prevailed ‘almost a unanimous public sentiment in favor of a Postal Telegraph’; and eastward across the country similar ideas appeared.

The Post took it as a body blow to nationalization, when David A. Wells wrote at length on the other side. Henry George’s editorial reply to this recently sympathetic correspondent gives the pattern of his own lasting conviction, not about the telegraph alone but more generally about whatever monopolies are produced by industrial technology. According to the Post: ‘The government should be restricted as nearly as possible to the preservation of order and the administration of justice, leaving everything else to private enterprise — in a word it should only do for the people what they cannot do for themselves . . . The progress of invention has created certain great and necessary businesses which are in their very nature monopolies, in which competition does not operate to secure good service at a fair price.’ Besides a national postal telegraph, this editorial recommended the municipal distribution of water and gas; and, a little waveringly, as in other editorials, it spoke for the public ownership of railroads.

Henry George’s comment, here, makes him one of the earliest observers in the United States to recognize the economic phenomenon of the natural monopoly.


The policy ideas so far presented from the history of the Post, mainly from 1872 and 1873 but some of them from later years, probably go far toward accounting for the success of the paper. Had the editor been willing and content to operate mainly in such directions, and had he not ventured into salients of his own, the Post might well have turned out to be for Henry George the way into a long*San Francisco career in liberal journalism. With the sagacious and practical idealism he was displaying in matters of national and regional politics, such a career, which perhaps in the end would have had much in common with the careers of Horace Greeley and David A. Wells, would seem to have been a reasonable possibility.

But the moderate and sagacious side of Henry George was only half. And, as the Post up to the national election displayed mainly that side, so the Post in 1873 and after evoked the other side. This was the more individual and inspired Henry George, the man of the visions of 1869 and 1870, the man of ideas not yet fully comprehended and expressed, and the man of special intensity. This emergence — which now led George to assert the economic proposition of his lifetime — was bound to come. But its occurring when it did was a response to criticisms which hit him, first right and then left, during the election year.

Just a month after the Post had been started a new trade journal had been launched in San Francisco, Green’s Land Paper. It was a weekly, published and edited by Will S. Green, former editor of the Colusa Sun and now the head of a real-estate company in the Pacific Bank Building. Mr. Green was that rara avis, a real-estate operator with ideas; and he made his paper every inch a defender of the kind of policy the Immigrant Union, and earlier the Alta California, had stood for. Particularly like the Union, he asserted belief in a small-farm economy, and he rejoiced at the arrival of German immigrants who wanted farms and had money to buy. ‘Divide up your estates!’ he urged his readers.

To editor Will Green as to Caspar Hopkins, land withholding represented an injury to California. But naturally Green defended the dealer and speculator in real estate: they were merely businessmen doing useful jobs, and ‘any talk about discriminating laws against [the speculators] is the sheerest nonsense — the most disgusting demagoguery.’ In his first issue, Mr. Green acknowledged his number-one enemy in opinion making. Calling the Post the ‘spiciest’ paper ever to appear in California, he warned that the reforms it wanted would be unconstitutional under the instrument of 1849: the doctrines of equal taxation incorporated there would not permit of sliding tax rates on different sizes of holdings. Admitting that ‘Harry George has both talent and industry,’ Mr. Green promised to get after Harry sometimes on some of his ‘Commune’ notions.

To call a man a sympathizer with the ‘Commune,’ in the early 1870s, amounted to less than calling a man a communist eighty years later, but it was not a matter for Henry George to take lightly. Not unlikely the touch carried extra annoyance, because in actual fact George in recent issues of the Post had spoken favorably of giving the working men ‘internationalists’ a hearing.

His reply to Green shows the point charged against him: was not his paper actually propagandizing for the public ownership of land, while dishonestly pretending to believe in private ownership? The Post said on 2 January 1872 what George had said in Our Land and Land Policy, that private property in land must be understood and accepted as necessary, even though it cannot be called logical. This time, putting the crux of the matter in italics, George focused the paradox more sharply than in Our Land and Land Policy. 'That the land of a country rightfully belongs to all the people of that country; that there is no justification for private property in land except the general convenience and benefit; and that private rights in land should always be held subordinate to the general good.’ At a meeting held the next month under the auspices of the ‘Internationalists’ of San Francisco — which probably signifies a branch of the Marxist International Workingmen’s Association — George in the opening address criticized strongly the principle of the nationalization of land and developed an argument that private property is necessary to have full production from the soil. Foretaste of much to come, he assailed ‘Internationalist’ ideology and commended rigorous land taxes as the best means to harmonize large private holdings with democratic rights and interests.

Interestingly, it was a friendly critic, well to the left of Will Green to be sure but not at all of the Marxist complexion, who drew George along the hard road of judgment and doctrine. Assemblyman John R. Days of Nevada County, a reader and admirer of Our Land and Land Policy, was distinguishing himself in 1872 by sponsoring measures of the kind Green opposed and called unconstitutional. Early in the year he introduced in Sacramento a bill ‘to reserve all lands within the state belonging to the state of California for sale to actual settlers only.’ He had proposed also what was, according to the Post, ‘the best bill ever introduced in the legislature.’ This one scheduled a graduated license tax on holders of vacant — unoccupied, uncultivated, unfenced — land; it was scaled from 25 cents an acre on small blocks of land, up to a dollar an acre on blocks of 5000 acres or more withheld. Such a law, once enforced, the Post said, would pay the debts of the state in a short time and would cause the population to double; especially would San Francisco gain from the stimulus to port activity.

Of course the Days bill closely resembled George’s own earlier proposals, and George now gave a great deal of space and favor to the assemblyman and his ideas. The Post printed the news — and observed that no other paper did so — when the graduated license tax got 19 ayes to 46 nays on the question to engross. In Henry George’s opinion this was encouragement and warning: ‘Let the friends of land reform labor and wait. Who would have thought a few years ago slavery would now be a thing of the past?’

In May 1872, George met Mr. Days, and political affinity led to personal friendship. Mr. Days lent George books on English and Irish social discontent; and, before long, apparently late that summer, he persuaded George to give a Sunday-afternoon address before a San Francisco lyceum of which he was president.

George brought up the nagging problem that afternoon. He phrased his paradox negatively, though, and apologetically. At least according to Mr. Days’s impression, he said that although the logic of men’s equal rights to the gift of the Creator indicated that landed institutions should be different from present private holding, not until the millennium destroyed ‘the old savage, selfish instincts’ in man would the common ownership of land come into being. But the chairman thought that the speaker was contradicting himself. In his closing remarks Mr. Days put it to the audience that ‘every argument’ George made showed that he ought to disbelieve in private property in land. The afternoon ended without a conclusion of the matter. But Mr. Days’s reminiscence closes with a debater’s triumph and a friend’s tribute: ‘From that day to the day of his death Mr. George openly opposed by word as well as argument private property in land.’

True, but not the whole significant truth about the author of Progress and Poverty. George never again spoke of private property in land as a necessity of civilization or agriculture; he never again assigned common property in land to the millennium, as something not to be achieved in practice. Yet neither did he now speak dogmatically, or even loudly, about this radical doctrine. One searches the Post in vain for a clear-cut recognition of land nationalization as unreservedly right in principle, or as a practical alternative to private property, as John Stuart Mill was now beginning to preach, or as George himself was going to say in Progress and Poverty, half a decade later. Rather one finds oblique criticisms. For instance this obiter dictum in an editorial: ‘A false treatment of land ownership is putting into the hands of one class the wealth that belongs to all.’

As for what the new belief fostered in the way of policy thinking, George pondered harder than before, and somewhat differently, the role of land taxation in economic reform. This problem is so special that it must be deferred a few pages, to the final section of this chapter. The new belief encompassed also a great effort, by the

Post, to expose the facts of California landholding, and a great interest in supporting land reform of the familiar, though in California unsuccessful, kinds.

Specifically, the newspaper always made a business of reporting, in almost ‘believe it or not’ spirit, spectacular cases of land engrossment. Typical was a report from the Chico Enterprise, of a Colusa County farmer who seeded his lands in fields of two thousand acres. When the Post picked up a case of land monopolization below Los Angeles, Henry George observed mildly enough that this was‘the style in which a great deal of farming is done . . . Noland can ever be prosperous when the land is held and ruled this way.’ There was nothing especially radical about this reporting; the Post carried such items both before and after the editor’s 1872 increment of radicalism. But, on the editorial page certainly, there was an intensification of the policy of exposing engrossment and land withholding. For instance, in 1875 the eye that loved the Pennsylvania countryside noted that beautiful Marin County, on the peninsula north of San Francisco, though it ‘ought to be covered with comfortable farms and dotted with thriving little villages, is condemned to semi-solitude by the curse of these large landed estates.’

As to policy specifically, George continued from Our Land and Land Policy his old habit of condemning the agricultural-college grants; and he named and smote with words the big speculators in federal scrip. As in the case of railroads, so with landholding he condemned the most vigorously the abuses of absentee ownership. On the other hand, he was not too single-minded to give the wiser speculators their due: for example, when Miller and Lux provided irrigation on certain lands and offered it for sale in small farms at reasonable prices, the Post had a word of praise.

Likewise when new legislation came up for review and comment, George was not restrained from speaking for measures that would increase homestead farming in the historic Jeffersonian pattern. During the first month of the Post George praised, as a measure that ‘would be worth more in securing the liberties of the people and the perpetuity of our institutions than all the rest of the constitution,’ the amendment to the United States Constitution wanted by California Congressman Coghlan: ‘The public land of the United States shall not be disposed of except to actual settlers thereon, for homestead purposes only, and in quantities limited by general laws.’ And during 1872 and after, when his mind was quite made up on the issue of principle, the Post spoke, as proposals came before the state legislature, for such reforms as limiting a holder’s ‘possessory rights’ to 160 acres and requiring purchasers to pay cash for state lands. These were just such reforms as the Sacramento Bee, and even the Union and the Bulletin, were simultaneously advancing.

Had the homestead policy really worked, truly and broadly distributing the resources of the country among the people, without flagrant privilege, George would have had little excuse in America, outside the cities at any rate, to push the moral logic he believed in against the private ownership of land. By the signs he would not have tried to do so. But, in California more flagrantly than in any of the other domain states, the homestead policy was not working broadly or achieving the Jeffersonian results its philosophy contemplated; and fresh measures were not being taken to make it effective. The state and federal reforms George favored, in this pattern, remained bills and got nowhere; they were not enacted either into statutes or constitutional amendments. This being so, and George being George, the editor had every reason to ponder his own logic and observations, and to write as he pleased in favor of a different, more universal, program for equality of benefit from America’s domain.


In 1888, when Henry George had become a world figure, a learned and friendly critic explained in the Harvard Law Review that the famous single-tax doctrine really comprised two ideas and that the two were separable. First, it contained the contention of egalitarian logic, that all men have a natural right of access to the gifts of the Creator’s bounty. And second, the proposition, which the critic thought less well grounded and certainly separable, that economic rent was just the right flow of credit which ought to be captured, in this case by taxing land values, for the sole or principal financial support of the state, with generous welfare services included.

There is no reason to be forward and to try prematurely to match wits with a New York lawyer on the merits of the case for the single tax. But 1873 is the point in the Henry George story to notice that historically Mr. Clarke was correct: two different propositions — the proposition of principle and the proposition of operation — are joined in Henry George’s reform proposal. And, though there had been signs of the affinity of the two in Our Land and Land Policy and earlier, they finally became linked on the pages of the San Francisco Post. George’s decision against private property in land — because it involved the question: if private owners ought not to have economic rent, where should economic rent be directed? — practically forced the ideas into partnership. This means that, just as George could not, we cannot any longer postpone attention to the heavy business of taxation.

The years of the Post happened to be important years in state and national tax history. In 1872 and 1874 were published Wells’s thoughtful New York state reports — pilot studies of local taxation for the country as a whole they proved to be. Then also, in California, as the learned monograph of Dr. William C. Fankhauser points out, part of the work of reform during the Haight administration had been the acts of 1868 and 1870 which required (what Governor Stanford, too, had recommended, years earlier) that the whole body of California law be revised and codified. The codifying commission reported in 1872; and the adoption of its report included a job of tax rewriting, the repeal of certain laws, and a bit of tax reform. This amounted to an inspection of the tax machinery set up since 1849, with a certain tightening of bolts and minor repairs, but not a new or even a rebuilt mechanism.

In those days, before the income tax had become anything more than a war-emergency measure, or else a threat of socialism, property taxes were the main source of revenue everywhere. They were levied on nearly everything. In California this meant not only real estate, land and buildings being treated alike, but also personal property; and personal property included both visible property in goods and capital equipment, and invisible property, such as mortgage notes — which multiplied the tax burden on real estate — and other commercial paper. A common rate was enacted by the legislature: it had risen to a high of $1.25 per $100 valuation in 1864 and had tapered under $1.00 in 1870 and 1871,

Besides the property taxes California had a poll tax and a congeries of license taxes — taxes on auctions, on gambling, on billiards, on foreign miners, and many others. An Overland Monthly writer in 1875, E. A. Waite estimated the charges of all taxes to average $40 per individual Californian, or $200 for each family of five. George told Wells that probably the California tax structure was more confused and wrong-headed even than the New York one.

From Dr. Fankhauser’s record of condition and complaint, it is easy to judge, as George judged, that real-estate taxes involved the biggest stakes and the most sizeable abuses in the California system. The legislature’s setting up a new state Board of Equalization, a fact-finding body intended to review and to help smooth out tax discrepancies from county to county, in a way confirms this opinion. But, not for George alone but for all who shared the thought that property in land always and everywhere carries special public responsibilities, there lay, over and beyond the questions of the quantity and the collection of land taxes, a political and moral question: did not the fundamental tax law of California specifically protect the land monopolizers in their engrossments, and specifically exempt them from public obligations?

This thought impinged on Section 13 of Article xi of the constitution of 1849, a clause that had been designed by southern members of the Monterey convention who were known to be plantation-class sympathizers. It was the clause on which Will Green relied to render void any such sliding-scale taxes, should they be enacted, as Assemblyman Days and Henry George proposed for California. The clause had a good and conventional sound, as follows: ‘Taxation shall be equal and uniform throughout the state. All property in this state shall be taxed in proportion to its value,’ and assessing and collecting officers shall be elected by the voters of the district in which the tax is collected.1

These provisions meant two very substantial barricades to protect property in land from being distributed. Land taxes must always be low, or at any rate no higher than the assembly would impose on any and every kind of property; and, second, the provision about

1 Concerning the southern influence on the taxation provisions of the 1849 constitution, Senator William A. Gwin, former Mississippian and leader at the Monterey convention, said that delegates ‘from settled portions of the State, who had great land grants and represented those who had vast grants of land from Spain and Mexico, would not listen to any proposition that would subject their real estate to taxation and the onus of supporting the state, while the great bulk of the population, the newcomers, had no real estate, in fact nothing that could be taxed, and nothing could be collected from them except a poll tax.' Gwin called the local election of tax officers a guaranty against oppressive taxation on large landholders. Gwin Memoirs, MS, 28-9, UCBL.

assessors and collectors prevented any officials unsympathetic to landholders, say from the mining districts or from the cities, from intruding into the agricultural or ranching areas of California’s most valuable land aggregations. In actual operation, landed property was assessed at 88 per cent of cash value in the mining counties, and much lower on the coast, for example, at 15 per cent of cash value in San Mateo County on San Francisco peninsula. The Post was right when it said that California taxes were ‘neither simple nor equal,’ for the ‘burden falls most heavily on those least able to sustain it — upon the borrowing classes and the laboring classes. It is true that under our present Constitution, or at least under our present Constitution as interpreted by the courts, it is impossible to make a good revenue system; but a much better one might have been made than the present.’

In this passage the Second Report of the Commissioners to Revise the Laws for the Assessment and Collection of Taxes in the State of New York, published in 1872, came through with incomparable support for tax reformers. Now George and George’s kind had a firm point from which to depart, for writing new editorials and designing sharper programs. The New York commission reasoned from propositions like those of Adam Smith that any taxes anywhere should have the three qualities of being equal, or just, in incidence; and ‘certain,’ or plain and aboveboard in operation; and economical to administer. It condemned forcefully personal-property taxes, and especially those on negotiable instruments of indebtedness. Wells and his colleagues favored instead, first, taxes on real estate, ‘lands and buildings, at a full and fair market valuation’; second and third, they recommended corporation taxes and a building-occupancy tax. Their whole design favored simplification and reduction of structure. As if addressed to Article xi of the California constitution, the Wells report condemned, as ‘one of the greatest obstacles which stands in the way of a reform of local taxation in the United States . . . the theory that in order to tax equitably and uniformly it is necessary to subject all property to assessment.’

Wells sent George a copy of the Second Report soon after its release. Though not accepting it whole hog — there was too much argument, to suit George, in favor of taxing capital improvements on land; and Wells opposed tax rates scaled according to ability to pay — George quickly absorbed the m?»in ideas into his own arsenal. An early editorial note in the Post fired the report at the Call, because that paper favored taxing all kinds of property; and the Post praised Wells for distinguished service to the country.

In the New York report, economic reasoning based on the classical economists had slashed at American tax practices; and now an old hand at applying John Stuart Mill to California affairs was ready to follow suit. So, on 2 January 1873, in exact coincidence with the editor’s finding his ideas against private property in land, the Post turned tax conscious and tax active, as had no Henry George paper before this. There should be three taxes, it announced, on the second day of the year: (1) a tax on the value of land, not counting improvements, above a minimum exemption; (2) a tax on the estates of deceased persons; and (3) license taxes on such businesses as require regulation, liquor and gambling houses for instance.

Like the New York report, the Post justified its proposals by exhibiting them alongside the classical canons of taxation. Its own simple, three-point program, it reasoned, would unburden both capital and labor from present charges and annoyances and make for much freer flow in the economy. Assessments on values that could not be hidden would be accurate and fair; and tax collecting would be rendered economical and easy. Per contra, George estimated a ‘mob’ of 100 to 150 ‘assessors’ deputies, license collectors, fee and tax gatherers’ in San Francisco alone, under the present system.

As George was to do for the rest of his life, and as the Wells report had just done, the Post speaking for reform made much of the question of the incidence of taxation. Who pays the collector, and who really pays the taxes? Doubtless the nature of this problem was not as universally apprehended in George’s day as in ours. But nothing could be plainer than that the Post’s second main tax proposal could not be passed on to others; and as now there was then a powerful argument that the paper’s first proposal, land-value taxation, deprives the first payer and no one else. Beginning at once, and never changing his mind, George made and remade that argument — that economic rent regardless of tax policy always and everywhere flows automatically from producers to landholders, and to capture it from the owners is to take from them alone. When they pay, the credit has already reached its point of accumulation, and it cannot be demanded again from other members of the economy. So the Henry George line, which may be qualified a little but can hardly be upset.

The Post’s announcement of a three-point scheme started much, not quite all, the discussion an editor could have wanted. Among his neighbors in San Francisco, the Examiner and the Chronicle met him halfway. The Democratic paper understood the program as simple anti-monopoly; and the Post replied that, pleased as it would be to break monopoly, land-value taxation actually contemplated more: it would prevent the recurrence of monopoly once broken, and it would present the community with a generous and easily collected income. Perhaps the Chronicle was the first paper to object to the singleness of George’s program. Why tax land without taxing capital, it demanded, making illustration of taxing the Central Pacific’s strips of land without taxing its strips of steel and its rolling stock? Because, George replied, the idea is precisely not to burden labor or to penalize capital accumulation. Over and over the Post reiterated that land values do not represent wealth in action, as capital values do, but represent the power to collect from someone else. Within the year, the paper was claiming that the Chronicle was half converted to its plan.

There was reminder of the past and there was unanticipated future, both, for Henry George in the objections now raised by the little Catholic journal in which he had first tried to be very philosophical about the land problem. The Monitor said that land-value taxation would make land a drug on the market. No, replied George on 26 February 1873: only speculative land would become a drug, and no need to object to that. Furthermore, the editorial added, the Post’s scheme contemplated an exemption of $500 for every city landholder, intended to favor the homestead-lot man and to encourage home building; and doubtless the Post had the Monitor in mind when it added, in another connection, that land-value taxation would not affect church buildings at all and would affect only a little the land on which they stood. Of course, though, the lands which San Francisco’s Bishop Alemany held, in expectation of the city’s growth, would not return him increments. For Irish readers, George had made a skillful and anti-hierarchical rejoinder — interesting preparation for New York City politics, and Archbishop Corrigan, in 1886 and 1887.

The debate that George’s tax ideas might have stirred in San Francisco never quite came off, however, for the reason that the Fitch-Pickering papers brushed aside, rather than considered, the Post’s editorials. Not until the end of 1873, after considerable goading by George, did the Call get around to saying that the due-process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment would render unconstitutional any such scheme as George proposed — not a very responsible argument, and not a sound one, as we now know. Yet George did stir up sufficient San Francisco protest to get a first hearing 011 a question that was to bedevil him the rest of his days. This was the counter-proposition that to shift all taxes to land values would place extravagant and unjust burdens on farmers, to the advantage of city people.

When the Chronicle and Examiner, and later certain inland papers, raised that objection, the Post answered by running two lines of distinction, the first between the farmer who owns and operates land and improvements of the size a family can manage, and his neighbor, the speculator-owner of unimproved arable land; and the second, between the owners of rural land and the owners of city land. The working owner of a family-size farm, the Post told the Stockton Independent, might or might not be obliged, under land-value taxation, to pay more real-estate taxes than at present. If his farm was small, he would pay less, and certainly would do so if he was allowed the $1000 exemption which the Post now proposed. Even if his farm was large and well favored, and his tax was as high or higher than before, he would be free from taxes on his house and all improvements, and he would be encouraged to raise his income by purchasing more equipment and improving his techniques. And beyond all that he would live in the satisfaction of knowing that his neighbor of equal acres would share evenly with him the tax burden of the community, whether or not he had invested equally and worked as hard. Taxation according to opportunity to produce.

When the same delta-area journal protested that George’s plan would do ‘little to persuade men to seek homes in the unpeopled solitude,’ the Post agreed, with a twist and a difference from the usual American complacence about going to the frontier. Men take their families into the solitude only when they cannot get lands that they can use and afford near their neighbors, and that will be available to the schools and churches which people everywhere want. When another paper objected that all farmers want more land, whether or not they cultivate it decently, the Post observed that land value taxation would change all that, to make living more compact. ‘Settlement would be closer, cultivation would be better, the cost of transportation and exchange would be less, and the farmers and the state at large would be richer.’

While George’s editorials were explaining to farmers the advantages of eliminating buildings and all improvements from the tax-collector’s schedule, he was saying also that land-value taxation would fall more heavily, and make for more social and economic reconstruction, in the cities than in the country — in two ways. First, it would take away from the urbanite absentee owners of farmlands the rents they were accustomed to receive from the country. George believed that as many members of this class would yield ownership — that is, permit themselves to be expropriated — as would find it worth while to retain title for the sake of the return from whatever capital they might have put into improvements. Second, land-value taxation would capture for the public the economic rent of urban sites. To be sure the Post predicted little in the way of owners’ yielding ownership here. Rather it foresaw proprietors’ being compelled to use capital to build on vacant lots and to improve their buildings when sites increased in value: all in order to collect the surplus with which to pay the new tax, and at the same time have interest and profit on money invested and risked.

Here the prospect was painted rosy. The early gainers from land-value tax, the Post said, would be laboring men. There would be much new work for the building trades, and a general stimulation to industry and commerce. Figuring that an ordinary house lot cost more than the house built upon it — roughly $1000 to $1500 for the lot, $1000 to $1200 for the house (a radically different ratio, as well as different figures, from today) — George believed a building boom to be implicit in his plan for a tax-free home lot for every city family.

George invited his San Francisco readers to calculate for themselves. In 1873 a $2.00 rate on land, improvements, and personal property would raise the needed funds; so also would a $3.25 rate on land alone, exempting other forms of property. Which would the citizens prefer? Even at present assessments, and even disregarding the enlargement of a city’s social services which should follow capturing for the community the full product of urban site rent, George believed that the answer of his San Francisco readers should be obvious.

In all this reasonableness, conceived as pro-labor and pro-capitalist both, Henry George did not lose sight of the fact, nor was he less than candid, that his plan would radically alter property relationships and change the structure of society. In an editorial of 8 November 1873, ‘How To Tax the Rich,’ he explained: Land values are the source of most of our greatest fortunes. ‘With one or two exceptions, perhaps, there is hardly a rich man in San Francisco, or in California, who does not owe the largest part of his fortune to this source . . . The proposition to put all taxes on land is a proposition not to exempt the rich and tax the poor, but to exempt the poor and tax the rich.’ Looking backward the Post remembered the pueblo lands — which could have provided free homesteads for two or three million people but had instead created a few millionaires — and said that land-value taxation could now correct that wrong. Pursuing this vein when the Alta observed that San Francisco like other cities would in the future have to expect chronic pauperism, the Post gave an explanation. Because, ‘estimating roughly, it is certain that at least one-eighth, and probably one-sixth, of the aggregate earnings of San Francisco is paid in the various forms of rent to the owners of the land on which San Francisco is built,’ some would always lack. ‘As the city increases in population this proportion becomes greater and greater, as is shown in the increase of real-estate values.’ George’s mind’s eye had already reached the point where progress and poverty seemed fated to dwell together, especially in modern cities, as long as property rights in land remained unreformed.

In San Francisco the unwillingness of some papers to give space to debate his program, the part-way acceptance of others, and the rejection of most were all reactions he might have expected, according to the record. But Sacramento, where George had always fared more comfortably, promised to be different. To be sure the three papers there were all Republican, not one of George’s party; but two of them as we know had historic records against monopoly. As a current sign of Republican feeling, moreover, Governor Booth’s biennial message, delivered at the close of 1873, had expressed again his anxieties about land and land policy. Though the governor specifically refused to recommend laws that would change much the institutions and usages of ownership, he urged the legislature that, ‘It still remains true that a large portion of the lands of California are held “on speculation” for the advance in value, to the detriment of the growth and prosperity of the state, and in contravention of the “natural right of everyone born on the earth to so much of its soil as is necessary to his subsistence.” ’ In making these observations the governor referred to the recently created state Board of Equalization, as a moderate first step of reform already taken.

Of any element in Sacramento politics and opinion, the Bee was of course the nearest to the Post. There was no chance, though, that it would go all the way with the new George program, and George understood the reason perfectly. McClatchy, as an old member of the New York group of reformers, had given his mind permanently to the homestead principle. Unlike his earlier self, when he wrote Our Land and Land Policy, George no longer cared for the theory of limited-size holdings. ‘Restriction would be useful to break up some of the large holdings of agricultural lands, until we can do better,’ was the best he could say for that reform now. But even though the Post's shift to a tax reform scheme might have offended McClatchy, and even though George pointed sharp comment directly against that paper, McClatchy gave the Post claps on the back and reprinted certain strong editorials. Picking up the argument that land-value taxation would accelerate immigration, the Bee said: ‘That ought to be the law of every land, but more especially this one . . . [Land monopoly] is the curse, the blight, the dark cloud upon California.’ In the same editorial, early in 1873, the Bee went with the Post in calling for the repeal of all license taxes except those on saloons, and abolishing all property taxes except on land, ‘so that the soil shall pay the expense of government.’

As for the other Sacramento papers, the Union gave the Post a degree of satisfaction. ‘The people are aroused,’ was George’s comment when the paper for which he had worked responded to his ideas with an editorial for a sliding scale of land-tax rates. On the other hand, the Union had recently condemned Henry George’s idea of doing away with taxes on capital, particularly the railroad; and there was very little community of thought between the old and dying paper and the new one.

George’s recent acknowledgment of virtue in Leland Stanford to the contrary, he must have been surprised as well as stimulated when the Central Pacific’s Sacramento Record, once his own Reporter, came out, while discussion about land policy was heaviest, with a diagnosis and interpretation of the situation very much like his own. Under the general title, ‘The Farms of California,’ the railroad newspaper brought out fourteen heavily statistical articles between 27 October and 14 November 1873, which had been worked up from the tax figures of the state Board of Equalization. Each article surveyed landholding in three or four counties, forty-eight in all. Farms were classified according to size, average holdings were calculated for each classification, and the name of every holder of more than 500 acres was listed. Editorial comments along the way pointed up the more particular findings. Examples are: there was much land engrossment in Los Angeles County, but not as much in that area of Mexican grants as in some other places; Colusa County in the north, where the Bidwell estate was situated, and Kern County in the south, where 13 persons owned 487,908 acres, were the counties where aggregation created the highest-average holdings; and there was one holding — it must have been the Jacks estate, which had also caught Henry George’s eye — of 334,100 acres in Monterey County. At mid-series the Record printed a table of recapitulation which was printed also by the Union and the Bee, and gave a round-number survey of the state as a whole.

Because these findings give much the best control point from which to view objectively the land situation in California, it is reproduced in part, below. This is done especially for the benefit of skeptical readers who may still think that Henry George was imagining things. The immediate source is the Sacramento Record, as that paper took the figures, accurately, from the official tax statistics of the Board of Equalization.

The Sacramento Record's moral judgment of the whole situation, rendered on 26 October, sounds like Henry George: ‘California

Number of Farms

Class by A creage

Total Acres This Class


























20,000 or over


stands today in the singular position of a state which was admitted into the Union on the express principle of opposition to slavery yet which has contrived to blunder into a line of action which could not have been better calculated to build up a slave state had it been the carefully matured plan of some far-seeing Southern politician.’ Again like the Post, the railroad newspaper blamed land monopolization for the slow settlement of California: a 65,000 acre farm in Alameda County across the bay from San Francisco, it said, which actually supported 20 or 30 people, could well support 1000; the census found only 6165 inhabitants in Colusa County, where there could be 8000 farms and 100,000 people. Naturally Henry George called attention to the Record’s revelation. He took up again his old refrain, that land engrossment breeds slavery — no longer a monopolized idea.

At the point of recommending action, 5 November, the Record retained the role of broad investigator and judicious selector. It considered and dismissed the Union’s policy of a graduated land tax, for which that paper was probably indebted to John R. Days. It presented an adequate and accurate summary of the San Francisco Post’s plan. Finding that full-value land taxation would mean that ‘the property aspect of land ought to be abolished’ and something like leasehold title instituted, the Record rejected that plan also. ‘Custom, prescription, and vested rights’ all oppose it, the paper said, and furthermore there exists no ‘natural right’ to land — no man creates land of his own mind and effort. This fell far short of a sympathetic understanding of George’s underlying ethics. Yet in the future we shall look in vain to discover an equally appreciative discussion of George among the great newspapers, and we shall certainly not find it in the conservative New York press during his days of mightiest influence.

The Record’s own proposal — which it called the one ‘feasible plan’ because no amendment to the constitution was required — began with a voluntary convention of all the principal landholders of the state. Let them agree on a scale of low prices, none to be higher than $5 an acre and preferably not higher than $2.50; and let them bind themselves to sell a given proportion of their lands at the low prices, say one-fourth, or one-half, or two-thirds of their total holdings. Then let the legislature set up a commission to dispose of the land in parcels. The landholders should be willing to act, the Record concluded, because nothing less than the filling up of the state waited their decision; prompt action would ease tensions and advance the interests of all Californians.

The fact that the railroad newspaper stepped ahead of the Post and did a journalistic ‘first’ by systematically exposing California land monopolism is rendered yet more piquant by that paper’s political conclusions. It advised the forces of protest in the state to put the pressure on the monopolists. Yet the game is perfectly plain: it conforms with the Record's opposition to the telegraph monopoly; and it represents the shrewd, not to say Machiavellian, public relations of a railroad which, having consolidated its own monopoly, was now trying at once to build protective political connections in the state and yet keep protest disinfected of much radicalism. The Record's ‘feasible plan’ amounted, of course, to a renewal of Immigrant Union tactics, though with more bite than earlier, to put speculative land cheaply on the market. The Sacramento Bee was fair when it described the Record’s plan of a convention of landholders as a mechanism calculated to defend and perpetuate all the ‘customs, prescriptions, and vested rights’ of landholding. And the Post spoke the obvious truth about the Record, saying that the railroad had everything to gain from speeding up settlement in California.

The Record articles and the comment of the other papers, coming to a climax of discussion during the first week of November 1873, raised to the highest intensity of any time during Henry George’s California years the public debate on land monopolism. Four solutions had been presented: in San Francisco the Post’s; in

Sacramento the Union’s and the Record’s, and also the Bee’s old policy of acreage limitation on the homestead principle. No one of the proposed reforms ever carried the day; California is today as it was in Henry George’s day very much, though not completely, a state of excessively large landholdings, and of a farm-labor problem that has been widely recognized — most famously in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath — as akin to slavery. But though the problem has persisted it has never been quite dismissed as unconquerable; and after the attack of 1873 some little headway was made in land reform. Though in February 1874 the Post bemoaned that not even such first and immediate steps were being taken as requiring assessors never to assess below government minimum price, it did acknowledge gains in process, when a bill came up to limit holdings of timberland and grazing land. It saw hope when the author of that bill, Assemblyman James Murphy of Del Norte County, was appointed chairman of a session committee on land.

As events developed, the report of that committee in the spring, at the close of the biennial session of 1873-4 — the last during George’s career as a big newspaper editor in California — supplies one of the best indications we have of the reach, and the limits of the reach, of Henry George’s ideas in the region where they were first proposed. In a passage of opening eloquence, which Henry George approved, the committee used words that might as well have been his own: ‘Those who own the soil of any country make all others who live therein pay tribute for living in their native land.’ The committee took perspectives on history which sound like the later Henry George: in the Old World landholders have always been men of power as well as of wealth; in the New World we have no right to think the situation very different. Except that primogeniture and entail have been abolished, American land law remains like Europe’s; and America, California climaxing the development, has monopolies as great as the greatest in Western civilization. Here the committee took statistics from the Sacramento Record: one group of 2,325 Californians owned an average, each, of 7,265 acres, an estate four times that of the average British landlord, the assemblymen reported. Thus far, as for the premises of action, the committee and Henry George were of one mind.

For the plan of action, however, the committee followed the Sacramento Bee. As they were instructed, the committeemen considered the program of the Union and the program of the Post; they had no reason to consider the Record's plan, because it began with voluntary, non-political action. But they were governed, nevertheless, by the obstacles to graduated taxation and land-value taxation argued by the Record: either plan demanded an amendment to the state constitution, and this meant at least a three-year wait. So the report called for a homestead system to be brought about by what was, in effect, a death duty. Present holders, it said, should be undisturbed, but their inheritors should be required to distribute whatever land might come to them in surplus over and beyond a homestead-size estate, which they might retain. Four times the 160-acre unit was suggested for timberland; eight times the unit for grazing lands. The committee estimated that a quarter-century of such a law would end monopoly. From all this the Post took such comfort as it had taken from the preceding session, when a sizable minority had voted for the Days land-licensing scheme. Things would happen in the future, Henry George asserted; and he urged readers to remember at the next election the questions formulated but not solved in 1873 and 1874.

Besides being out front in the general direction of the legislature’s attention, the Post could and did claim that the governor thought about as it did — his biennial message followed the Record’s report by only a month. And plainly Henry George enjoyed the association of ideas when the Colusa Sun, Will Green’s old paper, bracketed him with Governor Booth, the two as leaders in California of a group of political economists in the style of John Stuart Mill. Being associated with Mill was as timely as it was flattering to George. Early in 1873 he knew and reported to his readers when the Englishman made a speech at the Land Tenure Reform Association to oppose ‘the treatment of land as private property, like things which are the product of labor.’ This principle, observed George, had inhered in British economic thought from Adam Smith, but only recently had Mill drawn the full and formal deduction; the great economist was now on the right track, and so was the English land reform movement in which he participated.

The sum and structure of George’s writing on land institutions and land taxation, his identifying himself and the Post with the two connected but different reform-ideas — no private property in principle, land-value taxation in practice — all amounted to a far more deeply considered position in 1874 than in 1871, when he brought out Our Land and Land Policy and launched the Post. When the Sun made fun of his ethic that ‘land belongs to him who will use it,’ George reduced to the irreducible his new-found dogmas: ‘The foundation of all property rights is the right of man to himself . . . The great principle for which we are contending is the right of the producer to the full fruits of his labor. But rent (for land, not improvements) is legalized robbery; to demand a price for unused land is legalized blackmail; and the land-grabber is a worse enemy of the state than the horse thief or footpad.’

The Post never quailed, late in 1874, when the Yreka Union, which belonged to Democratic State Senator William Irwin — who was to become governor the next year and was to do Henry George a great favor — said that the Post's tax scheme would lead to the public ownership of land. This time George admitted openly the equivalence of full land-value taxation with landholding by the state. Said the Post: ‘We only propose taxation instead of state landlordism, because it is more consistent with the ideas and habits of our people, and could be more easily carried out.’ Citing John Stuart Mill and Adam Smith to testify that a land tax cannot be shifted from the owner, and asserting as moral principle that the value of land ‘belongs to the whole community’ because the community creates that value, Henry George had now carried the Post as far in this direction of theory as he could possibly go. Once he even proposed practical state landlordism as the right solution for a particular abuse. When General Bidwell’s 23,000-acre holding in Butte County appeared to be a fraud, George recommended that the United States, as reversionary owner, assign the estate to California, and then that the state rent the lands, the proceeds to go to the public schools.

The Oakland illumination he had now thought through, and the New York pledge he had rendered into concrete ideas and procedures. The refinement of radical ideas, and still more the task of adjusting them to other ideas — to philosophy and politics — were the more proper undertakings of a book than a newspaper. But he tried them first in the Post. Then more years at hard labor would be needed, as we shall see, before Progress and Poverty could be born.

Rounding Out an Editor’s Thought: The Post's Utopia 1872-1875


During the ’80s and the ’90s, Henry George’s decades of world recognition and wide influence, the author of Progress and Poverty was saluted sometimes as the American economist, the one man who better than any other summed up the condition and the spirit of his country. Sometimes also, too frequently for comfort, he was greeted with contempt. The Duke of Argyll tagged him the ‘Prophet of San Francisco,’ and writers in the British quarterlies and American professors of economics were the ones who habitually snubbed him. Of course George’s ideas were the principal reason for their rejecting him. But in the eyes of such people, George’s background and training, and his evangelical fervor, helped justify distaste and distrust. Why respect a man preaching the reconstruction of society whose school of economics had been California newspaper experience and little else?

The irreducible truth was, of course, that at no stage of his career did George achieve just the same reassuring kind of recognition as a professional economist may claim. He had no membership in the guilds of scholars — in the social-science associations which were formed in the ’70s, or the professors’ organizations in the ’80s and ’gos — the connections that give kudos and some security to men of learning. He had no university certificate or at-

tachment. Nor did time and place fall right for him to be a member of one of those rare fraternities of mind which now and again join creative men into epoch-marking circles. Nothing was ever available to him like Franklin’s Junto or the Transcendental Club of earlier generations, or the Metaphysical Club to which belonged his younger contemporaries in thought, the early pragmatists of Cambridge and Harvard, or like the Bloomsbury set which meant so much to John Maynard Keynes before the Second World War. The Bohemian Club was as near as Henry George of San Francisco could come to that kind of thing.

Yet the American newspaper has been a mighty institution of education and intellectual achievement, famously so for Philadelphians and New Yorkers — for the Franklins, the Careys, the Greeleys, the Danas, the Raymonds of American mind and leadership. The history of the development of Henry George’s mind may be read fairly as a case in point. Between 1872 and 1875, especially, on the Post, his writing broadened and deepened and strengthened. We have already seen him as a student of government documents and of the leading journals; so likewise in a broader reading of the Post we discover a thinker taking sides on books and general ideas. Philosophy, in the sense of the main thought currents of his age, was not too weighty for him to tackle. So also economics, going beyond the range of California’s immediate concerns; so politics, conceived as institutions as well as party conflicts; and so again the links of ideas which cross-connect the main chains of social thinking.


From the beginning, George had as an editor always coupled his critiques of land monopoly with the plea for free trade, the very first article of his personal economic faith. In his own Post he enlarged upon the free-trade idea exactly at the time when he was changing his opinion about private property in land. The staples of California, gold and wheat, naturally seek a world market, George said in editorials; and likewise the major imports, textiles and metal goods, were more economically purchased from British sources, specifically in the overseas markets of Australia and British Columbia. Why should Congress put up obstacles to this natural give-and-take?

The editor did not hesitate to drop from the general to the concrete, and to fight questions where local interests were concerned. He ridiculed the early orange growers of Los Angeles, who wanted a customs duty on foreign citrus fruit; he denied that a tariff would assist the new wineries of the upper state, and he had a heated exchange on the issue with a Petaluma newspaper. This was his attitude toward agricultural tariffs.

On the industrial side, he explained with satisfaction that the San Francisco Post was printed on California-made stock, which was manufactured with San Joaquin straw and Nevada soda, without benefit of tariff preferences. And, paying his disrespects to the elite of the city, he pronounced to be incomprehensible the attitude of the merchants of San Francisco who accepted the pro-tariff argument, when they should have been able to see that business would double if only the city were a free port. Henry George’s argument was much the same, and just as good, as the case made by the freetraders of the cotton-producing South during the generation before the Civil War. Right national policy, he was saying, would allow a region — any region — to sell and buy in the markets of the world without paying tariff tribute to the manufacturers of the northeastern United States.

But George did not permit anti-tariff to be degraded to a purely regional level. The Post always presented free trade as a universally desirable policy, and as a cause with a meaning and a theoretical justification. By this time the studying editor understood that America’s school of nationalistic economics — which Henry C. Carey had been maturing in book and newspaper writing for four decades — was his enemy set of ideas. And a Post review of an antitariff book by a Rochester journalist, Isaac Butts’s Protection and Free Trade, shows that in addition to Wells’s reports he knew at least a few books on his own side of the argument. In contrast to what he would think a decade later, when he himself brought out a book with a title almost the same as Butts’s, George at this stage forced no great meaning into the distinction between the two degrees of opposition to the protective tariff: ‘The battle of free trade, or a revenue tariff, is a battle for the whole; the battle of protection is not a battle, but a robbery of the many on the part of the few.’ Tariff reduction and freedom of trade, both impulses promised a paring down of economic monopolies, to the editor’s way of thinking; and at this early and less doctrinaire stage of his writing either was a good cause.

By reason of his taking up certain problems directly, and of the implications of what he said about industry and trade, writing for the Post carried George far toward rounding out his conception of the roles of capital and the capitalist, and of those of labor and the trade-union movement, in the economy. No need to recapitulate how his crisis thinking of 1869 and 1873 had brought him through the rough-hewing stage of this phase of his ideas. As of the key year, 1873, his prime loyalty to working men — whom he practically identified with the citizenry at large — remained as always the anchor of his thought; and also by now he had decided that there was no contradiction in believing that great virtues and great faults were interwoven in the going practices of the private ownership and operation of capital. Though at this time the large swing of his thought favored the individual free enterpriser — and asserted that the businessman as much as anyone would gain from land-value taxation — one or two local matters turned him toward public utilities again, and toward new exceptions to the rule of private ownership.

Both illuminating gas and water distribution came into San Francisco affairs and Post editorials, and as was natural the water problem led to a fight. George would have agreed with the recent, authoritative word of Professor Paul Taylor, who says that water control ranks with land policy and immigration as one of the top few decisive influences which have shaped social growth in California over an entire century. Though as city man he did not write very much about the famous water needs of the semi-arid valleys of the state, he was aware of them, and sometimes made very modern and conservationist-sounding proposals in favor of impounding and distributing the mountain waters for irrigation.1 But he could not have avoided the policy questions posed by the Spring Valley Water Company, the private-monopoly firm which supplied San Francisco. At the time when George started the Post, that company’s fourteen-year-old contract was expiring; and the company’s high rates raised the issue whether a new contract should be written, or

1 As when he proposed building dams in the Sierras, from which water could be released to the farmlands below. ‘Make the land benefited pay the expense, and give the people interested the management.’ SF Post, 6 May 1875.

whether San Francisco should declare independence and set up a public system.

George took on the role of the muckraker, and his findings were startling. Water cost one-seventh to one-sixth as much as the rent of an unfurnished house in San Francisco; the city was obliged to have its sewers cleaned by hand at 50 cents a barrel, instead of by flushing; the operating costs of hydraulic elevators ran much too high. Comparing San Francisco with the East and the Middle West, the newspaper called attention to the fact that several cities now owned and operated their own water works at rates a fraction of San Francisco’s; and contrasting itself with other papers, the Post noticed that the others criticized San Francisco’s water situation when the legislature was not in session, but kept quiet while it was meeting. An editorial said that the Post could produce proof that the Spring Valley Company had ‘fixed’ the Call and the Bulletin in friendly editorial attitudes. ‘There is not in the world so outrageous, so exacting, so soulless a monopoly, as the Spring Valley Water Company.’

At first the Post did not want San Francisco to take over the water business. The reason was more a fear of paying extortionate prices for the old capital equipment than anything else; the paper had perhaps some hope that a new private company would save the day. But in the course of a long newspaper debate it switched completely to a municipal system. The paper proposed that the state authorize a bond issue, the proceeds to go either to purchase the old water works or to build a new one, whichever might prove more advantageous. It would be hard to think that other and greater editorial decisions did not have something to do with this one, for the Post’s recommendation for city ownership was made to the 1873-4 session of the legislature, the one to which the Post, the Bee, and the Union addressed their solutions of the land-monopoly problem — the Post now opposed in principle to the private ownership of land.

At the showdown in Sacramento, San Francisco’s delegation failed to unite and pull for reform, and finally an act was passed too friendly to the Spring Valley Company. But for George as thinker, something had been gained. Certainly he had developed and recorded his disposition in favor of a city’s owning its essential utilities. And, as he now spoke for free water for city residents — much as he was to speak a dozen years later, amid fame and ridicule, for free in-city transportation in New York City — we may judge it likely that he had already thought through to his later theory, that the collective economic gain created by urban living should be drawn upon, by collective not individual charge, to support the extra services required by people who live and work in cities.

As in the matter of land monopoly, so in that of water monopoly, George marched with other reformers. It is not too much to call him an early municipal socialist. That is, he was a leader of the one, very limited, type of socialism which has been widely and willingly assimilated into American life, as today’s situation of city utilities across the land — considerable public ownership and much control — indicates.

As for Henry George’s thought on the labor movement, his writing in the Sacramento Reporter and some of it in the Post has already given us the timing and the essence of the most class-conscious thinking he ever did. A quotation will show how near he verged, for a minute, to the spirit of European socialism. On 8 December 1871, that is when the paper was new, the Post said that, though ‘not prepared to take our stand squarely upon the principles of the European Internationals,’ it would endorse their general proposition that the existing constitution of society is radically wrong and vicious, and that what the world needs far more than any mere reform in government or a reform of any special abuse is ‘a reorganization under which every man’s interest will not be, as it now is, opposed to his neighbor’s.’ Such an idea is nothing to be brushed aside by calling it names — socialism, communism, or agrarianism. It is simply ‘an attempt to set aside the principle of competition on which society is now based, and to substitute for it a system of the state as in the main a family, in which the weaker brother shall not be pressed to the wall.’ America’s ‘exaggerated individualism’ demanded change, the editor was certain.

This is George’s maximum Marxism. The mild flirtation lasted for two or three editorials, no longer, and took place shortly before the International Workingmen’s Association moved from Europe to America, to die in peace and isolation. But no love affair ever developed, quite the contrary; and as early as June 1872, George’s reaction had begun. At that time, while speaking strongly for trade unions, the Post urged that the strike be reserved as an emergency weapon, to be wielded only at last resort, when it becomes ‘the only means left to the workingman for the amelioration of evils fastened upon him by centuries of injustice.’ George’s Post, like George’s earlier papers, pleaded for milder methods: for the eight-hour day, for instance, not as a revolutionary idea as some insisted, but as the moderate democratically inspired proposition it really was. In 1874 George built an editorial around an amusing news story concerning a meeting between William Sharon, a mining entrepreneur, and a committee of his employees. First serving the laborers sherry, Sharon had lectured them against the eight-hour idea, taking as text the iron law of wages. Quoth the capitalist: ‘Labor is a commodity which will not keep’; wages follow supply and demand just like the price of grain. Not so, retorted the Post: labor can affect the supply of labor, by the eight-hour day, and it can affect demand for labor by its own purchasing power for goods and services. Again George’s early perception of the economy-of-abundance idea had cropped out, not a prominent thread but one of the longest in his editorial writing.

The stand of the Post was for labor rather than of the labor movement, and against abuses rather than against capitalism or capitalists. This is dramatized by its role in what it called the Sunrise Horror,’ in the fall of 1873. The Sunrise, a merchant ship, put into San Francisco out of New York, burdened with hate. During the voyage the discipline or torturings by captain and mate had caused three seamen, who had been kidnaped in the first place, to fling themselves overboard to drown. Word got around San Francisco, but no United States marshal or other official made a move. Then Henry George swore a complaint in federal court; he retained W. H. L. Barnes as attorney. His editorials pleaded that the American sailor’s grievances were unique; that his discipline was more cruel than the Negro slave’s had been, his condition harder than a British seaman’s. His hardship lay in the sanctions of law which kept him bound according to his articles for long voyages. Simple repeal would make the difference, the paper said. Let all the special statutes lapse. Then seamen would be ‘free to claim their wages and leave the ship whenever the anchor was down.’ This would set up a bargaining situation to persuade owners to provide decent conditions and food aboard ship, and it would give sailors equal footing with other workers in a free society, to keep or change their jobs.

While its editorial page discussed general questions of maritime labor policy, the Post, abetted by the protests of the Alta California and the Bulletin, fought the present fight. When the mate of the Sunrise disappeared, the paper offered a reward of $400 for his capture. Meanwhile the court action went on: Captain Clarke was convicted, fined $5000, and sent to jail for fourteen months. This was much too light, the Post said, but the paper took pride in having started the wheels of federal justice. The Sunrise dropped from the columns with an appeal for starting a Society for the Protection of Seamen. The Sunrise affair, according to the San Francisco Chronicle's historian of the city’s journalism, made Henry George heard across the land and around the world. It was the second event of that kind, for about the same thing can be said of the fight with the Associated Press and Western Union.

We have now gone far enough to see that the editor of the Post envisaged the economy as divided by a boundary. In front lay the area of competitive business. In general he regarded conditions there as sound, and, in the tug and pull of capital and labor, he believed private enterprise capable of producing abundant goods for all. Behind the boundary line, in the area of monopolism, George pictured a predatory situation. Of course his several reform proposals had a single strategy, which was to put an end to private operation there. He counted on two of his tactics, free trade and land-value taxation, to push back the boundary. Then, where the boundary could not be moved and natural monopolies could not be denied, he made his proposals for public ownership at appropriate national or local levels.

If present-day readers feel that George’s total picture of the economy as it was working was pretty dark, and his means for brightening it quite extreme — even disregarding the Marxist coloration of 1871 and 1872 — they may be assured that contemporaries other than Will Green sometimes thought so too. Picking up one of the Post's obiter dicta on the distribution of wealth, for instance, the Sacramento Record called Henry George a communist. The furious editor replied in an editorial of 10 June 1874 ‘that everyone has a right to the wealth he produces or earns,’ but that the Post had never spoken for an equal division. ‘Until we could guarantee to all equal intelligence, equal industry and equal prudence it would be as foolish to ask that as to ask that water should run up a hill as well as down.’

One understands that George’s critics thought him radical. And yet on fair and complete reading of the Post there can be no doubt of his sincere belief in business and capitalism. Commenting on something Herbert Spencer had said, George was able to agree, 5 September 1873, that modern industrial organization was really ‘about as good as present human nature allows,’ and to say that a change of social spirit and policy, not an altered social structure, was what he wanted. To avoid depressions he believed that high wages, which he was sure accounted for California’s staving off hard times a year and more after the East collapsed, were the right preventative; and that a program of public works, instead of doled-out food as in New York, offered a reasonable restorative. We should have our economic ‘New Declaration of Independence,’ he said, when America stood for the right of every man to have a job, and to earn according to the product of his labor.

As for the ordinary operations of the business system, George had ideas which followed a middle lane, or rather moved in dual lanes, of reform and high-powered entrepreneurial activity. In 1875, the year of specie resumption, the old critic of the national banking system reverted to policies he had put into the San Francisco Times. Resumption he still as always wanted; a system of hard money ‘that cannot fluctuate in value’ was his fixed idea. But the policy of restoring coin to circulation by withdrawing federal greenbacks, which cost the government no interest, while retaining the system of the national bank notes, which required interest payments at two levels and which involved high costs and private monopolism, drew his fire. Acknowledging as he had in 1868 some debt to Ohio leadership in ideas of finance (Democratic leadership this time), he wrote again in behalf of an expansible and contract-able money system. Properly set up such a system would operate automatically, he said, ‘by the demands of trade, which may easily be done by making currency convertible into bonds, and bonds reconvertible into currency.’

Though long an opponent of the San Francisco Hamiltonians for deflation, George now admitted — while the national depression was growing but before the California crisis of 1875 — that the time had come for the interest rate to fall. But, always the resister, he wanted no ‘jackass bill’ passed by the legislature to hurry the process. Fencing with the Call, the Post said that, ‘The legislature can no more regulate the rate of interest than it can regulate the winds, the rains, or the tides.’ George’s main proposal for providing financial service for the people was postal savings banks. This idea is related to his case for interconvertible bonds and money: a slight extension of federal policy — postal savings were actually to be made the law of the land among the mild reforms of the Taft administration — would bring the resources of banking closer to the grass roots of the economy. In like vein he compared the presence of one building and loan society in San Francisco with 2000 reported in London; and, taking up a reform which had been a quarter-century agitating in eastern labor circles, he urged the advantages of purchasing homes on the co-operative principle by means of small installments. He welcomed as suggestive some schemes of the Grangers for going into banking; but he questioned the merit of preferential interest rates, and suggested that the Grangers ought to separate, not combine, the functions of investment and commercial banking.

While he thus asked for more spread and democracy in the policies and institutions of banking and credit, George also admired the going machinery of free private banking. He never boggled at mere bigness of operation. The suspicious may better be told, ahead of the story, that the Post was booming on a loan which had bought a wonderful new printing press. But, before this, in 1872 the paper compared the mighty enterprise of Chicago businessmen with that of San Francisco’s cautious ones: if the capitalists would wake up, pull together as they should, and be more liberal about it, the city would go ahead, he said. As occasion invited, George scolded the local moneybags, for instance, when they denied credit to a promising glassmaker, or when they themselves speculated in foods; and he praised them when they financed the Palace Hotel, or moved toward a new telegraph line.

William C. Ralston, the head of the Bank of California, and speculator of speculators, entranced him. When, the day after his bank had been forced to close by the run introduced by the crash of the Comstock bonanza, the body of that handsome man was found in San Francisco Bay, the Post believed that the death stirred

San Francisco like none since Lincoln’s. Though odor of scandal was rising, George defended Ralston as a businessman, against the charges in the Bulletin and the Call. He limned him as ‘pre-eminently a Californian. He possessed in excess the qualities which gave special character to the men who gathered here from all parts of the world and made this state what it is — the energy and dash, the generosity and extravagance, the propensity to bold movements and great enterprises, rather than to slower and more cautious methods.’ Less than three weeks after the collapse, the Post cited the quick reopening of the Bank of California as signifying the recuperative power of private banks operating in a system of hard money.

As equal to an Olympian, George loved a generous capitalist. While few in early California were minded to make great gifts to the community, the Post praised Edward Tompkins, who in 1872 made the first endowment to the University of California. The paper compared him to W. W. Corcoran of Washington, founder of an art gallery, and asked readers to consider what it would mean for California if the richest men gave for the public good. When, before long, James Lick did just that (we may disregard certain shortages of fulfillment, and remember the great observatory on Mount Hamilton), the Post praised him warmly. This was the kind of spirit that had thrived better in the Greek city-states than in America’s republic so far, Henry George observed.


Henry George’s very earliest ideas had been Christian, and his first teen-age resistance to these ideas had been directed at evangelicalism’s intensity. In California we have discovered him making assertions that he believed in immortality and spinning stories about occult experiences at sea. But for a period of years nothing markedly Christian appears in the record. The dedication in New York and the Oakland vision seem to have focused his moral intensity. Apparently he let wither his membership in the Bethel Methodist Church where he was converted and married, and in his San Francisco life he sought no substitute for that, or for old St. Paul’s.

From the middle years with the Post, however, we have his son’s word that Henry George experienced a deep renewal of religious feeling. Parenthood was part of it. The father who took the boys out on the bay and read poetry and discussed affairs in the family circle now insisted on morning and night prayers for the children and encouraged hymn singing at home. New faith, Henry George, Jr., says, was born of his finding himself, stabilizing his ideas. ‘He had turned from a religion that taught either of a Special Providence on the one hand or of a merciless fate on the other. Now all the fervour of his spirit went forth in the belief that social progress is governed by unchanging and beneficial law.’

While the Post confirms in a large way the son’s impression, it suggests also a good deal more: a complicated mind and conscience; a mood not always optimistic; and an inclination to move, explore, judge, and choose among the crowding thought currents of the decade. Editorial comment on books and ideas, and occasional book reviews which, though not signed, were almost certainly written by George, supply the evidence that his mind was reaching out in philosophic and religious, as well as in economic and political, directions.

What the later Post had to say, for instance, about the man of intellect George had once praised without stint, tells much of the arrival of an almost absolutistic philosophical point of view. Though still pleased to speak of John Stuart Mill’s activities in behalf of land reform, to say that the English libertarian ‘endorsed the principles upon which to tax nothing but land is based,’ Henry George discovered a failure of nerve in Mill. He could not understand a reformer’s logic which carried so far with his own, yet stopped short of speaking for an actual taking over of the income of land for the community. George was wise enough to acknowledge the rightness of a certain amount of moral relativism. Mill’s saying that private property in England had so long assimilated land with capital and other forms of wealth that to reduce private values in land alone would be capricious and unjust, George understood and reported. He said freely, too, that the newness of property rights in California land rendered them more available to capture. ‘Our state is young, our lands but partially occupied, and whatever injustice we might do in this way [of appropriating land values] will be less than we would do at any future time.’ Yet, with all differences admitted, the editor likened Mill to those Americans before the Civil War who, hating slavery, nevertheless opposed the anti-slavery crusade — the kind of people he had known at St. Paul’s in Philadelphia.

Mill’s death, and the posthumous appearance of an American edition of his Three Essays on Religion, widened the gap of thought. The Post’s review, which was a kind of summing-up of the old master, described the book’s skepticism as something which fell short of either atheism or faith, a state of mind too condescending and too reserved to be inspiring or even very interesting. For George, the noblest British lion had left the stage a mouse. The human and moral qualities he now admired he stated in a review of Senator Charles Sumner’s collected volume of prophecies, Prophetic Voices about America; he praised the abolitionist’s ‘manliness,’ his ‘Miltonic intensity,’ and his capacity for combining with ‘severe public virtue and eminent legislative capacity, a genius for art and letters.’

In reviews of the two huge histories by the two able and patriotic historians of the same surname, George displayed appreciations appropriate to the writings. It tvas not the old neighbor of Independence Hall in him alone but also the patriotic idealist who was stirred by George Bancroft on the American Revolution. And the Californian in him responded to Hubert Howe Bancroft’s record-making achievements as writer of Hispanic American and Pacific coast history. That a San Franciscan could now produce and publish such monuments of learning elicited from George a statement of the ideal which we know he had cherished as a personal ambition, at least since Our Land and Land Policy: ‘There is no work so great as a great book . . . And a book like this, which brings to a condensation and a summary any branch of human knowledge, which focuses, as it were, into a grand intelligible picture the scattered rays of experience and research, has the strongest promise of immortality.’

While current history writing gratified George, current popular science and scientific philosophy troubled and challenged him. Under the editorial heading, ‘Scientific Materialism,’ on 11 September 1874, the Post discussed in detail Professor John Tyndall’s presidential address before the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Perhaps this is the first, surely it is the earliest clear signal that George at maturity realized he would have to go to war with a major thought current of his age. He credited Tyndall with frankness, said that the great physicist had made a ‘candid but repulsive’ affirmation that science knows no need to find God in the universe. Quote the San Francisco Post: ‘The sufficient answer to any materialistic theory is involved in its very statement — it springs spontaneously from the consciousness of man. The investigator who concentrates his gaze on one drop of the infinite ocean of existence may become so involved in the machinery of creation and life as to lose all sight of its purpose and aim.’

Along with asserting his own idealism — a theistic kind which might be spelled with a capital ‘I’ — George rediscovered and asserted also some of the more particular values of his religious upbringing. The recurring pessimism, which was a part of his new maturity, he first conceived in quite material terms: that America was ruining its future by wasting the domain. But even in that discovery his language echoed the Christian sense of sin and responsibility in which St. Paul’s had trained him. And especially when he discussed the more purely moral problems, the old presumptions came out. On the matter of how the federal government was behaving, for instance: ‘The American people punish honesty and reward corruption. Get money, get power — get it no matter how it is got — that is the lesson we are teaching our children, even while we are teaching them to repeat old phrases we have robbed of all their meaning.’ Though he once made occasion, as will be recalled, to express his loyal fondness for the service and the prayer-book of Protestant Episcopalianism, most of what he said about churches was contemptuous. He could not abide the low-grade moral concerns of the ones he saw about him in the city. They thought they were doing their duty, the Post said, when the preachers declaimed against Sabbath-breaking and drunkenness. Most of all he protested the property-class loyalties of the Protestant clergymen. According to the Post, they made apologies for Chinese immigration; they speculated — the paper gave names — in land and shares; they prostituted good talents for pulpit oratory in making ‘shallow attempt’ to reply to ‘Darwin or Huxley, or to get rid of such historic facts as are damaging to their sect or profession.’ Entertaining such a picture of the ordained of Christ in the community, George had to enlarge his own philosophic dimensions to find an answer he believed in, against materialism of the type voiced by Tyndall. Not Charles Darwin, not the first-class thinkers were colored by it, he said in an editorial of 6 March 1875. But many were. From some reading or acquaintanceship — Thomas Starr King, the Unitarian, is the present writer’s guess — George found reason to believe that, while scientists of his day were becoming more dogmatic, men of true religion were becoming less so. What light could science throw on the truly grand questions of life, he wanted to know, better than the wisdom of Job, or Socrates? Angered at the moment by San Francisco revivals carried on by Protestants and Paulists, he inquired also: Was Jesus joking when he said, ‘Sell all thou hast, and give to the poor?’ The so-called Religion of Humanity of that day seems to have impressed him.

His new breadth and depth involved more world awareness than at any stage of his career so far. Reaching out from the comparisons between California and Ireland, which he had been making frequently since 1869, the editorial mind discovered events of interest around the world. The Post was up-to-date when it notified its readers of the rise of the land-reform movement in Melbourne, with a plan to have land nationalization in Australia. And, a couple of times as in his earlier papers, he waxed prophetic and hopeful about Russia in its similarity to the United States. ‘Opposite in many things, they still have much in common.’ Predicting the twentieth century — and probably borrowing from Tocqueville to do so — George foresaw two ‘colossi, each a continental power, which might, if they chose, divide the world between them.’ When, as he was about to quit the Post, he learned that in Russia the Tsar was ordering certain Polish landlords to sell out at fixed prices to the tenants, he ventured that, if this kind of thing persisted, Russia, ‘with the forms of an unlimited monarchy will soon in reality become the most democratic of civilized nations.’ If emancipations persist!

International goodwill sometimes fostered deeds of kindness. In 1874 the offices of the Post were used by a committee — promoted also by the Examiner — which raised $300 for the relief of striking agricultural workers in England. Henry George contributed $5. And, close at home, when a local problem popped up — which flags to display on the Fourth of July — the editor called for those of many nations, the Union Jack included. This annoyed the Call; and that paper’s saying that Henry George’s flag was ‘English’ not American gave the Post a chance to render a bit of biography and idealism. ‘By birth and parentage,’ Henry George was pure American. ‘If [he] could never have gotten beyond the prejudices of early association, he would probably be an intense Native American, and would hate everything British with a hatred only understood by those who know what bitterness the personal tradition of two wars left on the Eastern seaboard. But he is enough citizen of the world to know that that which is good and beautiful and admirable in manhood is monopolized by no country or religion, and utterly to despise that miserable, narrow-minded prejudice which thinks a man is either better or worse because of his birthplace or faith.’

‘Citizen of the world’ — his daughter’s favorite phrase for him. Truly George’s mind had adopted such a sentiment while he edited the San Francisco Post.


It would be a formula which overlooked facts already presented in detail to say that the political ideas of Henry George of the Post were equal to the sum of his economics and his religion. Yet, outside the area of party loyalties, inherited and acquired, there would be truth in the proposition. In George’s own words, written for the Fourth of July 1874: ‘The great American Republic must be a republic in fact as well as form; a Christian republic in the full grand meaning of the words . . . till time shall come when warships, and standing armies, and paupers and prisons, and men toiling from sunrise to dusk, and women brutalized by want, and children robbed of their childhood shall be things of the dark past.’

There is utopianism but no fully developed conception of government explicit in the Post. All governments, European and American, the editor eyed with suspicion. The comment just quoted followed an editorial of a few days earlier, one that had been inspired by a German report telling of six million men under arms in Europe, ‘kept in a state of idleness at the expense of producers that they may be ready to cut each other’s throats.’ Though not at all a pacifist, George always thought that men put at arms, and held in readiness when not needed, represented incredible waste and immorality. In 1874 he condemned the army of the United States as too large, and as undemocratic and extravagant. He called for reduction to 2000 or 3000 well-paid, picked men, all treated and imbued with a spirit of equal opportunity, like the old French army.

Next to an inflated military, a civilian bureaucracy disturbed him most. He criticized customs houses everywhere, especially the San Francisco one; and, in the same bracket, the Navy Yard at Mare Island.

Yet the anxieties of a Jeffersonian failed to move George to the last ditch of opposition to the machinery of government. He had a bit of Thoreau in him, not a great deal. As political philosopher, he spoke on the Post in established dual character, that of visionary combined with patriot, in the old Manifest Destiny style. As a reformer he believed always that government must be ready to make mighty changes in society, and as Manifest Destiny man he asserted confidence that the American federal system could be extended almost indefinitely. The constitution of 1787 was so designed as to be right, he said, for any population, into the ‘hundreds and perhaps thousands of millions,’ and right for any land mass up to ‘a grand federation of the whole continent and perhaps the world, bringing into reality the long dream of peace and brotherhood.’

To be elastic but not overburdened was George’s idea of how a large government in Washington, or anywhere, should be. What he said about the income tax, when a congressman proposed renewing the Civil War measure, is a case in point: ‘Theoretically the income tax is next to the land tax, the best and fairest which can be levied, but in practice it becomes a tax on conscience, and a large part of it is consumed in collection.’ Thus the dilemma of the Post: government had to be assigned unprecedented tasks of social reconstruction yet doubts about the human race demanded that power locations be few and little concentrated, and that men at the controls be kept not too long, and not too available to temptation. In George’s own words: ‘Our representative system is a failure . . . We tax too many things. We elect too many officers . . . The preventive evils which affect this country are owing to the attempt to do too much by means of government and convert it into a sort of Special Providence.’

Though moral generalizations came spontaneously from Henry George, much blueprinting of what government ought and ought not do, Jefferson and John Adams style, would hardly have been applicable to editorial writing. To be a newspaperman, George had to indicate practical choices. Thus the Post affirmed belief in states rights: ‘It believes in local self-government as the only means by which the unity of so great a country and so numerous and diverse a people can be permanently maintained.’ The paper asked for new strength on both the executive and the legislative sides of state government.

With correct history the Post remarked that the period of the American Revolution had meant a reaction against one-man power, but that in the nineteenth century the pendulum had swung back. It cited Governors Haight and Booth to show that a responsible man’s high authority protects the people, Andrew Jackson style, and his veto gives security from the anonymous corruption of legislators. In that vein the paper preferred to have the state pay well for good administration, and it picked a little quarrel with the Bee to demonstrate the point. When the Sacramento paper congratulated California on having less expensive public servants than Great Britain, the Post estimated contrariwise that, though under the English system California might pay the governor $40,000 or $50,000 (a fancy estimate), and San Francisco pay the mayor $10,000 or $20,000, the sheriffs in every county would not be collecting $40,000 over and above their small salaries, and city supervisors would not be spending $20,000 to be elected to an office with a $ioo-a-month salary. One fears that George was more correct in his California than his British figures. He could not have pled a better cause with a less accurate comparison, for in his time the British paid their public servants, especially those in local government, very little.

As improvement for San Francisco, the editor prescribed legislation to fix large executive and policy-making responsibility in the office of mayor, as had recently been done in Chicago. And, for specific state economies, he suggested — of course not forgetting his most-wanted reduction of tax-collecting costs — the following: abolishing the offices of the state and county treasurers and assigning their jobs to the banks; combining the California offices of secretary of state and controller; reducing prison costs by developing prison industries; and other smaller items. The Post also proposed simplifications and reductions in the state judicial system.

Governmental efficiency and responsibility meant much to George, but more important to him were the politics of economic legislation and the effectiveness of public opinion. Six months before the Post was started, it will be remembered, he had been beaten in the election in which Haight went down; and his article on ‘Bribery in Elections’ was his response to that defeat. Here for the first time he took up the final major reform idea of his lifetime, the Australian ballot. Later, at full tide of his public leadership, he would make this reform the third corner of his triangle of reform: he would urge secret voting as the needful political leverage by which to lift the economic reforms, land-value taxation and free trade, into high politics.

In the Overland article of 1871 he was not ready to be so schematic. Thinking his way against corruption, he reasonably dismissed as unpromising any possible legislation to make criminals of the offerers of bribes. He urged instead a reform of procedure that would give the voter real freedom at the moment of voting. The Crown Colony of Victoria had done better than the great republic. If Americans would only follow suit — instead of the old-style party ballots handed out by party workers, give the voters a general ballot and a chance to mark it unwatched and uncompelled

— direct bribery would be eliminated. The Australian procedure would have the extra advantage, George foresaw accurately, of encouraging independent, split-ticket, voting. As Anna George de Mille notes with pride, her father’s Overland article preceded by more than a decade the American reform movement — to which he then contributed — that actually placed the Australian ballot in the statute books of the several states.

His stand was taken. But George did not assign much space in the Post to ballot reform; and he was selective, as many kinds of proposals were offered, about strengthening democracy by extending or refining political machinery. He approved, but only mildly, the notion of primary elections, intended to reduce the power of insiders in the parties. At this stage he was cool to votes for women. ‘We are not advocates of female suffrage, nor particular admirers of the strong minded.’ But he did hope that the feminist movement ‘with all its froth and all its absurdities’ — these were the days of Lucy Stone, as well as of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Clara Barton

— would promote the cause of equal pay for equal work. Economic improvement for women he really wanted, then perhaps political rights. Let women be cashiers, bookkeepers, and store clerks, the Post said — let them even be barbers, since the Chronicle wanted them. At top level, George recommended that women be chosen for seats on the school boards and for superintending positions in the school system. And in 1874, when George W. Julian and John Stuart Mill made news as friends of woman suffrage, the San Francisco Post softened to say that ‘we care very little’ whether they vote or not.

The new device of democracy which intrigued George most at this period was proportional representation. He argued that in California such a system would help reach desirable goals: the bypassing of the city political machines, and the giving of voice and weight to minorities in the state capitol. At this point George was doubtless thinking of the considerable minority that supported John Days’s land reform bills, even when a Republican majority was dominating Sacramento. Whether or not land reform would have gotten farther, had the voting system been different, it is difficult to estimate.

Once a legislature was elected, George, in his role of editor and utopian, would have had it meet in almost constant session. The California arrangement could hardly have been more discontinuous: meeting for 120 days, every other year, each session shortly following the biennial election, but each election long after the last session. George proposed to have the legislature convened every month or every quarter. Continuing service, he believed, would lead assemblymen and senators to become acquainted with one another and to much better knowledge of the state, and so to such thoughtful legislation as would restore their branch of the government to its rightful first place.

Such tenets doubled and redoubled — over and above the necessity posed by the land-value taxation idea — the reasons the Post had for desiring a new constitution for the state. Here George’s thought was far from unique; for constitutional reform was in the air. During the session of 1873-4, for instance, the Alta California wanted the legislature to initiate the two-year process of amendment. The Post called for a total rewriting. When a committee of the bar association, headed by ex-governor Haight, moved toward a constitutional convention, George’s paper seconded; and, though his editorial page was not one to make much of the common plea that a voter’s simple duty is to choose the best man, it did now make that plea. A constitutional convention, it very well said, ought to bring public opinion to a focus and draw the state’s best minds into high public service. After this effort failed in Sacramento in 1874, along with land reform, the Post urged a convention again, in what was the last opportunity of George’s editorship, during the state campaign of 1875. Again a failure; but just three years later, when in crisis conditions a convention was actually called, George would be ready to abandon work on Progress and Poverty to campaign and speak for a reform constitution.


The characteristic ideas of what we have been explaining as the Post’s utopia have all been reported: free enterprise without private monopolism, free trade, equal opportunity, an economy of abundant production for all, a Christian state, an idealistic culture, an efficient government, a democracy uncorrupt and sensitive to the people’s needs. What George wanted was remote enough from things as they were in California. The mere statement of visionary goals forces a present day reader of the Post to ask: of what practical use was it to assert such aims in daily journalism? Was George politically effective as a reforming Democrat in a city run mainly by Democratic politicians? Was he morally effective as an idealist addressing himself to a particularly materialistic sector of a materialistic culture, California in the age of Grant?

Part of the explanation lies in the Post’s financial success. Readers must have liked what they were getting. Another part is the influence moral imagination may command in a community, even though it fails to reach its ultimate goals. The Sunrise affair is a case in point: the Post put a tyrannical sea captain in jail, when no other paper took the initiative. So also editor and paper got results in half a dozen cases, in all but one of which they must have been overwhelmingly right. It does seem that Henry George was fated — say by the inner logic of his concern with land and labor in industrial areas — to be an urban reformer, concerned with all manner of things, whether or not relevant to land-value taxation and free trade, for about a quarter of a century.

In the first month of the existence of the paper, the Post smelled out corruption in the San Francisco police department. A strong editorial charged that policemen were conniving with gambling in the city. But the matter only simmered in the editorial pages until 1873, which was in so many ways George’s year of decision, when investigating the facts led him and his partner to go to the infamous Mint Saloon on Commercial Street. John Vallance George, who was working for the Post at the time, tells the story, apparently from the principal’s first-hand account. ‘As they entered, James Gannon, an ex-detective and supporter of [Chief of Police] Crowley, tapped my brother on the shoulder, saying that he wanted to speak to him privately. My brother stepped inside with him, when Gannon said, “Let up on Crowley or there will be trouble,” and when asked what he meant, the ex-detective seized my brother by the neck with one hand and slapped him in the face with the other. My brother tried to strike back, when Gannon reached down and drew a revolver.’ Two city supervisors protected the little editor. Stuart Menzies, ‘a very strong man’ who accompanied George and Hinton, seized Gannon’s shooting arm; and with the help of Supervisor McCarthy, ‘pulled Gannon away.’

George did not prosecute, and perhaps considered himself the winner at the moment. He was described as a hero in the other papers; and there followed some kind of a police investigation of gambling and a degree of improvement in the situation. But reform did not cut deep enough to outlast a change of department administration. In the winter of 1874-5 the Post moved again, this time concentrating on the new chief of police, whose name was Cockrill. In the Post’s own words and specifications: ‘We have a plain duty to perform in exposing a Chief of Police who has disgraced his office and his constituents.’ It is common knowledge that faro playing ‘is conducted by friends of the Chief or his friends’ friends, and that he fails to prosecute.’

Such a comment invited a suit for libel. But evidently court action was just what George wanted, as an opportunity to display the facts. At any rate he was ready, when Cockrill sued, to print a facsimile of a receipt which connected the chief’s liquor business with the operator of a well-known faro table; and he also printed a facsimile of a promise, put in writing by Cockrill before election but not made good, that if elected he would appoint a certain Negro to a position as detective — a trafficking in offices which alone, George said, should put the chief in jail.

According to the Chronicle’s news story, when this ‘rare and racy’ case came up, Cockrill, the plaintiff, acted ‘slightly nervous and anxious,’ and his counsel ‘continually interposed objection to the testimony offered.’ Meanwhile George, as defendant, ‘amid considerable commotion among the sporting part of the spectators,’ carried his role as if he himself were plaintiff. Apparently the reforming editor had an easy time. Though the judge ruled that the Post had not proved to be fact the exact phrases of its editorial, the court allowed that there could be ‘no moral doubt that Cockrill was paid for conniving at gambling’ in San Francisco. Further, the action brought evidence of ‘dozens’ of Chinese gambling houses in operation, the Post said; and the paper welcomed the next step, an investigation by a grand jury. This kept up the fact finding for an extra three weeks. Then, as an ‘ignored bill,’ the case of ‘Henry George and W. M. Hinton, misdemeanor, libel,’ was finally disposed of.

The grand jury commended to its successor a fresh review of the evidence of gambling, and of possible connections of the police with that gambling. This fell short of full victory, yet the Post was fairly satisfied. The ‘grand jury expresses the sentiment and belief of the whole community,’ it said. Wheels within wheels, the Post had connected Chief Cockrill with the Fitch-Pickering-Simonton papers; and the editorial silence of those two, the Call and Bulletin, is tacit acknowledgment of a score by George.

Meanwhile, during the year 1872 especially, George displayed a commando-type of attack on other widely dispersed areas of civic wrong. Late in October, on the eve of the national election, less than a year after the ‘Bribery in Elections’ article, the Post condemned out of hand the newly compiled Great Register of the voters of San Francisco. It estimated 10,000 voters listed who had left the city, and 15,000 more listed in the wrong wards; and said that unless a voluntary organization would send challengers to every voting place, any amount of repeat voting would be possible. Within a month the Post blasted at the city hospital for bad food, bad nursing, and stealing from the patients; and very soon it renewed with force an old demand that the city’s Industrial School, the boys’ reformatory, be reorganized.

The Post's original charges against the school had been incompetent management, waste and graft, and an average cost of $263.50 a year to keep each boy in a school which was a crime breeder. During the first ten days of December, on the occasion of an inspection by the city supervisors, the newspaper ran a new series of revelations. It also produced some very liberal suggestions. Developing a reform idea from Wisconsin, it proposed running a school on the cottage plan, with resident couples in charge of each group of boys. From a colleague who witnessed the event, we learn that Henry George went personally to the Industrial School, and, much as at the Mint Saloon, was threatened with a pointed pistol. In this effort the Post succeeded completely, by driving the school director out of office and out of the city.

Most of George’s campaigns to clear out nests of civic corruption are self-recommending, and favorable judgment need not be withheld because the bulk of the evidence, though with occasional flashes of confirmation, comes from the Post. But one case at least is more complex. In this instance the institution where he alleged graft was the University of California, and George’s opposite number, far from being a minor politician, was on the way to becoming one of the great statesmen of American education, Daniel Coit Gilman. Yet the Post moved in on university criticism from the side of George’s strength, his expert knowledge of federal land policy; his total lack of academic experience had little bearing on his effort. Doubtless, too, the editor was somewhat influenced by a member of the faculty, Professor William Swinton, with whom he had established a friendship while living in Oakland.

The professor, who was a brother of John Swinton, the New York labor leader and journalist, had a considerable record of accomplishments. Though short on teaching background, he was long on writing experience, as he had been a New York Times correspondent, and later an historian of the Civil War. He taught literature, and was something of a malcontent on the faculty. It is easy to guess that he encouraged George to criticize the university. At any rate, many months before Gilman came, the Post complained that the regents were laggard in developing the agricultural and mechanical studies to which their having accepted the benefits of the Morrill Act committed them. But the Post was not wholly critical. And it might well have been at the suggestion of a professor of literature that George paid warm respects to the great opportunities the state university had for developing a people’s culture. For, though the Post was minded to fear that an old-fashioned ‘college of polite learning’ might emerge, it declared that the very existence of the institution ought to refute the supercilious who said that California was altogether materialist in spirit. The paper neatly made the point that Edward Sill, the gifted poet (whom Gilman soon appointed professor of English), was already producing verse across the bay.

Ideally a liberal editor would have recognized that Gilman, who arrived in the fall of 1872 from the Sheffield Scientific School, which was the new and practical branch of Yale, might become just the man to nurse along together in tender transplantation the scientific and the humanistic vines of learning in the new California environment. (He was presently to do just this, with famous success, at Johns Hopkins.) An editor who perceived this possibility would have been slow to anger and would have erred on the side of patience with the new project. On the other side, ideally the new president would have refrained from comment on social and political questions not relevant to his office, and would have been extra careful about press reactions to university policy and expenditure.

Unfortunately, there was no ideality in these respects on either the San Francisco or the Berkeley side of the bay. On 1 July 1873, the Post pronounced in favor of certain public statements about land policy made by E. S. Carr, the university’s professor of agriculture, an individual whose truculence perhaps surpassed Professor Swinton’s, and who was also leader and historian of the Granger movement in the state. By legislature time the next winter, being on Carr’s side meant being against Gilman, for the Grange was turning on pressure in Sacramento to have more practical subjects — the Morrill Act again — in the curriculum, contrary to the president’s policy. The Grange wished also to transform the university regents from appointive to elective officials. Within university walls the mounting tensions drove William Swinton, now Carr’s associate, to resign his chair. It seems to have been almost foreordained that the Post would fight the university administration.

A crescendo of editorials, early in 1874, sounded the battle. The main thing was the Post's allegation that the state had been swindled and the eight-hour law broken, in the building of North Hall, on the new Berkeley campus. The paper also said that the faculty had suffered serious loss when Swinton quit, and that the operations of the university were defeating the good intentions of Congress and the state legislature. The new university was charged with ignoring ‘the idea of bringing science to minister to the daily wants and lighten the daily labors of the people; to marry as closely as might be the educated brain with the toiling hand.’ George caught Gilman in a vunerable opening, moreover, when, according to the Post, the president released an essay ‘in which he presumes to give an intelligent account of various phases of civilization in the state,’ and concluded with an opinion in favor of Chinese immigration.

George came face-to-face with university problems, and perhaps confronted Gilman and some of the regents personally, in February 1875, when an assembly committee investigated his charge of fraud. His contention was that Regent Merritt had unfairly arranged for business associates of his own to have the building contract, and that they had profited mightily. There are of record nearly 500 pages of assertion and counter-assertion before the committee, but even so it is not clear how right or wrong George was in charging dishonesty to the Board of Regents. Yet it is certain that his article opened the investigation; and that, though the investigators refused to sustain him, the obstreperousness of the San Francisco Post helped decide President Gilman to leave California, even before he was called to the new Johns Hopkins.

The antagonism in California between the future greatest reformer and the future most creative university president of an epoch, both men in the preliminary stages of their careers, shows neither personality at his best. The academic man fell short of comprehending the moral worth of George’s pro-labor protest, and the editor made no suitable effort to be patient and keep hands off while a young university wobbled in its first steps toward larger life.


The one instance in which the Post’s reformism did not pay, so far as the evidence tells, occurred in July 1874, not without drollery. In Alameda, across the bay, a Miss Sally Hart and companion, workers in the local-option movement, ran into obstructions while they were campaigning for a no-license vote in a local election. Rowdies threw firecrackers at them, and lifted skirts on seventy-year-old legs, and enacted a mock funeral of the ladies’ cause. The Post blamed these bad manners on the encouragement of San Francisco German liquor dealers, and it came forward with a gallantry toward Miss Hart which no other San Francisco paper equaled. If the first local-option election could be swung by bribery and ruffianism, it queried, would not all local option be doomed?

The affair proved not too trivial. The Post printed ‘a little secret history’ which revealed that an intermediary had made it known that if the paper would oppose local option it would receive material benefits from the liquor dealers. Doing the opposite, the Post was boycotted in places where it hurt: saloon and grocery-store sales stopped, and many Germans dropped their subscriptions. In one week 1101 subscribers were lost and 959 new ones taken, and the Post started printing lists of stopping and beginning subscribers. After a week of this the Methodist Christian Advocate saluted the Post as the only San Francisco paper ‘not ruled by the liquor interests,’ and Henry George’s paper became known as being for temperance. Not a prohibitionist journal, it did print an estimate that the city of San Francisco had one saloon for each 100 inhabitants, and did demand a reduction. Quite consistent with its tax principles it proposed a very high license law, a tax for social control.

Thirty-odd years later a friend of Henry George said that the attack on the liquor interests marked the beginning of the end of George’s regime on the San Francisco Post. This is possible but doubtful; and certainly the boycott of the saloons and stores was no more than a contributing cause to his withdrawal in 1875. Just before the Sally Hart episode the paper announced a circulation of 30,000. This may or may not be an entirely reliable figure, but it is three or four times what newspapers seem to have required to stay in business; and the Post presently decided to make a huge investment and expansion in basic equipment.

At the time the Post was being printed on the Chronicle’s press, the fastest in San Francisco, and could hardly supply its customers. It announced its decision to purchase an up-to-the-minute Bullock press, which would print 26,000 copies an hour. An editorial thanked the public for the patronage ‘which, in so short a time, has enabled the one-cent Post to place itself, so far as machinery is concerned, ahead even of the New York Herald and the London Times and Telegraph. With the new facilities it will be our aim to make the Post more than ever the people’s paper of the Pacific Coast.’ The Post reported in pride a transcontinental pat on the back recently given by Leslie’s Weekly. Though a writer on that paper discovered more to condemn than to praise in the newspapers of San Francisco, and called the lot inferior to the better papers of the Middle West, he gave his best commendation to the Post — ‘a smaller paper, which is bright, intelligent, and paragraphical, not entirely local.’ When he suggested for the city an ‘improved typographical newspaper,’ the Post promised happily to supply just that need.

How did George and Hinton swing the deal? Twenty-four years later the business manager and partner testified that John Percival Jones, mining operator and speculator, who had not very long before moved from California to Nevada, and in 1873 was elected to the United States Senate from that state, had supplied the cash. For $30,000 he was tendered three-fifths of the stock of the company, and $18,000 more comprised a loan for which he received notes.

Just exactly why the senator, a Republican, should have ventured so much in the Post there is no evidence to tell us. George’s editorial praise for his hard-money principles does not seem to explain such an interest. If he bought in so that he might later take over the paper, he acted slowly; and if he bought to promote George’s main ideas, he acted disloyally in the end. The San Francisco Bulletin had a Machiavellian explanation, that Jones merely ‘wanted a paper to throw mud.’ When that newspaper observed that if such was the senator’s purpose, he had selected well, the Post simply denied that Senator Jones had a controlling interest, and denied also that he exerted or tried to exert any influence on policy.

On George’s side, over and above the business connection, there appears a feeling, like his old attitude toward Governor Haight, that Senator Jones was a man of power who could be led into paths of righteousness. Shortly after the new press had been installed, the Post said that it believed that Senator Jones thought as it did on the points of free trade, land-value taxation, and the functions of government; and it saluted him as the senator who could, if he would, make himself the Cobden or Bright of the United States. So far as meets the eye it was the editor advising the senator, rather than the politician using the newspaper, which describes the relationship between Henry George and J. P. Jones for the remainder of George’s editorship.

No more in private than in public, so far as the record goes, did George intimate that there was any limit on his enthusiasm for what the new investment had bought. The summer and fall of 1874 were full of excitement for a naturally impatient man. Only in October, after three months of hopes deferred, did the telegram come which announced completion and shipment of the press. It had been built in Henry George’s native city by the firm that only a decade earlier had constructed the first press which would print in one operation both sides of the sheet as it came off the roller — the web-perfecting press. Meanwhile, as George wrote his mother, there was a plant to get ready and business expansion to manage. He had ‘fire engine and boilers built and a new class of type made,’ and anticipated that very soon the Post as enterprise would ‘either burst up or get rich.’

The climax came at the turn of the year. On 28 December the Post moved along Montgomery Street to the corner of Sacramento. Three and a half weeks later a champagne party in the new offices, and the production of an eight-page Saturday edition by the press, celebrated the new installation. It was complete. A new lamppost specially decorated with a gilded eagle was set in the sidewalk outside; the business offices, the press, and tables for folding and mailing occupied the first floor; and the whole upper floor was arranged for editorial work and composition. Speaking tubes, dumb-waiters, and steam elevator connected all parts of the plant; there were stands for twenty-three compositors, and the ‘most airy and comfortable’ working space for newsmen in California. All this had been achieved, said the Post, by the strength of its own efforts and principles.

The expansion took place at a time of readjustment in journalism in the state. The Sacramento Union was about to sell out and consolidate with the Record; in San Francisco the cheaper papers were gaining, the Chronicle and the Call, while the older and more expensive Alta and the Bulletin were slipping. At least so the Post interpreted events, and everything confirms its judgment except about the Bulletin, which, much as George would have liked otherwise, was still making money. With steam up, and the new press rolling, the editor started a new weekly edition of the Post — weekly and ‘steamer’ editions were an old habit in San Francisco newspaper production — at the incredible price of $1 a year. According to George: ‘We have put its price at the mere cost of white paper and press work with the intention of gathering a larger circulation than that of all the Republican papers combined, and think that at One Dollar a year you will find many persons who will wish to subscribe.’ To the public the Post offered the weekly in terms appropriate to Henry George’s economy-of-abundance ideas. Savings in presswork, in distribution, and in the mass purchase of supplies were said to make the offer possible. Seven months after starting George told a friend that things were working out well. The Weekly Post in October 1875 had more subscribers than any other newspaper weekly, and it was reaching the market it sought, the miners, farmers, and valley merchants of the state.

Meanwhile in late summer the Post Publishing Company, as the business was now styled, ventured the ultimate move into competition with the Fitch, Pickering, and Simonton group. On 20 August, one week before the crash of the Bank of California, it launched the San Francisco Morning Ledger, a seven-days-a-week paper. George’s hopes soared. Acknowledging as he had before that an evening paper could reach only so far, he fascinatedly believed that the new morning paper with the old Philadelphia name would soon overshadow the Post and become, it might be, the great paper of the Pacific coast. This time again, George ventured one-cent journalism. On the first day he printed 60,000 copies, the biggest edition ever put out on the coast. He announced that he would rely more on readers than on advertisers for support, and that he wanted the paper to be for everyone — for laborers to read on the way to work, and for businessmen and housewives.

Though naturally there was a conformity of ideas with those of the Post, yet by announcements made and by areas of affairs omitted from the editorial page, it is plain that a more general and less opinionated paper than the Post was intended. Begun a week before a state election, the Ledger purposely omitted taking a party stand. Although operating painfully close to the promise of little advertising, the Ledger put up a good front. In October, after only two months of life, the page size was doubled to 25 inches by 17 inches, a bigger sheet than the Post. Like the Post it surrendered early the one-cent bargain, its price being raised to fifteen cents (a California bit) a week.

Imagination went into the paper, and particularly into the Sunday edition — Sunday journalism was still new and little developed in the age of Grant. Before the Bullock press, the Post had made a regular feature of its double-size Saturday editions: it included a bit of fiction and several departments of general appeal, such as the theater, for week-end reading. Now it turned that enlargement into the Sunday Ledger, and that edition was included in the subscription arrangements of both the Post and Ledger.

Pictures were the exciting thing about the new Sunday paper. Possibly taking a hint from a recent attempt in San Francisco to publish an illustrated weekly — a failure which the Leslies article said indicated an open area for journalism — George and his associates spread across the front page pictures which were a vast improvement over the blurred little cuts then familiar in newspapers. San Francisco was treated to a mirror of itself, as the paper carried, for instance, large clear pictures of the Palace Hotel, and of banks and other buildings. The Ledger varied the fare with interesting cartoons, too, some by Jules Tavernier, formerly of La Vie Parisienne and the London Graphic. The claim is made for George that this was a world innovation, that the Ledger was the first Sunday paper anywhere to include pictures. Different from the Post, the morning paper carried an unusual amount of foreign correspondence, from Dublin, London, Paris, and Peru, for instance.

Not forgetting his principal stock in trade, Henry George solicited and received — too late for publication — from John Swinton of the New York Sun, a series of letters with a radical pro-labor interest. The journalist Swinton was probably a more brilliant writer than his brother, recently of Berkeley. George had known him in New York, during the mission for the San Francisco Herald. (Without a shred of direct evidence, it is easy to suspect, from this familiarity of 1875, that John Swinton had been the Sun man who, that spring six years before, supplied the Associated Press dispatches which George relayed to Nugent across the continent.) On 26 October, in behalf of the Ledger, George wrote his kindred mind: ‘I know that you and I think alike on important subjects, and that our religion is the same. New York is not only the grand center of the country; but it is also the type of all growing American cities of the future, and I believe a letter from there written by a man who thinks as you do will be not only extremely interesting but would do something to make people think. If you do conclude to write something, sign your name, not only that it would attract more attention to the letters, but would give them more weight. Our literary men are so universally the apologists and defenders of the House of Have, that what are dubbed agrarian sentiments are generally set down either to idlers too lazy to earn a living or to demagogues.’ This was George’s request. A little later, when the paper had failed, he explained to Swinton that, ‘The special thing I referred to in writing you was your "communism.” I wanted you to chuck in a little of that.’

The expansion of the Post Publishing Company outran Henry George in November 1875. The Bullock press had gone into operation half a year ahead of the closing of the Bank of California, and the Ledger had been started one week ahead. Perhaps the large general factors of financial crisis are sufficient explanation of failure; more than likely some fault lay in George’s individual decisions to expand, and yet again expand. Four years later, summing up his California career, he admitted remorse. In his own words: ‘tempted by the idea of a fine building and press we let in John P. Jones,’ and, at the same time, thinking that ‘the leadership of journalism on this coast’ was truly within reach, we started the Ledger ‘on a more expensive scale than ever attempted in San Francisco before or since,’ and ‘We strained our credit.’ According to this reminiscence, George’s wrong decisions had made all the difference in his own affairs. He had had a chance to sell earlier in 1875 for ‘what to me was a fortune,’ but at the end of the year had gone ‘out without a cent.’ Characteristically he concluded, ‘Sometimes I wonder at myself for giving up so easily what I had won so hardly, but I suppose I was utterly worked down. However, it was good fortune in the guise of evil.’

At the moment he lacked this much philosophy. A woman visitor at the Post’s office discovered Henry George in tears. Senator Jones, when he bought the new press, had promised, George told her, never to ask the editor to advocate a measure he did not believe in; but now ‘he has asked me to do that very thing and I will not do it.’ Retribution may have been possible. George considered himself free to insert in the Post such an exposd of the senator’s bad faith as ‘would have ended all hopes of his getting anything’ from the property. Mr. Hinton persuaded him not to try this, for the sake of the working staff, and in the end George wrote a sportsmanlike editorial, 27 November, which began, 'Circumstances which I cannot control . .

In San Francisco the rival papers did not grieve. Conspicuously, the Bulletin gave no notice, editorial or news item, to George’s going. The Alta California merely said that George’s and Hinton’s work had given the Post ‘the respectable position in journalism which it has obtained, and their withdrawal will be regretted by very many.’ The Sacramento Bee of course spoke warmly, crediting George with having made ‘the most brilliant paper yet on the Coast.’ The Colusa Sun, Will Green’s old paper, had a twisting series of compliments to pay on 4 December: ‘Harry George, the founder of the San Francisco Post, who built it up and made it a power in the land, has been ousted from editorial control . . . The change is, of course, the effect of some wheel within some wheel . . . George maintained many notions that were not our notions, but we always believed that he was actuated by an honesty of purpose . . . We maintain, while we do not consent to his doctrine, that such men are absolutely essential.’ The Sun endorsed every word of George’s valedictory of good faith.

Joseph T. Goodman, appropriately from Virginia City in Senator Jones’ state, and appropriately a liberal Republican, took over the editorship of the Post. After this change the paper survived under its own name nearly forty years, until Hearst bought it and submerged it in the Call. Later the Call was merged with its old partner to make the Call-Bulletin, the present-day paper which combines the two names George hated most.

At the moment of his exit, the Sacramento Bee hoped that George would continue to contribute to the Post — and in fact the paper did carry on an anti-monopoly line of fire — and even George himself was not sure how deeply policy would be changed. Writing to Swinton a month later, on 27 December, he expressed uncertainty about Goodman’s taking the letters which he himself had invited: ‘How much radicalism they would print I cannot tell. They look on me as a pestilential agrarian and communist, and will avoid what they call my hobbies. But though they do not know it, the very aggressiveness and radicalism of the Post was its strength. In making a paper that will not offend gunnybags they will kill it, as you will in time see . . .’

This letter, and one other to the same man, are George’s real valedictory on a passage of his life. It will not hurt to put together sections from the two: ‘Since I last wrote you a change has come over the spirit of my dreams. From running two dailies and two weeklies I am down to none. It is the old story, so I won’t weary you with it, and in fact have not much heart to repeat it. The Ledger under ordinary circumstances would have been a success. Its reception was all that could be asked — but the extraordinary stringency induced by the failure of the Bank and intensified by the Virginia fire cut to nothing the advertising which a new paper can get, while depriving us of all aid. So we went down. And then while credit was strained and resources exhausted, the big fish in the Post company, John P. Jones — reached out — and took it in. A couple of months ago I reluctantly consented to put the price of $36000 on the interest held by myself and partner. Now I just take a walk . . .

‘If I never do anything more I have the satisfaction of knowing that I perceptibly affected public thought, and planted ideas which will some day [change ?] into action . . .

‘As for being depressed I am not — twenty four hours is enough to cry over spilt milk . . .

‘It is all in a lifetime, and I have seen too much to think I can certainly tell what is good and what is evil fortune . . .’

From Isolation:

Speaking and Writing in Time of Crisis 1876-1879


Twice before he had the Post, George did pieces of writing by which he intended to raise himself into public prominence and leadership. Yet, though both the New York Tribune letter on Chinese immigration and Our Land and Land Policy retain significance today, neither one so much as made an assemblyman of Henry George in the state elections. His immediate thought, in 1871, that he would try a greater manifesto sometime, was for the next few years crowded out of the realm of practical possibilities by the demands of running a newspaper.

But intimations along the way tell us that no stage of pressure of work or of the enjoyment of success ever quite banished from his mind the urge to do a bigger, more developed and philosophical, presentation of the ideas in Our Land and Land Policy. If Hubert Howe Bancroft, ally of the California regionalists could bring off a monumental work of knowledge and thought, and publish it in San Francisco, Henry George could do the same. So George’s own appreciation of Bancroft seems to read. Certainly he was determined to communicate his dedication, and his program, to people whom the San Francisco Post could never reach.

It is one thing to plan a noble book, and to envisage fondly, but at a comfortable distance in the working future, the ideas it will


develop. It is altogether a different thing, many an author has found, to abandon accustomed routines and sources of income, to find the necessary books, to isolate one’s self, to face the blank pages, and chapter by chapter to fill them with the symbols of persuasive thought. In this case more than a year and a half went by, after George lost the Post, before he concentrated heavily, and about two years and a half before he concentrated exclusively, on undertaking the full austerities of authorship. Though, within all the circumstances we know, it is easiest to think that he considered himself committed, from the moment when Senator Jones let him down, to go ahead early with the major effort, we have no absolute evidence on the point. Doing several other things briefly, he was perhaps trying alternatives to composition, or was making up his mind. But it seems more likely that he was fortifying himself for the task.

In the spring of 1876 he wrote his father that he was going to try a new method of self-expression. He had done enough writing for the moment, he said, and enjoyed a good reputation for what he had done. He would not return to journalism for some little while. ‘Now I propose to see if I cannot do a little speaking.’ He intended to focus his intellectual energies. ‘Now I want to concentrate, get fixed easily as to money, and study and think, and then when I get ready I will come prominently before the public again in some way or other.’ Half a year after leaving the Post he was already reading law, and he hoped to be admitted to the bar sometime, though he might never practice.

In the season of finding himself, his family seemed especially dear. Annie and he were now more than ever lovers, he said in the letter just quoted, and together they took infinite pride in the three children. Little Jane was turning out the brightest of the lot; the boys they believed to have the makings of ‘noted men’; all had bank accounts in their own names. ‘God has been too good . . . There has never been a point in my life when I have been so happy.’ To Annie herself, Henry wrote a letter about Abelard and H£loise. Abelard’s way was the way he loved her, he confessed, with passion blended with a wish to lead his darling into knowledge of truth.

Even the money side seemed smooth. To Philadelphia the somewhat vague word went that he ‘was doing very well,’ paying his debts and promising himself never to go into the red again. ‘I have never, though, been an improvident or reckless man. I have always had some main object in view and have always worked my way steadily nearer and nearer to it. Money has never been my main object — but position which was to me capital.’

Certainly he now discovered a very satisfactory way to pay his bills. On losing the Post, he had immediately gone up the river to Sacramento, his old recourse; and doubtless that was the occasion of making the arrangements. The new Democratic governor whom the Post had helped elect, William S. Irwin, at once appointed him state inspector of gas meters. ‘The appointment was more than anything else a tribute to intellect,’ testifies the governor’s private secretary, recollecting his own astonishment. He himself, as secretary of the state Board of Equalization, had known George as investigator and thinker, and had admired him; but he was nonplused when his ‘cold, unimpassioned’ chief expressed enormous admiration for the ex-editor’s ‘elegant and brilliant style,’ and gave him a plum. Perhaps the fact that, early in election year, the Post had commended a British act which required food to be sold as represented and water and gas to be tested for purity and quality, diminishes a little the mystery of George’s appointment. A critic of monopolies was now set up to check the performance of a natural monopoly which, according to his ideas, should be publicly not privately owned.

Henry George himself tagged the inspectorship a sinecure intended to give him leisure for study and writing. But this was the long view taken many years after the event. At least at first there were arrangements to be made, duties to be learned, jobs to be deputized; and for a little while the new office holder worked hard, politically and otherwise. After taking charge, 15 January, and setting up an office at 531 Mission Street, San Francisco, he went back to the state capital to see the knots tied. If we can trust the impressions of a woman friend who sat in the Senate gallery on the crucial day, all went smoothly. ‘To his appointment there was not a dissenting vote, and more than one senator spoke of the choice of the governor in terms of warm approval. After the adjournment of the Senate I heard Henry George thank those men, and his voice trembled with feeling, and his small hand shook as he held it out to receive the warm grip of men then so prominent.’

But George was not simply the honored man of thought, and soon his own letters reveal a very human mixture of motives. In one of these he begged a friend, an assemblyman from San Francisco, to support a bill which would plug holes in the meter-inspection law; in another, to his Annie, he confided distress when a Mr. Donohoe, calling him a scoundrel, said that he was lobbying to make his job worth a hundred thousand a year. ‘I am sorry I attempted the grab, as if I have to go back I will have the name without the game.’

Yet even on the unimproved original terms the new job pleased and intrigued him. The California Political Code, which was excerpted at length in small print on the margins of his new office stationery, set forth his duties. On request the state inspector was to test any gas meter any time; if he found it correct he was to seal it with an official seal; if not correct, he was to require the company to make it so, and then seal it on first satisfactory test. As the law required the gas companies to have all new meters inspected and set a fee of $2.50 for the job, it would seem that George had a very good thing. ‘My office is in truth about the best in the gift of the Governor,’ he wrote his mother. He was bonded for $5000 and had the right to appoint and act through deputies.

During the first year he gave considerable attention to the job. This meant learning the operation of the testing devices as well as the operation of the law, and gathering from far and near what information he could about the most successful mechanisms and procedures. His brother Val often traveled with him and, it seems, very largely took over the mechanical operations George himself might have given much time to.

Of course the money was the first delight. He made $52.50 one early day in the field and wrote Annie that surely he would average out $500 a month for the first year. Pleasant ideas burgeoned with the spontaneity of the spring: he would learn to dance, as much for his own sake as his wife’s; they would take a little vacation together; the family would visit Philadelphia and see the Centennial Exposition; they would buy the little house they wanted, even if they did have to pay by installments.

Not one of these dreams came true. Even so they represent a short intense period of relaxation between two big efforts. We catch him breaking his rule against writing only once during this time. In a long letter to the editor of the Bee, later printed as an eleven-page pamphlet, George made an interesting case for personal journalism. A state senator had introduced a bill which would have required newspaper articles to be signed. Entirely correct, reasoned Henry George: in present American practice the editorial ‘we’ signifies not the thinking writers but the interests of the proprietors. Moral questions aside, proprietary journalism lessens the energy of the journalist and deprives him of kudos. Everybody knew Starr King, wrote George, but nobody knew Henry Watson, his old boss, the editor of the Sacramento Union, who had been just as great a wartime patriot. George listened to debate on the bill from the Senate gallery, where it passed; and he regretted its failure in the Assembly.

But even this mild degree of personal participation in affairs was unusual for about a year. Next to the job, Henry George’s studies took right of way, though not too strenuously at first. ‘I am converting the august position I hold into a sort of state Perambulator,’ he wrote the new dear friend, Dr. Edward Taylor, who had recommended books. ‘What I read now is on the wing.’ He had bought Oliver Wendell Holmes’ new edition of Kent’s Commentaries, and Austin’s Lectures on sovereignty, also a recent work. From an inspection stop in Marysville, where Val was able to do the work, George reported to his wife on what may have been a representative free day. He went to his hotel room ‘and took a tussle with Kent ... I was making fine progress until all of a sudden he threw me ... I feel encouraged by my progress in law, and really interested, though it does put me to sleep, and I think I can in a year make as much progress as ordinary students do in three or four.’

Release from pressure and being away from home afforded rare opportunities to notice little things, and to write of whatever came to mind. There was time to be amused while he and Val were driving a two-horse buggy on an inspection trip inland, in the direction of Grass Valley. They arranged to spend the night at a farmhouse, where they heard the farmer say that his bedbugs were as bad as anyone’s — and only after an interval did they understand that they were being ribbed. This part of the state George thought specially beautiful, and he loved the ‘piney odor.’ But the bay-region towns appealed, too, especially Napa and San Jos£. He wrote his mother about the charm of the little wooden Episcopal church, and the ‘perfect garden’ that was San Jos£ in May.

To Annie he had intimate things to say, often. After listening to a debate in Sacramento he wrote her sadly, for instance, that one divorce was now being granted for every three marriages in the city where they lived. ‘If ever I had any leanings toward the modern doctrine in this matter I have entirely got over it.’ And, a few letters later, he tried to balance in words the ‘pride and pleasure in feeling that I am really your “lord and master” ’ against the joy of acknowledging that, ‘if my darling is mine I am also hers.’ He missed her dreadfully, he wrote. ‘How much delight there is in our love. From the time I first saw you and was captivated by that something in face and voice and manner, which I never could explain in words, it has gone on increasing and increasing . . . And this love is the great thing with me. All outside ups and downs are trivial compared with that.’


The national event of November 1876 as naturally turned George toward his plan to develop himself as speaker as it drew him away from his aloofness to political affairs. Before the nomination of Tilden, he preferred the Democratic candidate Senator Allen Thurman of Ohio, a strict-constructionist ‘Old Roman’ of Virginia birth. Very different from his role four years earlier, George went as delegate to no Democratic conventions this time. ‘I think as a general rule that state conventions are good things to keep out of,’ he wrote his father. When the national party nominated for president the prosecutor of the Tweed ring, a lawyer who had made a fortune in the service of railroad and mining interests, Henry George was willing, but understandably he lacked enthusiasm.

He had to do some hard thinking, accordingly, when the Tilden and Hendricks Central Club of San Francisco, an organization of young men of advanced opinions, invited him to make ‘the keynote of the canvass of California’ in a great meeting to be held in Dashaway Hall. It was an invitation not to be turned down: his first formal speech before a large audience, and a chance to shape a little the ideas of resurgent Democracy — even though the party had already chosen a Wall Street candidate.

George proceeded a hard way. In a 12,000-word address he stated a persistent issue of American politics, in the perspective he had taken on the editorial page of the Post. ‘The question involved in this election is not as between two men; it is not as between two parties. It is between two great policies of government, and your vote, or even your refusal to vote, must be its answer. Between the policy of Alexander Hamilton and the policy of Thomas Jefferson you are called on to decide. You have tried the one . . . Will you continue it, or will you try the other?’ Back of Hamiltonianism and Jeffersonianism George pictured the eternities of ‘Have’ and ‘Want’; and, in the same rough-hewn way, he identified the great political divisions of history — from ‘the Right and Left of the French Assembly, the Cavalier and Roundhead of the England of Charles I’ to present-day party alignments.

One passage through which passion still glows denied that the Civil War should be blamed for the country’s present moral predicament. ‘Many things the war may teach us, but not to distrust the manly qualities of our people. Many are the lessons we may read in its million graves, but not the lesson that the virtues of our blood have run out . . . The object of telling you that these things are due to the war is to induce you to quietly rest in the belief that they will remedy themselves in time . . . No; it is not the war that is responsible for all this . . . Our public service is corrupt because the natural result of our laws has been to engender corruption; our industry [particularly our shipping] is oppressed because our laws have prevented its natural development; the masses are becoming poorer and the few richer, because the whole tendency of our system of finance and taxation is to make $100,000 more profitable in the hands of one man than in the hands of a hundred.’

It was a writer’s speech, and George was to need a long time to learn not to take too many risks of chilling his audience with perspective and morality. And another episode of about this time tells us that as a speaker he had other frailties to conquer. Called to the platform from a seat on the floor by the audience at a Democratic rally, he held back at first, then ran across the rostrum, hat in hand, and said what came to mind — without good voice control, and with awkward stance and gesture.

Yet his prepared address caught on. The original audience had ordered it printed and circulated, and the Democratic State Committee asked him to stump the state. There is every indication that he loosened up and performed with flare and effect. He was able to simplify his ideas for delivery from the wayside platform. A newspaper from San Luis Obispo etches him at an outdoor meeting, one October evening in that town. The speaker stood on a hotel balcony; in near foreground listened a sizable crowd, many ladies present; and the background was marked with bonfires. Lights and flags were everywhere.

At campaign’s end George received the compliment of being invited to give the principal address at the closing Democratic rally in San Francisco, at Platt’s Hall. It would be interesting to know whether he understood the irony, that evening, that the party official who introduced him, a medical doctor, was a member of the Wilson-Shorb family of enormous landed estate in what is now the Pasadena-San Marino area. And finally, when the vote was in, though distressed about the result, he wrote his mother with a sound of personal triumph: ‘I have shown that I could make myself felt without a newspaper. I have always felt that I possessed the requisites for a first-class speaker, and that I would make one if I could get the practice; and I started this campaign with the deliberate purpose of breaking myself in. It was like jumping overboard to learn to swim, but I succeeded. I think no man in the state made such a reputation as I have made ... I wanted to do this, not as a matter of vanity or for the mere pleasure of the thing; but to increase my power and usefulness . . . And so it will — whether I go into politics, into the law, or into the newspaper business again. I do not intend to rest here, but to go ahead step by step.’

The Democrats had given George his first experience as a speaker, and the next speech has the look of the San Francisco party wanting to take advantage of his powers. Whatever the story behind the event, six months after the Hayes-Tilden campaign appropriate officials invited George to be orator of the day for the Fourth of July celebration in the city. The year before, Horatio Stebbins had been orator for the national centennial, and the magnificent celebration had included a parade which brought 200,000 people to the streets. This year there was less to expect, for the depression was closing in, and a one-hundred-first birthday is less exciting than a one-hundredth. Still and again, the honor of being orator was immense and cherished; the Fourth was the glorious day; and then as now San Francisco was a brilliant place for a civic celebration.

According to the Alta, ‘myriads of small flags were thrown across the principal streets,’ thousands turned out on the evening of July third, and the next morning everyone was up early for the ten o’clock parade. Color marched as well as fluttered. A brigadier general stood in the reviewing stand. Among the military, besides the regulars from the Presidio, appeared the City Guard and certain independent companies, the most visible of all the Franco-Americans of the Lafayette Guard and the troop of Zouaves. These last two escorted the civilian dignitaries. Henry George was present, in morning dress, seated in a barouche. He kept company that day with the mayor, the president of the day, the poet of the day, the chief-justice of the state, an ex-senator of the United States, and an ex-governor. French and Russian naval officers from vessels in the harbor also rode in open carriages. The Sons of the Emerald and the Knights of Pythias and the like followed on foot.

The California Theater, the place of the main event, was decorated in keeping. Outside a huge transparency of George Washington and inside a magnificent state seal were made the centers of the festooning. Three thousand people jam-packed the auditorium, and an orchestra played at intervals. No occasion could have been more to the speaker’s inclination at the time and he spoke of his childhood love for Independence Hall, the words with which this book opens.

Though the oration is as much too long for a twentieth-century reader as hints suggest that it was for the afternoon crowd in the theater, and though the periods of the speech were rounded off in the rococo of the Victorian age, its structure and its ideas do command attention, the more so because they indicate Henry George’s near future as both speaker and writer. Whether or not he so intended, the address took the same broad form as the great syllogism of politics set forth in the Declaration of Independence. In 1776 Jefferson and his colleagues had made the natural rights of man their major premise. In the oration, George began with human liberty — so had preacher Stebbins the year before. ‘It is meet that on this day the flags of all nations should mingle above our processions ... In keeping this day to liberty, we honour all her sacred days . . . From every land have been gathered the gleams of light that unite in her beacon fire.’ At Philadelphia the fathers had put down as second premise George Ill’s violation of their rights: he had taxed unjustly, denied fair trial, and had done many wrongs, contrary to contract. In San Francisco the orator of the day likewise spelled out abuses. For the first time, perhaps, he made analogy between the condition of California and the land enclosures famous in the history of British anguish. ‘We have repeated the sin of the sin-swollen Henry VIII.’ Technological progress, said the speaker, had been unfavorable to workers so far: ‘The tendency of all modern machinery is to give capital an overpowering advantage, and make labour helpless.’ And finally: ‘Land monopolized; water monopolized; a race of cheap workers crowding in, whose effect on our own labouring classes is precisely that of slavery; all the avenues of trade under one control, all wealth and power tending more and more to concentrate in a few hands.’

The Declaration comes to a climax with the assertion that when a tyrant abuses the natural rights of his subjects, his true authority is dissolved by the wrongdoing. The patriots of 1776 believed that they were merely taking what belonged to them. Henry George asserted that modern America had inherited this morality, rather possessed it of inherent right, as all men do; and now, in Darwin’s day, he confirmed natural rights with the powerful idea of political growth. The more because evolution never became a favorite conception with him — he certainly cannot be connected with the young American pragmatists who were about this time beginning to build heavily on Darwin — it is striking that he now used evolutionary- and pragmatic-sounding argument. ‘For life is growth, and growth is change, and political progress consists in getting rid of institutions we have outgrown.’

Through these channels of reason George arrived at his conclusion: the American revolution must be completed in economic life. ‘The assertion of the equal rights of all men to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is the assertion of the right of each to the fullest freest exercise of all his faculties, limited only by the equal right of every other. It includes freedom of person and security of earnings, freedom of trade and capital, freedom of conscience and speech and the press. It is the declaration of the same equal rights of all human beings to the enjoyment of the bounty of the Creator — to light and to air, to water and to land. It asserts these rights as inalienable — as the direct grant of the Creator to each human being, of which he can be rightfully deprived neither by kings nor congresses, neither by parchments nor prescriptions —

neither by the compacts of past generations nor by majority votes.’

‘The American Republic’ — for so George entitled his address — must have required sixty or seventy minutes to deliver, and perhaps more. Its fancy dress suited the occasion, and so did its mood of patriotism. But its weighty argument made no compromise with the ceremonial state of mind, or with the festival spirit; and for that George paid a price. One newspaper observed that the gas measurer ‘kindly spoke for several hours on the Goddess of Liberty and other school-reader topics.’ Likely a representative reaction was the one printed in San Francisco’s new weekly, the Argonaut, on 7 July: ‘His oration was an able one and eloquent. His peculiar views upon labor and land tenure are greatly in advance of the opinions of that intelligent and not unselfish portion of our community, and do not work.’ Even the Examiner groped to find congratulatory phrases.

Wry comments at this point accurately suggest the serious problems Henry George had to solve if he was going to become more than a campaign speaker. Merely stating what listeners want to hear, and doing it better than they themselves do, would not suffice for George’s larger intention. Nor was his handicap simply that of being heterodox. As an economist in the making, an economic proposer always, he had still to train himself to speak familiarly and interestingly in the elucidation of fairly complicated ideas. One might exaggerate to say that his problem was unique; America for a century had had its more than generous share of elucidators of principle and spokesmen for social reconstruction. The age of Jackson had been rich in them. But to combine in public oratory any such amount of abstract economic reasoning as George did was unusual, and perhaps unprecedented in our national history.

Earlier in 1877 he had tried his skill, just once, at lecturing on economics. The invitation had come from the University of California, where John Le Conte, physicist and brother of the famous geologist, had succeeded Gilman as president. Professors of economics had not yet become standard personnel in American universities, and there was none at Berkeley. Something of the lack was made up by an occasional guest lecturer; George was preceded by half a year by Caspar T. Hopkins, his old opponent in debate about immigration policy, who about this time founded a Social Science Association in the region. When his own invitation came,

George understood that a chair of economics was about to be set up, and that he was mentioned for the place. Perhaps also some appeasement was intended to remove irritations remaining from the battle with President Gilman. On this occasion Henry told Annie George that he wished for no title in the world, unless it was that of ‘Professor.’

Perspective on George’s own lecture is gained by noticing that Mr. Hopkins had chosen to speak on ‘The Relations of Commercial Speculation to Legitimate Business.’ Rarely has the Protestant ethic of dedication to work been more tightly joined to the spirit of capitalism than by this son of a bishop. ‘Build a railroad or write a book,’ he admonished the young people, selecting two activities he himself had tried; avoid ‘stock-gambling’ and ‘note-shaving’ as no more worth while than games of chance. Since right thinking according to this lecturer amounted so largely to accepting the standards of business and property, it seems not unreasonable that in his turn George chose to speak for labor.

But by no means exclusively so. A title could hardly have been more neutral than the one at the top of his manuscript, ‘The Study of Political Economy.’ And, whether or not there really was a professorship hanging in the balance, the lecturer proceeded as formally as if there were. He crossed the bay with his good friend Assemblyman James V. Coffey. President Le Conte entertained them with other distinguished guests at lunch, and then introduced the lecturer. The audience included members of the faculty and students, perhaps forty of whom were women.

With Progress and Poverty still two years in the future, it would have required an informed listener indeed to sense the full meaning of the discontent George voiced, that afternoon, against economic ideas all but universally accepted in the Anglo-American world. Present readers may recall that he had once put second thoughts about John Stuart Mill, far less admiring than first thoughts, into an editorial. Now he spoke still more sharply. He said that political economy must be viewed as a laggard study, and that it had made ‘no substantial improvement’ since Ricardo. (Americans had not yet learned of William Jevons.) In the larger history of economic thought, this Berkeley address may be put down as one of many signposts that classical economics was failing to meet needs which were becoming urgent during the 1870s. On the American side, the Carey school of economics, and, overseas, Karl Marx’s writing Das Kapital are among the plainest indications that theory was changing; but such ideas had little standing in university classrooms.

The main trouble with economics, specified George, lay in the fact that theory fell short of the natural usefulness of the subject. For ‘the science which investigates the laws of production and the distribution of wealth concerns itself with matters which among us occupy more than nine-tenths of human effort and perhaps nine-tenths of human thought.’ More than that, the study of economics goes far to explain the rise and fall of nations, and even ‘the mental and moral as well as the physical states of humanity.’ (A number of remarks indicate that during the early authorship of Progress and Poverty George was more nearly an economic determinist than before or after.) What a study, what a tool for the welfare of state and nation, mused George, political economy ought to become.

He assured the students that it was not a dismal science at all, but truly a ‘simple and beneficent study’ available to everyone. The old writers had indeed gone in for needless hair-splitting; they had neglected the most important of all economic questions, the recurrent phenomenon of depression. Worst of all, economics had arrayed its laisser faire ideas against improvement and reforms in behalf of the working classes.

All this could be changed, and must be. Though economics demands ‘the habit of careful thought,’ it is perfectly available to those who need it most. Let working men study, demanded George, and be deluded no longer, either by too much laisser faire or by ‘the absurdities of protection and the crazy theories usually designated by the name of socialism.’ The lecturer concluded where the author of Progress and Poverty would conclude, with a plea that economic truths be studied and laid to heart as continuous with the other truths of human life. ‘You will see that the true law of social life is the law of love, the law of liberty, the law of each for all and all for each: that the golden rule of morals is also the golden rule of the science of wealth; that the highest expressions of religious truth include the widest generalizations of political economy.’

George had given a splendid lecture, and one which three years later his publishers did well to have printed in Popular Science Monthly, as a kind of advertisement for Progress and Poverty. He had ranged a broad field, yet kept focus and direction; he had been critical without limit, yet also idealistic. The address must have been much better geared to his audience than the Fourth of July oration. It is easy to credit the lecturer’s own two-way impression ‘that his utterances had been well received by the students, but by the authorities with a polite and dignified quietness that made him think that he might not be invited to lecture again.’ After the event his connection at Berkeley tapered down to continuing social visits with President Le Conte and his brother. The rest of this biography would be much shorter had Henry George been fixed on the Pacific coast by being seated in a chair of political economy.

From the historical angle of vision which seeks out the gathering ideas of Progress and Poverty, the two addresses of this year become luminously important. Henry George, Jr., applies to them a figure of speech from oratory, which confirms a reader’s impression that the ideas of the two ought to be read consecutively. The university lecture he calls an ‘exordium,’ proposing a change in economic thinking, and the Fourth of July speech a ‘peroration,’ demanding practical measures. It may be seen too, that, though neither address specified as concretely as the Post had done just what practical measures George recommended, the two together prefigured, in a rough sketch more natural in the form of lectures than in that of editorials, the total pattern of the coming book.


But this makes George’s advancing work as author seem easier, and his total course seem plainer, than they really were. The summer of 1877 he did spend in the way a writer likes to do. He took his family across the Golden Gate to Sausalito, a lovely place between sea and mountains, where he studied and loafed. By fall he was writing hard on the analyses of economic ideas which are an essential part of Progress and Poverty. For nine months after the Fourth of July address he made no more public speeches; and one may guess whether this was altogether a matter of his wishing to drop out of circulation, or whether, as he had twice spoken his radicalism beyond the welcome of his hearers, he may have received no more invitations.

But in the latter part of 1877 occurred the famous Sand Lot riots in San Francisco, the most shocking phase of the labor insurgency led by Dennis Kearney. Events occurred to make a prophet of Henry George. Ten years earlier, in the ‘What the Railroad Will Bring Us’ article in the Overland, he had predicted labor’s degradation in California, and a rising of Huns within the cities, fighting to have a share of the wealth of the community. Now the riots outdid the prediction; and almost at once the organized working men of Kearney’s new political party sought George’s interest and help. His old friend, Assemblyman Days, approached him in their behalf; and, in August, only a month after violence broke out, he was offered a nomination for the state Senate by the People’s Reform and anti-Chinese Legislative Convention.

George refused to go along. He detested Kearney as a labor boss and a demagogue and a misleader of the working people. His duty as the first secretary of the board of San Francisco’s new public library was, over and above the meter inspectorship, the only public business George did during that fall and winter. He continued with his study and his writing.

Before long, nevertheless, events drew him into affairs. The clamor in San Francisco, the threats of outbreak and the pressures of vigilantism, seems in large degree to explain the gathering, early in 1878, of the earnest men who set up the first organization in the world to advance the social ideas of Henry George.

Among the leaders were two good friends: James Maguire, recently George’s colleague in the Tilden campaign, a future judge and congressman; and John M. Days, the same who had recently tried to connect George with Kearneyism and who in 1872 had been midwife to his formal declarations against private property in land. There were also John Swett, school superintendent for years, at the moment a high-school principal, and John Vallance George. Altogether a group of twenty or thirty came together on Sunday afternoons to talk seriously. As in later days in the New York history of Henry George organizations, serious, religious-minded lawyers were the most prominent members.

The group seems to have been in the first instance a study and discussion group exclusively. They read and debated, we are told, ‘the economic parts of Our Land and Land Policy,’ which of course comprised the only presentation in book form, so far, of Henry George’s theory. Doubtless the questions and answers helped clear the mind of the working author. But only a short time passed before the members wanted more than just talk among themselves; and one meeting, when about thirty were convened in one of the city courtrooms, decided to set up a formal organization. They elected an Irish-born lawyer to be president; and one Patrick J. Murphy, a newspaperman trained on the Post, became secretary. Thus was born the Land Reform League of California, the first of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of its kind the world around.

Organization meant an appeal to the troubled public, and a meeting; and, for Henry George, having a following meant the obligations of leadership and a return to public speaking. He was obliged to put manuscript aside to prepare a keynote address. There was no need, this time, to diagnose without prescription, as in Berkeley. If there was ever an occasion to come to the heart of the matter, this was the time. The title George chose, ‘Why Work Is Scarce, Wages Low, and Labor Restless,’ expressed his sense of the situation; and naturally he incorporated the more concrete and practical notions he was distilling into Progress and Poverty.

Where he had blamed the great economists for refusing to go, he himself now ventured. ‘Why Work Is Scarce’ anticipated in detail the chapter on ‘The primary cause of recurring paroxysms of industrial depression,’ in the coming book; and it set the pattern of analysis he was to hold for life and to apply in the depression of the 1890s, with very little change. He began with the proposition that the time had come for economists to look for general and underlying causes of economic upset. He phrased as current history very nearly the same thought he had phrased as prophecy before the railroad had been finished: ‘Under our very eyes, a highly civilized community has risen on virgin soil. From a social condition that was nearer equality than anywhere else existed, we have seen the rich and the poor separate.’ What common cause explains, he wanted to know, the tragic conditions in new California, in the industrial East, in old Britain — in the whole Western capitalistic world?

The speaker worked toward his solution, ‘The Great Cause’ of depression and poverty, through a series of negations. Anyone’s talk about an imbalance between supply and demand for labor, or an oversupply or underconsumption of goods, he dismissed as high-sounding cant. (The ‘disequilibrium’ known to present-day economists was not his problem.) Nature provides two hands for every mouth, he noticed; and on a desert island a man can provide for his own. Robinson Crusoe had become favorite reading with George, and he used it effectively. Reverting to his old observation that the greatest wealth, the highest technology, and the largest populations appear together in the same areas of the modern world, he argued that in the correct relation those factors should produce the highest standards of living in history. George refused on the platform, as at other times since 1872, to blame different results on any inherent struggle between capital and labor. Those two together ‘represent the human elements in production’; the only other element is the world’s God-given fertility, the annual cycle of the seasons, the universal burgeoning of life. ‘There is no conflict between capital and labor — and that there is popularly supposed to be arises from a want of exactness in the use of words.’

George managed eloquence of argument — but we cannot imagine surprise for any listener — as he asserted at climax that ‘The Great Cause’ of depression was monopoly. Mainly, not exclusively, land monopoly, he said: resource monopoly, without mention of industrial monopoly, is what he chose to stress, in this oratorical simplification of his ideas. ‘All history shows that the fact which ultimately determines the social, the political, and consequently the intellectual and moral condition of a people, is the tenure of the land . . . Truly the earth is our mother.’ He pleaded, as in the Post, that the only correct policy was to reassert the natural right of the people of California to the land of California, to reapply to the land and water, in even more positive form, ‘the equitable doctrine that in earlier days we applied to the land . . . the doctrine that no one can hold more than he can reasonably use, and for no longer time than he does use it . . . This is called agrarianism. Do not be frightened at the word ... It does not mean warfare against society . . . Agrarianism is the true conservatism.’ Late in the lecture, answering a question, he spoke of confiscating land values: ‘Nay, the confiscation is in the present system.’

On a rostrum, economic diagnosis, akin to accusation, comes easy, but the doctor’s prescription is hard to deliver. Once again George thought and spoke in three’s, but this time he made his program more consolidated than in the Post. First, he said, addressing himself to California’s old problem of security, let any occupant’s peaceable bona fide use of a parcel of land for a year or longer be understood as ‘conclusive evidence’ of ownership. Second, he wanted all taxes abolished save land taxation, of course the buildings and other improvements not counted. This simplified to one point the three-pronged tax program of the Post. Third and last, George recommended a summary process under which any land not in use could be condemned and assigned to any citizen who wished to use it and would pay the assessment.

In this address, as always in the future, George’s analysis of depression came up with institutional and moral failure. That is, he believed that job opportunities were withheld and poverty induced by reason of wrong-headed policies and exploitative institutions, rather than because of mechanical flaws in the operation of capitalism. Actually he was ahead of his time and with the future in making the general proposition that depressions are a natural product of the going system and should be anticipated. But also he was different from the future main line of business-cycle analysts who would find depressions inherent in the frictions of economic operations narrowly regarded. ‘Why Work Is Scarce’ should be read, George wrote John Swinton, ‘as an attempt to put into popular form a great truth which marries political economy with common sense, and which once appreciated is the key to all the social evils of our time. Of course the exigencies of a popular lecture prevent the exhibition of truth in its full form, but the truth is there which can be worked out by anyone who will catch it . . . The seed that I have for years been sowing is springing up on every hand ... I can see what I never expected to see, the result of my work. Where I stood alone thousands now stand with me. The leaven is at work. And there can be but one result. But the struggle will be long and fierce. It is now only opening.’

Besides making the advance he mentioned to Swinton, that of connecting his economic analysis with a political program, George’s ‘Why Work Is Scarce’ address marks a step also in his shifting from mainly regional to more generalized habits of social thought. To be sure he said many things that only Californians would have understood. His observations about land titles, for instance, sound like a page from the debates of 1867; and one fellow journalist, E. A. Waite, who held a friendly judgment about the speaker — ‘Henry George writes a very vigorous article . . . has some motive about him’ — complained at this point that George had borrowed without due acknowledgment ideas he himself had put in a San Francisco magazine article. On the other hand, George was compelled by his distaste for Kearney to separate himself from California’s race antagonism. Though the anti-Chinese issue was still as accessible to him as it had been in 1868 and thereafter, he touched it now only in a way to be different from Kearney; and the moral contrast between the famous California radicals may be measured by George’s refusal to join in the clamor that the Chinese must go.

In political essence, Henry George and the Land Reform League of California were making that most difficult of all democratic efforts: they were making the appeal of reason and dispassion to men already inflamed. The nature of the effort put enormous strain on George’s powers as a speaker, and a story, from the day of his first delivering ‘Why Work Is Scarce,’ indicates that he was a little overwhelmed by the task. He went with Mrs. George to the hall to rehearse, and he met a clergyman there. When this experienced speaker told him that his speech would go over the heads of a working-class audience, George took offense. But that evening there was a very small turnout, and he was upset. According to a witness ‘he kept his eyes on the paper and seemed to be so nervous he was almost frightened.’

Nevertheless the address did catch on, and one of Henry George’s hardest years, 1878, does mark his first success — dimly prophetic of the decade of the 1880s — in using the spoken word to render his ideas into general currency. He repeated ‘Why Wages Are Low’ in San Francisco; and, under title of ‘The Coming Struggle,’ he gave it again in Sacramento and received a fair notice in the Record-Union. Five months after first delivery, the Argonaut in two issues reprinted the essential argument. And, up to the present time, followers of Henry George still distribute copies as a concise introduction to his economic thought.

Not until his next speech, however, the fourth and last one of the series between the campaign addresses of 1876 and his completing Progress and Poverty, did George strike just such an appealing vein of eloquence as promised a successful future on the rostrum. In June 1878, though he was at the one-third-of-the-way stage of drafting his book, George accepted the invitation of the new Young Men’s Hebrew Association in San Francisco to deliver a prominent address. By announcing the title, ‘Moses or Leader of the Exodus,’ he chose to jolt a little his hosts’ expectations, for they were a liberal group and wanted to hear George on a public issue. We may suppose that in writing the speech he drew on childhood accumulations of Bible knowledge, and we may be sure that he read freshly, too, from Exodus and Leviticus.

The appeal he made lay in his rendering into the language of tradition and emotion his own enlarging social thought. ‘Everywhere in the Mosaic institutions is the land treated as the gift of the Creator to his common creatures, which no one has the right to monopolize. Everywhere it is, not your estate, or your property, not the land which you bought, or the land which you conquered, but “the land which the Lord Thy God giveth thee” — “the land which the Lord lendeth thee” . . . [Moses] not only provided for the fair division of the land among the people, and for making it fallow and common every seventh year, but by the institution of the jubilee he provided for a redistribution of the land every fifty years, and made monopoly impossible.’

George made the quality of leadership the main theme of the address. His mind had sprung to that problem when Lincoln died; today a reader of ‘Moses’ will hardly need the suggestion of his daughter to understand that George’s ‘enthusiasm for the Biblical leader arose from a feeling of kinship with him.’ Unobliged in this speech to compress much economic and political argument, George let his mind rove freely in areas of morality and the interpretation of human events. He had a word for any enthusiastic materialists in the audience who might be inclined to think of ‘the prominent characters of history as resultants rather than as initiatory forces ... It is true that “institutions make men,” but it is also true that in the beginnings “men make institutions.” ’ The new Bible criticism, he said, while placing Moses the lawgiver later in time than the prophets, was also recognizing him as at ‘the beginning of that growth which flowed after centuries in the humanities of Jewish law, and in the sublime conception of one God, universal and eternal, the Almighty Father.’ George estimated the character of Moses from the work he did. ‘Habits of thought are even more tyrannous than habits of the body. Hebrew freedom must be seen as reaction against Egyptian tyranny.’

In lines of thought which run strikingly in the same direction as certain ideas of Reinhold Niebuhr’s modern commentary, George praised the Jews for their religious practicality, for having ‘sternly repressed’ any too abstract ‘tendency to take the type for the reality,’ and for refusing to make too much of the comforting idea of immortality. After their sojourn in Egypt — for which the members of the Y.M.H.A. were free to substitute ‘California’ — the Jews who followed Moses had found power to assert ‘a God of the living as well as of the dead; a God whose inimitable decrees will, in this life, give happiness to the people that hold them and bring misery among the people that forget them.’

With an intensity that moved his audience, George built up the proposition that the concern of Moses — and of Puritan and Covenanter — had been to lay the foundation of a social state in which deep poverty and degrading want should be unknown. George’s final word praised Moses’ calling — and obliquely his own. ‘Of something more real than matter; of something higher than the stars; of a light which will endure when suns are dead and dark; of a purpose of which the physical universe is but a passing phase, such lives tell.’

So combining in one speech the qualities of sermon and oration, George hit at last a vein of emotion that could lift men’s hearts. In due time, six years or so, ‘Moses’ would become a favorite address. We shall find Henry George giving it again and again, a kind of sustaining piece, especially good for Sundays, and particularly acceptable in Scotland and England, where Bible formulas had more appeal than formulas from America’s Declaration of 1776.

But this was not for California in 1878 and 1879. Dr. Taylor, whose literary assistance to Henry George was deepening their friendship, urged no more speeches now. Perhaps he saw that without the finished book George’s power would soon run down; and perhaps George himself needed little persuasion. But the inner circle of the Land Reform League must have felt enormous regret that, during California’s deepest crisis and her period of constitution making, Henry George lived in retirement, that he was not personally on the political front, as powerful as in 1873 or more so, constructing institutions or policies out of the ideas he had now matured.


Yet George did make one more try for practical influence. In March 1878, a short time before the legislature passed the act which made the constitutional convention possible, he wrote Assemblyman Coffey how anxious he was for the convention to be called at once. The ex-editor of the Post could not have thought otherwise; and, book or no book, he was only being true to old principles when, a month later, he brought out a broadside ‘To the Voters of San Francisco.’ In that way he announced candidacy for the convention.

Though he built his platform in somewhat more specific terms than the Fourth of July oration, as a whole he made his manifesto general, more like that speech than like the heavy argument in ‘Why Work Is Scarce.’ On taxation he declared simply for shifting the burden ‘from those who have little to those who have much, from those who produce wealth to those who merely appropriate it, so that the monopoly of land and water may be destroyed . . . and an end put to the shameful state of things which compels men to beg who are willing to work.’ Appropriately in political more than in economic language, he favored a ‘dignified’ resistance to Chinese immigration, and the designing of a ‘symmetrical and responsible’ government for San Francisco. Broadly he declared himself for the philosophy of the Declaration and for loyalty to the ‘Republicanism of Jefferson and the Democracy of Jackson.’

Yet, having stepped forward, a man of principle for the constitutional convention, George soon decided that he did not really care whether he was elected or not. Mainly, not entirely, the candidates for seats lined up either for the Workingmen’s party, or against it, the conservative opposition fusing Democrats and Republicans into a big ‘Nonpartisan’ bloc. George could not go with the fusion. And when the Workingmen offered him a nomination he made issue with the stipulation they required, that their nominees pledge themselves to follow the party line in every respect, and even agree beforehand to resign, should occasion arise and party ‘constituents’ so demand. Nettled by this, George went before the appropriate meeting and answered with a resounding ‘No.’ Reporting to John Swinton in New York, he said that if elected he was sure to be flanked by monopoly on two sides, and the success or failure of his candidacy would mean very little.

The nomination he did accept came from a Democratic Nominating Convention, an element not absorbed in the state’s polarization of politics. But even here George entered an exception. He told the convention that a certain clause of their platform, which favored a long period for redeeming real estate taken by the state for delinquent taxes, would not help homesteaders and would favor land withholders. He would not pledge that plank. ‘Upon the land grabbers who have carved up the soil of California into baronial estates, I wish to bring to bear the power of taxation with remorseless vigor.’

The short story of George’s candidacy for the constitutional convention, then, adds definition to the longer story of his having made himself a solitary, a cynic about present politics, an idealist for the principles he would not compromise. The story’s end discovers the voters letting him retain his solitude. Henry George, Jr., has it that the whole Democratic ticket was beaten at the polls,’ which is literally true of San Francisco. The Workingmen’s party captured the entire delegation from the city; and from the state as a whole, 81 Nonpartisans, 51 Workingmen, 11 Republicans, 7 Democrats, and 2 independents were chosen. The morning after the election Assemblyman Coffey, who also ran, put a card on the gas-meter inspector’s door: ‘Accept congratulations on leading the Democratic Party to the Devil.’ George had received more votes than any other Democratic nominee in the city.

So, while others wrote a new fundamental law for the state, Henry George worked on his manuscript. For two and a half years his activities had been narrowing; now, for the third and fourth quarters of 1878 and the first of 1879, the exact period of the convention, he concentrated completely. Apparently with embarrassingly little to distract him at the inspector’s office, and with not a single speech to write, and no editorials, he forged ahead to his conclusion.

George worked mainly at home, in surroundings he would remember with nostalgia during New York years. After the lovely summer in Sausalito, where he had warmed up for the task, the family moved to the Rincon Hill district of San Francisco, not far from his office on Mission Street and near the bay. They took a house on Second Street, late in 1877, and then moved to one on First Street near Harrison, remembered as the place where Progress and Poverty was written. The houses were shabby and, in the President Lincoln style, already a bit old-fashioned: a visitor remembers scrollwork decoration on Henry George’s gables. But there was comfort enough; and the large second-floor workroom in the First Street house, the three windows of which commanded San Francisco Bay and the hills surrounding, gave resource and joy to the writer.

Within doors the caller just cited, a bibliophile come to see George’s library, gives us a glimpse of such domestic turmoil as many a writer at the age of forty has had to live with. There were four children now, from Henry, Jr., at sixteen, down to Annie Angela, the baby named for her mother and the Feast of Angels, the day of her birth in 1877. The visitor found nothing special among the library’s 300 books, except the owner. Working in a saffron-colored dressing gown, George babbled with comment, criticism, and appreciation of the books around him. General dishevelment far from obscured the sweet good-feeling in the household.

For the time being a kind of puritan Bohemian, Henry George took to his sofa for reading. He wrote whenever he could, frequently at night when sleep refused to come. When he could not work he took his troubles to the bay, where wind and water relaxed him. He kept notebooks, he rough-drafted, he rewrote and revised. Under the slogan, ‘Hard writing makes easy reading,’ he took the most time for the analytical passages. More than would seem possible, he used the inexperienced help of his wife and oldest child. Mrs. George checked the manuscript, and Henry, who had finished school now and was studying shorthand on the side, acted as amanuensis. But the final manuscript copy of Progress and Poverty, now deposited in the Library of Congress, is every line done in Henry George’s own hand, very neat and clear and with few emendations, a huge piece of painstaking. Nerves must have been tight sometimes in the home which produced the book, but the children record a good and happy time during the months of composition.

No isolation is quite complete, and even during this interval George depended on his friends, most especially Edward Taylor. Their acquaintanceship dated from George’s days on the Sacramento Reporter, when Dr. Taylor had been Governor Haight’s secretary. He was a man with connections. Presently he was practising law, a member of the ex-governor’s firm in San Francisco. He had some family tie with Leland Stanford; and a few years later it was he who transmitted to the author of Progress and Poverty the not quite incredible story that the railroad president had read the book and said that he had become ‘a disciple of Henry George.’ While Progress and Poverty was in process, Dr. Taylor extended the hospitality of his firm’s law library, and George did a great deal of work there.

Dr. Taylor did much more. With a quick appreciation of the size of George’s task, he urged the writer to think big. From a mind that knew and treasured literature and suffered because his own poetry seemed not equal to the cry within, he helped George with leads and ideas. His one certified specific contribution to Progress and Poverty is the stirring poem of exhortation at the opening of Book vm, wherein George sets forth his alternative proposals for doing away with private property in land. Dr. Taylor asks:

Shall we in the presence of this previous wrong,

In this supremest moment of all time,

Stand trembling, cowering, when with one bold stroke These groaning millions might be ever free?

In the first edition of Progress and Poverty the poem was made anonymous, apparently at the author’s request; later George insisted on entering a credit line. To suggest what other passages in Progress and Poverty may be due to Dr. Taylor would be guesswork. Yet any reader of all Henry George’s works who senses how much richer than the others this book is, in quoted passages of poetry and prose, is likely to credit this intellectual friend with a considerable contribution. George’s lifetime gratitude to him accords better with such a debt than with a minor one.

In San Francisco George had the benefit also of expert help from one or two other associates, of whom John Swett, the principal of the Girls’ High School, is least anonymous. Mr. Swett may have been the member of the Land Reform League who sometimes brought John Muir to the meetings: at any rate the two were friends, and the great naturalist and conservationist knew and was much stirred by Henry George at this period. At the stage of proofreading Mr. Swett combed over Progress and Poverty for errors in expression and grammar — needlessly, he says. Not completely convinced by George’s ideas, this friend understood the book as a product of the time and place. ‘It really seemed as if the foundations of society were breaking up. A part of George’s book took its tone from these hard times.’ Another member of the league remembers talking with George about how it had taken Herbert Spencer twenty-five years to get a respectable hearing, and recalls George agreeing that Progress and Poverty had better be directed to influencing the twentieth century.

Outside San Francisco lay a personal debt perhaps not much smaller than the one to Dr. Taylor. This is the debt to James McClatchy, which, being of dateless origin in the past, is hard to evaluate. According to a story more than twice told, the editor of the Bee deserves credit for first suggesting that George write the big book. This claim depends on a remembered conversation: on the story that George once told McClatchy that he ought to state his philosophy about land in a book; and that McClatchy replied, no, he was too old, but George should do it. If this advice was given early enough, say just following Our Land and Land Policy in 1871, then McClatchy is probably due the credit that the Bee later claimed for him. If the conversation took place much later than 1871 —a question not to be determined — then the story implies more dependence on McClatchy than can have been true and indicates good will between the two but nothing more than this. Whatever the fact of the suggestion, George sent chapters of Progress and Poverty to the old editor for comment and revision, and had his help that way.

According to recent standards of biographical procedure, there should now be some description and exposition of George’s library, some analysis of the books he is known to have worked with, as determinants or conditioners of Progress and Poverty in gestation. Unfortunately George’s own collection of books was dispersed and we have no list of it. His son says that he had about 600 volumes, twice as many as the estimate cited above; and we know that, in addition to it and the Taylor library, he drew on the State Library in Sacramento and used four libraries in San Francisco — the Odd Fellows, the Mercantile, the Mechanics, and the Free. (What Cheer House is not mentioned at this time.) Lacking much evidence about

George’s borrowings, the reader is referred back to chapters 111 and viii, especially, for some account of his earlier reading, and forward to chapter x, where he will find a little detective work on what George read while he was composing, based on evidence within Progress and Poverty itself.


We have seen how George was affected by the rise of the Kearney movement. Yet the influences on him were pretty negative at that stage. He refused to go with the party; he made some effort to launch a rival reform; he blamed Kearneyism as much as anything for his having been defeated for the constitutional convention; he retired from affairs.

But during the early months of 1879, when Progress and Poverty was finished and the new constitution was submitted for ratification, George undertook a more active role. For this reason the political background now requires a little further sketching in. By 1879, emotions had been thoroughly aroused, anti-labor defenses had been marshaled, and what a recent scholar calls California’s ‘Big Red Scare’ had seized the state.

Readers of a generation more familiar than Henry George’s was with the phenomenon we call fascism will not need long explanations. Behind California’s tensions were the national and international conditions of a prolonged depression. The railroad strikes of 1877, originating many miles away, had been the event that set off the riots. On the Pacific coast itself, a serious drought aggravated economic hardship. Laboring men knew that there had been a huge immigration of Chinese in 1876, about 22,000 of them; and the news-reading world soon learned that Kearney’s followers were dramatizing their poverty, with an effectiveness hardly possible elsewhere in the world, by assembling very near the recently built palaces of railroad kings and silver princes on Nob Hill.

While Henry George’s energies drained off in the Land Reform League, Dennis Kearney’s organization succeeded in drawing together trade-union elements and locals of the national Workingmen’s party, and it became a large and potent thing. Not only in the San Francisco Bay area, but throughout the state, clubs were formed and an impressive number of local elections won. Not since Jackson’s day, nor in that day, had the country seen anything quite comparable: a working-men’s party overwhelming an election in a major city, and threatening to take control of city and state.

Hence the red scare. Largely thanks to the new biography of John S. Hittell by Professor Claude W. Petty, it is possible to visualize how the psychology of fear transformed conservatives into suppressors. Hittell’s employer, Frederick MacCrellish, proprietor of the Alta California, joined the vigilantes in 1877, at the moment of organization. And the old editorial writer, the man whose ideas had been George’s departing point for dissent and difference during the ’60s, became a regular red-baiter. One can imagine Henry George’s feeling about Hittell’s editorials, say the following propositions: ‘Reform is a word familiar to every political villain . . . Civilization and intelligence are most active where individuals have been enabled to accumulate great wealth . . . Equality is not enviable when it is the dead level of intellectual and industrial stagnation.’

Hittell attached the name of ‘Kearneyism’ to every brand of California protest, and completed the smear by tagging, in the title phrase of one of his editorials, ‘Kearneyism Another Name for Communists.’ The irresponsibility of the Alta’s procedure becomes clearest in the case of the Grangers, who were more conservative in California than in their principal locations in the Middle West. Three years earlier, ahead of the strikes and the sharpest crisis, exprofessor Carr had found time to bring out his Patrons of Husbandry on the Pacific Coast, more a manifesto than a history. He acknowledged some debt to Henry George. He made his most theoretical chapter a rendering of the ideas of John Hiram Lathrop, mid-western agrarian, son of Yale, and president, successively, of the universities of Missouri, Wisconsin, and Indiana. Yet the Granger movement too, the farmers’ baby, the Alta would have thrown out with the radical bath.

A part of the price paid by the state was, naturally, the stifling of moderate and liberal opinion. As a kind of control point, for observing the ineffectiveness of Henry George’s voice in state affairs, we have the effort of a new weekly newspaper, Hall's Land Journal, to represent, in a more progressive variation, the middle-of-the-road conservatism that Caspar T. Hopkins had expressed a decade earlier. (President Hopkins at this time was cultivating the California Social Science Association, but would return to the printed discussion of state affairs in the Overland, in the early ’80s.) The new journal was edited by Charles Victor Hall, who had recently been a student in the state university and would presently become a wealthy promoter. Engagingly the editor applauded Henry George’s Fourth of July address, and quarreled with the low-interest and low-wages policy of the Alta, while he also printed more conservative editorials. The paper did not last; and its significance in the Henry George story is that its young editor produced a lonely flash of the Greeley-like, or McClatchy-like, spirit which we have caught earlier in San Francisco journalism. But that spirit is conspicuous by its infrequency during the ‘Big Red Scare’; and it never had been present in the now dominant Alta California and the Fitch-Pickering-Simonton newspapers.

In the face of this kind of situation, Henry George decided to launch a new newspaper. The immediate occasion was the adjournment of the constitutional convention in Sacramento, in March 1879, and the impending contest over ratifying the new instrument. George was free to act because his book was written; and he was the readier to do so because his gas-meter job was about to terminate. Where he found the funds for even a very small paper is not clear; it is perfectly plain that he needed a job once more.

For the first time George’s political goal coincided with those of the majority of San Francisco newspapers. In the city, only the Chronicle, among the established journals, wanted the new constitution ratified. The common reason, not George’s reason, for opposing it was that the new frame of government was radical and would discourage businessmen. ‘No one in this country can be induced to invest a dollar in any California enterprise until this communistic constitution is broken down by the common sense of the people,’ wrote an ex-Californian, E. F. Beale, from the nation’s capital. But on his side, Henry George believed that the constitution was too conservative, and that it should be defeated on that account. Not fearing the Kearneyites as upsetters of the social order, but rather as being politically ignorant and corrupt, George had a distaste, equal to that of the Alta California, for the labor party’s growing force. Dennis Kearney took the stump for ratification; and we may glance forward to see that at fall elections his party would actually achieve its maximum strength — it would elect six Supreme Court judges to a bench of seven, and seat sizable minorities, eleven senators and sixteen assemblymen, in the two houses of the legislature. Kearney’s power was a part of the challenge that brought George back into state affairs.

But the heart of the matter was the constitution itself. The plainest thing about it was its extreme length; in this respect it differed utterly from the principles of simplicity and flexibility advanced by George in the Post. Concerning real-estate taxation, it contained a procedural requirement, Article xm, Section 2, which has pleased twentieth-century single-taxers, indeed, because it prescribed an arrangement they have had to fight for elsewhere, for instance in New York and recently in Pennsylvania. ‘Land and improvements thereon shall be separately assessed . . . [and] land, of the same quality and similarly situated shall be assessed at equal value.’ But this did not make Henry George a friend for the constitution. To him another provision about land, Article xvn, Section 2, was the crucial thing: ‘The holding of large tracts of land, uncultivated and unimproved, by individuals or corporations is against the public interest and should be discouraged by all means not inconsistent with the rights of private property.’ ‘Not inconsistent with the rights of private property’ — this clause, conservatively interpreted, could protect the speculator and withholder against the policies George desired, even more effectively than the equality-of-taxation clause in the constitution of 1849.

On 5 April, Henry George’s new paper, a weekly, The State, began to appear. Perhaps Sir William Jones’ poem, ‘The State,’ suggested the name. George seems to have loved this poem, for he had inserted it in his very first printed piece, in the Journal of Labor and Workmen, fourteen years earlier; and now he printed it again, on the front page of the first issue. A few lines are worth quoting, for they will help capture George’s own mood:

What Constitutes a State?

Not high raised battlement or labored mound,

Thick wall or moated gate;

Not cities proud with spires and turrets crowned . . .

No:Men, high-minded men With powers as far above dull brutes endured In forest brake or den As heart excel cold rocks and brambles rude . . .

These constitute a State;

And sovereign Law, that State’s collected will . . .

Sits empress, crowning good, suppressing ill.

George’s editorial ‘Salutatory,’ hard by the poem, announced ‘a Democratic paper’ but denied that the State started with any backers, partisan or financial. ‘It will not shrink from supporting the right because it is unpopular, nor cringe to wrong because it is strong.’ The editor sounded as though he meant to stay in business, whether or not the constitution was ratified. Though ‘not as big or as good a paper as many would want to see . . . it is as good and as big as I can now make it. If it succeeds it will grow.’ George promised to proceed according to the lessons he had learned on the Post and had tried to preach. He would run signed articles. He would not regret the lack of outside funds: $200,000 not earned in journalism would spoil the independence of the State, he said. This first issue won a flicker of recognition from his old critic, the Colusa Sun: ‘We have been growing stupid of late,’ that paper admitted, from lack of fire and originality in the California press.

While the Alta called the State communistic, George swung into editorial sympathy with the Sacramento Bee. McClatchy’s paper, which had accused the convention at mid-session of being managed by land and water monopolies, said on 29 April that, ‘Land reform will be set back fifteen to twenty years if this new instrument shall be adopted, and water monopoly by it is protected and perpetuated.’ In his second issue George attacked the clause in the constitution about private property in land, which is quoted above. Nine months later, in the Bee of 24 December, he said even more forcefully that that clause could be read by judges to render unconstitutional any future legislation intended to appropriate economic rent.

There is no need to comb the editorials of the State, as we did the Post, for ideas which often reformulated the convictions of the earlier paper, or which drew on the arsenal of the unpublished book manuscript. Amply and strongly against ratification, George argued the merits of having a short constitution and a short ballot, as in the interest of working men most particularly. At points of greatest difference from Kearney, he ran a series on the economics of the working class, and he took a more moderate attitude than ever before toward the Chinese — this last in perfect contrast with the exclusions in Article xix of the new constitution. He exposed a fresh instance of civic corruption.

Most of this poured out in the five issues of the weekly that preceded the ratification vote. It is fair to suppose that San Francisco’s majority of about 1600 against the constitution, in a vote of some 38,000, owed something to George’s radical opposition. And we may suppose also that, although George continued some six weeks longer, his quitting the State in June was in part due to his general discouragement about politics under the new frame of government. Though his children say that the little paper was breaking even, and that he dropped it in order to give full attention to publishing Progress and Poverty, we have his own more complicated story in a letter which is really a testament, dated 6 May, the day before the ratification.

Writing to John Swinton, he pretty much summed up the issue of a dozen years of trying to influence California. The fight against the constitution, he said, had been ‘very, very lonely’; and now he was pained to discover ‘that we differ, when we ought to be together, and that you who ought to applaud it, regret my course.’ The newspapers which Swinton had been reading in New York, George said — the Bulletin, the Alta, the Argonaut, and the News Letter in opposition, and the Chronicle in behalf of the constitution — would naturally make it seem ‘that here is a closely drawn struggle between the monopolysing [sic] classes on the one part, and popular right on the other. But it is not so.’

George admitted nothing except coincidence in common between himself and the ‘capitalists who are fighting this constitution . . . They fear and dislike me. They look on me, as the man who is the head of the anti-constitution committee expressed it — as a man more dangerous in the long run than a hundred Kearneys ... I make no friends with them; but on the other hand I am losing the confidence of the men who ought to be my friends. If I were a demagogue all I would have to do would be to go in and shout, and I could be popular with the only men I can be popular with. But I would be false to my firmest convictions.’

Contrary to the charges of the red-baiters, George denied the least ‘glimpse or gleam of communism or socialism’ in the document. ‘Vacquerel, the only real communist in the convention, is fighting it; the real and thoughtful socialists . . . are opposing it;

men like Chas. A. Sumner [the old friend on Nugent’s Herald], Jim Lane, and others who have fought the railroad monopoly inch by inch, are opposing it. Men like John M. Days, John A. Collins, who have steadily fought land monopoly are opposing it. I do not know a single man who believe[s] as I do that land is not rightfully private property who is supporting this new Constitution. But men like these have no voice that you hear.’

As for the winners, George emphasized that the great strength of the new constitution belonged to the Grangers, ‘a class which as you know is the one least likely to accept radical ideas. It is warmly supported by men who hold five, twenty, fifty thousand acres of land.’ George spoke of the Grangers in almost the same way as liberals speak of the Associated Farmers in California today, and for his eastern reader he carefully differentiated them from the discontented farmers of the Middle West — ‘for we have not in California in any considerable proportion that class of small farmers who settled the West side by side in quarter sections.’ Politically and for the moment only, George agreed that the Kearneyites stood with the Grangers. But, he went on, ‘The so called workingmen in the convention did not make a single point — in fact they had no intelligent idea of what a constitution should be or what would benefit the working classes; they simply fell in with the Grangers because by this combination they thought to make a party which would carry the next election and give them the offices. That is their highest idea.’

Beside the working men, among those who said yes to the Grangers’ constitution, George placed ‘the great railroad monopoly,’ which also expected to have its own way. ‘They made the Commission section,’ he told Swinton, with reference to a board of railroad commissioners to whom the constitution assigned broad but toothless powers to supervise the railroads of the state. In the State he had been even more specific: ‘Astute lobbyists and manipulators are kept in the constant pay of the Central Pacific Railroad, which has organized corruption into a perfect system,’ and which succeeded in placing friends of monopoly in the convention.

A more unrelieved picture of the politics of self-interest and jobbery than George’s would be hard to turn up. ‘The constitution is repugnant to the business classes on account of its scheme of taxation; to the corporations on account of the d—d fool clauses regarding corporations; and to all the more intelligent classes because of its want of coherency, precision, and every quality which should be shown in a Constitution; to me and men like me it is chiefly repugnant because giving no real reform it will if adopted but block the way to reform . . . The very rich class have nothing whatever to fear from it. Though they have to a great extent got themselves worked up by the shadow of that bugbear which they call “communism.” The men who have most to fear are men who want reform which will go to the very foundation of the social structure, and who have an intelligent idea of what they want.’

For George personally, all this amounted to more than a mood of discouragement and defeat, and more even than a sense of being at the moment displaced in a community where he had risen high and gone down. It represented his permanent judgment of affairs in California, and the fear which was deepening within him for the safety of the republic as a whole. A year later, when Professor Youmans invited an account of Kearneyism, done in the spirit of scientific inquiry, George generalized. ‘Given universal suffrage, a vague blind bitter feeling of discontent on the one side and of practical political impotence, producing indifference and recklessness on the part of the great mass of voters — and any incident may start a series of the most dangerous actions and reactions.’ In a still later comment he noted that the railroad had been the real winner — that, though Californians had voted ‘against the railroad time and again, or rather imagined they did,’ the great corporation, ‘of whose domain California, with an area greater than twice that of Great Britain, is but one of the provinces, absolutely dominates the State.’ This would in fact be a valid estimate for the coming three decades of California politics.

To the younger Henry George, in days on the Post and the Reporter, the railroad monopoly had seemed dangerous but not overwhelming. It might have appeared tyrannous, or Machiavellian, on many occasions, but the leadership had seemed admirable on others; and the system had proved almost benevolent to the American Press Association. Likewise only short years before 1879 the land monopoly had seemed not impossible to break, and the water monopoly had appeared to be subject to the democratic process. But now all the monopolies had entrenched themselves, and at the age of forty George saw no hope of change.

At this point, friends far and near told George that he had better leave California. John Swett said so. John Russell Young, who presently came to San Francisco with General Grant on the expresident’s round-the-world tour, sensed that his old friend was deeply troubled. Though in intimate conversations George would spell out few of his perplexities, Young testifies, he seemed to be ‘swimming in heavy seas . . . He spoke as a stranger with his abiding place in a strange land.’ He appeared to be a square peg in a round hole: ‘San Francisco did not appreciate him.’ The visitor helped make the decision that the author of Progress and Poverty go to New York for a fresh start.

In November 1876, when Samuel J. Tilden missed clear-cut victory at the polls, and the California Democrats were routed, Henry George had written his mother that political defeat was as good as victory for such as he. ‘In fact, I think better, as a man of my mind has a better chance of coming forward more rapidly in a minority than in a majority party. However, about all such things, I am disposed to think that whatever happens is for the best. Talent and energy can nearly always convert defeats into victories.’

In 1879 George was reduced close to being a one-man minority with a program, in California. But Progress and Poverty he now addressed to the world, and he had uncommon faith in the rightness of his thought.

Before the World:

Progress and Poverty 1879


The very size of Progress and Poverty563 pages in the standard edition — demanded qualities of authorship which Henry George had had no earlier occasion to exercise. Even the many chapters that drew on the thought and phrases of old editorials and recent speeches required him to make associations of ideas hitherto unmade, and to weld structures of logic at culminating heights above any he had ventured before. There were also new areas to fill in, weak spots to strengthen and develop. This is especially true of the first, second, and third ‘books,’ and the tenth and final one, where he made his great dissents from classical economic doctrines, offered a revision of the theory of economic distribution, and made the strongest affirmations of his own social faith.

In a true sense, accordingly, the total argument came out new. Though George’s reform contentions remained the same as in the Post in 1873 and after, and the same as in the addresses, his new completeness and definiteness, and the fresh assimilations of scholarship — the infrequent miracle that a living book had been born — put the author’s ideas on a new footing altogether.

Readers of this biography, who may pick up Progress and Poverty still bearing in mind George’s fifteen years of writing and speaking about California affairs, will sense, more completely than his con-


temporaries did, how intimately the book bears the marks of the region of its birth. To be sure the text is strewn with California illustrations. There are some fifty of them, picked up from Sierra mining camps to seal hunting in the Santa Barbara channel; and they are more numerous than illustrations from all other places. But all illustrations are incidental only, in a treatment mainly logical, abstract, and moral. It took Dr. Edward Taylor’s inside perceptions to say, on publication: ‘It is not merely an American book, but a California book. We do not mean merely that it is a book written in California by a Californian, but that it is distinctively and peculiarly Californian, for not only are its illustrations drawn from this coast, but the freshness of its views bespeak the novel and suggestive circumstances that have been presented in California.’

In California and of California, but not especially for California, nor even for the United States, was the book executed. George found literary devices, over and above the logic of argument, to sustain the note of universal meaning. Systems of thought which are fused by the ‘imagination,’ says Isaiah Berlin, a wise man of our day, ‘if they are filled with sufficient energy and force of will — and it may be added, fantasy, which is less frightened by the facts and creates models in terms of which the facts are ordered by the mind — sometimes transform the whole outlook of an entire generation.’

In Progress and Poverty, fantasy takes the form of incorporating Mrs. Browning’s sonnet of the working children, rather than statistics, to convey a situation; it takes the form of quoting a bit of Hindu lore, and recurring to the quotation as a leitmotiv in a music drama, to renew for the reader the author’s main diagnosis of social evil. ‘To whomsoever the soil at any time belongs, to him belong the fruits of it. White parasols and elephants mad with pride are the flowers of a grant of land.’ No exercise of the author’s imagination worked more effectively than the decision to abandon a humdrum title — he had announced before publication a forthcoming work on the ‘Political Economy of the Social Problem’ — for the famous one. To twentieth-century readers, the Victorian oratorical quality of Progress and Poverty at certain climaxes is likely to be distasteful; but this is a simple reflection of George’s age, and of his own public speaking during the period of writing.

The work makes many levies on social thinkers not previously tapped by George, or certainly not marshaled in force. Where in newspaper days he drew on John Stuart Mill’s text, and we can be sure of little else in economics, Progress and Poverty shows, as we shall see in some detail, knowledge and use of Ricardo, and in some degree of Adam Smith (though not a thorough knowledge yet, if ever), and of Malthus, Cairnes, Fawcett, Herbert Spencer, and others. In the less economic and more historical and sociological passages, the book indicates interesting leads or borrowings taken, notably, from Sir Henry Maine and Walter Bagehot and Sir William Jones, contemporary British lions of social research and theory, two of them students of India. Like many a Californian in business, to make his borrowings George went straight to the resources of the mother country. A few American economists, like Perry of Williams and, most notably, Francis Amasa Walker, did offer him something usable. But in the main it was the famous English thinkers, contributors to the ideas and policies of liberalism, asserters of laws and uniformities in society comparable to the laws of physics and biology, who gave him intellectual capital to draw on. He sought no farther than the English Channel. The famous similarities between Henry George’s economics and Physiocracy to the contrary notwithstanding, the author of Progress and Poverty up to this point had no effective knowledge of French thought, either from Turgot’s century or August Comte’s.

For reasons of analogy at least, and because just possibly a philosophical writer may have influenced him profoundly, a chapter from Thomas Henry Buckle’s already famous History of Civilization in England demands mention. This was Buckle’s brilliant ‘Examination of the Scotch Intellect during the Eighteenth Century,’ which we know George pondered carefully. Commenting on Adam Smith, the historian noted that the great economist had written his two treatises from quite separate premises about human nature, and had never reconciled them. ‘In his Moral Sentiments, he ascribes our actions to sympathy; in his Wealth of Nations, he ascribes them to selfishness.’ Buckle explains that Smith wrote with one hand as though men lived in great and religious concern with affairs outside themselves, and so evoked the highest principles and the deepest emotions; with the other hand he wrote as though self-seeking were the only motive in the world.

We would have to disregard much in Henry George’s life to suppose that the reading of Buckle’s History of Civilization taught him for the first time that the poles of human action are far apart, and that a philosopher needs to relate them to one another. Even when he was a youngster, he alternated between cool description and intense exhortation; and the letters and editorials and speeches of the California printer, editor, and reformer had often voiced romantic utopianism in one vein and muckraking and near-determinism in another. For years he had managed a balance between the two without advice from a great historian. But George’s native capacity to see life both ways — to consider the economic man and remember also the Christian — does not exclude the possibility that Buckle’s observation posed him an issue and gave him food for self-consciousness, while he was writing Progress and Poverty.

Whether this be true or not, certainly the ‘Scotch Intellect’ chapter expresses the central philosophical problem which every economist who rejects materialism must in some way face, and which was present and immediate with George while he was writing. The strictly economic reasoning in Progress and Poverty rests squarely on the nineteenth century’s common, hedonistic and selfish pleasure-pain psychology.1 And the reform reasoning rests on the vastly different Christian and democratic presumptions of the author’s life of faith. George’s dual role as economist and as reformer makes acute the tension between the two assumptions about the nature of man, in the pages of the book.

The whole architecture of Progress and Poverty, indeed, is arranged to accommodate this duality. In the large the book may be envisaged somewhat on the order of the Berkeley and the Fourth of July addresses of 1877, as offering the reader two sequences of thought, distinct and separable but each dependent on the other. The major sequence begins in the introduction, with a concise statement of ‘The Problem’ of the book. This is Henry George’s old paradox of fifteen years of articles, editorials, and speeches: that modern material progress actually increases poverty and insecurity, that under industrial conditions depressions strike, Huns rise in the cities, and wars threaten, all in increasing terror. The opening section of the book presents the author's moral vision of the social

1P and P, 204, 217.

question completely: it presents the question of the failure of modern men to deal justly with one another.

George’s moral question is suspended here, without the solution his moral faith had to offer, while the succeeding 450 pages take up what we shall call Progress and Poverty's ‘economic syllogism.’ This is the well-remembered core of the book, the part which criticizes and tries to amend accepted economic theory, which reviews and finds to be lacking all current programs of social reconstruction, and which offers George’s own program. Though the economic syllogism occupies the larger part of the text, it is really the minor one of the two sequences of thought. It particularizes the nature of the social question posed in the introduction, and it names a possible economic procedure to solve that question. But it has no reach of thought to assure the reader that humanity has the power to follow through, to make good its economic insights and actually replace moral evil with moral good.

In entirely specific terms, the essential argument of the economic syllogism begins in Book in, where George for the first time systematized his ideas on ‘The Laws of Distribution’ in economic life. The place of this elaborate and important piece of writing, in the syllogism, is that of first premise. The essential proposition is that rent — an increment of monopoly not earned by individuals — always and everywhere opposes and reduces wages and interest, the returns which the economy makes for labor’s toil and for the investment of capital. The second premise of the economic syllogism, in Books iv and v, is historical rather than theoretical like the first. It incorporates the depression ideas of the address, ‘Why Work Is Scarce,’ and asserts that the forces of industrial economy operate observably to enlarge the take of land ownership, and that that creates unbalance, poverty, and depression. The conclusion of the syllogism appears in Book vi, ‘The Remedy,’ and is justified in Books vii, viii, and ix, the ‘Justice of the Remedy,’ the ‘Application of the Remedy,’ and the ‘Effects of the Remedy.’ In this long passage Henry George made his classic presentation of the necessity to do away with private property in land; and he suggested his alternatives to private property and painted the utopia that would follow if economic rent were taken for the public benefit.

Had Henry George been an ordinary nineteenth-century believer in the idea of social progress as a nearly automatic process, he could reasonably have submitted the argument of Book in through Book ix, the economic syllogism, and could have spared himself bothering with the rest. Then the reform would have been proposed and argued within the limits of economics, and the tacit assumption would have been made that the simple common sense of mankind could be counted upon to provide adequately for mankind’s betterment.

But any such optimistic presumption would, as we know, have been quite false to Henry George’s feeling. Progress and Poverty's, introductory statement fairly represents his judgment that the world’s morality had fallen short. Accordingly the book would have fallen short, also, if the opening presentation of the social question had not been followed somewhere by social assurance — by something more than a technical answer to the question of poverty. The economic syllogism itself produces a program far more drastic than reformers ordinarily contemplated, and one that would have been more upsetting to the economic order than any reform ever adopted by a modern government at peace. This indicates the purpose served by Book x and the Conclusion of Progress and Poverty: the completion of the primary sequence of the book’s thought. Hereafter, to distinguish it from the economic syllogism, we shall call this sequence — comprising the opening and the closing sections — Progress and Poverty's ‘moral sequence.’

Like the economic one, the moral sequence is stated in three parts. The premise at the beginning is social injustice, asserted not as theory but as plain fact. The second premise, withheld until after the economic case for reform has been fully argued, is pure theory, unadulterated democratic idea. ‘Association in equality is the law of progress,’ is Henry George’s irreducible formula in this passage; he phrases the doctrine of equal opportunity for all men as a datum of universal moral law. The antithesis he discovers between social fact and social theory he presents as a tragic contradiction, and very nearly a complete one.

His resolution of the problem indicates why Progress and Poverty’s moral sequence of thought may not be called a ‘moral syllogism’ instead. A syllogism leads to a sure conclusion, or synthesis, of the premises. Henry George is not sure that mankind will solve the question of poverty: he says only that we have the power to try to solve it. No historical necessity compels the fulfillment of the moral law; and this argument makes him entirely different from Marx, and makes Progress and Poverty a book opposed to all materialistic and deterministic social ideas. The conclusion, we may anticipate, is a conditional one. If men will but turn to God, and seek His help, the moral law may be made to rule. On condition of God-given righteousness, and only on that condition, equal economic justice will prevail in industrial society, or anywhere.

In a passage near the end of Progress and Poverty the ancient battle of Ormuzd and Ahriman is woven into the fabric, a splendid touch of design. For the struggle of good with evil, present in all history, was to Henry George the process that reduces economics and religion to common terms.


Books 1 and 11 of Progress and Poverty, George’s ground-clearing preliminary, develop in strength the criticism of classical economics he had ventured in Berkeley, and had anticipated a little in the Post. He regarded this as important enough to give it one-quarter of his text; and in time it caught his reviewers’ eyes, especially those on the far side of the Atlantic.

The matter of the two books is much less controversial today. It is a refutation of ideas he himself had once accepted, first, the old wages-fund theory of employment and, second, Malthusian population theory. These two were the main components, of course, of the ‘iron law of wages’ — the name socialists gave to the hard presumption of classical economics, that wages tend always to be depressed to subsistence level. The ‘dismal science’ was dismal because its doctrines of employment denied hope to the masses of men.

In his nf wspaper criticism of the wages fund, George had said that that theory, since it made employment depend on a special reserve of capital accumulation, attributed too much authority to the capitalist. He now developed this thought into a series of counterpropositions. According to Progress and Poverty: wages are paid after labor has been rendered and value has already been added to the materials being prepared or moved to market, whether or not the product has been sold. Not so much a capitalist’s reserves — money in the bank — as current labor, for instance the labor applied in food production, sustains working men while their product is in process. And, ultimately, the people’s needs are what keep the economy in motion: ‘The demand for consumption determines the direction in luhich labor will be expended in production.’2 This prepares for George’s important labor-employs-capital argument in Book v, on distribution.

Stating his criticism of the wages fund was much easier in Progress and Poverty than in the Post, because during the interval, in 1876, Francis Amasa Walker, already the distinguished director of the census and a professor at Yale, had brought out a first-class monograph on The Wages Question. Time has recognized Walker’s book as a kind of classic because it gave the crushing blow, at least so far as American academic economics was concerned, to the wages-fund idea. Progress and Poverty credits it as a ‘most vital attack,’ even though George disliked the residue of Malthusianism contained within its thought. More than he had any way of knowing while he was writing, George was in line with the protest that was rising in both Britain and America, as he thus early condemned the wages-fund idea.

The standing of Thomas Robert Malthus’s population doctrine, four score years old in 1879, has always been debatable in America; the broad domain, the uncrowded population, the shortage of labor, the nation’s mood of optimism, the doctrine’s unfriendliness to democracy all held against it. It is still being debated. Before Progress and Poverty, the nationalistic economists of the Carey school, notably Henry C. Carey himself, had been the chief spokesmen for the opposition; and the writing of a member of that school, Professor Francis Bowen of Harvard, came out in powerful criticism at the same time that George’s book was published. But this represented minority resistance. The more because classical economics was accepted so universally, American professors, for instance, had no united front of resistance to Malthusian theory; rather the opposite. No one better represents the fear and dread the doctrine could inculcate among those who accepted it than Henry George himself, up to about 1872. His argument in the letter on Chinese immigration, and his correspondence with John Stuart Mill, in 1869 and 1870, will recall that stage of his thought.

Now he wrote at length with the ardency of a man who has changed his mind. George answered Malthus mainly by drawing

2 See