A Chronology of the Life
and Work of Henry George

Edward J. Dodson

1839 Henry George is born in Philadelphia on 2 September. His family rented the house at 413 South 10th Street

Youth As a young man, Henry George was a constant reader and frequently attended scientific lectures at the Franklin Institute

1855-1856 Left school to work as a cabin boy on the sailing ship Hindoo. The ship sailed around Africa and to India and Australia. He made the following observation after coming into the port at Calcutta:

"The river which here 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 side or Calcutta side, are the East India Company's works, for repairing their steamers, numbers of which, principally iron, were undergoing repairs. On the other side was an immense palace-like structure (the residence, I believe, of some wealthy Englishman) surrounded by beautiful lawns and groves. The river was covered with boats and presented a bustling scene. 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."

1856 Arrived back in the United States (New York) in June and returned to Philadelphia. Accepted as an apprentice with a printing firm, where he learned to set type and to greatly improve his ability to spell. Afterward, he had difficulty finding steady employment.

1857 Henry George took a job on a schooner hauling coal from Philadelphia to Boston. From Boston he wrote to a friend:

"The times here are very hard and are getting worse and worse every day, factory after factory suspending and discharging its hands. 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."

1858 At the end of 1857 he secured appointment as ship's steward, or storekeeper, on a U.S. Naval vessel that departed Philadelphia around South America to San Francisco. Shortly thereafter, he headed for the Frazer River gold fields to try his luck as a prospector. He signed on as seaman on a schooner headed for Victoria. He returned only months before running out of funds. Back in San Francisco, he took a job setting type in a printing office.

1860 George becomes a journeyman type-setter. He soon meets his future wife, Annie Fox.

1861 George enters into a partnership with other printers to start a new paper, the Evening Journal. With the War Between the States erupting and economic times worsening, he wrote to his sister:

"Truly it seems that we have fallen upon 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. …On great events and movements we can philosophise, 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."

1861-1865 After his marriage to Annie Fox, George moved to Sacramento. He loses what little savings he has investing in mining stocks. In 1863 he begins work for another paper, the Union, but is discharged in 1864 after some disagreement. He then returned to San Francisco in search of work. He began setting type for the Evening Journal, then to another paper, and finally opened up a job-printing office with another type setter. Recession hit, and George soon found himself without resources.

1865 George begins his journalistic writing efforts. One of his first assignments was to cover the city's mourning the death of Abraham Lincoln. Of Lincoln, he wrote:

"No common man, yet the qualities which made him great and loved were eminently common. … He was not of those whom God lifts to the mountain tops, and who tell of His truth to ears that will not hear, and show His light to eyes that cannot see - whom their own generation stone, and future ones worship; but he was of the leaders who march close before the advancing ranks of the people, who direct their steps and speak with their voice."

1866-1867 George joined a debating society, the Sacramento Lyceum. In November, he joined the new San Francisco Times. He worked his way into a position as a reporter, then editorial writer and, finally, managing editor in mid-1867. In the Fall of 1868 he departs from the Times; he briefly accepts the job of managing editor of a new morning newspaper, the Dramatic Chronicle. He is then engaged to represent the San Francisco Herald to travel east to New York to get the paper admitted to the Associated Press. He is unsuccessful.

1868 George's first major article -- "What the Railroad Will Bring Us" -- is published in the Overland Monthly (to which Sam Clemens was a frequent contributor). Here, he begins to develop his ideas on political economy:

"Increase in population and wealth past a certain point means simply an approximation to the condition of older countries -- the Eastern States and Europe. …For years the high rate of interest and the high rate of wages prevailing in California have been special subjects for the lamentations of a certain school of local political economists, who could not see that high wages and high interest were indications that the natural wealth of the country was not yet monopolized, that great opportunities were open to all -- who did not know that these were evidences of social health, …"

"The truth is, that the completion of 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. As a general rule … those who have, it will make wealthier; for those who have not, it will make it more difficult to get. Those who have lands, mines, established businesses, special abilities of certain kinds, will become richer for it and find increased opportunities; those who have only their own labour will become poorer, and find it harder to get ahead - first because it will take more capital to buy land or to get into business; and second, because as competition reduces the wages of labour, this capital will be hard for them to obtain."

1868 A letter to the editor by Henry George is published in the New York Tribune. The letter attacks the monopolistic power of the Central Pacific Railroad and its influence over political decisions.

1869 New York deeply affected Henry George. His son later wrote:

"What put the iron into Henry George's soul against industrial slavery was the contrast of poverty with wealth he witnessed in the greatest city in the new world…"

1869 George's concern for the plight to workers comes out in an article he wrote titled "The Chinese on the Pacific Coast" published in the New York Tribune. George sent a copy of the article to John Stuart Mill, who responded with a long letter of general agreement.

1869 George's friends made a failed attempt to have him nominated for a seat in the California state legislature.

1869 George had an experience that set him to work writing about the causes of poverty. He later wrote:

"Absorbed in my own thoughts, I had driven [my] horse into the hills until he panted. Stopping for breath, I 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 some 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 more for the privilege. …"

1870 George accepted the position of managing editor of the state Democratic Party paper, the State Capital Reporter, and once again moved to Sacramento. He took up the call for ending subsidies to the railroads, which prompted the key railroad monopolists to purchase the paper. George resigned in October and soon returned to San Francisco.

1870 George authored a sixteen page paper, "The Subsidy Question and the Democratic Party" which was circulated by the governor as a campaign document.

1871 George is appointed secretary to the Democratic State convention and is given the honor of nominating Gov. Haight for re-election. He was then himself nominated for the state legislature. The power of the railroads was employed to defeat the Democratic candidates.

1871 George's pamphlet, "Our Land and Land Policy," is published in August. In this pamphlet, he begins to challenge the basic assertions of many of the past and contemporary writers on political economy. His key insight is that nature can belong to no individual or group:

"Land, that part of the globe's surface habitable by man, is the storehouse from which he must draw the material to which his labour must be applied for the satisfaction of his desires. It is not wealth, since wealth is the product of human labour. …"

"To permit one man to monopolise the land from which the support of others is to be drawn, is to permit him to appropriate their labour."

In this pamphlet, he rejects the analysis of why wages fall that he had previously accepted from his reading of John Stuart Mill's writing. Unfortunately, neither the public nor many others took note of the pamphlet. About a thousand copies were purchased.

1871 George enters into partnership with two others to start a new newspaper, the Daily Evening Post. The paper was priced at a penny. They sold their interests in the paper to an investor, circulation fell, and George and his former partner reacquired ownership for a nominal sum.

1872 George is elected as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, held in Baltimore in July. He supported Horace Greeley as the party's candidate.

1875 George was forced by financial obligations to turn his interest in the Daily Evening Post over to a creditor, John P. Jones. The Governor of California, who George campaigned for, appointed him State Inspector of Gas-Meters. This provided George with a decent income without much responsibility, allowing him to concentrate on serious research and writing.

1875 He joins the campaign to elect Democrat John J. Tilden, of New York, as president. In a keynote speech he warns of what he sees happening to the nation:

"Fellow-citizens, negro slavery is dead! But cast our eyes over the North to-day and see a worse then negro slavery taking root under the pressure of the policy you are asked as Republicans to support by your votes. See seventy thousand men out of work in this Pennsylvania coal-fields; fifty thousand labourers asking for a break in the city of New York; the almshouses of Massachusetts crowded to repletion in the summertime; unemployed men roving over the West in great bands, stealing what they cannot earn. …It is an ominous thing that in this Centennial year, States that a century ago were covered by the primeval forest should be holding conventions to consider the 'tramp nuisance' -- the sure symptom of that leprosy of nations, chronic pauperism. …"

1877 George delivers a lecture on political economy at the University of California. He was supposed to deliver several lectures; however, after the first he was not invited back. Here is the reason:

"In the first place, the very importance of the subjects with which political economy deals raises obstacles in its way. The discoveries of other sciences may challenge pernicious ideas, but the conclusions of political economy involve pecuniary interests, and thus thrill directly the sensitive pocket-nerve. …What, then, must be the opposition which inevitably meets a science that deal with tariffs and subsidies, with banking interests and bonded debts, with trades-unions and combinations of capital, with taxes and licenses and land tenures! It is not ignorance alone that offers opposition, but ignorance backed by interest, and made fierce by passions."

"…the science even as taught by the masters is in large measure disjointed and indeterminate. As laid down in the best text-books, political economy is like a shapely statue but half hewn from the rock… Strength and subtilty have been wasted in intellectual hair splitting and super-refinements, in verbal discussions and disputes, while the great high-roads have remained unexplored. And thus has been given to a simple and attractive science an air of repellent abstruseness and uncertainty."

And, finally:

"For the study of political economy you need no special knowledge, no extensive library, no costly laboratory. You do not even need text-books nor teachers, if you will but think for yourselves. All that you need is care in reducing complex phenomena to their elements, in distinguishing the essential from the accidental, and in applying the simple laws of human action, with which you are familiar. …All this array of professors, all this paraphernalia of learning, cannot educate a man. They can but help him to educate himself."

1877 He delivers a speech at the Fourth of July celebration in San Francisco:

"We speak of Liberty as one thing, and of virtue, wealth, knowledge, invention, national strength and national independence as other things. But, of all these, Liberty is the source, the mother, the necessary condition.. …Where Liberty rises, there virtue grows, wealth increases, knowledge expands, invention multiplies human powers, and in strength and spirit the free nation rises among her neighbours … taller and fairer."

1877 He begins work in September on the book that would become Progress and Poverty. Gradually, he accumulates a library of over 800 volumes he made use of researching this work.

1878 The Land Reform League of California was formed to advocate for an end to land monopoly based on Henry George's proposals.

1879 Henry George's book Progress and Poverty is published. D. Appleton & Co., of New York, which agreed to publish the book if George provided the plates. Of the effort he wrote:

"It will not be recognized at first, but it will ultimately be considered a great book will be published in both hemispheres, and be translated into different languages."

1880 George leaves California for good in August, for New York, to promote Progress and Poverty and to find employment. The Democratic party enlisted him to speak to worker groups on the tariff question.

1880 Progress and Poverty is translated into German. Sales of the book's first printing in the U.S. begin to expand, and requests for the book began to come from Britain.

1880 George writes an article on the Irish Land Question for publication in Appleton's Journal. In the fall, George meets Michael Davitt, leader of The Irish Land League. Davitt commits to promoting the distribution of Progress and Poverty in Ireland and Britain.

1881 George is hired by the Irish World to travel to Ireland and England and report on the political situation and land reform movement. He sailed for Liverpool in October 1881. In England, he meets Herbert Spencer (author of Social Statics). Spencer distances himself from opinions he shared with George in the earlier editions of his own work regarding land ownership.

1882 He returned to New York in October far better known than when he departed because of his own reporting and the reporting by others on his lectures and activities. He now meets and forms a bond with Rev. Edward McGlynn, an advocate for the poor and working classes.

1883 George is invited to write a series of articles for Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, responding to an earlier series by William G. Sumner, professor of political economy at Yale University. In the summer of 1883 the articles were pulled together and published in book form with the title, Social Problems.

1883 George makes a second trip to Great Britain, first meeting Michael Davitt and others in Liverpool. He debates the leading English socialist, Henry Hyndman, and lectured extensively. Alfred Marshall, lecturer on political economy at Balliol College, Oxford University observed of George that:

"…not a single economic doctrine in Mr. George's book was both new and true, since what was new was not true, and what was true was not new."

To which Henry George responded:

"… to Mr. Marshall's test -- that it contained nothing that was both new and true, …the book was based upon the truth; and the truth could not be a new thing; it always had existed and it must be everlasting. "

1885 George meets Tom L. Johnson, who gained wealth by acquiring the franchise over the street railroad system in Cleveland, Ohio. Johnson had read Social Problems and then Progress and Poverty. On a trip to New York, he called on George at his residence in Brooklyn, and George urged Johnson to become politically active.

1886 George's book, Protection or Free Trade? is published.

1886 Labor union leaders in New York enlist Henry George to be their candidate for the office of mayor. He later recalled:

"Before my nomination had formally taken place I received a request from William Ivins, then, Chamberlain of the city, … to privately meet him. …Mr. Ivins insisted that I could not possibly be elected Mayor of New York, no matter how many people might vote for me; …I said to him finally: 'You tell me I cannot possibly get the office. Why, if I cannot possibly get the office, do you want me to withdraw? His reply was: 'You cannot be elected, but your running will raise hell!' I said: 'You have relieved me of embarrassment. I do not want the responsibility and the work of the office of the Mayor of New York, but I do want to raise hell!"

Abraham Hewitt won, George came in second, followed by Theodore Roosevelt. After the election, George led a call for adoption of the secret ballot.

1887 George starts a new weekly newspaper, The Standard. Louis F. Post joins the paper as editorial writer. George's proposals for the public collection of "rent" begin to be called the "Single Tax" doctrine.

1887 An interview with Leo Tolstoi in Russia, published by the Pall Mall Gazette, quoted Tolstoi as follows:

"In thirty years private property in land will be as much a thing of the past as now is serfdom. England, America and Russia will be the first to solve the problem. …Henry George had formulated the next article in the programme of the progressist Liberals of the world."

1887-1889 George embarked on an almost continuous schedule of lectures across the United States, to Ireland, Britain, and France.

1890 After a number of additional lectures heading west across the U.S. to San Francisco, George left in February for a tour of Australia and New Zealand. Before leaving San Francisco, he spoke with great optimism about the future:

"Now the currents of the time are setting in our favour. At last -- at last, we can say with certainty that it will be only a little while before all over the English speaking world, and then, not long after, over the rest of the civilized world, the great truth will be acknowledged that no human child comes into this world without coming into his equal right with all."

1890 George returned thru the Gulf of Suez and the Mediterranean, visiting Italy, Switzerland, France and Britain. He arrived back in New York on September 1, in time to attend the first national conference of "single tax" proponents at Cooper Union. The next day, his fifty-first birthday, he experienced what was probably a mild stroke.

1890 Tom L. Johnson is elected as a "single tax" Democrat to the U.S. House of Representatives. He succeeds in reading George's book Protection or Free Trade into the Congressional record. Several hundred thousand copies were printed and distributed.

1891 George went to Bermuda to recover and began work on what he felt would be a major text on political economy.

1891 In the Spring, Pope Leo XIII issued an encyclical on "The Condition of Labor" that seemed to be in opposition to Henry George's proposals and perspectives on the land question. George wrote a response that was personally delivered to Pope Leo XIII. A reply never came from the Vatican.

1892 George next began work on another work, A Perplexed Philosopher, published in October, challenging philosopher Herbert Spencer for abandoning the positions he took in Social Statics, which George found sound, in favor of positions acceptable to the landed interests of Britain.

1897 In June, George was approached and asked to stand as a candidate for mayor of New York. He resisted -- and his physician urged that he decline -- but eventually agreed to run. On October 5 at Cooper Union, he told his supporters:

"I have not sought this nomination directly or indirectly. It has been repugnant to me. My line lay in a different path, and I hoped to tread it; but I hope with Thomas Jefferson that while a citizen who can afford to should not seek office, no man can ignore the will of those with whom he stands when they have asked him to come to the front and represent a principle."

1897 On October 28, he was to deliver a late evening campaign speech. His speech was uncharacteristically "disconnected and rambling." The following morning his wife awoke to find him standing alone. As described by his son:

"He was standing, one hand on a chair, as if to support himself. His face was white; his body rigid like a statue; his shoulders thrown back, his head up, his eyes wide open and penetrating, as if they saw something; and one word came -- "Yes" -- many times repeated, at first with a quiet emphasis, then with the vigour of his heart's force, sinking to softness as Mrs. George gently drew him back to his couch."

1897 A few hours later Henry George died. Over a hundred thousand people came to pay tribute. That many more were not able to do so.

1897 Henry George, Jr. completes his father's final work, The Science of Political Economy.

1901 Max Hirsch dedicates his monumental work, Democracy verus Socialism "to the memory of Henry George, prophet and martyr of a new and higher faith." In the preface, Hirsch write:

"A movement which draws its vitality, as Socialism does, from the poverty and haunting sense of injustice of its rank and file, and from the moral elevation and unselfish pity of the leaders, cannot be successfully met even by the most triumphant demonstration of the impracticability of the remedies which it proposes.

Revolting against the injustice of existing social arrangements and the evils thence resulting, preferring the risk of failure to ignoble acquiescence, the advocates of Socialism are, not unnaturally, deaf to merely negative criticism.

I have therefore endeavoured to fill this void.

In carrying out these objects, I have drawn freely on the great modern exponents of political economy and ethics, especially on the writings of Henry George, Bohm-Bawerk, and Herbert Spencer...."

1901-1905 Henry George, Jr. completes a biography of his father; he then completes his own book, The Menace of Privilege.

1909-1915 Henry George, Jr. travels to Russia to meet with Leo Tolstoy in 1909. He is elected and serves two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1911-1915.