[Reprinted from the book, Little Journeys to
Homes of Reformers,
Vol.XX; printed in East Aurora, Erie County, New York, 1916]
Henry George died in 1897. Ten years have passed since men heard his
voice, looked on his strong, lithe, active form, saw the gleam of his
honest eyes, and felt the presence of a man - a man who wanted nothing
and gave everything - a man who gave himself.
And in those years the world has experienced, and is now passing
through, a peaceful revolution such as men have never before seen.
Those years have given us a new science of religion; a new education;
a new penology; a new healing art; a new method in commerce.
The wisdom of honesty as a business asset is nowhere questioned, and
the clergy has ceased to call upon men to prepare for death. We are
preparing to live, and the way we are preparing to live is by living.
The remedy Henry George prescribed for economic ills was as simple as
it was new, and new things and simple things are ever looked on as
objectionable. The universality of conservatism proves that it must
have its use and purpose in the eternal order. It keeps us from going
too fast; it prevents us from bringing about changes for which mankind
is not prepared. Nature's methods are evolutionary, not revolutionary.
Slaves can not be made free by edict. Moses led his people out of
only one kind of captivity, and in the wilderness they wandered in
bondage still. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation did not free the
colored race, because it is the law of God that he who would be free
must free himself. A servile people are slaves by habit, and habit is
the only fetter. Freedom, like happiness, is a condition of mind. A
whining, complaining, pinching, pilfering class that listens for the
whistle, watches the clock, that works only when under the menacing
eye of the boss, and stands in eternal fear of the blue envelope here,
and perdition hereafter, can never be made free by legislative
enactment. Freedom can not be granted, any more than education can be
imparted, both must be achieved, or we yammer forever without the
pale. A simple, strong and honest people are free. People enslaved by
superstition and ruled by the dead have work at filing fetters ahead
of them, which only they themselves can do.
Henry George did not realize this, and his strength lay in the fact
that he did not. He did not know when men get the crook out of their
backs, the hinges out of their knees, and the cringe out of their
souls, that then they are free. Slaves place in the hands of tyrants
all the power that tyrants possess.
Fortunate it was for Henry George, and for the world, that he did not
know that any man who labors to help the working man will be mobbed by
the proletariat for his pains a little later on. Monarchies maybe
ungrateful, but their attitude is a sweet perfume compared to the
ingratitude of the laborer. He can be helped only by stealth, and his
freedom must come from within.
The moral weakness of man is the one thing that makes tyranny
Tyranny is a condition in the heart of serfs. Tyrants tyrannize only
over people of a certain cast of mind. Tyrants are men who have stolen
power - convicts who have wrested guns from their guards. Watch them,
and in a little while they will again shift places. Henry George was a
very great man - great in his economic, prophetic insight; great in
his faith, his hope, his love. He gave his message to the world, and
passed on, scourged, depressed, undone, because the world did not
accept the truths he voiced.
Yet all for which he strived and struggled will yet come true - his
prayer will be answered.
And the political parties and the men who in his life opposed him,
are now adopting his opinions, quoting his reasons, and in time will
bring about the changes he advocated. Of all modern prophets and
reformers, Henry George is the only one whose arguments are absolutely
unanswerable and whose forecast was sure.
Henry George was that rare, peculiar and strange thing - an honest
man. Whether he had genius or not we can not say, since genius has
never been defined twice alike, nor put in the alembic and resolved
into its constituent parts.
All accounts go to show that from very childhood Henry George was
singularly direct and true. His ancestry was Welsh, Scotch and English
in about equal proportions, and the traits of the middle class were
his, even to a theological sturdiness that robbed his mind of most of
its humor. Reformers must needs be color-blind, otherwise they would
never get their work done - they see red or purple and nothing else.
Born in Philadelphia in 1839, on Tenth Street, below Pine, in a house
still standing, and which should be marked with a bronze plate, but is
not, Henry George took on a good many of the moral traits of his
His father was a clerk in the Custom-House, having graduated from a
position as sea-captain on account of an excess of caution and a taste
for penmanship. Later the good man went into the publishing business,
backed by the Episcopal Church, and issued Sunday-School leaflets,
sermons and prayer-books. In fact, he became the official printer of
the denomination. With him was a man named Appleton, who finally went
over to New York and started in on his own account, founding the firm
of D. Appleton and Company, which forty years thereafter was to
publish to the world a book called, Progress and Poverty.
The worthy father of Henry George was a good Churchman, but not a
businessman. He bought the things he ought not, and left unsold the
things he should have worked off. He didn't know the value of time.
Other people did things while he was getting ready to commence to
And so the whirligig of time sent him back to his desk at the
Custom-House, on a salary so modest that it meant poverty, and
The children old enough to work got jobs, and Henry of the red hair
and freckles found a place as printer's devil at two dollars a week.
College was out of the question, and Girard Institute was regarded as
infidelic. However, episcopacy did not have quite so strong a hold on
this household as it once had. The Georges believed in freedom and
took William Lloyd Garrison's paper, The Liberator, and the
mother read it aloud by the light of a penny dip. Next came "Uncle
Tom's Cabin," and when, in 1856, the Republican Party was born,
the George family, father, mother and children, all had pronounced
views on the subject of human rights - very different views from those
held by the royal Georges of England.
When Henry George was sixteen, the restlessness of coming manhood
found expression, and he shipped before the mast and sailed away to
the Antipodes. The boy had the small, compact form, the physical
activity and daring which make a first-class sailor, but happily his
brain was too full of ideas to transform him into a dog of the sea.
A trip to Australia, with salt pork all the time, sea-biscuit every
day, lobscouse on Sundays, plum-duff once a month, and a total absence
of mental stimulus, cured him of the idea that freedom was to be found
on the bounding wave and the rolling deep.
At seventeen he was back at the case, setting type and getting a
man's pay because he was able to "rastle the dic.," which
means that he was on familiar terms with the dictionary and could
Education is a matter of desire, and the printer's case with bad copy
to revise is better than "English Twenty-two" at Harvard.
Henry George moused nights at the Quaker Apprentices' Library, and he
also read Franklin's "Autobiography;" his mind was full of
Poor Richard maxims, which he sprinkled through his diary; but best of
all, with seven other printers he formed another "Junta,"
and they met twice a week to discuss "poetry, economics and
Mormonism." It was very sophomoric, of course, but boys of
eighteen who study anything and defend it in essays and orations are
right out on the highway which leads to superiority. The trouble with
the 'prentice is that he does not know how to spend his evenings; the
love of leisure and the wish for a good time cause the moments to slip
past him, out of his reach forever, out into the great ocean of time.
Life is a sequence - the logical, farseeing mind is a cumulative
consequence. Men who are wise at forty were not idle at twenty. "Read
anything half an hour a day, and in ten years you will be learned,"
Henry George worked and read, and the "Junta" gave him the
first taste of that intoxicating thing, thinking on one's feet. We
grow by expression, and never really know a thing until we tell it to
somebody else. Henry George was getting an education, getting it in
the only way any one ever can, or has, or does - getting it by doing.
But the wanderlust was again at work; California was calling - the
land of miracle - and printer's ink began to pall. Henry George was a
sailor; every part of a sailing ship was to him familiar - from
bilge-water to pennant, from bowsprit to sternpost. He could swab the
mainmast, reef the topsail in a squall, preside in the cook's-galley,
or if the mate were drunk and the captain ashore he could take charge
of the ship, put for open sea and ride out the storm by scudding
before the wind.
Ships in need of sailors were lying in the offing.
When young Henry George took a walk it was always along the docks. He
knew every ship there in the Delaware, and visited with the sailormen,
who told of the happenings in far-off climes. News from California
much interested him - California was another America, hopelessly
separated from us by an impassable range of forbidding mountains,
reinforced with desert plains, peopled only by hostile savages. But
the sea was an open highway to this land of enchantment. California
called! And finally Henry George overcame temptation by succumbing to
it, and sailed away southward in the staunch little ship "Shubrick,"
bound for the modern Eldorado by way of Cape Horn. It was a six
months' passage, with many stops and much trading, and time that seem
lifted out of the calendar and thrown away.
Henry George arrived in California penniless. But he had health and a
willingness to work. He became a farmhand, a tramp pedlar, a laborer
shoveling gravel into a sluice-way and standing all day knee-deep in
water. It was all good, for it taught the youth that life was life and
wherever you go you carry your mental and spiritual assets, as well as
your cares, on the crupper.
Then there came a job in the composing room of a newspaper, and the
life work of Henry George was really begun, for his employers had
discovered that he could "rastle the dic.," and if copy were
scarce he could create it.
The gold-fever got into the blood of Henry George, and his savings
became a shining mark for the mining shark. A thousand men lose money
at mining where one strikes pay-gravel. Henry George was one of the
He got good wages and boarded at the best hotel in San Francisco, the
"What Cheer House." This storied hostelry was owned by a man
named Woodward, who had a few ideas of his own. Woodward not only
hated Rum, Romanism and Rebellion, but also women. Woodward was a
confirmed bachelor, having been confirmed by a lady bachelor in some
dark, mysterious way, years before. So no woman was allowed either to
stop at the hotel or to work in it. The labor was done by Chinese, and
Henry George wrote home to his sisters, describing the place as an
Next to the fact that no women were allowed in the "What Cheer
House," was the further more astounding proposition that the
place was run on absolutely temperance principles, thus, for the time.
at least, silencing that hoary adage of the genus wiseacre that no
hotel can succeed without a bar. Woodward became rich, and from the
proceeds of his temperance hotel founded Woodward Gardens - a park
beloved by all who know their San Francisco.
The third peculiar thing about this hotel was that it had a library
of a thousand volumes.
It was the only public library in San Francisco at that time, and it
was the books that led Henry George to spend twice as much for board
as he otherwise would have done.
While Henry George was at the "What Cheer House," an
English traveler added a volume to the little library, Buckle's "History
of Civilization." Woodward tried to read the book, but failing to
become interested in it, between serving the soup and the fish, handed
it to a waiter saying, "Here, give it to that red-headed printer;
he can get something out of it if anybody can."
Henry George took the book to his room, and that night sat reading it
until two o'clock in the morning. That statement of Buckle's, "Adam
Smith's 'Wealth of Nations' has influenced civilization more
profoundly than any other book ever written, save none," caught
the young printer's attention.
The next day he looked in the library for the "Wealth of
Nations," and sure enough, it was there! He began to read. He
read and reread. And whether Buckle's statement is correct or not,
this holds: Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations influenced Henry
George more profoundly than any other book he had ever read.
Henry George was not yet immune from the gold-fever microbe, and
several times was lured away into the mountains, "grubstaking"
a man with hope plus and secrets as to gold-bearing quartz that would
paralyze the world.
When twenty-one we find our young man one of six printers who bought
out the "Evening Journal." Henry George was foreman of the
composing room, but took a hand anywhere and everywhere. A curious
comment on the business acumen of the "Journal" men lies in
their agreement that all should have an equal voice in the policy of
the paper. Hence we infer that all were equally ignorant of the stern
fact that in business nothing succeeds but one-man power. So the "Journal"
went drifting on the rocks in financial foggy weather and the hungry
waves devoured her.
When Fate desires a great success she sends her chosen one failure.
Henry George at twenty-two was ragged, in debt - and also in love. The
"What Cheer House" was all right for a man getting good
wages, but when you go into business for yourself it is different, and
George found board with a private family.
The lady in the case was Miss Fox, ward and niece of the landlord
with whom the impecunious printer boarded.
Annie Fox and our printer read Dana's "Household Book of Poetry,"
with heads close together.
The inevitable happened - they decided to pool their poverty in the
interests of progress. To ask the landlord for his blessing seemed out
of the question, in view of the fact that the printer was two weeks
behind in his board. The girl had the proverbial clothes on her back.
Matthew McClosky, the uncle, was a good deal of a man. He showed his
shrewdness and appreciation of the present order by buying a large
tract of land near the city, and grew rich on the unearned increment.
Had his niece and the printer confided in him they might have shared
in his prosperity, in which case "Progress and Poverty"
would never have been written.
It was the memorable year of 1861. The heart of Henry George was with
the Union - he had decided to enlist. He told the girl so behind the
kitchen door. Her answer was a flood of tears, and a call to arms. The
result was that the next night the couple stole out, and made their
way to a Methodist parsonage, where they were married.
Henry George was nominally a member of the Methodist Church, but the
creed of Thomas Paine was more to his liking - "The world is my
country; mankind are my friends; to do good is my religion." The
young lady was a Catholic, and so the preacher compromised by reading
the Episcopal service. The only witnesses were the minister's wife and
Henry George's chum, Isaac Trump. "I didn't catch your friend's
name," said the minister in filling out the marriage certificate.
"I. Trump," was the reply. "I observe you do," was
the answer, "but oblige me with the gentleman's name."
There are three great epochs in life - birth, death, marriage. The
first two named you can not avoid. Since life is a sequence, no one
can say what would have happened had not this or that occurred. Mrs.
George proved an honest, earnest, helpful wife. Her conservatism
curbed the restless spirit of her husband and gave his mind time to
ripen, for until his marriage the ideals of the French Revolution were
strong in his heart. He saw the evils of life and was intent on
changing them. The Catholic faith is an elastic one, both esoteric and
exoteric, and those who are able can take the poetic view of dogma
instead of the literal, if they prefer. Henry George and his wife took
the spiritual or symbolic view, and moved steadily forward in the
middle of the road. He was too gentle and considerate to quote
Voltaire and Rousseau at inopportune times, and she sustained and
encouraged his mental independence. All of which is here voiced with
one foot on the soft pedal, and with no thought of putting forth an
argument to the effect that young gentlemen with liberal views should
marry ladies who belong to the Catholic persuasion.
The day after his marriage the bridegroom found work in a printery at
twelve dollars a week, and thus was the pivotal point safely rounded.
Here was a man absolutely honest, with no bad habits, industrious and
economical, but lacking in that peculiar something that spells
success. The type is not rare. One trouble was that our Henry George
stuck to no one place long enough to make himself a necessity. Men of
half his ability made twice as much money.
The days went by, and Henry George wrote to Trump, "I am advance
agent for the stork." Now storks bring love and hope - and care,
and anxious days and sleepless nights. Henry George's domestic affairs
had steadied his barque, and while his relatives in Philadelphia
thought he carried an excess of Romish ballast, it was all for the
best. He read, studied, thought, and wanting little his mind did not
list either to port or to starboard.
Henry George had graduated from the case into the editorial room. He
worked on all the newspapers, by turn, in San Francisco and
Sacramento, and had come to be regarded as one of the strongest
editorial writers on the Coast. The business office was beyond his
province, and as a newspaper was a business venture, and is run
neither to educate the public nor for the proprietor's health, the
manager did not look upon Henry George as exactly "safe."
And hence the reason is plain why George was regarded as a sectional
bookcase and not as a fixture.
At thirty he had evolved to a point where the New York "Tribune"
asked him to write a signed editorial for them on the Chinese
question. Then he wrote for the Overland Monthly; and when a
great literary light came to San Francisco to appear on the lyceum
stage, Henry George was asked to introduce him to the audience,
especially if the man was believed to have heresy secreted on his
person, in which case of course the local clergy took no risks of
contamination, not being immune.
On the occasion of the death of a certain tramp printer, whose name
is now lost to us in the hell-box of time, no clergyman being found to
perform the service, Henry George officiated, and preached a sermon
which rang through the city like a trumpet call, extolling not what
the man was, but what he might have been.
This custom of the laity taking charge of funerals still exists in
the West, to a degree not known, say in New England, where in certain
localities people are not considered legally dead unless both an
orthodox doctor and an orthodox preacher officiate.
The very poor, and the outcasts of society, in San Francisco began to
look upon Henry George as the Bishop of Outsiders. Often he was called
upon to go and visit the stricken, the sick and the dying. And there
was a kind of poetic fitness in all this, for the man possessed that
superior type of moral and intellectual fiber which makes a great
physician or an excellent priest - he could "minister." And
it was only division of labor that separated the offices of doctor and
priest, and actually they are and should be one.
In Sacramento now lives a successful merchant, a Jew by birth, and a
man of great grace of spirit, who has this superior, spiritual quality
which makes his services sought after, and in response to demand he
goes all over the state saying the last words over the dust of those
who in their lives had lost faith in the established order, or had too
much faith in God.
After his thirty-sixth year Henry George slipped by natural process
into this semi-religious order - a priest after the order of
Melchisedek. He was spokesman for those who had no social standing, a
voice for the voiceless, a friend to the friendless, even those who
were not friends to themselves.
But at thirty-seven he was up on the mountain-side where he saw to a
distance that very few men could. He felt his own dignity and knew his
worth. The president of the University of California, recognizing his
ability as a thinker and speaker, asked him to give a course of
lectures on economics.
He gave one - this was all they could digest.
California colleges have had a lot of trouble with economics - it has
been a theme more fraught for them with danger than theology. How
Californians make their money and how they spend it is a topic which
in handling requires great subtlety of intellect, a fine delicacy of
expression and much diplomacy, otherwise twenty-three petards!
Here is a passage from Henry George's lecture before the University
For the study of political economy you need no special
knowledge, no extensive library, no costly laboratory. You do not
even need textbooks or 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. Take nobody's opinion for granted; 'try all
things; hold fast to that which is good.' In this way, the opinions
of others will help you by their suggestions, elucidations and
corrections; otherwise they will be to you as words to a parrot.
All this array of professors, all this paraphernalia of learning,
can not educate a man. They can but help him educate himself. Here
you may obtain the tools; but they will be useful to him only who
can use them. A monkey with a microscope, a mule packing a library,
are fit emblems of the men - and unfortunately, they are plenty -
who pass through the whole educational machinery, and come out but
learned fools, crammed with knowledge which they can not use - all
the more pitiable, all the more contemptible, all the more in the
way of real progress, because they pass, with themselves and others,
as educated men.
California is a land of extremes - everything there grows big and
fast, especially ideas. No country ever saw such wealth and such
poverty side by side. The mansions on Nob Hill were so grand that
their magnificence discouraged all the owners and abashed the
visitors; at receptions, a keg of beer on a saw-buck in the kitchen
and champagne in a wash-tub, with ham sandwiches in a bushel basket,
were all that could be assimilated. And yet past the high iron gates
of these palaces prowled want - gaunt, hungry and menacing.
Land was never so cheap nor so dear as it has been in California.
We gave a railroad company twenty-five thousand acres of land for
every mile of track it built, and for years a dollar an acre was the
ruling price at which you could buy to your limit. And yet there
were at the same time little half acres for which men pushed a
hundred thousand dollars in gold-dust over the counter and then
crowed about their bargain.
Henry George studied economics at first hand. The dignified frappe
which he received in way of honorarium for his university lecture had
its advantages. People in San Francisco wanted to hear what the editor
had to say as well as to read his utterances. He was invited to give
the Fourth of July oration at the Grand Opera House - a very great
Henry George was a reformer, and reformers have but one theme, and
that theme is Liberty. We grow by expression. There is no doubt that
the university lecture and the Fourth of July oration added cubits to
the stature of Henry George. In these two addresses we find the kernel
of his philosophy - a kernel that was to germinate into a mighty tree
which would extend its welcoming shade to travellers for many a
decadeyet to come.
Progress and Poverty, like every other great book (or great
man) was an accident - a providential accident. The book was ten years
in the incubation. It began with a newspaper editorial in 1869, and
found form in a volume of five hundred pages in 1879.
The editorial merely called attention to the fact that California, in
spite of her vast wealth, was peopled, for the most part, with people
desperately poor; and that ground in the vicinity of any city, town or
place of enterprise was held at so exorbitant a figure that the poor
were actually enslaved by the men who owned the land. That is to say,
the men who owned the land, controlled the people who had to live on
it, for man is a land animal, and can not live apart from land, any
more than fishes can live at a distance from water. And moreover we
tax for the improvements on land, thus really placing a penalty on
The article attracted attention, and opened the eyes of one man at
least - and that was the man who wrote it. He had written better than
he knew; and any writer who does not occasionally surprise himself
does not write well. Henry George had surprised himself, and he wrote
another editorial to explain the first. These editorials extended
themselves into a series, and hand-polished and sandpapered, were
reprinted in pamphlet form in 1871, under the title of "Our Land
Policy." The temerity which prompted the printing of this
pamphlet was evolved through a letter from John Stuart Mill. Henry
George knew he was right in his conclusions, but he felt that he
needed the corroboration of a great mind that had grappled with
abstruse problems; so he sent one of his editorials to Mill, the
greatest living intellect of his time.
Mill showed his interest by replying in a long letter, wherein he
addressed George as a man with a mind equal to his own, not as a
sophomore trying his wings.
The letter from Mill was to him a white milepost. The corroboration
gave him courage, confidence, poise.
The thousand copies of the pamphlet cost Henry George seventy-five
dollars. The retail price was twenty-five cents each. Twenty-one
copies were sold. The rest were given away to good people who promised
to read them. Pamphlets are for the pamphleteer, but let the fact here
be recorded that new ideas have always been issued at the author's
expense - and also risk. Martin Luther, Dean Swift, John Milton,
Paine, Voltaire, Sam Adams were all pamphleteers. The early Colonial "broadsides"
were pamphlets issued by men with thoughts plus, and all of the men
just named fired inky volleys which proved to be shots heard 'round
As the years passed, Henry George was gathering gear; he was getting
an education. Providence was preparing him for his work. All he
expressed by tongue or pen had land, labor, production and
distribution in mind. He was getting acquainted with every phase of
the subject - anticipating the objections, meeting the objectors,
opening up side paths.
And so, in 1878, when he sat down to write a magazine article on "Our
Government Land Policy," the air was full of reasons. Soon the
article stretched itself beyond magazine length, and in order to cover
the theme he set down headings:
- Divsion of Labor
- The Remedy for Unequal Distribution
He wrote all one night - wrote in a fever. The next day his pulse got
back to normal, and on talking the matter over with his wife he
decided to begin it all over and work his philosophy up into a book,
writing as he could, only one or two hours a day.
He was absolutely without capital, dependent on his income from space
writing in the daily newspapers, but he began and the work grew.
It was all done on "stolen time," to use the phrase of
Macaulay, and therefore vital, for things done because you have to do
them - done to get rid of them - contain the red corpuscle.
On March 22, 1879, the precious bundle of manuscript was shipped to
D. Appleton and Company, New York, with instructions that if the work
was not accepted, to hold subject to the author's order.
In six weeks came a letter from the Appletons, gracious,
complimentary, "but" -, in fact, no work on political
economy had ever sold sufficiently to either make money for the author
or pay the bare cost of the book to the publisher.
Here was a dampener, and if Henry George had been a trifle more
astute in the laws of literary supply and demand, he could and would
have anticipated the result even in spite of the natural prejudice
which an author always feels for the offspring of his brain.
A letter was now sent Thomas George, the author's brother, in
Philadelphia, requesting him to go over to New York and find a market
for the wares.
Thomas had the work passed on by the Harpers, by Scribner, and all "much
The next thing was to interest Professor Swinton and several New York
friends, and have them go in a body and storm the castle of Barabbas.
The committee called on D. Appleton and Company, and again laid the
case before them.
Finally the publishers agreed that if the author would advance money
for the electrotype plates, they would undertake the publication.
But alas, the author was in the proverbial author's condition. On the
offer being laid before Henry George by mail, he replied that he could
make the electrotype plates himself. He was a typesetter and he had
friends who would give him the use of their printing outfits. The
offer was satisfactory to the Appletons, provided Prof. Swinton would
agree to take on his own account a hundred copies of the work on
The Professor agreed. And the MS was sent back to San Francisco, a
trifle dog-eared and the worse for five months' wear.
The author began his typesetting with the same diligence that he had
brought to bear in the writing. This was stolen time, too. He worked
an hour in the morning and two hours at night. Other printers offered
to help, and a genial, bum electrotyper, damnably cheerful, offered to
come in and lend a hand, provided Henry George would agree to give a
funeral oration over the derelict one's grave at the proper time.
Henry George gleefully agreed.
So the work of making the electrotype plates moved on apace. In the
meantime some of Henry George's political friends had interviewed the
governor and Henry George was made inspector of gas meters, at fifteen
hundred dollars a year.
It was four months' work to make the plates, but early in the year
1880, they were shipped to New York, a few proofs of the book being
taken, stitched up and sent out for review.
So far as we know, there was no one in California able to read the
book and intelligently review it. Leastwise they never did.
The Appletons, however, gradually awoke to the fact that they had a
prize, and they made efforts to get the work into right reviewing
hands. Better still, they began to inquire about what manner of man
Henry George was.
Next they wrote to the author suggesting that, if he would come to
New York and personally present his views, it would help in the sale
of the books.
Fortunately Henry George was not hampered by the ownership of real
estate, nor an excess of personal property, so he hastily packed up,
transportation having been secured by John Russell Young, a capitalist
who had faith in his genius from the first.
Henry George arrived in New York penniless, but Prof. Swinton, that
excellent blind man of great insight E. L. Youmans, John Russell Young
and the Appletons gave him a rich reception.
The tide had turned.
Henry George received all the recognition that any thinker and writer
could desire, from August, 1880, to the day of his death, October 28,
1897. Men might not agree with him in his conclusions, but few indeed
dare meet him in a duel of argument, either by pen or upon the public
He spoke in churches, halls and private parlors. His newspaper and
magazine articles commanded a price. He met the greatest minds of
America and of Europe on an equal footing.
In England his book was having a sale far beyond what it had met with
And when he spoke in London and the chief cities of Great Britain,
the halls were packed to suffocation. He appealed to the Messianic
instinct of English workingmen, and they hailed him as the coming man
- their deliverer. They stripped doors from their hinges and carried
him aloft upon the improvised platform. They unhitched the horses from
his carriage and drew him through the streets in triumphal state. This
all meant little - it was only campaign exuberance - the glare and
flare of smoky kerosene-torches, and the blare of brass.
Henry George was right in the same class with Spencer, Huxley and
Tyndall, none of whom, happily, was a college man, and therefore all
were free from the handicap of dead learning and ossified opinion, and
saw things as if they were new. Ignorance is a very necessary
equipment in doing a great and sublime work that is to eclipse
anything heretofore performed.
The mind of Henry George was a flower of slow growth. At thirty-seven
he was just reaching mental manhood. According to all reasonable
tables of expectancy, he should have rivaled Humboldt and been in his
prime at eighty. His brain was the brain of Ricardo; but instead of
sticking to his books, he got caught in the swirl of politics, and was
matched up with the cheap, the selfish, the grasping. The people who
snatched Henry George out of his proper sphere as a thinker, writer
and lecturer, and flung him into the turmoil of practical politics,
were of exactly the class who would, if they could, have a little
later ridden him on a rail.
It was all a little like that speech of a man in Indianapolis who
nominated James Whitcomb Riley for the Presidency of the United
States. The mob diluted the thought of Henry George and trod his proud
and honest heart into the mire.
Had he been elected mayor of New York, he could have done little or
nothing for reform, for a mayor has only the power delegated to him by
the ward boss and the genus heeler. Beyond this he can merely apply
the emergency brake by the use of the veto.
Henry George was a racehorse hitched by spoilsmen to an overloaded
jaunting car with a drunken driver, bound for Donnybrook Fair.
And soon men said he was dead.
The logic of Henry George's book and its literary style are so
insistent that it has been studied closely by economists of note in
every country on the globe. Its argument has never been answered, and
those who have sought to combat it have rested their case on the
assertion that Henry George was a theorist and a dreamer, and so far
as practical affairs were concerned was a failure. With equal logic we
might brand the Christian religion as a failure because its founder
was not a personal success, either in his social status or as
Gradually the thinking men of the world, the statesmen and the doers,
are beholding the fact that mankind is an organism, and that a country
is only as rich as its poorest citizen; that an athlete with Bright's
disease is not worth as much to humanity as a small, lively and
healthy boy of ten with cheek of tan and freckles to spare. Health
comes from right living, and living without useful effort is only
People living on the pavement or in sky-scrapers soon degenerate.
Man can not thrive apart from land. Abject poverty is found only in
great cities, where population is huddled like worms in a knot.
The highest average of intelligence, happiness and prosperity is
found in villages, where each family owns its home, and the renter is
the rare exception.
The word "renter" we used out West as a term of contempt.
The ownership of an acre of land gives a sense of security which
religion can not bestow. God's acre, with vegetables, fruits, flowers,
a cow & poultry, places a family beyond the reach of famine, even
if not of avarice. Moreover, this single acre means sound sleep, good
digestion and resultant good thoughts, all from digging in the dirt
and mixing with the elements. "All wealth comes from the soil,"
says Adam Smith, and he might have added, man himself comes from the
soil and is brother to the trees and the flowers. Men can no more live
apart from land than can the grass. The ownership of a very small plot
of ground steadies life, lends ballast to existence, and is a bond
given to society for good behavior.
"I am no longer an anarchist - I have bought a lot and am
building a house," advise a Russian refugee to his restless
colleagues at home when they wrote asking him for quotations on
It is obvious and easy to say that the people who make city slums
possible do not want to own houses and would not live upon land and
improve it, if they could.
The worst about this statement is that it is true. They are so sunken
in fear, superstition and indifference that they lack the squirrel's
thrift in providing a home and laying in a stock of provisions; they
are even without the ground-hog's ambition to burrow. They are too
sodden to know what they are missing, and are lacking in the
imagination which pictures a better condition.
They are like those pigmy bondsmen who work in the cotton-mills of
the south, yellow, gaunt, too dead to weep, too hopeless to laugh, too
pained to feel.
From these creatures and creators of slums it is absurd to talk of
gratitude for the offer of betterment. People who expect gratitude do
not deserve it. Neither can the slumsters by force be placed on land
and be expected to till it. A generation, at least, will be required
to work a change, and this change will come through educating the
children - through the kindergarten and the kindergarten methods - and
most of all through school gardens. The so-called "back districts"
are fast being annihilated, for quick transportation is bringing city
and country close together. The time is coming, and shortly, too, when
a fare of one cent a mile will be the universal rule, and a mile a
minute will not be regarded as an unusual speed.
Now here is something which Henry George did not say, and if he knew
was too diplomatic to mention: The reason the people have not had
possession of the land is because they did not want it. The ownership
of the land you need to use comes in answer to prayer - and prayer is
the soul's desire, uttered or unexpressed. The will of the people is
supreme. If fraud and rascality exist in high places, it is because we
elect rascals to office.
The will of the people is supreme. When we cease toadying to
brainless nabobs, and quit imitating them as soon as we get the money,
we will be on the road to reformation. As it is, most poor people are
just itching to live as the rich do. The average servant-girl who gets
married quits work then and there, and is quite content to live the
rest of her life as a slave, asking her husband for a quarter at a
time and cajoling the money out of him by hook or crook, or else
explorating his trousers for free coinage when opportunity offers.
Fresh air is free, but the average individual does not know it; and
neither would this same person use land if it were given him. Freedom
is a condition of mind.
Yet apart from the "submerged tenth" is a very large class
of people to whom land and a home would be a positive paradise, and
who are simply forced into flats and tenements on account of present
economic conditions - the land is monopolized, and held by men who
neither improve it themselves, nor will they allow others to. They
hold it awaiting a rise in value.
This increase in value is not on account of anything the owner may do
- in fact, he is usually an absentee and does nothing. The increase
comes from the enterprise and thrift of people for whom the owner has
no interest, beyond contempt.
If these enterprising people who do the work of the world - making
the things the world needs - want more land for their business or for
homes, they have to pay the absentee for the increased value which
they themselves have brought about. When you beautify and enrich the
value of your own lot by improving it, you are making it impossible to
buy the vacant lot next to you without bankruptcy.
Moreover, you are taxed by the state for any improvement you make on
your land, and this taxation on improvements must of necessity tend
toward discouragement of improvement. It is really a surer way to make
money, to hang on to land and do nothing, than to improve it. The
remedy proposed by Henry George is simply the Single Tax, and this tax
to be on land values and not on improvements.
That is to say, with the Single Tax, the man who owns the vacant lot
covered with briars and brambles would pay the same tax that you pay
on your lot next door upon which you have built a house, barn and
conservatory and planted trees and flowers.
The immediate tendency of this policy would be to cause the gentleman
who owned the vacant lot devoted to cockleburs to put up on it a sign,
"For Sale Cheap."
Even the opponents of the Single Tax agree that its inauguration
would at once throw on the market a vast acreage of unimproved land,
and that is just the one reason why they oppose it. All those
thousands of acres held by estates, trustees and idle heirs, in the
vicinity of Boston, Philadelphia and up the Hudson, would be for sale.
The single tax would give the land back to the people, or at least
make it possible for people who want it to get what they could use.
Those who have the desire to improve land, and improve themselves by
improving it would no longer be blocked.
The fresh blood of the country which makes the enterprise of cities
possible comes from the boys and the girls who warmed their feet on
October mornings where the cows lay down; who have been brought up to
work on land, to plant and hoe and harvest and look after live stock.
This is all education, and very necessary education. "A sand-pile
and dirt in which to dig is the divine right of every child,"
says Judge Lindsey.
And if it is the divine right of a child to dig in the dirt, why
isn't it the divine right of the grown-up? It is, and would be so
recognized were it not for the fact that we have been obsessed by a
fallacy called "the divine right of property." This idea has
come down to us from the Reign of the Barons, when a dozen men owned
all of England, and plain and unlettered people could not legally own
a foot of land. All paid tribute to the Barons, who were actually and
We will grant of course that what a man produces and creates is his,
but the land to which he may be legal heir and which probably he has
never seen, and which certainly he does not use or improve, is his
only through a legal fiction. When the matter of legal fiction was
explained to Col. Bumble and he was told that legally a husband knew
the whereabouts of his wife, because the law regarded a man and wife
as one, Col. Bumble replied with acerbity, "The law is a hass."
Comparatively few people have the courage of Col. Bumble, so they do
not express themselves; but the commonsense of the world is now coming
to believe that the law was made for man, and not man for the law.
The only people who oppose the single tax are the holders of land who
are hanging on to it expecting to grow rich through inertia.
The problem of civilization is to eliminate the parasite. The idle
person is no better than a dead one and takes up more room. The man
who lives on the labor of others is a menace to himself and to
The taxes necessary to support the government should be paid by those
who have the funds wherewith to be idle; no longer should the chief
burden fall on the home-maker.
Tax the land, and the man who owns it will have to make it productive
by labor, or else get out and allow some one else to have a chance.
Do not drive the landlords out - tax them out.
Let the land gravitate to the people who have the disposition and the
ability to improve it - and that is just what the Single Tax will do.
SO THIS THEN IS THE PHILOSOPHY OF HENRY GEORGE.