Henry George, World Citizen
Anna George De Mille
[Condensed and edited in 1981 by Mildred J. Loomis.
The original book
by Anna George DeMille was published in 1930]
To the difficulty of adequately summarizing the life-story of Henry
George, the visionary 19th Century American, is added the emotional
depth and complexity of the author being his daughter, who closely
shared with her father his struggle with poverty, principles, and
fame. Her inspiring record depicts her father's influence in
Australia, New Zealand, China, Germany, England, Scotland, western
Canada, as well as his own United States.
Anna, the youngest daughter, was born when Henry George was
thirty-eight years of age, and already a world figure. From birth she
saw great persons in their home. When she was three, she accompanied
the family when her father's lecture tour shook the British economic
structure. In her teens, she saw him grapple with very powerful
figures in his own country. And when she was twenty, her father died a
martyr's death, and was given a hero's funeral by New Yorkers. Anna's
own daughter, Agnes George DeMille, verifies that her mother's life
was stamped by her father's sacrifice.
Like other women in the George family, Anna George believed in her
father's cause. She formed clubs, went on lecture tours, was trustee
of the Henry George Schools, attended conferences around the world,
talker with whomever would listen. Her enormous correspondence
included Mahatma Gandhi and Albert Einstein, and countless editors and
secretaries of editors with whom her father had worked. A crank?
Possibly, but great ideas are carried forward by such - the Apostles
were not exactly half-convinced. She believed her father was a great
man; she believed the world would go to ruin it if it did not pay
heed, and it all but has, exactly as he said it would.
Anna George has presented her father's blazing personality with
historical coolness. Every fervent sentence is meaningful and
objective. She worked incessently, with very little help. During her
last week, in a hospital, she asked for the English land reform laws
of 1884, so she could complete her manuscript. Before her death, she
learned that the North Carolina Press would publish her book.
Henry George was born in 1839 in Philadelphia, third largest city of
the U.S., boasting the U.S. Mint, ready access to the ocean, the U.S.
Navy Yard, and the first and most used library in the Western
Hemisphere. The George home as a small, comfortable brick dwelling at
413 South 10th St. (Since 1940, the building has been headquarters of
the Philadelphia Henry George School.) He was born there September 2,
a first child - a strong, blue-eyed red-haired boy, baptized as "Henry".
George's father was a sea-captain, an Episcopalean publisher, and a
book merchant. Life was pleasant and simple. The family had a hired
servant, but all the children helped with the housework and amused
themselves with history, travel, poetry, daily Bible:, reading,
boating, skating, church attendance, and schooling in the Episcopal
Being the oldest child, at twelve Henry felt he should help support
the family. Jobs were few, but he earned $2 a week for ten-hour days
as an errand boy for a china shop. Henry loved the wharf- he made
model brigs, and became a clerk in a marine adjuster's office. At age
14, had a chance to take a yearned-for cruise. After 137 days of
service to a tyrannical captain, they landed in Australia. Times were
hard, and thousands of people were out of work. Wherever they stopped
- in India, China, and the Mediterranean - George noted extremes of
riches alongside squalor and negligence.
Henry's letters to his family foreshadowed a literary style to flower
later. In a year, he returned tanned, experienced, with a pet monkey
on his shoulder. He regaled his family with stories and model ships.
He apprenticed at low pay to a printer, who confirmed that wages are
low in old countries, higher in newer countries. Why should this be?
pondered Henry. Why, where people are many and activity varied, should
wages be lower than in sparsely-settled countries?
George sailed to Boston with the full pay of an able seaman. But
shore work was scarcer than ever, and he longed to go West, where he
believed he could earn a living. The economy was in bad shape: a
business recession in 1855, followed by a flurry of prosperity. Then
in August, 1857, banks and corporations crashed; railroads were
bankrupt; land values dropped sharply; construction stopped. The
Depression lasted a year. In spite of good crops, city workers were
starving. The jobless held protest meetings continuously; mobs
threatened to raid banks. A huge protest March enveloped Wall Street.
Henry George left for the West as steward at $40 a month aboard the
Shurbick for the long passage around the Horn. George described the
terrible squalls, pitching cargo overboard to lighten the load, death
of shipmates, and six months later, passage into the Golden Gate.
Although the gold rush had started nine years earlier, San Francisco
still had the air of a boomtown - there were few women or children,
and there were many roughly-clad miners and lumberjacks in search of a
fortune. George's search for work was futile. He took another sea trip
to pan gold in Canada. An old miner said, "Wages in California
will go down. As the country grows, as people come in, wages will go
down." To a boy of nineteen, there seemed no answer.
Finding gold or job was impossible. Henry borrowed money for steerage
back to San Francisco. Again hi a print shop, he earned $16 a week,
and paid $9 of that for living in a "What Cheer House" with
a good library. His routine was Spartan, with much writing and study.
At times, he was unemployed. There were delayed reports of Harper's
Ferry and of civil war.
When he turned 21, Henry George joined a Methodist Church and a
typographical union. He also found a job, and sent money back to his
family in Philadelphia. With a friend, he attended a party in the
spacious home of Henry McCloskey - and there met the McCloskey grand-
daughter, Anna Corsoin Fox. George pressed his suit with gifts, books,
and attention. Anna returned his affections. George showed her a
50-cent piece, saying, "This is all but my love for you that I
have. Will you marry me?" Annie accepted - they eloped and were
married. With friends, Henry George set up a newspaper, The Union,
in Sacramento. Only 23, his many responsibilities left little time for
Although she was fragile, Annie George never complained of the
hardships. Secretly, she pawned her jewelry. When her second child was
born, the doctor told Henry, "The mother is starving. Feed her!"
The only food was a loaf brought by a neighbor. George paced the
streets. He approached a well-dressed stranger, saying, "I need
$5.00. My wife has just been confined, and I have nothing to feed her."
Afterwards, George said, "If he had not given me the $5, I think
I was desperate enough to have killed him."
In odd moments, Henry studied and practiced composition. "I need
means to better cultivate my mind, to more fully exert my powers, to
minister comfort to those I love." But he added, "To secure
any given result it's necessary to apply sufficient force.
have only myself to blame for at least part of my non-success."
He continued writing, specializing in letters to newspapers. His pleas
for The Super-natural appeared in The Californian and
later in the Boston Evening Gazette. In a dark period, Henry
George learned that he could write.
In December, 1868, Henry George stage-coached East to seek membership
in the Associated Press for The San Francisco Herald. En
route, he pondered the 12-million acres Congress had given the Union
Pacific Railroad. In a letter to the New York Tribune, he
criticized Wells Fargo for reckless handling of mail, and the Central
Pacific for its excessive freight charges. "There might be some
excuse if the railroad had been constructed by private means," he
said. "The Central is being built literally and absolutely by the
money of the people; it influences political conventions, manages
legislatures, and has its representatives in both houses of Congress."
Six months on the Atlantic Coast exposed conditions even worse than
in the West. Wealth was more advanced, yet men begged in sweatshops in
the shadow of magnificent churches and luxurious homes. In the East, a
very small group owned less land than in the West, but wielded
unbelieveable power over most of the people in crowded cities.
Churches, corporations, and individuals financed benevolences by
extracting high rents from the people. Henry George saw fortunes made
and lost in Wall Street more pernicious than those made in the West
digging for metals. Through bribing of legislators, Boss Tweed
contrived to get, at low cost, title to the valuable waterfront of
Manhattan, as well as franchises to rights-of-way and public
Where one railroad was taking its toll in California, in the East a
chain of railroads was making levies on industry, corrupting courts
and state governments. In both East and West, an unscrupulous few
preyed upon the weak many - the rich got richer, the poor got poorer.
Human beings starved in the midst of plenty. "No beneficient
Creator could will it so," mused Henry George. "Some natural
law must be being broken; else, why this unequal distribution?"
What should he do? Attack the political dishonesty - or seek out the
cause of privilege? Why should he, who wanted comfort for his family
and time to travel, read and write, why should he attempt this
struggle? Not yet 30, small, slender, shabby, he roamed the streets,
seeking answers to gnawing questions. The shocking contrast between
wealth and debasing poverty influenced his decision. He would put
aside comfort for himself - he asked only to be shown the way to
relieve this suffering and the strength to do it. From a quivering
experience in the street, he made a vow - to seek out the cause that
condemned people to unwanted squalor and misery, and to seek out the
Back in California, he plunged into new work. He wrote editorials for
the Evening Bulletin and sought a Democratic nomination for
the State Legislature. But he refused to pay the assessment asked by
the party's managers. California's governor, H.H. Haight, had seen in
the New York Herald George's long article about Chinese labor
on the West Coast, and suggested that George become editor of The
Oakland Transcript. George did, and reprinted this article and
parts of a correspondence with John Stuart Mill in the Oakland paper.
Horseback-riding over the unused hills near Oakland, George asked a
passing teamster, "What's land worth here?"
"A man over there where the cows
are grazing will sell some land for $1,000 an acre."
"A thousand dollars? It's worth only a small fraction - this
soil is no more fertile than thousands of acres further away, not so
near the growing colonies of people."
Quick as a flash, George knew he had touched the answer to his
troublesome riddle! When settlers came, when population increased,
land grows in value. Without a stroke on the part of the owner (who
could live in Siam, if he wished) these idle stretches near Oakland,
Berkeley, and San Francisco would become worth a fortune. In
anticipation of this rise in value, the owner was now holding his land
for $1000 an acre. Soon he would be able to collect the value that he
had had no part in creating.
Suddenly, it was clear to George that land value is not the result of
a person's activity, but of the growth of the community and the
development of its activities. Morally, he reasoned, this unearned
gain "belongs to all." To permit a few individuals to take
this wealth that is created by the community thereby forces the
community to levy exactions upon labor and thrift for the maintenance
of community services. This very process, while penalizing labor and
thrift, offers rewards to the few for withholding land from use to the
many. Its rewards accrue to the speculator, a profiteer in land - land
which is absolutely necessary to human life. Here were fundamental
reasons for the increase of poverty along with increase of wealth.
"I then and there experienced what mystics and poets call the
Governor Haight arranged for Henry George to assist in the fight
against subsidizing the Central Pacific Railroad, the "Great
Absorber" as it was known under the manipulation of the Big Four,
one of which was Leland Stanford. But Stanford became governor, as
well as president of Central Pacific. The Big Four strategized to have
Congress pass the Pacific Railroad Act, which deeded vast tracts of
land to the railroad, and gave it huge government loans at 6%
interest. The entire railroad was constructed with scarcely a dollar
of their own, and it became a national scandal. The Big Four openly
purchased votes, corrupted legislators, bought legal decisions,
underbid and destroyed ship and stage transportation - and then jacked
up freight rates.
To his delight, George was asked to take the editor's chair on the
chief Democratic paper, The Sacramento Reporter. There he
attacked the Central Pacific's plea for further subsidies. But the Big
Four bought The Reporter and demanded a policy with which
George could not agree. So, he resigned to write a pamphlet, The
Subsidy Question and the Democratic Party. George's name became
famous in California, and also more of a target for the powerful
railroads. But George countered with a 130-page pamphlet, Our Land
and Land Policy. Besides picturing the reckless land grants and
exorbitant land-holdings, George proposed his remedy:
"Wages are high in new countries
where the land is free, but in the old countries where land is
monopolized, wages are low and poverty is great. The return for the
use of land [economic rent} should be collected and employed for
social needs, and no taxes at all need be levied on the products of
"The value of land is something which belongs to all. In
taxing land values, we are merely taking for the use of the
community something which belongs to the community. The mere holder
of land would pay just as much taxes as the user of the land. . .
Land prices would fall; land speculation would receive its death
blow; land monopolization would no longer pay.
demand would spring up, how trade would increase.
be many industrious men walking our streets or tramping over our
roads in the vain search for employment?"
Our Land and Land Policy was well received, but not as fully
as George had hoped. He would cover it more thoroughly and in a much
In 1871, William Hinton invited Henry George to launch The San
Francisco Post, the first penny newspaper in the West. They
supported Horace Greeley against General Grant for president, hammered
the California Big Four, and attacked the corruption of Tammany in New
York, as well as pressing for education in land-use and land
distribution. George urged self-improvement of workers, fought for
shorter work days, reported the eight-hour-day law in Australia, and
championed women's rights:
"Open the ranks of true competition
without regard to sex. Let those who are best qualified be chosen,
whether male or female."
Henry George loved The Post for the opportunity it gave him
to correct injustice, corruption, and privilege. But a severe fire in
a mining region brought a drop in mining stock, suspension of San
Francisco banks, and the demise of The Post.
Though again flat broke, Henry George wrote:
"The aggressiveness and radicalism
of The Post was its strength. It has perceptibly affected
public thought; it has planted ideas which will some day bloom into
William Irwin, then governor of California, appointed George to be
State Inspector of Gas Meters, with a modest salary and some leisure.
Now married for 15 years, George said, "There's no happier home
than mine." Four children were active and learning from - though
not indoctrinated by - their parents. Henry George travelled about the
state inspecting meters and writing for the Sacramento Bee. At public
gatherings, he emphasized:
"The Federal tax-gatherer is
everywhere. In each exchange by which labor is converted into
commodities, there he is, standing between buyer and seller to take
It is ominous that in this centennial year, states
that were a hundred years ago primeval forest now hold conventions
to consider the 'tramp nuisance' and chronic pauperism. What can any
change of men avail so long as the primary cause of these evils is
George's prowess as a speaker developed. In an address on "The
Study of Political Economy" before students and faculty of
California University at Berkeley, he said:
"Political economy includes all
that relates to wages of labor and the earnings of capital, all that
affects the wealth which a community can secure, and the proportion
that is distributed between individuals. If you trace out the laws
of production and exchange of wealth, you will see the causes of
social weakness in laws which selfishness has imposed on our
ignorqnce, but entirely within our own control. . . And you will see
the remedies - not through red destruction nor lead-strings to an
abstraction called the 'State', but to simple measures sanctioned by
justice. Political economy is not the science of government, but it
is essential to the science of government."
George added some evaluation of educational machinery "which
crams learned fools with knowledge which they cannot use ... all the
more pitiable because they pass with themselves and others as educated
While the University did not invite George to its chair of political
economy, San Francisco citizens chose him for orator at a July 4th
celebration. In a long, scholarly address, George antedated the League
"Is it too soon to hope that the
mission of this Republic may be to unite all the nations of English
speech in a league, which, by insuring justice, promoting peace, and
liberating commerce, will be the forerunner of a world-wide
federation that will make war the possibility of a past age, and
turn to works of usefulness the enormous forces now dedicated to
Of this oration, the "opposition" said, "The gas
measurer spoke on the Goddess of Liberty and other school-reader
topics. Most newspapers strongly condemned it, but a workingman's
group nominated George for state senator. This George declined because
the group was strongly anti-Chinese. Continuing his state inspection
work, George withdrew from public life, read history and wrote an
inquiry into recurring industrial depressions.
With this essay, his friend, Dr. E.B. Taylor, private secretary to
Governor Haight (once mayor of San Francisco and then dean of
University of California Law School), was much impressed. He urged
George to expand it into a book. On September 18, 1877, an entry in
Henry George's diary read: "Commenced Progress and Poverty."
Hard times describes the winter of 1877-78. Troops were called out to
quell railroad strikes in Eastern cities; drought cut California's
crops, output of mines was reduced; the Central Pacific Railroad
proposed a wage cut. George's income was reduced; he began lecturing
to eke out a living.
His friends formed the Land Reform League of California to propagate
his teachings; groups met to study Our Land and Land Policy;
they sponsored George's lecture, "Why Work is Scarce, Wages Low,
and Labor Restless". To a small audience March 26, 1877, George
"'The standard I have tried to
raise tonight may be torn by prejudice and blackened by calumny; it
may now move forward and again forced back. But once loosed, it can
never again be furled. "
The lecture caused little stir in San Francisco, but was welcomed in
other sections of the state. "An attempt," one commentator
said, "to put into popular form a great truth which marries
political economy with common sense. Once appreciated, it is the key
to all social problems of our time."
Henry George added:
"Where I once stood alone, now
thousands stand with me. The leaven is at work. The struggle will be
long and fierce. It is now only beginning.
To an audience five months later in the Young Men's Hebrew
Association, George lectured on Moses:
"Moses knew that the real cause of
the enslavement of Egypt was the possession by a class of the land
upon which and from which all people must live. Moses saw that to
permit in the land the same unqualified private ownership [that by
natural right attaches to things produced by labor, would be
inevitable to separate the people into the very rich and the very
poor. This would inevitably enslave labor - to make the few the
masters of the many, no matter what the political forms. It would
bring vice and degradation, no matter what the religion."
Dr. Taylor considered the speech the finest George had ever given. He
urged George to complete Progress and Poverty. But George took
time to help organize the Free Public Library of San Francisco, which
became the most complete library west of the Rockies. George was
secretary of the original board of trustees.
He also ran for delegate to a convention for amendment to the state
constitution. George wrote to the voters:
"Justice is the firm foundation of
the state. I shall, as I have power, endeavor to amend the
constitution that the weight of taxation may be shifted 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
Support developed that indicated his nomination. However, at a
Workingmen's ratification, he was asked to acknowledge the leadership
of a political boss and accept his platform. George did not like
several planks in the platform, and he refused to have any man his
master. At the polls, George's Democratic ticket was beaten, but
George received more votes than any other candidates of the party.
The George family moved to the exact spot where the Oakland Bridge
now begins. Under reduced circumstances, they lived simply and Henry
George worked prodigiously. At last, in March, 1879, after nearly 18
months, Progress and Poverty was finished. The work had not
been easy. He strived for clarity and simplicity, but as he said, "What
makes for easy reading is hard writing." Four years later in a
letter to Father Thomas Dawson of Glencree, George wrote:
"Because you are my friend and a
priest, I say something I have never told anyone. Once, in daylight,
in a city street, there came to me a thought, a vision, a call.
Every nerve quivered. There I made a vow. I would follow that
vision. Whatever I have done or left undone, to that I have been
true. It was that which impelled me to write Progress and
Poverty . . . and when I had finished the last page in the dead
of night, I flung myself on my knees and wept like a child. The rest
is in the Master's hands. That is constantly with me. It has been to
me a religion of which I never like to speak, or make any outward
manifestation. Yet that I try to follow. "
Publishing the book was another matter. D. Appleton Co. was his first
choice. Their rejection slip read: "Your MS. on political economy
has the merit of being written with great clearness and force, but it
is very aggressive. There is very little to encourage the publication
of any such work at this time." Other rejections followed.
George's printer friend, William Hinton, suggested that they
themselves set up the "plates". George and several friends
joined Hinton at the printer's case to set the type. Someone said, "All
the bum printers of San Francisco claim the distinction of having set
type on the editor's edition of Progress and Poverty." Of
500 copies of the book, a first copy went to the author's father in
Philadelphia, with George's inscription:
"It is with a deep feeling of
gratitude to our Father in Heaven that I send you this copy.
will not be recognized at first . . . but ultimately, it will be
published in both hemispheres and translated in many languages. This
I know, though neither of us may ever see it here. But the belief
that there is another life for us makes that of little matter."
With the plates of Progress and Poverty, Appleton agreed to
bring out a commercial edition. But the year before it appeared was
difficult for George. The meter inspector's job went to a Republican
incumbent. Copies of the book to eminent people brought little
response. American publishers did not show interest, yet some foreign
Emile deLaveleve, a Belgian economist, in Parisian Revue
Scientifique, said, "Progress and Poverty is worth
being added to De Tocqueville's immortal work." A month later, a
half-page review appeared in the New York Sun. Other reviews
brought a demand for a paper edition.
But financial return to George had not yet paid off his debt for the
original plates. Word of a possible position with the New York
Herald took George back East again, but the job did not
materialize. He sent brave letters back to his family in San
Francisco, and considered going back to the printer's case. Then A.S.
Hewitt, a wealthy manufacturer and member of Congress, engaged George
for some temporary research. Sale of Progress and Poverty
picked up. German notices were good; the book was being discussed in
colleges. Leland Stanford reported he had "become a disciple of
Henry George". By mid-year, George paid back his old loan. With
some of his old lightness, George wrote a friend, "Send me all
the paper accounts which abuse me. To be abused and not know it is
almost as bad as not to be abused at all."
A young friend, John Russell Young, who had not converted to George's
philosophy, shared this difficult year and wrote, "It was a
daring experiment - this unknown gentleman with nothing in his carpet
bag but one book of gospel, coming at 42 to make his way to the heart
of mighty Babylon. The more I studied George under heavy conditions,
the more I admired him. His ability, his honesty, independence, and
intellectual power were those of a leader of men.
It was the
courage which makes one a majority."
In 1879, the land question was a burning issue in Ireland. Peasants
ground down by poverty and oppressed by landlords (most of whom were
absentee owners) were being evicted. The Irish National Land League
worked to reduce what Ireland called "rack rent" - a rent
fixed by competition at short intervals. Charles Parnell and Michael
Davitt were leaders of the Irish Land League. Visiting New York,
Davitt met Henry George, and read Progress and Poverty. George
soon produced a new book, The Irish Land Question. In it, he
"To relieve Ireland of
rack-renting, it is necessary to spare industry and thrift from
taxation, to free the land by taking the rental value of land alone
for the community needs. Under such a system, the laborer would get
what he created; no one would have an advantage as a mere
land-holder. Even though the land-holder might be an Englishman in
England, the value of the land of Ireland would accrue to the Irish
D. Appleton Co. brought out this book in March, reporting, "First
edition exhausted the first day. Orders still coming in."
Editions were printed abroad. George lectured for the Irish Land
League in New England and Canada. On a business trip to California, he
met an overflowing crowd in the hall where three years before he had
spoken to a handful. George paid all his debts.
Back in New York, a one-cent daily, Truth, edited by Louis F.
Post, was reprinting Progress and Poverty in installments. In
England, Alfred Russel Wallace was endorsing the book. Patrick Ford,
editor of The Irish World (N.Y.), editorialized: "The
strength of land agitation in Ireland will be in exact proportion to
how it accepts the incontrovertible truth that the land of Ireland was
not made for the landlord class, or any other class, but for all
George welcomed going to Ireland, and reporting the situation to the
American Irish World. In Ireland, he worked with the Ladies
Land League (Many of the male land leaders had been imprisoned) and
interviewed Bishop Thomas Nulty of Meath, who said, "The people
in their public corporate capacity are and always must be the rightful
owners of the land." To this, George added:
"The value of land which is not due
to the individual exertion of the occupier or improver, constantly
increases with the growth of society. Dr. Nulty sees - as everyone
must see who recognizes the true relation of this fact - a most
beautiful relation of creative design."
The Ladies Land League broadcast these ideas over Ireland. The Tory
papers called it an "outrageous official declaration of communism
from a Catholic bishop." In the persecution that followed, the
Land League paper was seized, and special plates were rushed to
England for printing.
Henry George's family joined him hi London, where they were
entertained by noted people - H.M. Hyndman, a famous socialist;
Herbert Spencer; Walter Wren, a celebrated Oxford coach, and novelist
Walter Besant. When Herbert Spencer said, "Imprisoned Land
Leaguers have got what they deserved. They are inciting the people to
refuse to pay to landlords what is rightfully theirs - rent,"
Henry George walked away, bitterly disappointed in a man whose work he
Conflict, imprisonments, assassination of government authorities by
fanatics, all were part of George's experience in Ireland. The "government"
abandoned its lenience toward the Irish Land League. Henry George was
several times arrested. The old dreary round of coercion was resumed,
and vigor for "land for the people" swung back to the vague
program for "home rule". All told, the publicity given
George's arrests, the spread of cheap editions of his book, and
newspaper evaluations brought George's theories to the forefront of
popular discussion. When the Times of London reviewed Progress
and Poverty, the English publisher sold every copy on hand.
Back in London, George addressed a meeting that changed the life of
young George Bernard Shaw - "it fired him to enlist as a soldier
in the liberative war of humanity."
Shortly, when George left England, he announced a new 20,000 edition
of Progress and Poverty. He replied to an invitation to return
that "the movement now is strong enough to go on without me."
In New York after his year abroad, Henry George found himself "nearly
famous". Newspapers heralded his arrival, and an overflow banquet
at Cooper Union was toasted by noted persons. George was greeted with
cheers from the large crowd. (Many of those present thought Henry
George was an imprisoned Irish patriot.) George responded:
"I read in the papers that I am a
communist, a disturber of social order, a dangerous man, and a
promoter of all sorts of destructive theories. What is this terrible
thing I do? I want in the first place to remove all restrictions
upon production of wealth and in doing this I want to secure that
fair distribution of wealth which will give every man that which he
has fairly earned. What I contend for is that the man who produces,
or accumulates, or economizes, the man who plants a tree or drains a
marsh or erects a building, should not be fined for so doing. It is
to the interest of all that he should receive the full benefit of
his labor, his foresight, his energy, and his talents. In other
words, I propose to abolish all taxation which falls upon the
exertion of labor or the use of capital, or the accumulation of
wealth. I propose to meet all public expenses out of that fund which
rises, not from the exertion of any one individual, but from the
growth of the whole community. Consider, gentlemen, how enormously
wealth would grow if all taxes were abolished which now bear on
The Reverend Fr. Edward McGlynn, rector of the largest Roman Catholic
church in New York City, came out openly for George's solution to
questions of economic justice. Of Irish parentage, he had enjoyed a
brilliant career in the priesthood. His outspoken support of George
could not go unnoticed by enemies of the Irish cause. Soon came a
notice from a Catholic cardinal for the priest: suspension unless the
New York cardinal ruled otherwise. Father McGlynn conceded by making
no more speeches for the Land League.
On both sides of the Atlantic, George's work was growing swiftly.
Progress and Poverty and The Irish Land Question were
still selling well. In the U.S., T.V. Powderly, Grand Master of the
Order of Knights of Labor, said, "The all-absorbing question of
the hour is the land question. The eight-hour day, child labor, the
currency question, are all weighty, but high above them all stands the
land question. You make the laws, and own the currency, but give me
the land and I will absorb your wealth and render your legislation
null and void. Give heed to the land question."
George wrote thirteen published papers and debated with Dr. F.A.
Walker of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which (with later
additions) constituted a book, Social Problems. They received
$1300 before the book appeared - a great difference from Progress
English friends having implored him to return, George was greeted by
a large delegation from labor organizations - some of whom leaned
toward the doctrines of Marx. Friends emphasized distinctions: "George's
philosophy was one of freedom against regimentation, individual
liberty as against collectivist restriction. He believed with
Jefferson that the best-governed people were those the least bound by
governmental restrictions. When the state stepped in to regulate
capital or labor, it thereby interferred with the rights of the
individual. Instead of regulating wages, George wanted to release
natural opportunity - land - which determines wages. Since all wealth,
and therefore all capital, comes from the application of labor to
land, he argued that land would afford for labor a just return if
freed from private speculation and monopoly.
George advocated his own theory:
"An equitable principle already
exists in natural law which, if left unobstructed, will, with a
certainty that no human adjustment could rival, give to each who
takes part in the work of production, that which is justly his due.
Karl Marx conceded that George was a "writer of talent",
but with "repugnant arrogance and presumption which inevitably
mark all such panacea breeds." Marx called Progress and
Poverty "the capitalist's last ditch."
George wrote Hyndman that he considered Marx unscientific and "a
most superficial thinker, entangled in an inexact and vicious
In January, 1884, on his second trip to England, George talked
without manuscript to crowded St. James Hall, London. At the end,
"How can Englishmen defend the
right of a few to own the land on which all men must live? Make
England truly the home of free people - people equal in their rights
to land who know their duties and will perform them, not for their
country alone, but for the whole world."
The approving ovation was followed by widespread newspaper comment,
including some offense by Tory papers. Addresses followed in many
towns. In Glasgow's City Hall, in Scotland and Scotsman,
"You people in Glasgow erect church
after church, and subscribe money to send missionaries to the
heathen. I wish the heathen could subscribe money to send
missionaries to so-called Christian communities like Glasgow, to
point to the luxury ands ostentation on the one hand, and to the
barefooted, ill-clad on the other.
In this great city are men
who cannot get employment. The same state exists in America.
"When you seek out the reason, you will come, I believe, to
the great fact that the land, which and from which all mankind must
live, has been the private property of a few.
As man is a land
animal, land being absolutely necessary to his life, the man who
commands the land commands other men.
Proclaim the great great
truth that every human being born in Scotland has an inalienable and
equal right to the soil of Scotland.
It is not necessary to
divide the land. You can easily take the revenue that comes from the
land for public purposes. There is nothing radical in this - it is a
highly conservative proposition. "
Five hundred persons remained to organize the Scottish Restoration
League. At a second meeting, 2,000 persons enrolled. While John Bright
inveighed against the "wildest reform imported by an American
inventor", supporting societies sprang up all over Scotland. At
Oxford University, George's lecture was interrupted by hecklers, chief
of whom was his host's son. He had not read Progress and Poverty,
and was ignorant of the subject. Yet this did not end the friendship
between George and the heckler's father, F. Max Muller. At Cambridge
University, George influenced a large and dignified audience,
including Mary Gladstone, daughter of the Prime Minister.
Many speeches and strenuous work followed in the next four months.
Inspired and encouraged, George wearied, and lapsed into periods of
forgetfulness. Leaving a railroad station, he discovered he had
another's luggage with a woman's work shoes instead of his
manuscripts. Trying to recover his own, he was accosted with having "stolen
a pair of valuable shoes and stuffed in their place a bunch of waste
George was always genial, rarely sarcastic. Unknown to a critic who
called George a "pestilential agitator", George would argue
against his own ideas, that the erstwhile antagonist would come to
defend the idea he had at first condemned. Introduced to Cardinal
Manning, George said, "My love of the people brought me to Christ
as their best friend and teacher."
"And I," said the Cardinal, "loved Christ and so
learned to love the people for whom he died."
George greeted his American friends in April, 1884, by a speech at
Cooper Union which surprised them with his his newly-developed
eloquence. But the audience was small - George was no longer a
novelty. People saw him as a menace to vested interests and special
privilege. Fearful of altering the status quo, many were shying from a
man bent on a fundamental change in the economic order. So George set
himself to writing again, this time to defend himself from an attack
in the April, 1884, Nineteenth Century by the Duke of Argyll.
The Lord Privy Seal of London had termed "the Prophet of San
Francisco" "a communist who hates the name of Malthus."
George set the Duke straight. Far from being a communist, George
disagreed with Malthus "that a population would overtake
subsistence." George emphasized the difference between possession
and ownership of land. Under land-value taxation, an individual's
right to ownership of his earned property would be inviolable - more
so than under today's system. The Duke must have overlooked the
passage in Progress and Poverty:
"The value of the land expresses in
exact and tangible form the right of the community in land held by
an individual. Rent expresses the exact amount which the individual
should pay to the community to satisfy the equal rights of all other
members of the community. Thus if we concede to priority of
possession the undistributed use of land, collecting rent for the
benefit of the community, we reconcile the fixity of tenure which is
necessary for improvement, with a full and complete recognition of
the equal rights of all to the use of land.
"Let the individuals who now hold it still retain, if they
want to, possession of what they call their land. Let them buy and
sell and bequeath and devise it. It is not necessary to confiscate
land - it is only necessary to confiscate rent."
While the Duke maintained that "the world has never seen such a
preacher of unrighteousness as Henry George," George replied, "The
Duke declares it has not been his aim to argue. I wish it had not been
his aim to misrepresent." In Scotland, George had ample proof of
poverty caused by landed privilege, and he was invited to reply to the
Duke in many journals. His "Reduction to Inquity" in the
Nineteenth Century, later spread through England as "The
Peer and the Prophet" and in America as "Property in Land".
George returned to America, and withdrew to a friend's farm on Long
Island to write Protection and Free Trade. Before its
completion, he returned to England, now to speak to overflow crowds of
seven, ten, or more thousands of persons. One who heard him was
Chamberlain, who had been electrified by Progress and Poverty.
The Royal Commission on Housing (including the Prince of Wales,
Cardinal Manning, and Lord Salisbury, recommended that a tax of 4% on
the selling price of land be placed on vacant or inadequately-used
land. However, this was quashed by Tory members.
Tom L. Johnson, a young Clevelander, had been impressed by George's
Social Problems, and had asked his lawyer to assess it. The
lawyer marked several points of which he was doubtful, but on
restudying it, he said to Johnson, "I've read that book three
times, and have rubbed out every damn point." Later, when Johnson
was head of Johnson Steel Co., he visited George and said, "I
can't write. I can't speak. But I can make money. Can I help?"
George answered, "Money can help, but you will never know
whether you can write or speak until you have tried." Johnson
ordered copies of Protection and Free Trade (which George had
completed in 1885) sent to every lawyer and minister in Cleveland.
In the summer of 1886, events directed George's life into politics. A
committee representing 165 labor organizations asked him to be their
candidate for mayor of New York City. George replied that he could not
interrupt his writing. They repeated their invitation. Again, George
declined, saying labor was not strong enough to "break Tammany
Hall". The committee closed its ranks, and assured George on
their third invitation that 50,000 members were solidly behind him.
Father McGlynn, Louis Post, and others of George's friends encouraged
George to run. Believing that his next response would end all
discussion of the mayorality, George said he would run if 30,000
persons would sign a petition of their support.
George's candidacy was a threat not only to Tammany, but to the
Democratic Party which had become a corrupt faction in New York
politics. William Ivans, on behalf of the Democrats, asked George to
withdraw his candidacy, assuring George "that he could not
"If I cannot win, why do you then urge my withdrawal?"
"You cannot win, but your running will raise hell," Irwin
"You relieve me," replied George. "I do not want the
work and the responsibility of being mayor of New York City. But I do
want to raise hell. I will run."
George wrote his friends, "The campaign will do more than any
writing to bring the land question into the public."
George was chosen the candidate of the Trade and Labor Conference on
the first ballot. They accepted his platform: taxation of land values,
abolition of all other taxes, municipal ownership of railroads and
telegraph, and a reformed secret ballot.
A growing resistance to Tammany and its Democratic Party followers
known as Irving Hall, welcomed Henry George's nomination. Leading
ministers and clergymen, including Father McGlynn, endorsed George.
Father McGlynn was told by his bishop that he was "in violation
of your earlier promises", and that he was "not to associate
with George and his socialism." McGlynn replied that his
understanding of earlier commitment was "to make no more speeches
about the Irish land question."
Henry George accepted the nomination on October 5, 1886, at Cooper
Union. He said:
"I prefer to go before politics -
to lead the way with ideas; but if elected, I will uphold the rights
of all men, as opposed to privilege. The value of the land of this
city, by reason of the great population, belongs to us to apply to
the welfare of all the people.
"I came from the West years ago, unknown, knowing nobody, but
I saw and recognized the shocking contrast between monstrous wealth
and debasing want. I vowed to seek out, if I could, the remedy. It
is because of that, that I present myself tonight for the chief
office of your city, espousing the cause not only of your rights,
but of children and those who are weaker than you. "
George's opponent in the "regular" Democratic Party was
A.S. Hewitt. The Republicans nominated a young man of ability and
private means, Theodore Roosevelt. The press of New York arrayed
almost solidly against the Labor candidate - except for Louis F.
Post's Leader. Some called him a humbug and a busybody, a
danger to civilization, attacking the sacred rights of property, of
preaching anarchy and destruction. George replied:
"All this a man must expect if he
does battle against a great social injustice. If he is wise, he will
be content, knowing that 'never yet share of truth was vainly set in
the world's wide fallow. "
As election approached, rumor spread that Father McGlynn had deserted
George. But the priest stated to the press, "Each day, more and
more earnestly, I desire to see George's triumphant election. I know
of no man I admire and love so much. I believe he is one of the
greatest geniuses that the world has ever seen, and that the greatness
of his heart fully equals the magnificent gifts of his intellect."
Hewitt regarded the election of George and his "doctrine of
confiscation" the greatest possible calamity to New York. He
appealed for the Roosevelt vote, but Roosevelt (then 28) had no
intention of throwing his vote to Tammany.
Roosevelt was quoted as saying, "I oppose Hewitt simply because
he is a figure-head of the same party that has misgoverned this city
for the last quarter of a century."
On the Saturday before election, George's supporters staged a giant
demonstration. A crowd of some 50,000 paraded in, shouting acclaim
past George on the reviewing stand. On Sunday, leaflets, newspapers,
and denunciations from Catholic pulpits were directed at Henry George.
That night, George said:
"A civilization cannot stand that
which is not based on justice.
The campaign is over. I have
done my part. It remains for you to do yours. I ask no man to vote
for a candidate, but to vote for principle .
I am glad it has
rested on me to begin what I believe is the grandest work ever begun
in America, to lead in a movement for justice.''
But New York had no Australian secret ballot. Each party had to print
its own ballots, distribute them, and provide its own voting booths.
The new party was under a cruel disadvantage. The counting of ballots
was careless and slipshod, easily open to mishandling and fraud. In
some places there were no George ballots. Some places had no Labor
Party watchers. One loyal George supporter tearfully told Mrs. George
that he had seen 20 ballots for George counted for Hewitt.
Gustavus Myers testified that the vote of the Labor forces was so
overwhelming that even piles of fraudulent votes could not overcome
it. A final maneuver was left - to "count out" Henry George.
According to numerous eye-witnesses, this was done. The Labor Party
was deliberately cheated out of an election it had won, in the teeth
of the fiercest and most corrupt opposition.
Charles Edward Russell recalled, "When the last vote had been
deposited, Henry George was elected Mayor of New York. In the next
three hours, he was deprived of his victory by the simple process of
manipulating the returns."
Twelve years later, Richard Crocker admitted the manipulation: "They
would not allow a man like Henry George to be Mayor of New York. It
would upset all their arrangements."
The "official" vote reported was: A.S. Hewitt: 90,552;
Henry George: 68,140; Theodore Roosevelt: 60,435. Henry George
cheerily said, "I'll buy some pens and ink and go back to
writing." Congratulations poured in from all over the world. New
York newspapers were surprisingly sympathetic. Said Henry George:
"We have begun a movement that,
defeated and defeated, must still go on. All the great currents of
our time, all the aspirations of the hearts of men, are with us and
for us. They never fall who die in a good cause."
After the mayoralty election, Henry George followed a life-long
ambition and organized his own newspaper, The Standard. In the
first issue, January 8, 1887, was his eight-and-one-half-inch column
article on "The McGlynn Case", which proved to be a
sensation. The Roman Catholic Church had declared the economist's
teaching "unsound and unsafe" - and commended that Catholics
be "on guard against theories and principles that assail the
rights of property."
To this, Father McGlynn responded. In an interview with the New
York Tribune he defended George's principles as not being contrary
to the Church's teachings. The Archbishop suspended McGlynn for the
remainder of the year, reported to Rome, and McGlynn was ordered to
the Vatican for trial.
The priest replied that because of a heart illness and other grave
reasons, he could not comply. The Archbishop extended the suspension
until the Pope should act. In The Standard, George said:
"In taking part in politics, Fr.
McGlynn has done nothing inconsistent with his duty as a Catholic
priest. The Catholic Church does not deny the propriety of the
priest exercising all the functions of a citizen [to say nothing of
the past when bishops and cardinals held political offices in
Germany, France, and Italy.]"
While George refrained from attacking the Church, he asked, "What
chance has a simple suspended priest before a tribunal where united
Ireland could barely get consideration?"
The Standard with this article attracted so much attention
that in two editions, 75,000 copies were sold. Few other newspapers
supported McGlynn. George fought on, asking, "Is it not time that
we demand that American priests be released from the abuse which makes
them political slaves?"
On January 14, 1887, Father McGlynn was removed from St. Stephens.
The choir and the altar boys went on strike; engineers refused to make
fire. Thousands of angry Catholics protested the McGlynn treatment at
Madison Square Garden. Father McGlynn was silent until March 29, when,
with many of his old parishioners, he helped form the Anti-Poverty
League, open to all creeds and classes, "not to alleviate poverty
by half-way measures, but to declare war against the cause of poverty
itself." Father McGlynn was chosen president, Henry George
vice-president. Said Henry George:
"Here is the marriage of what too
long has been severed - the union of religious sentiment with
aspiration for social reform. Widespread property is not in
accordance with God's will, but in defiance of God's order - to urge
men to the duty of sweeping away injustice."
Early in May, the Archbishop informed McGlynn that he had been
summoned to Rome and that he had forty days to comply or be
excommunicated. McGlynn stoutly refused, and a giant parade of 75,000
Catholic workingmen protested the order. Forty days later, on July 3,
the church he had served for 25 years excommunicated Father McGlynn.
George continued his political interests. The New York State
Convention of the United Labor Party was held in August. The
Socialists tried to swing the Party (and George) in their direction,
but George refused - he did not advocate nationalization of land, nor
the abolition of all private property. George did accept the
nomination for Secretary of State, and waged an active campaign,
supported by William Lloyd Garrison, son of the great abolitionist,
and a convert to George's doctrines. Now Henry George, Louis Post, and
others campaigned in what was known as the "Single Tax"
movement. Major figures did not respond. Theodore Roosevelt said, "George's
program is a step for land confiscation and anarchy." (The first
George never advocated, and then to link him with anarchy implied
contempt.) Henry George was defeated, as was Louis F. Post, candidate
for district attorney. George inspired his followers, changing their
tears to cheers. He ended with:
"When a truth like ours comes into
the world, when it gets as far as this has done, then the future is
In late 1888, British member of Parliament William Saunders took
George with him for his fourth brief and rousing tour of Great
Britain. Under the auspices of the Henry George Institute, he asked in
Glasgow in "Thy Kingdom Come":
"Why was Christianity persecuted?
Because Christianity was a great movement for social reform - a
doctrine of human equality. It struck at the base of that monstrous
tyranny that then oppressed the civilized world - a monstrous
injustice that allowed a class to revel on the proceeds of labor,
while those who did labor fared scantily."
In the summer of 1889, George was in Paris for the International
Conference for Land and Social Reform. In his opening speech, George
again declared the land question the starting point for all reform:
"It is an error to believe the land
question relates only to agriculture. It concerns directly all who
have to pay rent, all who produce or exchange goods.
"Land monopoly is the primary cause of poverty. Land monopoly
is the source of the accumulation of capital into the hands of a
few. Through rents, royalties, tolls, and tributes of all kinds,
through the increase of value of improvements, the landowner
acquires capital. This he invests in the bank, in trade, in
industry, in loans, mortgages, stocks, in government and municipal
bonds. He builds up a tremendous financial corporation which presses
heavily on the world of labor. It is from landed privilege that
great fortunes have sprung. The concentration of capital is the
child of land monopoly. "
After a few months in New York, Henry and Anna George set sail for
Australia in January, 1890, in response to the Sydney Single Tax
Association. George told his friends that taking his wife on trips
paid for her expenses in the clothes and tickets she saved him from
losing. In spite of her watchful eye, there were lapses on the
cross-country trip. From St. Louis, she wrote her son, "Your
father thus far has exchanged his own for other people's hats only
The return of the Georges to San Francisco was a triumph. From the
same stage in Metropolitan Hall, where twelve years before the "gas
measurer" had made his first plea to an almost empty house,
George faced an overflow audience. He was now a world citizen - a
finished, polished orator. A hundred prominent citizens were on the
stage, and there was a pandemonium of welcome at George's appearance.
For two hours, he held his audience spellbound. In the swarm of praise
and congratulations, George was absolute master of himself. Second and
repeated meetings were necessary to reach all who wanted to hear and
meet Henry George.
The visit in Australia had deep significance for the Georges. It was
Anna's first visit to her native land since she left as a child. To
Henry, who had been there as a cabin boy, Australia was the land of
enlightenment - the country of the secret ballot, where railroads were
publicly owned, where savings banks and parcel post were common. A
bewildering succession of meetings, receptions, luncheons, interviews
continued for three and a half months. The Sydney Herald
reported, "George spoke without manuscript, notes, or other
accessory, and achieved an intellectual feat."
The Australian Star discounted George's literary style and
magnetic tongue and called his followers "deluded". Another
reporter noted, "Out of thirteen different orations, there was no
repetition of words or phrases, although in each case the central
truth was portrayed with utmost earnestness."
In Melbourne, a protectionist stronghold, the Evening Standard
said, "Henry George boldly attacked their favorite doctrine of
protection not only with the arms of logic, but of withering scorn.
That he not only carried with him the forebearance, but continuous and
enthusiastic applause of an immense audience, is more than a testimony
to the public admiration of genuine pluck."
In later meetings, audiences steadily increased, with more than 3,000
at his debate, "Free Trade vs. Protection" with a Member of
Parliament. The Melbourne Telegraph reported, "Our local
man was utterly lost."
Enroute to North America, George again lectured in Glasgow and
England (his sixth visit). He and Anna arrived in New York September
1, 1890, for the first national Single Tax Conference at Cooper Union.
George wrote a platform, made speeches, and constantly interviewed
people. A lecture trip to New England followed, then a longer trip to
the Southwest. He worked early and late, under continuing pressure.
One day in December, the break came which his friends had feared.
George admitted pain. Shortly afterward, he was stricken with aphasia.
Nerve strain had resulted in a slight hemorrhage of the brain in the
George would not retire for rest and recuperation. Their friends
financed a trip to Bermuda, where George enjoyed bicycling, and he
returned to New York, encouraging his family and friends to join this
sport, including the portly Tom Johnson.
For a succession of summers, the Georges lived in Sullivan County,
N.Y., at Merriewold, on wild woodland near his friend, Louis F. Post.
In 1891, Pope Leo XII issued an encyclical letter. Many persons,
including Cardinal Manning, felt this message was aimed primarily at
the Georgist philosophy. At Merriewold, George prepared an answer to
the Pope called, The Condition of Labor. He explained
carefully how his views differed from anarchism or socialism, and what
he advocated in the hope of economic reform. It was published
simultaneously in New York and London, translated into Italian, and a
special copy was presented to the Pope through the Prefect of the
In 1892, George wrote:
"Whether Pope Leo XII has ever read
my letter I cannot tell, but he is acting as though he not only read
it, but recognized his force. He has quietly but effectively sat
down on the toryism of his prelates. Their fighting the public
schools has stopped. Dr. McGlynn is to be restored, and the fighting
of the Single Tax as opposed to Catholicism effectually ended."
Archbishop Satolli visited the United States as a representative of
the Pope to listen to arguments for reversal of Father McGlynn's
excommunication. Written and oral examinations were found to contain
nothing contrary to the teachings of the Church. Father McGlynn was
not only reinstated, but he was given permission to teach the Georgist
philosophy anywhere he chose. The next Spring, Father McGlynn made a
trip to Rome, had an audience with the Pope, and received the Pope's
One of the most understanding reviews of The Condition of Labor
appeared in the Swedenborgian periodical, The New Church Messenger,
authored by the second wife of Louis F. Post.
George had earlier acclaimed Herbert Spencer's Social Statics
far and wide. In 1892, however, George wrote a book analyzing
Spencer's reversal of his earlier support of public use of land
values. Titled A Perplexed Philosopher, George introduced his
new book in The Standard by saying:
"Seven years ago in a London salon
crowded with distinguished persons of literature, science, and
politics, I met Herbert Spencer and heard him declare vehemently in
favor of any amount of coercion in Ireland that was necessary for
the tenants to pay their rents. . ."
This return to materialism by Spencer led George to say in The
"The philosopher whose authority is
now invoked to deny the masses any right to the physical basis of
life is also the philosopher whose authority darkens to many the
hope of life hereafter.
Mr. Spencer makes no change in his
premises, but only in his conclusions, and now sustains private
property in land.
It is due that I should make his rejections
of those conclusions as widely known as I can, and thus correct the
mistake of those who couple us together as holding views he now
While Perplexed Philosopher was widely read, it brought no
response from Herbert Spencer.
Now that The Standard seemed no longer needed to introduce "our
movement", George suspended publication and turned to his larger
task of a full treatment of the science of political economy.
His other books were reaching a wide audience. Tom Johnson, now in
the U.S. House of Representatives, had Protection or Free Trade
put into the Congressional Record in six sections. (The high
tariff Republicans retaliated by inserting in the Record a
book which defended monopolies.) This matter was discussed all over
the country and some two million copies of Protection or Free
Trade were circulated (for two cents a copy) in its first eight
years. No other work in economics, except Progress and Poverty,
has such a record. George was in the gallery to hear Tom Johnson,
whose business was manufacturing steel rails, argue in Congress to put
his own product on the free list, and make an impassioned plea to
abolish the tariff in its entirety. (Someone pointed in derision to
the "master" listening - upon which many left their seats to
climb the stairs to shake hands with the quiet listener.) Duty on
steel rails was not lowered, however.
George objected strongly when President Cleveland (without local
request) sent Federal troops to quell the Chicago railroad strike,
"I yield to nobody in respect for
the rights of property. But the principle of liberty is more
important. I would rather see every rail torn up than to have them
preserved by means of a Federal standing army."
Tom Johnson introduced in 1894 a Single Tax amendment to the U.S.
Income Tax bill. It got six votes, but a rousing cheer for the six men
when they stood up. In New York City, Henry George refused to join a
move to replace East Side tenements with better housing, asking:
"You want 600 cubic feet of air for
each resident? Where are the people turned out of these tenements to
go? Into the streets, police stations and almshouse? The greatest
quack is he who would substitute charity for justice - who tells you
that in instituting reform, no one need be hurt."
A listening audience cheered loud and long.
Rather than using money to build better houses, George made it clear
that taxing land according to its value would make it too expensive to
use such land for slums. Untaxing improvements would automatically
produce good buildings instead of human rookeries. These were the
quickest, the most just, and the most fundamental means of slum
At 58 years, Henry George had enjoyed a life crowded with adventure
and work. Not only had he known personal poverty and much personal
worry, but he had launched a movement which had survived opposition,
defended by his own unswerving faith and indomitable good will. In
1897, he grieved over the loss of his adored sister, Jennie. Later,
however, he became cheered by the generosity of Tom Johnson and August
Lewis, and he began to work again on Political Economy, a book
which remains unfinished.
In 1897, Henry George knew he was not well. He was quietly putting
his house in order. When reports came that he would again be asked to
run for Mayor of New York on an independent ticket, his physician
warned that such stress could be fatal. Henry George replied, "I've
got to die, and what can be better than die fighting for the people?"
Pressure from radical Democrats to have George accept the nomination
increased steadily. George called a meeting of thirty friends who knew
he did not desire political place. Had he time to finish his book?
Time to make one more appeal to the people? He silenced their concern
for his physical condition. When they had spoken, he knew that his
candidacy would bring again before the voters the ideals for which the
group stood. Plainly, therefore, it was his duty to accept the
nomination. One of his friends said, "We went away as one, fired
with devotion to Henry George, and lifted to his plan for the hour."
George insisted that his wife should be consulted - should he accept
even though it cost him his life? "You should do your duty at
whatever cost," she replied quietly.
Henry George accepted the nomination of "The Party of Thomas
Jefferson" on the night of October 5 at an overflow meeting at
Cooper Union. Anna, and the younger daughter, also named Anna, sat on
the crowded stage. They watched with fear as Henry George, with ashen
face and frail body, stood as the audience thundered approval.
George's voice gained volume as he promised to represent:
"... those who think men are
created free to equal opportunity . . . No greater honor can be
given to any man than to stand for that. What counts a few years? I
accept the nomination without wavering or turning, whether those who
stand with me be few or many.''
Three weeks of intensive work in the four-cornered fight for Mayor of
New York followed - weeks of excitement and boundless enthusiasm for
the Jeffersonian Democrats. Willis J. Abbot, later editor of Christian
Science Monitor, chaired the campaign committee. Funds came from
small contributions, larger ones from Tom Johnson and a few friends.
People from other places came to New York to assist "this man
with a large mind who can think better than most." The committee
saved George's energy where it could, but many days he made four and
five speeches. He seemed to thrive under the pressure, keener and
stronger than he had been for months. Anna was always with him, at his
On the Thursday before the Tuesday election, George appeared at five
audiences. "A figure of remarkable pathos," reported a
journalist. ' 'He seemed more like a racked and wounded saint than a
man stumping for political office."
George was introduced as a friend of labor, George replied:
"I have never advocated special
sympathy or rights for the working man. What I stand for is the
equal rights of all men."
At the Flushing meeting, George's friend, Daniel Carter Beard, was
alarmed at George's fatigue, and urged him to return home. George
"These people have come to hear me
speak. So long as I can speak, I shall speak. I do not attempt to
dictate to you. I hope, however, that you rebuke the one-man power
by not voting for the candidate of the bosses. He would help the
people - I would help the people help themselves."
The George party sped to the Manhattan Opera House. It was after
eleven o'clock, and George had almost to be carried to the stage. A
cry arose, "Hail, Henry George, friend of the laboring man!"
George corrected: "I am for man!"
Not until one a.m. did the Georges reach their home. Toward morning,
Anna noted that her husband had left the room. She found him standing
with one hand on a chair. His face was white, his body rigid, his head
up, his eyes penetrating, his voice repeating, "Yes!" with
more and more vigor. Mrs. George drew him to a couch, and friends
hurried for Dr. Kelley. His physician knew that nothing could revive
George. He tried to comfort Anna, but this often cynical and
tender-hearted friend fell weeping into a chair.
Henry George was dead.
Within an hour, the news was on the streets in extra editions.
Everywhere people were visibly affected. Many wept. Only at Tammany
Hall were people laughing and joking. Said the New York Sun, "Since
the Civil War, few announcements have been more startling than that of
the sudden death of Henry George." The press of the world,
friendly or antagonistic, united in speaking of his integrity and
An editorial in the New York Journal concluded, "George
was undoubtedly the most popular economic writer that ever lived. New
York mourns her great citizen."
In the New York Times: "He coveted neither wealth nor
leisure; ambition did not move him. His courage, moral and
intellectual, was unwavering, prompt, and steadfast."
Tom Johnson could hardly speak. He put his hands on Henry George,
Jr.'s shoulders and murmured, "They have nominated you in your
Young George turned pale, but after a silence, he said, "I stand
for the principles for which my father stood. I pledge myself to carry
The coffin, drawn by sixteen horses, moved toward Brooklyn among an
unbroken line of people, five deep, uncovered, silent, sorrowful. The
march passed City Hall where this man might have governed. It was dark
and empty, no sound except the tolling of a bell. On the bridge, all
traffic stopped. The next morning, the body was laid to rest on the
hillside in Greenwood, under the broad sky looking toward the ocean.
Father Dawson of Dublin added the final tribute: "He was one of
the really great - pure of heart, loving his fellow-men, a citizen of
On Henry George's gravestone appears:
"The truth that I have tried to
make clear will not find easy acceptance. If that could be, it would
have been accepted long ago. If that could be, it would never have
been obscurred. But it will find friends - those who will toil for
it, suffer for it, if need be, die for it."