Henry George and the Forgotten Man
[Reprinted from the Henry George News, June,
I was a youngster in Ohio (Cleveland is "my native land")
in 1901-2. In a vain hope that I might improve my rhetorical capacity,
I recited some of the passages from Progress and Poverty. My
political ideal was Tom Johnson, and his ideal was Henry George. You
can't take from me any of my respect for George.
There must be something in the name and philosophy of Henry
George greater than the immediate objective, to have kept it warm and
vital all these years.
I went through the campaign of 1932 when Roosevelt made the speech
about the forgotten man. He got that phrase from an essay by William
Graham Sumner, but what Roosevelt later meant by the forgotten man was
not what Sumner meant when he wrote this:
"The Forgotten Man is delving away
in patient industry, supporting his family, paying his taxes,
casting his vote, supporting the church and the school, reading his
newspaper, and cheering for the politician of his admiration, but he
is the only one for whom there is no provision in the great scramble
and the big divide . . . He works, he votes, generally he prays --
but he always pays -- yes, above all he pays He keeps production
going on . . He is strongly patriotic . . . He gives no trouble
He excites no admiration . . . He is not in any way a hero . . . or
a problem . . . nor notorious
nor an object of sentiment . .
. nor a burden . . . nor the object of a job . . . nor one over whom
sentimental economists and statesmen can parade their fine
sentiments . . . Therefore he is forgotten."
He didn't belong to a class; he might have been a farmer, a school
teacher, or a shopkeeper. He was the average American, and that is the
man who must be awakened in 1952.
I stayed around as long as I could, but in 1936 I decided that the
administration was not the friend of this average American. The chasm
had been widening and I was scared, because something was happening
that was inimical to that forgotten man.
So I went down at Mr. Roosevelt's request and wrote an acceptance
speech of what I thought he ought to say in 1936. Why not heal this
widening breach by a uniting factor, I suggested. And he said, "fine,
But after the second day of the convention at Philadelphia some other
fellows decided to make a fighting speech of it, with at least twenty
references to class-like "economic royalist," etc. The
framework of my speech was left in, but there was class against class,
and not unity - not the forgotten man. That was when I walked out and
never went back. Henry George rises above all of this recent disunity.
We don't need to worry in this country about tyranny in its more
repellent forms. What we do need to worry about is tyranny in its most
seductive forms. Alexis de Tocquevile expressed this very well
when he made the following comments on the condition of American
institutions in the 1830's:
"I think, then, that the species of oppression by
which democratic nations are menaced is unlike anything that ever
before existed in the world; our contemporaries will find no
prototype of it in their memories. I seek in vain for an expression
that will accurately convey the whole of the idea I have formed of
it; the old words despotism and tyranny are
inappropriate: the thing itself is new, and since I cannot name, I
must attempt to define it.
"I seek to trace the novel features
under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that
strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all
equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and
paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives.
"Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power,
which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to
watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular,
provident, and mild . . . For their happiness such a government
willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only
arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees
and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages
their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the
descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances
Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents
existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates,
extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to
nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of
which the government is the shepherd."
Like it or not! He was describing the welfare state!
The reason I like Henry George is that he saw that coming. He was
against socialism, and you can't have any compromise with socialism --
because socialism is the antithesis of freedom. I would mention four
aspects of present policies that open the way to socialism in this
The first is the destruction of the states through the expansion of
Federal power. Fifty years ago grants to the states were three million
dollars. Today they are close to three billion dollars. Together with
this increase has gone a steady stealing by the Federal government of
the tax resources of the state and local governments. Socialism, in
order to prevail, must become national and the elimination of the
authority of the states is an essential part of its invasion.
The second means by which socialism attains its hold is through the
destruction of the savings of the people. In seven years, the real
savings of the American people have gone down 23 per cent. Thus in
something like another twenty-five years at that rate, the savings of
the people will be gone and Government will be the sole means of
The third method is through the expropriation of income. I hardly
need to tell you how devastating the march of the income tax has been.
The Sixteenth Amendment is one of the greatest enemies of private
property ever devised.
Finally there is the danger of the tyranny of the executive. The
President has given us an example of that in his seizure of the steel
Thus the "four horsemen of socialism" are riding in our
Federal Administration. An especially important aspect of present
conditions is the emphasis placed by political parties upon
materialism and material gains. This means that our politicians and
many of our leaders are eliminating ethics as a basis of economic
life. Here again Henry George raised a warning hand long ago.
But you can't have Karl Marx and Henry George, too. You can't have a
little bit of Marx and a little bit of George -- because they don't
mix. We're fighting for traditional values in this country. Some
people ask where we want to be a hundred years from now. I think what
matters is the direction in which we're going. If we know we're not
selling our birthright we don't have to worry about where we're going
That direction would be away from the tyranny of the state. Give men
freedom and they'll find their way. Remember there is a God!
One of the greatest exponents of the philosophy of Henry George is
John C. Lincoln. He has written a book about Chnst, showing how we
must get back to the fundamentally ethical basis of economics.
Unless economics has an ethical basis, then economics is a false
guide, and ultimately a tyrannous master.
- William Graham Sumner: The
Forgotten Man and Other Essays (New Haven: Yale University
- Alexis de Tocqueville: Democracy
in America (New York, Alfred A. Knopf; 1945).
- Christ's Object in Life
by John C. Lincoln (Henry George School, New York, 1948).