A Chronology of the Life
and Work of Henry George
Edward J. Dodson
||Henry George is born in
Philadelphia on 2 September. His family rented the house at 413
South 10th Street
||As a young man, Henry George
was a constant reader and frequently attended scientific lectures
at the Franklin Institute
||Left school to work as a cabin
boy on the sailing ship Hindoo. The ship sailed around Africa and
to India and Australia. He made the following observation after
coming into the port at Calcutta:
river which here takes a sudden bend, was crowded with ships of
all nations, and above nothing could be seen but a forest of
masts. On the right hand side or Calcutta side, are the East
India Company's works, for repairing their steamers, numbers of
which, principally iron, were undergoing repairs. On the other
side was an immense palace-like structure (the residence, I
believe, of some wealthy Englishman) surrounded by beautiful
lawns and groves. The river was covered with boats and presented
a bustling scene. One feature which is peculiar to Calcutta was
the number of dead bodies floating down in all stages of
decomposition, covered by crows who were actively engaged in
picking them to pieces. The first one I saw filled me with
horror and disgust, but like the natives, you soon cease to pay
any attention to them."
||Arrived back in the United
States (New York) in June and returned to Philadelphia. Accepted
as an apprentice with a printing firm, where he learned to set
type and to greatly improve his ability to spell. Afterward, he
had difficulty finding steady employment.
||Henry George took a job on a
schooner hauling coal from Philadelphia to Boston. From Boston he
wrote to a friend:
times here are very hard and are getting worse and worse every
day, factory after factory suspending and discharging its hands.
There are thousands of hard-working mechanics now out of
employment in this city; and it is to the fact that among them
is your humble servant, that you owe this letter."
||At the end of 1857 he secured
appointment as ship's steward, or storekeeper, on a U.S. Naval
vessel that departed Philadelphia around South America to San
Francisco. Shortly thereafter, he headed for the Frazer River gold
fields to try his luck as a prospector. He signed on as seaman on
a schooner headed for Victoria. He returned only months before
running out of funds. Back in San Francisco, he took a job setting
type in a printing office.
||George becomes a journeyman
type-setter. He soon meets his future wife, Annie Fox.
||George enters into a
partnership with other printers to start a new paper, the Evening
Journal. With the War Between the States erupting and economic
times worsening, he wrote to his sister:
seems that we have fallen upon evil days. A little while ago all
was fair and bright, and now the storm howls around us with a
strength and fury that almost unnerves one. Our country is being
torn to pieces, and ourselves, our homes, filled with distress.
On great events and movements we can philosophise, but
when it comes down to ourselves, to our homes, to those we love,
then we can only feel; our philosophy goes to the dogs."
||After his marriage to Annie
Fox, George moved to Sacramento. He loses what little savings he
has investing in mining stocks. In 1863 he begins work for another
paper, the Union, but is discharged in 1864 after some
disagreement. He then returned to San Francisco in search of work.
He began setting type for the Evening Journal, then to
another paper, and finally opened up a job-printing office with
another type setter. Recession hit, and George soon found himself
||George begins his journalistic
writing efforts. One of his first assignments was to cover the
city's mourning the death of Abraham Lincoln. Of Lincoln, he
common man, yet the qualities which made him great and loved
were eminently common.
He was not of those whom God lifts
to the mountain tops, and who tell of His truth to ears that
will not hear, and show His light to eyes that cannot see - whom
their own generation stone, and future ones worship; but he was
of the leaders who march close before the advancing ranks of the
people, who direct their steps and speak with their voice."
||George joined a debating
society, the Sacramento Lyceum. In November, he joined the new San
Francisco Times. He worked his way into a position as a
reporter, then editorial writer and, finally, managing editor in
mid-1867. In the Fall of 1868 he departs from the Times;
he briefly accepts the job of managing editor of a new morning
newspaper, the Dramatic Chronicle. He is then engaged to
represent the San Francisco Herald to travel east to New York to
get the paper admitted to the Associated Press. He is
||George's first major article --
"What the Railroad Will Bring Us" -- is published in the
Overland Monthly (to which Sam Clemens was a frequent
contributor). Here, he begins to develop his ideas on political
in population and wealth past a certain point means simply an
approximation to the condition of older countries -- the Eastern
States and Europe.
For years the high rate of interest and
the high rate of wages prevailing in California have been
special subjects for the lamentations of a certain school of
local political economists, who could not see that high wages
and high interest were indications that the natural wealth of
the country was not yet monopolized, that great opportunities
were open to all -- who did not know that these were evidences
of social health,
"The truth is, that the completion of the railroad and the
consequent great increase of business and population, will not
be a benefit to all of us, but only to a portion. As a general
those who have, it will make wealthier; for those
who have not, it will make it more difficult to get. Those who
have lands, mines, established businesses, special abilities of
certain kinds, will become richer for it and find increased
opportunities; those who have only their own labour will become
poorer, and find it harder to get ahead - first because it will
take more capital to buy land or to get into business; and
second, because as competition reduces the wages of labour, this
capital will be hard for them to obtain."
||A letter to the editor by Henry
George is published in the New York Tribune. The letter
attacks the monopolistic power of the Central Pacific Railroad and
its influence over political decisions.
||New York deeply affected Henry
George. His son later wrote:
put the iron into Henry George's soul against industrial slavery
was the contrast of poverty with wealth he witnessed in the
greatest city in the new world
||George's concern for the plight
to workers comes out in an article he wrote titled "The
Chinese on the Pacific Coast" published in the New York Tribune.
George sent a copy of the article to John Stuart Mill, who
responded with a long letter of general agreement.
||George's friends made a failed
attempt to have him nominated for a seat in the California state
||George had an experience that
set him to work writing about the causes of poverty. He later
my own thoughts, I had driven [my] horse into the hills until he
panted. Stopping for breath, I asked a passing teamster, for
want of something better to say, what land was worth there. He
pointed to some cows grazing off so far that they looked like
mice and said: 'I don't know exactly, but there is a man over
there who will sell some land for a thousand dollars an acre.'
Like a flash it came upon me that there was the reason of
advancing poverty with advancing wealth. With the growth of
population, land grows in value, and the men who work it must
pay more for the privilege.
||George accepted the position of
managing editor of the state Democratic Party paper, the State
Capital Reporter, and once again moved to Sacramento. He took
up the call for ending subsidies to the railroads, which prompted
the key railroad monopolists to purchase the paper. George
resigned in October and soon returned to San Francisco.
||George authored a sixteen page
paper, "The Subsidy Question and the Democratic Party"
which was circulated by the governor as a campaign document.
||George is appointed secretary
to the Democratic State convention and is given the honor of
nominating Gov. Haight for re-election. He was then himself
nominated for the state legislature. The power of the railroads
was employed to defeat the Democratic candidates.
||George's pamphlet, "Our
Land and Land Policy," is published in August. In this
pamphlet, he begins to challenge the basic assertions of many of
the past and contemporary writers on political economy. His key
insight is that nature can belong to no individual or group:
that part of the globe's surface habitable by man, is the
storehouse from which he must draw the material to which his
labour must be applied for the satisfaction of his desires. It
is not wealth, since wealth is the product of human labour.
"To permit one man to monopolise the land from which the
support of others is to be drawn, is to permit him to
appropriate their labour."
In this pamphlet, he rejects the analysis of why wages fall that
he had previously accepted from his reading of John Stuart Mill's
writing. Unfortunately, neither the public nor many others took
note of the pamphlet. About a thousand copies were purchased.
||George enters into partnership
with two others to start a new newspaper, the Daily Evening
Post. The paper was priced at a penny. They sold their
interests in the paper to an investor, circulation fell, and
George and his former partner reacquired ownership for a nominal
||George is elected as a delegate
to the Democratic National Convention, held in Baltimore in July.
He supported Horace Greeley as the party's candidate.
||George was forced by financial
obligations to turn his interest in the Daily Evening Post
over to a creditor, John P. Jones. The Governor of California, who
George campaigned for, appointed him State Inspector of
Gas-Meters. This provided George with a decent income without much
responsibility, allowing him to concentrate on serious research
||He joins the campaign to elect
Democrat John J. Tilden, of New York, as president. In a keynote
speech he warns of what he sees happening to the nation:
negro slavery is dead! But cast our eyes over the North to-day
and see a worse then negro slavery taking root under the
pressure of the policy you are asked as Republicans to support
by your votes. See seventy thousand men out of work in this
Pennsylvania coal-fields; fifty thousand labourers asking for a
break in the city of New York; the almshouses of Massachusetts
crowded to repletion in the summertime; unemployed men roving
over the West in great bands, stealing what they cannot earn.
is an ominous thing that in this Centennial year, States that a
century ago were covered by the primeval forest should be
holding conventions to consider the 'tramp nuisance' -- the sure
symptom of that leprosy of nations, chronic pauperism.
||George delivers a lecture on
political economy at the University of California. He was supposed
to deliver several lectures; however, after the first he was not
invited back. Here is the reason:
first place, the very importance of the subjects with which
political economy deals raises obstacles in its way. The
discoveries of other sciences may challenge pernicious ideas,
but the conclusions of political economy involve pecuniary
interests, and thus thrill directly the sensitive pocket-nerve.
What, then, must be the opposition which inevitably meets
a science that deal with tariffs and subsidies, with banking
interests and bonded debts, with trades-unions and combinations
of capital, with taxes and licenses and land tenures! It is not
ignorance alone that offers opposition, but ignorance backed by
interest, and made fierce by passions."
the science even as taught by the masters is in
large measure disjointed and indeterminate. As laid down in the
best text-books, political economy is like a shapely statue but
half hewn from the rock
Strength and subtilty have been
wasted in intellectual hair splitting and super-refinements, in
verbal discussions and disputes, while the great high-roads have
remained unexplored. And thus has been given to a simple and
attractive science an air of repellent abstruseness and
"For the study
of political economy you need no special knowledge, no extensive
library, no costly laboratory. You do not even need text-books
nor teachers, if you will but think for yourselves. All that you
need is care in reducing complex phenomena to their elements, in
distinguishing the essential from the accidental, and in
applying the simple laws of human action, with which you are
All this array of professors, all this
paraphernalia of learning, cannot educate a man. They can but
help him to educate himself."
||He delivers a speech at the
Fourth of July celebration in San Francisco:
"We speak of
Liberty as one thing, and of virtue, wealth, knowledge,
invention, national strength and national independence as other
things. But, of all these, Liberty is the source, the mother,
the necessary condition..
Where Liberty rises, there
virtue grows, wealth increases, knowledge expands, invention
multiplies human powers, and in strength and spirit the free
nation rises among her neighbours
taller and fairer."
||He begins work in September on
the book that would become Progress and Poverty.
Gradually, he accumulates a library of over 800 volumes he made
use of researching this work.
||The Land Reform League of
California was formed to advocate for an end to land monopoly
based on Henry George's proposals.
||Henry George's book Progress
and Poverty is published. D. Appleton & Co., of New York,
which agreed to publish the book if George provided the plates. Of
the effort he wrote:
"It will not
be recognized at first, but it will ultimately be considered a
great book will be published in both hemispheres, and be
translated into different languages."
||George leaves California for
good in August, for New York, to promote Progress and Poverty
and to find employment. The Democratic party enlisted him to speak
to worker groups on the tariff question.
|| Progress and Poverty
is translated into German. Sales of the book's first printing in
the U.S. begin to expand, and requests for the book began to come
||George writes an article on the
Irish Land Question for publication in Appleton's Journal.
In the fall, George meets Michael Davitt, leader of The Irish Land
League. Davitt commits to promoting the distribution of Progress
and Poverty in Ireland and Britain.
||George is hired by the
Irish World to travel to Ireland and England and report on the
political situation and land reform movement. He sailed for
Liverpool in October 1881. In England, he meets Herbert Spencer
(author of Social Statics). Spencer distances himself from
opinions he shared with George in the earlier editions of his own
work regarding land ownership.
||He returned to New York in
October far better known than when he departed because of his own
reporting and the reporting by others on his lectures and
activities. He now meets and forms a bond with Rev. Edward
McGlynn, an advocate for the poor and working classes.
||George is invited to write a
series of articles for Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper,
responding to an earlier series by William G. Sumner, professor of
political economy at Yale University. In the summer of 1883 the
articles were pulled together and published in book form with the
title, Social Problems.
||George makes a second trip to
Great Britain, first meeting Michael Davitt and others in
Liverpool. He debates the leading English socialist, Henry
Hyndman, and lectured extensively. Alfred Marshall, lecturer on
political economy at Balliol College, Oxford University observed
of George that:
single economic doctrine in Mr. George's book was both new and
true, since what was new was not true, and what was true was not
To which Henry George responded:
Marshall's test -- that it contained nothing that was both new
the book was based upon the truth; and the truth
could not be a new thing; it always had existed and it must be
||George meets Tom L. Johnson,
who gained wealth by acquiring the franchise over the street
railroad system in Cleveland, Ohio. Johnson had read Social
Problems and then Progress and Poverty. On a trip to
New York, he called on George at his residence in Brooklyn, and
George urged Johnson to become politically active.
||George's book, Protection
or Free Trade? is published.
||Labor union leaders in New York
enlist Henry George to be their candidate for the office of mayor.
He later recalled:
my nomination had formally taken place I received a request from
William Ivins, then, Chamberlain of the city,
privately meet him.
Mr. Ivins insisted that I could not
possibly be elected Mayor of New York, no matter how many people
might vote for me;
I said to him finally: 'You tell me I
cannot possibly get the office. Why, if I cannot possibly get
the office, do you want me to withdraw? His reply was: 'You
cannot be elected, but your running will raise hell!' I said:
'You have relieved me of embarrassment. I do not want the
responsibility and the work of the office of the Mayor of New
York, but I do want to raise hell!"
Abraham Hewitt won, George came in second, followed by Theodore
Roosevelt. After the election, George led a call for adoption of
the secret ballot.
||George starts a new weekly
newspaper, The Standard. Louis F. Post joins the paper as
editorial writer. George's proposals for the public collection of
"rent" begin to be called the "Single Tax"
||An interview with Leo Tolstoi
in Russia, published by the Pall Mall Gazette, quoted
Tolstoi as follows:
years private property in land will be as much a thing of the
past as now is serfdom. England, America and Russia will be the
first to solve the problem.
Henry George had formulated
the next article in the programme of the progressist Liberals of
||George embarked on an almost
continuous schedule of lectures across the United States, to
Ireland, Britain, and France.
||After a number of additional
lectures heading west across the U.S. to San Francisco, George
left in February for a tour of Australia and New Zealand. Before
leaving San Francisco, he spoke with great optimism about the
the currents of the time are setting in our favour. At last --
at last, we can say with certainty that it will be only a little
while before all over the English speaking world, and then, not
long after, over the rest of the civilized world, the great
truth will be acknowledged that no human child comes into this
world without coming into his equal right with all."
||George returned thru the Gulf
of Suez and the Mediterranean, visiting Italy, Switzerland, France
and Britain. He arrived back in New York on September 1, in time
to attend the first national conference of "single tax"
proponents at Cooper Union. The next day, his fifty-first
birthday, he experienced what was probably a mild stroke.
||Tom L. Johnson is elected as a "single
tax" Democrat to the U.S. House of Representatives. He
succeeds in reading George's book Protection or Free Trade
into the Congressional record. Several hundred thousand copies
were printed and distributed.
||George went to Bermuda to
recover and began work on what he felt would be a major text on
||In the Spring, Pope Leo XIII
issued an encyclical on "The Condition of Labor" that
seemed to be in opposition to Henry George's proposals and
perspectives on the land question. George wrote a response that
was personally delivered to Pope Leo XIII. A reply never came from
||George next began work on
another work, A Perplexed Philosopher, published in
October, challenging philosopher Herbert Spencer for abandoning
the positions he took in Social Statics, which George
found sound, in favor of positions acceptable to the landed
interests of Britain.
||In June, George was approached
and asked to stand as a candidate for mayor of New York. He
resisted -- and his physician urged that he decline -- but
eventually agreed to run. On October 5 at Cooper Union, he told
"I have not
sought this nomination directly or indirectly. It has been
repugnant to me. My line lay in a different path, and I hoped to
tread it; but I hope with Thomas Jefferson that while a citizen
who can afford to should not seek office, no man can ignore the
will of those with whom he stands when they have asked him to
come to the front and represent a principle."
||On October 28, he was to
deliver a late evening campaign speech. His speech was
uncharacteristically "disconnected and rambling." The
following morning his wife awoke to find him standing alone. As
described by his son:
standing, one hand on a chair, as if to support himself. His
face was white; his body rigid like a statue; his shoulders
thrown back, his head up, his eyes wide open and penetrating, as
if they saw something; and one word came -- "Yes" --
many times repeated, at first with a quiet emphasis, then with
the vigour of his heart's force, sinking to softness as Mrs.
George gently drew him back to his couch."
||A few hours later Henry George
died. Over a hundred thousand people came to pay tribute. That
many more were not able to do so.
||Henry George, Jr. completes his
father's final work, The Science of Political Economy.
||Max Hirsch dedicates his
monumental work, Democracy verus Socialism "to the
memory of Henry George, prophet and martyr of a new and higher
faith." In the preface, Hirsch write:
which draws its vitality, as Socialism does, from the poverty
and haunting sense of injustice of its rank and file, and from
the moral elevation and unselfish pity of the leaders, cannot be
successfully met even by the most triumphant demonstration of
the impracticability of the remedies which it proposes.
Revolting against the injustice of existing social arrangements
and the evils thence resulting, preferring the risk of failure
to ignoble acquiescence, the advocates of Socialism are, not
unnaturally, deaf to merely negative criticism.
I have therefore endeavoured to fill this void.
In carrying out these objects, I have drawn freely on the great
modern exponents of political economy and ethics, especially on
the writings of Henry George, Bohm-Bawerk, and Herbert
||Henry George, Jr. completes a
biography of his father; he then completes his own book, The
Menace of Privilege.
||Henry George, Jr. travels to
Russia to meet with Leo Tolstoy in 1909. He is elected and serves
two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1911-1915.