Edward McGlynn

Charles B. Fillebrown

[Reprinted from the book, Natural Taxation, published 1917.
Part I / The Authorities / Chapter 7]

Dr. Edward McGlynn, one of the most prominent supporters of the new movement in its early days, was born of Irish parentage in New York City, Sept. 22, 1837. He became a protégé of archbishop Hughes, who sent him to the College of the Propaganda in Rome to be educated for the priesthood. He distinguished himself as a student, and at the age of 22 was ordained. His first work in the ministry was as an assistant pastor to Dr. Cummings at St. Stephen's Church in New York City. Eight years later he succeeded Dr. Cummings as pastor. Of fine presence, large in heart and large in person, he won the love and esteem of his 1,700 parishioners. He was a zealous Catholic, devoted to the spiritual doctrines of his church, and withal a man of independent thought and unbounded courage -- an ardent American. He deserves peculiar honor, not because of original work, but because, in a great metropolis, he was the shepherd of a great flock of a great church, who stood forth like a full-blown radical rose in a great garden of conservatism; and because he presented his land theory for final decision with a completeness of doctrine and beauty of form hardly to be excelled.

Incidental to a visit of Michael Davitt in behalf of Irish land reform, and under the spell of Progress and Poverty, Dr. McGlynn announced himself a disciple and supporter of American land reform. Speaking from the same platform with Davitt, he proclaimed the righteousness of their cause with such force and eloquence that Henry George, to whom hitherto he had been unknown, hailed him as "an army with banners," and the two men became warm friends. A brief five years later Dr. McGlynn, standing in the presence of a funeral throng of 10,000 in and out of the Grand Central Palace, closed his eulogy of his friend with the impressive phrase: "There was a man sent from God whose name was Henry George."

The work of Dr. McGlynn in advancing his newly espoused cause is important, not only because of his convincing power as a thinker and orator, but also because he brought the subject to the attention of the authorities of his church in a way to compel their judgment upon the taxation of economic rent has a moral issue.

The circumstances were these. Because of his public utterances in behalf of the single tax at a time of the Land League agitation, in 1882, and in 1886 in the mayoralty campaign in which Henry George, Abram Hewitt, and Theodore Roosevelt were candidates, Dr. McGlynn became involved in a controversy now historic, with his ecclesiastical superiors. The initial issue was one of church discipline, rather than of the truth of an economic tenet. The situation was aggravated by the lack of temperance among some of the parties, so that it finally resulted in Dr. McGlynn's excommunication, a grievance to his many friends both in and out of the Catholic Church. Among these a fellow priest, Monsignor Bertsell of Rondout, New York, was, throughout the controversy, counsel for Dr. McGlynn, interesting himself in the exoneration of his friend. The interest of the Vatican in this country were at that time in the hands of Monsignor Satolli, resident ablegate, one of whose important charges was to bring to a satisfactory conclusion what was then known as the McGlynn controversy.

Monsignor Satolli in a formal visit to the United States in 1889, and as the guests of archbishop Corrigan, had ample opportunity for investigation of the land question from the viewpoint of the United States and of Rome. Hence he had four years of time in which he might have made up preliminary examination. He was credited with having been one of those consulted when the Popes encyclical Rerum Novarum, of May 14th 1891, was in preparation, that was thereby the better able to judge what was in accord or in conflict with it.

Dr. McGlynn at the request of the Apostolic Delegate, submitted to him, through his counsel, a statement in Italian, expressing his views on the subjects of private property in land and the taxation of economic rent. On this statement Monsignor Satolli consulted four of the professors of the Catholic University. The decision of Monsignor Satolli that there was nothing contrary to Catholic doctrine in the opinions of Dr. McGlynn as exhibited in that statement was official, and was followed by the return of Dr. McGlynn to active duty at Newburgh, New York, where he died, January 7th 1900.

In the teachings of the Catholic Church, notably in the encyclical all of Pope Leo 13 on the Condition of Labor, 1892, the Pope carefully reiterated the law of the church in this comprehensive sentence:

The right to possess property is from nature, not from man; and the state has only the right to regulate its use in the interest of the public good, but by no means to abolish the right to possess it altogether. The state is, therefore, unjust and cruel, if, in the name of taxation, it deprives the private owner of more than is just.

The reinstatement of Dr. McGlynn with thus imply that if the single tax could be shown to be just, it would not be a contravention of the ethical teachings of the Catholic Church.

It is somewhat curious to note that whether or not it was his ecclesiastical fire that burned the error out of his mind, in Dr. McGlynn statement of economic belief upon which he was restored to his priestly functions there is not a hint of the abolition of the institution of private property or estate in land, or of the equal right of all men to the ownership of land. The one thing prominent was the simple tenet of the right of all men to the rent of land. Dr. McGlynn just about to his ecclesiastical superiors the error which they combated -- the abolition of private property in land -- and they yielded to him his economic conviction, refined by his own masterly hand, of the right of all men to the rental value of land.

If the foregoing is true, then the McGlynn adjustment, instead of being a surrender on the part of the church, was a distinct step in economic advance, and all the harsh misrepresentations and disputes over this unfortunate incident are seen to have been worse than a waste of words -- a sorry detriment to a sacred cause.

The episode of Henry George's open letter to Pope Leo the 13th, which presumed upon the Pope's hostility to the single tax doctrine, proved the most disturbing element in the progress of that cause, and has so continued for the quarter of a century that has intervened. Fresh reference to this incident is justified by the fact that this mistake of Henry George's, which he frankly confessed and did his best to correct, was the same mistake which many of his devoted followers have thoughtlessly sanctioned, and still persist in prolonging and aggravating without, like him, confessing their citizens. The blemish of an ex-parte judgment upon a great reputation is as nothing compared with a vindication of a great cause. The present occasion, late so it be, is the proper time to establish, in harmony with succeeding events, the main facts of the case. The following excerpts from letters from Dr. McGlynn's ecclesiastical counsel, Monsignor Bertsell February 15 to March 6, 1909, are self-explanatory, and corroborate the truth of the situation:


.....I told Henry George that he had made a mistake in writing his letter to Pope Leo 13th, as if he opposed his theory he should have used the many parts of that Encyclical of Leo 13th that laid the foundation for the single tax theory without antagonizing any part of it. Once Henry George openly said that he found opposition to his theory in the Encyclical, Catholics, especially bishops, would presume against Henry George, even where the questions were not within the domain of the faith, and would be to openly adopt the theory even if it appeared plausible. I told him that his letter would always injure his influence among Catholics. He frankly acknowledged that he had committed a tactical mistake at least -- as he said that even in questions of political economy the presumption would be that the Pope with all his counselors would be wiser than he, and as he himself had declared that he had found the postulates for his theory in that encyclical, he should have utilized them for the upbuilding of his theory, instead of appearing to find obstacles to it.....

Dr. McGlynn from the beginning interpreted Leo 13th"s Encyclical on labor as in full conformity with the principles of the single tax.....

Archbishop Corrigan from the Cathedral pulpit personally explained that the Encyclical Rerum Novarum had in clear view condemned Henry George's and Dr. McGlynn's land theory, as part of socialism. This was really the occasion of Henry George's reply to Pope Leo 13. I published in the New York Sun in January, 1893, the English translation of my Latin presentation of the theory to Monsignor Satolli, which was the first presentation accepted by him and the professors of the Catholic University. Then I suggested to Henry George to write to the New York Sun on what he thought of my presentation, and to recall his opposition to Leo 13th's Encyclical. His letter was published in the Sun in January, 1893, wherein Mr. George expressed his approval of the presentation, and stated that he had been misled into his reply to Leo 13th by Archbishop Corrigan's interpretation, and that he now regretted his criticism because he found really the postulates necessary for his theory in the encyclical, with which Monsignor Satolli had found my presentation (as he had Dr. McGlynn's) to be in accord....

I have just read in The Life of Henry George, by his son pp. 562- 566, a fair account of what I stated above, with quotation of one letter [New York Sun.]

Very sincerely yours,

In a later letter Monsignor Bertsell suggested the following, which appears as a footnote in The ABC of Taxation, page 104:

Henry George, in his Open Letter to the Pope, apparently did not advert to these words, more than is just, and hence his reasoning is open to the charge of lacking that complete justice which was his highest aim.

Dr. McGlynn was Henry George's great and powerful coadjutor in bringing to men's minds the broad general truths involved in the nature of economic rent and its taxation. Neither of them concerned himself with specific ways and means. Neither thought of interpreting the statement that all ground rent ought to be taken for public use to mean that the whole of it ought to be taken and at once, but both, recognizing that are right thing may be done in a wrong way, insisted that a right way ought to be found to do a thing that ought to be done.

The following English version of the document presented to Monsignor Satolli by Dr. McGlynn in December, 1892 -- and by his direction examined by a committee of the professors of the Catholic University, at Washington, D. C., and declared to contain nothing contrary to Catholic teaching -- will stand as a monument to the catholicity of the Catholic church.

All men are endowed by the law of nature with a right to life and to the pursuit of happiness, and therefore with a right to exert their energies upon those natural bounties without which labor or life is impossible.

God has granted those natural bounties, that is to say, the earth, to mankind in general, so that no part of it has been assigned to anyone in particular, and so that the limits of private possession have been left to be fixed by man's own industry and the laws of individual peoples.

But it is the necessary part of the liberty and dignity of man that man should own himself, always, of course, with perfect subjection to the moral law. Therefore, besides the common right to natural bounties, there must be by the law of nature private property and dominion in the fruits of industry or in what is produced by labor out of those natural bounties to which the individual may have legitimate access, that is, so far as he does not infringe the equal right of others or the common rights.

It is a chief function of civil government to maintain the equally sacred these two natural rights.

It is lawful, and it is for the best interest of the individual and of the community, and necessary for civilization, that there should be a division as to the use and an undisturbed, permanent, exclusive private possession of portions of the natural bounties, or of the land; in fact, such exclusive possession is necessary to the ownership, use, and enjoyment by the individual of the fruits and products of his industry.

But the organized community through civil government must always maintain the dominion over those natural bounties, as distinct from the products of private industry and from that private possession of the land which is necessary for their enjoyment. The maintenance of this dominion over the natural bounties is the primary function and duty of the organized community, in order to maintain the equal right of all men to labor for their living and for the pursuit of happiness, and therefore with their equal right of access directly or indirectly to natural bounties. The assertion of this dominion by civil government is especially necessary, because, with the very beginning of civil government and with the growth of civilization, there comes to the natural bounties, or the land, a peculiar and an increasing value distinct from and irrespective of the products of private industry existing therein. This value is not produced by the industry of the private possessor or proprietor, but is produced by the existence of the community, and grows with the growth and civilization of the community. It is therefore called unearned increment. It is this unearned increment that in cities gives to lands without any improvements so great a value. This value represents and measures the advantages and opportunities produced by the community, and men, when not permitted to acquire the absolute dominion over such lands, will willingly pay the value of this unearned increment in the form of rents, just as men when not permitted to own other men, will willingly pay wages for desired services.

No sooner does the organized community, or state, arise, then it needs revenues. This need for revenues is small at first while population is sparse, industry rude, and the functions of the state few and simple, but with growth of population and advance of civilization the functions of the state increase and larger and larger revenues are needed. God is the author of society and has pre-ordained civilization. The increasing need for public revenues with social advance being a natural, God-ordained need, there must be a right way of raising them -- some way that we can truly say is the way intended by God. It is clear that this right way of raising public revenues must accord with the moral law or the law of justice. It must not conflict with individual rights; it must find its means in common rights and common duties. By a beautiful providence, that may be truly called divine, since it is founded upon the nature of things and the nature of man, of which God is the creator, a fund, constantly increasing with the capacities and needs of society, is produced by the very growth of society itself, namely, the rental value of the natural bounties of which society retains dominion. The justice and the duty of appropriating this fund to public uses is apparent in that it takes nothing from the private property of individuals except what they will pay willingly as an equivalent for a value produced by the community, which they are permitted to enjoy. The fund thus created is clearly by the law of justice a public fund, not merely because the value is a growth that comes to the natural bounties which God gave to the community in the beginning, but also, and much more, because it is a value produced by the community itself, so that this rental value belongs to the community by that best of titles, namely producing, making, or creating.

To permit any portion of this public property to go into private pockets, without a perfect equivalent being paid into the public treasury, would be an injustice to the community. Therefore the whole rental fund should be appropriated to common or public uses.

This rental tax will make compulsory the adequate utilization of natural bounties exactly in proportion to the growth of the community and of civilization, and will thus compel the possessors to employ labor, the demand for which will enable the laborer to obtain perfectly just wages. The rental tax fund, growing by a natural law proportionately with the growth of civilization, will thus be sufficient for public needs and capacities, and therefore all taxes upon industry and upon the products of industry may and should be abolished. While the tax on land values promotes industry, and therefore increases private wealth, taxes upon industry act like a fine or a punishment inflicted upon industry -- they impede and restrained and finally strangle it.

In the desired condition of things land would be left in the private possession of individuals, with full liberty on their part to give, sell, or bequeath it, while the state would levy on it for public uses a tax that should equal the annual value of the land itself, irrespective of the use made of it or the improvements on it.

The only utility of private ownership and dominion of land, as distinguished from possession, is the evil utility of giving to the owners the power to reap where they have not sown, to take the products of the labor of others without giving them an equivalent -- the power to impoverish and practically reduce to a species of slavery the masses of men, who are compelled to pay to private owners the greater part of what they produce for permission to live and to labor in this world, when they would work upon the natural bounties for their own account, and the power, when men to work for wages, to compel them to compete against one another for the opportunity to labor, and to compel them to consent to labor for the lowest possible wages -- wages that are by no means the equivalent of the new value created by the work of the laborer, but are barely sufficient to maintain the laborer in a miserable existence, and even the power to deny to the laborer the opportunity to labor at all. This is an injustice against the equal right of all men to life and to the pursuit of happiness, a right based upon the brotherhood of man which is derived from the fatherhood of God. This is the injustice that we would abolish in order to abolish involuntary poverty.

That the appropriation of the rental value of land to public uses in the form of a tax would abolished the injustice which has just been described, and thus abolish involuntary poverty, is clear; since in such case no one would hold lands except for use, and the masses of men, having free access to unoccupied lands, would be able to exert their labor directly upon natural bounties and to enjoy the full fruits and products of their labors, beginning to pay a portion of the fruits of their industry to the public treasury only when, with the growth of the community and the extension to them of the benefits of civilization, there would come to their lands a rental value distinct from the value of the products of their industry, which value they would willingly pay as the exact equivalent of the new advantages coming to them from the community; and again in such case men would not be compelled to work for employers for wages less than absolutely just wages, namely, the equivalent of the new value created by their labor; since been surely would not consent to work for unjust wages when they could obtain perfectly just wages by working for themselves, and finally, since, when what belongs to the community shall have been given to the community, the only valuable things that men shall own as private property will be those things that have been produced by private industry, the boundless desires and capacities of civilized human nature for good things will always create a demand for these good things, namely, the products of labor -- a demand always greater than the supply; and therefore for the labor that produces these good things there will always be a demand greater than the supply, and the laborer will be able to command perfectly just wages -- which are a perfect equivalent in the product of some other person's labor for the new value which is his own labor produces.

PREFACE Ch. 1 - Adam Smith
Ch. 2 - John Stuart Mill Ch. 3 - Patrick Edward Dove
Ch. 4 - Edwin Burgess Ch. 5 - John MacDonnell
Ch. 6 - Henry George Ch. 7 - Edward McGlynn
Ch. 8 - Thomas G. Shearman, Pt 1 Ch. 8 - Thomas G. Shearman, Pt 2
Ch. 9 - A Burdenless Tax to the Threefold to Support Upon Which the Single Tax Rests Ch. 10 - Land -- the Rent Concept -- the Property Concept
Ch. 11 - Taxation and Housing Ch. 12 - Thirty Years of Henry George
Ch. 13 - Henry George and the Economists Ch. 14 - The Professors and the Single Tax
Ch. 15 - A Catechism of Natural Taxation ...