A Response to Positions Taken
by Reverand Edward McGlynn

Henry George

[Reprinted from The Standard, Vol.3, 18 February, 1888]

The discussion at the meeting of the Brooklyn county committee of the united labor party on Tuesday evening of last week, Dr. McGlynn’s speech at the meeting of the down-town branch of the Anti-poverty society on the following Thursday evening, and various utterances and expressions which have since been made through the press, make it necessary, in justice to myself and to my friends, that I should speak of matters thus brought up with greater frankness than I have hitherto cared to use, either in talking through these columns with the readers of THE STANDARD, or in replying by letter to those who have written me on the subject of the coming presidential campaign.

For some little time past an effort has been made, rather by insinuation and innuendo than by direct statement , to put me in the position of abandoning principle, for the purpose of helping the democratic party. In THE STANDARD of the last issue but one I printed two letters from the west , in which I was remonstrated with for turning away from principle, and it was intimated in the "they are saving" style that I was engaged in "making a deal" with the democratic party. I did not feel it necessary in commenting upon these intimations to go further than the obvious considerations which were suggested by their face. In the general review of the political situation from our standpoint , of which I made these letters the text , I merely pointed out that— “If it be assumed that our not running a ticket will be to the advantage of the democrats, it must also be assumed that our running a ticket will be to the advantage of the republicans. If, then, our refusal to run a ticket is to give rise to charges that we have sold out to the democrats, how much more certain is it that, if we do run a ticket, we will be charged with having been paid by the republicans to do so, and thus in the eyes of those who at other times might be disposed to act with us, be placed in the same contemptible position in which the Butler campaign landed the greenback labor party, that of being a mere jackal and catspaw for the republicans?”

This was as far as I cared to go, even under considerable provocation, in alluding to a matter that has been an important consideration in my thought and in the thought of some of us here in New York who have been in a position to really understand what lay beneath the proposition to run a candidate on a don’t-touch-the-tariff-question platform. This was as far as I had expected in any event to go, or to be compelled to go, for I felt, not merely an indisposition to anything like the public "washing of dirty linen,” but a very strong reluctance to assume an attitude that should savor of unfriendly opposition to Dr. McGlynn.

That same reluctance I feel now. But since the charges to which the letters of Mr. Williams and Mr. Bailey gave me opportunity in some sort to reply have not only been put in more direct and more tangible form by the gentleman who is managing secretary of the committees that constitute all the state and general organization which the united labor party has, but have been vehemently re-echoed in the Anti-poverty society and through the press by Dr. McGlynn himself, I should do injustice not only to myself but to others if I did not speak more freely and frankly.

Of Mr. Barnes's asseverations of a friendship and intimacy, which, however much they may have existed for a while, have for some time ceased to exist , and of the fly-on-the-chariot-wheel egotism which leads him to claim credit for my nomination for mayor or for my refusal of the offer of a seat in congress, it is not worth while to speak. The statement to which all this was intended to give weight and point , was that in response to a question from him, I had declared that if a united labor party candidate were nominated this year on the Syracuse platform I would not support him. In form this is not true. In spirit it is untrue. For what Mr. Barnes sought to convey, and did convey, to the Brooklyn committee, was the same idea which has since been substantially repeated by Dr. McGlynn—that I was primarily bent on the support of Mr. Cleveland, and for this reason had deliberately turned away from the principles of the Syracuse platform.

With the exception of a few casual words on one of the days immediately succeeding the election, in which I understood Mr. Barnes to express the belief that the result of that election had made hopeless any idea of our entering the presidential campaign, the only conversation in which he could have heard anything like this from me was a conversation in which a number of gentlemen took part. In a communication published in the Herald, Mr. Barnes, reiterating the statement, says I made the declaration to him in the presence of Mr. John McMackin and others. Thus there can be no doubt that it was this conversation he had in mind. And since Mr. Barnes in his course in this matter has the support of Dr. McGlynn and Mr. McMackin, whatever tacit obligation I might otherwise have been under as to speaking of such a conversation is now removed.

There were present at this conversation, which took place at 28 Cooper Union, about five or six weeks after the election, Dr. McGlynn, Mr. Barnes and Mr. McMackin, who constitute the land and labor committee, and (as the majority of the five) virtually the executive committee of the state committee; and Mr. Louis F. Post , Mr. W. T. Croasdale, Mr. J. W. Sullivan and myself. It was a little informal conference or "talk over," called by Dr. McGlynn, at my request , made as soon as I found the serious divergence as to policy that existed between us. If any of us last named have any claim to be considered "leaders" of the united labor party or anti-poverty movement, this is the only conference or consultation that has yet taken place between these "leaders" on this most important matter . If any other consultations have been held, they have not included any of us.

At this informal conference, the talk ran not so much on nominating a presidential candidate, as on what was really the more fundamental and primary question of platform, and on the manner and terms of the call for the nominating assemblage. The plan of the members of the committee as then developed to us was to ignore the tariff question—to declare in the platform and assume on the stump that the masses of the people had no concern either with protection or free trade. It was after my protest against this that I was asked—not by Mr. Barnes, but by Dr. McGlynn—not whether I would support a presidential candidate of the united labor party if he were nominated on the Syracuse platform, but, whether I would be satisfied to go into the national campaign on the Syracuse platform. To this I responded that I would not . I am not in the habit of sailing under false colors, or of hiding from friend or foe my real sentiments on important public questions; and even if I had deemed the Syracuse platform sufficiently explicit on all points for a national campaign, it would have become unsatisfactory the moment it was proposed to use it to straddle a vital issue.

The plan of the committee as developed to us was, further, to call, not a conference, but a convention, and to make the terms of the call such as would exclude any but those prepared to go into the presidential contest. There was no objection on our part to the calling of a national conference, but there was strong objection to forestalling the proper function of that conference by calling at once a convention, and especially to the proposed exclusion in the terms of the call. It was further intimated that the states in which it was proposed to make a vigorous campaign were New York. New Jersey, Connecticut and Indiana—the four states namely in which we might help to give electoral votes to the republicans. The object of this was not denied. It was asserted that the democratic party was our bitter enemy, and that what we ought to try to do in practical politics was to aid the republicans to beat it. And, lastly, it was suggested that the word labor ought to be retained in the name of the party—the significance of which, while we had some inkling of it at the time, has more fully appeared since.

Instead of reconciling differences, this conversation merely showed the irreconcilable nature of the difference that existed. Messrs. Post , Croasdale, Sullivan and myself left with the clear conviction that what the central committee of the land and labor party were thinking of really amounted to nothing more nor less than the Butlerizing of the united labor party and the turning of the political side of the anti- poverty movement into a republican annex, which might in the coming campaign help to assure protectionism a new lease of plunder and a new opportunity to rivet its bonds on the people of the United States.

I am not to be understood as questioning motives, and especially the motives of a man for whom I have so sincere a respect as I have for Dr. McGlynn. He has no bias toward protectionism and no special love either for Mr. Blaine or for the republican party. He is a free trader , with clear convictions of the absurdity and impolicy of protection, and was a political friend and efficient supporter of Mr. Cleveland in his first election. What is mainly influencing him, as was obvious from his remarks in this conversation, is his not unnatural hostility toward the "ecclesiastical machine," which he seems to think is identified, in our cities at least , with the democratic party, and his belief that a presidential campaign during which, in at least the four states named, means might be found to hold meetings and keep speakers traveling, would afford a good opportunity to preach the doctrine of the "land for the people."

I do not question Dr. McGlynn's motives, but for my part I claim the right to take a different view. There are, to my mind, things of much more importance than the "ecclesiastical machine," and I am not ready to sacrifice principle for the opportunity to preach principle. I am not ready to do what I clearly feel to be evil in the hope that good may come. I am not ready to eat my words and to stultify my record. I am not ready to become the stalking horse and decoy duck of any political combination. I have never quarreled with nor denounced Dr. McGlynn because of his opinions. Yet it is because I have refused to surrender not merely my opinions but my firm convictions that he has assumed to excommunicate me from the united labor party and to declare that, if ever permitted to come back, it must be to take a much humbler position. If the doctor will think he will find it difficult to imagine a much humbler position than that which, out of deference to him and an indisposition to have any difference with him, I have for some time occupied—that of an ostensible leader in a party in whose managing counsels I have been utterly ignored.

The protest of Messrs. Post , Croasdale, Sullivan and myself, made at the conversation of which I have spoken, against the programme of the committee—and especially the emphatic denials on the part of Messrs. Post and Croasdale of any authority on the part of the committee to issue a call for a nominating convention instead of a conference or to prescribe a test that would exclude those not in favor of nominating—seemed to give the committee pause; and the call, which we were informed was to have been issued in a few days, has not yet to my knowledge appeared. I have had no further information of the plans of the committee or of what they have been doing, but it has been plain from what has since occurred that the disposition to thus turn the united labor party into a republican side show has strengthened, not weakened, though our refusal to lend ourselves has made it much more difficult, and opinions adverse to any attempt to enter national politics this year have been gaining ground. It has been evident from the columns of THE STANDARD that the more thoughtful and influential men of the party all over the country have, even without any knowledge of the inside purpose of the committee, been coming to the conclusion that it would be impolitic for the united labor party to run a presidential campaign this year , and that a very great number even of those who are disposed to stand up and be counted are not prepared to ignore the tariff question. The recent letter of Judge Maguire, who has been much talked of as an available presidential candidate, in which he declared against going into the presidential campaign, must have been to the committee especially indicative of the drift of opinion. It is this consciousness of losing ground which I think led to the open and deliberate attack which was begun in the Brooklyn county committee last Tuesday night . At a previous meeting of the New York county committee a resolution drawn by Mr. Barnes declaring the determination of the party “not to be diverted by any issue of tariff tinkering from exclusive and unswerving support of the fundamental reforms set forth in the Syracuse platform," was railroaded through without the members seeing its real import , and before the committee had, in fact , organized. In the Brooklyn committee, where Mr. Barnes has a seat and Mr. Wilder , a staunch Blaine protectionist , is chairman, it was evidently determined to put forth this policy in stronger form, and to back it up by a formal reading of me out of the party. Mr. Barnes having begun, Dr. McGlynn followed at the branch anti-poverty meeting on Thursday night.

Mr. Barnes and Dr. McGlynn have assumed to put me in the position of one who has turned aside. But is it not really they who have changed?

Up to the time when the election returns showed that we had but 70,000 votes when we had expected 150,000, it was assumed almost as a matter of course that we would enter the national field in the presidential campaign; but whatever might have been thought by such half converts as Mr. Wilder, no one intelligently acquainted with the principles we had asserted ever dreamed of ignoring the tariff question in a national campaign. I, certainly, never heard such an idea breathed. On the contrary it was expected that we would be THE free trade party, and as it was assumed that the democratic party would still try to shirk the tariff issue, we believed that by raising the standard of unqualified free trade in the national campaign we would call to its support many from both old parties that we could not at first attract in any other way.

As for the Syracuse platform, I was the chairman of the committee that drafted it and reported it , and no one who knows me will dream that I would have been a party to anything which was in the nature of a compromise between protectionism and free trade in a national campaign. The principle of free trade is stated in abstract in the Syracuse platform, but the campaign for which it was made being purely a state campaign, no one thought it necessary when no question of principle was involved to run any risk of offending any protectionist who might be disposed to act with us by using the terms "protection" or "free trade. “ It was not supposed at Syracuse that the platform itself was to be made the platform of a national party, but merely that the great principles therein laid down were to be made the framework of a national platform. The notion of ignoring the tariff question in a national campaign was never thought of, even at 28 Cooper Union until some time after the election, since one of the first suggestions talked of (and for a time at least, as I am informed by Mr. Croasdale, received favorably by Mr. Barnes himself),was that of joining forces with the free traders in running presidential candidates, and I was invited to make an address before the Anti-poverty society on the tariff question—something which could hardly have occurred if Mr. Barnes and Dr. McGlynn had at that time taken their present view of the tariff question.

The proposition to ignore the tariff question arises from the desire to have a party, not from the desire to advance a principle. And to this desire to have and to run a party all things, it is evident, are to be made to bend. Just after the last election Dr. McGlynn made a very strong speech at an anti-poverty meeting at the Academy of Music, in which, with great emphasis, he declared that we must get rid of the word "labor" in our political designation, and declared his preference for the "commonwealth party. “ Now, what his committee are waiting and hoping for is the formation of one of these "labor parties," composed of politically incongruous elements which have time and again proved utter failures.

Last spring we of the united labor party of New York steadily refused to have anything to do with the attempt to form another "union of all the labor elements," which at a conference of all sorts of "reformers" held in Cincinnati , resulted in the formation of what is called the "union labor party. “ We (the committee included) not only refused to have anything to do with this attempt to manufacture a party, but we derided its method and the inconsequential platform which was the result of the compromises of such a mixture of heterogeneous "ists" and "isms." Now, in their desire to get up a party of some kind, there are various significant indications that the committee of which Dr. McGlynn is head are planning to make a mergement of what they would call the united labor party with the union labor party, the socialists and all the other so-called "labor elements,” upon some sort of a hodge-podge platform, giving if necessary the presidential candidate to the union labor party, but of course retaining the position of secretary—one of much greater practical importance in a party when anything might befall the presidential candidate except that he should get an electoral vote.

I have never said that I would support Mr. Cleveland, and whatever report may have been made to this effect is false. What I have said is that IF Mr. Cleveland in the next campaign stands for the free trade side of the tariff issue I will support him. And I say so in advance, as I think every man who so feels ought to say, because the protectionists within the democratic party are striving to def eat Mr. Cleveland's renomination, on the ground that he cannot be elected because of the free trade of his message.

I have no personal acquaintance with Mr. Cleveland; I never even set eyes on him. I have had no communication with him or any of his friends directly or indirectly. In the last presidential campaign I refused to make speeches for him when asked to. I would have worked and voted for Butler had it not been evident that he was in the field only to help the republican ticket . As it was , I did not stay at home to vote for any body, but a few days before the election went off to Scotland, where our friends wanted me. But I first got a Blaine man to agree that if I went he would not vote—because I believed that the quicker the party that had been so long in power was ousted the quicker would the economic question come up and party lines be drawn on new issues. This choice between the parties—that one was in and the other was out—was all I could see in that election.

This year the hope I see of bringing on a general discussion of economic or social questions (for the social questions are at bottom economic) is far clearer and nearer. It lies in doing the utmost that can be done to widen the breach that the tariff question is beginning to make in the lines of both the old parties, and in pushing on the free trade fight even though at first it takes the shape of mere half-hearted tariff reform. That is the reason I shall, under the conditions mentioned, support Mr. Cleveland. I shall support any other man in his stead who shall fulfill this condition, for my support will have in it no personal element . I shall support Mr. Cleveland from the same motives that induced me to run for mayor and for secretary of state—because I see in the pushing forward of the tariff question the best way at present of using national politics, of clearing the way for the great principle which I regard as of most importance, and of moving toward a recognition of the equal rights of American Citizens in their native land.

I would, of course, very much rather support a presidential candidate who should stand on the principles of the united labor party as I understand them. But, to go no further, it now seems to me idle to hope that if we were to put up such a candidate we could poll our real strength for him; and the very attempt on the part of so many to enter the national field on the basis of ignoring the most important national issues, is, to my mind, evidence that the process of education has not yet gone far enough to enable us to act together in national politics.

Under these circumstances I will support Mr. Cleveland, not as the thing I would best like to do, but as the best thing I can do. When the wind is ahead the sailor does not insist on keeping his ship to the course he would like to go. That would be to drift astern. Nor yet for the sake of having a fair wind does he keep his yards square and sail anywhere the wind may carry him. He sails "full and by," lying as near the course he would like to go as with the existing wind he can. He cannot make the wind, but he can use it.

In supporting Mr. Cleveland, if he shall stand against protection, and the struggle between him and the republican nominee shall be made on the tariff issue, I shall not be joining the democratic party nor in any way interfering with my liberty to oppose that party any where else or in any other thing. Nor for my support of Mr. Cleveland as the representative of the free trade side of the tariff fight will I expect any thanks . The spoils hunting democratic politicians who will have to be kicked into that fight, and who will try to protest that no real harm is meant to the sacred white elephant of protection, will have no thanks for the support of those whose declared object it is to abolish protection entirely, and not merely to abolish protection entirely but to abolish the tariff entirely, and to bring about with the whole world as perfect freedom of trade as now exists between the states of the American Union. It may perhaps even be that the support of radical free traders like myself will not help Mr. Cleveland's election. But I shall care very little for Mr. Cleveland’s election. What I care for is to bring on the tariff discussion. For I regard the general discussion of the tariff question as involving greater possibilities of popular economic education than anything else. And as I have often said when myself standing as a candidate, what I care for is not how men vote, but how they think.

In all this I speak only for myself. I never proposed that the united labor party should indorse Mr. Cleveland or any other candidate of any other party. I have never presumed to control any vote but my own or to lead any one, who stands with me on state issues, in any direction on national issues in which he is not inclined of himself to go. My position is and has been this : When we are agreed let us act together . When we disagree let us agree to disagree without prejudice to our acting together at such times and in such fields as we can act together. I shall not accuse Mr. Wilder of going back on the position he took last fall if on the tariff question he supports what I oppose, nor will any opposition in which we may thus be placed on this question of national taxation prevent me from striking hands with him when he comes again into the field where the issue is of state taxation. And so far from wishing Mr. Wilder to make any compromise that will prevent him from advocating protection, I hope, since he cannot yet see his way to oppose protection, that he will do his best to defend and advocate it, and make as many and as strong protectionist speeches as he can. Free discussion sets men thinking and thus brings out the truth. I myself was a protectionist until I heard an honest and able protectionist explain and advocate the system. That made me a free trader.

The same right which I freely accord to others I claim for myself. When I participated in the formation of the united labor party in the state of New York, and accepted its nomination as head of its ticket, I did not surrender my rights as a man and a citizen and agree to allow Dr. McGlynn, Mr. Gaybert Barnes and Mr. John McMackin to do my thinking for me. Nor am I to be forced by any threat of being denounced as an abandoner of principles into submissive acquiescence in a policy which is opposed alike to my judgment of what is wise and my convictions of what is right , and which would practically make of me but a stalking horse and decoy duck for the benefit of what I would not and could not openly support . If any one has thought this he may have been acquainted with me, but he did not know me. There is a superficial plausibility in the motive of "going straight on" that at first captivates the impulsive. But when it is seen that what is meant by going straight on is to make a national campaign on what are really state issues; to ignore the issue that is likely to divide the people, and to run off to the territories for some excuse for appearing in a national campaign; and when it is seen that what is to be achieved practically by this is to help one of the two great parties in doubtful states, and to land the united labor party in the same ignominious death trap into which Butler led the greenback labor party, I have no question of what will be the verdict of the majority of our friends.

We have with us those to whom party is everything -— those who wish a party on any terms and at any cost, because their connection with it, even if it be a little, wee bit of a party, may give them position and influence that they would not have without it. But to the great body of our friends party is not an end but a means. They are not to be led to sacrifice principle by any pretended necessity of keeping up a party. Nor are they to be used as tools. When they want to help a republican president they will vote the republican ticket.