Georgist Influence on Woodrow Wilson

Charles O'Connor Hennessy

[A speech delivered at a dinner in Mr. Hennessy's honor, New York September 1926.
Reprinted from Land and Freedom, Vol. XXVI, November-December 1926]

I am very grateful for the personal compliment that is implied in your presence here tonight, but not so much for that fact (and in this I think I can speak for Mrs. DeMille) as for the value of this occasion as an opportunity afforded to say something that may serve to advance Henry George's cause of social regeneration, in which we believe.

I would like to depart for a moment from what might be regarded as the topic of the evening to say a word that is suggested by Mr. Leubuscher's reference to our disinguished friend, Mr. Record. The chairman referred to him as the man who made Woodrow Wilson president. That, I suppose, may be regarded as a generous extravagance, to which Mr. Record could hardly subscribe, but there is, at least, the foundation for the idea.

Some of you, I hope, have read that very informing book which some of the reviewers have stated to be one of the most interesting books yet written about the late president of the United States. I refer to The Political Education of Woodrow Wilson, the book by my friend, Mr. James Cerney, editor of the Trenton Times. If you want to know from the pen of a man who knew intimately what was doing on the inside of politics of New Jersey for many years before the coming of Wilson and for years after; if you want to know some inside facts of the political education of Woodrow Wilson, the spirit and motives that moved him, the influences that affected his public conduct, you might read that book. If you do, you may discover that the man who was, perhaps, as influential as any other in endeavoring to mould the progressive political character of a great figure in American history, in the direction of liberal public reforms, was George L. Record.

Mr. Record may not recall it now, but printed somewhere in that book is the advice given by him to by Woodrow Wilson when the president went across sea to help make the world peace after the World War. In the main, as I recall it, that advice was courageous, sound, and statesmanlike, and if it had been taken, the course of history both at home and abroad might have been changed for the better.

But what I aim to do here tonight is to help to supply you with some facts tending to prove to you that there is no reason for pessimism about the world progress of our ideals.

I would like to show you that John Paul was not saying too much when he wrote in Land and Liberty recently that 'Of all the international gatherings of an unofficial character that Europe has witnessed since the end of the great war, it is probable that none has surpassed in intellectual quality and in world-wide significance the conference of the followers of Henry George, that for a week, in the latter part of July, held forth in the Parliament House in Copenhagen.'

That is a great deal to say, but in my judgment, it is within the facts. I wish I could give you something of the atmosphere of Denmark. I mean to refer to its political atmosphere of free and radical thinking, its social and political progress toward ideals of justice for the benefit of the ordinary man, its progress toward the uplift and freedom of the human spirit. I came in contact with the Danish outlook upon the importance of our proposals on the day before the conference, when I was called upon, as the president-designate of the conference to meet the press representatives of the city. Copenhagen has a population of seven or eight hundred thousand people, and some of the best daily newspapers in the world. A representative group of their writers, men and women, gathered at the hotel to interview me upon the scope and purposes of the conference which had brought representatives from many parts of the world to advance the ideas of Henry George. From this time on, we were greeted every day with constant evidences of the enterprise of the Danish press and the great importance attached by it to the doings and sayings of our conference. There is a scrap book here containing scores of columns of news reports and editorials dealing with our work, that indicates that this gathering of the Georgists of the world was regarded by the editors of Denmark as an event of real international importance.

From an editorial review of our first day's proceedings taken from The Politiken, the leading liberal daily of the country, let me read this:

'No longer is it a case of a few harmless enthusiasts meeting together to present their Georgist ideas to improve the whole state of society by means of the Single Tax. That is a stage that belongs to the past. The taxation of land values has now become practical politics and it is with a true and far seeing vision that the organizers of the great and distinguished Congress which opened yesterday in the houses of parliament chose for their place of assembly a city where, as it happens, at this very moment we are busying ourselves with the readjustment of the taxes levied upon real estate.

Three of the political parties of this country have now accepted this great and significant tax reform. It is only the Conservative that defy the new ideas and the new time.'

Another significant aspect of the conference was impressed upon us when we came together at the opening session, and this was that the government of Denmark, its officials of power and influence, were interested in the success of our gathering. Parliamentary headquarters in the Palace of Christiansborg and the adjoining splendid committee rooms were placed at our disposal, and for a week we met in the General Assembly Chamber of the national legislature. That, by itself, was an impressive fact. And the character of the welcome that was given to the delegates was inspiring. On the opening day, after an eloquent introductory address by Mr. Folke, one of the Danish Georgists who had been instrumental in promoting the conference, another fine Danish character, Mr. Larsen, arose and read a simple poem of welcome, the spirit of which may be judged by a few stanzas:

Be you welcome, you brethren from far and from near!
Be you welcome to pass a few days with us here!
For the sake of our Cause, we are longing to meet you;
For the sake of our Cause we are happy to greet you;
Be you welcome to Denmark!

We have gathered our forces in Liberty's name
And to free the unfree is our glorious aim;
Friends and fellows co-workers, from far and from near,
We are glad you have come to shake hands with us here;
Be you welcome to Denmark!

We were touched, too, by another greeting that came from Jacob Lange, a great educator, the man who has done more, perhaps, than any other man in Denmark to give character to the famous high school system of that country. 'We cannot show you great sights and scenery' he said, 'but we can show you what is more beautiful than mountain or cataract, the first pale rays of the dawn of freedom and justice in the world.'

The importance of the official recognition of our gathering was emphasized at its opening by the presence of the former Radical Home Minister, and the former Moderate Liberal Home Minister, while the present Home Minister, Mr. Hauge, representing the Social Democratic Party, sent a letter of greeting, in which, while emphasizing his devotion to the policy of progressive land value taxation, he made the further significant statement : ' I am glad to be able to lay stress on my opinion that it is absolutely fit and proper that the community should assert its right to appropriate the economic rent of land.

Another instance of significance was that a few days after the conference assembled, I was notified that the Government radio station had been placed at the disposal of the president of the conference to broadcast his views. And so, one evening, I was permitted to broadcast an address on land value taxation and free trade from this station, having arranged that I would be followed by Mrs. Bjorner, an accomplished Danish lady, who immediately delivered a translation of my address in her native tongue. Forty or fifty minutes were taken up by us, and we were afterwards told that perhaps two hundred thousand people had listened to this message of Henry George, in English and in Danish, from the Government's radio Station. I am sure you will look in vain for an experience like this in any other country in the world.

And while speaking of the attitude of the public authorities of Denmark, I should refer to the remarks made by the Finance Minister of the country, Mr. Bramsjnaes, at the big banquet that concluded the conference week, when this respected and able political leader not only declared his sympathy with the purposes of our gathering but declared that there was no reason for impatience on the part of Henry George people over the progress made in Denmark, because her statesmen knew the direction in which they were going, saw the end of the road: and were 'on the way.'

"One other thing about Denmark before I leave that to talk perhaps about a more important thing. The real strength of our movement there seems to be the small farmer of the country. Mrs. deMille has referred to that inspiring demonstration at the Congress of the small holders. If she says she was thrilled, I may say others were thrilled also to see this great audience of sturdy farmers rise and cheer the name of Henry George, and give a magnificent welcome to the daughter of Henry George and then to sing their beautiful Land Song, the first line of which is 'fatherland, the People's Land.' It was really an unforgettable experience. And then to see them marching through the streets of Copenhagen along with the delegates of this Conference from seventeen countries! And there were seventeen pretty women, each of them carrying the flag of her native land, with the flag of the United States carried by a sweet little girl friend of mine who is here tonight the daughter of our Chairman, Mr. Leubuscher. A more inspiring spectacle than that it would be difficult to imagine. They marched to the Liberty Memorial in the main highway of the city a memorial dedicated to the principles of economic emancipation, in order that the daughter of Henry George might, in the name of the followers of Henry George from every section of the world, lay a garland at the base of that memorial. And then, the streets having been roped off by the police against vehicular traffic so that a great audience could gather, with amplifiers provided so that their voices of the speakers could be carried to the outskirts of the crowd, orators in English, Danish, German, Swedish and French told the people the meaning of the philosophy of Henry George, and the meaning of the Conference that had gathered to promote the advance of that philosophy. Nowhere in the world, except in Denmark, could such a thing have happened.

Thinking of the small farmers of Denmark as the mainstay of the Henry George movement in that country I was impressed at a dinner in London after the conference to have our old friend, Fred Verinder, known to many you here as the secretary of the English League for the Taxation of Land Values, tell with enthusiasm some experiences he had in visiting the Danish farm houses. I was happy to see the picture of Henry George in every farm house he entered. I thought this was very remarkable, and wrote him some time ago asking him if I had correctly understood him. In support of his statement, he sent me a letter, and another from Mr. Madsen of the United Committee, who speaks Danish and knows Denmark better than anyone I know of outside of that country. Here is what Mr. Verinder wrote:

It is quite true that, in the houses of the Danish 'housemen', that I was privileged to visit at Spanager and at Nislevgaard (near Odense), I found a portrait of Henry George in each house, and in one house a portrait in each room, and that on the sitting-room bookshelf in each case there was a copy of Progress and Poverty (in Danish), and, I think in each case, also a copy of the 'Georgist' book of elementary Political Economy written by my oldest Danish friend, Jakob E. Lange, the head of the Peasants' High School at Odense.

At the conference itself there were many notable incidents, one of the most significant being the formal presentation to the Government Reference Library in the Parliament Building by Mr. Berthelsen, of the works of Henry George in many languages, and the sympathetic acceptance of this gift in a little address by the president of the Upper House, Mr. Hansen. We had able representatives at the Conference from many sections of the world.

The largest delegations, of course, were from Denmark and Great Britain, and the representatives of our own country were not negligible either in numbers or quality. [ was especially impressed with the Germans. They had twenty-two delegates, four or five of them, I believe, members of provincial parliaments, and one an ex-admiral of the German Navy. Among the younger men from Germany was a group, which for loyalty and intelligence, was as fine as any I have ever come in contact with since my long connection with this movement. The address by the veteran Antonio Albendin, speaking for Spain, William Reid for Great Britain, Johan Hanson for Sweden, Dr. Paleta for Germany, Mrs. Signe Bjorner for Denmark, Mr. deClerq for Holland, Sam Meyer for France, Dr. J. J. Pikler for Hungary, and Pavlos Giannelia, the official representative of the Greek government, were all worthy of the great occasion. Many brilliant women beside Mrs. deMille attended the conference, and I should not fail to mention beside Mrs. Bjorner of Copenhagen, Madam Hanson of Sweden, and our own Miss Schetter, Miss Colbron, and Mrs. Skeel, whose ability in discussion gave them distinction. Miss Colbron's accomplishments as a linguist, her facility for speaking equally well in several languages, made some of the rest of us envious.

If I were asked as to the important results of the conference beyond the bringing together for common counsel these men and women from many parts of the world and binding them anew in a common enthusiasm for a great cause, I would say that I believe the widespread publicity given to that address of the conference to the League of Nations, appealing for free trade as a means of ending international strife, has already had far-reaching effects in Europe. When I went to Germany, I was told of a book of German press clippings almost as large as that you see here. Many of the important newspapers there gave considerable space to the Conference, and featured this appeal to the statesmen at Geneva as well as the declaration that if governments would establish peace, contentment, and prosperity at home, they must give equal access to natural opportunities, and abolish legal and artificial restrictions that impede the right of men freely to produce wealth, freely to exchange it, and freely to enjoy the results of their labor.

The final and vital act of the conference was the resolution providing for the organization of a permanent International Union for the Taxation of Land Values and Free Trade. That Union is now in being, and has active adherents in many parts of the world. The great honor came to me to be named as its provisional president. The word 'provisional' was used because it is our desire that the permanent form of the organization of the Union be determined at the next international conference in 1928, which I hope all of you will attend. The support and extension of the work of this international body is the great work before us today, and I join with Mrs. deMille in earnestly pleading for it. It seems to have come into being at a time when economic education respecting the production and distribution of wealth is needed as never before in the world. The remarkable manifesto that was published in all the countries a short time ago, coming from the international bankers and industrialists of the world, and demanding the destruction of the economic barriers that impede freedom of production and exchange, shows how very greatly needed is this Union of ours, aiming to organize and disseminate the views of Henry George for the establishment of real free trade throughout the world.

Now I want to be frank with you, and reveal something of a secret regarding this dinner. When it was first proposed, I think by Mr. Leubuscher, and when Mrs. deMille and I were consulted, we did not at first see any good reason for an event of this kind. At least, we did not see any reason why our friends should be asked to come here simply as a matter of compliment to us. But it seemed to us, after we had given some thought to the matter, that perhaps this occasion might be made worth while if we could here have an opportunity to render some service to this International Union by telling you frankly the difficulties which it has to meet and ask you those who profess to be followers of Henry George to help this new organization in its infancy; to help it grow to be one of the great influences for economic emancipation for the whole civilized world. The International Union is poor in money resources. Its workers in Germany, in Denmark, in England and elsewhere, chiefly because of economic conditions, are mostly men of small means who can be called upon only for devoted loyalty and service to the Cause.

The work the Union has to do requires not large money means, perhaps, but considerable expenditures, nevertheless, if the work which we plan is to be done efficiently and effectively. Every day there comes to us some letter from distant places telling us something that ought to be done in the way of spreading the gospel. We need translations of the works of Henry George in many places. Old translations are but of date or out of print. All countries want literature and groups now organizing themselves into branches of the International Union want support of one sort or another. We are trying, therefore, to get all of you who believe in an international union for the promotion of land values taxation and free trade; who believe we ought to organize and bind together the glorious men and women in all parts of the world who see this philosophy and would advance it, to help us do it. I can see where we could spend $50,000 within the next two years if we could only see where we could get that amount of money.

So, tonight, while we are not going to pass the hat, as it were, we are going to say that if you have been impressed by what you heard, then you have an opportunity to join us in this splendid and progressive work. I will see that a card is sent you, which you can sign if you wish to join the International Union. There are no dues to be paid. Each is asked to contribute any sum he pleases. Even a dollar will do, or you can contribute $10,000 if you can afford that. I am told that there are gentlemen who have honored us with their presence here tonight, who could, if they felt so disposed, contribute as much as $10,000 to a cause they believed in. If there are such, I can tell them in all earnestness that there is no cause I to which they could contribute money in which they are likely to find more glorious reward than this to which I, for one, have dedicated my small means and abilities for the rest of my life.

Mr. Leubuscher hands me a letter from London speaking of a meeting of the United Committee there, at which it was suggested that some representative of our International Union should attend the Economic Conference of of the League of Nations called for Geneva next month. It might be more than a gesture; it might, indeed, be an effective undertaking if we could send some competent representative of our world wide organization to Geneva for this purpose and I would favor it if we had the means. But that is out of the question just now. It is just one of the things that might be done if we had the means to do it.

Speaking of the League of Nations, I have been criticized a little about some things said in my address at Copenhagen that were taken to reflect upon the League of Nations. I want it understood that I am a believer in the League of Nations. All that I have said that might be deemed a criticism of that great body, is that if it has failed in any degree to accomplish the great aims of its founders for the establishment of a better world and the ending of international discord, it is because in the past, it has dealt with politics more than it has dealt with economics. It is now, it would appear, about to deal with economics.

Until the League of Nations examines the fundamental causes that underlie the discords and hostilities that keep friendly peoples from cooperating for their common interest, it will never become the great peace-making agency that Woodrow Wilson aimed to make it when his noble efforts first brought it into being. Speaking of this great man, whose friendship I had the honor to enjoy, it was recalled to me in this Danish conference by Mr. Vedal, an eloquent Dane, who spoke upon free trade, that in his statement of the Fourteen Points preliminary to the establishment of world peace, Woodrow Wilson stressed, in his third point, the necessity for economic reforms that would break down the barriers that impeded trade between the peoples of the world so far as it was possible to attain it. But it seems that in this matter, as in other matters at Versailles, Mr. Wilson was obliged to yield to the politicians gathered there, who elevated politics and selfish national interest as things more important than economics. The splendid thing about the League of Nations however, is that it has brought fifty-five nations together to take common counsel about the common welfare of their peoples, and of the world, and counsel must be taken before action is taken. I firmly believe that out of this spirit of common counsel about world affairs will ultimately come decisions based upon justice, that will set the whole world free at last. It will be a fine thing if we may be permitted to help and participate in this great consummation."