A Remembrance of James W. Bucklin

J.R. Hermann

[Reprinted from the Single Tax Review, Vol. XIX, No.2, March-April 1919]

The passing of James W. Bucklin, of Grand Junction, Colorado, marks the passing of a period in the Single Tax movement which ended a few years prior to his death, but of which he was a central figure and one of its most sincere representatives.

Thirty years ago James W .Bucklin was a militant radical, one of the very few lawyers in the United States who had the temerity to openly espouse the Single Tax in all its fullness.

The western half of Colorado was undeveloped and far removed from the center of thought and activity in the United States. He was obliged to convert his own constituency. This was not hard, for land speculation had not started yet and the pioneer was a free man who had not felt the blighting influence of thousand dollar land. It was then that Bucklin started the first Single Tax party, and it was this that landed him in the General Assembly and subsequently gave him the prestige that made it possible to do the work he did.

But soon land values began to take a jump on the Western Slope, and men took less and less interest in the Single Tax and more and more interest in booming the country, for they discovered that they could raise a superior crop. A land boom ensued unequalled anywhere in the United States. Land went to five thousand dollars per acre and back again to nothing. Bucklin was conservative; he came back from New Zealand and told how local option was working and how discouraged the Single Taxers were. But he added, "the local option men have the thin edge of the wedge in and will drive it home in time." But Single Taxers felt helpless, as it would postpone the full Single Tax; in fact he stated Single Tax was discussed more in the United States than it was anywhere in Australasia. He thought, however, that if we could get local option we could enact the Single Tax and prevent what would otherwise be inevitable, a revolution in the United States.

And so he induced the most radical legislature Colorado ever had to submit a local option amendment. This amendment permitted counties to exempt or refuse to exempt improvements from taxation every four years. But no part of franchise values should be so exempted. This bill was about as far from a Single Tax bill as one could imagine; whether or not it would lead to Single Tax is anybody's guess. But it was fought by the interests as a Single Tax bill, because Single Taxers were back of it. It was this that frightened the landlords, not the bill. This was in 1892. Everyone now agrees that the present Oregon bill would have received just as many votes in Colorado at that time as the Bucklin bill. The campaign had the effect of awakening privilege. The lion was aroused. He saw clearly how all privilege could be wiped out while he was sleeping. The local option method prevailed in Colorado as long as Bucklin lived and the Fels Fund Commission backed it up. It finally culminated in the Pueblo fiasco, and thus ended the first chapter of Single Tax "practical politics" in the United States.

The Review is right in saying that had Bucklin maintained his health and punch, he would be in the forefront of the new era in the Single Tax movement. But that is the past; let us profit by what has occurred, and in the light of the world's transformation be equal to the new task. While the Bucklin bill was radical in its day, the Single Tax bill of Oregon is the first full measure ever presented to voters anywhere on earth, yet it is tame legislation considered by many thousands of voters in Oregon, and if interest is to be aroused again in the Single Tax movement in Colorado it must come from the success of the Coast.