Henry George:
Prophet of Human Rights

Charles A. Madison

[Reprinted from the book Critics & Crusaders, published
by Henry Holt and Company, 1948. pp. 257-284]

OUR PROFESSIONAL ECONOMISTS, anxious to lift their studies to the high objective plane of the natural sciences, have disregarded Henry George as an unerudite tamperer with matters which are their special concern. As a consequence most Americans who have heard of him associate his name only with a confiscatory and unworkable single-tax panacea. This has obscured the fact that his books once excited the imagination of millions and that his energetic crusading gave them a new vision and fresh hope. A familiarity with his work shows indeed that he had the greatness of soul to sublimate his early experience with grinding indigence into a passionate drive to obliterate want from the face of the earth. Without the advantages of a formal education, he evolved a philosophy of society, at once prophetic and melioristic, which has placed him among the pre-eminent social thinkers of our time.

George was born in Philadelphia on September 2,1839, the second of ten children. His father was at one time a publisher of religious books and later a clerk in the customs house, but he was never quite able to provide for his large family. Young George went to work before he was fourteen. Ambitious and restless, interested in ships like his grandfather before him, he sailed in 1855 as foremast boy on a voyage that took him to Australia and as far as India and back. When he returned to Philadelphia about a year later he obtained work in a printing shop, but his weekly earnings of two dollars were wholly inadequate for the alert youth who had seen the world and knew of the high wages paid in California. The lure of the West gave him no peace, and before long he again went to sea, on a government ship bound for San Francisco. But conditions in that city had greatly deteriorated since the early years of the Gold Rush. There was no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for the newcomer, but he was too young and too ambitious to feel discouraged. Unable to find work, he joined some miners on their way to Fraser River in search of the precious metal. Again he met with disappointment, and after several months of futile effort he returned to San Francisco. Penniless and in debt, he was ready to take the first job that came his way, but there was no work of any kind available in the city which a few years before had paid the highest wages in the world.

Determined to improve himself, he read considerably and joined a leading circle. On July 21,1859, he wrote to his sister Jennie: " I try to pick up everything I can, both by reading and observation, and flatter myself that I learn at least something every day." He was also beginning to dream of heaven on earth, and in a letter to his sister two years later he expressed his longing for the time

when each one will be free to follow his best and noblest impulses, unfettered by the restrictions and necessities which our present state of society imposes on him; when the poorest and meanest will have a chance to use all his God-given faculties and not be forced to drudge away the best part of his time in order to supply wants but little above those of the animal.

All this time he was living haphazardly on odd jobs as a printer's substitute, and he was never free of debt. His situation became more precarious when he fell in love with a young orphan from Australia, Annie Corsina Fox, and married her on December 4, 1861. Shortly afterwards he found work in Sacramento and soon became the father of a son. Early in 1864 he lost his job and returned to San Francisco, Nothing seemed to come his way no matter how hard he tried. " I came near starving," he recalled years later, "and at one time I was so close to it that I think I should have done so bat for the job of printing a few cards which enabled us to buy a little corn meal. In this darkest time in my life my second child was born." So frantic was he on that particular day that he was ready to kill a man for five dollars if the latter had not given him the money voluntarily. A month later, greatly in debt and still without regular employment, he confided to his diary, " Am in desperate plight. Courage."

Although George was able to improve his condition somewhat after 1865, and at times even lived in relative comfort, he never forgot the dreadful months of utter despair. He had long given up the dream of riches, but the memory of dire poverty kept him " in perpetual disquiet" and turned his mind to social problems. Groping in the darkness of ignorance and inexperience, yearning to make the world a better place for his children to live in, keenly conscious of the fire in his heart and the power of his pen, he began to read voraciously and to practise writing at every opportunity. Lincoln's assassination moved him to express his admiration of the martyred President in two stirring editorials which were printed in Alta California, the newspaper for which he was then, a typesetter. The completion of the first transcontinental railway gave him the occasion to write down the thoughts about land and wealth which had long been simmering in his mind. "What the Railroad Will Bring," which appeared in Overland Monthly in 1868, stressed the idea that material progress was not necessarily beneficial to the people as a whole and that increased wealth tended to accentuate want.

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. …Those who have land, mines, established business, special abilities of certain kinds, will become richer for it and find increased opportunities; those who have only their own labor will become poorer, and find it harder to get ahead -- first because it will take more capital to buy land or get into business; and second, as competition reduces the wages of labor, this capital will be the harder for them to obtain.

Here, in bare outline, George expressed the basic idea which he was a decade later to incorporate in Progress and Poverty.

George was by this time an established journalist. His zeal for justice and his sharp pen made him at once known and notorious throughout California and prevented him from remaining long on one newspaper. He became preoccupied with civic affairs, and his editorials were charged with the indignation and zest of the aggressive reformer. Yet his deepest thought was reserved for the problem which in his view affected the very foundations of modern society: the simultaneous increase of wealth and want in a civilization capable of providing the comforts of life to all mankind. In possession of a creative intelligence that perceived relationships where the ordinary mind saw only isolated events, he began to gather the evidence for those principles upon which a better society might be built. He recalled that, years before, a lot in San Francisco had doubled in price upon the arrival of a ship carrying supplies. He remembered what the old miner had told him about wages going down with the growth of population. In 1869, while in New York trying in vain to establish a news service in opposition to the Associated Press and Western Union, he felt the full impact of the kind of society he was determined to abolish: " I saw and recognized for the first time the shocking contrast between monstrous wealth and debasing want." Shortly after his return to California, while riding on horseback in the neighborhood of Oakland, he noticed that the completion of the railway had caused a land boom far outside of the urban limits. Land, previously of little worth, had been sub-divided into acre lots, and these were being offered at a thousand dollars apiece. " Like a flash it came upon me that there was the reason of advancing poverty with advancing wealth."

His mind seethed with the discovery, but he was not yet prepared to formulate it. At this time Governor Haight, too honest a man to condone the land-grabbing of the railroads, decided to put an end to the corrupting machinations of the Central Pacific Railroad. He engaged George to edit the Sacramento-Reporter and campaigned for re-election on an anti-railroad platform. Central Pacific was more than a match for these two doughty warriors. It bought the Reporter, depriving George of his job, and paid for enough votes to swamp the recalcitrant governor.

The experience gave George the proper impetus to express his views on land monopoly and its consequences. He was then wholly unfamiliar with the literature on the subject and did not know that the French Physiocrats and several individual thinkers in other lands had preceded him in the exposition of similar conclusions. Our Land and Land Policy, National and State, which he wrote and published in 1871, was a 48-page pamphlet presenting his solution of the land problem. In sketchy outline the booklet explained the pertinent issues and proposals which he was later to discuss in persuasive detail in Progress and Poverty: the exhaustion of the nation's public lands, the dependence of the laborer on land, the viciousness of land monopoly, and the need to socialize land by taxing its unearned increment to its full value. George sent copies to various men of prominence and was gratified by the response.

In December 1871 he became Editor and part owner of the newly established Daily Evening Post, the first newspaper in California to be sold for a penny -- a coin not then in free circulation on the Pacific Coast. Its editorial page gave George opportunity to excoriate the abuses of privilege and to expound his economic ideas on the causes of poverty and land values. Although the daily was to be "the organ of no faction, clique or party" it came out for Greeley in the election of 1872, championed the cause of labor, and forced the prosecutions of political grafters and wealthy criminals.

Late in 1875 the Post was sold and George was once again without a job. He did not, however, seek work on another newspaper. The urge to propound his economic views and social ideals gave him no peace. Since he had worked for Governor Irwin's election he applied to him for a sinecure that would provide his family with bread and afford him the leisure to write. Early in January 1876 he was appointed state inspector of gas meters, a post that paid him a fee for each inspection and that therefore became less lucrative as fewer meters were installed during the years of depression. This position he kept until he was deprived of it by the next governor -- long enough to have enabled him to complete his great work.

George now had his own well-stocked collection of books as well as access to several public and private libraries. To his mother he wrote on November 13, 1876: "I propose to read and study; to write some things which will extend my reputation, and perhaps to deliver some lectures with the same view. If I live I will make myself known, even in Philadelphia. I aim high." For all his eagerness to concentrate on his main task, he could not abstain from speaking his mind on the affairs of the day. No longer having access to an editorial page, he began to voice his views from the public platform. During the Hayes-Tilden campaign he became known as one of the best political speakers in California. While not a prepossessing figure on the rostrum -- he was a rather short, bald, untidy man with a reddish heard -- he more than made up for this deficiency in the logic of his thought and the fervor of his delivery.

The following March he was invited by the University of California to deliver a lecture on political economy. His friends on the faculty were hoping that he would be appointed to the first professorship in this subject. But George was not the man who aimed to please. He spoke his mind with a frankness and an iconoclasm which precluded his consideration for the chair. Addressing himself to the students, he insisted that the study of political economy required not so much teachers and textbooks as the ability to think straight and to the root of things.

All this array of professors, all this paraphernalia of learning cannot educate a man. They can help him to educate himself. Here you may obtain the tools, but they will be useful only to him who can use them. A monkey with a microscope, a mule packing a library, are fit emblems of the men -- and, unfortunately, they are plenty -- who pass through the whole educational machinery and come oat learned fools, crammed with knowledge which they cannot use -- all the more pitiable, all the more contemptible, all the more in the way of real progress, because they pass, with themselves and others, as educated men.

Several months later he was the chief orator at San Francisco's celebration of Independence Day. Here was his opportunity to speak on the meaning of liberty -- the subject dearest to his heart -- and he had prepared for it with exceeding care. His address was polished, pointed, passionate. His apotheosis of liberty, rising to metaphysical loftiness, was no doubt beyond the grasp of his sweltering audience, and belongs more fittingly to the pages of Progress and Poverty where he later inserted it. But the people did not fail to appreciate his deep sincerity and his glowing praise of the principles upon which our republic had been founded. And not a few understood and applauded when he said:

Wealth in itself is a good, not an evil; but wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, corrupts on the one side, and degrades on the other. No chain is stronger than its weakest link, and the ultimate condition of any people must be the condition of its lowest class. …In the long run, no nation can be freer than its most oppressed, richer than its poorest, wiser than its most ignorant.

In 1878, even while deeply engrossed in writing his masterpiece, he took the time not only to deliver two important lectures but also to campaign for political office. So overflowing was he with the theme of poverty and its abolition by means of taxing land values that it crept into everything he did. Even in his address on Moses -- a fervent and highly finished piece of writing -- he could not help reverting to it again and again:

For all this wonderful increase in' knowledge, for all this enormous gain in productive power, where is the country in the civilized world in which today there is no want and suffering -- where the masses are not condemned to toil that gives no leisure, and all classes are not pursued by a greed of gain that makes life an ignoble struggle to get and to keep?

The grievous depression of 1877 with its widespread suffering and sporadic labor strikes impelled George to begin the writing of Progress and Poverty. He was then in debt again, his income from inspecting meters was dwindling, and he had to pawn his watch for some ready cash; but the theme of his book had taken complete possession of him. For eighteen months he devoted most of his waking hours to the great task, and when the last page was finished he wept like a child at the thought of having accomplished his life's major work. He knew he had written a capital book and said so to his father and friends. To John Swinton, the New York reformer, he stated that it was " the most important contribution to the science of political economy yet made."

In any evaluation of Progress and Poverty it is important to remember that the book was completed in 1879, when the Ricardian principles of political economy were still widely accepted, and that George was right in regarding Mill as the outstanding exponent of these principles. Nor should it be forgotten that George was wholly self-taught, that there were obvious lacunae in his knowledge of economic literature, and that he arrived at his doctrine deductively and philosophically. His aim was to demolish those principles which he believed false and detrimental to the welfare of mankind and to replace them with others which would explain the causes of poverty and the means of abolishing it.

George began with the problem which had long tormented him.

Where the conditions to which material progress everywhere tends are most fully realized -- that is to say, where population .is densest, wealth greatest, and the machinery of production and exchange most highly developed -- we find the deepest poverty, the sharpest struggle for existence, and the most enforced idleness.

Before he could come to grips with this basic problem, however, he felt compelled to clear away the theoretical obstacles which the economists before him had erected as valid reasons for the perpetual existence of poverty. Of these, the chief were the so-called iron law of wages and the Malthusian doctrine that population tends to increase faster than the means of subsistence. Familiar with some of the attacks made upon these theories by later economists, he proceeded to disprove them anew with such irrefutable logic and slashing statement that nothing remained of them except the prejudices at their source.

In opposition to these pessimistic doctrines, which condemned the mass of mankind to a subsistence level and political economy to a state of hopelessness, George argued persuasively that man was an intelligent and ingenious creature and therefore able to meet any situation he might come up against. If laborers lived in want, it was not because their great number made tie share of each in the available wages fund a mere pittance. This wages-fund theory, he pointed out, was a mere figment, since "wages, instead of being drawn from capital, are in reality drawn from the product of the labor for which they are paid." Nor had the Malthusian doctrine any basis in fact since, as he proved by a forceful analysis of the theory of population, "the law of population accords with and is subordinate to the law of intellectual development, and any danger that human beings may be brought into the world where they cannot be provided for arises not from the ordinances of nature, but from social maladjustments that in the midst of wealth condemn men to want." He asserted, moreover, that "in a state of equality the natural increase of population would constantly tend to make every individual richer instead of poorer."

Having removed the negative obstacles which in his view explained nothing and merely obscured the basic causes of poverty, George proceeded to examine the laws which govern the distribution of wealth. Here he followed Ricardian economics fairly closely. Land included "all natural opportunities or forces"; labor embraced "all human exertion," being "the active and initial force ... the raw material of wealth"; capital consisted of "wealth used to produce more wealth" and therefore "not a necessary factor in production," since it must first be produced by labor before it became available. Rent from land was the price of monopoly and was "determined by the excess of its produce over that which the same application can secure from the least productive land in use." Consequently rent tended to increase as production increased and thus served to keep down wages and interest -- a crucial factor in the distribution of wealth.

His inquiry into the causes of the increase of rent disclosed that the growth of population was not a basic cause, since rent advanced even where population remained stationary. The true cause inhered in die private monopoly of land. For any increase in the production of wealth inevitably stimulated the demand for land -- with a consequent rise in rent. The landlord thus tended to receive the greater share of this increased wealth, which in turn resulted in a maladjustment of wealth and recurrent economic depressions. As George summarized his finding:

The great cause of the inequality in the distribution of wealth is inequality in the ownership of land. The ownership of land is the great fundamental fact which ultimately determines the social, the political, and consequently the intellectual and moral conditions of a people.

The remedy was to abolish the private ownership of land. Despite its radical implications, George found "that nothing short of making land common property can permanently relieve poverty and check the tendency of wages to the starvation point." To justify such drastic action against the present owners of land, he investigated the nature of property and concluded that "there is a fundamental and irreconcilable difference between property in things which are the product of labor and property in land." While one was obtained by honest human effort and therefore had the sanction of justice and equity, the other was originally seized by force and fraud and was indefensible. Moreover, the recognition of individual ownership of land " always has, and always must, as development proceeds, lead to the enslavement of the laboring class." Justice therefore demanded that landowners be curbed and that the land be restored to the people as a whole. "When a title rests but on force, no complaint can be made when force annuls it. Whenever the people, having the power, choose to annul these titles, no objection can be made in the name of justice."

He next met the expected objection that the socialization of land was detrimental to its best use. He pointed out that the private ownership of land frequently blocked its improvement and use -- the vacant lots in crowded urban centers and large estates in the country being obvious examples -- while land held in common was generally improved and used for the good of all. Having demonstrated the greater utility of land belonging to society over that owned by private individuals, he next discussed the most desirable method of abolishing the monopoly on land. To his mind neither nationalization nor confiscation was advisable. In order to disturb the status quo as little as possible, he was willing for the owners to retain the shell -- provided they were deprived of the kernel. To this end he suggested a tax on the full value of the land, explaining that such a tax would not only help remove iniquity from society but would also suffice for all public needs and thus make all other taxes superfluous.

What I propose, therefore, is the simple yet sovereign remedy, which will raise wages, increase the earnings of capital, extirpate pauperism, abolish poverty, give remunerative employment to whoever wishes it, afford free scope to human powers, lessen crime, elevate morals, and taste, and intelligence, purify government and carry civilization to yet nobler heights, is -- to appropriate rent by taxation.

Such a tax, bearing lightly on production, collected easily and cheaply, unshiftable, certain, and equitable, was in his belief not only the most just of all taxes but the only one bound "to stimulate industry, to open new opportunities to capital, and to increase the production of wealth."

George devoted the final section of Progress and Poverty to the law of human progress. He argued persuasively that economic disparities in civilization were due, not to differences in individuals, but to differences in social organization; that progress, stimulated by association, tended to be checked by the emergence of inequality. "Association in equality" was therefore the law of progress, and our own civilization, already showing signs of decay caused by inequality, must eliminate its social maladjustments if it was not to suffer the fate of earlier civilizations. Since the basic source of inequality lay in land monopoly, the taxation of land values would sot only assure justice and equality to all men bat would also provide fresh impetus toward greater progress.

The foregoing summary of the contents of Progress and Poverty gives but an indication of the book's scope and purpose. Even now, nearly seventy years later, one cannot read it without being moved by its clear style, the cogency of its logical exposition, the prophetic vision of its social message. The work has its obvious limitations, and its proposed remedy may be impugned as unfair and inadequate, but the reader cannot fail to be impressed by its high purpose and passionate sincerity. For the problem of poverty has continued to plague our civilization, and no other reformer has attacked it so fundamentally and so eloquently. Having felt its grievous effects to the despair of starvation, George perceived it as "the open-mouthed, relentless hell which yawns beneath civilized society. …For poverty is not merely deprivation; it means shame, degradation; the searing of the most sensitive parts of our moral and mental nature as with hot irons; the denial of the strongest impulses and sweetest affections; the wrenching of the most vital nerves." It was to remove this social cancer from the body of mankind that he wrote the book; and it was this high aim, expressed with compelling forcefulness, that inspired many of its multitude of readers to join him in the great effort. What appealed to them most was the simplicity of the remedy: no bloody revolution, no radical overthrow of government, no disruption of industrial enterprise -- only a change in taxation which would right a long-standing wrong.

In an obvious sense Progress and Poverty was, as Parrington has indicated, George's reaction to "the policy of pre-emption, exploitation, and progress of the Gilded Age." In his own state of California he witnessed grants of land to the railroad companies amounting to 16,387,000,000 acres, or sixteen percent of the total area. Also, within eighteen years of the first pre-emption act in 1863, the state disposed of all its vast public lands. This misappropriation of common property, with its consequent social maladjustments, struck fire in George's heart and gave him no rest until he had exposed the wrong and pointed out the remedy. An even deeper purpose of the book was, in the words of Parrington, "to humanize and democratize political economy, that it might serve social ends rather than class exploitation." For in George's day economists regarded poverty as "the result of an inevitable law," and thus sanctioned the grievous exploitation of the laborer as well as the ruthlessness of laissez-faire enterprise. As a genuine democrat he refused to accept such a "law" and expounded to his fellow men a glorious future: the identification of "the law of social life with the great moral law of justice: a vision of progress: without poverty, material enrichment based on equality, man rising to new spiritual heights."

Eastern publishers did not share George's opinion of the book and none would at first undertake to bring it out. It was only after a friendly printer in San Francisco had agreed to make a set of plates and run off an author's edition of five hundred copies that D. Appleton and Company were persuaded to use the plates for a trade edition. George sent a number of copies to leaders of public opinion in this country and abroad, and most of these responded promptly and appreciatively. The book sold very sluggishly, and the English publisher was able to dispose of only twenty copies during the first few months.

Meantime George, considerably in debt and desperately in need of work, borrowed the fare to New York in the hope of finding employment on one of the city's newspapers. Failing in this effort, he undertook whatever odd jobs he came upon. His strong concern with the land problem caused him to interest himself in the current agitation against landlordism in Ireland. The Irish in New York welcomed him and engaged him to lecture on the land question. Ever ready with his pen, he decided to review the situation in Ireland in the light of the universal land problem; and the resulting brochure, The lrish Land Question (subsequently retitled The Land Question because of its general implications and conclusions), made him something of a hero among the Irish and led them to give the booklet wide circulation. This publicity reacted favorably on the sale of Progress and Poverty and induced many newspapers and magazines in this country and in Great Britain to review the book seriously and at length. A five-column leader in the London Times helped the volume to spectacular popularity. Labor leaders, with Powderley of the Knights of Labor at their head, recommended the work enthusiastically to their followers. Cheap editions soon outsold the most popular fiction. Before long everyone seemed to be reading and discussing Progress and Poverty, and George found himself famous. In Ireland and England, where he went as a correspondent for the New York Irish World in October 1881, he was widely acclaimed.

This extraordinary enthusiasm for a book dealing radically with a fundamental social problem -- around three million copies have been disposed of to date, a runaway record for a book in economics -- greatly perturbed the academic guardians of the science of economics. In the Judgment of these scholars, who were just then making a great effort to replace the theories of the Smith-Ricardo-Mill school with views consonant with the latest scientific principles, George's indebtedness to that school stamped him as a lay meddler. His deliberate, almost evangelical fusion of economics with ethics struck them as rank heresy -- being contrary to their painfull attempts to divorce the two disciplines. His proposed remedy of taxing land values to the exclusion of all other taxes appeared to them unscientific, highly unjust, and, in view of its great popular appeal, dangerously demagogic. Alfred Marshall, soon to become their chief spokesman, and the dying Arnold Toynbee each tried to demolish the book in three analytical lectures; Herbert Spencer, Lord Bramwell, the Duke of Argyll, and practically all American economists scorned him as an ignorant intruder into their special field of knowledge.

The socialists, in the 1889's struggling for public attention, were likewise critical of George's proposed remedy for the social maladjustment which they regarded as their special concern. The; approved, of course, of his castigation of the existing order and sympathized with his desire to abolish poverty, but they insisted that a tax on land values would affect only a fraction of the surplus value created by labor and could not therefore accomplish all that George claimed for it. They moreover disparaged what they considered his misunderstanding of the nature of capital and his rejection of the doctrine of the class struggle. His remedy, they contended, might suffice for the primitive agricultural society, in which land was the "primary, all-inclusive element," but was wholly inadequate in our era of monopolistic industrialism. When Karl Marx was given a copy of Progress and Poverty, he looked it through and remarked that it was " the capitalists' last ditch."

Ironically enough, George was largely responsible for the rise of socialism in England, which he had visited at an opportune time. Most of the liberal and labor intellectuals of the discontented i88o's, who later gravitated towards socialism, crowded first to his standard. " Henry George," wrote John A. Hobson, " may be considered to have exercised a more directly formative and educative influence over English radicalism of the last fifteen years [1882-1897] than any other man."

George, in turn, was quite contemptuous of socialism, and regarded Karl Marx as "a most superficial thinker, and entangled in an inexact and vicious terminology." The American reformer was indeed a genuine individualist, a product of the eighteenth-century equalitarianism. Thomas Jefferson was his patron saint, and the Declaration of Independence his revered Decalogue. In an address in Baltimore on "The Democratic Principle" he stated: "Our belief is that of Thomas Jefferson; our aim is his aim and our hope his hope." He regarded the doctrines of natural law and natural rights as sacrosanct and argued that even if these rights had no actual historical basis, they were so obviously the higher goal of human striving that one should work for their realization as a matter of simple justice. He assumed that a true understanding of natural laws would lead to the establishment of equality and justice and bring society to a state of blessedness. His theory of reform, as expounded in Progress and Poverty, was based upon these moral principles and was thus "but the carrying out in letter and spirit of the truth enunciated in the Declaration of Independence - the 'self-evident' truth that is the heart and soul of the Declaration -- 'That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!'"

His great book having initiated a social movement, George became acutely conscious of his responsibilities as the prophet of social reform. The popularity of The Irish Land Question made it possible for him to visit Great Britain, and he took advantage of the opportunity to preach his philosophy in that country. The enthusiasm of the growing host of British admirers was balm to his soul, and he was glad in the course of the next few years to make several missionary excursions to England.

When George returned to New York after his first trip, he had already acquired an international reputation. The bounty of one of his admirers and his success as a lecturer and writer at last freed him from the drag of poverty. A whole-hearted believer in education, he took every opportunity to apply his philosophy to problems of current interest. Again and again he lectured before labor and other groups on the cause and cure of social maladjustments. Since politicians were then advocating tariffs as a means of raising wages, he exposed their pretenses and indicated the true source of higher wages.

He interrupted this work, however, when Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, eager for a feature to counterbalance Professor W. G. Sumner's articles in Harper's Weekly, asked him to write a series of thirteen essays on "Problems of the Times." These discussions he revised and expanded into a book which he published in 1883 under the title of Social Problems. In essence a popular application of his land doctrine to current questions, its central thesis was that "at the root of every social problem lies a social wrong." Most essential in righting these wrongs was a just distribution of wealth, which he defined as follows:

To secure to each the free use of his own power, limited only by the equal freedom of all others; to secure to each the hill enjoyment of his own earnings, limited only by such contributions as he may be fairly called upon to make for purposes of common benefit.

Since men now lacked such economic justice, he argued, they behaved like hungry hogs before a pail of swill; with wealth justly distributed, men would behave everywhere with the ease and grace of those seated at a banquet table. Moreover, without economic justice, political democracy remained a myth.

Democratic government in more than name can exist only where wealth is distributed with something like equality -- when the great mass of citizens are personally free and independent, neither fettered by their poverty, nor made subject by their wealth.

This equality, he insisted, could be attained only by the land reform -- truly "the greatest of social revolutions." He declared that our great material development necessitated a higher moral standard.

Civilization, as it progresses, requires a higher conscience, a keener sense of justice, a warmer brotherhood, a wider, loftier, truer public spirit. Failing these, civilization must pass into destruction. …For civilization knits men more and more closely together, and constantly tends to subordinate the individual to the whole, and to make more and more important social conditions.

While in the British Isles in 1883, addressing large audiences under the auspices of the Land Reform Union, he was attacked by the Duke of Argyll in an article, "The Prophet of San Francisco," published in Nineteenth Century. This titled critic termed George a "Preacher of Unrighteousness" because of his uncompromising attitude towards landowners. On his return to New York the "Prophet of San Francisco" composed a reply, published in the same periodical, which slashed to shreds the Duke's argument that landlords have a right to the monopolistic use of their land regardless of the manner in which it was originally acquired or of the nature of property in land.

George next devoted himself to writing his book on the tariff problem. So popular had he become by this time that he was able to obtain $3000 for several of the finished chapters of Protection or Free Trade, and this money enabled him to publish the volume during the summer of 1886. The work had a tremendous circulation, owing largely to the efforts of Tom L. Johnson, who had become converted to George's views. In 1890 Johnson, then in Congress, succeeded, with the aid of several fellow Congressmen, in placing the entire contents of the book in the Congressional Record. Hundreds of thousands of copies were sent to constituents of these and other members of Congress, and the total distribution, including various cheap editions, exceeded two million copies.

Protection or Free Trade contains some of George's most lucid writing and is undoubtedly one of the clearest and most cogent discussions of free trade ever published. In it he argued from general principles to the logical conclusion that not only was protection based on a fallacy but that genuine free trade involved the abolition of all tariffs and taxes and led to the confiscation of land values. He attacked the prevailing tariffs as a hidden tax on labor, "the producer of all wealth"; as conducive to "corruption, evasion and false swearing"; as antagonistic to "improvements in transportation and labor-saving devices." In brief, "the restrictions which protection urges us to impose upon ourselves are about as well calculated to promote national prosperity as ligatures, that would impede the circulation of the blood, would be to promote bodily health and comfort." Protection, moreover, could not be of more than temporary benefit to any class of producers except monopolists because of the fact that competition within a country tended to keep profits to a common level.

George asserted that the principle of free trade derived from the right of each man to the full produce of his labor. Consequently, to insure this right, free trade required "the sweeping away of all tariffs … the abolition of all indirect taxes of whatever kind … as well [as] all direct taxes on things that are the produce of labor." There remained only the taxes on ostentation and land values. To justify the land tax George reiterated the ethical argument for the common ownership of land.

Property in land is as indefensible as property in man. It is so absurdly impolitic, so outrageously unjust, so flagrantly subversive of the true right of property, that it can only be instituted by force and maintained by confounding m the popular mind the distinction between property in land and property in things that ate the result of labor.

George was opposed, however, to the nationalization of land. He believed that " all men have equal rights to the use and enjoyment of the elements provided by Nature," and that any form of communism must interfere with these rights. He criticized the socialists for not thinking the matter through -- asserting that their views were "a high-purposed but incoherent mixture of truth and fallacy." To him any dependence on government for the insurance of justice and equality was shortsighted so long as mankind was dominated by greed and force.

All schemes for securing equality in the conditions of men by placing the distribution of wealth in the hands of government have the fatal defect of beginning at the wrong end. They presuppose pure government; but it is not government that makes society; it is society that makes government; and until there is something like substantial equality in the distribution of wealth, we cannot expect pure government.

In 1886 George was invited by the united labor unions of New York to become their candidate for mayor. He had not thought of entering politics, and had made definite plans for a lecture tour and for the publication of a weekly journal of opinion; but when the labor leaders, who hoped to capitalize on his popularity, met his stipulation by obtaining thirty thousand bona fide signatures, he decided to enter the campaign. To a friend he wrote: "If I do go into the fight, the campaign will bring the land question into practical politics and do more to popularize its discussion than years of writing would do."

It was the first election in New York to be fought on social issues. George gave no quarter and attacked his rivals with all his forensic power, speaking as often as twelve and fourteen times daily. His opponents, Abram S. Hewitt and young Theodore Roosevelt, took full advantage of the fact that he was backed by radical groups and asserted that the horrors of the French Terror would seem mild in comparison with the hell that would be let loose by George's election. The Catholic hierarchy likewise opposed his candidacy and brought about the excommunication of the Rev. Edward McGlynn when he insisted on speaking in George's favor. When the votes were counted, Tammany emerged victorious -- but only because its henchmen had thrown many George ballots into the East River. George himself was gratified by his large vote and believed that the land question had become a political issue. His position in the campaign was well stated by his eldest son:

Rather than a seeker for office, he was a man with a mission, preaching the way to cast out involuntary poverty from civilization. Rather than a politician ready to pare away and compromise, he pressed straight for equality and freedom, and in a breath-taking way struck at the ignorant prejudices of his own followers as sharply as at those of his fiercest antagonists.

Several days after the election he spoke encouragingly to a large gathering of his followers. "It is not the end of the campaign," he assured them, "but the beginning. We have fought the first skirmish." The following year he ran as candidate for Secretary of State and campaigned across the state with unabated zeal. But his unwillingness to compromise alienated the socialists and brought about the disruption of the tenuously united labor party. The final vote for George was disappointingly small, and both the candidate and his labor backers decided they had had enough of politics.

Immediately after the mayoralty election George began to organize the staff for his long-projected weekly newspaper, The Standard, and employed such experienced journalists as William T. Croasdale and Louis F. Post. The first issue appeared on January 8, 1887, and because it was devoted to the flagrant case of Father McGlynn it achieved a circulation of 75,000 copies; subsequently it maintained a level of about 25,000 copies. During its five years of existence The Standard was very actively concerned with the reforms of the day. George's pungent editorials put him in the forefront of political journalism. The weekly also sponsored and devoted much space to the Anti-Poverty Society, which was headed by Father McGlynn and which aimed to spread the doctrine that "God has made ample provision for the need of all" and that poverty is caused by man-made laws: In 1890, however, shortly after his return from a triumphant but exhausting tour of Australia by way of Europe, George suffered a mild stroke. Thereafter the periodical declined, and in August 1892 it ceased publication.

A sojourn in Bermuda helped George to recover at least the appearance of health. He at Once began to work on a book that would round out his principles of political economy and establish his doctrine on a philosophical foundation firm enough to withstand all the assaults of his academic opponents. The following remark in a letter written on April 28, 1891 suggests that, despite his insistence to the contrary, he was very sensitive to their criticism: "How persistent is the manner in which the professors and those who esteem themselves the learned class ignore and slur me; but I am not conscious of any other feeling about it than that of a certain curiosity."

As was the case with his two other major works, he interrupted his efforts on his new book in order to attend to controversial matters of more immediate importance. Pope Leo XIII's encyclical letter on "The Condition of Labor," while criticizing all radical means of improving the lot of labor, appeared to George to aim its shafts particularly at the theories of land reform. His reply, extending to about 25,000 words, politely and modestly analyzed the Pope's fallacious reasoning and reaffirmed the sound Christian basis of his own doctrine. He submitted that, because the essence of religion was equality before God, "the social question is at bottom a religious question." Consequently his economic remedy was offered "not as a cunning device of human ingenuity, but as a conforming of human regulation to the will of God." He also elaborated upon the justness and advantages of the tax on land values. And, while he joined tie Pope in condemning the "forcible communism" of the socialists, he asserted that in his view "voluntary communism might be the highest possible state of which man can conceive."

George's vehement attack on Herbert Spencer was occasioned by the latter's presumed apostasy from the views on the land question which he had expressed in Social Statics. This book, published in 1850, was one of the seminal studies of the nature of property in land. George had come upon it at the time when he was first struggling with the problem, and its forceful logic had helped him to formulate his conclusions. George sent Spencer a copy of Progress and Poverty, but received no acknowledgment. Two years later, when they met in London, Spencer's defense of the Irish landlords irritated the American. Then came the controversy between Spencer and his critics in which the author of Social Statics virtually repudiated his own book and merely confused the issue by his effort to differentiate between absolute and relative ethics. This was followed by a new edition of the book, with the disputed chapter on land entirely omitted and the sections on property revised to accord with the author's later views. Since this recantation was not accompanied by an offer of new evidence but rested upon a re-interpretation of the original premise, George concluded that his one-time mentor had committed intellectual treason.

A Perplexed Philosopher, published in 1892, while bitter and almost scurrilous in the sections dealing with Spencer's apostasy, presents an incisive review of the latter's treatment of the land problem and a critical analysis of synthetic philosophy. By way of illustration George reiterated his own belief in Jeffersonian democracy.

The sphere of government begins where the freedom of competition ends, since in no other way can equal liberty be assured. But within this line I have always opposed governmental interference. I have been an active, consistent and absolute free trader, and an opponent of all schemes that would limit the freedom of the individual. I have been a stauncher denier of the assumption of the right of society to the possessions of each member, and a clearer and more resolute upholder of the rights of property than has Mr. Spencer. I have opposed every proposition to help the poor at the expense of the rich.

However, while he held "the rights of property to be absolute," he insisted that land values lacked the rights inherent in the produce of labor. As a concrete example of this distinction he pointed out that "if the population and business of London could be transported to a newly risen island in the Antipodes, land there would become as valuable as land in London now; and that, though all improvements were to be left behind, the value of land in London would disappear." Since land values were created by society and not by individual labor, the inequity arising from the individual ownership of land might be removed without doing violence to the rights of legitimate property.

So far from the destruction of those spurious and injurious rights of property which have wound around the useful rights of property, like choking weeds around a fruitful vine, being calculated to injure that respect for property on which wealth and prosperity and civilization depend, the reverse is the case.

These interruptions over, George returned to his work on The Science vf Political Economy, which he did not live to complete and which his eldest son edited and published in 1898. His primary aim was to "put the ideas embodied in Progress and Poverty in the setting of a complete economic treatise, and without controversy." He wanted to relate the science of political economy to all human activity, to make dear the principles deriving from nature and affecting the life of man. He began with the familiar axiom that "men seek to gratify their desires with the least exertion," and broadened it into a fundamental law:

This disposition of men to seek the satisfaction of their desires with the minimum of exertion is so universal and unfailing that it constitutes one of those invariable sequences that we denominate laws of nature, and from which we may safely reason. It is this law of nature that is the fundamental law of political economy.

From this central principle he developed the scientific structure of our modern economic society into which he fitted every aspect of economic life. He restated and amplified his views on the nature of land and labor, wealth and capital, production and distribution. He stressed "the distinction between the productive power derived wholly from nature, for which its term is land, and the productive power derived from human exertion, for which its term is labor." Value was determined by labor but measured by effective demand; "thus it is not exchangeability that gives value, but value that gives exchangeability." Wealth he defined as "the embodiment or storage in material form of action aiming at the satisfaction of desire, so that this action obtains a certain permanence." Capital "is but a part of wealth, differing from other wealth only in its use, which is not to satisfy desire, but indirectly to satisfy desire, by associating in the production of other wealth." Consequently wages were paid not out of capital but out of the product of labor, arid interest became the wages of capital. Production was obtained by means of adapting, growing, and exchanging -- their importance being in the order given. "Production and distribution are in fact not separate things, but two mentally distinguishable parts of one thing -- the exertion of human labor in the satisfaction of human desire." Money he defined as the common medium of exchange used in any time and place.

From the point of view of the rising generation of economists, who stressed data and facts rather than standards and values, the book was out of date before it was published. They therefore ignored it in their teaching and thus prevented it from exerting any influence on the subsequent development of economic theory. Despite this neglect, however, the work remains a milestone in American economic thought. It was the most ambitious undertaking attempted by an American up to that time and it towers as a contribution1 to the understanding of how men make their living. For George did not limit himself to the mechanics of economic activity, but sought to discover the causes of social maladjustments as well as their remedy -- the establishment of equality and justice as the guiding principles of society. It was indeed this prophetic vision plus his remarkable ability as a writer of lucid prose that, all his limitations notwithstanding, give his major books the stamp of greatness.

In 1897, while devoting to his writing all the time that his precarious health would permit, he again received a call to become candidate for mayor of New York City, this time from the "Party of Thomas Jefferson." The appeal of duty was irresistible. He knew that the liberal groups had no other man around whom they could unite, and he could not fail them. Nor was he unaware of the stimulus his election would give to the cause to which he had devoted his life. When the doctors warned him that the rigors of the campaign would probably prove fatal, he answered: "How could I do better than die serving humanity? Besides, so dying will do more for the cause than anything I am likely to be able to do in the rest of my life." For a while the excitement of the campaign seemed to invigorate him, but after three weeks of strenuous exertion he began to show signs of collapse. On October 28, five days before the election, he found himself unable to go on after his fourth speech. Fatigued and overworked, he died that night of a stroke of apoplexy.

New York was genuinely shocked by the tragedy. For the moment the election was forgotten. The loss of one of its greatest citizens completely overshadowed the normal activities of the metropolis. More than a hundred thousand mourners filed past George's bier, and an equal number, unable to enter the building, crowded the streets near by. A vast funeral procession followed the body to the City Hall and across Brooklyn Bridge to the cemetery. No other private citizen had ever received greater tribute from his fellow New Yorkers.

There are a number of things about Henry George's land doctrine with which one might disagree. Essentially, any social remedy that depends upon a single factor is almost certain to fail. While the tax on land values might have been of paramount importance in an agrarian economy, in a more complex society it can be considered only in association with other factors. One may doubt whether the common ownership of land can by itself give man the full produce of his labor in a monopolistic industrial society. For it is hardly true that the landlord now victimizes both the laborer and the capitalist; the latter himself is frequently a landlord and is, in any event, too powerful for anyone's exploitation. Thus a Henry Ford or a Du Pont is neither subject to the landlord's exaction nor at the mercy of a tax on land values. In this respect Karl Marx was more realistic in regarding ground rent as merely "a portion of the surplus value produced by industrial capital."

In considering the practicality of the single tax one must take into account tie nature of the opposition. While George justified his remedy on moral grounds -- at least to the satisfaction of his admirers -- he disregarded the powerful opposition of the wealthy landlords and made little effort to mollify the small farmer who could not help fearing a confiscatory tax on the means of his livelihood. This shortcoming becomes all the more glaring when it is remembered that, although the farmers a half-century ago were a far more potent element of our population than the urban laborers, George concentrated his attention upon the grievous lot of the latter group.

It is not at all strange to find the professional economists disdaining George's land doctrine as the teaching of an untrained and confused layman. Even the more liberal insisted that economics was, like all sciences, descriptive and correlative and not normative and evaluative. In their view his reliance on the old, classical theory invalidated his writings. Certain aspects of his economic thought are no doubt open to criticism and have been dealt with by some of his discerning disciples. Yet his work taken as a whole places him in the very forefront of American economic thinkers. His system of political economy is, for all its flaws and "unscientific" emphasis, an original and positive formulation of a body of principles which has been condemned as a whole or in part by a number of the keenest academic minds but invalidated by none. And while the remedy of the single tax has failed to make its impress upon society, the philosophy underlying it has withstood the attacks of the acutest critics.

George's greatness, however, lies not in his originality as a political economist but in the combination of broad social vision with a passionate concern for the welfare of mankind. The love of liberty and equality spurred him to probe deeply into the causes of poverty and to discover the means for its alleviation. He had the opportunity to see, in the words of George Bernard Shaw, "in a single lifetime the growth of the whole tragedy of civilization from the primitive first clearing," and the creative intelligence to make use of this experience in arriving at a true understanding of the nature of society. He perceived that "the poverty which in the midst of abundance pinches and imbrutes men, and the manifold evils which flow from it, spring from a denial of justice"; that the source of poverty lies in the private monopoly of land; that economic equality was the essential criterion of true progress. He therefore preached that men

must have liberty to avail themselves of the opportunities and means of life; they must stand on equal terms with reference to the bounty of nature. Either this, or Liberty withdraws her light! Either this, or darkness conies on, and the very forces that progress has evolved turn to powers that work destruction. This is the universal law. This is the lesson of the centuries. Unless its foundations be laid in justice, the social structure cannot stand.

These are the words of a prophet. And his voice in behalf of righteousness rang out around the world, and many men blessed him while others scorned him. He became the protagonist of the rights of man -- his one lapse in connection with the Haymarket anarchists was caused by misunderstanding -- and he fought for them with all his mind and all his heart. John Dewey no doubt had in mind this combination of prophetic vision and passionate crusading when he stated: "It is the thorough fusion of insight into actual facts and forces, with recognition of their bearing upon what makes human life worth living, that constitutes Henry George one of the world's great social philosophers."