Henry George by Elbert Hubbard

Story type: Essay

The more you study this question, the more you will see that the true law of social life is the law of love, and law of liberty, the law of each for all and all for each; that the golden rule of morals is also the golden rule of the science of wealth; that the highest expressions of religious truth include the widest generalizations of political economy.

—Henry George

Henry George died in Eighteen Hundred Ninety-seven. Nearly twenty years have passed since men heard his voice, looked on his strong, lithe, active form, saw the gleam of his honest eyes, and felt the presence of a man–a man who wanted nothing and gave everything–a man who gave himself. Twenty years!

And in those years the world has experienced, and is now passing through, a peaceful revolution such as men have never before seen. Those years have given us a new science of religion; a new education; a new penology; a new healing art; a new method in commerce.

The wisdom of honesty as a business asset is nowhere questioned, and the clergy has ceased to call upon men to prepare for death. We are preparing to live, and the way we are preparing to live is by living.

The remedy Henry George prescribed for economic ills was as simple as it was new, and new things and simple things are ever looked on as objectionable. The universality of conservatism proves that it must have its use and purpose in the eternal order. It keeps us from going too fast; it prevents us from bringing about changes for which mankind is not prepared. Nature’s methods are evolutionary, not revolutionary.

Slaves can not be made free by edict. Moses led his people out of only one kind of captivity, and in the wilderness they wandered in bondage still. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation did not free the colored race, because it is the law of God that he who would be free must free himself. A servile people are slaves by habit, and habit is the only fetter. Freedom, like happiness, is a condition of mind. A whining, complaining, pinching, pilfering class that listens for the whistle, watches the clock, that works only when under the menacing eye of the boss, and stands in eternal fear of the blue envelope here, and perdition hereafter, can never be made free by legislative enactment. Freedom can not be granted, any more than education can be imparted: both must be achieved, or we yammer forever without the pale. A simple, strong and honest people is free. People enslaved by superstition and ruled by the dead have work at filing fetters ahead of them, which only they themselves can do. Henry George did not realize this, and his strength lay in the fact that he did not. He did not know when men get the crook out of their backs, the hinges out of their knees, and the cringe out of their souls, that then they are free. Slaves place in the hands of tyrants all the power that tyrants possess. Fortunate it was for Henry George, and for the world, that he did not know that any man who labors to help the workingman will be mobbed by the proletariat for his pains a little later on. Monarchies maybe ungrateful, but their attitude is a sweet perfume compared to the ingratitude of the laborer. He can be helped only by stealth, and his freedom must come from within. The moral weakness of man is the one thing that makes tyranny possible.

Tyranny is a condition in the heart of serfs. Tyrants tyrannize only over people of a certain cast of mind. Tyrants are men who have stolen power–convicts who have wrested guns from their guards. Watch them, and in a little while they will again shift places. Henry George was a very great man: great in his economic, prophetic insight; great in his faith, his hope, his love. He gave his message to the world, and passed on, scourged, depressed, undone, because the world did not accept the truths he voiced. Yet all for which he strived and struggled will yet come true–his prayer will be answered. And the political parties and the men who in his life opposed him are now adopting his opinions, quoting his reasons, and in time will bring about the changes he advocated. Of all modern prophets and reformers, Henry George is the only one whose arguments are absolutely unanswerable and whose forecast was sure.

* * * * *

Henry George was that rare, peculiar and strange thing–an honest man. Whether he had genius or not we can not say, since genius has never been defined twice alike, nor put in the alembic and resolved into its constituent parts. All accounts go to show that from very childhood Henry George was singularly direct and true. His ancestry was Welsh, Scotch and English in about equal proportions, and the traits of the middle class were his, even to a theological sturdiness that robbed his mind of most of its humor. Reformers must needs be color-blind, otherwise they would never get their work done–they see red or purple and nothing else. Born in Philadelphia in Eighteen Hundred Thirty- nine, on Tenth Street, below Pine, in a house still standing, and which should be marked with a bronze plate, but is not, Henry George took on a good many of the moral traits of his Quaker neighbors. His father was a clerk in the Custom-House, having graduated from a position as sea-captain on account of an excess of caution and a taste for penmanship. Later the good man went into the publishing business, backed by the Episcopal Church, and issued Sunday-School leaflets, sermons and prayer-books. In fact, he became the official printer of the denomination. With him was a man named Appleton, who finally went over to New York and started in on his own account, founding the firm of D. Appleton and Company, which forty years thereafter was to publish to the world a book called, “Progress and Poverty.”

The worthy father of Henry George was a good Churchman, but not a businessman. He bought the things he ought not, and left unsold the things he should have worked off. He didn’t know the value of time. Other people did things while he was getting ready to commence to begin.

And so the whirligig of time sent him back to his desk at the Custom- House, on a salary so modest that it meant poverty, and progress crab- fashion.

The children old enough to work got jobs, and Henry of the red hair and freckles found a place as printer’s devil at two dollars a week. College was out of the question, and Girard Institute was regarded as infidelic. However, episcopacy did not have quite so strong a hold on this household as it once had. The Georges believed in freedom and took William Lloyd Garrison’s paper, “The Liberator,” and the mother read it aloud by the light of a penny dip. Next came “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” and when, in Eighteen Hundred Fifty-six, the Republican Party was born, the George family, father, mother and children, all had pronounced views on the subject of human rights–very different views from those held by the royal Georges of England. When Henry George was sixteen, the restlessness of coming manhood found expression, and he shipped before the mast and sailed away to the Antipodes. The boy had the small, compact form, the physical activity and the daring which make a first-class sailor, but happily his brain was too full of ideas to transform him into a dog of the sea.

A trip to Australia, with salt pork all the time, sea-biscuit every day, lobscouse on Sundays, plum-duff once a month, and a total absence of mental stimulus, cured him of the idea that freedom was to be found on the bounding wave and the rolling deep.

At seventeen he was back at the case, setting type and getting a man’s pay because he was able to “rastle the dic.,” which means that he was on familiar terms with the dictionary and could correct proof.

See also  Crowned Heads by P G Wodehouse

Education is a matter of desire, and the printer’s case with bad copy to revise is better than “English Twenty-two” at Harvard. Henry George moused nights at the Quaker Apprentices’ Library, and he also read Franklin’s “Autobiography”; his mind was full of Poor Richard maxims, which he sprinkled through his diary; but best of all, with seven other printers he formed another “Junta,” and they met twice a week to discuss “poetry, economics and Mormonism.” It was very sophomoric, of course, but boys of eighteen who study anything and defend it in essays and orations are right out on the highway which leads to superiority. The trouble with the ‘prentice is that he does not know how to spend his evenings; the love of leisure and the wish for a good time cause the moments to slip past him, out of his reach forever, out into the great ocean of time.

Life is a sequence–the logical, farseeing mind is a cumulative consequence. Men who are wise at forty were not idle at twenty. “Read anything half an hour a day, and in ten years you will be learned,” says Emerson.

Henry George worked and read, and the “Junta” gave him the first taste of that intoxicating thing, thinking on one’s feet. We grow by expression, and never really know a thing until we tell it to somebody else. Henry George was getting an education, getting it in the only way any one ever can, or has, or does–getting it by doing.

But the wanderlust was again at work; California was calling–the land of miracle–and printer’s ink began to pall. Henry George was a sailor; every part of a sailing ship was to him familiar–from bilge- water to pennant, from bowsprit to sternpost. He could swab the mainmast, reef the topsail in a squall, preside in the cook’s-galley, or if the mate were drunk and the captain ashore he could take charge of the ship, put for open sea and ride out the storm by scudding before the wind.

Ships in need of sailors were lying in the offing. When young Henry George took a walk it was always along the docks. He knew every ship there in the Delaware, and visited with the sailormen, who told of the happenings in far-off climes. News from California much interested him; California was another America, hopelessly separated from us by an impassable range of forbidding mountains, reinforced with desert plains, peopled only by hostile savages. But the sea was an open highway to this land of enchantment. California called! And finally Henry George overcame temptation by succumbing to it, and sailed away southward in the staunch little ship “Shubrick,” bound for the modern Eldorado by way of Cape Horn. It was a six months’ passage, with many stops and much trading, and time that seem lifted out of the calendar and thrown away. Henry George arrived in California penniless. But he had health and a willingness to work. He became a farmhand, a tramp pedler, a laborer shoveling gravel into a sluice-way and standing all day knee-deep in water. It was all good, for it taught the youth that life was life; and wherever you go you carry your mental and spiritual assets, as well as your cares, on the crupper. Then there came a job in the composing-room of a newspaper, and the life-work of Henry George was really begun, for his employers had discovered that he could “rastle the dic.,” and if copy were scarce he could create it.

* * * * *

The gold-fever got into the blood of Henry George, and his savings became a shining mark for the mining-shark. A thousand men lose money at mining where one strikes pay-gravel. Henry George was one of the thousand.

He got good wages and boarded at the best hotel in San Francisco, the “What Cheer House.” This storied hostelry was owned by a man named Woodward, who had a few ideas of his own. Woodward not only hated Rum, Romanism and Rebellion, but also women. Woodward was a confirmed bachelor, having been confirmed by a lady bachelor in some dark, mysterious way, years before. So no woman was allowed either to stop at the hotel or to work in it. The labor was done by Chinese, and Henry George wrote home to his sisters, describing the place as an immaculate conception.

Next to the fact that no women were allowed in the “What Cheer House,” was the further more astounding proposition that the place was run on absolutely temperance principles, thus, for the time at least, silencing that hoary adage of the genus wiseacre that no hotel can succeed without a bar. Woodward became rich, and from the proceeds of his temperance hotel founded Woodward Gardens–a park beloved by all who know their San Francisco.

The third peculiar thing about this hotel was that it had a library of a thousand volumes.

It was the only public library in San Francisco at that time, and it was the books that led Henry George to spend twice as much for board as he otherwise would have done.

While Henry George was at the “What Cheer House,” an English traveler added a volume to the little library, Buckle’s “History of Civilization.” Woodward tried to read the book, but failing to become interested in it, between serving the soup and the fish, handed it to a waiter saying, “Here, give it to that red-headed printer; he can get something out of it if anybody can.” Henry George took the book to his room, and that night sat reading it until two o’clock in the morning. That statement of Buckle’s, “Adam Smith’s ‘Wealth of Nations’ has influenced civilization more profoundly than any other book ever written, save none,” caught the young printer’s attention.

The next day he looked in the library for the “Wealth of Nations,” and sure enough, it was there! He began to read. He read and reread. And whether Buckle’s statement is correct or not, this holds: Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” influenced Henry George more profoundly than any other book he had ever read.

Henry George was not yet immune from the gold-fever microbe, and several times was lured away into the mountains, “grubstaking” a man with hope plus and secrets as to gold-bearing quartz that would paralyze the world.

When twenty-one we find our young man one of six printers who bought out the “Evening Journal.” Henry George was foreman of the composing- room, but took a hand anywhere and everywhere. A curious comment on the business acumen of the “Journal” men lies in their agreement that all should have an equal voice in the policy of the paper. Hence we infer that all were equally ignorant of the stern fact that in business nothing succeeds but one-man power. So the “Journal” went drifting on the rocks in financial foggy weather and the hungry waves devoured her.

When Fate desires a great success she sends her chosen one failure. Henry George at twenty-two was ragged, in debt–and also in love. The “What Cheer House” was all right for a man getting good wages, but when you go into business for yourself it is different, and George found board with a private family.

The lady in the case was Miss Fox, ward and niece of the landlord with whom the impecunious printer boarded.

Annie Fox and our printer read Dana’s “Household Book of Poetry,” with heads close together.

The inevitable happened–they decided to pool their poverty in the interests of progress. To ask the landlord for his blessing seemed out of the question, in view of the fact that the printer was two weeks behind in his board. The girl had the proverbial clothes on her back.

Matthew McClosky, the uncle, was a good deal of a man. He showed his shrewdness and appreciation of the present order by buying a large tract of land near the city, and grew rich on the unearned increment. Had his niece and the printer confided in him they might have shared in his prosperity, in which case “Progress and Poverty” would never have been written.

See also  Sir Humphry Davy’s Greatest Discovery, Michael Faraday by Orison Swett Marden

It was the memorable year of Eighteen Hundred Sixty-one. The heart of Henry George was with the Union–he had decided to enlist. He told the girl so behind the kitchen-door. Her answer was a flood of tears, and a call to arms. The result was that the next night the couple stole out, and made their way to a Methodist parsonage, where they were married.

Henry George was nominally a member of the Methodist Church, but the creed of Thomas Paine was more to his liking–“The world is my country; mankind are my friends; to do good is my religion.” The young lady was a Catholic, and so the preacher compromised by reading the Episcopal service. The only witnesses were the minister’s wife and Henry George’s chum, Isaac Trump. “I didn’t catch your friend’s name,” said the minister in filling out the marriage-certificate.

“I. Trump,” was the reply.

“I observe you do,” was the answer; “but oblige me with the gentleman’s name.”

There are three great epochs in life–birth, death, marriage. The first two named you can not avoid. Since life is a sequence, no one can say what would have happened had not this or that occurred. Mrs. George proved an honest, earnest, helpful wife. Her conservatism curbed the restless spirit of her husband and gave his mind time to ripen, for until his marriage the ideals of the French Revolution were strong in his heart. He saw the evils of life and was intent on changing them. The Catholic faith is an elastic one, both esoteric and exoteric, and those who are able can take the poetic view of dogma instead of the literal, if they prefer. Henry George and his wife took the spiritual or symbolic view, and moved steadily forward in the middle of the road. He was too gentle and considerate to quote Voltaire and Rousseau at inopportune times, and she sustained and encouraged his mental independence. All of which is here voiced with one foot on the soft pedal, and with no thought of putting forth an argument to the effect that young gentlemen with liberal views should marry ladies who belong to the Catholic persuasion.

The day after his marriage the bridegroom found work in a printery at twelve dollars a week, and thus was the pivotal point safely rounded.

* * * * *

Here was a man absolutely honest, with no bad habits, industrious and economical, but lacking in that peculiar something which spells success. The type is not rare. One trouble was that our Henry George stuck to no one place long enough to make himself a necessity. Men of half his ability made twice as much money.

The days went by, and Henry George wrote to Trump, “I am advance-agent for the stork.” Now storks bring love and hope–and care, and anxious days and sleepless nights. Henry George’s domestic affairs had steadied his bark, and while his relatives in Philadelphia thought he carried an excess of Romish ballast, it was all for the best. He read, studied, thought, and wanting little his mind did not list either to port or to starboard.

Henry George had graduated from the case into the editorial room. He worked on all the newspapers, by turn, in San Francisco and Sacramento, and had come to be regarded as one of the strongest editorial writers on the Coast. The business office was beyond his province, and as a newspaper was a business venture, and is run neither to educate the public nor for the proprietor’s health, the manager did not look upon Henry George as exactly “safe.” And hence the reason is plain why George was regarded as a sectional bookcase and not as a fixture.

At thirty he had evolved to a point where the New York “Tribune” asked him to write a signed editorial for them on the Chinese question. Then he wrote for the “Overland Monthly”; and when a great literary light came to San Francisco to appear on the lyceum stage, Henry George was asked to introduce him to the audience, especially if the man was believed to have heresy secreted on his person, in which case of course the local clergy took no risks of contamination, not being immune.

On the occasion of the death of a certain tramp printer, whose name is now lost to us in the hell-box of time, no clergyman being found to perform the service, Henry George officiated, and preached a sermon which rang through the city like a trumpet-call, extolling not what the man was, but what he might have been.

This custom of the laity taking charge of funerals still exists in the West, to a degree not known, say, in New England, where in certain localities people are not considered legally dead unless both an orthodox doctor and an orthodox preacher officiate.

The very poor, and the outcasts of society, in San Francisco began to look upon Henry George as the Bishop of Outsiders. Often he was called upon to go and visit the stricken, the sick and the dying. And there was a kind of poetic fitness in all this, for the man possessed that superior type of moral and intellectual fiber which makes a great physician or an excellent priest–he could “minister.” And it was only division of labor that separated the offices of doctor and priest, and actually they are and should be one.

In Sacramento now lives a successful merchant, a Jew by birth, and a man of great grace of spirit, who has this superior, spiritual quality which makes his services sought after, and in response to demand he goes all over the State saying the last words over the dust of those who in their lives had lost faith in the established order, or had too much faith in God.

After his thirty-sixth year Henry George slipped by natural process into this semi-religious order–a priest after the order of Melchizedek. He was spokesman for those who had no social standing, a voice for the voiceless, a friend to the friendless, even those who were not friends to themselves.

But at thirty-seven he was up on the mountain-side where he saw to a distance that very few men could. He felt his own dignity and knew his worth. The president of the University of California, recognizing his ability as a thinker and speaker, asked him to give a course of lectures on economics.

He gave one–this was all they could digest.

California colleges have had a lot of trouble with economics–it has been a theme more fraught for them with danger than theology. How Californians make their money and how they spend it is a topic which in handling requires great subtlety of intellect, a fine delicacy of expression and much diplomacy, otherwise twenty-three petards!

Here is a passage from Henry George’s lecture before the University of California:

For the study of political economy you need no special knowledge, no extensive library, no costly laboratory. You do not even need textbooks or teachers if you will but think for yourselves. All that you need is care in reducing complex phenomena to their elements, in distinguishing the essential from the accidental, and in applying the simple laws of human action with which you are familiar. Take nobody’s opinion for granted; “try all things; hold fast to that which is good.” In this way, the opinions of others will help you by their suggestions, elucidations and corrections; otherwise they will be to you as words to a parrot.

All this array of professors, all this paraphernalia of learning, can not educate a man. They can but help him educate himself. Here you may obtain the tools; but they will be useful to him only 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 out but learned fools, crammed with knowledge which they can not 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.

See also  Rue Barree by Robert W Chambers

California is a land of extremes–everything grows big and fast, especially ideas. No country ever saw such wealth and such poverty side by side. The mansions on Nob Hill were so grand that their magnificence discouraged the owners and abashed visitors; at receptions, a keg of beer on a sawbuck in the kitchen and champagne in a washtub, with ham sandwiches in a bushel basket, were all that could be assimilated. And yet past the high iron gates of these palaces prowled want–gaunt, hungry and menacing.

Land was never so cheap nor so dear as it has been in California. We gave a railroad-company twenty-five thousand acres of land for every mile of track it built, and for years a dollar an acre was the ruling price at which you could buy to your limit. And yet there were at the same time little half-acres for which men pushed a hundred thousand dollars in gold-dust over the counter and then crowed about their bargain.

Henry George studied economics at first hand. The dignified frappe which he received in way of honorarium for his university lecture had its advantages. People in San Francisco wanted to hear what the editor had to say as well as to read his utterances. He was invited to give the Fourth of July oration at the Grand Opera House–a very great compliment.

Henry George was a reformer, and reformers have but one theme, and that theme is Liberty. We grow by expression. There is no doubt that the university lecture and the Fourth of July oration added cubits to the stature of Henry George. In these two addresses we find the kernel of his philosophy–a kernel that was to germinate into a mighty tree which would extend its welcoming shade to travelers for many a decade yet to come.

* * * * *

Like every other great book (or great man), “Progress and Poverty” was an accident–a providential accident. The book was ten years in the incubation. It began with a newspaper editorial in Eighteen Hundred Sixty-nine, and found form in a volume of five hundred pages in Eighteen Hundred Seventy-nine.

The editorial merely called attention to the fact that California, in spite of her vast wealth, was peopled, for the most part, with people desperately poor; and that ground in the vicinity of any city, town or place of enterprise was held at so exorbitant a figure that the poor were actually enslaved by the men who owned the land. That is to say, the men who owned the land controlled the people who had to live on it, for man is a land animal, and can not live apart from land, any more than fishes can live at a distance from water. And moreover we tax for the improvements on land, thus really placing a penalty on enterprise.

The article attracted attention, and opened the eyes of one man at least–and that was the man who wrote it. He had written better than he knew; and any writer who does not occasionally surprise himself does not write well.

Henry George had surprised himself, and he wrote another editorial to explain the first. These editorials extended themselves into a series, and hand-polished and sandpapered, were reprinted in pamphlet form in Eighteen Hundred Seventy-one, under the title of “Our Land Policy.” The temerity which prompted the printing of this pamphlet was evolved through a letter from John Stuart Mill. Henry George knew he was right in his conclusions, but he felt that he needed the corroboration of a great mind that had grappled with abstruse problems; so he sent one of his editorials to Mill, the greatest living intellect of his time.

Mill showed his interest by replying in a long letter, wherein he addressed George as a man with a mind equal to his own, not as a sophomore trying his wings.

The letter from Mill was to him a white milepost. The corroboration gave him courage, confidence, poise.

The thousand copies of the pamphlet cost Henry George seventy-five dollars. The retail price was twenty-five cents each. Twenty-one copies were sold. The rest were given away to good people who promised to read them. Pamphlets are for the pamphleteer, but let the fact here be recorded that new ideas have always been issued at the author’s expense–and also risk. Martin Luther, Dean Swift, John Milton, Paine, Voltaire, Sam Adams were all pamphleteers. The early Colonial “broadsides” were pamphlets issued by men with thoughts plus, and all of the men just named fired inky volleys which proved to be shots heard ’round the world.

As the years passed, Henry George was gathering gear; he was getting an education. Providence was preparing him for his work. All he expressed by tongue or pen had land, labor, production and distribution in mind. He was getting acquainted with every phase of the subject–anticipating the objections, meeting the objectors, opening up side-paths.

And so, in Eighteen Hundred Seventy-eight, when he sat down to write a magazine article on “Our Government Land Policy,” the air was full of reasons. Soon the article stretched itself beyond magazine length, and in order to cover the theme he set down headings:

1 Wages
2 Capital
3 Division of Labor
4 Population
5 Subsistence
6 Rent
7 Interest
8 The Remedy for Unequal Distribution

He wrote all one night–wrote in a fever. The next day his pulse got back to normal, and on talking the matter over with his wife he decided to begin it all over and work his philosophy up into a book, writing as he could, only one or two hours a day.

He was absolutely without capital, dependent on his income from space- writing in the daily newspapers, but he began and the work grew.

It was all done on “stolen time,” to use the phrase of Macaulay, and therefore vital, for things done because you have to do them–done to get rid of them–contain the red corpuscle.

On March Twenty-second, Eighteen Hundred Seventy-nine, the precious bundle of manuscript was shipped to D. Appleton and Company, New York, with instructions that if the work was not accepted, to hold subject to the author’s order.

In six weeks came a letter from the Appletons, gracious, complimentary, “but”–in fact, no work on political economy had ever sold sufficiently either to make money for the author or to pay the bare cost of the book to the publisher.

Here was a dampener, and if Henry George had been a trifle more astute in the laws of literary supply and demand, he could and would have anticipated the result, even in spite of the natural prejudice which an author always feels for the offspring of his brain.

A letter was now sent Thomas George, the author’s brother, in Philadelphia, requesting him to go over to New York and find a market for the wares.

Thomas had the work passed on by the Harpers, by Scribner, and all “much regretted.”

The next thing was to interest Professor Swinton and several New York friends, and have them go in a body and storm the castle of Barabbas. The committee called on D. Appleton and Company, and again laid the case before them.

Finally the publishers agreed that if the author would advance money for the electrotype-plates, they would undertake the publication.

But alas, the author was in the proverbial author’s condition. On the offer being laid before Henry George by mail, he replied that he could make the electrotype-plates himself. He was a typesetter and he had friends who would give him the use of their printing-outfits. The offer was satisfactory to the Appletons, provided Professor Swinton would agree to take on his own account a hundred copies of the work on suspicion.

The Professor agreed. And the manuscript was sent back to San Francisco, a trifle dog-eared and the worse for five months’ wear.

See also  The Suspected Man by James Runciman

The author began his typesetting with the same diligence that he had brought to bear in the writing. This was stolen time, too. He worked an hour in the morning and two hours at night. Other printers offered to help, and a genial, bum electrotyper, damnably cheerful, offered to come in and lend a hand, provided Henry George would agree to give a funeral oration over the derelict one’s grave at the proper time. Henry George gleefully agreed.

So the work of making the electrotype-plates moved on apace. In the meantime some of Henry George’s political friends had interviewed the Governor and Henry George was made inspector of gas-meters, at fifteen hundred dollars a year.

It was four months’ work to make the plates, but early in the year Eighteen Hundred Eighty they were shipped to New York, a few proofs of the book being taken, stitched up and sent out for review.

So far as we know, there was no one in California able to read the book and intelligently review it. Leastwise they never did.

The Appletons, however, gradually awoke to the fact that they had a prize, and they made efforts to get the work into right reviewing hands. Better still, they began to inquire about what manner of man Henry George was.

Next they wrote to the author suggesting that, if he would come to New York and personally present his views, it would help in the sale of the books.

Fortunately Henry George was not hampered by the ownership of real estate, nor an excess of personal property, so he hastily packed up, transportation having been secured by John Russell Young, a capitalist who had faith in his genius from the first.

Henry George arrived in New York penniless, but Professor Swinton, E. L. Youmans (that excellent blind man of great insight), John Russell Young and the Appletons gave him a rich reception.

The tide had turned.

* * * * *

Henry George received all the recognition that any thinker and writer could desire, from August, Eighteen Hundred Eighty, to the day of his death, October Twenty-eighth, Eighteen Hundred Ninety-seven. Men might not agree with him in his conclusions, but few indeed dare meet him in a duel of argument, either by pen or upon the public platform.

He spoke in churches, halls and private parlors. His newspaper and magazine articles commanded a price. He met the greatest minds of America and of Europe on an equal footing.

In England his book was having a sale far beyond what it had met with at home.

And when he spoke in London and the chief cities of Great Britain, the halls were packed to suffocation. He appealed to the Messianic instinct of English workingmen, and they hailed him as the coming man –their deliverer. They stripped doors from their hinges and carried him aloft upon the improvised platform. They unhitched the horses from his carriage and drew him through the streets in triumphal state. This all meant little–it was only campaign exuberance–the glare and flare of smoky kerosene-torches, and the blare of brass.

Henry George was right in the same class with Spencer, Huxley, Tyndall and John Stuart Mills, none of whom, happily, was a college man, and therefore all were free from the handicap of dead learning and ossified opinion, and saw things as if they were new. Ignorance is a very necessary equipment in doing a great and sublime work that is to eclipse anything heretofore performed.

The mind of Henry George was a flower of slow growth. At thirty-seven he was just reaching mental manhood. According to all reasonable tables of expectancy, he should have rivaled Humboldt and been in his prime at eighty. His brain was the brain of Ricardo; but instead of sticking to his boos, he got caught in the swirl of politics, and was matched up with the cheap, the selfish, the grasping. The people who snatched Henry George out of his proper sphere as a thinker, writer and lecturer, and flung him into the turmoil of practical politics, were of exactly the class who would, if they could, have a little later ridden him on a rail.

It was all a little like that speech of a man in Indianapolis who nominated James Whitcomb Riley for the Presidency of the United States. The mob diluted the thought of Henry George and trod his proud and honest heart into the mire.

Had he been elected mayor of New York, he could have done little or nothing for reform, for a mayor has only the power delegated to him by the ward boss and the genus heeler. Beyond this he can merely apply the emergency-brake by the use of the veto.

Henry George was a racehorse hitched by spoilsmen to an overloaded jaunting-car with a drunken driver, bound for Donnybrook Fair.

And soon men said he was dead.

* * * * *

The logic of Henry George’s book and its literary style are so insistent that it has been studied closely by economists of note in every country on the globe. Its argument has never been answered, and those who have sought to combat it have rested their case on the assertion that Henry George was a theorist and a dreamer, and so far as practical affairs were concerned was a failure. With equal logic we might brand the Christian religion as a failure because its founder was not a personal success, either in his social status or as a political leader.

Gradually the thinking men of the world, the statesmen and the doers, are beholding the fact that mankind is an organism, and that a country is only as rich as its poorest citizen; that an athlete with Bright’s disease is not worth as much to humanity as a small, lively and healthy boy of ten with cheek of tan and freckles to spare. Health comes from right living, and living without useful effort is only existence.

People living on the pavement or in sky-scrapers soon degenerate.

Man can not thrive apart from land. Abject poverty is found only in great cities, where population is huddled like worms in a knot.

The highest average of intelligence, happiness and prosperity is found in villages, where each family owns its home, and the renter is the rare exception.

The word “renter” we used Out West as a term of contempt. The ownership of an acre of land gives a sense of security which religion can not bestow. God’s acre, with vegetables, fruits, flowers, a cow and poultry, places a family beyond the reach of famine, even if not of avarice. Moreover, this single acre means sound sleep, good digestion and resultant good thoughts, all from digging in the dirt and mixing with the elements. “All wealth comes from the soil,” says Adam Smith, and he might have added, man himself comes from the soil and is brother to the trees and the flowers. Men can no more live apart from land than can the grass. The ownership of a very small plot of ground steadies life, lends ballast to existence, and is a bond given to society for good behavior.

“I am no longer an anarchist–I have bought a lot and am building a house,” a Russian refugee advised his restless colleagues at home, when they wrote, asking him for quotations on dynamite.

It is obvious and easy to say that the people who make city slums possible do not want to own houses and would not live upon land and improve it, if they could.

The worst about this statement is that it is true. They are so sunken in fear, superstition and indifference that they lack the squirrel’s thrift in providing a home and laying in a stock of provisions; they are even without the ground-hog’s ambition to burrow. They are too sodden to know what they are missing, and are lacking in the imagination which pictures a better condition.

They are like those pigmy bondsmen who work in the cotton-mills of the South–yellow, gaunt, too dead to weep, too hopeless to laugh, too pained to feel.

See also  Bush Cats by Henry Lawson

From these creatures and creators of slums it is absurd to talk of gratitude for the offer of betterment. People who expect gratitude do not deserve it. Neither can the slumsters by force be placed on land and be expected to till it. A generation, at least, will be required to work a change, and this change will come through educating the children–through the kindergarten and the kindergarten methods–and most of all through school-gardens. The so-called “back districts” are fast being annihilated, for quick transportation is bringing city and country close together. The time is coming, and shortly, too, when a fare of one cent a mile will be the universal rule, and a mile a minute will not be regarded as an unusual speed.

Now here is something which Henry George did not say, and if he knew was too diplomatic to mention: The reason the people have not had possession of the land is because they did not want it. The ownership of the land you need to use comes in answer to prayer–and prayer is the soul’s desire, uttered or unexpressed. The will of the people is supreme. If fraud and rascality exist in high places, it is because we elect rascals to office.

The will of the people is supreme. When we cease toadying to brainless nabobs, and quit imitating them as soon as we get the money, we will be on the road to reformation. As it is, most poor people are just itching to live as the rich do. The average servant-girl who gets married quits work then and there, and is quite content to live the rest of her life as a slave, asking her husband for a quarter at a time and cajoling the money out of him by hook or crook, or else explorating his trousers for free coinage when opportunity offers. Fresh air is free, but the average individual does not know it; and neither would this same person use land if it were given him. Freedom is a condition of mind.

Yet apart from the “submerged tenth” is a very large class of people to whom land and a home would be a positive paradise, and who are simply forced into flats and tenements on account of present economic conditions: the land is monopolized, and held by men who neither improve it themselves nor will they allow others to. Then hold it awaiting a rise in value.

This increase in value is not on account of anything the owner may do –in fact, he is usually an absentee and does nothing. The increase comes from the enterprise and thrift of people for whom the owner has no interest, beyond contempt.

If these enterprising people who do the work of the world–making the things the world needs–want more land for their business or for homes, they have to pay the absentee for the increased value which they themselves have brought about. When you beautify and enrich the value of your own lot by improving it, you are making it impossible to buy the vacant lot next to you without bankruptcy.

Moreover, you are taxed by the State for any improvement you make on your land, and this taxation on improvements must of necessity tend toward discouragement of improvement. It is really a surer way to make money, to hang on to land and do nothing, than to improve it.

The remedy proposed by Henry George is simply the Single Tax, and this tax to be on land values and not on improvements.

That is to say, with the Single Tax, the man who owns the vacant lot covered with briars and brambles would pay the same tax that you pay on your lot next door upon which you have built a house, barn and conservatory and planted trees and flowers.

The immediate tendency of this policy would be to cause the gentleman who owned the vacant lot devoted to cockleburs to put up on it a sign, “For Sale Cheap.”

Even the opponents of the Single Tax agree that its inauguration would at once throw on the market a vast acreage of unimproved land, and that is just the one reason why they oppose it. All those thousands of acres held by estates, trustees and idle heirs, in the vicinity of Boston, Philadelphia and up the Hudson, would be for sale.

The single tax would give the land back to the people, or at least make it possible for people who want it to get what they could use. Those who have the desire to improve land, and improve themselves by improving it, would no longer be blocked.

The fresh blood of the country which makes the enterprise of cities possible comes from the boys and the girls who warmed their feet on October mornings where the cows lay down; who have been brought up to work on land, to plant and hoe and harvest and look after livestock. This is all education, and very necessary education. “A sand-pile and dirt in which to dig is the divine right of every child,” says Judge Lindsey.

And if it is the divine right of a child to dig in the dirt, why isn’t it the divine right of the grown-up? It is, and would be so recognized were it not for the fact that we have been obsessed by a fallacy called “the divine right of property.” This idea has come down to us from the Reign of the Barons, when a dozen men owned all of England, and plain and unlettered people could not legally own a foot of land. All paid tribute to the Barons, who were actually and literally robbers.

We will grant of course that what a man produces and creates is his, but the land to which he may be legal heir and which probably he has never seen, and which certainly he does not use or improve, is his only through a legal fiction. When the matter of legal fiction was explained to Colonel Bumble and he was told that legally a husband knew the whereabouts of his wife, because the law regarded a man and wife as one, Colonel Bumble replied with acerbity, “The law is a hass.”

Comparatively few people have the courage of Colonel Bumble, so they do not express themselves; but the commonsense of the world is now coming to believe that the law was made for man, and not man for the law.

The only people who oppose the single tax are the holders of land who are hanging on to it expecting to grow rich through inertia.

The problem of civilization is to eliminate the parasite. The idle person is no better than a dead one and takes up more room. The man who lives on the labor of others is a menace to himself and to society.

The taxes necessary to support the government should be paid by those who have the funds wherewith to be idle; no longer should the chief burden fall on the home-maker.

Tax the land, and the man who owns it will have to make it productive by labor, or else get out and allow some one else to have a chance.

Do not drive the landlords out–tax them out.

Let the land gravitate to the people who have the disposition and the ability to improve it–and that is just what the Single Tax will do. So this, then, is the philosophy of Henry George.

Leave a Reply 0

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *