MANAGING EDITOR AND CORRESPONDENT
1866-1869 AGE, 27-30
Noah Brooks, who in later years has become best known in the East as the author of "Washington in Lincoln's Time," tales of the early California days, and juvenile stories, had been chief editorial writer. He now became editor, with William Bausman and N.S. Treadwell as editorial writers. O.B. Turrell was foreman of the composing room and was very friendly to George. Indeed, he next to McClatchy had encouraged the young printer to think of advancement, and now suggested that he submit an article to the new editor. Noah Brooks tells of his side of this transaction:
As reporter of the "Times," Henry George earned $30 a week; later, as editorial writer, $35 a week; and as managing editor, from the beginning of June, 1867, $50 a week. An incident about this time showed his great tenderness for his wife. One evening word was brought that his wife, who was expecting her third child, had fallen down-stairs. The husband ran most of the way home. The doctor feared consequences. But the medicine he gave was effective, for the patient by midnight grew quiet and fell asleep. Her husband, half leaning on one elbow, half bending over her, reclined beside her intently watching, all his clothes on and with hat in hand, ready at the first unfavourable symptom to spring up and run for the physician. When the grey streaks of dawn came, four hours afterwards, the wife awoke, greatly refreshed, to find her husband with unchanged position and tense eyes regarding her. When she spoke of this he simply said that all had depended on her sleeping. The wife fully recovered from the shock, and the child, born three months later, came into the world strong and sound of body and mind, and named Jennie Teresa, after its father's dead sister and its mother's living sister, grew up into beautiful womanhood.
Henry George became managing editor of the "Times" in the beginning of June, 1867, under the chief-editorship of Dr. Gunn, well known in San Francisco political affairs in that day, and who had bought into the paper. George retained the position of managing editor until he left the paper on August 12, 1868. During the interval, besides the regular office work, he was conducting occasional correspondence with the Hawaiian "Gazette" and other newspapers, so that his income was much larger than ever before in his life. Moreover, his work was telling, making him friends and extending his influence.
But more important than anything else during the "Times" period was the preparation he was going through for his life work. This related to style in writing and development in thinking. While his style always had been free and natural, he had from the beginning aimed at compactness, and it was to the necessity of re-writing news articles and compressing them into condensed items while he was sub-editor on the "Times," that, when reviewing his life, he said he had obtained valuable practice in terse statement. The development in thought was manifested in editorials on the larger questions of the day, such as free trade, government paper money and interconvertible bonds in place of national bank notes; personal or proportional representation; public obligations attached to public franchises; and the abolition of privilege in the army.
But perhaps the most important advance in thought appeared in an article entitled "What the Railroad Will Bring Us" in the "Overland Monthly" in October, 1868, just after Mr. George left the "Times." That San Francisco periodical was then in its fourth number, having started in July of that year, and was edited by Bret Harte, who, with two of its contributors, Mark Twain and Joaquin Miller, constituted "The Incomparable Three" of lighter literature in California. Noah Brooks was one of the assistant editors and numbered in the long list of bright, original writers who made the pages of the magazine, like those of the "Californian" which had preceded it, of exceptional brilliance – the more undoubted since most of the writers were new, and all wrote anonymously. The "Overland" as originally cast did not last very long, but long enough to call the world's attention to Bret Harte's "Heathen Chinee," and other productions.
"What the Railroad Will Bring Us" was a forecast of the era of California which the operation of the then almost completed trans-continental railroad would usher in – adding enormous artificial advantages to the already great natural advantages that San Francisco possessed, and laying foundations for her rapid rise to a commercial and intellectual greatness that should not only make her mistress of all the coasts washed by the vast Pacific, but, indeed, as to population, wealth and power, cause her eventually to overtake and surpass New York and London, and make her the greatest city in the world. But, as if reverting to the question that had arisen in his mind years before when, sitting in the theatre gallery, he saw the advent of the railroad pictured on the new drop curtain – the author asked, would California, with her great population and wealth, and culture, and power, have so even a distribution of wealth as in her earlier, pioneer days? Would she show so much general comfort and so little squalor and misery? Would there then be so large a proportion of full, true men?
For this "Overland" article, seven thousand words in length, Henry George received $40. To many who have knowledge of California's progress during the past three decades a remarkable feature about the article is the prophecy of hard social conditions which have since enveloped the masses and checked – and almost stopped – the State's growth. But to others its political economy is a still more remarkable feature. For though there is in the article what he subsequently may have called a confusion of what is rent with what is interest, there is in the tracing of high wages and high interest in California to the fact that the "natural wealth of the country was not yet monopolised – that great opportunities were open to all" – a distinct foreshadowing of that formulation of the laws of wages and interest which ten years later, in "Progress and Poverty," he put in these terms – that "wages depend upon the margin of production, or upon the produce which labour can obtain at the highest point of natural productiveness open to it without the payment of rent"; and that "the relation between wages and interest is determined by the average power of increase which attaches to capital from its use in reproductive modes – as rent rises, interest will fall as wages fall, or will be determined by the margin of cultivation."
In August, 1868, Henry George left the "Times." He had asked for an increase in salary. This not being granted, he withdrew, though on good terms with and at the convenience of the management. While continuing to send remittances home, he had been able by economy during the stretch of prosperity to save a little money and to open a bank account. He now resolved to carry out the long-cherished plan of going to Philadelphia, and he sent his family East under escort of his brother, John Vallance George, who had come to California three months before – Henry George intending himself to follow as soon as opportunity permitted.
Just then Mr. George was invited by Charles DeYoung to help him develop a morning newspaper from the "Dramatic Chronicle." He was engaged to be managing editor, and at his suggestion, DeYoung made John Timmins foreman – the same John Timmins who was foreman in the Sacramento "Union" office in 1864 and had discharged George. But Mr. George's connection with the "Chronicle" lasted only a few weeks, as he disliked DeYoung's policy.
The success of the San Francisco "Times" in breaking into the press telegraph monopoly had encouraged the starting of other papers, of which the "Chronicle" was one and the San Francisco "Herald" another. There were not many important Democratic papers in the State and John Nugent's idea was to establish a good one by reviving the San Francisco "Herald," and he engaged Henry George to go to New York and try to get the paper admitted to the Associated Press, or if that should be refused, to establish there a special news service for the paper. Charged with this commission, the young man about the beginning of December started East on the overland and stage route.
He went first to his old home in Philadelphia where he found father and mother, sisters and brothers, as well as wife and children eager to welcome him. After a short season there, he engaged John Hasson, one of his boyhood friends, to go in with him, and then went to New York and made formal application for access of the San Francisco "Herald" to the Associated Press news service. Writing early in January (1869) to Charles A. Sumner, managing editor of the paper, he said:
Before the "Herald" business had advanced far, the active and courageous spirit of the young man manifested itself by a signed letter in the "New York Tribune" (March 5) attacking two of the great corporations in California – the Central Pacific Railroad and the Wells, Fargo Express, the former for its excessive charges; the latter for reckless treatment of the newspaper mails in the stage-coach intervals on the plains between the yet incompleted Union Pacific and Central Pacific lines. As to the Central Pacific Railroad he said:
But returning to the San Francisco "Herald," the Board of Directors of the Associated Press, after many vexatious delays, refused its service to that paper, and an independent service had to be made up. Concluding that Philadelphia would suit their purpose better than New York, Henry George and John Hasson opened their press bureau in a little coal office occupied at the time by Henry George's father, on Third Street, almost opposite St. Paul's church. Here they collected by wire from various sources their news, and dressing it to fit their California requirements, putting as much as possible in a prearranged cipher, to save expense, telegraphed it by the Western Union Company, which controlled the only route to San Francisco, at a rate fixed by a clear agreement and based upon a schedule adopted before any news war was in sight. In exchange for the full credit, access was given to the "New York Herald's" special despatches, and in this and other ways a good news service was supplied; so much better, indeed, than that which the Associated Press papers in California received that they made a great commotion inside the association, and that body urged the Western Union Telegraph Company to interfere. The latter hesitated to do so directly, but on the ground of interference with the rules, refused to allow the use of the cipher code or to receive the service from Philadelphia; and then finding that the agent of the California paper at once moved to New York and continued the service, the company took summary action by giving short notice of a new schedule of rates, which in effect increased the San Francisco "Herald's" charges, while it reduced those of the Association. The "Herald's" agent vigorously protested and was invited to call upon Vice-President McAlpine of the Western Union. In a letter of April 21, to John Nugent, the San Francisco "Herald's" owner, Henry George recounts what occurred:
But John Nugent at this crisis was as silent as the grave and gave no instructions. Indeed, he cannot be said to have given any instructions at any time since his paper started, except to get the news as cheaply as possible. The New York agent was left to act entirely upon his own responsibility. And it might have been supposed that having done all that was possible for his paper, he would consult self-interest and avoid aggressiveness, for otherwise he ran the risk of embittering all the papers in the California Associated Press against him and of winning the active and lasting hostility of the great telegraph company. But what he had in mind could be realised only by aggressive action. He wished to make the subject of telegraph service a political question. In other words, this unknown newspaper correspondent from the far Pacific Coast, unbacked by even his own struggling little newspaper, had chosen, like David, to go out and contend with the gigantic telegraph Goliath. What added to the daring of the performance was that the Associated Press people were circulating the report that the San Francisco "Herald" was on its last legs, which the silence to his private despatches seemed to confirm. But counting costs no more now than when two months before he had in the "New York Tribune" openly attacked the California railroad and express corporations, he held to his resolution to strike publicly at the Western Union. He sent his printed protest out to such of the newspapers in New York and other cities in the East as he thought would notice it, and also to Senator Sprague of Rhode Island with a letter, because of his antimonopoly views; and to the California representatives in Congress – at the same time writing to his friend Sumner, the managing editor of the San Francisco "Herald": "You will hear thunder all around the sky notwithstanding the influence of the Western Union and the Associated Press."
The "New York Herald" was about the only newspaper of influence that published the protest, and whether or not the Western Union directors cared about it, the axe fell, and the San Francisco "Herald's" telegraph news service, so long as that paper could continue to struggle on, had to be reduced to a mere skeleton.
Almost from the beginning John Nugent had been slow to make remittances, and now nearly a thousand dollars was due in New York on salaries and rent and other bills. Confident that he could be of no further use to the paper there, and leaving John Hasson as New York agent, Henry George went to Philadelphia, took leave of his family and relatives, and on May 20 started west over the Erie railroad for California. Under a contract through John Russell Young, its managing editor, he wrote several letters for the "New York Tribune," descriptive of the new transcontinental railroad, and the country through which the road passed. But though paid for, none of these articles were published, for John Russell Young left the paper soon after Mr. George had left New York, and Whitelaw Reid, succeeding as managing editor, not only withheld them, but annulled the contract, to which Mr. George, not wishing to put Mr. Young at the slightest disadvantage for his act of friendship, made no further objection than a mild and formal dissent.