THE LAST BOOKS
1891-1896 AGE, 52-57
This was the "primer" that he had mentioned to Charles Nordhoff before leaving California in 1879. In answer to the pressing calls of Richard McGhee and other British friends, who believed they could get such a book into some of the schools there, he planned in the summer of 1889 to go straight at it and to publish by the fall. But other things crowded in to exclude this. Now, however, when he returned from Bermuda, August Lewis and Tom L. Johnson confirmed his judgment that he should withdraw altogether from "The Standard." And to this end they voluntarily, and "without suggestion or thought" from him, assured him that they would regard it as their best contribution to the cause to be allowed for a season to make him independent, so that he might, if he judged that to be best, devote himself to book-writing, such as only he was qualified to do. Subsequently dedicating "The Science of Political Economy" to his two friends, he made open acknowledgment of this in the inscription.
But almost at the outset of work on the proposed primer Mr. George realised the difficulty of making a simple statement of the principles of political economy – the real, everlasting political economy – while so much confusion existed as to the meaning of terms in the literature relating to the science. He therefore changed his plan, left the primer for an after labour and laid out at once a much larger work – one that should recast political economy and examine and explicate terminology as well as principles, and which, beginning at the beginning, should trace the rise and partial development of the science in the hands of its founders a century ago, and then show its gradual emasculation and at last abandonment by its professed teachers; accompanying this with an account of the extension of the science outside and independently of the schools in the philosophy of the natural order now spreading over the world under the name of the single tax.
"Progress and Poverty" was "an inquiry into the cause of industrial depressions and of increase of want with increase of wealth." This new book, as it broadened out, became far more ambitious in scope. It purposed to define the science that names the conditions in which civilised men shall get their living. No writer on political economy had ever before set himself so great a task; indeed, no writer ever before had assumed that he understood the full relations of the science, Adam Smith's immortal work being "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations," and the most authoritative recent work, that of John Stuart Mill, being a treatise on the "Principles of Political Economy." To Henry George's view, none of the economists, from Smith to Mill, realised the correlation of the laws of production or likewise those of distribution. But though he believed he himself saw clearly and felt that he could prove his reasoning, he nevertheless hesitated to give his book the name its scope seemed to warrant until the writing was nearing its completion, a few months before his death. Then he definitely decided on the title which in his judgment the book should justly have – "The Science of Political Economy." But scarcely had the enlarged plan of work begun to take shape in the spring of 1891 when a remarkable interruption occurred. No less a personage than Pope Leo XIII. entered the controversy on the land question, addressing an encyclical letter "to our venerable brethren, all patriarchs, primates, archbishops and bishops of the Catholic world." The encyclical was on "The Condition of Labour," and while there was a confusion of socialism and anarchism with the single tax, and neither Henry George nor the single tax proposition were specifically named, yet Archbishop Corrigan of New York hailed the papal letter as the highest sanction of his own opposition to the single tax doctrine as preached by Dr. McGlynn and Henry George. In London, Cardinal Manning told Mr. George's eldest son, who chanced to be there, that the Pope's letter aimed at the Henry George teachings; although he intimated that between the postulates and the deduction Henry George could drive a coach and four. Mr. George wrote to his son: "For my part, I regard the encyclical letter as aimed at us, and at us alone, almost.
And I feel very much encouraged by the honour." he later wrote (June 9): "I think I ought to write something about it. Of course the Pope's letter itself is very weak; but to reply to him might give an opportunity of explaining our principles to many people who know little or nothing about them."
But this was not the trifling matter that Mr. George at first purposed to make of it; for the reply, which took the form of an open letter to the Pope, grew in his hands, as his writing usually did. It was not finished until September, and comprised twenty-five thousand words; twice as many as the encyclical, which he printed with it. He had intended also to publish Bishop Nulty's pastoral letter with it, but concluded that that would make the volume too bulky. He wrote to his son (August 21): "I think I have done a good piece of work and that it will be useful and will attract attention.... What I have really aimed at is to make a clear, brief explanation of our principles; to show their religious character, and to draw a line between us and the socialists. I have written really for such men as Cardinal Manning, General Booth and religious-minded men of all creeds."
The book was published simultaneously in New York (United States Book Company) and London (Swan Sonnenschein & Company) and at the same time an Italian translation by Ludovico Eusebio was brought out in Turin and Rome by the Unione Tipografico-Editrice, publishers of the Italian translation of "Progress and Poverty," which Sr. Eusebio had made a year or two before. A copy of the translation of the "Letter to the Pope," beautifully printed and handsomely bound, was presented to Leo XIII. personally by Monsignor Caprini, Prefect of the Vatican Library, though Mr. George never received, directly or indirectly, aught in reply.
Mr. Walker of Birmingham voiced the feelings of the multitude of friends everywhere who had been shocked at the news of Mr. George's illness and had had lingering fears of impaired powers. "The great charm of the book to me," wrote Walker, "was that the work revealed you in all your old intellectual vigour and showed in every paragraph that you had recovered all your mental powers, for which, most reverently I say, thank God!"
But the little book did not start the large immediate discussion that its author expected, and he relapsed into a feeling he had entertained before the papal encyclical had appeared and which he had expressed in a letter (May 18) to a New Church friend, James E. Mills: "How sad it is to see a church in all its branches offering men stones instead of bread, and thistles instead of figs. From Protestant preachers to Pope, avowed teachers of Christianity are with few exceptions preaching almsgiving or socialism, and ignoring the simple remedy of justice." George at times had regrets that he had stopped work on his political economy to make reply to the Pope, but many of the friends thought the latter writing could ill have been spared on account of its brevity and exalted religious tone. After three editions had been exhausted in England, James C. Durant, of London, who had joined Mr. George in bringing out the sixpenny edition of "Progress and Poverty" in 1882, himself paid for a special edition of the "Open Letter to the Pope" for free circulation. Subsequently in the United States this little book became a favourite in propaganda work.
As has been pointed out many times, the essence of Henry George's economics is ethical – the natural order, justice. It carries with it a profound belief in an All-maker; it pulses with the conviction of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. When, therefore, Herbert Spencer, goaded by a hot controversy raised in the British newspapers and periodicals over his early "Social Statics" (quoted by single taxers in support of single tax principles) made a recantation of his former sentiments on the land question and repudiated the principle he had put in such clear and unqualified terms that God had made the land for all the people equally, Mr. George was stirred to the depths. To his mind Spencer's offence was not merely that of a philosopher who attempted to explain away and shiftingly deny what before he had asserted to be a fundamental, obvious and everlasting truth, but that with his later philosophy, he had allowed materialism to take the place of God. Moreover, three magazine articles in denial of "natural rights," written in the materialistic vein, had appeared in 1890 from the pen of Professor Thomas H. Huxley, and the chief postulates of "Progress and Poverty" were probably to the eminent scientist's belief overthrown. George wrote to Taylor at the time (September 16, 1890): "I suppose you read Huxley's 'Nineteenth Century' articles. What do you think of him as a philosopher? I am itching to get at him, and will, as soon as I can get a little leisure." It was early in the new year (1892) that George again laid aside work on his political economy and took up Spencer. And he took the opportunity to include Huxley, picturing him in passing as "Professor Bullhead" in the allegorical chapter entitled "Principal Brown."
All of Mr. George's immediate friends who learned of his intention to write on Spencer were greatly pleased; and remembering his achievements in his "Letter to the Pope" and his preceding reply to the Duke of Argyll, they prepared themselves for an intellectual treat. But some of the friends were alarmed when told that he would incidentally touch on the synthetic philosophy. Dr. Taylor, whom Mr. George called "of old my representative of Spencerianism," thought that George ought to "leave any review of the Spencerian system of philosophy to those who are in that special field and who have had special training for such work." Continuing he said: "In your own particular field, I am satisfied you are invincible; but I should not feel so sure of you in metaphysics, philosophy or cosmogony. Remember that life is short, and the powers of the human mind limited, and that you have not yet produced (what you should produce) a monumental work on political economy."
George thanked Taylor for his frank counsel, which he took to be "the strongest proof of friendship." But there was no change of position. George wrote of the harshness of his tone towards Spencer and of his views on evolution in successive letters.
April 18, 1892
"As for the philosophy, I think I take a truer view of it than you do. It is substantially the view I took in 'Progress and Poverty'; but it has been fortified by a closer examination. John Fiske does not truly represent Spencerianism, but has grafted his own ideas on it. So too, I think, with Professor LeConte – or rather that he holds what I should call the external of evolution, with which I do not quarrel; for though I do not see the weight of the evidence with which it is asserted, it seems to me most reasonable. What I do quarrel with is the essential materialism of the Spencerian ideas; and this seems to me to inhere in them in spite of all Spencer's denials."
"I simply don't see evolution from the animal as the form in which man has come. I don't deny it, and as I said in a sentence I hardly think you noticed, I attach no importance to the question. All I contend for is something behind the form."
The book, bearing title of "A Perplexed Philosopher," was out in October (1892). But while it was widely and well read, it awakened no general demonstration in press or periodicals and the author had the same kind of misgivings that immediately followed in the wake of the "Letter to the Pope" – misgivings that he had misused his time in not keeping along with the political economy. Even while writing the Spencer book (in April, 1892) he wrote incidentally to Dr. Taylor: "Several times since beginning it, I have thought that perhaps it would have been better to have pushed ahead with other work." Spencer himself never directly or indirectly during George's life noticed the tremendous indictment, and "A Perplexed Philosopher" was the sole one of the George books that, for many years at any rate, was not translated into other languages. Whatever may have been the reason of the comparative non-success of this book, it could not have been that Henry George's name had lost its potency, for about this time occurred what must stand out as remarkable in the history of economic literature.
Tom L. Johnson of Cleveland, O., following the advice given by Mr. George at their first interview in 1885, had gone into politics, run for Congress as a free trade, single tax Democrat in 1888, had been defeated, had run again in 1890 in the same way and been elected. The Democrats were in power in the House of Representatives at Washington and brought forward a timid little tariff-reducing bill. Mr. Johnson conceived the idea of getting Henry George's "Protection or Free Trade?" into the "Congressional Record," the official report of the proceedings of Congress. "Protection or Free Trade?" had up to then had an extremely wide circulation, first in serial form in a number of newspapers, then in regular book form, and afterwards in cheap, popular form, through the efforts of educating groups known as "Hand to Hand Clubs," of which William J. Atkinson of New York and Logan Carlisle, son of John G. Carlisle, then United States Senator from Kentucky, were the prime movers, and through whose efforts close to two hundred thousand copies had been put into circulation.
Tom L. Johnson now determined to exceed this. Under a "leave to print" rule, members of the House of Representatives had long been accustomed to publish speeches that limited time for debate prevented them from delivering, or to publish extensive supplementary printed matter to their delivered "remarks." But as the issue of the "Congressional Record" was necessarily limited, members invariably reprinted matter from the "Record" to send to their constituents or whoever else in the United States they chose. This printing they themselves had to pay for; but they had the privilege of sending out such matter free through the mails, under the "franking privilege." It was a time-honoured custom for members in this way to send a great quantity of reprinted "Congressional Record" matter into their districts, especially preceding congressional or presidential elections.
Acting upon this "leave to print" privilege, Mr. Johnson, with Mr. George's hearty approval, divided "Protection or Free Trade?" between himself and five other congressmen, namely, William J. Stone of Kentucky, Joseph E. Washington of Tennessee, John W. Fithian of Illinois, Thomas Bowman of Iowa and Jerry Simpson of Kansas. Each man on a separate day introduced his section of the book as a "part of his remarks" in the tariff debate. The Republican minority beheld this performance with astonishment. They wanted to expunge the work from the "Record" on the ground that an entire book had never before been so published. That it was not the "abuse" of the "leave to print" privilege, but that particular book which they opposed, became clear, when after having motions to expunge voted down, they endeavoured to offset the effect of the Henry George book by themselves inserting in the "Record" a book by George Gunton defending monopolies, though there was not afterwards enough call for the Gunton book to pay the cost of reprinting it outside the "Record."
The Republicans then tried to make capital out of the incident by charging the Democrats with going headlong into the free trade heresy and making Henry George, with his single tax doctrine, their political prophet. But the Democrats, delighted to find something that made their political adversaries cry out, and not over-particular as to whether or not this book was consistent with their own professed principles and policy, showed something resembling enthusiasm in circulating the enormous edition of the work that Mr. Johnson had printed. The Republican press all over the country took up and increased the outcries of the Republican Congressmen, with the misrepresentation, perhaps unintentional, that the work was being printed at public expense; while the Democratic press defended the action of the Democratic Congressmen and to some extent defended the book itself; so that the entire country was for the time turned into debating clubs, with "Protection or Free Trade?" for the subject matter.
Nothing could have better suited Mr. Johnson's purpose. He had the book printed compactly in large quantities at the rate of five-eighths of a cent a copy. The great advertising the Republican and Democratic papers had given it made an immense demand for what was known colloquially in the House as "St. George," even stalwart Republicans from the State of Pennsylvania being pestered for copies. Many congressmen sent large numbers of the book into their districts, and Mr. Johnson himself sent two hundred thousand copies into the State of Ohio. The National Democratic Committee had seventy thousand copies distributed in Indiana and the Reform Club of New York, which was active in anti-tariff educational work, placed one hundred and fifty thousand in the north west. In all more than one million two hundred thousand copies of this edition of "St. George" were printed and distributed, and perhaps as much as two hundred thousand copies of a better, two-cent edition; so that of this single book by Henry George almost two million copies were printed within less than eight years after being written – something never approached by any other work in economic literature save by the incomparable "Progress and Poverty," which with its many translations may have exceeded that number of copies.
The expense of printing "St. George" was met partly by small popular contributions from free traders and single taxers scattered about the country; partly by larger sums from men like Thomas G. Shearman of New York, James E. Mills of California, Thomas F. Walker and Silas M. Burroughs of England; and partly by money from the National Democratic committee and the Reform Club of New York. But the chief expense was borne by Tom L. Johnson. Of course there was no thought of copyright in all this, Mr. George invariably sacrificing that when it would appreciably help the circulation of his writings. He looked to the propagation of the faith above everything else.
It was during this period, or more precisely, on the last day of August, 1892, that "The Standard" succumbed to the inevitable, and ceased publication. After William T. Croasdale's death, Louis F. Post had by general request taken editorial control. But the paper kept running behind and became too much of a financial burden longer to carry, as what Mr. George said in a signed statement in the last number had become more and more evident.
"Let us say good-bye to it; not as those who mourn, but as those who rejoice. Times change, men pass, but that which is built on truth endures."
The hot and comparatively radical campaign, with most of the Democratic newspapers hammering on the tariff question, made up to some extent for the death of "The Standard"; and then came Grover Cleveland's re-election to the presidency.
All seemed propitious for great events. Henry George wanted no office; he asked only that President Cleveland apply the chief principle involved in his election, and make war on the tariff. But Cleveland's first important official act brought a great disappointment, for he switched issues, by subordinating the tariff to the money question, in calling a special session of Congress to deal with the currency. While it worked directly into the hands of the protectionist faction in the Democratic party, it made the educational work of Johnson and George in circulating "Protection or Free Trade?" go for naught at that time, whatever might result in the future from so great a circulation of this book. And then, when the tariff question was up a year later, George wrote to Johnson (July 24, 1894): "The President's letter to Chairman Wilson of the Ways and Means Committee is very bad. Free raw material is taking the burden off the manufacturers and keeping it on the consumers."
Nevertheless, Mr. George sat in the gallery of the House of Representatives and listened with great happiness to Tom L. Johnson – a steel rail manufacturer – move to put steel rails on the free list and make a fervent free trade speech in support. The moderates in the Democratic party of course could not let such an incident pass. One of them, by voice and pointing finger, called attention of the House to the master in the gallery and the pupil on the floor; whereupon a lot of the more independent Democrats streamed upstairs to shake hands with the man who held no political office, who asked for no political patronage, who said bold things without counting consequences and who had a fascinating, indescribable influence over the thoughts of multitudes.
If Henry George was disappointed in Mr. Cleveland's first actions in this second term of the presidency, he was moved to great hostility to him over the matter of the Chicago railroad strike; when, setting aside State authority, indeed, in spite of the protests of Governor Altgeld, the President sent Federal troops to the scene. Not a New York newspaper opposed the Executive action. Yet ten thousand men, mostly working men, assembled at a mass meeting in and about Cooper Union. Rev. Thomas A. Ducey of St. Leo's Catholic Church, Charles Frederick Adams and James A. Herne the actor, were among the speakers, and spoke effectively and forcibly; while Henry George's speech seemed to hit the target's centre:
And a little later Mr. George became freshly angered against the President for his special message to Congress that threatened war with Great Britain over the Venezuelan boundary dispute. Much as he hated war, George justified it when waged for natural rights – for liberty. But even talk of war between two great and enlightened nations like Great Britain and the United States, especially over what at bottom he believed to be a mere squabble of private parties as to mineral claims, raised the wrath within him, and he made an indignant speech against the President at a mass meeting at Cooper Union.
Henry George's estimation of the President had undergone a great change since he spoke and voted for him in 1892. He wrote in the New York "Journal" on the day before the Presidential election, 1896:
Despite this disappointment, cheer came from other points. Encouraging news of the progress of the single tax idea in political affairs was coining from Australia and New Zealand. Similar good news came from Great Britain. In the House of Commons in March, 1891, James Stuart's motion, that "in the opinion of this House, the freeholders and owners of ground values in the metropolis ought to contribute directly a substantial share of local taxation," had received 123 votes to 149 against; thus showing great strength for the idea. Since then it had been steadily creeping over the country and more and more becoming a leading question in the constituencies. The English Land Restoration League had been conducting, under the management of its able and untiring secretary, Frederick Verinder, a "Red Van" educational campaign – several large vans that afforded two or three speakers living quarters, slowly travelling from village to village, for nightly open-air meetings and the preaching of the faith. William Saunders, Thomas F. Walker, D'Arcy W. Reeve, and S.M. Burroughs were among the contributors towards this work; but the largest individual contribution came from an Englishman in the United States who wished not to be publicly known in the matter.
At home had occurred what must be a landmark in the history of the single tax. Henry George wrote Richard McGhee, of Glasgow (February 13, 1894):
As Henry George surveyed the world from the quiet of his workroom the hand of Providence seemed to show in the rapid progress of the cause, and he set down, in rough abbreviated form, these notes for a preface for "The Science of Political Economy," writing on the sheets the date of March 7, 1894:
Mr. George's purpose was to allow nothing to interfere with the finishing of his "Political Economy," which he looked forward to bringing out in the fall of 1896 or spring of 1897; but the new alignment of national parties drew him from his retirement and once more into the current of politics.
The industrial depression and currency famine that reached its most acute stage in the summer of 1893, dragged along into 1896. Every field of industry in the country had suffered more or less during the protracted depression. Through the West and South the popular belief was that the cause of this lay mainly in an artificial shrinkage of the currency, and the demand now swelled to thundering tones for the remonitisation and free coinage of the silver dollar. In the East, at least among the working men, the tariff-protected trusts, the railroads and other monopolies were denounced as having much to do with the hard times. President Cleveland had no sympathy with any of this, and he added fuel to the fire of strong feeling, for he used his office against what Mr. George, among many others, conceived to be popular rights, and in support of property rights, by protecting and fostering the monopolies, and by making great concessions to the bank and bond powers. And when the election lines were eventually drawn and William McKinley, representing the House of Have, was nominated by the Republican party, and William J. Bryan, at the hands of the radical majority in the Democratic convention, and for the House of Want, became the champion of free silver, anti-monopoly and equal rights, Cleveland openly took the side of the House of Have and directly and indirectly worked for its success.
Since a young man, Henry George had advocated as the best possible money, paper issued by the general Government – paper based on the public credit. He regarded the silver coinage proposal as another form of the protective idea – to raise, artificially, the price of the silver commodity. But economically unsound as he held this principle to be, and expensive as he believed its adoption would prove to those least able to help themselves – the mass of the working population – he thought it greatly preferable to the principle of privilege which the monopolistic powers gathered around the gold, or so-called "sound money" candidate represented. He went to both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions and afterwards travelled over the middle West, writing signed articles to the New York "Journal" as to what he saw and thought. His sympathies were with Bryan in spite of the free silver doctrine; but at first he could see little hope of success. As he travelled, however, he became hopeful and at length confident that Bryan would win.
Tom L. Johnson, Louis F. Post and a great majority of the single taxers shared Mr. George's political views. But there were some who opposed Bryan on account of his free silver doctrine, which they raised above all other considerations. "To make the public understand" their position, they issued a kind of proclamation of their views, and noticeable among the signatures were those of Thomas G. Shearman, William Lloyd Garrison, Louis Prang and August Lewis, which proved the independent relations subsisting between Mr. George and his friends. This surprised Mr. George. His attitude was characteristic. On the day before election he declared in the "Journal" his view of the issue to be, "Shall the Republic Live?"
"Would they not expect to see the reliance of the aristocratic party to be upon an assumed legality and a narrow interpretation of the command, 'Thou shalt not steal'; based not upon God's law, but upon man's law? Is not this true in this case?
"Would they not expect to have every man who stood prominently for freedom denounced as an anarchist, a communist, a repudiator, a dishonest person, who wished to cut down just debts? Is not this so now? Would they not expect to hear predictions of the most dire calamity overwhelming the country if the power to rob the masses was lessened ever so little? Has it not been so in every struggle for greater freedom that they can remember or have ever read of?
"Let me ask them before they vote to consider the matter coolly, as if from a distance in time or space.... Gold and silver are merely the banners under which the rival contestants in this election have ranged themselves. The banks are not really concerned about their legitimate business under any currency. They are struggling for the power of profiting by the issuance of paper money, a function properly and constitutionally belonging to the nation. The railroads are not really concerned about the 'fifty-cent dollar,' either for themselves or their employees. They are concerned about their power of running the Government and making and administering the laws. The trusts and pools and rings are not really concerned about any reduction in the wages of their workmen, but for their own power of robbing the people. The larger business interests have frightened each other, as children do when one Bays, 'Ghost!' Let them frighten no thinking man."
But they did frighten thinking men. For though Bryan received nearly a million more votes than elected Cleveland in 1892, the fear of a commercial panic, of closed factories and reduced wages, with the factors of intimidation and corruption, piled up a still greater vote for McKinley. Mr. George had seen what he believed to be sure signs of Bryan strength and in the "Journal" articles had confidently predicted Bryan's election; so that when the returns on election night showed how he had miscalculated the strength of the opposing elements, he sustained a great shock. "Men will say that I am unreliable," he said with simple frankness to his eldest son as they went home together. And afterwards he said: "This result makes our fight the harder." But early next morning he went to the telegraph office and wired to Bryan a message of congratulation on his splendid fight and of cheer to keep his heart strong for the future.