tv Discussion on Henry George Labor and the Gilded Age CSPAN October 11, 2015 6:37pm-8:01pm EDT
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o'donnell talks about the growing inequality of the 19th century, the gilded age. he explores the role of henry george, an editor and reformer who took up the fight against the separation of classes on behalf of the labor movement. posted thisenter event. >> thank you. host: thank you suzanne, and to the gotham center. i know some of you are saying republican debate or henry george, republican debate, henry george. i'm gratified you chose henry george. hopefully you will be glad that you did. it is a great thrill to come back to new york and come back to the gotham center, a place that i have done other talks with people i have worked with, it's a really wonderful events and particularly wonderful because i finally get to talk about this henry george book. let me jump right in by showing
you a photo, getting a little personal here. but that is me when i started this book. you may be can see i don't look quite a young anymore. i'm a little hairier. the funny thing is just after i decided to write this book, when i was in graduate school, someone mentioned to me the henry george tree in central park, and i said i did not know that. five days later and walking through central park, it's bigger than monaco, a large piece of land. i reached down to tie my shoe, and i tied my shoe next to the henry george tree. i don't believe in cosmic signs, but this was a sign of some sort . we had a camera with us, which is funny. i have been working on this so long that one of my daughters, who is now 25 years old, used
to ask me daddy, when are you going to finish that? have you finished your book on curious george? it's been a bit of an odyssey, i will not tell you the details except that life is what happens when you make firm plans. my first book is now my fourth book, and it is thrilling to have it out. in a strange way, it is a better time for it to have come out. i wouldn't have planned it this way, but it's a better time for it to have come out, because of the relevance of the topic and henry george and these very big questions that are dogging our society right now. i mention it, i will get started about this question about living in the second gilded age. i resist the idea that history repeats itself. i think that is too simplistic and i think that mark twain had it right when he said history doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes. the second gilded age is not a replay of the first, but there is an and go at orion, a reflection of that earlier period. look at these books that have the new gilded age or second gilded age in the titles were subtitles.
these have all come out in recent years, asking this question about are we in a second gilded age, and what does it mean? it's a depressing thought to think we are back in a second gilded age, but their reasons to -- there are reasons to be optimistic and talk about in just a moment. another way i like to talk about henry george, this fastening -- fascinating figure from the 19th century, intimate connection to the present is -- in a lot of ways, he is the thomas picardy of the late 19th century. he came out with a book for harvard university press and told 500,000 copies. they would have been pretty psyched if they sold 50,000. eventually, thomas pickett a is arguing the same point that henry george did, which is extreme inequality of wealth is harmful to growth because it reduces mobility and can lead to political capture by the superrich of our democratic institutions.
so there is a lot to worry about when it comes to inequality. it isn't just that some people have a lot of stuff that other people have less stuff, it has large applications for our society. let's talk about who this guy henry george was. he was born in 1839 through -- to a middle-class, lower middle-class family, a book manufacturing book salesman. george grew up in a fairly large family, reasonably comfortable. a lot of people think because he talked about poverty a lot, he must have grown up in poverty. the experienced poverty in his middle years, fairly extreme. henry george was not a very good student. he left school about the seventh-grade, his parents got fed up with it and steered him into a trade where he would learn the craft of typesetting, which was a great opportunity. so he flourished as a
typesetter, but he was very ambitious and in the middle 1850's, he headed out to california. he is a very ambitious guy who hopes to make it big. he is not sure what, but he has this idea that he is destined for something great. once he gets to california, he is trying things and failing and living hand to mouth and sleeping in barns. experiencing poverty often on, he would succeed at something, and then fail. but the printing trade always guaranteed in some kind of work. it also got him in the door in journalism. so he went from the typesetting room to doing a little bit of spot writing and editing, it -- and he eventually became a very successful editor in california for a whole bunch of different newspapers. he started his own papers and so forth. his life was very tumultuous. even that he got married again -- even though he got married had children, he was doing well and writing on top of the world and then crashed, his newspaper would fail.
he would sell his newspaper, and then that would fall through. there he is, looking at it in his younger years. at age 25 when he is out on the make in california. the one way i like to encapsulate or bring across this kind of rise and fall is emblematic of the boom and bust economy. he has his own boom and bust economy, and he is trying to figure it out. on christmas eve, 1864, he aites in his diary and he is quintessential 19th century man. he believes that he tries it enough and makes good decisions, he is guaranteed to succeed. he's chastising himself being rash, and here is a new year's resolution, determined to cultivate habits and determination, industry and energy, feel that i'm in a bad situation must use my efforts to keep afloat and go ahead. so he is saying i just need to work harder. eventually he will come to the conclusion that people like him
are not failing just because a lack a little oomph. entry with speaking about the landlady and told her i'm unable to pay the rent. that's not a good situation to be in. he is shaped by his own personal background, he is also shaped by the troubling duality of the gilded age. the gilded age is a great metaphor, a great term -- mark twain coins the term. it suggests on the one hand, things look golden, it is a golden age. it is an amazing age of technology and wealth creation, of innovation, of booming cities and so forth. things look great. on the other hand, if you think about a gilded bracelet, if you scratch off the gold, what is underneath is a dark piece of iron, not exciting or amory. -- and enamoring. that is the image of the gilded
age. it has a golden hue, but beneath the surface there are some bad, dangerous things happening. it is an age of optimism. george will take that duality and capture it in the famous phrase, in age of progress and poverty. this is the great problem of the age. we don't want to get ahead of ourselves. let's begin with looking at this idea of progress. how optimistic and upbeat people were in the late 19th century. you can find speeches like this. every presidential address has this kind of talk. every american citizen wisconsin -- must contemplate with the utmost pride and enthusiasm the growth and expansion of our country, the wonderful thrift and enterprise of our people and demonstrate your carefree
government. he is essentially saying free government, free enterprise, everything is great. a few weeks after he gives us this address, the panic sets in, the economy crashes, and it is not so good looking. but his words are really reflective of how people spoke at all kinds of public events and presidential addresses and so forth about how great things were in that area. they are not making it up. take a look at some of these numbers. you are looking at the greatest time of american optimization, the gilded age. at the right hand column you can see the bright red numbers of extraordinary expedition growth and manufactured goods output, take steel for example. it's a boutique industry in 1860, by 1900 is the great representative industry for that era. it's really incredible output. so there is wealth creation, the united states is going to go from the status as a developing
country like brazil is today to the world's most dominant economy. that's just in 40 years. it's a pretty astonishing ride. there's a lot of celebration. in 1866, the atlantic cable is connecting the europe and united states by telegraph. that is a big national celebration, really in some ways equivalent of the landing on the moon. it's an amazing technological breakthrough. it seems primitive to us, but it was a huge breakthrough at the time. so was the transcontinental railroad. that was completed in 1869. a tremendous celebration, way out of the middle of nowhere in utah. it is essentially broadcast 19th-century style by telegraph all across the country. they have a telegraph wire attached to the rail so that when he drives the golden spike, it sends out a signal and people in the public areas in new york and boston, chicago, all erupt in cheers when the continent is spanned.
this is the great era of world's fairs or expeditions, philadelphia centennial is a huge world's fair with millions and millions of people around the country and around the world. and the showcase event of this and all the other worlds fairs is technology. there's the generator on the right. the most amazing pieces, powergenerating machinery on the face of the earth. it powered the entire exposition. a big muscle flexing of america's technology and ingenuity. and locally the brooklyn bridge, , which they would look at the brooklyn bridge and it's this beautiful bridge with the stone towers and gothic archways. there's a lot of nostalgia associated with the brooklyn bridge. but when it opened in 1883, it was the most advanced piece of technology, certainly in the united states and arguably in the world. it was a very complex machine, it was a great example of what steel could do. and so millions of people turned
out for this unveiling of the brooklyn bridge, the president came, the congress came, world dignitaries came. the speeches, as you can imagine, when people gave their speeches talking about this glorious event, they use the word progress, progress, progress. there is a lot to celebrate in this time period. if you went to the brooklyn bridge ceremonies, you wouldn't have walked very far from the brooklyn bridge to find poverty. there is no question that there is poverty during this time. but people who are optimistic and every thing is going great and we don't really need to change anything had various responses to poverty. one was a fairly traditional one, you see my people on the right, an irish couple sitting in the ashanti, not terribly bothered by poverty. this is a famous antipoverty
reformer. your attitude was very traditional. she refers to charity as the problem. poverty is not the problem. it is liberating what would be learning what-- would be hard-working people away from their hard work and turning them into idle and beggars. two things the problem with poverty is that there is too much charity. she creates an organization of charity organization society which in truth is actually the charity restriction society. she says there are too many soup kitchens, way too much free coal being given out, way too many free groceries. you need to cut this down, and see the virtues of hard work. a more harsh view is social darwinism and has tremendous influence. it's the concept of assigning a scientific and divine plan to poverty, it had great credence. you hear the words like this coming out of the mouth of john d rockefeller and andrew
carnegie and many other people. what a blessing to let the unreformed drunkard and his children die, no ambiguity there. it's the way of the world for the poor and the drunkard and the gluttons and others to die, and thankfully when they die, they won't have any more babies. what benevolence to let the lawless parish and the prudent survive. this comes from the christian advocate, the number one selling religious publication in the united states. this is mainstream talk by people who are trying to make sense of things. if you believe this and you do not have to worry about poverty. it's going to take care of itself, the poor you shall always have with you. on the one hand, optimism, but it is also a time of tremendous anxiety. you don't have to look for it, some people were both optimistic and anxious at the same time. they want sure which direction -- they were not sure which
direction the country was heading in. people are worried about what appears to be a rise in poverty. take a look at this image. when i show this image in public sometimes i don't put any captions. i just say what you see here? -- what do you see here? and what book would you associate this with? invariably someone says dickens, and that's exactly what the artist wanted you to think. this is an important thing to think about when you think about the late 19th century. the late 19th century -- what is the core of the american identity? one of the core things of american identity is that we are not european. it has nothing to do with ethnicity, it has to do with politics and social arrangements. throughout american history, we're constantly worried, and in the 20th century we are worried about communism. it takes its place. in the 19th century, it's -- are we becoming european? are we sliding towards the european-style society where you have kings and queens and landed aristocracy, fixed classes,
state-supported churches, endless war and social turmoil? this is an image that is really exposing the kind of anxiety. notice it is not in the social advocate, it's in the harper's weekly, the nation's weekly publication. the best-selling one. it shows a wealthy family in a -- and a poor family and raises the question about house and -- haves and have-nots and what direction are we heading in? it's in the middle of the previous terrible discussion, and he mentioned the question of the 1890's. to give you a sense of what people are saying, this is a quotation from one of the most important labor leaders in new york city talking to a congressional committee that traveled the country in 1883 trying to figure out what was going on. why is this incessant clash between labor and capital? while the strikes? he seizes the moment and says look at the city and its long
rows of tenant barracks. he goes on the people are living -- goes on to say that people are living in squalor. the kind of squalor we think of when we think of dickens, manchester, liverpool. we are heading in that direction and we had better do something about it. or we will no longer have a republic we would recognize. walt whitman, the great voice of american democracy and certainly a man completely enthusiastic about america and the modern world and so forth -- in 1879 he gives a speech in which he says , just concentrate on what he says -- if the united states, like countries of the old world -- he is saying we don't want to be them. if the united states are also to grow fast crops of poor, desperate, dissatisfied, nomadic, miserably waged populations, then our republican experiment notwithstanding all of its surface successes is at
heart an unhealthy failure. there are lots of people giving voice to this kind of anxiety about the way the country is going, but whitman gets it in just a couple of words. we seem to be trending european, we seem to be losing our republic. i love that phrase -- a republican experiment. that phrase was with us as a country and as a society in a political culture right up to the end of the 19th century. at a certain point when we became a global power, we said the experiment is completed, we don't need to worry about it anymore. but it was a phrase that everybody used, the idea that it's fragile and unfolding on you to be careful of the republican make adjustments like any good experiment. we have this idea that was born in the late 18th century and it was good as soon as the constitution's ink was dry, we were set. it's not really possible when one looks at the historical record. another source of anxiety is the rise of big business. business bigger than anyone could have conceived of. henry george says, the founding
fathers were brilliant people, but they couldn't never conceived of a large corporation like carnegie steel or standard oil. this is no way they could imagine a single individual could have this much power unelected, undemocratic power in a democracy. here is one of my favorites. i have many of these great cartoons, this is called the bosses of the senate. let's take a moment to think how fortunate we are to live in a society when big business has not any sway at all in congress. [laughter] way back in the battle days, you can see the trusts depicted as money bags. they are coming in through the entrance for monopolists. if you look at the far end, you can see the people's entry is nailed shut. who has access?
the corporations. who has no access? us, the people. the size differential is important. to show the leaders of the republic, the senators are little kids cowering in front of the power and menace of these great corporations. this is not the knights of labor monthly, this is the mainstream of middle-class publication that is expressed that it is landing on the doorsteps of middle-class and upper-class americans. this is a wide-ranging anxiety about the nature of the problem in the gilded age. here is another one shilling the sort of unfair duel that is taking place. notice the symbolism. big business is depicted as a medieval knight. again, royalty, aristocracy and so forth. knight.s a golden
it is also a locomotive. combination of the new technology. if you look really closely, the lance the night has says subsidized press, meaning they own the newspapers, they own the media. the shield he has his corruption of the legislature. and the little scrawny workingman has a hammer in his hand that says a strike, meaning the only weapon you have. that is why we have so many strikes. we would like to allied -- avoid them. the only way labor gets any attention or relief is to call a strike and most of them end up failing. the horse he is on his labeled poverty. on the left-hand side you have big business tycoons. if you are alive at the time, you would recognize those faces. vanderbilt, jay gould, the titan of wall street. on the right-hand side you see us, skinny, emaciated peasants looking like the figures out of a dickens novel. there's a lot of anxiety here, it is not just poor working people that are making a dollar a day, it's widespread anxiety about the direction in which the republic is heading.
rising increased inequality becomes an important theme here. not just the rise in poverty, but a huge gap between rich and poor that seems to beginning -- be getting worse. no one is making this up, the data shows its true. the 1%, to use a phrase from today, own 51% of all wealth. the lower 44%, less than half the country owns only 1.2%. tremendous skewing of wealth in the united states. it raised questions about, sure, it's a free market. a sustainable trend? if you look at where we are today, people ask how does it compare to today. in 2010, this is the latest data, the 1% owned 35% of all wealth, that is rising rapidly, up from 20% in 1979. to put it another way, in a
century from the late 19th centuryto delete 20th wealth disparity decreased. , after world war ii especially, after the new deal, we were never more equal and we were never more wealthy. thinksting thing to about. another aspect of this a european theme. we have superrich people, a growing mass of poor people, but what are the rich doing? people are not imagining the europeanization of america, and the emergence of an american aristocracy, because they are actually putting on the airs of european aristocracy. the woman on the right is the wife of a very powerful businessman, dressed up for costume ball. as marie antoinette. there are people who are going to dress up as louis the 14th and many other members of the european royalty. to say that this is an thinkable to do just 40 years earlier. it was socially unacceptable to mimic european royalty. in a kind of admiring way.
it tells you that something has shifted in the gilded age, that the nouveau riche are acting differently, the idea of republican simplicity. which if you want to see in new york, you can see the fifth avenue mansions. the woman on the right is mrs. vanderbilt. her husband has built her a stupendous -- not a mansion, a palace. on 6th avenue. there are a lot of palaces like it on fifth avenue. that is how the rich express their wealth. they are eventually going to be called conspicuous consumption. if you go down to gramercy park, that is where the super rich lived in the 1830's and 1840's. those houses are nice, but they are very plain. mostly unadorned brownstones, a be a nice wrought-iron fence. the republican simplicity, we don't flaunt it. 50 years later, you flaunt it as much as possible. mrs. vanderbilt ball would cost
millions of dollars in today's money. it would be covered by the press and touch off a whole competition about who could throw the biggest and most expensive and outrageous display of conspicuous consumption. had shown you the image of the right, that interior image, many of you would not have thought america, you would have thought versailles, the opulent room furnished with all of the finest things in gold leaf and so forth. that is fifth avenue in new york, the house warming party that she threw in march of 1883. another source of anxiety is rising labor capital conflict. it is not imagination, it's actually happening on a scale never seen before in american history. here's the famous haymarket incident from may 4, 1886. one of the most famous incidents. take a look at some of these numbers. between 1881 in 1900, there were 37,000 strikes. in all of american history up to 1881, i bet there was no more than 3000 strikes.
this is a monumental growth in strikes. some of these are the biggest strikes in american history. strikes in which 100 people are killed in clashes with police and militia and so forth. strikes in which the entire national railroad system is shut down. these are big strikes and small strikes. there are also neighborhood strikes as well. it has people saying -- what society do we associate with this class clashing violence? europe. it seemed to be another source of evidence that we are losing our republican soul. why is labor day founded here in new york city in 1882? it's founded by workers. p.j. mcguire, the man i quoted earlier. in 1882, it feels that they are slipping. they are the heart and soul of the republic, these workers and their wages are declining, their power in the workplace is declining, the way their
position in society seems to be slipping. they say let's have a day, and they take september 5, 1882, they stage a parade in a big picnic, about 5000 people show up. within five years it happens all across the country, within 10 years is a national holiday. that tells you a lot, this invention of a holiday that something appalling to attention a social problem. -- people are calling attention to, a social problem that needs addressing. george, how does he figure into all of this? in the 1870's he is a newspaper editor, and increasingly identifies as a reformist editor. he is taking on questions of land reform, regulating the railroads, big questions out there in california. on the rights of workers and so forth. he is, like a lot of people, really troubled by the dual qualities, so much great stuff is happening with industrial capitalism, but also so many problems seem to be associated with it. is there a way we can keep the good stuff and get rid of the other stuff?
what he terms progress and poverty. can we keep the progress and not have so much poverty and so much turmoil? other people were proposing solutions. there were socialists big in the , birth of the socialist movement. george will make a conscious decision to position himself is not a socialist. he will say their laissez-faire capitalists that do nothing, let the poor rot and let us run our businesses the way they want to. that is an extremely odd to -- we ought to avoid. he also says socialism is an extreme we need to avoid. it's more complicated, he defined socialism in a couple of different ways. he talks about revolutionary socialism as opposed to gradual socialism. he actually likes gradual socialism. phase in over 100 years. henry george in his spare time, only has a seventh grade education, but he reads a lot he , reads economics, he reads adam smith and all the important political economist and they all
got it wrong. he's going to sort this thing out and come up with a diagnosis and a prescription. he is a wonderful writer for a guy with a marginal education. and this in some ways indicates to us why he become so popular. his book has parts that are very complicated economic sections, but a lot of it is very beautifully written, almost poetic, very biblical and he cites the bible all the time and other figures. great vivid examples. here's the crux of the problem. it is as though an immense wedge were being forced not underneath society, which would lift everybody, that through society. those who are above the point of separation are elevated, the few. those who are below are crushed down. he says that is the problem. we have to figure out where the wedge is coming from and how we can redirect it. the book is 535 pages. it would take is a couple of days to read through it.
i will give you a couple of other nuggets from it. everywhere it is evident that this tendency to any quality cannot go much further without carrying our civilization into the downward path which is so easy to enter and so hard to abandon. he cites history and says what happened to rome? rome was prosperous and mighty and full of science and learning an incredible progress. and then rome just slid off the cliff. what happened? what happened was people began to monopolize land and the rich got richer, and the poor got more poor. they hit a certain tipping point, where there is no going back. society just starts to slide, and slide inevitably into the dustbin of history. he says we are on that path, it's not too late yet, but we have to be very careful. we can't wait, we have to act immediately. think about the relevance of this quotation to our times in some ways. though knowledge it increases and invention marches on, and cities still expand, civilization has begun to wane, when in proportion to
population, we must build more and more prisons, and more all ms houses, more and more insane asylums. we are building more jails and more poorhouses. something is clearly not right. he diagnoses the problem in 535 pages as saying that what happens is that people in unfortunate positions, -- in unfortunate positions lucky , people, crafty people are gaining monopolization of not just land, but all key resources. that is locking out and walling off opportunity for the masses and creating a spiral of destructive inequality that the rich literally will get richer, the poor will get for and we lose our republican soul. the solution he comes up with, which is not as important as his diagnosis -- people loves his diagnosis. it was very vivid, very powerful, very alarming to hear what he had to say about where we were going. but not necessarily so enamored with his single tax.
his notion that we need to establish a single tax on land and that will solve everything. the point i made before that is that laissez-faire and small government has been great up to this point. but the founding fathers could never imagine an economy like this. he couldn't imagine a national railroad system, a steel company the size of carnegie steel or petroleum company the size of standard oil. and that we need to make some small steps towards curbing certain aspects of the economy. his idea is a single tax. some people liked what henry george had to say in a general way, they're not necessarily signing on to the single tax but there are a lot of people who like the idea of a single tax. one of the groups we talk about in a moment who like it were workers. the landless people who paid huge amounts of money and rent
for these tenements they lived in. this message has resonated on different levels for different people. so progress and poverty ridden -- written by a guy with a seventh grade education, who self publishes it to start, he can't get anyone to buy this. none of the big publishers will buy it. but he is a printer. and so he says ok, i will borrow money from friends and print an author's edition, self publish it, and then i will send it back to those publishers. and it works. he sends one to appleton's, a huge publisher and they say now that you have accepted the plates, let's do it and it will cause a stir. george moved to new york city, because he knows, the san francisco editor, the chances of having an impact are much smaller. come to new york where things are happening. new york is the gateway where i american ideas go to europe and european ideas come to america. there is a chance this can be a global phenomenon. it works out perfectly. he gets to new york city at just the right moment when things are beginning to happen.
one of those things is the irish nationalist movement is exploding. he is not irish, but his message has great resonance with irish catholics who are one of the largest ethnic groups in america. he finds this is a great way to get noticed and get speaking gigs, and to find his real first audience. he also becomes well-known in great britain as a result. so why does he appeal to workers? when he writes his book, he's thinking of just going to wow everybody. it turns out his first real core group are american workers. one of the main reasons is that he challenges that fundamental or traditional understanding of poverty, the one we saw lowell touching on. the traditional interpretation was it's inevitable. you really can't do anything about it. and those who are poor just need to endure it. just need to grin and bear it and their reward in heaven will be great. that is the old-fashioned way of dealing with it. it is easy to say that, it's not easy to hear that when you were the poor person.
here is what one of the workers who became a big henry george follower and a key figure in his rise to influence and also his eventual run for mayor of new york city. he describes it very simply. progress and poverty reversal of talk about poverty being inevitable and natural. teaching that poverty is an artificial condition of man's invention. i love this last part. working men and women learning all this commenced to wrestle with their change. this is why there is so much tumult in the 1880's, especially here in new york city. 1895, 1886, 1887 is often known by historians as the greater people because there's a huge spike in strikes, a lot of labor
mobilization, and in 86 and 87, a huge campaign of labor party formed all across the country in protest to the big crackdown on labor and labor activism. in new york city in 1886, in the summer of 86, in the wake of strikes and boycotts and sort of in the national atmosphere after the haymarket bombing in chicago in may of 86, 100 labor activists are arrested. many of them giving long risen terms. -- prison terms. it was easy to do then, they were accused of and tried and convicted of conspiracy. you called a strike or boycott against an employer, in the eyes of the law, you are guilty of conspiring with your fellow workers to destroy the business of another person. you could be put away. this is one of the big strikes that takes place, the streetcars in new york city. streetcars, the subway system are privately owned and given franchises. they make millions of dollars a year, they bribe -- there's a great graphic shows the new york city council had 24 members in 1884. there is a front-page article in the new york times that shows the scandal broke out to show
that one of the largest streetcar owners bribed nearly every one of them. 22 of the 24 city council members took a bribe from -- a huge bribe, $25,000, which in 1884 was a lot of money. in the status it says, thomas clancy, third district fled the , country. in jail, in jail come out on bail. an incredible list of people. the anger at the streetcar companies, they were terrible employers. there are three big streetcar strikes in the spring of 1886 and a lot of boycotts and other labor action. the results in this big crackdown on labor, a lot of workers are arrested and unions prosecuted. that sort of step is to stage -- that sort of sets the stage for the liberal response.
to reform a labor party like they are doing in europe? or should we influence the democratic party. and withhold our support from one candidate or another, it's called balance of power strategy. one of the reasons they resisted labor party's is they always failed miserably. there were labor parties before this at a labor party candidate for mayor would get like 309 votes. -- 329 votes. that's it. 500 votes, just a symbolic waste of time and waste of money, deeply embarrassing. it also divided the labor movements. people say this is why we shouldn't do this. stop trying to form a labor party. all the crackdown and turmoil in the summer of 86 leaves even the most jaded person to say, let's do it. united labor party is formed. they don't just grab any old carpenter bricklayer to run for mayor, they have to have someone who is got some credibility and henry george is perfect. he has a long record of being an advocate of workers rights, of reform. he is also a carling member of -- card holding member of the knights of labor, and a member of the typographers union. sony has this kind of
credibility that goes a long way to get people to nominate him. he is nominated in august of 1886 to run for mayor. the odds are, to say the least, pretty stacked against them. tammany hall is a huge powerful machine, the republican party is equally formidable. they have money, and have experience, and the workers have none of those things. here's an optimistic view of things. henry george, depicted as hercules, grabbing one of the more common symbols of monopoly along with an octopus showing , george grabbing the serpent and the servant is labeled monopoly and trust and so forth. george is ideally going to do in the serpent. that is city hall, new york city hall in the background. to do that he has to defeat to people. abraham hewitt, congressman with a great deal of credibility, and actually relatively speaking, he can actually claim to be a friend of the working man. he authored some minor prolabor legislation, he was at least considered a pretty good employer in his artworks.
-- ironworks. he had the ability to claim he was a prolabor candidate. and then there's this guy that people just order to learn about, and man named theodore roosevelt who had left new york when his wife and mother died, tragically. he went out into the ranching thing. he had just come back to the city and was looking to get back into politics. the republican party grabbed him and made him their candidate. you remember the image of the knight on the horse with a lanc e, that said subsidize press, and the press is 100% on the side or against henry george. this is from puck, capable of publishing prolabor cartoons and anti-labor cartoons week after week. it is a very interesting thing. but this is not necessarily antilabor. here you have the devil standing behind a worker and saying don't be fooled, george has these
great ideas -- with this cornucopia in the back dumping out free land and money, he's going to give these things away. the way the powers that be in the late 19th century tried to derail george, you couldn't say workers are stupid, they needed workers votes. they said workers, you are being deluded. don't be fooled by this wolf in sheep's clothing. there is a lot of this imagery. here's an image of the statue of liberty, which was unveiled that fall. the statue of liberty is unveiled late october of 86 and the election of 86 takes place a couple of days later. is a great new symbol. you can't really tell, around the statue of liberty are forces of communism and socialism, forces of anarchism and forces george-sim. they are lumping him in and tarring him with that idea that he is right up there with the
anarchists and the violent insurrectionists. here's another tactic they used, the george's going to mobilize the tramp vote, the poor, and that we will have social chaos. a trap is barging into a -- tramp is barging into a middle-class family's house to take food. they are blaming this on henry george. the tramp idea of a henry george millennium, nomar -- no more waiting outside in the cold, they will barge in and we will have anarchy. here is another cartoon showing abraham hewitt, he is the locomotive and teddy roosevelt is hanging on with his lasso, and they are about to run over henry george. but notice the title. it is how to prevent progress by henry george. there's a big media mobilization against him, consistently characterizing george as either an airheaded dreamer, or -- more
and more as the election approached, and agents of insurrection, of anarchy, if he is elected, blood will flow in the streets of new york and all across the country. it sounds wild, but this is what mainline candidates were saying. george has a lot to contend with, as do his supporters. they do what has never been done, they stage an incredible grassroots campaign. hewitt doesn't even campaign. he goes to five dinners of friends, the chamber of commerce types and gives five little speeches. most of which denounced henry george is a redheaded communist. -- red-handed communist. he is out giving 5, 10, 8 speeches in front of factories and in front of streetcar stops and so forth. it is called the tail board campaign. it has never been done before, it's a real grassroots mobilization because they have nothing to lose. they realize that they can get people to vote, they might not
-- if not win the election, make a difference. george gets 68,000 votes. it's a close finish, and the three-way race, so we will never know if george had run straight up against hewitt, how that might have turned out. but george outpolled the republican, theodore roosevelt. the big question about whether george lost the election because of tammany hall ballot box shenanigans. there's allegations that they stole ballots, that they stuffed ballot boxes. the fact is, we will never know. we know that tammany hall positively could have done it, that they had done it in the past and they were really good at it. but we just don't know if that in fact happened. but it certainly makes a big impression. of all the labour party candidates across the country, george is the one that people are watching. it's the one that frederick engels and karl marx are watching and writing letters back and forth saying what is going on, who is this guy george?
they don't agree with him, but he seems to be pushing forward our agenda for the overthrow capitalism. here's a great cartoon in the wake of george's defeats, but a pretty impressive defeats, looking pretty mighty there. the quotation is basically saying we nearly one against a slivered opposition, they are won against a slivered opposition, they are going to be united against us and we had better have a bigger hammer. there's a real optimism coming out of the selection among george supporters, among the labor movement, not only locally but nationally read there is something happening here. we could easily see a third-party go national in a couple of years and run like in europe, a true third party that would be an alternative to the mainstream parties that are in the hands of big business. here is george on the eve his concession speech, and he basically says the future is ours.
this is bunker hill. the continentals were driven back, but they symbolically won a victory that resounded around the world. they won a victory that made this republican reality, and god would live in new york. we want to victory that makes the true victory of the republic certain of our time. there was a time i wanted to name the book the true republic of the future. it is a recognition george is saying you have to adjust things. republics are just born in the 1780's and they are done. it's an evolution of the need to get back on track to adjust this modern world of industry and so forth and technology. if we do it, we can have a republic that will endure into the future. you can see that the attitude of the powers that be, republican and democratic parties are terrified by this result. again, couldn't announce workers because they vote in such huge numbers. you see the same kind of patronizing tone here. nice job, very impressive, but you have to get rid of that friend of yours. the friend is the classic symbol of anarchy in the background.
meaning henry george, socialism, anarchism, communism, you need to come back to the mainstream. and the mainstream parties do make big adjustments in the wake of the george election. they author prolabor legislation, and many other things that are aimed at bringing the working class back in the democratic party, a little bit in the republican party but mostly into the democratic party. so what is the legacy of henry george? at the moment of the election, everybody is thinking this is just the first step. this is going to be a big thing, not just for us, but also for george. there are many people saying he is going to be president of the united states and a couple of years. it just seems like that's the way the world is moving. in 1887, the united labor party decides to conduct elections. and it just falls apart. george breaks with them, there's a tremendous internal schism, fights with socialists, fights with the workers and so forth.
it is something i detail in the latter chapters of the book and try and explain why george seems to have changed his mind about being allied with the labor movement so closely as he was in 1886 and in the years before that. a lot of it has to do with that red scare tactics. the writing on the wall was clear that if you want to have any influence in this country after haymarket, after the great upheaval, you could not be associated with socialism, con communism, anarchism. i think he basically gives the labor movement the heisman. he says i'm sorry, i can't be associated with this anymore. ends hisic, because ascent on that track, certainly it's over. he continues to be influential and write books, his books are still in print to this day. but that aspect of george as leading an insurgent social movement that is over. , but his influence is remarkable. tsarnaev fades from the scene, but the number of people -- --
he sort of fades from the scene, but the number of people -- i list this all of the back of the book. there are dozens of people you know very well, jacob rees and jane adams, a who's who list of progressive era reformers say in their memoirs and letters to their friends -- you know what really opened my eyes? somebody gave me a copy of progress in poverty. there's an incredible number of people who found this book to be a great eye-opener and it set them on their path in the next generation, the progressive era. in some ways, that's the biggest aspect of george's legacy, that's why he is worth knowing. i should also point out that the game of monopoly comes from henry george. not him directly, but one of his followers worked up a game she called the landlord's game to demonstrate how easy it is and how pernicious it is for people to monopolize resources. and to squeeze everybody out and
put everybody out of business. to make a long story short, the game kicked around for a while and in the 1930's, a guide to again, changed some of the words in the game, sold it to parker brothers -- a bit of an irony that he sells it to big business , and parker brothers makes it the most famous board game in the world. there is a new book that just came out that details that story. but very people know -- in fact if you remember in the 1970's, , it was an antimonopoly game that came out. it's kind of funny because the original game was essentially antimonopoly. what else about henry george? why is important then n.y.c. now?hy is he important he was clear, understandable, and irrefutable evidence that extreme inequality threatens democracy. as americans, we love terms and ideas, what are our great republican ideals? freedom, individualism, justice, equality, but we are leery about equality.
but we are it makes us the most nervous. we like the idea, but we don't like some of the things that it tends to suggest. george says extreme inequality will destroy democracy. we need to find ways to limit extreme inequality in order to preserve our democracy. it is that simple. it is an irreversible loss if we lose our democracy, it's not going to come back. a second key point -- that has tremendous relevance today. in the wake of citizens united and the fact that you really need to be a multi-multimillionaire if not a billionaire to run for president now, or for congress for that matter, is a real signature problem. significant problem. the second point about the common good. george essentially reminds us , and we live in an age where randnly eyein suddenly find
is on the bestseller list and , more americans are calling themselves libertarians that i can or member. as the libertarianism, individualism, is the american way. the fact is part of the american way. going way, way back. no question that individualism is really central to our political culture and political identity. but so too is the common good. the idea that we're all in this together and that we need to adopt laws, and act policies, and do things that attend to the common good. you can be selfish about it. you can say as people did in the 1830's, there is nothing in the constitution about education. but in the 1830's, we began as a country to say you know, public education is both a good thing to do, to provide people with room entry education, it's also a really smart thing to do, because you have less murderers, less social turmoil and so forth and george's reminding people in the gilded age that individualism is not the only ideal. but it has always existed in tension with common conflict with individualism as the common good. we need to remember that. i think that is a really
powerful idea that needs to come back into our national conversation about everything. about health care, but about education about the , environment. we get caught up in these other ideas of ideological extremes , and we forget that some of these core principles are right there in front of us, one of them being the common good. thirdly, the idea that the government, the dare i say, the government that everybody seems to despise, but as soon as you start to take away the government from people people , get very upset. they like driving on roads, they like having stoplights and they like having public schools and police officers and so forth keeping public order. but the fact is that the idea that the government, not simply the free market, is part of the solution is an idea that henry george plays a key role in convincing large numbers of americans that this is in fact the case. that laissez-faire made total sense in 1800. it made total sense in the land of farmers and small shops, it no longer makes sense.
if the founding fathers were alive, they would agree. he starts the book by saying imagine if we could bring benjamin franklin into the late 1870's. what would he think? he would be amazed by the technology, but he would be aghast at the kind of poverty that was there. and he would be in favor of some kind of radical solution. he says strong societies make adjustments. they need to make adjustments. one of those adjustments is, as the people to empower the , government to do certain things, to enact certain policies in the name of the common good and in the name of democracy. that is really in some ways, i think those three things are the why georgerstand mattered in the 19th century, and in a fragile moment in the nation's history, and why george matters now. thank you very much. [applause] edward: we do have time for
questions. this evening is being filmed by c-span, and so they have asked that if anyone has questions, so this can be part of the program, to come down to the microphone at the end of the walkway. please, if anybody has any questions, please jump right up, we would love to hear them. >> thank you. that was a really good talk. what does henry george have to say, if anything, about immigration? it was a big issue at this time as well. edward: the parallels of the gilded age are not just about the economy and poverty and corporations. it is an era of tremendous wrangling about immigration, it's also an era in which there's a big movement to deprive poor people of the vote. there are a lot of parallels there. george is a little complicated when it comes to immigration. his early days as a reformer and as a writer in california, he wrote some pretty blistering racist things about chinese immigration. but as anyone would tell you,
that was mainstream thinking at the time, not to let him off the hook. , i to say that progressives cannot think of the historian, but he wrote that progressivism stopped with the chinese. you could be progressive and open-minded about everything, but you draw the line and say the chinese are accepted. -- anyone but the chinese are accepted. early on he was pretty harsh about chinese immigration. he gradually moved away from that by the time he wrote progress in poverty. he says immigration is a reflection of the problem of monopoly and the problem of inequality. in some ways, we need to address that both here and abroad. he was a very tolerant person as far as immigration goes. he mostly saw -- if he wrote anything critical about immigration, it was mostly the fact that people were being forced to migrate as opposed to it being necessarily a social problem for the united states.
>> a two-part question. first is could you explain his point about taxing the land, and essentially, economic principle? second, the book, he argues that the american government is so decentralized that it works against progress of any kind. henry george seem to think that there was a moral principle at work here. structurally, our political system contributes to centralization to the wealthy having a significant edge in how the constitution was designed, it makes reform and long-standing reform almost impossible. mr. o'donnell: the first question i usually preface my , conversations with people by saying i'm in a story and not an economist. i have a little bit of trouble
explaining his economic theories. george himself never really got to much into the details. perfect to him it made sense and did not need a great explanation. land,ly he said especially land derives its , value not because it is in and of itself valuable, as it is socially greeted wealth. if you own a piece of land, we see this all around in new york city. i was down on wall street this morning, and it's 55 broad st, just an empty hole in the ground. i have always wondered how much that piece of land is worth. valuable dirt wise as someplace in the middle of north dakota. but it is socially created wealth. it's probably worth $1 billion. it's not generated by the person who owns the land who is lucky enough to acquire it, it is us. it is our energy our creativity, , we put into the market and
what we take out of the market. therefore that value needs to be taxed for the common good. that was essential principle. if a piece of property is worth $500, you can use it as though it is private property. but at the end of the year, you owe $500. if you don't want to pay it, fine. walk away. that farm or workshop will be sold -- he doesn't say sell. handed over to another person who is the willing to work and pay that fee. the broad ideas he is talking about here, the specifics of that reform that really matter to most people. number two, our political system. we have a wonderful political system. you got to really important point, which is we do have a system that is very different from much of western europe. one of the great eternal questions of american history is why don't we, why are we so
different from other industrialized societies? everywhere you look there is a socialist party, a labour party, they are powerful and win elections. why not in america? there are all kinds of explanations given about our political culture and history, but one of them is it is just impossible to form a third party. we have this federal system, and unlike a or take all, parliamentary system. if you look at the history of europe and other countries where labor party gets going, they win three seats in parliament. have almost no power. they get a toehold, they have seven seats, and then nine hold -- nine seats they get a big , throw the bums out election and suddenly they are part of a coalition. that doesn't happen in the united states. there are virtues to our system. states can work as laboratories of experiments, these to say that about wisconsin in the progressive area -- era. where new ideas can be tried and go national. in terms of structural change, it makes it difficult.
>> i'm addressing some of your discussion with some kind of long-term study of henry george, which i do not think you addressed adequately. i think your pictures and history were lovely. but in fact, you did not address the science of political economy, probably the best book on political economy ever written. its analysis of land, labor, and capital, and the returns to them of wages and interests are really groundbreaking and have not been duplicated. it is that, because it requires some study, and everybody jumps
on single tax and populism and not the basic material that makes henry george important. i think maybe a re-emphasis on that would be desirable. edward: i think i will take your point that i did not talk about his second book, actually third book. i do talk about it in my book, because he has all the nightmare that writers fear. he writes the book and moves to brooklyn and loses the whole manuscript. he has to write the entire book from memory. in our day, we would be worried about a file disappearing from our hard drive or something. the reason i did not talk too much about that particular book is the focus of my work on henry
george is where the book comes out in 1886 and becomes an important part of the canon. it's not the one that creates is momentum and international profile. one thing with george, he has a lot to say about a lot of different things. what we would call economics today, political economy lost its way. it is in the service of power. it should be and the service of humanity. he has a lot to say about that in the book and other writings. he secretly wanted to be a professor, or have that credibility on some level. but he was never going to get it because they were so critical of him. -- he was so critical of them.
>> a lot of people that henry george influenced have different critiques of capitalism and understandings of inequality. when you look at the welfare state of the 20th century their , justifications, but the actual understanding of inequality and the source of it that henry george developed, i'm not sure how much that survived, at least from what i understand. i'm curious how his ideas about inequality and its sources maybe influenced reformers in terms of trying to set up specific policies, and what his attitudes towards the welfare state more general was. mr. o'donnell: he always said he was in favor of a welfare state in some ways. he spoke both ways. i would say a couple of things that he did, brought ideas, that the state needs to be an instrument of reform. we just have to do that. the other one is emphasizing
he's not the only one, but the first one on a big stage to say, citizenship in a republic is not confined to election day. we always thought that we are all equal, right? we are equal because each of us has one vote. george says that is great, but the longer we develop as a society, we are coming to realize that there isn't an dimension, a material dimension, to citizenship, and without it, your vote is useless. if you're starving and living hand to mouth and not able to feed your family, your vote is worthless. that is a concept that influences broadly a lot of reformers in the progressive era. i have a collection of fdr quotes -- and when he comes out in 1941 with the four freedoms, specifying our core freedoms and that too much less -- tamil to
tumultuous period, one of them is freedom from want, and that was controversial. his point was -- he said the exact same thing -- people that don't have basic material needs met are the stuff of what dictatorships are made. he saying this in the 1940's, when we know what dictatorships are all about. citizenship in a modern republic has a material and economic dimension you can ignore. -- can't ignore. regarding george's contemporary relevance -- there is an argument out there that in fact there is not much we can do in the current era about the economic equality globalization , of trade, therefore neither party has a practical program, therefore we should get out on economicn reducing
inequality and instead tried to do social equality and try to build strong public institutions, but not focus so much on economic equality because we can't do anything about it. what do you think george would say about that? and what do you think ?edward: mr. o'donnell: i think that is a really good point. and i know exactly what george would say. scheme, the single tax would give us both. with george, he is very utopian in the last art of his book. the true republic of the future -- and he says it explicitly in his writings -- we will have a socialist society. we are not going to have a revolutionary social society where the masses rise up and the landowners have their throats slit, but he sketches this out, in the near future, everybody will have a society where they have full employment and everybody does not have to work that hard. there will be beautiful parks, forums forbraries,
learning, an ideal society. he thought he could have both reduced economic inequality, and , social institutions that would benefit everybody. he was a dreamer in that regard. >> and what do you think? mr. o'donnell: i don't know, i have to say in some ways that is a very utopian vision, but i do believe, getting back to the points i put up at the end, we do need to keep, as we have many times in the past and as the founding fathers did, think about the common good. think about what it is that we really care about. what are the really fundamental problems here, and who is really to blame? moment,t a demagogic were all kinds of people, and the grants, when there are other people who could be pointed to.
and it is social equality. where do these inequality statistics come from? variousaceable to moments in our political history, starting in the late 1970's. you can see what the tax rate was in 1955 when we were enjoying incredible prosperity and reduced level of inequality, and you can see what it is in 1980, 1990, and 2000. that has had a direct bearing on where we are. also the political culture of demonizing the government as if it was this horrible institution. paying taxes is painful, but it's the price we pay for living on this earth. and in this society. i don't know how we change that conversation. it seems almost impossible. i don't wanttion, to be dramatic and say it is the difference between success and f we were going
to put ourselves back in a prosperous and generous and successful track as republic, then that is really what needs to take place. it will not happen if we just argue about who is to blame and do nothing or do only the wrong things. >> my question regards henry george's view of imperialism and empire building? edward: good question. let me think on that one for a second. one of the places where he started to get attention was when he joined the irish nationalists movement. ireland was not an independent country at the time. they were trying to gain independence, but they were a colonized society. in many ways, he has harsh things to say about colonialism,
imperialism, because he sees it as a naked, illegitimate land grab by the powerful. the haves and have-nots on a global scale. historically, he talks rather glowingly about the heyday of the roman republic and imperialism of that order. so i don't know, it probably is -- there probably are passages in some of his writings, his collection of essays. but i don't know. let's put it this way, i think he saw a host of other programs like inequality, the social turmoil, strife, and things of that nature as far more dangerous and in moral than imperialism. i'm thinking my way through this answer right in front of you but i think part of it is that his time of the 1870's, 1880's, the united states is acquiring alaska, getting into the
imperialist game in a small way, it's not until the spanish-american war that we go all in, so maybe that accounts some of the reasons why he did not talk about it in u.s. terms. >> thank you so much. i see parallels between what you have spoken about and our current time, and i happen to be wearing a bernie sanders t-shirt. edward: bernie sanders is certainly in the news. >> what do you think about, not the media, but the computer, the conversation we are having and his progress through to the common people. edward: in terms of bernie sanders moments happening now? as a democratic candidate and
future president of the united states. edward: it is an interesting question. i don't know how to answer. i think his addition to the electorate is very healthy, he is bringing up and enforcing conversations on things like inequality that people would match -- much rather talk about undocumented immigrants in crazy terms than talking about inequality. but i don't know -- and he certainly fits into a long tradition of this populist tradition that helps move the conversation in up to good direction. i don't know if bernie sanders will get nominated or elected, but another interesting thing is enough-- he is brave openly to call himself a democratic socialist. of ours the poverty political imagination that for some people that is a dealbreaker but without understanding what that means. americans have long before henry
george, decided socialism is an unadulterated evil and un-american, yet we have many aspects of socialism that we would not want to live without, so i don't know. i'm following bernie sanders with great interest, let me put it that way. >> near the beginning you made a comment about history not repeating, but rhyming. i was curious. most your conclusions were about timearities between this and the gilded age. can you talk about the differences between the gilded age and this time? edward: let's see, horses. [laughter] lots of things. i'm thinking what it was like to live in new york in the 1870's and 1880's, different eras. and there are some things that are utterly and completely different. technology, the way we communicate. recreation,tics and
it is so fundamentally different than what was taking place in the 19th century. in the gilded age, if you wanted to communicate, you published in a newspaper or magazine or gave a lecture, and that was it. now, it's so fragmented. to me, born in 1963, i remember typewriters, rotary phones. i have one foot firmly planted in that world and yet i have an , iphone and use social media and computer technology all the time. so i would say that that is one of the greatest differences, and what it means, i don't know, but it is one of the greatest differences. some people look at that and say that is where the great reform will take place. this kind of grassroots reform movement that can be done through people's iphones and social media. we get people to the polls, that's how we get the hands of big business -- i don't know. other people say that people are just too busy looking at their screens, playing games and
watching videos that they are not paying attention. they are upset and anger, but not paying attention. i would say that that is probably the biggest difference, i would say the economy is quite different, our position in the world, the military. students are always fascinated to learn this. one of the things that the founders of the constitution were in agreement with was the no military. that is how democracies are done in. five ways to go to work as a society. five steps, declare war, say we don't have a military, third step build a military, then win the war, then dismantle the military until the next war. it is only after world war ii, when we dismantled our military
and immediately build it back up with the cold war. that's another thing, when you look at where our resources go and how we talk about that, another massive difference between then and now. >> in his writings on inequality during the gilded age, he did george discuss the reconstruction and disenfranchisement of african americans? edward: he did. george did not have a lot to say about racial inequality, but he spoke in racial inequality terms. when he talked about reconstruction, he talked about it in one way, you want to see why evidence of land is so important, giving people freedom citizenship requires well-being. there is an economic dimension to it. when enslaved people are granted
freedom and no land, guess what happens? they will be put into not slavery, but something close, complete subordination, powerlessness or a long time. that's why he said there was a textbook example right under our nose about this very thing. that is the primary thing that he spoke about. >> did henry george in any of his books address the role of warfare or war in the political economy of the united states? edward: that's a good question. i need to think on that a little bit. i recall, he talks about warfare as being one of the options of an undemocratic government, what governments do to avoid doing with social problems, declare war.
there are probably a few other places where he talks about warfare. in 1879, when he writes his book progress and poverty, the american military is tiny, and the only place it is big is in the west completing the suppression of native americans, and even then not many people relatively speaking. the military did not loom very large in people's minds in the late 19th century. it starts to around 1880, when we start to expand the navy. and we start getting to build up the military, in that regard emerging as a global power. , i would say george argued that the real sources of power that we have to be worried about are these large business tycoons, large corporations, because this is not just power, it is powerted, untouchable
unless we do something in the , name of the common good and the name of democracy that we need to rein the power in, not eliminate it, not seize control of corporations, but set up boundaries and parameters to their behavior. all right, thank you very much. [applause] announcer: american history to be is featuring first lady sunday nights for the rest of your. c-span produced the series in cooperation with the white house historical association.