tv Discussion on Henry George Labor and the Gilded Age CSPAN October 11, 2015 10:40pm-12:02am EDT
cooler weather. >> thanks for visiting the frontier culture museum, we are open 365 days a year. we would love to see you. please come and visit us in stanton, virginia. >> this is the first of a two-part series on the frontier culture museum. part two explores life on the early american frontier. you can watch this and other american artifacts programs anytime by visiting our website, www.c-span.org. >> you are watching american history tv, all weekend, every weekend on cspan3. to join the conversation, like us on facebook. on american history tv, author edward o'donnell talks about the growing inequality of the late 19th century, also known as the gilded age. he explores the role of henry
george, newspaper editor and reformer who took up the fight against the separation of classes on behalf of the labor movement. the gotham center for new york city history hosted this one hour and 20 minute event. host: thank you suzanne, and to the gotham center. thank you to all of you for coming out tonight. 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 and people i have worked with. it's a really wonderful event 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. [laughter] you may be see i don't look
quite that 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. about five days later, i'm 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. i'm on the right track, i better do it. we happened to have a camera with us, which is funny. i have been working on this so long that one of my daughters, who is now used to ask me daddy, 25, 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 any of 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. also 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. suzanne mentioned 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, orion a reflection echo, at there is an a rhyme, 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 there are reasons to be optimistic and talk about in just a moment. another way i like to talk about henry george, this fascinating figure from the 19th century, 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 they sold 500,000 copies. they would have been pretty psyched if they sold 50,000. essentially, he 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 and other people have less stuff. it has large applications for implications for
our society. let's talk about who this guy henry george was. he was born in to a 1859 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 wrote his famous book about poverty and talked about poverty a lot, he must have grown up in poverty. he 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 his father steered him into a trade where he would learn the craft of typesetting, which was a great opportunity. george flourished as a typesetter, but he was very ambitious and in the middle of the 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. poverty fullencing on and often. he would succeed at something, and then fail. but the good thing was the printing trade always guaranteed him 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 writing and editing 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 though he got married and had children, he was doing well and writing on top of the world and then crashed, his newspaper would fail. paperwould sell his new newspaper to do something else 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 idea of him experiencing 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 writes in his diary and he is a quintessential 19th century man. he believes if he works hard enough and tries hard enough and and makes good decisions, he is guaranteed to succeed. chastising himself for being too 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. they are failing because there are larger forces at work. he ends this entry with speaking about the landlady and told her i'm unable to pay the rent.
anybody who has been in that position with young children that's not a good situation to , be in. henry george 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. but 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 enamoring. that is the image of the gilded age. it has this golden hue, but beneath the surface there are some bad, dangerous things happening. it is an age of optimism.
you will trust me that word says anxiety. i'm not sure why we lost it. george will take that duality and capture it in the famous 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. here is president grover cleveland. virtually every presidential address has this kind of talk. every american citizen must complicate them -- 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 cleveland's 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 era. they are not making it up. take a look at some of these numbers. this is from the last third of the 19th century, 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. steel is essentially 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 in 1860 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 europe and the 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. tremendous celebrations. it is 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, -- expositions. the 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 is the corliss generator on the right. the most amazing piece of 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. 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
horse event, they used 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 to walk 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 that everything 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 shanty not terribly bothered by poverty. this is a famous antipoverty reformer. her attitude was very traditional. she refers to charity as the problem. poverty is not the problem. charity is the problem. it is luring what would be
hard-working people away from work and turning them into idle beggars. she thinks 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. we need to cut this down so we can help the poor see the virtues of hard work. a more harsh view emerged called 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 perish 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. that kind of thing. 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 were not sure which direction the country was heading in. many 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
caption to it. i just say what do you see here? , and what book would you associate this with? invariably, somebody 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? there are several aspects to it. 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. but 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 expressing that 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 and a poor family and raises the question about haves and have-nots and what direction are we heading in? it's in the middle of the previous terrible discussion, i already mentioned the previous depression 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 this incessant clash between labor and capital? why the strikes? he seizes the moment and says look at the city and its long rows of tournament barracks. -- tenement barracks. he 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 vast 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 has succeeded and we don't need to worry about it anymore. but it was a phrase that everybody used, the idea that it is fragile and unfolding, that we need 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. as henry george says, the founding fathers were brilliant people, but they could never have 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 is not any sway at all in congress. [laughter] way back in the battle days, you can see the trusts depicted as money banks. 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 class publication that is expressed that it is landing on the doorsteps of middle-class and upper-class americans. it is a wide-ranging anxiety about the nature of the problem in the gilded age. here's another one showing the sort of unfair duel that is taking place. notice the symbols in. big businesses depicted as a medieval knight, royalty, european, aristocracy, and it is a golden night. it is also a locomotive, combination of the new technology. if you look really closely, the lance the night has says subsidize press, meaning they own the newspapers, they own the media.
the shield he has his corruption of the legislature. and the little scrawny workingmen 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 will like to avoid them. the only way labor gets any attention or relief is to call a strike and most of them end up ailing. the horse he is writing on his label poverty. on the left-hand side you have big business tycoons. if you are alive at the time, you recognizes faces like 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 worse.
no one is making this up, the data shows its true. the 1%, to use a phrase from today, on 51% of all wealth. the lower 44%, less than half the country owns only 1.2%. so tremendous skewing of wealth in the united states. it raises the question about -- sure, it's a free market. what is it sustainable? 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. in the century from the late 19th century to the late 20th century, wealth disparity decreased. after world war ii especially, after the new deal, we were
never more equal and we were never more wealthy. another aspect on this 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, because they are actually putting on the heirs 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 the we 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. there are a whole bunch 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 billions 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 am outrageous display
of conspicuous consumption. just to let you know, if i show you the image on 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 or 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. 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 evans that we are losing our republican soul. why is labor day founded here in new york city in 1882? it's founded by workers. in 1882, it feels that they are slipping. they are the heart and soul of the republic, these workers and their wages are declining, there's power in the workplace is declining, their position in society seems to be slipping. they say let's have a day. they pick 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. henry george, how to see figure into all of this. he's a newspaper editor that 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? can we keep the progress and not have so much poverty and so much turmoil? other people were proposing solutions.
our socialist, 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 avoid. he also says socialism is an extremely 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. henry george only has a seven great education, but he reads like mad, 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. 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 monopolized land of the rich got richer and the poor got for in the 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 city still expand, civilization has begun to wane, when in proportion to population, we must build more and more prisons, and more all houses, more and more insane asylum here it. 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 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 tenants they lived in. this message has resonated on different levels for different people. so progress and poverty ridden by a guy with a seven great education who self publish that to start.
he can't get anybody to buy it, 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 come 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. this will be a global phenomenon. and it works out vertically. 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 takes 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 on 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 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, 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 recur 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. it says thomas clancy, their 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 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. 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 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 in the workers have none of those things. here's an optimistic view of things. henry george detected as hercules, grabbing the great common symbol of monopoly, and 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. 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 are member the image of the knight on the horse 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. but notice 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 diluted. 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 of george's him. 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 middle-class family's house to take food. they are blaming this on henry george. the trans-idea is that there's no more waiting outside for coldly jules, they're going to barge on in and we will have anarchy. if guys like george are put in power. here's another cartoon showing abram hewitt, he is the locomotive and teddy roosevelt is hanging on their with his lasso, they are about to run over henry george. the title 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. he would 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. 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 win the election, but 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 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 even his concession speech, and he basically says the future is ours. this is bumper 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 think god would live in new york. we want to victory that makes the true victory of the republic certain of our time.
i wanted to name the book the true republic of the future, it's a recognition that george's saying you have to adjust. 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 term in this 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 the great upheaval, you could not be associated with socialism, con is in, anarchism. i think he basically gives the labor movement the heisman. he says i'm sorry, i can't be associated with this anymore. it's tragedy, because it ends his assent 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 a social movement, that is over. but his influence is remarkable. he sort of fans 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
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. a great book came out the details that story. very few people know -- if you remember in the 1970's, it was an antimonopoly game that came out. the original game was essentially antimonopoly. what else about henry george? why was he important then, and why is he important now? 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. it's the one that 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 term and 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. the second point about the common good. george essentially reminds us that we live in an age where i'm brand is on the best seller lists 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. 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 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's, dare i say, the government that everybody seems to despise, but as soon as you start to take away the government for 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's, 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 a 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. in some ways i think those three things are the key to understanding what mattered in the 19th century in a fragile moment in the nation's history, and why george matters now. thank you. [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 or not just about the economy and poverty and corporations. it is an era of terminus 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's 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 can 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. he was pretty harsh about chinese immigration. he moved away from that pretty exquisitely. 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, principal? 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. edward: i usually preface my conversations with people by saying i'm in a story and not an economist. i am a historian, not an economist. george never got into the details. he said to him it made perfect sense, it didn't need a great explanation.
he said land, 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, and indeed hole in the ground and the person i was walking with i said i have always wondered how much that piece of land is worth. don't wise, it just as valuable as someplace in the middle of north dakota. they -- it is socially greeted wealth. it's probably worth $1 billion. it's not generated by the person who owns the land, us, our energy, our creativity, we put into the market and what we take out of the market. 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. you don't want to pay it, fine, walk away, that farm, 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 -- when are 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 also to vaccinations given about political culture and history, but one of them is it's impossible to form a third party. we have this federal system, and it is winner take all, like a parliamentary system. if you look at the history of europe and other countries where labor party gets going, they win three seats in parliament. they have almost no power. but they get a toehold, and suddenly they are part of a coalition. that doesn't happen in the united states. there are virtues to our system. states are laboratories where new ideas can be tried and go national. in terms of structural change, it makes it difficult. i said the alternating -- >> i'm addressing some of your discussion, long-term study of
henry george, which i do not think you addressed adequately. i think your pictures and history were lovely. you did not address the science of political economy, probably the best book on political economy ever written. it's 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 the basic material that makes henry george important.
i think a reinforces 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, but he was never going to get it because he was critical of them. >> a lot of people that henry george influenced have different critiques of capitalism and inequality. when you look at the welfare
state, 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 may be influenced reformers in terms of trying to set up specific policies, his attitudes towards welfare and the welfare state in general. edward: 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. the other one is that she's not the only one -- but he is the first one, citizenship and republic is not confined to election day. we always thought that we are
all equal, right? we are evil 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 economic 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 tumultuous. 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. >> regarding his contemporary relevance, there is an argument that there isn't much we can do in the current era of economic quality, globalization of trade, therefore neither party has a practical program, therefore we should get out on equality, and instead 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?
edward: that is a good point. i know exactly what george would say, the simple facts will bring those two things -- and with george, he is very utopian in the last part of his book, the true republic of the future -- and he says it explicitly in his writings -- we will have a socialist society. we will not have a revolutionary socialist society where 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. , beautiful parks, libraries, forms for learning, reduced economic inequality, and social institutions that would benefit
everybody. he was a dreamer in that regard. >> would you think about that? edward: i do believe that that is a rather utopian vision, but we do need to keep as a society, as the founding fathers did, think about the common good, what do we really care about? what are the fundamental problems and who is to blame? immigrants, people on welfare are being blamed, when there are other people who could be pointed to. where do these inequality specifics come from? it is traceable to very moments in our political history starting in the late 1970's. you can see what the tax rates was in 1955, when we enjoyed incredible prosperity and reduce
level of inequality, and you can see what it was in the 1980's, 1990's, and to thousands, and also demonizing the government as if it were this horrible institution. paying taxes is painful, but it's the price we pay for living on this earth. i don't know how we change that conversation. it seems a most impossible. i would want to be germanic and say it's the difference between success and failure, but if 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 is 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. in many ways, he has harsh things to say about colonialism, imperialism, the have and have-nots on the global scale.
historically, he talks rather glowingly about the heyday of the roman republic and imperialism of that order. there are probably passages in some of his writings, but social problems, a collection of essays -- 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 immoral men 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 why he didn't talk about it in
u.s. terms. >> thank you so much. i think 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 to the common people. edward: in terms of bernie sanders? >> as a 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,
forcing conversations on inequality, that people would rather talk about undocumented immigrants in crazy terms than talking about inequality. and bernie sanders 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 he is brave enough to call himself openly a democratic socialist. it's due to our poverty of political imagination that people don't understand exactly what that is. way before henry george, americans 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. most your conclusions were about this time and the golden age. can you talk about the differences between the gilded age and this time? edward: let's see, horses. lots of things. i'm thinking what it was like to live in new york in the 1870's and 1880's, different eras. technology, recreation, politics, so fundamentally different than from 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, 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 say that is where the great reform will take place, grassroots reform 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, economy, position in the world, military -- up until -- i was fascinated to learn this. one of the things that the founders of the constitution were in agreement with was the military, their bones military. there were five ways to go to war, declare war, we don't have a military, third step, build a military, when the war, dismantle the military. it's 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 discussed the reconstruction and disenfranchisement of african americans? edward: he did. george did not have a lot to say about racial inequality, but he spoke and 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 material well-being, and economic dimension, so when displaced people are granted freedom and no land, guess what happens? they are going to be put into not slavery, but something close to it, subordination, powerlessness for 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 being one of the options of an undemocratic government, what governments do to avoid doing with social problems, declare war. he talks about warfare, but i anticipated that. 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. it will start to loom large around the 1880's, when we expand our navy and start to build up our maturity -- 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, corporations, because this is not just power, it is unelected, untouchable our, 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 eliminated, not see control, but set up
boundaries and parameters for the behavior. thank you. [applause] >> you're watching american history tv. every weekend on c-span3. to join the conversation, like us on race book at c-span history. american history tv is featuring c-span's original series, first ladies, influence and image, at 8:00 p.m. eastern sunday night throughout the rest of the year. c-span produce the series in cooperation with the white house historical