tv Discussion on Henry George Labor and the Gilded Age CSPAN August 3, 2016 12:39pm-2:01pm EDT
room to doing a little bit of spot writing and editing, and eventually became a very successful editor out there in california for a whole bunch of different newspapers. started his own newspapers and so forth. but his life was very smult with us. even though he got married and had children he was sort of constantly doing well, riding on top of the world, then, crash, his newspaper would fail. or he would sell his newspaper in order to do something else, then that would fall through. so he had a lot of -- i forgot to advance the slide. there he is looking in his younger years at age 25 when he's out there on the make in california. his rise and fall is emblematic of the boom and bust economy. he's trying to figure out. on christmas eve, 1864, he's writing in his diary. he believes if he just works
hard enough and tries hard enough and makes good decisions he's guaranteed to succeed. so he's always chastising himself for being too rash and making bad decisions. here he is almost a new year's eve kind of resolution determined to cultivate habits of determination, energy and industry, feel that i am in a bad situation and must use my utmost effort to keep ahead. so to him people are failing because there are larger forces at work. he ends this entry with -- saw land lady and told her i was not able to pay the rent. something that i think if anybody's ever been in that position, particularly with two young children, you know that's not a very good situation to be in. henry george is shaped a little bit by his own personal background but he's also shaped by the troubling duality of the gilded age. gilded age is a great metaphor, right? a great term. mark twain coins the term. it suggests that on one hand, things look golden.
it is a golden age. and it is an amazing age of technology, of wealth creation, of innovation, of booming cities and so forth. things look great. but on the other hand, like a piece of gilded -- think about a gilded bracelet. right? if you scratch off the gold, what's underneath there is a dark piece of, say, iron? it is not particularly exciting or enamoring. that's the thing, the gilded age as this golden hue to it but beneath the surface there is pretty seriously bad, seriously dangerous things happening. so it is an age of optimism. trust me that that word says anxiety. not sure why we lost it there. george takes the duality and captures it in the age of progress and poverty. this is the great problem of the age. but we don't want to get ahead of ourselves. so let's just begin with looking at this idea of progress, how optimistic and upbeat people were in the late 19th century
about what was going on. here's president grover cleveland. virtually every presidential address has this kind of talk. every american citizen must contemplate with the utmost pride and enthusiasm the growth and expansion of our country, the wonderful thrift and enterprise of our people and the demonstrated superior or the of our free government. right? so cleveland is essentially saying free government, free enterprise, everything is great. we're boochlbooming along. of course a few weeks after he gives this address the panic of 1893 kicks in and the economy crashes and it is not so good looking. but cleveland's words really are 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're not making it up. just look -- i won't bury you in statistics. look at some of these numbers from the greatest period of american industrialization, this last third of the 19th century, gilded age. the right-hand column, the see
the bright red numbers of ext extraordinary exponential growth. steel is like a boutique industry in 1860. but by 1900 it is really the great dominant, representative industry for that era. really incredible output. there is wealth creation here. united states is going to go in 1860 from the status as a developing country, kind of like brazil is today, to the world's most dominant onomy. that's just in 40 years. so it is a pretty astonishing rise. there is a lot of celebration to go with it. in 1866, the atlantic cable is lane across the atlantic ocean connecting europe and the united states by telegraph. that is a big national celebration, really in some ways equivalent to at least in people's minds the landing on the moon. really just an amazing technological breakthrough. seems to primitive to us but it was a huge breakthrough at the time. so, too, was the
transcontinental railroad when was that completed in 1869. tremendous celebrations. it is way the heck out there in the middle of nowhere in utah. but it is essentially broadcast, 19th century style, by telegraph all across the country. people in public areas in new york and boston, chicago and everywhere all erupt in cheers when the continent is spanned. this is a great era of world fairs or expositions. so the philadelphia centennial is a huge world's fair. draws millions and millions of people from around the country and around the world. the showcase event at this and all the other world's fairs is technology. coreless generator on the right there, the most amazing piece of powered machinery on the face of the earth. it powered the entire exposition. it was a big kind of muscle flexing of america's technology and ingenuity.
right here, the brooklyn bridge. today we look at the brooklyn bridge and it is this beautiful old bridge, the stone towers and gothic archways and it kind of takes us -- there is a lot of nostalgia associated with the brooklyn bridge. but that's not true. 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 the 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. and the speeches, as you can imagine, when people gave their speeches talking about this glorious event, they used the word progress, progress, progress, over and over again. so there is a lot to celebrate in this time period. now of course, there's also -- people would, if you went to the brooklyn bridge ceremonies, you wouldn't have to walk very far from the brooklyn bridge to find poverty. so there is no question there is poverty in this period, but
people who are of an optimistic mind that everything is going great, we don't really need to change anything, had various responses to poverty. one was a fairly traditional one. here you see my people on the right. an irish couple sitting in the shanty not terribly bothered by their poverty. but a famous anti-poverty reform er's attitude was very, very traditional. she refers to charity as the problem. poverty is the no the problem, charity is the problem. it's luring what would be hard working people away from their hard work and turning them into, as she says, idle beggars, essentially. so she thinks the problem with poverty is that there's too much charity. americans are too good-hearted. so she creates an organization called the charity organization society which, in truth, is actually the charity restriction society. trying to -- because she says there's too many soup kitchens, way too much free coal being
given out, way too many free groceries to be had. we need to cut this down so we can help the poor see the virtues of hard work. a more harsh view emerged in this period called social darwinism. it has a tremendous influence and it's these concepts of essentially assigning a scientific and divine plan to poverty. had great credos, you hear words like this coming out of the mouth of john d. rockefeller and andrew carnegie. what a blessing to let the unreformed drunkard and his children die. right? no ambiguity there. the way of the world is for the poor and the drunkard and glutton and others to die. and hopefully when they die they won't have any more babies. what publication did this come from? this comes from "the christian advocate. "the number one selling christian publication in the united states. this is not fringe talk. this is mainstream talk by people who are trying to make sense of things.
if you believe this, you absolutely do not have to worry about poverty. it is going to take care of itself. the poor ye shall always have with you. that kind of thing. on one hand there is optimism. it is also a period of tremendous anxiety. you don't have to look for it very far. some people were both optimistic and anxious at the same time. they weren't sure which direction the country was heading in. what are people worried about? not just henry george but many people are bothered about what appears to be a rise in poverty. take a look at this image here. whether i show this image in public sometimes, the caption to it, i just say what do you see here? more importantly, what book would you associate this with? invariably somebody says dickens. that's exactly what the artist wanted you to think. think about the 19th century. you think what is the core of the american identity?
there's several aspects but one of the cores of american identity in the 19th century was we're not european. that has not to do with ethnicity. it has to do with politics and social arrangements. throughout american history we're constantly worried. in the 20th century we'll be worried about communism. it takes its place. but in the 19th century it is like are we becoming european? are we sliding toward european style society where you have kings and queens and aristocracy, fixed classes, state-supported churches and endless war and social turmoil. so this is an image that is really expressing that kind of anxiety. notice it is not in the socialist advocate, right? it is in the harper's weekly, the naption's weekly publicatio, the best selling one. it shows a wealthy family and a poor family and raises that question about haves and have-nots and what direction are we heading in. this is in the wake of the
terrible depression. i already mentioned the depression of the 1890s. this is a quotation from a -- probably one of the most important leaders in new york city talking to a congressional commit that traveled the country in 1883 what is this -- why this incessant clash between labor and capital. why all these strikes and so forth and mcguire sees the moment and said look at this city and its long rows of tenement barracks, it goes on, you can read it yourself. people are living in squalor, he doesn't say it here, but he does elsewhere, european squalor. the kind of squalor when we think of dickens and sees like manchester and liverpool, we are heading in that direction and better do something about it or we will no longer have a republic that we would recognize. and walt whitman the great voice of american democracy and certainly a man mostly, completely enthusiastic about america and about the modern world and so forth, in 1879 he gives a speech in which he says, you know, just concentrate on
what he says here. if the united states, like the countries of the old word, there he is, right? we don't want to be them, the old world countries. if the united states are also to grow vast crops of poor, desperate, dissatisfied, nomadic and miserably -- i have many there are a lot of people giving voice of this kind of anxiety of the way this country is going. we seem to be losing our republic. that phrase was with us as a country and as a society and political culture right up to the end of the 19 century. at certain point when we became a global power, experiment was succeeded and we don't need to use it anymore. it was a phrase that everybody used.
that it was fragile and unfolding and we needed to care for the republic and make adjustment like any good experiment. and it was born in the late 18th century and it was good. as soon as the constitution's ink was dry we were all set which is not really possible when one looks at the historical record. another source of anxiety. the rise of big business. business bigger than anybody could have conceived of. as henry george says, the founding fathers, they were brilliant people, but they could have never conceived of a large corporation like carnegie steel or standard oil. there's just no way they could imagine that a single individual could have this much power unelected, undemocratic power in a democracy. and here's one of my favorite, i have many of these great cartoons from puck, but this is called the bosses of the senate. now, you may be -- let's take a moment to think how fortunate we are to live in a society where big business has not any sway at all in congress.
way back in the bad old days the trusts, the big corporations, you can see them depicted as money bags, the steel trust, the copper trust, and they are pretty fierce looking people. notice they're coming in through the entrance for monopolists, right? there's a big doorway to allow them in. but if you look at the far end you can see the people's entrance is nailed shut. the sign across it saying closed, right? who has access? it's the corporations. who has no access? us, the people. and, of course, the size differential is important, too, to show the leaders of the republic, these senators, are actually little kids who -- many of whom are actually cowering in front of the power and the menace of these great corporations and this, again, is not in the "nights of labor monthly" this is a mainstream middle-class publication called "puck" magazine, it is, you know, landing on the doorsteps of middle-class and upper class americans, so this is a kind of wide-ranging anxiety about the nature of the problem in the gilded age.
here's another one. it's showing the sort of unfair duel that's taking place. and, again, it's another "puck" magazine one. notice all the symbolism, too, big business is depicted as a medieval knight, again, royalty, europe, aristocracy and so forth and it's a gold knight. gilded age, golden era. it's also a locomotive, too, so it's a combination of the new technology. if you look really closely, the lance that the knight has says "subsidized press" meaning they own the newspapers. they own the media. the shield he is "corruption of the legislature." and the little scrawny working man, he's got a little hammer in his hand saying "strike" the only weapon he has. that's why we have so many strikes. but the only way labor can get attention or relief is to call a strike. most of them end up failing and notice the horse he's riding on is labeled poverty.
and notice also the divide on the left-hand side you've got big business tycoons and if you were alive at the time you would recognize the faces it's vanderbilt and jay gould and the titans of wall street and on the right-hand side are skinny, emaciated peasants. there's a lot of anxiety here and it's not just poor working people making a dollar a day, it's a widespread anxiety about the direction in which the republic is heading. rising increased inequality. that also becomes an important theme here. and not just that there's a rise in poverty but there's a -- a huge gap between rich and poor. and it seems to be getting worse. and, again, no one's making this up. the data shows that this is absolutely true. the 1% to use a phrase from today own 51% of all wealth. and the lower 44%, so less than half the country, owned only 1.2%, so tremendous skewing of wealth in the united states. and it raised this kind of question about this, you know,
sure, it's a free market and such, but does this -- can this -- is this a sustainable trend? and if you look at where we are today, people always ask, how does this compare to today? in 2010 which is the latest data that i have the 1% owns about 35% of all wealth and that is rising rapidly and it's up from 20% in 1979, so to put it another way, in the century from the late 19th century to the late 20th century wealth disparity actually decreased. think about after world war ii especially the new deal, the postwar period, we were never more equal and we were never more wealthy, it's a very important thing to kind of think about in that 30-year period. another aspect, again, on this european theme, sure, we have superrich people and a growing mass of poor people. what are the rich doing? people are not imagining the europeanization of america and the europeanization of the
american elite and the emergence of american aristocracy, they are actually putting on the airs. the woman on the right -- on the left is a wife of a very powerful businessman. she's dressed up for a costume ball as marie antoinet and there are people that are going to dress up as louis xiv and other members. to say it is unacceptable to mimic european royalty in a kind of admiring way tells you that something has shifted in the gilded age, that the nouveau riche are acting differently. there's the ideal of republican simplicity. which by the way if you want to see it in new york, you can see the mansion, the woman on the right is mrs. vanderbilt and her husband has built her a stupendous, not a mansion really, a palace, on fifth avenue and there are a whole bunch of palaces like it on fifth avenue, so that's how the rich express their wealth, you know, what eventually in this period called conspicuous
consumption, but if you go down to gramercy park, that's where the rich live in the 1830s and '40s. the houses are nice but they are very plain. most unadorned brown stone. maybe a nice wrought iron fence. you don't flaunt it but 50 years later you flaunt it as much as possible and mrs. vanderbilt's ball will cost millions of dollars in our today's money it will be covered by the press and it will touch off a whole competition about who could throw the biggest and most expensive and most outrageous display of conspicuous consumption. and here's just to let you know, again, if i'd shown you the image on the right just that interior image, many of you would not have thought of america, you would have thought of versailles, of an opulent room furnished with all the finest thing and gold leaf but that's fifth avenue in new york and that's the housewarming party that she threw in march of
1883. another source of anxiety, rising labor capital conflict. it's not imagination. it's actually happening on a scale never seen before in american history. here's the famous hay market incident from may 4th, 1886. it's one of the most famous incidents. there's a lot of others. between 1881 and 1900 there were 37,000 strikes. in the years -- in all of american history, up to 1881, i'll bet you there was no more than 3,000 strikes, i mean, so this is just a monumental growth in strikes and 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, so these are big, big strikes and there are also small strikes neighborhood strikes as well and it's got people saying, you know, what society do we associate with this kind of class clashing violence? it's europe. and so 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.g. mcguire, the man i quoted earlier, in 1882, why do they do it? because they feel are slipping, their wages are declining. their power in the workplace is declining. the way their position in society seems to be slipping and so they call -- they say let's have a day and they pick may 5th -- september 5th, 1882, and they stage a parade and a big picnic, about 5,000 people show up. within five years it's happening all across the country. within ten years it's a national holiday. that tells you a lot this invention of a holiday that there's something happening in this time period that people are calling attention to a social -- a social problem that needs addressing.
all right. so, henry george, how does he figure into all this? well, in the 1870s he's a newspaper editor. and he increasingly is identified as a reformist editor. he's taking on questions of land reform. regulating the railroads, big questions out there in california. the rights of workers and so forth. and he is, like a lot of people, really troubled by this dual quality that 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. and, of course, other people were proposing solutions, right? there were socialists, the big birth of the socialist movement during this time period, and george will make a very conscious decision to position himself as not a socialist. he will say there are laissez-faire capitalists who say do nothing, let us run our businesses the way we ought to
and that's an extreme to avoid and he said socialism is an extreme we need to avoid. it's a little more complicated. he defines it in a couple different ways, he talks about revolutionary socialism as opposed to gradual socialism. he likes gradual socialism sort of phased in over 100 years. henry george in his spare time, he only has a seventh grade education but he reads like mad, he reads economics and he reads adam smith and all the important political economists and determines they all got it wrong and he is going to sort this thing out and come up with a diagnosis and a prescription. and there are a couple -- he's a wonderful writer for a guy with a marginal education and this in some way indicates why he becomes so popular. he has complicated economic sections but a lot is beautifully written and poetic and it's biblical and he cites the bible and other figures. and here's essentially the crux of the problem. it is as though an immense wedge
were being forced not underneath society which, of course, would lift everybody but through society. those who are above the point of separation are elevated. the few. but those who are below are crushed down. and he says that's the problem. we have to figure out where this wedge is coming from and how we can redirect it. all right. a couple -- i won't bury you. the book is 535 pages, so it would take us a couple of days to read through it. but i'll give you a couple of other nuggets from it. everywhere it is evident that this tendency to inequality cannot go much further without carrying our civilization into the downward path which so easy to enter and so hard to abandon. george cites history. he said what happened to rome? rome was prosperous and mighty and full of science and learning and incredible progress. and then rome just slid off the -- you know, off the cliff. what happened? and he says, you know, what happened was people began to monopolize land and the rich got richer and the poor got poorer
and they hit a certain we would call today a tipping point and there's no going back. the society starts to slide and slides inevitably into the dustbin of history. he said we're on that path. it's not too late yet but we have to be very, very careful. we can't wait. we have to act immediately. just think about the relevance of this quotation to our times in some ways. though knowledge increases and inventions march on civilization has begun to wane when in proportion to population we must build more and more prisons, more and more insane asylums. we've got all this good stuff happening but yet we're building more jails and poorhouses. this is -- something is clearly not right. all right. so, he diagnoses the problem in 535 pages. as saying that what happens is that the wealthy -- people in fortunate positions, lucky people, crafty people, are gaining monopolizing things and creating destructive inequality.
the rich will get richer and the poor will become poorer and we'll lose our republican soul. the solution she comes up with which is not as important as his diagnosis. people loved his diagnosis. very vivid. very powerful. very alarming to hear what he had to say about where we were going. they're not so necessarily so enamored, although there are people enamored with it, with his single tax, his notion that we need to establish a single tax on land and that will solve everything. but the point i make before that is that we have to -- small government has been great up to this point but the founding fathers could never have imagined an dme economy like this, imagined a national railroad system, a steel company the size of carnegie steel or petroleum company the size of standard oil
and we need to make some small steps towards curbing certain aspects of the economy. and his idea is the single tax. some people, again, as i say try -- they like what henry george has to say in kind of a general way. they're not necessarily signing on to the single tax but there's a lot of people who like the idea of a single tax and one of the groups we'll talk about in just a moment who liked what he had to say were urban workers. most are landless people and they pay huge amounts of money in rent for the tenements that they live in. the message has resonance on different levels for different people. all right. so, progress and poverty. written by a guy with a seventh grade education who self-publishes it to start, right? he can't get anybody to buy it. harpers, none of the big publishers will buy it. but he's a printer. so, he says, okay, i'll borrow money from friends and self-publish it and send it back to the publishers and it works. he sends one to appletons which was a huge publisher, now that you set the plates and make it inexpensive for us, and he moves to new york city, because he
knows if you are a san francisco editor the chances of having an impact are much, much smaller. come to new york where things are happening. also new york is sort of the gateway where american ideas go to europe and european ideas come to america so there's this kind of a chance that this will be a global phenomenon and 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 and he's not irish but his message has great resonance with irish catholics who are -- one of the largest ethnic groups in america and he finds this is a great way to kind of get noticed and to get speaking gigs and to find his first real audience and also to get -- he becomes well known in great britain as a result of that. all right. so, why does he appeal to workers? let's look at this as one of the many questions. when he writes his book he's thinking i'll just wow everybody. and it turns out his first real core group are american workers and one of the main reasons is
that he challenges that fundamental or that traditional understanding of poverty the one we saw josephine shaw lowell kind of touching on. poverty 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, right? just need to grin and bear it and their reward in heaven will be great. that's sort of the old fashioned way of dealing with it. it's easy to say that, it's not easy to hear that when you're the poor person. and here's 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 succinctly, "progress and poverty" reversed all this, teaching that poverty is an artificial condition of man's invention. and i love this last part. working men and women learning all this commenced with their
change. that's why there is so much tumult in the 1880s especially here in new york city. now, the period 1885, 1886, 1887 is often called by historians the great upheaval because there's a huge spike in strikes. a lot of labor mobilization and in '86 and '87 a huge campaign of labor parties that form all across the country in protest to big crackdown on labor and labor activism. in new york city in 1886 over the summer of '86 in the wake of strikes and boycotts and sort of in the national atmosphere after the hay market bombing in chicago in may of '86, 100 labor activists are arrested, many of them given actually very long prison terms for -- there was -- it was pretty easy to do that actually because they were accused of and tried and convicted of conspiracy. so, if you called a strike or called a boycott against an employer, in the eyes of the law
you were guilty of conspiring with your fellow workers to destroy the business of another person, so you could be put away. this is a -- one of the big strikes that takes place, the streetcars in new york city. the streetcars which precede the subway system are privately owned and they're given franchises. they make millions of dollars a year. they bribe the -- i have a great graphic that shows the new york city council had 24 members in 1884 and there's a front page article in "the new york times" to show one of the largest streetcar owners bribed nearly every one of them, 22 of the 24 city councillors took a huge bribe, $25,000 which in 1884 was a lot of money, and their status, thomas clancy, third district, fled the country, you know, and in jail, in jail, out on bail. this incredible list of people. and so the anger at the streetcar companies, they were terrible employer, and there were three big streetcar strikes in the spring of 1886 that played -- a lot of boycotts and a lot of other labor action that
result in this big crackdown on labor. a lot of workers arrested. a lot of unions prosecuted and so forth and that sort of sets the stage for the labor response. labor's divided in the gilded age. should we form a labor party like they're doing in europe? or should we try to influence the democratic party? you know, kind of withhold our support for one candidate or another? called the balance of power strategy. and one of the reasons why they resisted labor parties is they always failed miserably. you know, there were labor parties before this and a labor party candidate for mayor would get, like, 329 votes that's it. 500 votes, a symbolic. it was a waste of time. a waste of money. deeply embarrassing and it also divided the labor movement, people said this is why we shouldn't do this. let's stop trying to form a labor party. all the crackdown and all the turmoil in the summer of '86 leaves even the most jaded person to say, let's do it.
the united labor party is formed and they, you know, don't just grab any old carpenter or bricklayer to run for mayor. they say we've got to get somebody who has some credibility and henry george is perfect. he has this long record of being an advocate of workers rights and reform and he's also a card-holding member of the knights of labor and he's a member of the typographer's union and he's got this credibility that goes a long way to get people to nominate him. he's nominated in august of 1886 to run for mayor. the odds are to say the least pretty stacked against him. tammny hall is a huge machine. and the republican party is equally formidable, they have money and experience and the workers have none of those things. here's an optimistic view of things, henry george shown as hercules grabbing one of the more common symbols of monopoly along with an octopus showing george grabbing the serpent and the serpent is labeled monopoly
and trust and graft and so forth and he's going to do in the serpent and that's new york city hall in the background. to do that he has to defeat two people abram hewitt who is a 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 pro-labor legislation. he was at least considered a pretty good employer in his iron works, so he had an ability at least to claim that he was a pro-labor candidate. and then there's this guy that people are just starting to learn about, a man named theodore roosevelt, who left new york when his wife and mother died tragically. went out and did his ranching thing and he'd just come back to the city and was looking to get back into politics and the republican party grabbed him and made him their candidate. now, you remember that image of
the knight on the horse with the lance pointed at the working man and it said subsidized press? the press is 100% on the side as you can imagine -- or at least 100% against henry george. here you see a vivid image from "puck." they are capable of publishing pro-labor cartoons and anti-labor cartoons week after week. this is not necessarily anti-labor. here you have the devil standing behind a worker and saying don't be fooled. george has got snake oil. he's got these great ideas about -- and his cornucopia in the background, money he's going to give it away. the way the powers that be in the late 19th century is tried to derail george, they couldn't say workers are stupid, right? because they need the workers' vote, you are being deluded. don't be fooled by this wolf in sheep's clothing and there's a lot of this kind of imagery. here's an image of the statue of liberty which was unveiled that fall. it's unveiled in late october of
'86 and the election of '86 takes place a couple days later so it's a very new symbol. she can stand it and around the statue of liberty are forces of communism, forces of socialism, forces of anarchism and forces of as you can see in the blowup there forces of georgism, right? lumping him in there with all this -- what they say -- kind of tarring him with that idea that he's right up there with the anarchists and the violent insurrectionists. and he'll mobilize the tramp vote and the poor and we'll have social chaos. a tramp is barging into a middle family's house and taking food. they are going to barge in on you and we'll have anarchy in our society if guys like george are put in power. and here's another cartoon
showing abram hewitt, he's the locomotive and teddy roosevelt sort of hanging on there with his lasso and they're about to run over henry george. notice the title of the book. it's not "progress and poverty" it's "how to prevent progress" by henry george. so there's a big media mobilization against him consistently characterizing george as either, you know, an air-headed dreamer or, and more and more, as the election approached, an agent who -- of insurrection, of anarchy and if he's elected blood will below in the streets of new york and all across the country. it sounds wild, but this was what mainline candidates like abram hewitt were saying. george has a lot to contend with as do his supporters and they do what has never been done before, they stage an incredible grassroots campaign. hewitt doesn't even campaign. he goes to five dinners, gives five friends of the chamber of commerce types and gives five
little speeches, most of which denounce henry george as a red-handed communist. george is out every night giving five, seven, eight, ten speeches in front of factories and street car stops and so forth and it's called the tailboard campaign and it's never been done before and it's a grassroots mobilization and they have nothing to lose, because they realize if they get people to vote, they might actually if not win the election make a difference and lo and behold instead of 329 votes or 400 votes he gets 68,000 votes. it is a close finish. it is a three-way race. we'll never know if george had run straight up against hewitt how it might have turned out but he outpolled the republican theodore roosevelt and there was a big question about whether he lost the election because of tammany hall's ballot box shenanigans. there's a lot of allegations that tammany stole ballots, that they stuffed ballot boxes. the fact is we'll never know.
we know that tammany absolutely positively could have done it, that they had done it in the past so 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 labor party candidates across the country, george is the one that people are watching. it's the one that, you know, frederick engles and karl marx are watching it and writing letters back and forth, who is henry george, they don't agree with him but he certainly seems to be pushing our agenda in the overthrow of capitalism. here's a cartoon in the wake of george's defeat but a pretty impressive defeat and he's looking mighty and the quotation is basically saying we nearly won against a splintered opposition, they are united against us and we better have a bigger hammer. there's a real optimism coming out of this election among the george supporters and the labor movement and not only locally but nationally.
something is happening here. we could easily see a third party go national in a couple years and run, you know, like in europe a true third party that would be an alternative to the mainstream parties that are in the hands of big business. and here's george on the eve of his -- this is his concession speech. and he basically says the future is ours. this was bunker hill, right? bunker hill, the continentals were driven back but they symbolically won a victory that resounded around the world. they made a -- they won a victory that made this republic a reality and thank god men of new york, we in this fight have won a victory that makes the true republic of the future certain, certain in our time. it was a time i wanted to name the book, you know, "the true republic of the future" because i think it's a recognition that george is saying, you know, you have to adjust things, right? republics aren't just born in the 1780s and they're done, right? it's an evolution and we need to get back on track to adjust to this modern world of industry and so forth and technology and 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, the republican and democratic parties, were very, very terrified by this result. and, again, couldn't denounce workers for voting for george in such huge numbers so you see the same kind of patronizing tone here. nice job, very impressive. but you've got to get rid of that friend of yours and, of course, the friend is that classic symbol of anarchy in the background meaning that henry george, socialism, anarchism and you need to come back to the mainstream. and they make big adjustments in the wake of the george election, they author pro-labor legislation aimed at bringing the working class into the democratic party, a little bit into the republican party but mostly into the democratic party. so, what's the legacy of henry george? at the moment of the election everybody is thinking this is just the first step. this will be a big thing not
only for us but also for george. there are many people saying george is going to be president of the united states in a couple years. it just seems that that's the way in which the world is moving. the next year in 1887 the united labor party decides to contest elections and it just falls apart. and george breaks with them. there's a tremendous internal schism. fights with socialists. fights with the workers and so forth. and it's something i detail in one of the latter chapters of the work and try to 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. and a lot of it i think has to do with the red scare tactics. he read the writing on the wall was clear that if you want to have any influence in this country after hay market, after the great upheaval, you cannot be associated with socialism, communism and anarchism and i think he basically gives the labor movement the heisman and says, sorry, but i can't be associated with this anymore and it's tragic because it ends his
ascent essentially on that track. certainly is over. he continues to be influential. he continues to write books and, of course, his books are still in print to this day. but that aspect of george leading an insurgent social movement that is over. but george's influence is remarkable. he sort of fades from the scene, but the number of people, i list this all on the back of the book, literally dozens of people who you know very well, lincoln stephens and jacob reese and jane adams and just a who's who list of progressive era reformers say in their memoirs in letters to their friends, do you know what really turned my -- what opened my eyes? somebody gave me a copy of "progress and poverty." and it's an incredible number of people who found this book to be a great eye opener and it really set them on their path in the next generation, the generation we call the progressive era. so, that's in some ways some of the biggest aspects of george's
legacy and why he's worth knowing. i should also point out that most people don't know this but the game monopoly comes from henry george, not him directly, but one of his followers worked up a game which she called the landlords 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. and to make a long story short, the game kicked around for a while and a guy took the game and changed the name and the words and he sells it to parker brothers and they make monopoly the most famous board game in the world. and there's a great book that came out that details that story. but very few people know that it actually -- remember in the '70s there was an anti-monopoly game that came out. this is funny because the original game was basically anti-monopoly.
so why is henry george important then and why he is important now? for one, henry george explains in vivid, clear, understandable, in many ways certainly to his supporters irrefutable evidence that extreme inequality threatens democracy. and we're always -- as americans we love -- there are certain things terms and ideas we love. what are our great republican ideals? freedom, individualism, justice, equality, but we're always a little leery about equality. it is the one that makes us the most nervous. we like the idea, but we don't like the way that some of the things that it tends to to suggest. but extreme inequality will destroy democracy and we need to find ways to limit extreme inequality in order to preserve our democracy. it is that simple. and it is an inrreversible loss if we lose our democracy, it won't come back. second key point, and that has tremendous relevance today, in the wake of citizens united, and
many other -- the fact you need to be a multi, multimillionaire if not a billionaire to run for president now or congress is a real significant problem. the second point about the common good. george essentially reminds us, we live in an age of ine rand is on the best sellers list and more and more americans are calling themselves libertarians than certainly i can remember as though libertarianism, individualism is the american way. and the fact is it is part of the american way. going way, way back, no question that it is essential to our political culture and 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 enact policies, and do things that attend to the common good. and you can be selfish about it. you can say, as people did in the 1830s, right, there is nothing in the constitution about education. but in the 1830s, we began as a country to say, you know, public education is both a good thing
to do, for people that -- to provide people with the rudimentary education and it is also a really smart thing to do because we'll have less murderers and less social turmoil and so forth. so george is reminding, you know, people in the gilded age that individualism is not the only ideal, that it is always existed side by side, intention in, in conflict with but with individualism is the common good and we need to remember that. and i think that's a really powerful idea that needs to come back into our national conversations about everything, right. about health care, about education, about the environment, because we get caught up in these other ideas of ideological extremes and we forget that some of the core principles are right there in front of us. one of them being the common good. and then thirdly, the idea that the government, dare i say, the government that everybody seems to despise, but, you know, as soon as you try to take away the government from people, people get very upset, they like driving on roads, they like
having stop lights to control traffic, they like having public schools, they like having police officers and so forth keeping public order. but the fact is that the idea that the government, and 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 a land of farmers and small shops, it made sense. it no longer makes sense. the founding fathers were alive, they would agree. he starts his book by saying, imagine if we could bring benjamin franklin into the late 1870s and 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. and he says, you know, strong societies make adjustments, need to make adjustments and 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, in the name of democracy. and that's really in some ways i think those three things are really the key to understanding why george mattered in the late 19th century, fragile moment in the nation's history and why george matters now. so thank you very much. we do have time for questions. this evening is being filmed by c-span. they asked that anybody asking questions so that this could be part of the program would come down to the microphones at the end of the walkway here. so please, anybody has any questions, please jump right up. i'd love to hear them. >> thank you, that was a really good talk. >> thanks. >> what did henry george have to say, if anything, about immigration, because immigration was a very big issue at this
time as well. >> right. the parallels with gilded age are not just about the economy. and poverty and corporations, right? it is an era of tremendous wrangling about immigration and there is a movement to deprive poor people of the vote. there is a lot of parallels there. so 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. that, as anybody would tell you that was mainstream thinking at the time. not to let him off the hook, but to say that progressives -- i think it was -- i can't think of the historian, maybe michael kason wrote progressivism stopped with the chinese. you could be progressive and open minded about everything, but draw the line, but the chinese are accepted. early on he was pretty harsh about chinese immigration. not immigration in general. he gradually moved away from
that quite explicitly by the time he wrote progress and poverty. he said immigration is a good thing, but immigration in some ways is a reflection of the problem of monopoly and problem of inequality. so that in some ways we need to address that both here and abroad. but he was a very tolerant person as far as immigration goes. he mostly saw, if he wrote anything critical about immigration, mostly the fact that people were being forced to migrate as opposed to it being necessarily a social problem for the united states. >> there is a two-part question. the first is could you explain george's point about taxing land and that social economic principle. >> yes. >> the second, the book political decay he argues that american government is so decentralized that it works against progress of any kind. >> mm-hmm. >> henry george seemed to think that there was a moral principle at work here, but structurally our political system from
decentralization to the wealthy having a significant edge in the way the constitution was designed it makes reform a long-standing reform almost impossible. >> yeah. so let's take the first question. i usually preface my conversations with people by saying, and by the way, i'm a historian, not an economist, so i have a little trouble trying to explain george's economic theory, and george himself never really got too much into the details. he sort of said, look, to him it made perfect sense, didn't need a great explanation, but basically he said, you know, land, especially land, derives its value not because it is valuable because of socially created wealth. if you own a piece of land, we see this around us in new york city, why is one -- i was down at wall street this morning, you know, 45, 55 broad street, empty hole in the ground, i said to a person i was walking with, i
wonder how -- i wonder how much that piece of land is worth. dirtwise, it is just as valuable as, you know, some place in the middle of north dakota. but it is socially created wealth. it is probably worth a billion dollars. so george says that wealth is generated by us, not by the person who owns the land who is lucky enough to have acquired it or schemed to get it. it is us, it is our energy, our creativity what we put into the market, what we take out of the market and therefore that value needs to be taxed for the common good. and that was his essential principle. he said, look, if it is -- if a piece of property is worth $500, you can use it as though it is private property. you owe at the end of the year $500. and if you don't want to pay it, fine, walk away, that farm, that workshop will be sold or doesn't say sell, sort of handed over to another person who is willing to work it and pay that fee. so, again, more -- it is more the broad ideas that he's talking about here than the
specifics of that reform that really matter to most people. and then the -- that's the question one. number two, the -- our political system, we have a wonderful political system. but the question got to a really important point, which is we do have a system very different from much of western europe, and so one of the great eternal questions in american history is why don't we, unlike -- why are we so different from other industrialized societies, there is a socialist party, labor party, and they're powerful and they win elections. why not in america? there is all kinds of examples, explanations given about the political culture and history and so forth, but one of them is it is just impossible to form a third party. and to do these things. because we have this federal system and it is winner take all, unlike a parliamentary system, so, you know if you look at history of europe and other countries where a labor party gets going, you know, they usually win three seats in parliament, almost no power but they get that toe hold and then seven seats and then nine seats
and then suddenly they're a coalition -- part of a coalition. and that just simply doesn't happen in the united states. so our -- as -- and there are virtues to our systems too. states can work as laboratories of experiment, used to say that about wisconsin and the progressive era where new ideas can be tried and then go national. but i think in terms of a real long-standing structural change, it does make it very, very difficult. >> i should be alternating. >> 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 your history were lovely, but in fact you did not address the science of political economy, which is probably the best book on political economy anybody has
ever written. and its analysis of land, labor and capital and the returns to them of rent, wage, economic rent, wages and interest are really groundbreaking and have not been duplicated. and it is that, i think, that -- because it requires some study that is always elighted and everybody jumps on single tax and populism and not the basic material that makes henry george important. and i think maybe a reemphasis on that would be desirable. >> all right, well, i think i'll take your point that i didn't talk much about his second book, the science of political economy -- actually, the third book, i did talk about it in my book, for a couple of reasons. one is that he has the nightmare that all writers fear, he writes the book, of course long hand,
moves to brooklyn and can't find it when he gets there. loses the whole manuscript. so he has to literally take his pen out and rewrite from notes and memory the entire book. so it is one of those things that, like i said, in our day, we would be worried about a file disappearing from our hard drive or something. but the reason i don't talk too much about that particular book is that the focus of my work on henry george is that period where he's up to about 1887, where he's a key figure, the science political economy comes out in 1886, and begins to make a -- be part of the important george canon. but not the one that creates his momentum, creates his national and international profile. and one thing we see with george is he's -- has a lot to say about a lot of different things. one is he says political economy, what we call economics today, political economy has lost its way, right.
it is in the service of power. and it should be in the service of humanity, he has a lot to say in that book and in the writings. he criticized the academy, he secretly hoped to become a professor or have that kind of credibility on some level, and he was never going to get it because he was so critical of them. >> yeah. a lot of the people who henry george influenced seemed to have ultimately very different critiques of capitalism and understandings of inequality. and when you look at the welfare state, their justifications, citizenship for the masses or positive liberty for individuals, but the actual understanding of inequality and the source of it that henry george develops, i'm not sure how much that survived. or at least from what i understand, so i'm curious about whether you -- how his ideas about inequality and its sources maybe influenced reformers in terms of trying to set up specific policies and what maybe
his attitudes towards welfare -- the welfare state more generally -- >> he always said he was in favor of a small state, even though he spoke both ways. but i would say a couple of things that george did in not specifically, but that broad ideas that one, we talked about, the state needs to be an instrument of reform. just have to do that. and the other one is emphasizing he's not -- he's the first one and he's the first one to do it on a big stage, is to say, citizenship in a republic is not confined to election day. that's -- we always thought -- we're all equal, right? we're equal because we have each of us has one vote. and george says, that's great. that's an important thing, but the longer we develop as a society, we are coming to realize there is an economic dimension, a material dimension to citizenship. and that without it, your vote is useless. it is worthless. if you're starving, living in a hand to mouth and unable to feed your family, your vote is worthless. so that's a concept that i think
influences broadly not specifically but broadly a lot of reformers in the progressive era and afterward and just think about it, in fact, i have a whole election of fdr quotes that sound like he's quoting progress and poverty. and when fdr comes out in 1941 with the four freedoms, articulating, specifying what our core freedoms in that tumultuous period, one is freedom from want. and that was controversial, people said how socialist can you get. his point was, he says the same thing, if you do not -- people that don't have basic material needs met are the stuff of which dictatorships are made. he's saying that in the 30s and 40s when we know what dictatorships are all about. it is an instrument of reform and citizenship in a modern republic has a material and economic dimension you can't ignore.
>> regarding george's contemporary relevance, there is an argument out there that, in fact, there isn't much we can do in the current year about economic inequality due to globalization of trade, that therefore in fact neither party has a practical program that would reduce economic inequality, therefore we should give up on reducing economic inequality and focus on social inequality and try to build strong public institutions, schools, parks, health care institutions and can share, but not focus so much on economic inequality because we can't really do anything about it. what do you think george would say about that, and what do you think about that? >> i think that's a really good point. i think that -- i know what george would say, which is that my reform scheme, the single tax, will bring the two things -- you'll get both. and this was -- with george, the last part of his book, very utopian. he's saying, the true republic of the future, he's essentially
saying -- he says, explicitly, in his writings, we're basically going to have a socialist society, not a revolutionary socialist society where the masses rise up and slit the throats of the landowners and seize everything in the name of the people, but -- he sketches this out. he says in the near future, we will have a society where everybody has full employment, and they won't have to work that hard. there will be beautiful parks, fabulous libraries, forms for learning and it will just be this ideal society. so he thought he could have both. a reduced, not eliminated, but reduced economic inequality and the kind of social institutions that would benefit everybody. so he was a dreamer in that regard. >> what do you think about that? >> i don't know. i have to say, i think in some ways that's a utopian vision, but i do believe getting back to the points that i put up there at the end which is that we do
need to keep as a society, as we have many times in the past, as the founding fathers did many times in the past, have to think about the common good and think about what it is that we -- what do we really care about. and do we -- what are the really fundamental problems here and who is really to blame. we're in a demagogic moment where all kinds of people, immigrants and people on welfare and such are being blamed when there are other people that could be pointed to. and it is social policy. we are -- we have -- where do these inequality statistics come from. where does this problem come from? it is traceable to various moments in our political history starting in the late 1970s. you can see what -- the tax rate was in 1955, when we enjoyed incredible prosperity and very reduced level of inequality, and you can see what it is in 1980, 1990, and 2000, a direct bearing on where we are. and then also this political culture of demonizing the
government, as though it is this horrible institution. i don't like -- paying taxes is painful. but it is the stuff, the price we pay for life on this earth. and in this society. and so i don't know how we change that conversation, seems almost impossible, but i think that kind of conversation is -- i wouldn't want to be too dramatic and say it is the difference between success and failure, but i think it is -- if we're going to pull ourselves, put ourselves back in a more prosperous and generous and successful track as a republic, then that's really what has to take place. it is not going to happen if we just continue to argue about who is to blame and do nothing essentially or do only the wrong things. >> my question is regards to what was henry george's view of imperialism and empire building. >> good question.
let me think on that one for a second. >> one place he got attention, they're trying to gain their independence but they're a colonized society. so he has harsh things to say about colonization, imperialism, because he seed it as this naked illegitimate land grab, resource grab by the powerful. sort of the haves and have-nots on a global scale. but he, you know, historically he talks rather glowingly about the heyday of the roman republic and of imperialism of that order. so i don't know -- there probably is -- there probably are passages in his writings but social problems which is his collection of essays but i don't know. i think he saw a host of other
problems, like inequality, like social turmoil and strikes as far more dangerous and immoral than imperialism and again i'm thinking my way through this answer right in front of you. part of it is the time period of the 1870s, 1880s, the united states is acquiring alaska and getting into an imperialist game and not until the spanish american war that we go all in in that regard, so maybe that accounts for some of the reasons why he may have talked about it in more abstract terms, but not certainly in u.s. terms. yeah. i'm going to alternate. >> 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. so my question is.
>> bernie sanders is certainly in the news. >> what do you think about -- not the media but the computer, the conversation that we're having and his progress through to the common people? >> you mean in terms of bernie sanders moment that is happening now? >> as a democratic candidate and as the future president of the united states? >> well, you know, it's an interesting question and i don't know how to answer it. his position is very healthy for -- because he's bringing up and forcing conversations like inequality and people would much rather like to talk about undocumented immigrants and in crazy terms than talking about inequality. i don't know if bernie sanders fits into a long tradition of this populist tradition that does help move the conversation, in particular directions. i don't know if bernie sanders
will ever get nominated or elected, but another interesting thing about him is he has the -- he's brave enough to call himself openly a democratic socialist and does show, in some ways, the poverty of political imagination, that that's a deal breaker for people, without even understanding what that actually means. americans have long, way before henry george, decided socialism is an unadulterated evil and it's un-american and throughout our history we have embraced many aspects of socialism that we would not want to live without. so i don't know. following bernie sanders with great interest, let's put it that way. >> near the beginning you made the comment about history not repeating but perhaps rhyming. i was just curious. most of your conclusions were about similarities between this period and the gilded age. could you talk a little bit perhaps about what you see as differences between the gilded age and this period?
>> well, let's see. horses. lots of things. just thinking of what it was like to live in new york in the 1870s and 1880s. they are very different eras and there are some things that are utterly and completely different technology, just the way we communicate. the way our politics and the way our recreation, our politics and everything is so fundamentally different from what was taking place in the 19th century. in the late 19th century the gilded age if you wanted to communicate you publish something in a newspaper or a magazine or gave a public lecture and that was it whereas now it's so fragmented. i don't even know -- to me, i would say born in 1963 so i remember typewriters and rotary phones and i'm just sort of have one foot firmly planted in that world. i have an iphone and use social media and i use computer technology all the time. i would say that is one of the great differences and what it
means i don't know but it is one of the great differences. some people look at that and say that's where the great reform is going to take place, this kind of grassroots reform movement that can be done through people's iphones and social media. this is how we're going to get people to the polls, to shake things up to get politics out of the clutches of the hands of big business. i don't know. on the other hand the other way of looking at it people are too busy looking at their screens and playing games and cat videos that they're not paying attention. they're upset. they're angry but they're not paying attention. so i would say that's probably the biggest difference. there clearly are -- our economy is different, our position in the world is different. our military is up until i was -- students are always fascinated to learn this. one of the things, the constitution, the founders were in agreement, no military, bare bones military, couple thousand people, that's it.
because if you have a standing army, a military, that's how tyranny occurs and that's how democracies are done in, that's what history tells us. we had five ways to go to war as a society in the united states. five steps. first, declare war. second step is say, oh, my gosh, we don't have a military. third step, build a military. fourth step, win the war, fifth step, dismantle the military. it is only after world war ii which we dismantled our military we build it up starting in 1950 with the cold war. that's another thing when you look at where our resources go and how we talk about that, that's another massive difference between then and now. >> in his writings on inequality in the gilded age, did george discuss the end of reconstruction and the disenfranchisement of african-americans? >> yes, he did. george didn't have a lot to say about racial equality, although he pretty much -- he spoke in
sort of racial equality terms. when he talked about reconstruction, he talked about it in one way. you want to see why land is so important, right? giving people freedom, back to this question, point earlier, citizenship requires material well being, required an economic dimension to it. so when enslaved people are granted their freedom, and no land, guess what happens? the -- they're going to be put into not slavery again, but something darn close to it, complete subordination, complete powerlessness for a long time. you have a textbook example right under our nose about this very thing. that was the primary thing 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? >> i think that's a good
question. i need to think on that a little bit. i mean, i think george, if i recall, he talked about warfare as being one of the options of an unfree -- of an undemocratic government. what do governments to do avoid dealing with social problems? they declare war. and there are probably a few other places where he talks about warfare, but i think i in some ways anticipated that saying in 1879 when he writes his book, progress and poverty, the american military is tiny. the only place it's big is out in the west, completing the suppression of native americans. then, it's not many people relatively speaking. the military did not loom large in people's minds in the late 19th century. right around 1880 is when we start to expand our navy and start getting certainly navy
wise, start to build up our military in that regard as part of the notion of ourselves emerging as a global power. i think the military, i would say george would argue as did most people in that time period the real sources of power we had to be worried about were these large business tycoons, the large corporations because this is not just power. it's unelected, untouchable power unless we do something, decide in the name of common good, we need to rein some of the power in. not eliminate it, but find ways to set up some boundaries, parameters for their behavior. >> all right. thank you very much, folks. [ applause ]
>> on saturday, c-span's issues spotlight looks at police and race relations. we'll show you president obama at the memorial service for police officers killed in dallas. a speech by senator tim scott about his own interactions with the police, and washington, d.c. police chief cathy lunear describing her agency's community policing. here's a preview. >> in the course of one year, i have been stopped seven times. by a law enforcement officer. not four, not five, not six, but seven times in one year as an elected official. was i speeding sometimes? sure. but the vast majority of the time, i was pulled over for nothing more than driving a new car in the wrong neighborhood or
some other reason just as trivial. >> watch issues spotlight on police and race relations saturday at 8:00 p.m. eastern on c-span. now, the contenders. our series on key political figures who ran for president and lost but who nevertheless changed political history. tonight, we feature former secretary of state william jennings bryan who was a three-time presidential candidate. this 90-minute program was recorded at bryant's home in lincoln, nebraska. this is american history tv, only on c-span3. >> good evening and welcome to the third installment of the contenders series. tonight, we look at the life, legacy, and times of william jennings bryan. the three-time presidential nominee from nebraska. what better way to introduce you to the man than hearing directly from him. here's a portion of speech he
delivered at the democratic national convention in 1896. it's referred to as the cross of gold speech which led to his run for the white house at the age of 36. >> we do not come as aggressors. our war is not a war of conquest. we're fighting in defense of our homes, our families, and posterity. we have petitions and our petitions have been sworn. we have entreated and our entreaties have been disregarded. we have begged and they have mocked when our calamity came. we beg no longer. we entreat no more. we petition no more. we defy them. we go forth confident that we shall win. >> in the words of william jennings bryan. we're coming to you from his home and office in the state capital of lincoln, nebraska.
it is commonly referred to as fairview, because at the turn of the century it gave you a fair view of the land. william jennings bryan and his wife moved here back in 1902. it's now part of the bryan lgh medical center. we're coming to you from the first floor, his parlor, his study is just below us. he did much of his writing, entertaining here and we want to welcome our two guests. michael kazin is a professor of history and also the author of a "godly hero, the life of william jennings bryan." and william thomas is a chair of the department of history at the university of nebraska here at lincoln. thank you both for being with us. michael, let me begin with you to set up this speech. the man that delivered it, the setting in chicago, the impact it had on democratic delegates in 1896. >> the country was very divided, there was a great depression, the democrats were split really down the middle. the incumbent president grover cleveland was very unpopular, as presidents usually are during
great depressions so bryan comes into this convention in chicago as sort of a dark horse candidate for the presidency, but everyone know he's a wonderful orator, he's defending the cause of free silver, which meant the money supply, helping debters, helping people in trouble economically. he gives this speech which people go wild when they hear it, partly because he had a wonderful voice. the tape you played was in 1843, the technology didn't exist to record a speech live in 1896. it doesn't sound like a 36-year-old man in that. he was robust, vigorous, amazing voice that could be heard without amplification by 10,000 people at a time. he really had set this up so he would give a speech at a time in the convention where he knew the majority of delegates were for him, but at the same time, no
really riveting speech had been given yet for the silver cause at that time. so he had found his moment. he used it to great effect. >> we will hear more from the cross of gold speech and you indicated, his words recorded in 1923, but there is a race where he was challenging william mckinley, relatively unknown. served only two terms in the house of representatives here in nebraska, ran for senate, won the popular vote but lost because the legislature in nebraska gave it to the republican candidate. so 1895-1896 for william jennings bryan. >> sure. a tumultuous time in american politics. there had been a major strike, a railroad strike in 1894. that tore the country apart, and revealed to americans just how maybe unstable the economy was and how deep this depression might become. and william jennings bryan ran as a democrat in a populous in
1894 for the united states senate and ran against a railroad attorney named john thurston. gained a lot of attention for the senate campaign in 1894. i would liken it to the lincoln douglas debate. he had a series of debates with john thurston, and those gave him great visibility across the nation among the political class. and so he emerged as a national figure at that time. and the country was desperate for leadership, it was -- all the parties were divided. the republicans were divided, and the populous were on the scene. the republicans had won the presidential contest in nebraska in 1892, but the second place vote getter was the populous, and the democrat, cleveland, was far behind. so the democratic party was in deep trouble in this part of the midwest. >> william jennings bryan, one of 14 presidential candidates who lost the election but changed american politics. we'r l