HENRY GEORGE, LAND REFORMER & ECONOMIST [U.S.A.]
This political ‘advertising’ cover was mailed from Sydney in 1930 to the Proportional Representation League, 131 South Juniper Street, Philadelphia, U.S.A., and it has a pair of the red 1½d KGV head stamps paying the postage. It has interesting information on it as to the sender: “The Henry George League of N.S.W.” with a “Policy - Abolition of Taxes and appropriation of Land Values or Ground Rent as Public Revenue”, with a Sydney address at 114 Hunter Street. The cover also had a depiction of the Statue of Liberty, encircled with “True Liberty Means/ Equal Liberty” (Figure 1).
Henry George was born in Philadelphia on September 2, 1839 and he died in New York City on October 29, 1897. He was a land reformer and economist who in Progress and Poverty (1879) proposed the single tax: the state should tax-away all economic rent - the income from the use of the bare land, but not from improvements - and abolish all other taxes.
Henry left school before his 14th birthday, and he worked for 2 years as a clerk in an importing house and then went to sea. He returned to Philadelphia in 1856, learned typesetting and in 1857 signed up as a steward on another ship, quitting in San Francisco, to join the Gold Rush in Canada, but arrived too late. He arrived back in California in 1858, and he held a variety of jobs: worked for newspapers, took part in Democratic Party politics, started with 2 partners the San Francisco Daily Evening Post which was closed down in 1875 due to credit difficulties. He received a political appointment as State gas-meter inspector which enabled him to work on his Progress and Poverty.
His book in 1879 caught the spirit of discontent that had arisen from the great depression of 1873-78, and the book had enormous sales, and it was translated into many languages. Its vogue was enhanced by his pamphlets, frequent contributions to magazines and his lecture tours in the U.S. and the British Isles. Henry George envisaged that the government’s annual income from his single tax would be so large that there would be a surplus for expansion of public works. His economic argument was reinforced and dominated by humanitarian and religious appeal.
His specific remedy had no significant practical result, and few economists of reputation supported it. His reputation was so enhanced by his Progress and Poverty that after he moved to New York City in 1880, he nearly won the 1886 mayoral election on a reform platform. There are Henry George advocates to-day in New York, Chicago and San Francisco, Australia and recently in Russia and Estonia, but his popularity has waned with the decades. Henry George came to Australia in 1890 and spoke in the Sydney Town Hall to large and enthusiastic crowds and there were similar responses in towns he visited in Victoria, South Australia and Queensland during that visit.
Billy Hughes (former Australian P.M., October 1915-February 1923) stated in his Crusts and Crusades, Angus and Robertson, Sydney 1947, p. 60: “Henry George with his panacea for all economic and social ills - the single tax - captured the imagination of thousands of young and ardent spirits. Single Tax leagues sprang up as if by magic and converts, fired by enthusiasm, went about like the early Christians preaching the gospel. A drawing of Henry George caught the spirit of the man (Figure 2).