Louis F. Post:
Philosopher of Social Service

David Domke

[Reprinted from the Henry George News,
September-October, 1995 - Part II]

After Henry George's death Louis Post went to Chicago to found The Public a progressive weekly newspaper. The Public became the main forum for Post's thinking for the next fifteen years. The Public's opening editorial salvo, in 1898, was aimed not only at the rich and powerful, but at other newspapers and periodicals who Post saw as serving their class interests. He chided the press in general for being subservient to "plutocratic influences." "What we mean by plutocratic influences, is influences which make for the elevation of the rich to industrial or political mastership. To these influences the general press...is submissive to the extent of servility. There are few exceptions outside the organs of social reform movements. Even the democratic papers and those republican papers which still feel the democratic impulse of abolition days, are safely relied upon by our plutocracy to turn their tracks whenever plutocratic privileges are seriously menaced." The Public on the other hand, would bring "real news ... winnowed from the trash that goes by the name of news, and divested of partisan bias and color, a paper which consistently and persistently, not as an organ of some reform movement but solely with reference to fundamental moral principles, is editorially hostile to plutocracy in all its phases and throughout all its ramifications." There followed an editorial condemning the brewing Spanish-American War; another critiquing customs tariffs, and another protesting state intervention in the practice of medicine.

By far the longest is a four-page tribute to Henry George. He begins by surveying the influence, both positive and negative, of Progress and Poverty "an epoch making book" The positive influence exerted by Progress and Poverty had been on the reading public at large; "The extent to which the world has read [P&P] is indicated by its large circulation in all English-speaking countries and the great number of alien tongues into which it has been translated... Nor was Progress and Poverty merely circulated and read. It did and is still doing the work for which its author intended it."

What Post says about the book's negative influence is just as interesting. "While in one sense the sneer of the 'aristocracy of culture,' that it has not influenced the universities, may be true, yet in another and more important sense it certainly is not true. The book has indeed failed to convert the professorial cult in political economy. How could it help but fail, when the professor who should become an outspoken convert would be pushed out of his university chair. Nevertheless, it has forced that cult to abandon old fallacies and invent new ones... Though other writers had previously protested against some of the old fallacies, Henry George did more than protest; he tore them up by the roots. The 'about face' movement of the professors of political economy dates from the time when Henry George's book made its impress upon the public mind. That book forced the professorial cult to turn political economy into an occult science and its professors into economic mahatmas." (Almost a century later, Mason Gaffney was to make much the same point in his The Corruption of Economics.)

However, the influence on the "masses" of P&P, and its "effects, while they do not lend themselves to statistical expression, are evident in a thousand ways. ...Neither pulpit nor bar, counting-room nor factory, court nor legislature, congress nor parliament, has wholly escaped this influence or is wholly free from its beneficent effects." Post follows this with a fairly succinct elaboration of George's ideas, ending with a summary of The Science of Political Economy which he rates among George's books as second only to P&P, and "the unfinished manuscript of which almost literally dropped from the author's hands when he died."

While the circulation of The Public was relatively small, its readers were a select group; editors and editorial writers, reform-minded public speakers, lawyers and judges, union leaders and educators. It did not sustain such a broad-based readership for fifteen years advocating the single-tax and land reform issues only. As Post matured his scope of inquiry included municipal ownership, anti-imperialism, education and electoral reforms, racial tolerance and equality, and feminist issues. Of course, he did not neglect single-tax issues; he wrote proposing it for such seemingly diverse concerns as worker's rights, industrial growth, tariffs, farm productivity and the more general problems of poverty and want.

Throughout the early part of this century, Post kept constantly busy, writing books, contributing articles to other periodicals, and lecturing; all in addition to editing a weekly journal. His books during this period include The Ethical Principles of Marriage and Divorce (1904), The Ethics of Democracy (1905), and Social Service (1909). In addition he was the author of a number of pamphlets such as Trusts Good and Bad A Syllabus of Progress and Poverty, Success in Life, and A Study in land Value Taxation. Somehow, he also found time to serve as a member of both the Chicago Board of Education and the Anti-Imperialist League, which opposed the US's appropriation of the Philippines.

In 1908 Post went to England as a delegate of the International Free Trade Conference, along with Joseph Fels. This, and a subsequent trip to that country in 1910, did much to reaffirm his belief in the single-tax as the ground for all subsequent reforms. As is well known, Henry George's trip to England in the 1880s introduced a very receptive group of reform minded British to the idea of public collection of land rent. The idea continued to grow and influence English progressives. Post was accompanied during the second trip by Henry George, Jr., and they were both quickly put to ready use campaigning for a number of Liberal Parliamentary candidates, under the auspices of the United League for the Taxation of Land Values. Many of their candidates won, and Post was much heartened by the easy accommodation between land reform and electoral politics. For years afterward Post drew from the practical experiences he gained campaigning in England in his articles and editorials for The Public.

In 1913 Post quit the editorship of The Public and headed to Washington to become Assistant Secretary of Labor in Woodrow Wilson's administration. In the post-war period he became embroiled in a controversy of major proportions. The Justice Department in conjunction with some big business interests and anti-immigration forces began drumming up a "red scare." The Justice Department was alleging that there was an anarchist underground and "aliens with the principles of Russian Bolsheviks," who were organizing to overthrow the United States government. Under the leadership of Attorney General A. William Palmer, and with the influence of what were then called "labor-baiting corporations" and the yellow journalist press, thousands of legal immigrants were being rounded up and sent to deportation stations around the country. The deportation procedure required no court of law to legitimate what was considered merely an "administrative process"; immigration laws of the time required only a determination that an alien was "undesirable." The accuser could be a neighbor, an employer, or even a cop no the beat. As Teddy Roosevelt once said, 'What's the constitution between friends?" Under an Act of Congress of October 16, 1918, being an "anarchist," even if not a self-proclaimed one, was grounds enough for being "undesirable," and a threat to the U.S. government.

Post was sworn to uphold constitutional law and so, he later wrote in his book The Deportations Delirium, his hands were tied as regards to actually professing anarchists or those for whom he believed there was sufficient evidence to be labeled "anarchist." But he could, he believed, do something to save those who had been wrongfully accused -- the large majority of deportation cases. In a case of the first kind, the self-proclaimed anarchist, he had to deport his friend Emma Goldman. "The sole question before me was whether or not she believed that no government would be better for human society than any kind of government. If she did, she was an anarchist ... and her deportation was mandated by law." Post was criticized in some quarters at the time for upholding the strict letter of the immigration law. In his defence he wrote: "No question of sympathy on the one hand nor antipathy on the other was involved. Whether or not I liked the law did not enter in. I was not a maker of laws but an administrator of a law already constitutionally made. To administer it fairly and effectively, though humanely, was my only function." In the case of Emma Goldman he did administer it effectively. He had to deport her to Russia, "but Russia was then dominated in some regions by the Bolshevist party ... and in other regions by Czarist reactionaries. ...So I directed specifically that Emma be deported to Soviet Russia and not to 'White Russia"' a decision that probably saved her life.

But Post could take a strong stand in regard to those immigrants unjustly accused of being "anarchist." In 1920 there were mass arrests of "undesirables" in nearly all the major cities in the US; New York and Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and St. Louis. Many of the arrests occurred in the middle of the night, with suspects being led from their homes in chains. According to a contemporary report: "Pains were taken to give spectacular publicity to the raids, and to make it appear that there was great and imminent public danger against which these activities of the Department of Justice were directed. The arrested aliens -- in most instances perfectly quiet and harmless working people -- were handcuffed in pairs, and then for the purposes of transfer on trains and through the streets of Boston, chained together." Thus wrote one Judge Anderson in New England complaining to the Justice Department over such wanton disregard for writs of habeas corpus.

As Post reviewed the merits of each case that came before him, it got around that he was not enthusiastically participating in the wholesale deportations of aliens. A congressional subcommittee, spurred on by what Post called an "afterwards discredited clique in the American Legion," visited Post's office and began to scrutinize the cases that had come across his desk; "one outcome of the visitation was a subcommittee report on which proceedings for my impeachment were afterwards based." The most damning evidence in their report: "notations followed each memorandum, showing that I had overruled or ignored the recommendatory decision [to deport]." This "evidence" was quickly leaked to the media, without mention that Post had acted solely within his authority as Assistant Secretary of Labor, by "members of the immigration committee and publicity agents of Department of Justice, starting off a newspaper cyclone" which climaxed in impeachment proceedings being launched against him. The charge: "Assistant Secretary Post had cancelled the deportation warrants of more than 1000 Reds and had let loose upon the country these public enemies" who had, of course been living quietly, almost unnoticed until the Scare.

"POST: FRIEND OF ENEMY ALlENS"; "ASSISTANT SECRETARY, EASY ON REDS"; LABOR DEPT. BEING BORED FROM WITHIN." Such were the headlines of the day. One report, typical of most at the time, merely elaborated that Post "is accused of friendliness to radicals and said to have blocked deportations. Most of the reports attributed the accusations to anyone more particular than the usual informed sources. There were exceptions. One reporter for a Washington paper wrote to President Wilson, saying: I have had reason to make a personal investigation of the so called raids on reds and the handling of those cases. If half the facts were known to the public there would be a demand for the impeachment not of Mr. Post but of Attorney General Palmer..." As the impeachment hearings began some leading congressmen arose in Post's defense. One, George Huddleston of Alabama rose and said: "A great many of those arrested did not so much as know the difference between Bolshevism and Rheumatism. ...They were illiterate, they were poor, they were friendless aliens, many of them, and away from home. They were not voters and they had no money; they had no voice, therefore no one to champion them. Numbers of those arrested were women. Numbers of the men were citizens. They were beaten and dragged off to jail. ...Oh, a lawless people is bad enough, but a lawless government is infinitely worse."

Post himself was up for the fight. He had the advantage that his opponents, in their zeal to prosecute immigrants en masse and anyone who would stoop to defend them, had not advised themselves of the finer points of the law. They had assumed that prosecution by publicity and a few public figures would suffice.

They were wrong. "Louis F. Post, 71, Assistant Secretary of Labor, mentally supple, quickwitted, in his own defense today before the House Rules Committee was a living exhibit of vigor and sustained power. Despite his 71 years, he seemed 25. He pounced upon Attorney General Palmer, then hurled a charge of "non-lawful" against [the] Commissioner General of Immigration, and then landed a terrific wallop here and there to the House Immigration Committee. The impression created by Mr. Post was altogether favorable to himself." This pugilistic description of Post's appearance was reported in the Portland Oregonian, a conservative newspaper not exactly in Post's camp. But the press loves a good fight and, after drumming one up, is usually content to sit back and report with relative objectivity. Throughout the hearings all Post needed to do was stick to the law to defend himself and make his opponents look ridiculous. He needed to only to go through the charges one by one, each time reminding his accusers of the law and his authority under it. "I quoted [the law] which stated that "an alien as well as a citizen, is protected by the universal principle that no person is to be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process ... that he may cross-examine his accusers, and that he may be prosecuted only with substantial evidence." As he went through the charges even Congressman Pou, a outspoken member of the impeachment committee, had to admit: "Mr. Secretary, my feeling is that you have followed your sense of duty absolutely." Slowly the public tide began to turn in his favor. The New Republic and other organs of the press began referring to the hearings as a "witch-hunt." The committee retired after a few more meetings to issue its official report. The committee continued to meet in private but called no more witnesses. It never bothered to issue a final report. Neither did it bother to publicly exonerate Post, who served out his term and retired from public life.

Why did Post put his career on the line? Why did he stand, alone at first, to defend "abstract" principles against an onslaught of public and official condemnation? One must, I think, return to Post's idea of service as the "central law of human development." In describing the classical economist's idea of unconscious cooperation, Post saw all economic exchange as and "exchange of service for service." Post wrote in The Ethics Of Democracy: "Exchanges of these objects, however, depend upon the principle of service for service. These objects are congealed or crystallized service. A familiar type is bread. By no immediate service alone could anyone furnish us with bread. When bread comes to the table, it is an embodiment of all the different kinds of service which have brought it there; from that of the farmer to that of the baker, from that of the miner and machinist to that of the transporter. ..And so with other objects, food, clothing, shelter, luxuries ... and the materials and machinery for producing them. They are products of labor, and in exchanging them we are essentially exchanging service for service, work for work." Post could not possibly separate his work from his sense of public service, whether in editing a progressive journal, working for Henry George and the single-tax, or serving his country in office. As the newspaper Labor said in its commemorative article on his death in 1928: "They rest from their labors, and their works do follow them." A quote that serves Post's memory well.

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