The Single Tax and the Labor Movement


Peter Alexander Speek

[A Bulletin of the University of Wisconsin, No. 878, 1917, pp. 121-142]


The state convention of the United Labor party met in Alhambra Hall, Syracuse, on August 17, 1887. About 180 delegates were furnished with admission tickets, issued by the joint committee on state conventions. Thirty-four newspaper reporters were present. Some of the big New York dailies had each sent several men.

The first test of the numerical strength of the two opposing factions came in the election of a temporary chairman. The nomination of Dr. W. C. Wood, a physician of Cloversville, was agreed upon by the Singletaxers; later they changed the candidacy of Wood to that of Louis F. Post, on account of his chairmanship experience. The Socialists and their sympathizers selected Frank Ferrell, a prominent labor leader, as their candidate. Several other nominations were made, but all candidates proposed, save Ferrell and Post, declined. Short speeches were made in favor of these two candidates; the nomination of Post was seconded by Fr. McGlynn and supported in a short speech by Henry George. The vote taken by secret ballot resulted in the election of Post by ninety-one votes as against sixty-nine for Ferrell. Later the election of Post was made unanimous. Alvin T. Walsh and Thomas Devine were elected as secretaries. Two committees, one on credentials and the other on permanent organization, were elected by congressional districts -- one member for each committee from each district. Twenty-seven members were elected to the committee on credentials, and the same number to the committee on permanent organizations. This ended the first day's work of the convention.

The first business of the second session of the convention, on August 18, consisted of the consideration of the reports of the committee on credentials. With reference to the contested delegates, the committee was divided. The majority, fifteen members, reported against the admission of the Socialist delegates "who still held their connection with the Socialist Labor party, on the ground that the decision of the highest executive authority was binding."[1]

The minority report, signed by eight members, favored the admission of the Socialist delegates on the ground that the five ousted delegates were regularly elected before the ruling of McMackin, and no decision involving an interpretation of the law can justly be retroactive in its effect; that it had not been ascertained who were and who were not members of the Socialist Labor party; that the Socialist Labor party was not a political party in the sense of the clause in the constitution of the United Labor party; and that it was so understood and expressed by all party organizations and authorities, including McMackin himself until his ruling. In regard to George Block, the minority report stated that he was not a member of the Socialist Labor party. The majority report denied him the right to be a delegate solely on the ground that the members of the Socialist Labor party voted for him. If the mere voting for Block by the members of that party should disqualify him, then all the previous proceedings of the party, including even the election of McMackin to the chairmanship, ought to be declared null and void, because the members of the Socialist Labor party participated in every proceeding and election previous to the ruling of McMackin.

The reading of the reports was followed by a lively discussion. Professor W. B. Clarke said that it was high time "to take the bull by the horns." He quoted the following plank of the platform of the Socialist Labor party as adopted at Cincinnati in 1885: "That the land and the instruments of production, machines, factories, etc., and the products of labor, become the common property of the whole people.'' He then read the eighth political demand of the same platform that "divorce to be granted on mutual consent upon providing for the care of children."

He condemned both, the plank and the demand, as not only absurd but immoral; and emphatically concluded that he could never stand upon the same platform with the men who upheld such views.

Richard J. Hinton spoke on behalf of the Socialists. Five minutes was then given to each contested delegate to defend his credentials. George Block thought that "the whole feeling against the Socialists in New York was engendered by the soreness of Henry George's friends from the successful assailment by Socialists upon George's theories,"[2] that the cry against Socialism was not raised until a few of Henry George's men had been defeated in the election for delegates in New York, and that the tax scheme of Henry George could not be carried out, because the taxes would always be shifted upon the shoulders of labor. He concluded with the comparison of the expulsion of the Socialists with the excommunication of Father McGlynn by "another pope."[3]

Hugo Vogt remarked that hitherto no labor organization had rejected him because he was a Socialist. He asked: ''Was the labor movement to be wrapped up in one person -- Henry George -- and no one else?" He then expressed his hope that the listeners would not share the delusion that "if they put out the hated Socialists they would gain more votes."

S. E. Shevich, having been granted the periods of two other delegates, had at his disposal fifteen minutes. He spoke in part as follows:

"I tell you that by doing what you are about to do you are ruining your party. …In the course of time the great movement of wage-workers will again evolve and take the upper hand, but for the present your party will go into pieces. …There were Socialist writers who criticised Henry George's theories, but the very life of a great idea is discussion and criticism."

William McCabe of the other faction explained that he was regularly elected. August Mayer gave the same explanation, considering the election of the Socialists illegal. He believed that they had not initiated the political movement of organized labor in the eighties; that they had come in only five years afterwards, in 1886. In conclusion he said, "First organize your men and then educate them; and when educated, if they want a more radical platform they will make it themselves."[4]

When the contested delegates had finished their speeches, Thaddeus B. Wakeman (impartial) proposed a compromise resolution that the convention should admit both of the delegations from the contested districts and give a half vote to each delegate. In support of his resolution he stated that the ruling of McMackin was really an ex post facto law. Thereafter a short adjournment was taken. When the convention was again called to order, Henry George took the floor and expressed the hope that Wakeman's resolution would be voted down, because it was unjust, a compromise that settled nothing; and that he stood by the decision of the County General Committee. He said in part:

"The greatest danger that could befall this party would not be the separation of its elements -- but would be a continuance within its ranks of incongruous elements."

He believed that the Socialists were not going the same way as he; that they wanted to nationalize the land and all instruments of production, to which he could not agree. He concluded: "This is the question we must settle. We cannot compromise."[5] Fr. McGlynn also opposed the Wakeman resolution.

In closing the discussion the chair ruled that the vote on the Wakeman resolution would decide the whole subject matter of the contests. The vote resulted in the rejection of George Block by a vote of ninety-one to eighty-six, and of Vogt, Stein, Bergman, Shevich, and Boehm by a vote of ninety-four to fifty-four.[6]

This vote was the second test of the numerical strength of the struggling factions. If one does not count the votes of the non-labor element, especially those of the representatives of Land and Labor Clubs, the labor vote was again divided almost equally, apparently for the same reasons as in the locals of the party and in the trade unions in New York. Even if the Single-tax faction did have a slight majority of the labor votes, it was due only to the direct personal influence of Henry George and McGlynn, who opposed Socialism and the Socialists all along the line.

After having disposed of the question of the contested seats, the convention took up the report of the committee on permanent organization. Two candidates were proposed for permanent chairmanship -- John McMackin, and John K. O'Donnell, a former president of the Typographical Union.

When the voting on the candidates was called, two delegates from the twelfth assembly district announced that they withdrew from the convention because the Socialists were thrown out. Two delegates from the twenty-fourth assembly district of New York followed suit. The vote resulted in the election of McMackin by 111 votes as against 58 cast for O'Donnell.

The committee on platform was likewise divided. The majority, including Henry George, reported a platform prepared by the latter. Naturally, it made the Singletax the main issue of the party. It repudiated any connection with the Socialist doctrines in the following negative form:

"We do not aim at securing any forced equality in the distribution of wealth. …We do not propose that the state shall attempt to control production, conduct distribution, or in any wise interfere with the freedom of the individual to use his labor or capital in any way that may seem proper to him and will not interfere with the equal rights of others. Nor do we propose that the state shall take possession of land and either work it or rent it out. What we propose is not the disturbing of any man in his holding or title, but, by abolishing all taxes on industry or its products, to leave to the producer the full fruits of his exertion, and by the taxation of land values … to devote to the common use and benefit those values. …This increased taxation of land … according to its value … must, while relieving the working farmer and small homestead-owner of the undue burdens … make it unprofitable to hold land for speculation.'[7]

The last clause was directed to affect the farmers' vote. In the second half of the platform were included demands for the municipal ownership of public utility enterprises, for currency reform and for simplifying government and courts, as well as labor demands stated in general and loose terms; in short, all such issues as Henry George characterized as "insignificant,"[8] when compared with that of the singletax.

The majority platform was adopted. The minority report was quickly voted down. Besides the singletax issue it called greater attention to the corruption in administration and courts and contained a demand for woman suffrage, and for proportional representation.

The committee on resolutions and several individual delegates proposed a series of resolutions. One proposed that the State Committee in cooperation with the Central Committee of Land and Labor call a national conference of the party. Another demanded woman suffrage. A third expressed the heartiest sympathy for the Irish people in their struggle for a national legislature. A fourth wanted a better regulation of civil service. All these resolutions were adopted. But the flow of resolutions continued. One denounced the Democratic party. Another criticized Congress for not passing an eight-hour bill for letter carriers. A third demanded a check upon the use of the Pinkerton men. A fourth wanted the prohibition of child-labor under sixteen years of age. The flow of resolutions containing such practical labor demands would have continued longer if it had not been for the opposition of Henry George, who criticized the proposed resolutions in a short speech in which he exclaimed: "It seems to me we are adopting two platforms."[9]

The state ticket for the coming fall campaign was made up as follows: For secretary of state, Henry George of New York;[10] for state comptroller, V. A. Wilder of Kings (Brooklyn) County, treasurer of the New York Railway Supply Company, 42 Wall Street; for state treasurer, Patrick H. Cummins of Montgomery, a boot and shoe dealer in Amsterdam, N. Y.; for attorney-general, Denis C. Feeley of Monroe, a lawyer and politician, who agitated for Blaine in 1884; for state surveyor, Sylvanus H. Sweet of Westchester, a farm owner in Broome County.

Not one wage-earner was among the nominees. Before the adjournment of the convention, a delegate expressed his doubt whether the Socialists had been really excluded. A specific motion was then carried approving the ruling of McMackin. This ended the convention.

A reporter of the New York World interviewed some prominent members of both factions on the results of the convention.

Henry George said to him:

"We will lose their (the Socialists') votes but that loss will be more than neutralized by the gain in our ranks of American workmen."[11]

Alexander Jonas, a prominent Socialist, said:

"So George wants to catch the farmers' vote, does he? Does not he know that 40,000 farmers out in Ohio could not pay their taxes last year and were sold out by the sheriff? George cannot hoodwink the farmers. They can never understand his theories."[12]

The ousting of the Socialists from the United Labor party and the repudiation of Socialism in the new platform of the party were the most important features of the convention.

Now one may ask, Why were the Socialists ousted from the United Labor party? What were the real causes for such action? Which faction was to be blamed for the split?

One can hardly get a correct answer from the Singletaxers or the Socialists who were active at that time. Each faction considered itself right and the other wrong. Even some of the recent writers on that subject still put the whole responsibility for the split either on the Singletaxers or on the Socialists alone. The main argument in the former case is usually this. The Singletaxers had captured the political labor movement represented in the United Labor party for their own ends; the Socialists wanted to save the movement, or at least its labor class distinctiveness, and were for this expelled; the Singletaxers were the guilty party. In the latter case a similar argument, though opposite in its bearing, is made: The Socialists wanted to capture the United Labor party for their own purposes, and, to save it, they were expelled; the responsibility for the split is, therefore, to be charged to them.

The historical analysis of the movement which can be made by studying the proceedings, resolutions and platforms of the meetings and conventions, the speeches of the leaders, the reports of the press, and so forth, show the chain of events previous to the split in the following light: There was an economic labor movement united in the Central Labor Union, irrespective of the philosophies, religious beliefs, political views, and nationality of its constituents. Out of this united economic movement a united political movement grew, not for the sake of furthering any theories or philosophies, but purely for the object of satisfying existing needs. Organized labor wanted to secure, through control of the government, better laws, courts, police, and many other betterments in labor conditions. For such independent political action it needed a strong popular representative. It so happened that Henry George was at hand. He was a popular writer and public speaker, a champion of the cause of the poor. His theory and reform scheme were based on the land problem, which had become important to the American masses. Furthermore, being an advocate of the cause of the Irish people in their struggle against landlordism in Ireland, he was very welcome to the Irish element in the movement. For these reasons, having been introduced by his friends, he was accepted by organized labor. The latter really did not care much for his singletax theory as such. But, nevertheless, Henry George brought it with him into the movement and tried to make it the main issue. As time went on, there appeared a small number of his converts -- very small as compared with the number of organized labor. This singletax faction headed by Henry George found itself in control of the political movement of labor.

But in the same party existed another school or faction, the Socialists, inherited from the Central Labor Union. This faction, equally firm in its doctrines, believed that the Singletaxers, whose theory they considered incorrect, were trying to sidetrack the labor movement. This the Socialists sought to prevent through" control of the movement. Hence the struggle between these two factions, which led to the split and-expulsion of the Socialists from the United Labor party. It is hardly correct to put the whole responsibility for this split on either of the opposing factions alone, if there be any responsibility at all. Henry George, his social philosophy and reform scheme, were a product partly of the previous philosophical doctrines and teachings of political economy, especially of those of the classical school, and partly of American conditions. The Socialists and their doctrines were a product of industrial society in general, and of the peculiarities of European conditions in particular.

We cannot reproach the factions for having theories, for they are necessary in starting new movements. Nor can we blame the factions for fighting each other. Schools of thought ought to compete with each other, for this is the only way in which it can be determined which of them is better suited to the existing conditions; in other words, which has the greatest vital power and, therefore, the right to exist.

It may be said that the Socialists understood the labor movement, its meaning, and nature much better than did the Singletaxers. But what the Socialists failed in was this, that their philosophy, emphasizing as it did the social side of human life, was not acceptable to the majority of the American wage-earners, who, though wage-conscious and organized as a separate class, still were not yet class-conscious -- wage-earners among whom the individualistic spirit and a desire to become independent small producers prevailed.

To return to the details of the conflict. It is necessary to note that although only a few of the influential leaders of the Socialists were ousted from the United Labor party, the remaining having withdrawn voluntarily, the decision of the convention was categorical and a matter of principle. Every Socialist who had the smallest connection with the Socialist Labor party was liable to expulsion afterwards. The Socialists were not willing to go as far as disbanding the Socialist Labor party. They understood, furthermore, that they were not expelled for being members of another political party, but for being Socialists; for their theories and tactics which they advocated in the ranks of the United Labor party; for their attacks upon the singletax theory; for their alleged effort to capture the party; for their opposition to the desire of Henry George and his disciples to convert the United Labor party into a party of all classes. The Socialists, their actions, and even their existence in the United Labor party, were a menace to the realization of this desire of the Singletaxers. That the Socialists were expelled because they were Socialists was best demonstrated by the speeches made by Henry George, McGlynn, Prof. W. B. Clarke, and Dr. W. C. Ward, at the convention, and by a plank in the new platform specifically repudiating the Socialistic doctrines.[13]

It is necessary to mention the fact that the nationality of the members of the party also played its ro1e in the conflict. The majority of the Irish element lined up with the Singletax faction, the majority of the German element with the Socialist.

This division by nationalities was itself quite comprehensive. The Germans have always had a strong communal sentiment and social viewpoint upon human life, both being inherited from the centuries long gone by. Furthermore, many of them, before they came to America, were industrial wage-earners in Germany -- the homeland of Marxian Socialism.

The majority of the Irish immigrants had been formerly land tenants in Ireland. They had an individualistic viewpoint and were devoted Catholics. Hence their lining up with Henry George, as a land reformer and agitator for the Irish cause in Ireland, and with McGlynn, as a Catholic priest.

In regard to the ousting of the Socialists, outside people were divided. Some sympathized with the Socialists because of a great "injustice" done to them. Some congratulated Henry George for freeing the United Labor party from "undesirable elements." The press of the old parties approved the ousting of the Socialists, but it doubted whether Henry George could succeed in "capturing the farmers."[14]


The blow delivered to the Socialists at the convention was keenly felt by them and their sympathizers.[15] They hoped all the time that the local New York movement would be ''controlled exclusively by organized labor and cut off from the state movement."[16] Now that hope had gone to pieces. To decide upon a new way of action the Socialists called a mass meeting on August 22, in Cooper Union Hall. A day before this meeting the Central Labor Union met, and decided to bar politics from its sessions during the three coming months. When the question of parading for Henry George came up, the delegates were so divided that the question remained undecided.[17]

The Cooper Union mass meeting called by the Socialists was largely attended and very exciting. All the prominent Socialists and their followers were present. A considerable number of the adherents of Henry George had come also. At one time a hand-to-hand fight seemed imminent, but the outbreak was checked. William P. Rogers and S. B. Shevich were to be the principal speakers. Rogers declared that the ousting of the Socialists had been decided by the Central Committee of Land and Labor in room 28, Cooper Institute, before the ruling of McMackin; that the Syracuse convention had been packed by "fake" delegates from the Land and Labor Clubs -- organizations which did not represent labor.[18]

Sergius E. Shevich stated that the Singletaxers had destroyed the name ''United'' by ousting a part of organized labor from the party, and had ruined the name "Labor" because they had taken "labor" out from the platform of the party, putting in its stead an expression that there was no antagonism between capital and labor -- the expression which was, in the opinion of the speaker, "the greatest lie of the century." The only party that could succeed was a party representing the advanced ideas of organized labor; the various third parties which had arisen had been carried to their graves during the last few years because they were founded on "one issue." The names on the ticket nominated at the Syracuse Convention, except that of Henry George, had never been heard of by or identified with organized labor. "We are a party of struggle and war, we brand any man as a demagogue who sets up the cry of harmony between capital and labor in order to attain success."[19]

A resolution was read and adopted which sharply criticized the ousting of the Socialists from the United Labor party and called upon assembly district organizations opposed to the Henry George "ring" in the United Labor party to elect each three delegates to a conference on September 4, at Webster Hall. It also asked all trade and labor organizations to elect three delegates each.[20]

S. E. Shevich, the "rattlesnake" editor of the Leader, as the Singletaxers called him,[21] continued to attack the singletax theory unreservedly. In an editorial on August 25, he wrote that the Socialists held a man "stone blind" who, in the presence of costly machinery, interdependent production, and capitalistic combinations, on a gigantic scale, could not see that access to land without access to mechanical means through which land is made productive, and raw materials converted into finished products, would simply give individual workers "a free lot in the Potters' Field at the end of life spent in wage slavery;'' and that the Socialists would welcome,

"as a sign of awakening, the proposition to tax land values to their full-extent. But to tax land is one theory; to tax nothing but land is quite another theory. To the first the Socialists do not object; to the second they object emphatically."[22]

The Leader began to publish a series of interviews with prominent labor leaders sympathizing with the Socialists. George McKay of the Knights of Labor said that he would not vote for Henry George because he "disunited organized labor, watered his platform throwing labor out.''[23]
W. P.-Rogers thought that the wage-earners

"knew little and cared less for his -- Henry George's -- pet idea and scheme of land taxation. …He got so large a vote that scores of self-seeking lawyers, doctors, political heelers and other dead-beats rushed into the United Labor party. …The rural districts were organized by a charlatan - Barnes -- into so-called Land and Labor Clubs."

The leader of the British Marxian socialists, H. M. Hyndman, published a letter on Henry George, in which he criticized the singletax theory and the ousting of the Socialists from the United Labor party. He stated that Henry George did not understand the operation of modern capitalism at all, that he did not comprehend why mere confiscation of competitive rents would not benefit workers as a class -- as if Engels, Toynbee and others, had not pointed out his errors over and over again. In conclusion Hyndman said that the attacks of Henry George upon the Socialists could only benefit them."

Friedrich Engels wrote from London on September 15, 1887, in a letter to Mrs. Wischnewetzky, in part as follows:

"The repudiation of the Socialists by George is in my opinion an unmerited piece of good luck which will redeem to a great extent the - unavoidable -- blunder of placing George at the head of a movement he did not even understand. George as a standard bearer of the whole working class movement was a duper; George as the chief of the Georgites will soon be a thing of the past, the leader of a sect, like the thousands of sects in America."[25]

Henry George attacked and criticized Socialism and the Socialists in his Standard in his own fashion. He found that German Socialism was confused and illogical in its methods. He refuted the term scientific for Socialism, because it did not look for natural laws. But the main points in his criticism were that the Socialists confused land with capital and ignored the individualistic side of human nature. He wanted to substitute the singletax for Socialism. "Make land free of access to labor and all else becomes possible,"[26] was his firm belief.

In morals, especially concerning honesty and sincerity, each side gave credit to the other. The Socialists stated on many occasions that Henry George and Edward McGlynn were honest and sincere men, though "stoneblind," "fanatics," and "hobby-riders.''

At a meeting of the Anti-Poverty Society, on Aug. 28, Father MeGlynn said, "The Socialists are frank and honest and brave. They tell us their ideas and can scarcely conceal their contempt for the present plan for society."[27] Then he went on to criticize Socialism for ignoring the individualism in which he believed.

The assembly district organizations of the United Labor party were now confronted by a dilemma. The majority of them did not want a split in the party. But as the split had taken place there remained for them only to reckon with the inevitable. All the assembly district organizations, except the 8th, 10th, 14th, 20th, and 24th, the majority of the members of which went Socialistic, indorsed the platform and the ticket of the Syracuse convention. Some organizations did it quite readily, some halfheartedly. A general fall of enthusiasm for politics was marked almost everywhere. In the Socialist districts new organizations, some of which had originated before the convention, were started. The Socialists changed the name of the assembly district organizations of the United Labor party to that of "Labor League." From all assembly district organizations which endorsed the Singletax platform and ticket, the Socialists withdrew, organizing parallel local organizations. The same was done in Brooklyn.

The Webster Hall Conference called by the Socialists met on September 4. Seventy-eight labor organizations, fifty-six trade, and twenty-two political bodies, had sent delegates, three from each.[28] In his opening speech Edward King said: "We have learned in the Central Labor Union to understand that we have to work together as industrial organizations. "We have not learned yet to cooperate in political union as well."[29]

S. E. Shevich outlined two cardinal principles for the platform: (1) That the land monopoly must go, and (2) that the wage-system must be abolished.

At the second session of the conference, on September 8, a platform for the new party under the name of the "Progressive Labor Party" was adopted. It reaffirmed in a skilful combination the platforms of the Central Labor Union and the Knights of Labor. It demanded public ownership of public utility enterprises and a currency reform, and contained a long list of immediate labor demands advocated by labor unions.[30]

At the next session of the conference, on September 11, it was decided to call a state convention on September 28, in Webster Hall.

At a meeting of the Central Labor Union on September 18, the following resolution was proposed:

"Whereas, at a meeting held by the so-called Progressive Labor party, at Webster Hall, on September 8, resolutions were passed and business conducted in such a manner as to convey the impression that the said meeting had the indorsement of the Central Labor Union;

Resolved, That as this Central Labor Union had sent no delegates, we are not responsible for their conduct, and fully repudiate their action in every respect."[31]

A motion to lay the resolution on the table was lost, forty-three organizations voting in the affirmative and seventy-six organizations in the negative. A demand for a debate was won by eighty-seven organizations voting in the affirmative and seventy organizations in the negative. After an exciting discussion the resolution was adopted by fifty-five organizations voting in affirmative and fifty-four[32] organizations in the negative, while about fifty organizations refused to take sides and vote.

This vote shows the altitude of the Central Labor Union toward the split in the United Labor party after the Syracuse convention. One-third of the organizations affiliated with the Central Labor Union were indifferent toward politics and the remaining two-thirds were divided, with a small majority in favor of the Singletaxers.

The state convention of the Progressive Labor party met on September 28. Aron Henry, delegate of the Progressive International Cigarmakers' Union No. 10, nominated John Swinton for secretary of state. The nomination was seconded, and the vote in favor of Swinton was unanimous.

John Swinton, in a letter sent to the convention, declined on account of lack of money and time, and because of ill health. But soon he appeared in person at the convention, which greeted him by a thunderous ovation. In his speech he explained more fully why he declined the nomination, and criticized Henry George.

To explain his strong opposition to Henry George it is necessary to mention the fact that Swinton published a radical weekly paper, 1883-1887, in which he strongly supported the Central Labor Union in New York and favored the idea of independent labor politics. The term ''labor" he understood as including not only the wage earners, but also farmers, small producers in general, and small merchants. He did not favor any element, faction, or school of thought, especially. All labor elements ought to unite into one movement; this was his pet idea. In the political campaign of organized labor in the fall of 1886 he saw a partial realization of his idea, and supported the campaign as much as he could. Now, in the split in the ranks of the United Labor party he saw that his idea was going to pieces, and, in his opinion, Henry George was responsible for it. Hence his opposition toward the latter.

''Grand old John Swinton,'' as the Socialists called him, stated in an interview with a newspaper reporter, that he considered the George movement unsound

"because the theory of Henry George was not an outgrowth of the evolution of the labor movement … Henry George … has got a cure-all; he carries with him the absolute nostrum that cures not only the hiccoughs and the molly grubs, but every disease mentioned in Dunglison's Dictionary; and it alone cures, and nothing else can cure. He cannot surrender that without surrendering his identity; he cannot surrender it any more than I, as Calvinist, can surrender the theology of the Institutes … Dr. McGlynn Is the apostle who calls Henry George the prophet."[33]

This was the ironical statement of Swinton. Afterwards, yielding to the insistence of the state committee of the Progressive Labor party he accepted the nomination for state senator in the seventh senatorial district.[34]

To return to the convention. The following nominations were made: J. Edward Hall, secretary and treasurer of the Machinists' District Assembly of Knights of Labor, for secretary of state; H. A. Barker, cigar-maker of Albany, for comptroller; Henry Emrich, secretary of the International Furniture Workers' Union, for state treasurer; Thaddeas B. Wakeman, a lawyer, for attorney-general.

S. E. Shevich proposed that the Progressive Labor party challenge Henry George to discuss the differences between the singletax and the socialist theories before a public meeting. This motion was carried and Shevich was elected to represent the party at the joint discussion.

Thus the Progressive Labor party was launched by the side of the United Labor party, as a result of the split. According to the social status of the majority of their constituents, both parties were labor parties; according to the main issue and theory, one was a singletax party, backed by the Anti-Poverty Society and by the Land and Labor Clubs and their Central Committee -- a pure singletax organization: the other was a Socialist party, backed by the Socialist Labor party -- a pure Socialist organization; and according to the dominating nationality, one was an Irish-American party, the other German-American.

Both parties aimed primarily at agitation and the education of the people toward their respective ideas. Offices and voters they considered of secondary importance.

In strength they differed greatly. The United Labor party was larger, better organized, and had a strong popular leader, while the Progressive Labor party was organized only a few. weeks before the election and had no strong popular leader.

With reference to the expected number of votes, each party was still quite hopeful. The Standard thought that the United Labor party would poll at least 250,000 votes, including 90,000 to 100,000 votes expected in the city of New York alone.[35] It was claimed that Henry George himself expected 150,000 votes as a minimum. S. E. Shevich expected that the Socialists would poll at least 15,000 votes.[36]


Henry George made an energetic speaking tour throughout the state, in which he was accompanied by reporters of the Herald and the World. Father McGlynn, Louis F. Post and other leaders also made speaking tours over the state, and agitated in favor of the singletax and the United Labor party.

The challenge made by the Progressive Labor party to Henry George was accepted by the latter, and a discussion between S. E. Shevich and Henry George took place on October 23 in Miners' Theatre, at which Samuel Gompers presided. S. E. Shevich in his argument stated that the singletax, if realized without other social reforms, would be more brutal to labor than beneficial. He called the singletax a Utopian theory born in one mind, and said that the man who can force one idea upon millions is only capable of originating a sect. He concluded:

"From the very beginning, after the close of the campaign last year, the whole system of Mr. George and his friends has been to substitute for the large party of labor something on the one hand like a church, and on the other hand like an ordinary political machinery … Mr. George has succeeded in founding what I might call the church of Progress and Poverty, but he has not founded the great American labor party."[37]

In reply, Henry George criticized Lassalle's iron law of wages. He stated that the singletax meant only a beginning of further reforms and readjustments in the social life, that it would benefit the farmers and wage-earners as well. "Employment being free and natural opportunities open, there could be no such thing as dispensing with labor."[38]

This joint discussion was reported in full in the Standard. In reading it, one gets the impression that neither had any advantage over the other, although Shevich attacked the singletax theory more energetically than Henry George attacked Socialism.

The authorities of the Catholic Church continued their strong opposition to the United Labor party and its leaders, Henry George and McGlynn, condemning them openly and secretly. Patrick Ford, editor-in-chief of the Irish World, suddenly changed his mind and went over to the Catholic Church, turning against his former protege, Henry George, because of the "open and violent opposition" of the latter to the Catholic Church. This surprising change in the position of Ford was due, it was said, to the pressure brought upon him by the authorities of the Catholic Church, and second to the fact that the Irish World had lately been losing subscribers -- an occurrence which was due, in the opinion of Ford, to his support of Henry George.

The General Master Workman, T. V. Powderly, of the Knights of Labor, who supported independent political action of labor in 1886, refused at this time to support the United Labor party.

The Anarchists, too, turned against Henry George. He not only refused to publish in his Standard a protest against the unfairness of the trial of the Chicago Anarchists, but he published an article in the second issue of his paper in which it was denied that the Anarchists had not had a fair trial.

The publication of such an article may be explained by the following reasons. First, Henry George was convinced that the article was correct. He was so much engaged in campaign work that he had not time properly to study the case. Second, he was decidedly opposed to the violent Anarchist tactics. Third, he tried to utilize every opportunity for "whitewashing" the United Labor party from the curse laid upon it by the leaders and press of the old parties which called the "George party" an organization made up by the "hordes of the Socialists, Anarchists, Nihilists," etc. for preaching "blood and revolution."

The publication of this article in the Standard was unfortunate, not only because its conclusions did not correspond to the real situation in Chicago, but because it did more harm than good for the success of the United Labor party. There were quite a considerable number of the Anarchists and their sympathizers in the city of New York at that time, especially among the Knights of Labor. All these Anarchists were greatly displeased with the attitude of Henry George toward the trial of the Chicago Anarchists, and they fervently agitated against the "George party."

The Republican and Democratic parties made a very vigorous campaign in view of the coming presidential election in 1888. Both, especially the latter, gave much more attention than in the previous campaigns, to the conditions of labor.

In spite of all these above-described odds against the United Labor party, it still received 72,000 votes as against 459,000 for the Republican and 480,000 for the Democratic party. The Progressive Labor party received only about 5,000 votes in the city of New York,[39] and hardly more in the entire state. John Swinton received in the seventh senatorial district 2,900 votes as against 2,300 for E. E. Glackin of the United Labor party, out of 24,000 votes cast for senatorial candidates in that district.[40]

The high hopes of both labor parties had gone to pieces. Each received several times less votes than it expected. Furthermore, the United Labor party polled in the city of New York only 37,000 votes, that is, 31,000 fewer than Henry George received in the mayoralty campaign the previous fall. Considering a number of possible new voters who, under the influence of the Land and Labor Clubs and the Anti-Poverty Society, had joined the United Labor party, the loss of the labor votes in the city of New York was still greater than 31,000. Besides the diminution of votes, the campaign resulted in another negative feature. The list of subscribers to the Leader had fallen so low that the little daily paper was suspended soon after the campaign. Almost the same happened with the Standard. It lost more than one-half of its subscribers. From this blow the Standard never recovered. Had it not been a weekly paper, and helped by outside supporters, it could not have continued its' existence.

Now, one may ask, what were the causes of such results for the United Labor party? The industrial conditions which had been at a turning point in the middle of 1886 showed still greater improvement during 1887. The relations between capital and labor had become less acute. Partly as a result of this change and partly as a result of a strong political showing of organized labor in the fall of 1886, the police, the courts, and the legislature had also "improved" in regard to labor.

All these changes explain the decline of the labor excitement and of the interest of labor in independent politics. Many labor parties formed under various names in the other states of the Union in 1886 dissolved in 1887 and 1888. But the loss of almost one-half of the labor votes by Henry George in the city of New York can not be explained by the general causes above indicated; nor can it be explained by a direct loss to the Progressive Labor party, for the vote of the latter, having been only a few thousands, did not exceed by much the normal Socialist vote of former years, which was about 2,500 in the city of New York.

The split had other much more important results than the direct loss of a few thousand votes to the Socialists. It had a negative psychological influence upon organized labor, considerably weakening its confidence in the success of the United Labor party and minimizing its interest in independent politics. Apparently a considerable number of wage-earners partly abstained from voting and partly turned to the method of holding the balance of power. The new protective labor legislation favored by the Democratic party could serve as an attraction for the labor vote. Besides the loss of confidence among the ranks of the party, the ousting of the Socialists themselves meant a loss of energetic agitators and campaign stumpers with some political experience, and as a result it considerably weakened the campaign work of the United Labor party. This result of the split was understood by Henry George himself. Shortly after the state campaign, on November 25, 1887, he wrote to C. D. F. Gutschow of San Francisco, the German translator of "Progress and Poverty," explaining his action against the Socialists at the Syracuse convention and the harm they did for his state campaign. Nevertheless, he justified the ousting of the Socialists, saying:

"There was no alternative other than to consent to have the movement ranked as a Socialistic movement or to split with the Socialists. Although this lost us votes for the present, I am perfectly certain that It will prove of advantage in the long run."[41]

The unsuccessful attempt of the Singletaxers to convert the United Labor party into a party of all classes also contributed its share to the loss of votes. Wage-conscious organized labor could neither comprehend nor agree with the Singletax doctrine of the identity of the interests of employers and employes, both of whom it classed as producers of the same category. This attempt, while resulting in the loss of labor votes did not draw to the United Labor party the employing classes.

As to the specific singletax issue, notwithstanding that a vague reaction against it had set in among the laboring masses, still it had, apparently, but little bearing upon the loss of votes. If the rank and file of the wage-earners did not favor it, neither did they oppose it, because the majority did not even understand this altogether too complex doctrine.

Still, 72,000 votes cast in only one state was a tolerably good showing for a new third party at that time.


  1. Leader, Aug. 18, 1887, p. 1.
  2. Leader, Aug. 18, 1887, p. 1.
  3. Standard, Aug. 27, 1887, p. 6.
  4. New York World, Aug. 19, 1887, p. 2.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid. Two more Socialists, Walter Vrooman and Lawrence Gronlund, were excluded as nonresidents of the state of New York.
  7. Standard, Aug. 27, 1887, p. 2.
  8. New York World, Aug. 18, 1887. p. 2.
  9. New York World, Aug. 20, 1887. p. 2.
  10. Henry George at first refused to accept the nomination on purely personal grounds. Crossdale supported his refusal on the ground that the office of secretary of state was not of sufficient importance to put at stake the prestige gained by Henry George in the fall campaign of 1886. But when McMackin, Barnes, and especially Father McGlynn appealed to Henry George, in a stormy ovation of the convention, to rise to the duty toward the party, he accepted the nomination.
  11. New York World, Aug. 19, 1887, p. 2.
  12. Ibid.
  13. If the Socialists instead of the Singletaxers had been in power, it might have possibly occurred that they would have ousted the latter from the United Labor party. In the previous years the Socialists had ousted the Anarchists from their ranks and at present they are trying to expell the Industrial Workers of the World from the Socialist party.
  14. New York World, Aug. 19, 1887, p. 4.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Leader, Aug. 19, 1887, p. 1.
  17. Leader, Aug. 22, 1887, p. 2.
  18. Leader, Aug. 23, 1887, p. 1.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Appendix V.
  21. Leader, Sept. 2, 1887, p. 1.
  22. Leader, Aug. 25, 1887, p. 2.
  23. Leader, Aug. 31, 1887, p. 1.
  24. Leader, Aug. 31, 1887, p. 1.
  25. Briefe und Auszuge aus Briefen von Joh. Phil. Becker etc. an F.A. Sorge, Stuttgart, 1906, p. 277.
  26. Standard, Aug. 6, 1887, p. 4.
  27. Loc cit.
  28. Sun, Sept. 5, 1887, p. 1, col. 1; Leader, Sept. 6, and Oct. 30, 1887.
  29. Ibid.
  30. Appendix VI.
  31. Sun, Sept. 19, 1887, p. 1.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Leader, Sept. 19, 1887, p. 4.
  34. Sun, Oct. 27, 1887, p. 1.
  35. Standard, Aug. 27, 1887, p. 4.
  36. World, Aug. 19, 1887, p. 2.
  37. Standard, Oct. 29, 1887, p. 3.
  38. Ibid.
  39. World, Nov. 9, 1887, p. 1.
  40. Sun, Nov. 10, 1887, p. 2.
  41. Life of Henry George, New York, 1904, p. 501.