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."
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," 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."
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
"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.
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."
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." 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.
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
unprofitable to hold land for speculation.'
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," 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."
The state ticket for the coming fall campaign was made up as
follows: For secretary of state, Henry George of New York; 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
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."
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
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
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
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
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."
THE PROGRESSIVE LABOR PARTY
The blow delivered to the Socialists at the convention was keenly
felt by them and their sympathizers. 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."
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.
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.
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."
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.
S. E. Shevich, the "rattlesnake" editor of the Leader,
as the Singletaxers called him, 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."
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.''
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.
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."
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,"
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." 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. 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."
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.
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."
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 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
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
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."
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
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
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. 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.
THE STATE CAMPAIGN OF 1887
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
"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
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."
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."
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
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, 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.
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'
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,
"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."
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
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.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
- Leader, Aug. 18, 1887,
- Leader, Aug. 18, 1887,
- Standard, Aug. 27,
1887, p. 6.
- New York World, Aug.
19, 1887, p. 2.
- Ibid. Two more
Socialists, Walter Vrooman and Lawrence Gronlund, were excluded as
nonresidents of the state of New York.
- Standard, Aug. 27,
1887, p. 2.
- New York World, Aug.
18, 1887. p. 2.
- New York World, Aug.
20, 1887. p. 2.
- 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.
- New York World, Aug.
19, 1887, p. 2.
- 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
- New York World, Aug.
19, 1887, p. 4.
- Leader, Aug. 19, 1887,
- Leader, Aug. 22, 1887,
- Leader, Aug. 23, 1887,
- Appendix V.
- Leader, Sept. 2, 1887,
- Leader, Aug. 25, 1887,
- Leader, Aug. 31, 1887,
- Leader, Aug. 31, 1887,
- Briefe und Auszuge aus
Briefen von Joh. Phil. Becker etc. an F.A. Sorge, Stuttgart,
1906, p. 277.
- Standard, Aug. 6,
1887, p. 4.
- Loc cit.
- Sun, Sept. 5, 1887, p.
1, col. 1; Leader, Sept. 6, and Oct. 30, 1887.
- Appendix VI.
- Sun, Sept. 19, 1887,
- Leader, Sept. 19,
1887, p. 4.
- Sun, Oct. 27, 1887, p.
- Standard, Aug. 27,
1887, p. 4.
- World, Aug. 19, 1887,
- Standard, Oct. 29,
1887, p. 3.
- World, Nov. 9, 1887,
- Sun, Nov. 10, 1887, p.
- Life of Henry George,
New York, 1904, p. 501.