Henry George: The
Land Question (1881)
What I want to impress upon those who
may read this book is this:
The land question is nowhere a mere local question; it is a universal
question. It involves the great problem of the distribution of wealth,
which is everywhere forcing itself upon attention.
It cannot be settled by measures which in their nature can have but
local application. It can be settled only by measures which in their nature
will apply everywhere.
It cannot be settled by half-way measures. It can be settled only
by the acknowledgment of equal rights to land. Upon this basis it can be
settled easily and permanently.
If the Irish reformers take this ground, they will make their fight
the common fight of all the peoples; they will concentrate strength and divide
opposition. They will turn the flank of the system that oppresses them, and
awake the struggle in its very intrenchments. They will rouse against it
a force that is like the force of rising tides.
What I urge the men of Ireland to do is to proclaim, without limitation
or evasion, that the land, of natural right, is the common property of the
whole people, and to propose practical measures which will recognize this
right in all countries as well as in Ireland.
What I urge the Land Leagues of the United States to do is to announce
this great principle as of universal application; to give their movement
a reference to America as well as to Ireland; to broaden and deepen and strengthen
it by making it a movement for the regeneration of the world – a movement
which shall concentrate and give shape to aspirations that are stirring among
Ask not for Ireland mere charity or sympathy. Let her call be the
call of fraternity: "For yourselves, O brothers, as well
as for us!" Let her rallying cry awake all who slumber, and rouse to a common
struggle all who are oppressed. Let it breathe not old hates; let it ring
and echo with the new hope!
In many lands her sons are true to her; under many skies her daughters
burn with the love of her. Lo! the ages bring their opportunity. Let those
who would honor her bear her banner to the front!
The harp and the shamrock, the golden sunburst on the field of living
green! emblems of a country without nationality; standard of a people downtrodden
and oppressed! The hour has come when they may lead the van of the great
world-struggle. Types of harmony and of ever-springing hope, of light and
of life! The hour has come when they may stand for something higher than
local patriotism; something grander than national independence. The hour
has come when they may stand forth to speak the world's hope, to lead the
Torn away by pirates, tending in a strange land a heathen master's
swine, the slave boy, with the spirit of Christ in his heart, praying in
the snow for those who had enslaved him, and returning to bring to his oppressors
the message of the gospel, returning with good to give where evil had been
received, to kindle in the darkness a great light–this is Ireland's
patron saint. In his spirit let Ireland's struggle be. Not merely through
Irish vales and hamlets, but into England, into Scotland, into Wales, wherever
our common tongue is spoken, let the torch be carried and the word be preached.
And beyond! The brotherhood of man stops not with differences of speech any
more than with seas or mountain-chains. A century ago it was ours to speak
the ringing word. Then it was France's. Now it may be Ireland's, if her sons
But wherever, or by whom, the word must be spoken, the standard will
be raised. No matter what the Irish leaders do or do not do, it is too late
to settle permanently the question on any basis short of the recognition
of equal natural right. And, whether the Land Leagues move forward or slink
back, the agitation must spread to this side of the Atlantic. The Republic,
the true Republic, is not yet here. But her birth-struggle must soon begin.
Already, with the hope of her, men's thoughts are stirring.
Not a republic of landlords and peasants; not a republic of millionaires
and tramps; not a republic in which some are masters and some serve. But
a republic of equal citizens, where competition becomes cooperation, and
the interdependence of all gives true independence to each; where moral progress
goes hand in hand with intellectual progress, and material progress elevates
and enfranchises even the poorest and weakest and lowliest.
And the gospel of deliverance, let us not forget it: it is the gospel
of love, not of hate. He whom it emancipates will know neither Jew nor Gentile,
nor Irishman nor Englishman, nor German nor Frenchman, nor European nor American,
nor difference of color or of race, nor animosities of class or condition.
Let us set our feet on old prejudices, let us bury the old hates. There have
been "Holy Alliances" of kings. Let us strive for the Holy Alliance of the
Liberty, equality, fraternity! Write
them on the banners. Let them be for sign and countersign. Without equality,
liberty cannot be; without fraternity, neither equality nor liberty can be
- Liberty–the full freedom of each bounded only by the equal
freedom of every other!
- Equality–the equal right of each to the use and enjoyment
of all natural opportunities, to all the essentials of happy, healthful,
- Fraternity–that sympathy which links together those who struggle
in a noble cause; that would live and let live; that would help as well
as be helped; that, in seeking the good of all, finds the highest good
"By this sign shall ye conquer!"
"We hold these truths to be self-evident–that all men are
created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable
rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!"
It is over a century since these words rang out. It is time
to give them their full, true meaning. Let the standard be lifted that
all may see it; let the advance be sounded that all may hear it. Let
those who would fall back, fall back. Let those who would oppose, oppose.
Everywhere are those who will rally. The stars in their courses fight
against Sisera!... read the whole article
Henry George: The Condition
of Labor — An
Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII in response to Rerum Novarum (1891)
This right of private possession in things created by God is however very
different from the right of private ownership in things produced by labor.
The one is limited, the other unlimited, save in cases when the dictate of
self-preservation terminates all other rights. The purpose of the one, the
exclusive possession of land, is merely to secure the other, the exclusive
ownership of the products of labor; and it can never rightfully be carried
so far as to impair or deny this. While any one may hold exclusive possession
of land so far as it does not interfere with the equal rights of others,
he can rightfully hold it no further.
Thus Cain and Abel, were there only two men on earth, might by agreement
divide the earth between them. Under this compact each might claim exclusive
right to his share as against the other. But neither could rightfully continue
such claim against the next man born. For since no one comes into the world
without God’s permission, his presence attests his equal right to the
use of God’s bounty. For them to refuse him any use of the earth which
they had divided between them would therefore be for them to commit murder.
And for them to refuse him any use of the earth, unless by laboring for them
or by giving them part of the products of his labor he bought it of them,
would be for them to commit theft. ...
We propose — leaving land in the private possession of individuals,
with full liberty on their part to give, sell or bequeath it — simply
to levy on it for public uses a tax that shall equal the annual value of
the land itself, irrespective of the use made of it or the improvements on
it. And since this would provide amply for the need of public revenues, we
would accompany this tax on land values with the repeal of all taxes now
levied on the products and processes of industry — which taxes, since
they take from the earnings of labor, we hold to be infringements of the
right of property.
This we propose, not as a cunning device of human ingenuity, but as a conforming
of human regulations to the will of God.
God cannot contradict himself nor impose on his creatures laws that clash.
If it be God’s command to men that they should not steal — that
is to say, that they should respect the right of property which each one
has in the fruits of his labor;
And if he be also the Father of all men, who in his common bounty has intended
all to have equal opportunities for sharing;
Then, in any possible stage of civilization, however elaborate, there must
be some way in which the exclusive right to the products of industry may
be reconciled with the equal right to land.
If the Almighty be consistent with himself, it cannot be, as say those socialists
referred to by you, that in order to secure the equal participation of men
in the opportunities of life and labor we must ignore the right of private
property. Nor yet can it be, as you yourself in the Encyclical seem to argue,
that to secure the right of private property we must ignore the equality
of right in the opportunities of life and labor. To say the one thing or
the other is equally to deny the harmony of God’s laws.
But, the private possession of land, subject to the payment to the community
of the value of any special advantage thus given to the individual, satisfies
both laws, securing to all equal participation in the bounty of the Creator
and to each the full ownership of the products of his labor.
Nor do we hesitate to say that this way of securing the equal right to the
bounty of the Creator and the exclusive right to the products of labor is
the way intended by God for raising public revenues. For we are not atheists,
who deny God; nor semi-atheists, who deny that he has any concern in politics
and legislation. ...
... Suppose that to your Holiness as a judge of morals one should put this
case of conscience:
I am one of several children to whom our father left a field abundant
for our support. As he assigned no part of it to any one of us in particular,
leaving the limits of our separate possession to be fixed by ourselves,
I being the eldest took the whole field in exclusive ownership. But in
doing so I have not deprived my brothers of their support from it, for
I have let them work for me on it, paying them from the produce as much
wages as I would have had to pay strangers. Is there any reason why my
conscience should not be clear?
What would be your answer? Would you not tell him that he was in mortal
sin, and that his excuse added to his guilt? Would you not call on him to
make restitution and to do penance? ...
Consider the moral teachings of the Encyclical:
- You tell us that God owes to man an inexhaustible storehouse which he
finds only in the land. Yet you support a system that denies to the great
majority of men all right of recourse to this storehouse.
- You tell us that the necessity of labor is a consequence of original
sin. Yet you support a system that exempts a privileged class from the
necessity for labor and enables them to shift their share and much more
than their share of labor on others.
- You tell us that God has not created us for the perishable and transitory
things of earth, but has given us this world as a place of exile and not
as our true country. Yet you tell us that some of the exiles have the exclusive
right of ownership in this place of common exile, so that they may compel
their fellow-exiles to pay them for sojourning here, and that this exclusive
ownership they may transfer to other exiles yet to come, with the same
right of excluding their fellows.
- You tell us that virtue is the common inheritance of all; that
all men are children of God the common Father; that all have the same
that all are redeemed by Jesus Christ; that the blessings of nature and
the gifts of grace belong in common to all, and that to all except the
unworthy is promised the inheritance of the Kingdom of Heaven! Yet
in all this and through all this you insist as a moral duty on the maintenance
of a system that makes the reservoir of all God’s material bounties
and blessings to man the exclusive property of a few of their number — you
give us equal rights in heaven, but deny us equal rights on earth!
It was said of a famous decision of the Supreme Court of the United States
made just before the civil war, in a fugitive-slave case, that “it
gave the law to the North and the nigger to the South.” It is thus
that your Encyclical gives the gospel to laborers and the earth to the landlords.
Is it really to be wondered at that there are those who sneeringly say, “The
priests are ready enough to give the poor an equal share in all that is out
of sight, but they take precious good care that the rich shall keep a tight
grip on all that is within sight”?
... read the whole letter
Henry George: In Liverpool: The Financial
Reform Meeting at the Liverpool Rotunda (1889)
In the United States, carried away by the heat of the great struggle, we
allowed protection to build itself up. We have to now make the fight that
partially won over here; but, in making that fight, we make the fight for
full and absolute free trade. I don't believe that protection can ever be
in the United States until a majority of the people have been brought to
see the absurdity and the wickedness of all tariffs, whether protective or
revenue only (hear, hear); have been brought to realize the deep truth of
the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man; have been led to see what
Garrison has so eloquently said, that the interests of mankind are harmonious,
not antagonistic, that one nation cannot profit at the expense of another,
but that every people is benefited by the advance of other peoples — (cheers) — until
we shall aim at a free trade that will enable the citizen of England to enter
the ports of the United States as freely as today, the citizen of Massachusetts
crosses into New York. (Cheers) ... read the
Thomas Flavin, writing in The
Now, it is quite true that all taxes of whatever nature are paid out of
the products of labor. But must they be for that reason a tax on labor products.
Let us see.
I suppose you won't deny that a unit of labor applies to different kinds
of land will give very different results. Suppose that a unit of labor produces
on A's land 4, on B's 3, on C's 2 and on D's 1. A's land is the most, and
D's is the least, productive land in use in the community to which they belong.
B's and C's represent intermediate grades. Suppose each occupies the best
land that was open to him when he entered into possession. Now, B, and C,
and D have just as good a right to the use of the best land as A had.
Manifestly then, if this be the whole story, there cannot be equality of
opportunity where a unit of labor produces such different results, all other
things being equal except the land.
How is this equality to be secured? There is but one possible way. Each
must surrender for the common use of all, himself included, whatever advantages
accrues to him from the possession of land superior to that which falls to
the lot of him who occupies the poorest.
In the case stated, what the unit of labor produces for D, is what it should
produce for A, B and C, if these are not to have an advantage of natural
opportunity over D.
Hence equity is secured when A pays 3, D, 2 and C, 1 into a common fund
for the common use of all--to be expended, say in digging a well, making
a road or bridge, building a school, or other public utility.
Is it not manifest that here the tax which A, B and C pay into a common
fund, and from which D is exempt, is not a tax on their labor products (though
paid out of them) but a tax on the superior advantage which they enjoy over
D, and to which D has just as good a right as any of them.
The result of this arrangement is that each takes up as much of the best
land open to him as he can put to gainful use, and what he cannot so use
he leaves open for the next. Moreover, he is at no disadvantage with the
rest who have come in ahead of him, for they provide for him, in proportion
to their respective advantages, those public utilities which invariably arise
wherever men live in communities. Of course he will in turn hold to those
who come later the same relation that those who came earlier held to him.
Suppose now that taxes had been levied on labor products instead of land;
all that any land-holder would have to do to avoid the tax is to produce
little or nothing. He could just squat on his land, neither using it himself
nor letting others use it, but he would not stop at this, for he would grab
to the last acre all that he could possibly get hold of. Each of the others
would do the same in turn, with the sure result that by and by, E, F and
G would find no land left for them on which they might make a living.
So they would have to hire their labor to those who had already monopolized
the land, or else buy or rent a piece of land from them. Behold now the devil
of landlordism getting his hoof on God's handiwork! Exit justice, freedom,
social peace and plenty. Enter robbery, slavery, social discontent, consuming
grief, riotous but unearned wealth, degrading pauperism, crime breeding,
want, the beggar's whine, and the tyrant's iron heel.
And how did it all come about? By the simple expedient of taxing labor products
in order that precious landlordism might laugh and grow fat on the bovine
stupidity of the community that contributes its own land values toward its
And yet men vacuously ask, "What difference does it make?"
O tempora! O mores! To be as plain as is necessary, it makes this four-fold
- First, it robs the community of its land values;
- second, it robs labor of its wages in the name of taxation;
- third, it sustains and fosters landlordism, a most conspicuously damnable
- fourth, it exhibits willing workers in enforced idleness; beholding their
families in want on the one hand, and unused land that would yield them
abundance on the other.
This last is a difference that cries to heaven for vengeance, and if it
does not always cry in vain, will W. C. Brann be able to draw his robe close
around him and with a good conscience exclaim, "It's none of my fault;
I am not my brother's keeper."