The Progressive Era
The Progressive Era was a period of social activism and political reform that flourished from the 1890s to the 1920s, and Single Taxers like Louis F Post and Henry H Hardinge were prominent in the Progressive Movement, which absorbed Georgist ideas into its general cause to eliminate corruption and to undermine existing concentrations of power and influence. During this era, reforms like the secret ballot were instituted, the absence of which had denied Henry George the Mayoralty of New York.
The Progressive Movement was active in both main political parties and was represented at local level right through the early 1920s, where Georgist local taxation ideas were widely followed. Single Taxers were around running America at local level for decades, and developing civic administration.
The Populist Party, or the People's Party, also known as the Populists, was a short-lived political party in the United States established in 1891, that championed agrarianism and was hostile to banks, railroads, and power concentrations. At this time, the terms populist and populism are commonly used for parties standing against the power of elites, whose interests they saw as being served by the mainstream parties. Nothing is new. Gaffney says:
Historians of the Populist Party and movement often note that its ideas succeeded even though the Party failed, because its ideas were co-opted by major parties. Georgism was a strand of American populism, later wrapped into Progressivism.
William Simon U’Ren in 1912
Single Taxers had actively campaigned for the adoption of the Presidential Primary Law in Oregon.
William Simon U'Ren (Cornish name), was an active reformer and Single Taxer, helping to pass a corrupt practices act which became law. U’Ren spearheaded the adoption of the initiative, referendum and the recall systems, trying to create a system of direct democracy to pursue the glorious goal of bringing Single Tax arrangements in Oregon. These initiatives in Oregon were widely adopted by other states and had a far-reaching effect on the development of democracy in the USA. U’Ren was also a promoter of proportional representation. U’Ren’s feeling was that the true and certain way to achieve justice is to increase democracy, which it surely must naturally be.
Mason Gaffney says:
With the development of direct democracy (by Single Taxers), open primaries, the secret ballot, direct election of U.S. Senators, the Initiative, Referendum, and Recall, and the like, crude vote-buying such as prevailed in the late 19th Century would no longer dominate the electorate. Mind-control became the urgent need; NeoClassical Economics was the tool.
Gaffney identifies many pockets of Single Taxer influence, and there were many Single Taxer Congressmen, including Henry George Jnr. The passage of the electoral reforms initiated by U’Ren helped Woodrow Wilson to the Presidency in 1913, and he had no fewer than four Georgists in his cabinet (of whom we know nothing yet.) (More about Wilson to come in other notes.)
In 1916, a Pure Single-Tax initiative, led by Luke North, won hundreds of thousands of votes in California, 31% of the electorate, when Single Taxers launched what they called their Great Adventure ‘One Tax’ Campaign. There were annual conferences of Single Taxers, and there’s a huge amount of submerged history here. And even though elections were usually being lost, all of these issues were kept in the public mind and the Single Tax was very much a live issue in these days.
Here’s a couple of articles from the New York Times from 1909 which give a feel of the spirit of the time, and talks about Joseph Fels.
The New York Times reported that:
An international movement to raise a large fund to revive the agitation for the Henry George system of a single tax on land values has been started in England and the United States simultaneously by Joseph Fels of Philadelphia, who is now in London at work on the plan. Single taxers in this city and throughout the country received the printed plan of the movement in the mails last week.
Joseph Fels was an idealistic manufacturer who had become an ardent Single Taxer in 1890. He poured a fortune behind big Single Taxer campaigns on both sides of the Atlantic, including North’s in America, and the drive around the People’s Budget in Britain in 1909.
We’re going to return to the near momentous events in Britain of 1909, and the role played by none other than the extraordinary Winston Churchill (who is half-American) and who, amongst so many other places that he’d been in his life, in 1909 was in Lloyd George’s Liberal government, and we could certainly count him as a Single Taxer at this particular time.