Critics & Crusaders: A Century of American Protest

By Charles A. Madison | Go to book overview

HENRY GEORGE


PROPHET OF HUMAN RIGHTS

OUR PROFESSIONAL ECONOMISTS, anxious to lift their studies to the high objective plane of the natural sciences, have disregarded Henry George as an unerudite tamperer with matters which are their special concern. As a consequence most Americans who have heard of him associate his name only with a confiscatory and unworkable single-tax panacea. This has obscured the fact that his books once excited the imagination of millions and that his energetic crusading gave them a new vision and fresh hope. A familiarity with his work shows indeed that he had the greatness of soul to sublimate his early experience with grinding indigence into a passionate drive to obliterate want from the face of the earth. Without the advantages of a formal education, he evolved a philosophy of society, at once prophetic and melioristic, which has placed him among the pre-eminent social thinkers of our time.

George was born in Philadelphia on September 2, 1839, the second of ten children. His father was at one time a publisher of religious books and later a clerk in the customs house, but he was never quite able to provide for his large family. Young George went to work before he was fourteen. Ambitious and restless, interested in ships like his grandfather before him, he sailed in 1855 as foremast boy on a voyage that took him to Australia and as far as India and back. When he returned to Philadelphia about a year later he obtained work in a printing shop, but his weekly earnings of two

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