The Henry George Birthplace staff recently organized and uploaded four new historical collections that help document the rich history of the movement to shift the burden of taxation to land values in the United States. These collections provide insight into the people and organizations who carried out the work of spreading single tax ideas including the strategies employed, the obstacles faced, and the legacy of their efforts.
In the New York State, Manhattan, Brooklyn Single Tax Leagues collection, researchers will find primary source documents produced by and about the first and one of the longest surviving single tax organizations in the world–the Manhattan Single Tax Club, 1886-1948. Additionally, this collection contains material from two related organizations–the Brooklyn Single Tax Club and the New York State Single Tax League. Both organizations performed similar work as the Manhattan Club including spreading single tax ideas through the publication and distribution of educational propaganda and the hosting of public speeches, banquets, and meetings.
The Massachusetts Single Tax League collection similarly provides insight into the members and activities of one of the earliest and longest active single tax organizations. In particular, this collection contains dozens of letters to and from League leaders including Alexander Mackendrick, Lewis Jerome Johnson, and the son of the famous abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison, Jr.
Although its members did not consider their organization a “single tax” club, the New York Tax Reform Association collection documents the important work of the New York Tax Reform Association which sought to “promote such economic and political reforms in relation to taxation” and largely upon single tax principles. Among the main activities of its members included lobbying state lawmakers for the passage of bills that clarified taxation procedures such as a 1903 law separating the assessments of land value and improvements for taxation purposes. The leaders of the New York Tax Reform Association included the prolific writer and tax expert Lawson Purdy and longtime single tax advocate A.C. Pleydell.
Finally, the Joseph Fels Fund Commission collection includes important correspondence and documents related to what historian Arthur Nicholas Young called the “central supervising agency of the American Single Tax movement.” Unlike other single tax organizations, the Joseph Fels Fund Commission was flush with cash thanks to its generous namesake and central donor Joseph Fels.
Fels, a wealthy soap magnate, pledged in 1909 to donate $25,000 a year for five years, and to match dollar for dollar any money raised, to support the immediate implementation of the single tax somewhere in the United States. Unlike other single tax organizations that mainly pursued educational missions, the Fels Fund Commission supported political campaigns designed to elect single taxers to office and change State constitutions to allow for the easier adoption of a single tax on land values.
To view any of these four collections in their entirety, see the Historical Collections homepage.
Arthur Nicholas Young, The Single Tax Movement in the United States. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1916), 164.