Henry George Birthplace staff recently created and uploaded new collections that document the history and activities of three organizations inspired by the ideas of Henry George—The Henry George Foundation of America, the Graded Tax League of Pennsylvania, and the John C Lincoln Foundation (later, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy). These collections offer valuable insight into the various efforts of individuals and groups to keep land value taxation in the national dialogue long after George’s death in 1897.
Frederic C. Howe, William McNair, George E. Evans, Percy R. Williams, Charles Eckert, and other disciples of Henry George established the Henry George Foundation of America (HGFA) in 1926 to popularize the ideas of the great economist and work for their adoption. The headquarters were in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where many of the founders had participated in the property tax reform movement. In 1913, Pittsburgh adopted a two-rate property tax system that assessed land values at twice the rate of buildings.
Among the earliest activities of the HGFA included the purchase of the birthplace of Henry George in January 1927 and the establishment of a Birthplace Restoration Fund to restore the building to its original 1839 appearance. The HGFA also continued the tradition started by the Joseph Fels Fund Commission of sponsoring annual conferences to celebrate the legacy of Henry George.
The Henry George Foundation of America Collection contains the correspondence and writings of many officers including past Presidents Charles Eckert, John Fuchs, and Steven Cord as well as long-time Executive Secretary Percy Williams. Additionally, Series Three contains material from the meetings of the Henry George Memorial Congress.
The Graded Tax League of Pennsylvania and Related Associations
In 1950, the HGFA established the Graded Tax League of Pennsylvania to lobby city councils across the state to promote the passage of a new state law that would authorize other cities in the state to enjoy the same graded tax system in place in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh’s former Chief Assessor Percy R. Williams Pittsburgh and one-time Pennsylvania Congressman Charles R. Eckert led the political campaign while a team of volunteers from the Foundation staffed League offices across the state.
Williams, also a founding member of the Henry George Foundation, proved an especially adept promoter of Pittsburgh’s graded tax law, penning dozens of publications detailing both the merits of the graded tax system and how it functioned. In 1962 and 1963, the American Journal of Economics and Sociology published a four-part series on Pittsburgh’s experience with a graded tax system.
In 1951, the League enlisted Pittsburgh State Senator Bernard B. McGinnis to sponsor a new graded tax bill that authorized any “third class” city—any city with a population less than 250,000—in Pennsylvania to adopt the graded tax system pending approval of the city council.
John C. Lincoln, the Lincoln Foundation, and the Lincoln Land Institute
John C. Lincoln, an inventor, engineer, and industrial mogul, first heard Henry George speak in 1889 in Cleveland, Ohio. According to Lincoln’s biographer and friend, Raymond Moley, about 500 attended George’s speech and Lincoln, age 23 at the time, “had no idea what George was talking about.” Still, the speech made an impression. By 1910, Lincoln had read George’s masterpiece—Progress and Poverty—three times and become an enthusiastic single taxer.
Lincoln used business acumen and wealth to advance the single tax. During his lifetime he contributed more than $3 million to the Henry George movement. In 1924, he ran alongside William J. Wallace on the Commonwealth Land Party presidential ticket. In 1931 Lincoln moved to Arizona to pursue copper mining and real estate development. He excelled in both. In 1947, he established and endowed the Lincoln Foundation to promote the ideas of Henry George through education, research, and advocacy.
In 1974, the Lincoln Foundation established the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy (LILP), a nonprofit and tax-exempt educational institution. The Lincoln Foundation supported the LILP with grant money until 2006, when the two organizations merged. The LILP sponsors research, conducts courses and conferences in an effort to advance knowledge and inform decision making about land policy.