Title: The New York Tax Reform Association, 1891-1924
Prominent Dates: 1899-1923
Arrangement: I. Correspondence and Publications of Association Secretary Lawson Purdy; II. Correspondence and Publications of Association Secretary A.C. Pleydell; and, III. Other Correspondence and Association Publications.
The New York Tax Reform Association was established in June 1891 to “promote such economic and political reforms in relation to taxation” and based upon the five principles included in its Tax Reform Platform. Those principles included:
- The most direct taxation is the best, because it gives to the real payers of taxes a conscious and direct pecuniary interest in honest and economical government.
- Mortgages and other capital engaged in production or trade should be exempt from taxation; because taxes on personalty tend to drive it away, to put a premium on dishonesty and to discourage industry.
- Real estate taxes should bear the main burden of taxation; because such taxes can be most easily, cheaply and certainly collected, and because they bear least heavily on the farmer and the worker.
- Besides real estate taxes, corporations should pay in taxes only the fair value of the franchise they obtain from the people. (Added by amendment in 1893)
- No legislature will venture to enact a good system of local taxation until the people perceive the correct principles of taxation.
The founders of the Association included Thomas G. Shearman, Bolton Hall, C.T. Christensen, Spencer Aldrich, Thomas Berkeley, and Stephen B. Sturges all of whom also served as its first trustees. By 1900, the Association had greatly expanded in size and included nearly 50 individuals and organizations on its advisory board.
The prolific writer and municipal tax expert Lawson Purdy became Secretary of the Association in 1896 and served until 1906. In 1905 he was selected to serve on New York Mayor George C. McClellan Jr.’s Advisory Committee on Taxation and Finance. In 1906, Purdy was appointed President of the New York City Department of Taxes and Assessments, a position he held until 1917. He also served as the General Director of the Charity Organization Society from 1918 to 1933. Purdy died in 1959 at the age of 95.
Longtime single tax advocate A.C. Pleydell took over the role of Secretary in 1906 following Purdy’s departure. He served in this position until 1928.
Although guided by the core ideas espoused by Henry George in Progress and Poverty, the Association was not a single tax organization as it supported taxes on corporate franchises in addition to taxes on land values. The Association worked hard to correct any references to it as a single tax group. In 1911, for example, Secretary A.C. Pleydell wrote to Joseph Fels of the Fels Fund Commission requesting that the soap magnate remove the Association from the Commission’s List of Single Tax Organizations, explaining:
I have told you a number of times that [the New York Tax Reform Association] is not a single tax organization. The more you spread that erroneous impression, the more you add to my already numerous difficulties. I am having trouble enough through the formation of various and sundry “tax reform” associations that do not concern themselves at all with taxes or reform.
Among the Association’s many successes included the passage by the New York State Legislature in May 1903 of a law separating the assessments of land and improvements. The Association often worked with other local tax reform groups such as the Reform Club, United Real Estate Association, and the West End Association to sponsor legislation, lobby for the passage of specific bills, and educate the people of New York about changes to the local and state tax procedures.
The Association disbanded sometime in the 1930s.
Annual Report (December 26, 1899)
Annual Report from the Joint Committee on Taxation (January 1901)
Eighteenth Annual Report for the Year 1908 ()
A.C. Pleydell to Joseph Fels, September 18, 1911
Arthur Nicholas Young, The Single Tax Movement in the United States (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1916)
New York Tax Reform Association: Constitution, Platform, Officers, Members (December 1923)