The 1890 Georgist “Constitution”
Platform of the Single Tax League of the United States, adopted September 3, 1890.
August 19, 2018
Rick DiMare

The following Georgist platform was adopted on September 3, 1890 in Coopers Union, New York, on the final day of a 3-day convention, the first national convention in Georgist history, and only a few months before Henry George had a stroke that would cause him to withdraw from the movement (though he kept writing important works until he died in 1897). 

The event was remarkable, as hundreds of delegates attended from nearly every state in the union. It was after this convention that Georgism entered a new phase, one that sought federal and international recognition. In August 2018 the annual convention will held in Baltimore, which will be Georgism's 128th anniversary, based on the establishment of the 1890 Platform.

Platform of the Single Tax League of the United States, adopted September 3, 1890

Paragraph 1

We assert as our fundamental principle the self-evident truth enunciated In the Declaration of American Independence, that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain Inalienable rights.

Paragraph 2

We hold that all men are equally entitled to the use and enjoyment of what God has created and of what is gained by the general growth and improvement of the community of which they are a part. Therefore, no one should be permitted to hold natural opportunities without a fair return to all for any special privilege thus accorded to him, and that value which the growth and improvement of the community attach to land should be taken for the use of the community.

Paragraph 3

We hold that each man is entitled to all that his labor produces. Therefore no tax should be levied on the products of labor.

Paragraph 4

To carry out these principles we are in favor of raising all public revenues for national, state, county and municipal purposes by a single tax upon land values, irrespective of Improvements, and of the abolition of all forms of direct and Indirect taxation.

Paragraph 5

Since in all our states we now levy some tax on the value of land, the single tax can be instituted by the simple and easy way of abolishing, one after another all other taxes now levied, and commensurately increasing the tax on land values, until we draw upon that one source for all expenses of government, the revenue being divided between local governments, state governments and the general government, as the revenue from direct taxes Is now divided between the local and state governments; or, a direct assessment being made by the general government upon the states and paid by them from revenues collected in this manner.

Paragraph 6

The single tax we propose is not a tax on land, and therefore would not fall on the use of land and become a tax on labor.

Paragraph 7

It is a tax, not on land, but on the value of land. Thus it would not fall on all land, but only on valuable land and on that not in proportion to the use made of it, but in proportion to its value—the premium which the user of land must pay to the owner, either in purchase money or rent, for permission to use valuable land. It would thus be a tax, not on the use or improvement of land, but on the ownership of land, taking what would otherwise go to the owner as owner, and not as user.

Paragraph 8

In assessments under the single tax all values created by individual use or improvement would be excluded and the only value taken into consideration would be the value attaching to the bare land by reason of neighborhood, etc., to be determined by impartial periodical assessments. Thus the farmer would have no more taxes to pay than the speculator who held a similar piece of land idle, and the man who on a city lot erected a valuable building would be taxed no more than the man who held a similar lot vacant.

Paragraph 9

The single tax, in short, would call upon men to contribute to the public revenues, not in proportion to what they produce or accumulate, but in proportion to the value of the natural opportunities they hold. It would compel them to pay just as much for holding land idle as for putting it to its fullest use.

Paragraph 10

The single tax, therefore, would—

Section 1

Take the weight of taxation off of the agricultural districts where land has little or no value irrespective of improvements, and put It on towns and cities where bare land rises to a value of millions of dollars per acre.

Section 2

Dispense with a multiplicity of taxes and a horde of tax gatherers, simplify government and greatly reduce Its cost.

Section 3

Do away with the fraud, corruption and gross inequality inseparable from our present methods of taxation, which allow the rich to escape while they grind the poor. Land cannot be hid or carried off and its value can be ascertained with greater ease and certainty than any other.

Section 4

Give us with all the world as perfect freedom of trade as now exists between the states of our Union, thus enabling our people to share, through free exchanges, in all the advantages which nature has given to other countries, or which the peculiar skill of other peoples has enabled them to attain. It would destroy the trusts, monopolies and corruptions which are the outgrowths of the tariff. It would do away with the fines and penalties now levied on anyone who improves a farm, erects a house, builds a machine, or in any way adds to the general stock of wealth. It would leave everyone free to apply labor or expend capital in production or exchange without fine or restriction, and would leave to each the full product of his exertion.

Section 5

It would, on the other hand, by taking for public use that value which attaches to land by reason of the growth and improvement of the community, make the holding of land unprofitable to the mere owner, and profitable only to the user. It would thus make it impossible for speculators and monopolists to hold natural opportunities unused or only half used, and would throw open to labor the illimitable field of employment which the earth offers to man. It would thus solve the labor problem, do away with involuntary poverty, raise wages in all occupations to the full earnings of labor, make overproduction impossible until all human wants are satisfied, render labor-saving inventions a blessing to all and cause such an enormous production and such an equitable distribution of wealth as would give to all comfort, leisure and participation in the advantages of an advancing civilization.

Paragraph 11

With respect to monopolies other than the monopoly on land, we hold that where free competition becomes impossible, as in telegraphs, railroads, water and gas supplies, etc., such business becomes a proper social function, which should be controlled and managed by and for the whole people concerned, through their proper governmental, local, state or national, as may be.

Footnote #1

As explained in the April 1, 1891 issue of The Standard the important currency question was deliberately left out of the 1890 Platform. This is because the movement was split and undecided about whether to support the new silver standard or the Greenbackers. Prior writings of Henry George suggest he was against any precious metals being used in U.S. coins, and that he supported Congress issuing its own debt-free interest-free U.S. Notes. My guess is that he'd approve of the cheap metal coins we've had since 1965, but that he'd strongly disapprove that a privately owned central bank was issuing our paper/electronic money in the form of Federal Reserve Notes (FRNs), and that the FRNs were unredeemable for Congress's current coin. 

Footnote #2

Henry George's wording of Paragraph 11 was bitterly opposed by those who wanted to monopolize the utilities and other industries that George wanted to be "managed by and for the whole people concerned" by all three levels of government, an issue which still has great implications today. The monopolists at the time especially resented the words "managed by" because they wanted to do the managing, funding and profit-taking, using private bank credit, not the U.S. Notes which Juilliard v. Greenman (1884) had then recently declared to be a full legal tender currency. The monopolists found it acceptable that government "maintain and control" the utilities with occasional regulation, and by providing services at the governments' expense, but they wanted the power to own and "manage" the utilities and railroads, and they called George a socialist or communist for wanted government to do it. Anyway, the opposition quickly infiltrated the movement, and right under Henry George's nose, and against his wishes, had the words "managed by" removed at the second Single Tax Conference, held at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago on August 30, 1893. George voted against the change, but they went through anyway. The original wording you see above in Paragraph 11 was not restored until the 1912 Single Tax Conference, a restoration made by the Feds Fund Commission. Here is their alternative wording of Paragraph 11, which was in effect from 1893-1912: 

"In securing to each individual his equal right to the use of the earth, it is also a proper function of society to maintain and control all public ways for the transportation of persons and property and the transmission of intelligence; and also to maintain and control all public ways in cities for furnishing water, gas, and all other things that necessarily require the use of such common ways." 

Note the substitution of the word "society" for "government." My source for this was Arthur N. Young's "The Single Tax Movement in the United States" (1916), Appendix A

Footnote #3

What may be called the socialization or nationalization of natural and artificial “monopolies other than the monopoly on land” mentioned in paragraph 11 of the 1890 Platform was apparently something Henry George had been thinking about, even as he was writing Progress and Poverty (1879), more than a decade earlier:

“With this abolition of want and the fear of want, the admiration of riches would decay, and men would seek the respect and approbation of their fellows in other modes than by the acquisition and display of wealth. In this way there would be brought to the management of public affairs, and the administration of common funds, the skill, the attention, the fidelity, and integrity that can now be secured only for private interests, and a railroad or gas works might be operated on public account, not only more economically and efficiently than as at present, under joint stock management, but as economically and efficiently as would be possible under a single ownership. The prize of the Olympian games, that called forth the most strenuous exertions of all Greece, was but a wreath of wild olive; for a bit of ribbon men have over and over again performed services no money could have bought.” Henry George, Progress and Poverty, Book 9, Chapter 4, Paragraph 19.Footnote #4:Regarding Paragraph 11, Shearman expanded the list of utilities and other industries which should be both controlled and managed by government in Section 12 of the 1893 "Just and Practicable Income Tax" (See Doc #129 for the entire 21-page proposal before Congress).Shearman states: “[We should tax] all the profits of corporations owning railroads, canals, transportation privileges, telegraphs, telephones, pipe lines, mines, quarries, gas works, electric-light plants, steam-heating pipes, and, in short, all corporations have EXCLUSIVE PRIVILEGES of any kind whatsoever. In other words, we should TAX ALL THE INCOME WHICH IS DERIVED FROM MONOPOLIES, WHETHER NATURAL OR ARTIFICIAL. I am making no complaint about monopolies, and certainly for present purposes have no desire to enter upon a crusade against them. There is no question of their destruction involved . . . ." (emphasis by Shearman)And of course with the invention of modern internet and communication services, air and space travel, nuclear energy, etc. the list of industries that should be a "social function" would be expanded still further.Footnote #5:

This final version of the 11-paragraph Platform, presented in this Doc #120, was published every week in The Standard, from September 1890 until the final issue in August 1892.

To provide some historical context, a similar version of the Platform (but only 9 paragraphs) had been published from January 1890 to September 1890 in The Standard, but without the important final version's Paragraph 11, which called for the socialization of utilities and other natural monopolies. Apparently, Henry George felt the need to add Paragraph 11 as he witnessed corporate monopolists rapidly privatizing vital services and industries after the 14th Amendment rights of corporate "persons" were recognized by the Supreme Court in 1886.

Prior to 1890, instead of a formal platform, a brief but widely misunderstood 3-paragraph mission statement appeared every week in The Standard:

"THE STANDARD advocates the abolition of all taxes upon industry and the products of industry, and the taking, by taxation upon land values irrespective of improvements, of the annual rental value of all those various forms of natural opportunities embraced under the general term, Land. 

We hold that to tax labor or its products is to discourage industry.

We hold that to tax land values to their full amount will render it impossible for any man to exact from others a price for the privilege of using these bounties of nature in which all living men have an equal right of use; that it will compel every individual controlling natural opportunities to either utilize them by the employment of labor, or abandon them to others; that it will thus provide opportunities of work for all men and secure to each the full reward of his labor; and that as a result involuntary poverty will be abolished, and the greed, intemperance and vice that spring from poverty and the dread of poverty will be swept away."

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Rick DiMare

Rick is a self employed attorney from Boston, Massachusetts. He graduated from Boston College and studied law at the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover. He also administers the Facebook group called Common Wealth Tax, which seeks to explore the (currently obscure) link between modern income tax laws and the Land Value Tax (LVT) advocated by political economist and “Greenbacker” Henry George (1839-1897).