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Mayor Henry George

BClick

AHC: French Montana
#1
I'll let Mazda's blog article introduce Henry George and his ideas for those who are unfamiliar.

We think of George today (when we think of him at all) as an intellectual rather than a politician, but he did make a few bids for office in his own right. The most successful of those was his first run for Mayor of New York in 1886. As the candidate of the United Labor Party, he garnered 31% of the vote for a second-place finish, behind Democrat Abram Hewitt but ahead of a young Republican aristocrat named Theodore Roosevelt. What if George had won?

Some creative PODs might be required to overcome Hewitt's 20,000-vote lead (which was almost certainly expanded by fraud), but I'm sure we can think of a few or spot some in the second article linked above. Hewitt was a nominally anti-Tammany Hall candidate backed by Tammany out of fear of handing the election to the radical George. Maybe factional strife in the Democratic Party proves too much to overcome and the nomination goes to a straight-up Tammany stooge, leaving disaffected reformers to sit out or lend their support to George (or to Roosevelt, splitting the vote in George's favor).

Hewitt was not a particularly successful mayor; he served two years, was denied renomination, and the major event of his term seems to have been his pissing off Irish-Americans by refusing to participate in the St. Patrick's Day Parade. His actual historical impacts on the subway and the Cooper Union were independent of his mayoralty. The interest here is what George would do instead. I don't think he could unilaterally introduce a Land Value Tax; I'm not sure the extent of the mayor's powers at this point in time but he probably wouldn't command anything near a majority on the city council. George apparently admitted that he'd only be able to use the office as a pulpit for his big idea. On the other hand, he could use executive power to pursue some of the United Labor Party's reformist and pro-worker policies, such as the establishment of modern building and sanitation inspectorates, the expulsion of Tammany crooks, and the creation of a favorable policing environment for labor unions - the latter of which would be almost unique in the United States at this point in history.

Which takes us to the big picture. The United Labor Party was one of many left-wing, not-explicitly-socialist microparties tied to the pre-AFL labor movement - a movement that was ideologically fractured and treated as illegal almost everywhere. Electing a Mayor of New York would be a huge event, but it's difficult to imagine that it alone could be the springboard for a major reorganization of party politics along class lines. If nothing else, George was a well-known advocate of free trade, while the Knights of Labor - the nearest thing to a national trade union at this point - was staunchly protectionist; they endorsed George in the election but the contradiction could cause trouble if a Mayor George became the figurehead for American labor politics. A Georgist national Labor Party arising in the 1880s and 1890s would be a fascinating TL but it is a tough ask when they would be up against all the might of Gilded Age America.

Finally, it's possible that no matter how many things go right for George in 1886, the powers that be just refuse to let him win and rig the vote much more unambiguously than in OTL. That won't necessarily do much for George's political career, but it could lead to some working-class outrage - and potentially more working-class support for anti-Tammany reformers down the line? If not a strong Labor Party, do we get an early outbreak of left-Republican fusion mayors and a much earlier breakdown of the Democratic machine?
 

Japhy

Harry Turtledove thinks I'm funny.
Published by SLP
#3
I could go on about this at length but in the event that there's a Tammany Stooge on the ticket I'd expect another reform Democratic split that either runs their own man or endorses Roosevelt.

Someone remind me tomorrow and I'll offer a more detailed write up about how George can win. I've looked into it before, just never did anything because while I REALLY like the ideology I don't really know how any administration would work out.
 
#4
Been waiting for someone to use this as a pod! One big knock on effect is that George’s loss turned Samuel Gompers (who campaigned hard for George) more conservative politically and made him oppose anymore attempts to launch third-party labor campaigns. So with that alone there’s at least a real chance for independent labor politics to take off in the US.

Henry George seems capable and pragmatic, but at this point in US history it seems likely that he’ll be smeared out of office like John Altgeld later. Maybe if you can move the panic of 1893 a few years earlier it’ll give him the opportunity to really make changes in the city.

In terms of electing George a possible pod is the Vice-General of the Catholic Archdiocese of New York not writing a letter condemning George and calling his politics “contrary of the teachings of the church” two days before the election which was quickly distributed around by Tammany. That keeps the Irish vote more uniformly in his favor and might just carry him over the finish line or at least gets him close enough that it builds momentum for him to run a second time.
 

BClick

AHC: French Montana
#5
Been waiting for someone to use this as a pod! One big knock on effect is that George’s loss turned Samuel Gompers (who campaigned hard for George) more conservative politically and made him oppose anymore attempts to launch third-party labor campaigns. So with that alone there’s at least a real chance for independent labor politics to take off in the US.
November 1886 is right in the midst of the AFL splitting off from the Knights of Labor - about a month before the former's founding convention, actually. Would a George victory be enough to put the process on hold, or is it too late?

Henry George seems capable and pragmatic, but at this point in US history it seems likely that he’ll be smeared out of office like John Altgeld later. Maybe if you can move the panic of 1893 a few years earlier it’ll give him the opportunity to really make changes in the city.
Yeah, this is about the most hostile political environment possible. Of course a lot depends on the nature of the backlash - if somebody shoots George he'll be a martyr; if they concoct a plausible story about him being a bomb-throwing communist then he loses re-election and gets his legacy rolled up by the next machine pol.
 

BClick

AHC: French Montana
#7
Thanks for the shout-out!

Obviously I know nothing about American history and politics, but am I right in saying that local government was funded by property taxes at this point, and that this was controversial?
I believe so; municipal government is still primarily funded by property taxes but it diversified a little bit in the 20th century.

The thing people dislike about property taxes (disregarding libertarian types who object on principle) is that they fall heavily on people with property but fixed or low incomes, like retirees or dirt farmers, and exempt rich people whose assets are mostly in the bank or invested in the market. There are a lot of the latter category in New York at this point, and probably not so many impoverished farmers - especially since this is pre-consolidation so George would only be Mayor of Manhattan and part of the Bronx.

I'm not sure exactly what the municipal tax base looked like in this era of New York's history, but an LVT on the island of Manhattan could be extremely lucrative.
 
#8
November 1886 is right in the midst of the AFL splitting off from the Knights of Labor - about a month before the former's founding convention, actually. Would a George victory be enough to put the process on hold, or is it too late?
The Knights of Labor were already on the outs by that point—too many disputes between leadership and the affiliated unions. What might change is the scope of the AFL being born right after one of labor's biggest advocates being elected to America's largest city.
 
#10
Just read through the Henry George chapter in Darcy Richardson's book Others: Third Parties During The Populist Period and discovering that there was a real moment for a labor party to crystalize in the 1886 elections. Labor parties elected three members to Congress, Henry Smith in Milwaukee, Samuel Isaac Hopkins in Lynchburg, and John Nichols in Raleigh, and came close to electing Daniel F. Gleason in Chicago and Isom Langley in Arkansas. Most wild of all they came within 825 votes of unseating the incumbent Speaker of the House John G. Carlisle with George H. Thobe (spelled Thoebe in book) a local woodcarver. Following that, in local 1887 elections, labor parties came achingly close to winning the mayor's office in Cincinnati and were expected to win in Milwaukee only to lose a close election. They also had the potential to win in Chicago if the Democrats and Republicans didn't unite their ticket (Labor ended up taking 31% of the vote). The big question is whether or not a coalition of single-taxers, unions, socialists, and rural populists can hold together or split as they did in New York fairly quickly after George's defeat. But I'm now seeing a world where the various labor parties that emerged in 1886 are able to use the momentum of their victories to pull themselves together and create a united party. Knocking out the Speaker of the House and having the mayoralties of the two largest cities in America would be nothing to sniff at...
Did George ever take a public stand on craft vs industrial unionism?
Can't find anything right now, this (JSTOR link) is a pretty good source on George's relationship and opinions on labor overall. He sought labor as allies but wasn't exactly a committed unionist.
 

BClick

AHC: French Montana
#11
Just read through the Henry George chapter in Darcy Richardson's book Others: Third Parties During The Populist Period and discovering that there was a real moment for a labor party to crystalize in the 1886 elections. Labor parties elected three members to Congress, Henry Smith in Milwaukee, Samuel Isaac Hopkins in Lynchburg, and John Nichols in Raleigh, and came close to electing Daniel F. Gleason in Chicago and Isom Langley in Arkansas. Most wild of all they came within 825 votes of unseating the incumbent Speaker of the House John G. Carlisle with George H. Thobe (spelled Thoebe in book) a local woodcarver. Following that, in local 1887 elections, labor parties came achingly close to winning the mayor's office in Cincinnati and were expected to win in Milwaukee only to lose a close election. They also had the potential to win in Chicago if the Democrats and Republicans didn't unite their ticket (Labor ended up taking 31% of the vote). The big question is whether or not a coalition of single-taxers, unions, socialists, and rural populists can hold together or split as they did in New York fairly quickly after George's defeat. But I'm now seeing a world where the various labor parties that emerged in 1886 are able to use the momentum of their victories to pull themselves together and create a united party. Knocking out the Speaker of the House and having the mayoralties of the two largest cities in America would be nothing to sniff at...

Can't find anything right now, this (JSTOR link) is a pretty good source on George's relationship and opinions on labor overall. He sought labor as allies but wasn't exactly a committed unionist.
Interesting! I'm reading Lawrence Goodwyn's history of the Populists at the moment, I'll be looking for any information about their relationship with labor.
 

Japhy

Harry Turtledove thinks I'm funny.
Published by SLP
#12
Interesting! I'm reading Lawrence Goodwyn's history of the Populists at the moment, I'll be looking for any information about their relationship with labor.
Hot Time in the Old Time by Edward P. Kohn is a good read that really covers just how Bryan and other Populists were viewed by Urban Working classes among other stories. Also shows the different ground games between Agrarian Populists and Aristocratic Progressives.
 
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