A Christ-like Character: A Catholic Priest Champions Henry George
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A Christ-like Character: A Catholic Priest Champions Henry George

In the late 19th century, Irish-Catholic immigrants and their children were a bulwark of the New York Democratic Party and especially the machine politicians of Tammany Hall. In the mayoral election of 1886, Tammany fought hard to retain the support of these Irish-Catholic voters in the race between Democrat Abram Hewitt and United Labor Party candidate Henry George. While Catholic Church leaders opposed George and actively worked to prevent his election, Father Edward McGlynn enthusiastically backed his candidacy and praised him in this 1886 interview. Several years earlier McGlynn had read George’s Progress and Poverty and had become a committed supporter of his single-tax economic theories. McGlynn’s persistent labor activism led to his excommunication in 1887. Although pressure from liberal Catholics brought about his reinstatement in 1892, his superior soon transferred him to upstate New York—thereby removing his voice from the local labor scene.

My admiration and affection for Henry George’s genius and character are, if possible, increasing every day. Each day, more and more earnestly, I desire to see his triumphant election. I know of no man I admire and love so much. I believe that he is one of the greatest geniuses that the world has ever seen, and that the qualities of his heart fully equal the magnificent gifts of his intellect. Large as is his head, he has, if anything, a heart bigger than his head. It is the wonderfully humanitarian, charitable, and, I may say, with all reverence, Christ-like character of the man’s heart that has given the peculiar bent and direction to his genius. He is a man who could have towered above all his equals in almost any line of literary or scientific pursuit. He was determined to the study of social and political problems, and to earnest inquiry into the causes of social and political wrongs by the magnificent qualities of his heart. The problem of human poverty, and its consequent degradation and vice, the pictures of ragged women and wailing children, the inarticulate and voiceless sorrows of the disinherited masses, would give his genius no rest till it found the cause and discovered the remedy.

It is this altogether exceptional combination of wonderful intellectual and moral gifts that makes Mr. George tower so high above all mere politicians, or political economists, or social scientists. It is this that makes him the prophet and the apostle of the magnificent gospel of justice to the poor, to the disinherited, to the working-men (to all who work, whether with their heads or with their hands), to all those who have to pay rent to landlords—that is to so-called “lords of the land;” the gospel which proclaims the true teaching of the law-giver of Mount Sinai and of the holier law-giver, who, upon another mount, preached, as man never preached before, the blessed doctrines of justice, of equality, of fraternity, of the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God. The teachings of Mr. George are inspired by the same universal love of mankind, the same love of justice, that were taught by the Christ of whom Henry George is the humble worshipper and follower. I know Mr. George intimately, and I know no other man for whose honesty and moral purity I have so so great respect.

I am glad to have this occasion to say that I know Mr. George’s genius, lofty as it is in its powers of speculation, to be also an exceedingly practical one. He is a man of extraordinary executive ability, and with exceptional power to consider and look after even minute details, as well as to conceive and formulate vast and far-reaching designs. I would not for a moment conceal, nor does Mr. George desire to conceal, the belief and the hope that his nomination, and, still more, his election, will serve a much wider, higher purpose than the mere giving, as far as one man can do, an honest and clean government to New York City. The movement which in a few weeks has attained such majestic proportions will go on until it shall have smashed irretrievably all the existing political machines, until it shall have have emancipated labor throughout this country, until it shall have restored to the disinherited and landless class who have to pay rent for the use of land to landlords their long-lost inheritance, and till it shall have embraced in its beneficent action the whole world. I believe that Mr. George is peculiarly a man of destiny. I believe that the providence of that God who is the father of the poor is clearly shaping all things for the triumph of the cause of justice, to which Henry George has given voice as no other mere man ever did before. I would make no concealment of my earnest desire to see the people of this country either compel the existing machines to take up the doctrines and candidacy of Mr. George, or to smash them to atoms.

I believe that Mr. George is destined to be, and at no distant day, the President of the United States, and that the movement that will have placed him in the Presidential chair will be a greater and further-reaching one than the original Declaration of Independence and the movement that placed the illustrious author of that Declaration in the Chair of Washington. I think it worth while to say, that while I speak first of all and always as an American citizen, I may also with considerable propriety speak as an Irish-American, and one who has not failed time and again to raise his voice for the people in Ireland.

I notice that the “political rascals,” whom Mr. George so happily described in his letter to Mr. Hewitt, are insulting the Irish-American people by utterances which imply that these precious saviours of society take the Irish-American people to be so ignorant and so stupid as to believe their vile calumnies concerning Mr. George’s relations to Ireland and the Irish. It would be simply impossible for Mr. George not to sympathize with all his heart in the cause of Ireland, and, if for no other reason, just because in Ireland the evils of the injustice against which he is fighting have reached their worst results in squalor, poverty, and starvation. Do these gentlemen think that the Irish-American people are so ignorant and so stupid as not to have known and to remember that Mr. George for a whole year was issuing trumpet blasts against English landlordism in Ireland in his magnificent letters to Patrick Ford’s Irish World? Do not all Irish-Americans know of the ardent admiration and friendship of the heroic and beloved Michael Davitt for Henry George?

Can they forget that Henry George was twice arrested as a suspect in Ireland because of his friendship and eminent services for Ireland? And what, perhaps, they do not know so well, I can inform them—namely, that Mr. George’s monumental book, “Progress and Poverty,” won for its gifted author the ardent admiration and cordial friendship of the great Irish prelate, Bishop Nulty, who said expressly that, having read again and again Mr. George’s book, he approved of every word in it. In fact, the famous utterances of Bishop Nulty, which have become historic, concerning the doctrine of the land for the people may be said to be a recapitulation of the doctrines of Henry George. And I may as well add, while I am about it, that Mr. George, having been sent for, through a common friend, by Cardinal Manning in London, freely expressed his views to that great and eminent ecclesiastic. He was told by the cardinal that he saw nothing in Mr. George’s views to condemn, and when Mr. George complained to him that others less intelligent and broadminded than he were condeming Mr. George’s doctrines as theologically and morally unsound, the cardinal assured him that such men were unwise and unauthorized critics.

Source: Louis F. Post and Fred C. Leubusher, Henry George’s 1886 Campaign: An Account of the George-Hewitt Campaign in the New York Municipal Election of 1886 (New York: John W. Lovell Company, 1887).

See Also:Throwing His Hat in the Ring: Henry George Runs for Mayor