The Single Tax
Tom L. Johnson
[A speech read into the Congressional Record,
delivered in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Bulkley.
Reprinted from the Congressional Record, 48: 13196. 29 August
Mr. Speaker: In view of the general
interest now being manifested in the subject of taxation
throughout the country, I desire to take advantage of the
privilege of extending my remarks by submitting for the Record
an extract from a speech by a former Member of this House, the
late Hon. Tom L. Johnson, at a gathering of farmers near Akron,
Ohio, August 29, 1905, when he was the Democratic candidate for
governor of Ohio.
After speaking on the issues in state and county for some half
hour Mr. Johnson, as was his custom, called for questions. A
venerable gentleman, with long white whiskers, arose and said: "Mr.
Speaker, I have a suspicion from what I have read in the papers,
that you desire to place all taxes on land. Is this correct?"
Some one else in the audience then called out: "Tell us
about the Single Tax." Replying to the elderly man Mr.
"Most emphatically, no." He paused for a moment, then
"But if you mean that I have a desire to place all
taxes on land values, I answer most decidedly, 'Yes.' If you want to
hear about the Single Tax, I will stay with you and let my tent
meeting in the city wait, while I say that if it were not for this
idea, called Single Tax, I would not be here to-night This is the
reason that I am what I am and making the fight which we are now in.
A tax on land would be an unjust and iniquitous system, but a tax on
land values would be the best and fairest system that the world has
ever known. Laws which would bring about the taxation of land values
would be of more service to humanity than any legislation ever yet
enacted. Farmers are large owners of land, but not of land values.
We have land in our city that sells at the rate of $5,000,000 per
acre. Have any of your farmers lands as valuable as that? In New
York city there is land that sells for $15,000,000 per acre. Is
there any land in this neighborhood at that price?
"To answer my friend's question I will relate a little talk I
had one day with Congressman Pierson, of Tuscarawas County, when we
were in Washington together. Pierson was a farmer and said to me one
day: 'Tom I can not go your Single Tax; it would be a hardship on
the farmers, and they already have more than their share of the
burden of taxation.'
"I said: 'Look here, Pierson, if I thought the Single Tax
would increase the farmers' burden I would not stand for it for one
minute. In fact, if I did not know it would be the greatest blessing
to the farmers and to the workingmen in the city as well, I never
would advocate it again. I can show you that the Single Tax will
lighten the farmers' burden as compared with the present method. Let
me ask you some questions to see if we can get at the facts in the
matter. How much, Mr. Pierson, of the present tax burden do you
think the farmers bear?'
'Well,' he answered, 'the farmers constitute over half the
population of the United States, and I should say that they pay at
least 60 per cent of all taxes.' 'Very well, let's call it 50 per
cent to be safe.' 'No, no,' said Pierson, 'that's too low. They pay
more than 60 per cent, rather than less.' 'All right; but to be
safe, let's call it 50 per cent.'
" 'Now, Mr. Pierson, I want you to tell me how much of the
value of land the farmers have in the United States? Please take
into consideration all the valuable coal lands, the iron, silver,
gold, copper, and other valuable mines; the water privileges, the
railroads, and their rights of way and terminals, including street
railroads, telephones, and telegraphs, for these are built on the
most valuable lands; all the gas and electric lighting rights of way
built on land of great value; all the city lots, some of which are
worth more than a whole county of farming land. I want you to take
all these into consideration and then tell me how much of these
values in the United States the farmers have.
"Mr. Pierson replied. Well, I should say less than 5 per
cent.' I said, 'Call it 10 per cent to be safe.' 'Oh, no, no; that's
entirely too high; that's double.' 'Well, we will call it 10 per
cent, anyway. Now, don't you see that if the farmers are pay- ing 50
per cent, that if all the taxes were raised by a Single Tax on land
values the farmers, since they have but 10 per cent of these values
-- you say 5 per cent -- would pay less; that their taxes would be
reduced five times? That instead of paying one-half, as now, they
would under that plan pay but one-tenth?'
"'I declare, Tom, I never looked at it in that light, and 1
guess you have got me.'
"So, I say to the farmers here tonight, that this Single Tax,
of which I am proud to be an advocate, would be to the over-
burdened farmers and workingmen the greatest boon, the great- est
blessing, the greatest godsend that any country ever knew. I wish
you good night."