The Henry George Foundation being established at Melbourne, at its inauguration “a complimentary Dinner tendered to Dr. Edgar William Culley, by the Georgians of Australia” was arranged by the Victorian Free Trade and Land Values League, and was held at the A.B.M. Tea Rooms, Melbourne, Wednesday, July 11th, 1928, with Dr. Paul G. Dane, President of the League, in the chair. It was highly successful; there was a large and enthusiastic gathering, all the states except Queensland being represented.
Address by the founder
At the Dinner, responding to the toast of his health, Dr. Culley spoke as follows:-
“This may be a great occasion, who knows? I hope history will say, in the not too distant future, that this little gathering is the most important that has ever met in this city.
When I first came to Melbourne, more than 20 years ago, I soon discovered that most Australians seemed to think that all an American had to do was to stand up, start his mouth going, and someone would have to be sent to shut it off. Now, I don’t happen to be one of those Americans who can get up on any and all occasions and express himself in words.
During the last ten or twelve years many thoughts have come into my mind that I would like to express at this time, but the whole condition of my life is so changed that I seem to have very little spirit for much talk; and it is quite unnecessary for me to say that I am very much of a novice at public speaking. But, even if I said all I should say, on an occasion of this kind there would still remain the work to be done, and most of this shouting is transitory. However, I feel that I must and would like to say just a little something, even if that something should prove to be almost nothing.
The idea which is consummated today in this Foundation has been with me ever since I was a boy, although I knew nothing of Henry George’s teachings until some twenty-seven years ago.
I was brought up on a rented farm in the Genesee Valley, in the rich state of New York. When I say I was brought up, the statement is not true to fact – I just came up, something like Topsy in ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, I just grew. The railway ran through the farm and studded all along on either side were Irishmen’s little shanties – one room, sometimes two, but rarely three.
I didn’t care for books, nor school, nor society. I was just a product of the soil, spending most of my time in the open in the company of animals. I have often heard my father say ‘If that boy is lost you’ll find him in one of two places: he’ll be in the pen with the pigs or calves, or you will find him in one of those Irishmen’s shanties’. No-one thought I amounted to anything or was worth consideration in any way. And, when I look back on those boyhood days, and realise how different my thoughts and ideas were from the people about me, I do not blame them in the least. The question with my family always was ‘What will become of him?’
I was brought up in the atmosphere and spirit of Protection, or more properly speaking, the Obstruction of Trade.
When I was ten or eleven years old, Grover Cleveland came into prominence as the Democratic candidate for President of the United States. All my people were Republicans, all of the so-called better class of citizens were Republicans. The Democratic Party had not been in power for thirty years. It was the poor man’s party. The party of labouring people. Those poor Irishmen along the railway, they were all Democrats. The Democratic Party was looked down upon. It was always pictured as a species of mule – an animal with neither pride of ancestry nor hope of posterity.
Woodrow Wilson said in a speech some years ago that ‘The Democratic Party in America was the only party that had never died’. He didn’t say why: I’m going to tell you. The Democratic Party in America is the only party that has ever had any great international, vital issue. It has, in a partial way at least, stood for the freedom of trade.
Just as a boy, eleven or twelve years old, I read the newspapers: a Presidential election was on and politics was hot on all sides. By some means, I think it was intuition, for want of a better word, as I could not have known it logically – I seemed to realise the truth of the dictum of Buckle – the great Buckle, who wrote ‘The History of Civilisation’ – when he said ‘The spirit of Protection was so dangerous, and yet so plausible, that it formed the most serious obstacle with which advancing civilisation had to contend’. I seemed to know this, as I said, intuitively, and I became an ardent and unbending Free Trader; so much so that I have a very vivid recollection of my mother saying to me one day, ‘You are a regular little fanatic’. I hardly knew the meaning of the word at the time, but I knew by the way my mother used the term that it must be something awful.
However there was one person who believed in me, and that was my old grandmother. Her father was a Democrat, and I remember quite well one day she put her hand on my shoulder, and said; ‘You’ll be the Democratic President of the United States’. Yes, she had faith in me. She believed I would be the Democratic President; if not that I would be the chairman of the Grand Jury on the Day of Judgment. I can see her smile now when she put her hand on my shoulder and said ‘You will be the Democratic President’ and I looked into her face and said; ‘Well, Gramma, if I even get a crack at this thing (meaning the obstruction of trade) I will hit it and hit it hard’. In my boyish strength and enthusiasm I thought in those days that I could do almost anything. I’ve learned quite differently since then. But do you know, ever since those boyhood days, up to the Great War, I lived in hope of seeing free trade between England, her colonies and the United States of America. It seemed to me that such an arrangement would absolutely convince the world as to the folly of obstructing trade.
It is some twenty-seven years since I knew anything definite about the teachings of Henry George. I read his book ‘Protection or Free Trade’ and some of his other works. I soon realised that he, by his simple, natural solution of the land problem, had shown that it was at the bottom of the social question. He laid down a foundation for the social wellbeing of man. It seemed to me that Henry George knew the simple, natural social law, as Jesus of Nazareth understood the simple spiritual law.
I knew early in life that I was not adapted to social or public work, and my resources and talents were limited, but I felt, and I felt keenly, that I must do something to promulgate the teachings of Henry George. So I began to work and save for this Foundation some twenty-seven years ago. I has been a long, steady, hard pull; and mind you, no-one has ever given me a pound in my life, a goodly number have taken them away. I just want to tell you Trustees that the getting together of this Foundation has meant labour, some painful effort, a bit of grim energy: and do you know, at times it took just all my courage to keep on keeping on. I have had many a setback, and thought I would never arrive. However, I have made the grade, and mind you, I have done it without at any time violating my conscious integrity or failing to help a friend in need, or refusing to give to palliative organisations when it seemed absolutely necessary.
Now I am not telling you all this that you may commiserate with me, for I wouldn’t have had it any different. It has been a work of joy: for without the teachings of Henry George I would be hopeless as to any solution of the social problems or any foundation for the social wellbeing of man. Yes, I have had the joy of working for a great cause, and I only mention the difficulties to excite you Trustees to greater effort to keep this Foundation firm and true to the Georgian principles and teachings, which will prepare mankind for the coming day of social emancipation.
Several members of the board have expressed a desire to show some appreciation for laying down this Foundation. I am not looking for the laurel wreath nor the accompanying applause, and please do not put me in the spotlight, it will not give me the least pleasure nor satisfaction.
But there are two ways in which you can do me a great favour. First, let my name pass into the background, and push the Henry George Foundation to the front. Do not associate my name in connection with this Foundation. Second, the Foundation will be for some time a receiving and distributing body, and I want you to give and bequeath and get others to give and bequeath to this Foundation. When we think of the wisdom and courage and sacrifices of those great souls who have lived and suffered, and in many instances have given their lives just to make this world a little better and more tolerant for us, it seems to me that we, who have seen the light that Henry George saw, have a social obligation to leave an imprint of some value in the sands of time. Men are only rich as they give, and please made this note:- when you come to die all you will carry in your clasped hands will be the things you have given away.
Yes, this is your Foundation, not mine. I have only started it, and if others interested in the cause do their part, I hope someday to be able to do more. The Deed of Trust is so worded that there is no excuse for anyone interested in this great cause to refuse to give to this Henry George Foundation. They can give directly to the Foundation, or they can give or bequeath and earmark their gift for any particular object or purpose so long as it is in harmony with the spirit of the Foundation.
The Deed of Trust was not drawn up by me. Most of it was done by others and we took into consideration the advice and opinion of at least ten or twelve of our best men, and much time was spent in preparation. The Board of Trustees was not selected by me. Although I had the final say. I depended very much on several members of the Land Values League for a list of men who they thought suitable for the position. Of course I couldn’t put everyone on the Board. In making the selection I did my best for the cause. I would have made the personnel of the Board quite different if we had decided, as I thought at first, to have the Foundation as an active propaganda body. We decided for a time at least that it should be a receiving and distributing body.
And right here, before I forget in my embarrassment, I want to thank each and every one of you Trustees for taking on this responsibility. And this, mind you, is no ordinary ‘thank you’. Words are feeble to express the deep debt of gratitude in my heart for you, and also your successors, for the responsibilities which you have so willingly assumed.
I also wish, at this point, to especially thank the members of the committee who spent so much time with me in preparing the Deed of Trust and By-Laws. They were Mr. Renwick, Mr. Markham and Mr. Hodgkiss. We spent much time and gave the matter careful consideration. Mr. Markham and Mr. Hodgkiss spent several Saturday afternoons with me at my rooms considering this Deed of Trust. We were determined to lay down a Foundation that Henry George, leaning over the balcony from his seat in Valhalla, would look down and say ‘Good! Good!’
I hope the members of this Board and their successors will keep on gently and persistently pointing the way. Sometime the masses must stop and listen. This will come after great suffering and possibly blood and tears. I cannot imagine what will happen in the near future, but I am sure the social problems will make tremendous demands on the leaders during the next fifty years. The road may be long, difficult and troublesome, but if we are to have a better day and a better way, if human society is to endure, we must have some semblance of justice as a foundation for civilisation.
I am looking forward with great hope that this Henry George Foundation, which is consummated tonight, will be the beginning of a long delayed achievement. I cannot help feeling that somehow, somewhere, sometime, Henry George’s Prayer must be answered. And while I do not believe the answering of that prayer will bring the millennium, nor act as a panacea for all the social ills, I do feel it will bring into the world some equality of opportunity and justice, and place a foundation under modern society in which there will be no unearned wealth, no undeserved poverty!”