Mr. Edwin Burgess, author of these letters on taxation (first published in the Racine Advocate of 1859-60,) was born in London, England, in 1807 and died in Racine, Wis., in 1869.
He received an ordinary common school education and served an apprenticeship to the tailors trade; a man of the average middle class of the early part of the 19th century; a competent craftsman and evidently a man of some ambition, as he emigrated to the United States in the middle 40s, locating in Racine, Wis., and establishing himself in a fairly successful business. So that by the time of the breaking out of the Civil War he was in possession of a modest competence and being in failing health he retired from business, but not from a keen interest in the welfare of his fellowmen.
In personal appearance he was one of the men you would hardly pass on the street without taking a second look at him (as his portrait which we secured after a long search among his old friends and neighbours will fully show.) We who were young at that time remember him as a man of liberal ideas in both politics and religion but most kindly, moderate and thoughtful in all things, but in the overshadowing presence of the anti-slavery campaign and the impending Civil War, these letters of his were passed over as the irrelevant dreams of a crank and at the time excited but little note or comment.
Yet, here was a man who probably never read the “Wealth of Nations” or the writings of any of the great political economists, out of a heart overflowing with sympathy for his fellowmen and especially for the masses of his fellow countrymen and a wonderful keenness of intellect evolved practically the whole theory of the Single tax as set forth and elaborated 20 years later by Henry George.
The verses accompanying the letters reveal a heart full of human sympathy, while the letters show an originality and depth of thought and clearness of statement, which place him among the foremost thinkers of the age. In fact a man of far more logical acumen and breadth of view than many of the men who figure largely on the rolls of fame.
In commenting on these letters, Mr. F. M? King, editor of the Liberator (single tax organ of New Zealand, to whose kindness and courtesy we are indebted for the copies from which this is printed,) who republished them in 1908, says: “The marvel of it is, that single-handed and in spite of chronic sickness, he should have worked out the true solution of the social problem 20 years before Henry George’s work was heard of.
“As a working man, speaking to working men, these letters and poems are a legacy of which we should all be proud.”
He made a visit to England in 1864, taking with him an edition of these letters and distributing several hundred on Broadway, N. Y’, and the balance in the streets of London.
After his death his wife returned to England and in accordance with his wish had an edition printed for free distribution, one of which was found in Mr. Chas. Braillaughs collection of miscellaneous pamphlets now in the British museum.
The fact that the ideas he advanced fifty years ago are now commanding the attention of the whole civilized world and shaping very largely the destinies of Great Britain and her colonies, would seem to be a sufficient reason for the re-issue of these remarkable letters and it seemed unfair that the work and memory of such a man should be allowed to perish in the place of its birth.
In view of all which the reprint is put forth by his old time friends and admirers.
HYLAND RAYMOND, WM. S. BUFFHAM.