The First American Anarchist
A Sociological Study by
Small, Maynard & Company
To the memory of
The reader may, in confidence, be told that no biography of Josiah Warren has hitherto been written. When the present writer set himself the task, a quarter of a century had elapsed since Warren's death. Most of the people who had known him personally had also paid the final debt of Nature. Of those remaining, most had known him only in his latter years. It became necessary, therefore, to conduct an independent investigation in order to obtain the requisite data at first hand. Contemporary sources of information were sought and found to he most fruitful. In this way everything told of his career has been verified. Files of newspapers have been consulted as far back as 1825. A number of highly interesting papers, pamphlets, patents, and other documents relating to Warren, now in the possession of the New Harmony Workingmen's Institute, were kindly loaned by the Librarian. Almost the whole literature of American communities and socialistic experiments has been read for facts bearing on the labors of Warren. Hardly a book on the subject but has some reference to him, though in most instances what is told of Warren is inaccurate, or in the spirit of ridicule, displaying no real knowledge of the man or his work.
The Periodical Letters, written and printed by Warren himself during many years of activity, were found to be the most trustworthy sources. Copies of these are now very scarce, and no complete set is known to be extant.
Capt. George A. Warren of Evansville, Ind., the only surviving son of Warren, supplied information concerning his father's early lifeand many valuable suggestions came from Mr. Benjamin R. Tucker olf New York, the founder and editor of "Liberty," a periodical which has been for more than twenty-five years the faithful exponent of Warren's philosophy, and which has become recognized both here and abroad as the principal American organ of the doctires of philosophical anarchism.
Boston, JAN. 1, 1906.
In offering an account of the life and teaching of Josiah Warren, the first American anarchist, it seems appropriate to anticipate some of the questions that are likely to arise in the mind of the reader by a concise statement of the Anarchist concept at the present day. Its place in social evolution is still ill-defined, and even the student is seldom able clearly to differentiate Anarchism from the various phases of economic and social thought to which it is related. While not aiming at an exhaustive or complete treatment of the subject, the following outline may yet be found helpful and suggestive to the enquirer.
Anarchism is not a cult, nor a party, nor an organization. Neither is it a new idea, nor a reform movement, nor a system of philosophy. It is not even a menace to the social order, nor yet a plotting for the destruction of kings and rulers. Indeed, the social order has often been in danger either from false alarms or from its own weight since the fabric first arose.
Cults are common enough in these days: -- they sprout and fade like the flowers of spring. Parties and organizations rise and fall with almost rhythmic regularity, running their course and becoming transformed with time like all things beneath the sun. Movements arise as occasion demands, and expire when their work is done. New ideas are rare enough, and seldom retain their novel character on close scrutiny. A philosophy is a scheme of life, an explanation of the universe, a concrete intellectual system.
Anarchism is none of these things. It teaches not violence, nor does it inculcate insurrection. Neither is it an incipient revolution. None the less has it its place in the life of our times. Modern Anarchism, in a word, is primarily a tendency -- moral, social, and intellectual. As a tendency it questions the supremacy of the State, the infallibility of Statute laws, and the divine right of all Authority, spiritual or temporal. It is, in truth, a product of Authority, the progeny of the State, a direct consequence of the inadequacy of law and government to fulfill their assumed functions. In short, the Anarchist tendency is a necessity of progress, a protest against usurpation, privilege, and injustice.
The crimes of history may be briefly summed up in the words, -- Abuse of Power. It is a matter of universal experience that power, above all, governmental power, will be eternally abused. Nor can the efforts of the most earnest reformers prevent it. No plan of government, no system of society, no panacea can reconcile authority and equity, political power and social justice. To show the irreconcilability of these opposing forces in all ages, philosophers have directed their wisdom, poets their art, and men of action their lives. The noblest heroes that live in song and story are those who fought for justice and right against established authority. The ripest message of genius and intellect to the world to-day is that a high and worthy civilization can be achieved only through complete freedom of the individual. The right to rule, the power born either of ecclesiastical domination or political authority must fall forever. This spirit, which prepared the French Revolution, which inspired the fathers of American Independence, which has held the torch for "peoples rightly struggling to be free," even to this day, is a potent influence shaping the literature, the drama, the aspirations and ideals of our own time. It is this widespread intellectual influence, over-leaping national boundaries, uniting in common aims and sympathies men of alien race, that constitutes the real and irresistible Anarchist tendency.
It seems probable that the government can easily protect itself from the bomb-thrower, the self-appointed savior, ready to give his life for his ideas, -- the so-called anarchist, who is the ripest product of Old World misrule and social injustice. But no law, no Bureau, no vigilance will save the State from the growing belief, the idea which permeates the best modern literature, that the individual is sovereign, that the dignity of man is higher than the law, nobler than the supremacy of the State. An essay of Spencer, a story of Tolstoy, a novel of Zola, a drama of Ibsen, a poem of Whitman will add more force to the Anarchist tendency in one year than the opposing power of government can suppress by the most drastic measures in a century.
Did Diocletian or Nero stamp out Christianity when they sacrificed a few victims to popular hatred and superstition? It is significant that in the early days of the Christian religion, when the believers formed a small struggling sect, dangerous to law and order in the eyes of the ruling class, every fiendish crime, every brutal or inhuman act was ascribed to the Christians. Their real offence, not indeed apprehended of their oppressors, consisted in disseminating an ethical creed which must ultimately overturn the ancient social order. Therefore, that moral monstrosity, the yellow-journal Anarchist, with bombs in his hands and murder in his heart, that shadow of the primordial chaos, is not without his prototype in the beginnings of Christianity. It is not favorable to the spread of exact knowledge that this lurid creation of the newsman and the police detective should represent the only conception of Anarchism familiar to an uncritical, sensation-loving public.
The State in the beginning was an outgrowth of property, and as the institution of property developed among men government became a necessity for the proprietors. The pages of recorded history are filled with the struggles of different factions among the possessing classes for the control of the government. Laws in the interest of property have been made to appear as the will of the people. In past times those who suffered from the injustice of the laws or the oppression of the State sought no remedy except to turn the tables on their oppressors and themselves abuse the powers of the State. A few philosophers and obscure thinkers at long intervals dared to question the supremacy of government and statute law over the individual citizen; but these theorists were seldom heeded and their tentative observations were soon forgotten.
There is nothing new in the opposition to government. The difference between Anarchist theories to-day and the political iconoclasm of the past lies in this, that the modern theory, while condemning the evils inherent in the State, disclaims any intention of reforming it or re-creating it in a new form. Wherever Anarchism manifests itself it appears as a reaction against the abuses of government, and the nature of the opposition it sets up is the offspring and refection of the government itself. The most extreme forms of Anarchism to-day are therefore of Muscovite origin. In Russia the State has not yet divested itself of its original barbaric character. It is a despotism of the most extreme form, brutal in its methods, clumsy in its organization, regardless at once of individual rights and of human life. Consequently, a lawless form of opposition has arisen of which the terrorists are the most notable example. The dynamite bomb as a weapon of opposition to despotic power is but the reflex of a government whose organized brutality has for generations been a blot on civilization.
Leo Tolstoy, who stands preeminent the world over, both as a man of letters and as a moral teacher, proclaims himself an Anarchist. His masterly pen is tireless in condemning the State. With the irrefutable logic of facts he opposes the true inwardness of government.
It is not the abuses of irresponsible officialdom at which he strikes. He shows the evils to lie in the fundamental nature of the institution. His knowledge is too accurate, his perspicacity too penetrating to allow him to seek a remedy in reformation. He is constrained to deny the right of any body of men, even though it be called the State, to rule. Political power itself, he asserts, is the source of all the abuses, all the injustice, invariably associated with governmental power wherever it exists.
No nation, ancient or modern, has suffered as Russia has from the incompetency and crimes of its rulers. The rule of the Spanish conquerors in the New World, it may be objected, was worse because it often led to the extermination of the subjugated races. And instances might also be cited of the destruction of the conquered by a dominant alien people. But Russia presents the solitary instance of a government composed of the same race, with homogeneous manners, traditions and language, grinding its own people in the dust, robbing them of the fruits of their industry by ruinous taxation, withholding from them every semblance of liberty, securing its unjust and blasting power through the very ignorance, poverty, and superstition which it fosters and maintains. It is not surprising, therefore, that the greatest mind which Russia has produced, Tolstoy, the writer and seer, should employ his genius to undermine belief in all government, -- should deny the right of every form of authority over the bodies and souls of men. Having observed the operation of the State in his own country, and noted its pernicious influence through a thousand channels upon the people, he compares it with freer forms of government in other lands, concluding that the principle is the same no less in an autocracy than in the most democratic republic.
The immediate cause of the tardy surrender of autocracy in Russia was fear. Beaten and demoralized, the army and navy were on the verge of open revolt. They could no longer be relied upon to do the bidding of the Czar. Thus deprived of the brute force which had alone upheld it, the government in terror proclaims a constitution. It yet remains to be seen whether the concessions extorted through fear have not come too late.
In England, after hundreds of years of opposition to the ruling classes, the people won some rights and a measure of equality before the law. From Simon de Montfort to Gladstone a long line of fighting reformers make up an unbroken historic line of attack on the abuses of political power which has shorn the State of many of its primal barbaric characteristics. Theoretical
equality before the law has stamped itself upon all movements opposing the class in power, -- so that respect for the law as law has been and remains the most unique feature of English political reform movements. The greatest of English philosophers, who never tired of pointing out the incompetency and folly of the State, whose political doctrines centered around the complete freedom of the individual, typified in his mild, passive Anarchism the general trend of Anglo-Saxon opposition. Under conditions of comparative freedom, which have been won, it is true, through centuries of struggle, the assertion of individual rights and the denial of State authority go hand in hand with the most moderate political demands and pacific methods of reform.
The radicalism which so strongly influenced English politics throughout a large part of the last century aimed to reduce the State to a minimum of activity. It opposed governmental interference with the rights and liberties of the citizen. In this respect, therefore, its tenets were Anarchistic. Herbert Spencer's political doctrines in general outline reflect this school, even to its weaknesses. Radicalism failed because it could not see that political equality, its chosen ideal, was impossible while economic and industrial inequality formed the cornerstone of the social edifice. Liberty in its mouth meant simply the freedom of the proprietary classes, equality before the law for the various forms of revenue. In a country where a hereditary landlord class still enjoyed many privileges and immunities, it was natural that those who represented other forms of property, the manufacturing and commercial classes, should evolve a political school which denounced special privilege and demanded equality of rights for all. And while calling upon the masses to support them in obtaining their demands, it was also to be expected that they would stop short in their agitation at the point where their own interests were menaced. In this wise it happened that the once robust school of Radicalism became obsolete.
As the demands of labor grew more specifically economic in character, radical doctrines which had stood for the most advanced political thought no longer appealed to the working class. Instead, there arose a socialistic agitation demanding among other things that the State should provide work for the unemployed and enact a legal eight-hour day. It strove to influence public opinion toward the opposite extreme from orthodox radicalism and seemed willing to sacrifice individual liberty for a chance to establish economic equality.
However, the intensely individualistic quality characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon, appearing always in his inherent distrust of paternal authority, has withheld the working class, after a quarter of a century's agitation, from accepting the doctrines of Social Democracy. The communistic theories that have found acceptance among the French proletariat and so generally influenced the labor movement throughout Europe, have never secured a foothold with the English masses. Conservative Trade Unionism has been more potent because its appeal is along the lines of unaided initiative, voluntary organization and self help. Where it could achieve results by its own force it put no dependence upon legislation.
In England the Co-operative movement has succeeded within its chosen albeit narrow sphere by building on lines purely individualistic. On the other hand, the Communism and Revolutionary Socialism which have been disseminated among the laboring classes on the continent still remain in England a factitious and hopeless agitation. The much paraded triumphs of Municipal Socialism are disclaimed by genuine Socialists. These civic enterprises are in truth beneficial mainly to the shopkeepers and lesser bourgeoisie, whose tax bills are reduced by the application of municipal profits to the reduction of the rates.
Socialism, as already noted, would sacrifice individual liberty for economic equality. But the Anarchist view recognizes the need of both political and industrial freedom as indispensable steps toward economic equality. Some basis therefore exists for the commonly expressed notion which confounds Socialism and Anarchism as closely related, if not identical, ideas. While there is much in common, yet there is a fundamental difference between the two principles. Socialism would lead to centralization and dependence upon authority. Anarchism would decentralize, would encourage self-reliance. In the name of Society, Socialism would regulate, impose, define, command. Anarchism, on the other hand, would allow the individual to find out for himself what was best, without restraint or coercion. By law and authority the one would establish equality, would make the citizen industrious, good and prosperous, regardless of his needs, inclinations or abilities. The other would maintain complete equality of rights and opportunities, leaving it to each person, singly or in association with others, to work out his own destiny in accordance with his capacities, temperament and desires.
Under various names and aspects these opposing tendencies are incessantly at work moulding society, institutions and individuals. There are certain general causes that help or hinder the one at the expense of the other. War is preeminently one of these influences. Whatever its inception, it strengthens governmental power at the expense of individual rights; it increases bureaucracy, encourages paternalism, and correspondingly weakens the opposite forces. Thus we find in military ridden Germany a strong Socialist movement maintaining its hold on the working classes despite the repressive measures of the government. Teutonic Socialism, it should be noted, displays in glaring fashion some of the most obnoxious qualities of the regime to overthrow which is its avowed purpose. Here also, as in Russia, the opposition to the existing order is itself moulded by the system. Unconsciously the Socialist movement embodies not a few of the features it so vigorously denounces when displayed by its opponents. Its teaching is as dogmatic, its methods as intolerant, as the narrowest religious sect. Its leaders and organizations are as autocratic as the Kaiser himself.
Censure, expulsion and excommunication for independents are as necessary to orthodox Socialist party discipline as they have ever been to the Church of Rome.
In the United States also the recrudescence of militarism consequent upon the Spanish War and conquest of the Philippines is followed by the growth of sentiment in favor of a far-reaching paternalism. First, we have a widespread demand for public ownership as a remedy for corruption and corporate monopoly in our large cities. Next is raised an outcry in favor of Federal control of railroads, insurance companies and industrial corporations. Then this sentiment becomes the slogan of the national executive and may shape the policy of the historic party of protection, which has fostered paternalism for the benefit of the privileged few. The resilient principles of either political party would doubtless bear the strain of increased governmental regulation. Both are equally ready to extend unjust privileges at the expense of all the people to any class or group powerful enough to enforce its claims upon the party in office. To enact and profess to enforce Federal laws against rich corporations seems infinitely easier to our strenuous statesmen than to go to the root of the matter and cut off the legal privileges which enable the monopolists to extract unjust tribute.
While there is small chance of the Socialists as a party gaining political power or enforcing the mildest of their demands in this country, there yet exists a dangerous tendency toward increased interference by government agencies in every sphere of life. If this tendency should grow unchecked it will ultimately lead to government ownership in transportation, if not in other fields. Not indeed because such a step will have been found beneficial, but rather because irresponsible official regulation must inevitably prove disastrous to every enterprise subject to it.
Are we to admit that a people which has subdued and reclaimed a vast continent in two or three generations by individual courage, industry and associated effort must at this day stand and confess itself unable successfully to carry on its affairs? Shall we believe it is prepared to relegate to a governmental system, already proved incompetent in its undertakings, the management of the industries and activities which form the source of its growth and prosperity? To confess this is to declare our progress and civilization a failure, our race degenerates, our future a dismal retrogression, our very existence a monumental disaster. Only the confirmed pessimist can be so wholly destitute of faith in the people and its future possibilities as to accept such a situation. In face of the problem here presented, -- the future of our civilization, -- the Anarchist view is hopeful and reassuring.
Over against these tendencies must be set as manifestations of the Anarchistic spirit, the prodigious growth within a few decades of voluntary associations for every conceivable purpose. With common objects individuals join in local societies, unite in national organizations which in turn form international alliances. Commerce and labor, science and art, music and sport, -- in a word, all human activities, pursue their diverse purposes by means of voluntary association on the widest scale.
Governmental organization embraces but a fragment of man's activities carried on by associated effort. Nor can government functions in their totality be compared in importance or extent with the functions subserved by voluntarily organized activities. Yet so much out of proportion looms the State in its relations with the individual that the average mind can scarcely conceive it possible that the functions now assumed by the State might be performed for the general good with greater efficiency and less cost by voluntary non-coercive agencies.
Religious life in America affords another example of voluntary organization. At one time it was held that religion could not exist without the support and authority of the State to sustain it. Yet who will now assert that religious activity is less in extent or influence in the United States than in countries where it is established and subsidized by government? In this country we see the various denominations working side by side, each pursuing its own course without friction or restraint. Voluntary contributions suffice to support the churches of every sect. The cost of their maintenance is borne by those who receive the benefit. No more apt illustration of Anarchistic method in operation could be found. In those countries in which the compulsory support of religion still prevails, agitation exists in favor of freedom.
Everywhere the demand for freer institutions gains ground. To this end no influence is more potent than literature. Under modern conditions its effect in the formation of opinions and beliefs is greater than it could have been in the past. With innate facility it adapts itself to the needs of the human soul. Like the ocean's action on the oldest rocks, literature is a solvent ever working on men's minds. It dissolves outgrown conceptions, breaks down the ancient strata of ignorance and prejudice, and at the same time begins to build up new ideas, hopes and aspirations.
A few instances must here suffice to indicate the Anarchist spirit in literature. The work of Ibsen, the greatest of modern dramatists, is permeated by a steady purpose. In the plays he analyzes the manner in which authority, customs, beliefs, and institutions enslave civilized man. His great illuminating thought is that the individual should be free to act in the fundamental social relations unfettered by false ideals, mistaken sense of duty, or the tyranny of public opinion. Moral courage enabling the individual to dare to be free, mentally and morally free from superstition, prejudice and habit, Ibsen shows to be the rarest yet the most essential of virtues. Without it suffering, failure and unhappiness are multiplied. When he exhibits the causes that hold back and stultify the individual, it is in order to indicate the better course. Away with law, or custom, or State authority, if it conflict with the unfolding of human character. Such is the message to be gleaned from this great artist with a social purpose. Amongst dramatists whom he has influenced may be named Sudermann, Maeterlinck, Hauptmann, Octave Mirbeau, and Bernard Shaw, all of whom have done valiant service in letting down the bars of outgrown custom, convention and belief.
Zola, in his later work, and especially in his heroic stand for justice and truth in the Dreyfus case, gave a much needed impetus to the cause of right and personal liberty as against bureaucracy and clerical domination in France. In Germany, the existing order -- intellectual, moral, and governmental -- has not yet recovered from Nietzsche's masterly attack. The influence of this brilliant genius and aggressive Anarchist is growing both at home and abroad.
English literature also records the aspiration for individual freedom untrammeled by the social codes of the past. As an earnest, conscious purpose it appears in the writings of George Meredith and Thomas Hardy, both of whom have long since attained a permanent place in the literature of their age. While George Gissing may not rank so high, he also had won a secure place in contemporary letters ere his all too early taking off. Gissing exhibited in a marked degree the influence of the intellectual awakening against institutions and ideas that had outlived their usefulness. Like Meredith and Hardy his sincerity of purpose, no less than his art, in treating of vital social problems wherein society and the individual come in conflict, makes a lasting impression on the reader. In these writers appears the note of questioning accepted authority, the desire to allow the individual rather than law and custom to decide what is right, what constitutes moral action.
Nor are signs of the intellectual revolt wanting in current ephemeral literature. Among the lesser lights -- poets, dramatists, novelists -- a like spirit is discernible.
It might seem invidious to single out from contemporary American writers instances illustrating the tendency under discussion. The topic cannot, however, be dismissed until mention is made of two great literary forces that have at length been allotted the high place which is their due in American literature. To foreign observers Whitman is preeminently the poet of American democracy. His sturdy individualism, his glorification of the average man and woman, his scorn of mere statute morality, are finding even among native readers a wider and more sympathetic recognition. His strongest note was ever a demand for unqualified freedom and unrestrained opportunity for individual development. He chanted the ideals of liberty, equality and justice. Laws, customs, conventions, governments, rulers, moralities -- all must give way before the demands of free, vigorous, sane, noble, sympathetic manhood and womanhood.
Thoreau, like Whitman, was recognized abroad at his true worth before his genius found appreciation at home. Now he is accepted as a unique literary force, a native classic, by conservative authorities. Yet of all influences in American literature his is the most positively Anarchistic. Not even Emerson himself was so determined an enemy of custom and authority that stood in the way of complete individuality. Thoreau was par excellence the Anarchist. He would bow to no authority, denying the right of the State to compel him to support it. He went to jail rather than pay a tax. His voluminous writings are stamped on every page with his ideas and individuality. As a tendency toward Anarchist thought the study of Thoreau must remain a permanent and potent influence in American literature.
It will be seen from what has been adduced that it is not an avowed movement nor an ephemeral agitation that constitutes the Anarchist tendency. Proudhon, the French publicist, was a thinker and original force in his time. He was the pioneer Anarchist, to this day misunderstood, misjudged, maligned. He left no following as such, nor do any of the numerous French radical parties profess to carry on his work; but his writings survive, are still read, and exert an influence that cannot be stifled.
Another Frenchman, a distinguished man of science, Elisée Reclus, was an avowed and life-long Anarchist. His brother, Elie, also a geographer of note, shared the same views.
From the Imperial palace of St. Petersburg was graduated the famous Anarchist, Prince Peter Kropotkin. For his original researches he has gained high rank among men of science. As a man of letters his works are read in several languages. The example of his unselfish life devoted to the uplifting of his fellow men has inspired earnest social workers in Europe and America and brought him universal respect. His eloquent pleadings for justice, his sacrifices and sufferings, have won him the love of the laboring class the world over. A social force that calls forth such men has a purpose to accomplish in the future.
Amongst the forces which feed the Anarchist spirit we must reckon Science. In pursuing the investigation of facts it creates a mental attitude that questions authority at every step. Nothing is sacred but truth, and truth itself is relative and may be absorbed at any moment in a wider conception. Every genuine student of natural science is an incipient Anarchist. He must cast aside all imposed authority, rely upon himself, and accept only that which is capable of proof. In approaching the study of political and social questions the scientific mind is compelled to reject almost the whole body of one-sided assertions, half-truths and glittering generalities that make up the stock in trade of popular political opinion. Party principles consist of class interests, personal ambitions, and the desire of one half the people to rule the other half. The impartial truth-seeker can find in public life no high ideals, no love of the common weal. The State, instead of being the guardian of the weak, the dispenser of justice, on close investigation turns out to be the convenient instrument of strong, crafty and ambitious men to further their own interests. Notwithstanding its democratic form, government to-day as in the past is at bottom but the police organization of the propertied classes for the guarantee of their privileges. Were it not for this necessity to uphold the privileges of property by force, the State would have no valid reason for existence.
The glorification of the State as a kind of all-wise providence has neither historic nor logical foundation. The quixotic belief of the Socialists that the State can be captured by the proletariat and used to expropriate the capitalists, then afterwards carry on all the industrial functions of society on collectivist principles, is as economically unsound as it is chimerical.
When the average intelligence has risen to a point where justice shall have become an active compelling force, when the people shall have achieved their economic independence, the demand for which is steadily growing and its attainment inevitable in the course of social evolution -- then the State will have outlived its historic function as the guardian of capitalistic property, and must therefore succumb to the new social organization based on the voluntary principle, co-operative and non-coercive.
Equally notable as an inventive genius, a social philosopher, and a peaceful revolutionist, Josiah Warren stands forth, by descent, by his practical, all-round talents, by the force of an earnest life's work, as an American of the sturdy pioneer type whose brawn and brains have formed the true foundation of the republic. But it is as a representative of ideas and aspirations born amidst the widespread movements for social regeneration which arose and flourished at various times during the first half of the nineteenth century, that this singular personality claims our interest. He was born in Boston in 1798, of historically famous Puritan stock. The Warrens of Pilgrim lineage from which he sprang have furnished Massachusetts with many distinguished citizens, of whom the most renowned was General Joseph Warren, the Revolutionary hero killed by the British at Bunker Hill.
Of Josiah's parents and early life but little is known. He had a taste for music, and at an early age played with his brother George in local bands as a professional. At the age of twenty he married and soon after set out from his native place to improve his fortunes in the West. In those days the city of Cincinnati was quite on the verge of civilization, with the vast unknown beyond; and when Warren reached it he decided to settle there and pursue his vocation as an orchestra leader and teacher of music. His talents soon gained him an honorable professional repute which extended beyond the city; but he had other interests. He devoted his leisure time to mechanical pursuits, of which the earliest fruit was a lamp for burning lard that would furnish a cheaper and better light than tallow, which was then selling at a high price. So successful was this invention, which Warren patented in 1823, that he was soon running a lamp manufactory in Cincinnati.
There were, however, more pressing problems than those of illumination shortly to arise and occupy the active mind and generous heart of the ingenious young New Englander.
In the early decades of this century there stood before the public the unique figure of one whose reputation extended throughout both Old World and New as the boldest and most successful social reformer of the age. To Cincinnati, in the course of his public lectures, came this famous character, and told of his latest plans for the inauguration of the New Moral World.
Nor is it surprising that the serious-minded musician from Boston, whose sympathies had already led to his questioning the justice of some existing social institutions, should be attracted by the glowing pictures and immediate prospect of the moral and economic emancipation of the human race held out to an eager and suffering world by the zealous Robert Owen with a fervor of moral conviction and an inspiring enthusiasm which have never been surpassed. Warren became a devoted student of Owen's theories and decided to join the grand experiment which was about to begin at New Harmony. The lamp factory was sold early in 1825, and Warren with his family joined Owen and nine hundred enthusiasts gathered from all parts of the country on the Rappite estates, which had now become Owen's property, hoping to take part in the formation of the ideal community which was to usher in a millennium of peace and plenty, brotherhood and happiness, ultimately to embrace the whole of mankind.
Here was a field in which to study the problems of government, property, industry, and every vexed question of social life, such as never before was given to man. And through all the vicissitudes, disappointments, and failures of the community during two stormy years, Warren remained and bore his share of the burdens incident to so pretentious an undertaking. Not as an embittered reactionary, however, did he finally take his leave, but as an earnest and hopeful student who had spent his time to good purpose, -- one who, through witnessing the inadequacy of communism to correct the evils of private property, and the failure both of paternal authority and majority rule as forms of government, had learned his lessons and stored up pregnant experiences for use in future efforts to elucidate the same vital issues.
Writing twenty-nine years later of his New Harmony experiences, Warren says: "Many a time while in the midst of them did I say to myself, Oh! if the world could only assemble on these hills around and look down upon us through all these experiences, what lessons they would learn! There would be no more French Revolutions, no more patent political governments, no more organizations, no more constitution-making, lawmaking, nor human contrivances for the foundation of society. And what a world of disappointment and suffering this experience might save them! But they could not get our experience, and so they have kept on organizing communities, phalansteries, political parties, and national revolutions, only to fail, of course, as we did, and to destroy by degrees the little hope that existed of making the world more fit to live in."
The failure of this communistic experiment was, with Warren, simply a reason for trying some other method of attack upon obsolescent institutions. For, like Owen, he never once doubted that the emancipation of man was possible, and that human happiness was but a question of suitable social adjustment which the application of right principles would finally solve.
Accounting for the shattered hopes and unrealized aspirations at New Harmony, Warren believed that the chief causes were the suppression of individuality, the lack of initiative and responsibility. What was every one's interest was nobody's business. All the affairs of the community were decided either by Owen as proprietor, or by the will of the majority; personal liberty was at a discount, incentive to sustained individual effort was lacking, and each was inclined to ascribe the faults of the system to the shortcomings of his neighbors. These defects, Warren concluded, were inseparable from any scheme based upon authority and community of goods. Under the most favorable conditions failure would in the long run be assured.
He was convinced, therefore, that the basis of all future reform must be complete individual liberty. "Man seeks freedom as the magnet seeks the pole or water its level, and society can have no peace until every member is really free." This cannot be under the existing organization and ideas of society. New views must replace those of the past. For the future society new principles are needed. The first of these is individuality. The sovereignty of every individual must at all times be held inviolable. Every one should be free to dispose of his person, his time, his property, and his reputation as he pleases. But always at his own cost. Note it well. This is the core of Warren's principle, the element of justice in it, the basis of equality, the seed of an eternal truth which can no more be refuted to-day than when he first enunciated it to an unheeding world.
Such are the views at which Warren had arrived when, at the age of twenty-nine, he again settled in Cincinnati. The lesson of New Harmony had convinced him that any theory of reform, however perfect or plausible, must be tested by experience before it can be offered as a remedy for existing evils. To this end, therefore, he undertook his first experiment, which was either to prove the practicability of his principles or to demonstrate their futility.
On the 18th of May, 1827, there was opened unpretentiously at the corner of Fifth and Elm Streets in Cincinnati a little country store, conducted on a plan new to commerce though not unimportant to the wellbeing of society. It was the first Equity store, designed to illustrate the Cost Principle, the germ of the cooperative movement of the future.
When the advantages of the store became known and its method understood, it was the most popular mercantile institution in the city. The people called it the "Time Store," not because it gave credit or sold goods on installments, but on account of the peculiar and original method adopted to fix and regulate the amount of the merchant's compensation. This was determined on the principle of the equal exchange of labor, measured by the time occupied, and exchanged hour for hour with other kinds of labor. Let us illustrate. A clock hangs in a conspicuous place in the store. In comes the customer to make his purchases. All goods are marked with the price in plain figures, which is their cost price, plus a nominal percentage to cover freight, shrinkage, rent, etc., usually about four cents on the dollar. The purchaser selects what he needs, with not over-much assistance or prompting from the salesman, and pays for the same in lawful money. The time spent by the merchant in waiting upon him is now calculated by reference to the convenient clock, and in payment for this service the customer gives his labor note, something after this form: "Due to Josiah Warren, on demand, thirty minutes in carpenter work -- John Smith." Or, "Due to Josiah Warren, on demand, ten minutes in needlework -- Mary Brown."
The store-keeper thus agreed to exchange his time for an equal amount of the time of those who bought goods of him. Profits in the customary sense there were none. Here was the application of the principle of labor for labor, the Cost Principle in its most primitive form, which, through experience, was subsequently modified so as to allow for the different valuations of the various kinds of labor.
As to the moral results of the Cost system in practice, it prevented needless waste of the vendor's time by thoughtless purchasers; while the marking of each commodity at cost price stopped all higgling, and promoted mutual respect and confidence in place of sharp dealing and distrust. While it was Robert Owen who, in a plan devised in 1820 to relieve the industrial woes of Ireland, first proposed the use of labor notes, yet the idea had not been put in practice until Warren, in his original way, successfully carried it out.
His store was also a magazine for the deposit of salable products. A report of the demand was posted up each morning, showing at all times what goods would be received. The depositor, when his goods were accepted, was at liberty to take in exchange other goods to an equal amount from the store or to take Warren's labor notes instead. And as these labor notes were expressed in hours and not in dollars, it was found advisable to keep exhibited for the information of traders a list which was compiled from the ascertained average cost in labor-time of all staple articles, showing their prices in hours. Besides this, the public had access to the bills of all goods purchased, so that no grounds of dispute could exist as to price.
The plan of accepting from depositors for sale in the store only such goods as were known to be then in demand prevented a glut in any line, and avoided the mistake which, a few years later, was largely responsible for the collapse, after a brief existence, of Robert Owen's Labor Exchange in London.
There were no rules and regulations to bewilder the public in the Equity store, the subjoined notice being deemed by Warren sufficient:
- "Whatever arrangements may be made from time to time in this place, they will always be subject to alteration, or to be abolished, whenever circumstances or increasing knowledge may exhibit the necessity of change."
Although a righteous, humane, and unselfish purpose actuated all his efforts, Warren knew that self-interest, arising out of the instinct of self-preservation, is the leading motive of human conduct, and wasted no time with reforms which ignored this natural law. He believed that the first step toward doing good to others was to show them that he possessed no power to do them harm, and "was as ready to run away from power as are most reformers to pursue it."
At the beginning the Equity store met with scant encouragement. During the first week the business done scarcely exceeded five dollars. The knowing ones denounced it as a new scheme for swindling, while the friends of the founder urged him to give up the pursuit of Utopias, offering to aid him in building up for himself a profitable business.
For several days he had not a customer. Finally he prevailed upon his brother George to come and make some purchases for his family. A few more doubting friends next tried it, and finding they were gainers, soon spread the news. So apparent were the pecuniary advantages of equitable trading that the co-operative spirit spread rapidly, and before long the store taxed all the reformer's time and energies. The merchant on the next corner soon found himself without occupation and decided that the time had come either to adopt the plan of Equity or to close up. He came to Warren, explained his dilemma, and begged the reformer to instruct him what to do in order to conduct his business on this new plan and thus recover his lost trade. The founder of Equitable Commerce was only too happy to assist his brother merchant in converting his place into a "Time store" on the principle of Equity, and delighted so soon to see how competition could enforce the adoption of juster methods of exchange. Both Time stores were so well patronized that the innovation affected the retail trade all over the city.
It appears, then, that Warren in many of his ideas was the precursor of our modern business tendencies toward more efficient and economical distribution, by which the consumer is benefited. His application of the labor note idea has had numerous imitators down to the present day. These notes he proved to be readily acceptable and always a useful currency. Their practical function as a substitute for metallic or other legal-tender money in local transactions has on many occasions been demonstrated.
In a diary that he kept at this time Warren says: "It has often been asked, What will induce lawyers, physicians, and other professional men to exchange equally with the now underpaid labor? Different motives may govern different people to do so, and a respect for individuality teaches me to leave the explanation of motives with each one concerned; but the fact is that we can at any time have the services of a lawyer upon this principle, whom we should prefer to all others that we know on account of his long experience and his unconquerable integrity; and I have on hand at this moment (Nov. 28, 1828), the labor notes of three physicians promising their attendance on this principle, at least two of whom, for skill and experience, would be preferred to any others within our knowledge."
The Equity store had many sympathetic friends who desired to raise capital for the purpose of enlarging its scope, but the founder discouraged the idea. To him it was simply one illustration of principles that were universally true, leading to more fundamental applications. Nor was he oblivious to the injustice of making a single class victims of a reform before the wider application of the principles to land and industry should open a door to the eliminated middleman in another direction. Amongst the first to offer encouragement and substantial aid to the pioneer of Equity was a wholesale merchant in the city who once declared to Warren, "You and I may not live to see it, but the time will come when all the business of the world will be conducted on these principles."
Some patrons of the store had quite a fine appreciation of its advantages, as the following incident will show: One day a countryman came in for a barrel of mackerel, which was known to cost eight dollars at the store. Throwing down upon the counter the exact amount, the rustic in a hurry, without pausing even to take breath, cried, "I want a barrel of your mackerel here is the money and there is a cent for your time you need not come out I know where they are good-by."
Warren did not, however, hold himself under any obligation to extend the advantages of Equitable trading to those who were not prepared in other dealings to act on the same principle.
We have seen that the store was a labor exchange where those who had products to sell could dispose of them, provided the goods were in demand, without the middleman's seizing the lion's share. It was also a bureau for labor in search of employment, and thus served to direct the reformer's attention to the long and useless apprenticeships by which the common trades were hedged around.
On this topic he writes in 1827: "It is painful to witness the great number of applications for employment which the Report of the Demand does not call for, and when we tell the applicants that they can turn their attention to work that is in demand they reply that they cannot learn a new business without long and costly apprenticeship, that otherwise nobody will teach them their secrets of arts and trades. It therefore becomes necessary to disprove the need for long apprenticeships and throw open the secrets of trades so that they can be obtained on equitable terms." Here also was a field for the entrance of new ideas, a further incentive to relinquish storekeeping and apply the principles to labor and land by means of a cooperative village.
Some light is thrown on the character of the young reformer, as estimated by those who knew him when he opened the store in Cincinnati, by the fact that he procured the requisite capital from the United States Bank on his personal notes endorsed by two gentlemen, the one a pillar of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the other a prominent Presbyterian, while both of them knew that Warren repudiated all systems of theology. His Methodist friend, Captain Richard Folger, was an ardent believer in Equity as shown by the following story, related by Warren: Once, when his co-religionists were disputing on some point of faith, the Captain said to them, "Well, brethren, people have been disputing for eighteen hundred years about what is the true Christianity. Now if you will go down to the corner of Fifth and Elm Streets, you will see it in operation for the first time in the world."
It was the same friend who, on receiving labor notes at the store in exchange for a consignment of corn meal, stopped his own work and spent three weeks in going around among his acquaintances from shop to shop expounding the principles of Equitable Commerce and explaining their practical working, concluding his remarks by giving each listener one of the labor notes with which to try the experiment at the Time store.
Another incident occurring about this time so well illustrates the practice as well as the views of Warren upon interest and money lending that I venture here to relate it.
One day a friend came to the store and introduced to Warren a man whom the friend knew but who was then a stranger to the storekeeper. This man was about to be turned out of his house and his furniture seized and sold that day in default of the payment of thirteen dollars due for rent. Having experienced misfortunes that left him penniless, the stranger was in sore straits. If he could only borrow the money he would be able to repay it in two weeks, while his friend, with whom Warren was well acquainted, was willing to become security. From the contingent fund of the store Warren readily agreed to lend the money. At the end of a fortnight the stranger came to Warren and declared, "Your loan saved my family from so much distress that I will gladly pay you any premium you choose to ask."
"You are a stranger," replied the reformer, "to the principles upon which business is done here."
"But I can never feel myself absolved from obligation to you at any price. Take whatever you please; I shall not question it."
"I see," rejoined Warren, "that your friend has not informed you of the peculiar operation of our principles as applied to lending money The compensation, or interest, has no reference to the benefit conferred upon the borrower, but is based entirely on the cost to the lender. I employed about five minutes in lending the money and shall employ about the same time in receiving it back. It was secured and there was no risk or loss. You have only to compensate me for my labor. If you could give me an equivalent in your own labor, that would make it all right, but as you cannot do so, I will accept from you instead seven cents in money."
"I don't understand you; I am really in earnest in what I say. I am anxious to pay properly for the great benefit you have conferred on me and my family."
"Yes," returned the lender, "I perfectly understand you: I am to be properly paid, and shall be with the seven cents. Don't you think I ought to be satisfied with fifty cents an hour for my labor in lending money when the hardest working man gets only fifty cents for a whole day's labor?"
Here we have a concrete example of the meaning of Cost as the Limit of Price. Though an economic doctrine, and the cornerstone of Warren's political economy, it broadly comprehends an ethical principle which would have to be accepted intelligently as the basis of all pecuniary and commercial relations before the Cost Principle could be universally practised. By Cost he meant the sacrifices involved, which time alone could not measure, and the price, therefore, should never exceed the cost thus determined.
Full of enthusiasm for the principles which he was now convinced would solve the deeper economic problems of society, having tried them in regard to the distribution of wealth, he longed to see them applied to its production; and in order to be free to set about the task he decided to terminate the store experiment. Measures were accordingly taken to this end. The public had several months' notice, all obligations were met, and after two years' successful operations the reformer found himself financially in the same position as at the beginning, but morally more than ever convinced of the beauties of Equity and the need of its realization. He would "carry out the principles into all ramifications of social life, on a permanent location," where land could be had at a price not already prohibitively enhanced by speculation.
During Warren's first residence in Cincinnati, he obtained a lease for ninety-nine years from Mr. Nicholas Longworth, the well-known real estate owner, of a property extending from Elm to John Streets and from Fifth to Ninth Streets, giving him eight blocks of the best building land in Cincinnati. Upon this estate he built a few brick houses, in one of which he lived for several years. It was here at the corner of Fifth and Elm Streets, that he set up his first Equity store. After the store was terminated, the intensity of Warren's convictions deepened in regard to holding land for speculative purposes. Believing as he did that the only legitimate title to property is labor, that wealth acquired by the rise of land values, due not to any action of the individual owner but to social causes beyond his control, is opposed to the principle of Equity, he felt that he could no longer retain his title to an estate whose value would continue to augment without any effort on the part of the possessor. He therefore went to Mr. Longworth and returned unconditionally the lease he held, thus voluntarily depriving himself of property rights which, had he chosen to retain them, would, before many years elapsed, have made him a wealthy man.
Like all earnest workers for righteousness in human relations, Warren was doomed to many a disappointment, to see many a hope unfulfilled, many a promising scheme nipped in the bud, ere time and circumstance converged to carry out his aspirations. No less an enthusiast in the same cause was Robert Dale Owen, who, when Warren was brimful of ideas concerning a co-operative village, called upon him in Cincinnati. Owen was wealthy, and, in association with Frances Wright, was at that time editor and proprietor of an influential organ of social reform, The Free Enquirer, published in New York. He evinced much interest in Warren's views, invited him to come to New York, offered to furnish means to found an institution in that city devoted to Equitable Commerce, pointed out the good that might be accomplished by the press and other avenues of educational propaganda that he controlled, and held out hopes of assisting in the formation of communities based on Equity and individual sovereignty.
Warren was completely won by Owen's enthusiasm and generosity, and toward the middle of the year 1830 he went to New York. Here he met "Fanny " Wright, the first woman abolitionist. Popular and convincing as a lecturer, clear-headed and fearless as a reformer, scholarly and powerful as a writer, she was a force worthy of being won to the Principles. Frances Wright was not a communist, though she had spent some time with Robert Owen at New Harmony; her intellectual leanings were individualistic, and Warren found an eager and sympathetic listener to his exposition of his opinions. She understood and accepted the Principles, and her work was henceforth inspired by Warren's social philosophy.
At this time she was writing most of the editorials for The Free Enquirer, and the new influence soon became apparent. In a series of articles on "Wealth and Money" we can trace this influence, and in the seventh article, under date of Oct. 23, 1830, Frances Wright pays a tribute to Josiah Warren which is so important as a contemporary estimate of his ideas and the work he did in the first Time store that I quote the following passage:
"He withdrew to Cincinnati and there spent two years in an experiment which, for the quiet, unpretending perseverance with which it was conducted, no less than for the important truths it satisfactorily elucidated, has perhaps few parallels. Unaided by money, unbacked by influence, and unseconded save by his own conviction of the value of the principle he had seized, and the beneficial consequences of the practice he was prepared to explore, he succeeded in exhibiting to the understanding and bringing home to the worldly interests of thousands the perfect facility of living in plenty with one-third of the labor and without any of the anxiety inseparable from the existing moneyed exchange of the world.
"But the advantage arising from this new, and, we are prepared to say, correct principle of commerce to the physical condition of mankind embraces but half its virtues. Its moral tendencies may be traced with never ending delight by every intelligent and benevolent mind. While it imparts every honest incitement to industry, it removes all temptation to fraud and all possibility of ruinous and corrupting speculation. It is capable of opening to every human being the path of honest independence and removing the load of oppression which now ~ weighs upon youthful as upon female labor, of encouraging the outcast and the vagrant to engage in virtuous exertions and honorable occupations, secure from the contumely of the pharisee and the blighting suspicion of an unfeeling generation, and of restoring to the human race that first best birthright held in virtue of existence, -- individual, entire, and equal liberty."
Warren at this period, as indeed at all times, was unobtrusively modest, and seldom allowed his name to appear in print. The notes on equal exchange of labor in The Free Enquirer for July, 1830, are signed "J. W.," as is also a satirical piece on politicians, law-makers and courts of justice -- undoubtedly Warren's -- which displays much native wit. The New York Daily Sentinel at this time published an editorial calling attention to the new views of "an individual from Cincinnati," which it recommends as giving the only solution to social and labor problems, illustrating the Principles in a dialogue in which the reformer replies to some objections.
Owen's previous arrangements delayed action upon the scheme which brought Warren to New York. Then Owen was called away to Europe where he remained several months, until the death of a near relative changed all his plans for the future. Warren at length grew tired of waiting for something to be done for the Principles, and in the fall of 1830 returned to Ohio.
Living at Spring Hill, near Massillon, Ohio, was a band of four reformers who conducted a labor school for boys. On a former visit Warren, finding them believers in communism, had convinced these men of the soundness of his views, and they were waiting to complete their contract to run the school three years, at the expiration of which they were to join the Cincinnati reformer in a village experiment. With these honest souls Warren decided to throw in his lot for a time, and he soon began experiments designed to test the feasibility of acquiring trades without long apprenticeships. He took lessons himself in making wagon-wheels, quickly became proficient and set some of the boys to learn shoemaking and other trades. The boys were treated according to the principle of Equity, given self-sovereignty, allowed to assume responsibility for their own support, and, as a consequence of being thrown upon their own resources, they formed habits of thinking and deciding for themselves, sought advice which they received with gratitude and paid for by exchanging their labor equitably with the labor of their teachers; all of which proved a valuable means of education and taught them more in one week, when all their interests were aroused and their innate capacities called forth, than they would have learned in a year by the common method of enforced instruction.
Warren's own children were in like manner trained in habits of industry and self-reliance. The beneficial results of the working of his Principles were exemplified in a striking degree in the person of his son George. At four years old the boy was taught to use carpenter's tools. At seven he learned type-setting and composed a tiny book with pages one inch square. From one thing to another he proceeded after the manner of a child, exploring all fields of knowledge open to him. He was a musician, and at seventeen began to teach for a living. At eighteen he built an organ, fashioning it from the raw material. It was sold at the current price of such instruments. Being a practical wood-worker, he made the best paling fence in the town. He was also skilled in the use of pencil and brush, and, as one of his sources of income, painted some of the most artistic signs in that part of the country. At nineteen the young man was considered one of the ablest orchestra teachers then known in the West. When he was twenty-one he was noted as a composer of band-music, and was an expert performer on the Clarinet, French Horn, Trombone, Sax Horn, Cornet, Violin, and 'Cello. He learned cabinet-making, and afterwards became a successful manufacturer.
The following passage from "Equitable Commerce" (Second Edition, page 50) summarizes Warren's views on the principles to be observed in the education of the young. It shows how far ahead of his generation were his ideas on this as well as on other subjects:
"What is education? What is the power of education? With whom will we trust the fearful power of forming the character and determining the destinies of the future race ?. . . The educating power is in whatever surrounds us. If we would have education to qualify children for future life, then must education embrace those practices and principles which will be demanded in adult life. If we would have them practise equity toward each other, in adult life, we must surround them with equitable practices and treat them equitably. If we would have children respect the rights of property in others, we must respect their rights of property. If we would have them respect the individual peculiarities and the proper liberty of others, then we must respect their individual peculiarities and their personal liberty. If we would have them know and claim for themselves the proper reward of labor in adult age, we must give them the proper reward of their labor in childhood. --
"If we would qualify them to sustain and preserve themselves in after life, they must be given the opportunity in childhood and youth. If we would have them capable of self-government in adult age, they should practise the rights of self-government in childhood. If we would have them learn to govern themselves rationally, with a view to the consequences of their acts, they must be allowed to govern themselves by the consequences of their acts in childhood. Children are principally the creatures of example. If we strike them, they will strike each other. If they see us attempting to govern each other, they will imitate the same barbarism. If we habitually admit the right of self-sovereignty in each other and in them, they will become equally respectful of our rights and each other's."
In March, 1831, Warren returned to Cincinnati to begin preparations for the next move, an Equity village. He now investigated those branches of industry which would be of most use to people contemplating the building up of a new community. Having no faith in the co-operation of capitalists in reform movements, he saw that the work must be done by those who had nothing but their hands, their time, and their necessities. But how were these to be made available? To answer the question, this indefatigable reformer made daily practical experiments in iron and wood working, the construction of houses, of spinning machinery, and the making of various articles of indispensable necessity. But most important of all were his efforts to simplify and cheapen the art of printing.
The year 1832 was memorable in Cincinnati as that of the cholera epidemic. Warren, though not trained as a medical man, was yet ready to perform his duty as a social physician, and his public spirit soon found an outlet in a service to his fellow-citizens. His mechanical facilities were utilized to print many thousands of leaflets containing directions for fighting the dread disease. From the works of a Scotch physician, Dr. James B. Kirk, a recognized authority on cholera, he compiled useful information of a general sanitary nature; described the first symptoms of the disease, together with the best method of treating it; and, at his own cost, printed the sheets on a small press invented by himself, and distributed them throughout the city which was being decimated by the scourge. This service was continued for several months. Warren's son, now Capt. G. W. Warren of Evansville, Ind., then a boy of six or seven, who frequently assisted in these missions, still remembers the pleasure it gave his father when some well-known citizen, meeting him in the streets engaged upon his humane task, would stop him, grasp him warmly by the hand, and express his gratitude for that philanthropic work. Captain Warren states that the city government afterwards passed a resolution of public thanks to his father in recognition of the service he then performed; but the public records of the city have since been destroyed by fire and no copy of the resolution can be obtained.
At this period Warren followed music as a regular vocation, and his services as leader of bands were in considerable request. All Free Masons and members of the fraternal orders who succumbed to the cholera were accorded public funerals, and throughout the period of the visitation Warren might have been seen almost every day accompanying a solemn cortége, at the head of a band, playing a funeral march. With this professional work and his labor of love in the printing and distribution of handbills, the reformer was then a popular figure in the streets of Cincinnati.
The Peaceful Revolutionist, Warren's first periodical, appeared in January, 1833, but did not survive the same year. It was a four-page weekly of conspicuously clear and neat typography, devoted to the principles of Equity. So primitive at this time were his resources, and so marvelous his skill and ingenuity, that the plates from which the paper was printed were cast over the fire of the same stove at which his wife cooked the family meals. The printing press he used was his own invention, and with his own hands he made type-moulds, cast the type and the stereo-plates, built the press, wrote out the articles, set them up, and printed off the sheets. Was there ever a more self-dependent enterprise? What enthusiastic devotion to an idea, what determination were here displayed!
Let us pause for a moment and with the eye of imagination cast a glance at this remarkable and unassuming man as he lived seventy years ago. In a remote and sparsely settled region he supported his little family by his precarious earnings as a band musician. But his heart was in the movements devoted to the general good, which he deemed paramount. His talents were dedicated to the Cause, his spare moments occupied upon inventions designed to simplify and cheapen the art of printing, in the interest of the propaganda. His thoughts were not of personal advancement. Material interests swayed him not. Yet he put forth no claims as a philanthropist; no note of conscious self-sacrifice took the edge off his devotion. Impelled to his chosen work by simple love of his kind, through every vicissitude and disappointment he remained steadfast to his faith in the ultimate regeneration of the race.
Tuscarawas County, Ohio, was selected as the place in which to commence the village of Equity. Land to the extent of four hundred acres was purchased by the pioneer and his friends. Some half-dozen families, including the adherents from Spring Hill already mentioned, early in 1835 took possession of the estate. In a short time it was discovered that the locality was malarial, breeding low fever, ague, and constant sickness. A saw-mill and several houses were, however, erected, but the settlers had not the temerity to invite any more to join them while influenza and malaria were undermining their health and carrying off the less robust of their members. The idea of building up a community in this region was abandoned, but having invested their last dollar in land and buildings, they could not at once get away, and it was nearly two years before they were able to provide themselves with homes elsewhere. Even then they could leave the ill-starred place only by sacrificing nearly all their labor and investments.
Warren, repulsed but not defeated in his first encounter with the impercipient elements and raw material of nature, in 1837 again returned to New Harmony, which, despite the failure of communism, had grown into a prosperous town.
The leaven of social discontent and aspiration first introduced by Robert Owen appears never to have been quite exhausted, and was wont to manifest itself at intervals in waves of communistic enthusiasm. Ten or twelve years later, when the events of 1825-26 at New Harmony had been forgotten, co-operative effort took the form of Fourierism, active propaganda was carried on by bands of devoted workers, phalanxes were organized, and communities multiplied throughout the land. Horace Greeley became their sponsor in the press, and Brook Farm, with its noted participators, gained for them a reputation which has survived in American literature. Until this wave subsided, and the sincere but mistaken communists had time to learn by experience the inevitable but melancholy lesson, the Individualist reformer decided to remain quiescent. He then spent some years in mechanical pursuits, during which he invented the cylinder-press.
In 1842 Warren determined to make another public effort on behalf of Equitable Commerce. A store, he believed, would most readily familiarize the people with his ideas. But as soon as the project became known in New Harmony there were mutterings and threats from certain quarters where the effects of an enterprise conducted on the Cost principle were dreaded. For this reason Warren, having in mind his Cincinnati experiences fifteen years before, began to deliver lectures upon the subject in the surrounding country and soon created among the people a strong sentiment in favor of the idea. When the store in New Harmony was about to open, an incident occurred which shows the feeling that prevailed. Intelligence was received by some of Warren's adherents outside the city that an attempt would be made to prevent by force the opening of the Equity store; whereupon five men at once jumped up and declared that they would shoulder their rifles and march into New Harmony to protect the enterprise and its founder. The danger passed, however, with nothing worse than covert sneers, studied misrepresentation, and petty falsehoods from some of the neighboring storekeepers. Before many days the store was so crowded with customers that some had to wait two hours before they could be served.
Opposition of an underhand nature continued, but, as Warren observed: "It was not a wordy war but a war of things; everybody had a pocket, even the storekeepers, and the subject which could get no hearing before the pocket was touched was now either supported or opposed by everyone within its reach. It was not necessary to reply to the opposition; the people took the subject into their own hands. Although they did not pretend to understand its whole philosophy, they saw that all its practical workings were in their favor, and its influence spread rapidly outward and began to affect the prices in the surrounding towns. The people would not buy at home, but came twenty, twenty-five, and even one hundred miles, to the 'Time store,' as they called it, and found themselves benefited. There was but one way left for the common stores, -- that was, to come down. But they could not come down to the prompt-pay prices and at the same time keep up their credit system. Then down came the credit system, that second monstrous feudalism, by which the storekeepers were rapidly getting possession of the homesteads of the people of the surrounding country....
"Whatever may be thought of the hopelessness or the unpopularity of reform movements, I will venture to assert that no new institution, political, moral, or religious, ever assumed a more sudden and extensive popularity than the Time store of New Harmony. But it was principally among the poor, the humble, the downtrodden. None of those who had been accustomed to lead, none who had anything to lead with, offered the least assistance nor aid, nor scarcely sympathy, though they did not attempt to deny the soundness of the principles. . . . When all the stores in the surrounding country had come down in their prices to an equilibrium with the Equity store the custom naturally flowed back again to them, and the next step was to wind up the Time store and commence a village."
This experiment, also, lasted about two years, being conducted on principles identical with those of the first store. Labor notes were used as on the former occasion, with this difference, -- that Warren learned when exchanging his labor for the labor of others to appraise the various kinds of labor at different valuations not according to equal time, but according to equal value, measured by the ultimate cost. Some time before the store was closed, two gentlemen in whom the public had confidence were invited by the reformer, and readily consented, to audit the books covering the operations from the start. They found a small surplus, which was merely sufficient to cover the expenses of winding up. It is an interesting fact that the best friends of the Equity movement were found to be those who made no professions of reform. Out of fifty reform papers to which was sent a printed account of the store and the principles underlying it, not one vouchsafed a public acknowledgment.
When the New Harmony Equity store was closed Warren once more turned his mind to invention. He produced in 1844 an original system of music denominated by him "Mathematical Notation," designed on scientific principles to accomplish in the representation of harmonic sounds a service similar to that performed by phonography in the representation of the elements of speech. The author printed the book by his newly perfected "Universal Typography," and, as may still be seen in a copy preserved in the library of the New Harmony Workingmen's Institute, it was a beautiful example of his stereotyping process, reproducing his own handwriting in delicate copperplate. It would be beside my purpose to go into a description of this unique invention which, though in print, was never really published or put before the musical world, owing doubtless to the author's absorption in plans of social reform; but one musical authority, Dr. Mason, examined the new mathematical notation and admitted its comprehensiveness and simplicity, believing, however, that it would be a hopeless undertaking to attempt to supersede the universally accepted system.
The perfection to which his typographical inventions were brought in 1845-46, brought Warren some financial prosperity, and revived his desire to found another village. The seven thousand dollars he obtained by the sale of his stereotyping patents enabled him to secure land in the vicinity of New Harmony for this purpose; but he soon had reason to believe that the prospects would be better in Ohio, near Cincinnati, where it was anticipated land could be obtained on favorable terms. One of his followers, however, wanted to open another Time store on the ground already secured, and to this plan Warren consented. They set out together for Evansville on Jan. 25, 1847, to purchase stock for the new enterprise, and found the roads almost impassable, but met many sympathetic friends who kindly entertained them while the discoverer of Equitable Commerce devoted most of his time to exposition of the Principles. A teamster who was one of the old cooperators, agreed to bring the goods from Evansville to the store, a distance of twenty-five miles. The roads were so bad that the journey occupied four days; the wagoner was nearly frozen, and declared that if the goods had not been for the Time store he would have left them on the road and returned without them. But when Warren paid a higher price for the work than was first agreed upon, he not only gave satisfaction to the teamster, but showed that the limits of contract may not be the limits of equity.
Upon the opening of this co-operative store on May 18, 1847, the reformer planned and successfully held a social reunion to which were invited the people of the surrounding country, to celebrate the opening, twenty years before, of the first Time store in Cincinnati. The new store was conducted by the person whom Warren had assisted to open it, whilst the latter departed for new fields of labor that claimed his attention. No account remains of the subsequent course of this undertaking.
It was not until 1846, after twenty years' study and experience, that Warren put forth the fruits of his thought and labor in a book, published by the author under the title of "Equitable Commerce." Although the date of publication is given in his later writings as 1846, Warren's first reference to the work is found in a letter he wrote from New Harmony, dated April 25, 1847, wherein he speaks of it as being "out at last." A second edition was printed in 1849 at Utopia, Ohio, and Fowler and Wells of New York in 1852 issued another edition which they followed with Warren's " Practical Details of Equitable Commerce, " ...these works and the author's subsequent writings being usually referred to under the general title, "True Civilization," all of which are now out of print. After Warren's death, Benj. R. Tucker in 1875 at Princeton, Mass., reprinted a small edition of " Equitable Commerce." This also has long been out of print.
To describe the next event in Warren's career we must return to 1844, when the Claremount Phalanx, a Fourier association, was about to be organized in Cincinnati. The founder of Equity delivered an address to the projectors in which he warned them that their communistic enterprise would certainly fail, giving them three years in which to discover the error of their principles. He begged them to remember, when his warning should come true, that, despite the failure of their attempt, there was yet a road to success. At the same time he gave an outline of the principles and methods of Equity. Just two years and eight months later he learned that the community, after a hand-to-hand scramble for some of the "common property," had broken up. Then he concluded the time had come to interest them in his ideas, and in June, 1847, he landed from a steamboat where the community was located on the banks of the Ohio River, thirty miles from Cincinnati, and was met by one Daniel Prescott, who said, "Well, we have failed just as you foretold; it worked exactly as you said it would, and if you had been a prophet you could not have told more accurately what would happen. Now I am ready for your method."
Warren found six families almost destitute. Homes must be erected and land secured. About a mile above Claremount there was some land owned by Mr. Jernegan, a believer in Equitable Commerce, with whom an arrangement was made to lay out the estate in quarter-acre lots. The price was determined on the Cost Principle. To the value of the land by the acre was added the cost of laying out streets, of surveying, etc., and of the time spent on the work by the proprietor, who agreed in writing to keep unchanged the original price upon all unsold lots for three years. It was afterwards discovered by the pioneers that three years were too short a time to be insured against a speculative rise in land values. Warren considered a uniform price for ten years at least to be necessary for the successful building up of a community.
It should be remembered that all Warren's attempts in this direction were made with those whose only means was their labor force, and his purpose was to demonstrate that such people, with free access to natural resources, could, by exchanging their labor on equitable terms through the use of labor notes, build their own houses, supply their prime necessities, and attain to comfort and prosperity without dependence on capitalists or on any external authority for the means of life. "I would not," said Warren, "urge the capitalist to use his capital in our cause." To do so he regarded as a waste of time, and he preferred to use his efforts to show the victims of capital how they could escape from its tyranny. If he succeeded in this, he declared, capital would be powerless, and "its holders the dependents."
When they began on the new plan in the middle of July, there was not ten dollars in possession of all the settlers; but by the following December most of the families had good houses, some being built of brick two stories high, nearly or wholly paid for. The village consisted of eighty quarter-acre lots, and as the surrounding land was controlled by speculators, there was no room for expansion. Within three years a steam saw-and-grist-mill was running, its owner having the assistance of all the residents because he furnished lumber at cost and thus rendered it to their advantage to co-operate with the mill. But this mode of co-operation left everyone connected with the enterprise free from obligations, pledges, or involved interests.
Here is an extract from Warren's notes written at this period in Utopia, as the village was named. "The owner of the mill issued his labor notes payable in lumber. H. B. Lyon paid for his lot with his labor notes. The mill needed his labor and the owner of the mill needed lumber. Mr. Lyon issued his notes promising his labor in the mill -- the owner of the mill took them of the landowner for lumber, and Mr. Lyon redeemed them in tending the mill. With all my hopes I had not dared to expect to see land bought with labor notes so soon as this. "
In an article published in 1848, Warren describes the conditions which then prevailed at Utopia, and after showing how the people got along without rules or organizations, not even having a single public lecture to expound their principles, he says:
"I do not mean to be understood that all are of one mind. On the contrary, in a progressive state there is no demand for conformity. We build on Individuality. Any differences between us confirm our position. Differences, therefore, like the admissible discords in music, are a valuable part of our harmony. It is only when the rights of persons or property are actually invaded that collisions arise. These rights being clearly defined and sanctioned by public opinion, and temptations to encroachments being withdrawn, we may then consider our great problem practically solved. With regard to mere difference of opinion in taste, convenience, economy, equality, or even right and wrong, good and bad, sanity and insanity, -- all must be left to the supreme decision of each individual, whenever he can take on himself the cost of his decisions; which he cannot do while his interests or movements are united or combined with others. It is in combination or close connection only that compromise or conformity is required. Peace, harmony, ease, security, happiness, will be found only in Individuality. "
Mr. E. G. Cubberley, one of the first settlers, in October, 1872, while still residing in his original house at Utopia, wrote: "The labor notes put us into a reciprocating society -- the result was, in two years twelve families found themselves with homes who never owned them before.... Labor capital did it. I built a brick cottage one and a half stories high, and all the money I paid out was $9.81 -- all the rest was effected by exchanging labor for labor. Mr. Warren is right, and the way to get back as much labor as we give is by the labor-cost prices, -- money prices, with no principle to guide, have always deceived us."
It may naturally be asked, What became of the village? Why did Equity villages not multiply? Why did the pioneers keep from the public as far as possible all information concerning them? To such questions no satisfactory answer in a few words can be given. Owing to the high price of the surrounding land most of the settlers after about four years moved from Utopia into Minnesota, where land was cheap and abundant.
Leaving the scenes of his labors in Ohio and Indiana, Warren, in 1850, took up his abode in New York City, where he formed an intimacy with the philosophical writer and reformer, Stephen Pearl Andrews. From this time forth Andrews became the literary exponent of the philosophy of Equity. He delivered in 1851 a course of lectures on "The Science of Society," embracing an exposition of the Sovereignty of the Individual, and Cost the Limit of Price.1 Andrews' "Science of Society," containing a scholarly essay on government, has probably done more toward calling the attention of independent thinkers and reformers to Warren's philosophy than anything ever put forth by himself, and is by far the ablest statement of the Principles which has yet appeared.
It was but a short time after Warren came to New York that earnest people in that city, in Boston, and elsewhere began to evince much interest in the individualistic form of cooperation advocated by him.
Warren, though never assuming to be a public speaker, developed his conversational gifts to such a degree that his "Parlor Conversations" became noted in reform circles, and proved a valuable means of disseminating his ideas. At these informal meetings it was his custom to introduce the topic for the occasion -- always expository of his distinctive opinions -- in a brief talk, after which he invited questions from the audience, that usually were forthcoming with a readiness and spirit evincing a warm interest in the subject. In his replies the reformer invariably proved himself quick, witty, and convincing; but he never allowed himself to be drawn into wordy disputation, deeming it a waste of time to engage with opponents in fruitless argument. It was at one of the "Conversations " held in New York that Stephen Pearl Andrews, then an enthusiastic Fourierist, was converted to the principles of Equity. Many years later another able writer and determined opponent, C. T. Fowler, was won over to Warren's ideas by the light thrown upon social problems at one of these gatherings in Boston. This method of propaganda was utilized almost to the end of his life wherever he happened to sojourn and could find appreciative listeners.
A spot on Long Island, forty miles from New York by the Long Island Railroad was selected for another experiment. The soil was considered worthless, and several attempts by capitalists to turn it to account had failed. But this seemed no deterrent to those imbued with the principles of Equity. There was no lumber on the land save scrub-oak, even for fuel, but it was thought that the soil might be adapted to market-gardening, while manufactures could be introduced to furnish employment. "One man," says Warren, "went to the ground alone and built a shanty ten or twelve feet square where there was not so much as a cow-path in sight. He was joined in a few days by two others, and they built the first house with funds supplied by a sympathizing friend. More pioneers arrived, and soon the houses went up, apparently without means, and many now possessed houses who had never owned one before." Thus matters progressed until someone published in the New York Tribune an account of the colony, which the projectors had named Modern Times. This undesired publicity quickly brought many people, mostly ignorant of the ideas on which the village was founded. True to the principle of Individual Sovereignty, or non-interference, which gives equal rights to all in natural opportunities, the pioneers refrained from taking any steps toward excluding the newcomers, so long as they did not invade the rights of others.
This freedom was not at first without its drawbacks, though in the end it invariably proved a self-corrective. Again to quote Warren: "One man began to advocate plurality of wives, and published a paper to support his views; another believed clothing to be a superfluity, and not only attempted to practise his Adamic theories in person, but inflicted his views upon his hapless children. A woman with an ungainly form displayed herself in public in men's attire, which gave rise to the newspaper comment that 'the women of Modern Times dressed in men's clothes and looked hideous.' Still another young woman had the diet mania so severely that after trying to live on beans without salt until reduced almost to a skeleton she died within a year." Whereupon the newspapers cried, "The people of Modern Times are killing themselves with fanatical ideas about food." These were some of the burdens the real settlers had to bear because they respected the rights of others, and accorded liberty to do even the silliest things, knowing that experience, and the principle which allows such things to be done at each one's own cost, would work the best and surest cure.
A reporter, in the course of an interview with one of the residents, asked, "Do you hold to Marriage ?" "Marriage? Well, folks ask no questions in regard to that among us. We, or at least some of us, do not believe in life partnerships when the parties cannot live happily. Every person here is supposed to know his or her own interest best. We don't interfere; there is no eavesdropping or prying behind the curtain. Those are good members of society who are industrious and mind their own business. The individual is sovereign and independent, and all laws tending to restrict the liberty he or she should enjoy are founded on error and should not be regarded."
Among the strangers who came to live in Modern Times was a slanderer, who committed innumerable ridiculous acts, abused the leading spirits, made himself generally obnoxious, and finally wrote a long description including the very doings he himself had perpetrated, which was published as a picture of the villagers. Such misrepresentations often found their way across the Atlantic, and greatly chagrined Warren, who had numerous sympathizers in England. A minister of the gospel from Cincinnati visited the Colony to investigate, and was courteously treated. He returned home, and published in the Gazette a virulent attack upon the inhabitants of Modern Times. Of twenty-six statements therein purporting to be facts, Warren declared that "twenty-five were wholly or partly false and one was equivocal." Nevertheless the pioneers of Equity prospered, and after reaping so much of the undesirable fruits of notoriety, decided to change the name of the place to Brentwood, the name it still bears. More than this, they often let the statement go forth that the experiment had come to an end in order to escape the interminable annoyance of sensational press reports and equally obnoxious visiting cranks.
Free from the illusions of mere enthusiasts, Warren and his disciples differed from other schools of reformers in accepting the world as it really is. They did not expect their villages, even if these became numerous, to solve the social problem, nor did they ever consider them as anything but an illustration of what might be done by labor, freed from the curse of monopoly and the blight of authority, through the practice of Equity, toward building up a self-dependent, prosperous, and happy community. To secure the welfare of a handful of isolated individuals was never the ultimate aim they had in view, but to show, in a quiet, practical, noninvasive way that equity and justice in human relations would promote happiness to a degree unattainable in the present selfish scramble for place and power.
The spirit of the movement may be gleaned from letters written by residents of Modern Times after it had been several years in existence. Only a few brief extracts can here be given. Under date of Aug. 22, 1857, Edward D. Linton, writing to his English friend, A. C. Cuddon, says:
"For more than twenty years I have been interested in the subject of societary reform; I have examined many if not all the theories that have been put forth at various periods in the history of mankind.... My mind was thus occupied when, more than ten years ago, I heard the principles enunciated from Mr. Warren's own lips....The more I study and examine them, the severer the tests I apply, and the more practically I apply them, the more certain am I that they constitute the grand and fundamental laws of individual rights and social life.... But the practical realization of the principles will be a thing of growth. They cannot be instituted, inaugurated, by any means or appliances under heaven.... Any attempt at their realization, in any of the hitherto popular modes of reform, will fail....
"You have been here, Sir, and I ask you, considering the natural obstacles to overcome, if you ever saw greater material success attained in so short a time, by the same number of people without capital, and with only their hands and brains to operate with, under all the disadvantages of habits formed by a false education and training.... And as it regards individual and social happiness and the entire absence of vice and crime, I am confident this settlement cannot be equalled. This is, emphatically, the school of life. It is what has been learned here, infinitely more than what has been done that constitutes what I consider the great success of the settlement. What has not been done is, I think, of far more consequence than what has been done.... I would rather that my children (six in number) would live here and have the advantages of the society and the practical lessons taught here than for them to have what is called an education in the best institution of learning in the world....
"But whether I ever live to see the practical realization of the principles or not, here or elsewhere, I can never feel sufficiently grateful to the unostentatious man whose remarkable and peculiar constitution of mind enabled him to discover the most subtle and sublime truths ever made known to man for his self-government and the regulation of his intercourse with his neighbor. In my own person and in my own domestic affairs I have been incalculably benefited."
The following year Mr. A. C. Cuddon of London paid another visit to Modern Times about which he writes from Long Island, July, 1858: " They (the principles) are comprehensive and of universal application. They cover the whole ground of social economy, extending into all the ramifications of life and penetrating into every particular case.... They are not a mere speculation or preconceived theory. They are the fruit of extensive and long-continued research conducted upon principles rigidly scientific, moral, and religious. If true, and I challenge the closest scrutiny and severest criticism, they create a new era in social science. The arguments which support them are neither difficult nor subtle; the facts on which they rest are numerous, plain, and accessible; they are very simple conclusions from very simple evidence. If they to some appear startling when confronted with existing opinions, it is only because they introduce real science with all its acquirements into a branch of knowledge generally abandoned to speculative reasoning or unsuspecting credulity."
Broad avenues, tree-shaded streets, pretty cottages surrounded by strawberry-beds and well-tilled gardens, formed the outward appearance of Modern Times. The occupants were honest, industrious, and had learned to mind their own business, while readily co-operating with their neighbors for mutual advantage. They were free from sectarian dissensions, courts of law, policemen, jails, rum-shops, prostitutes, and crime. No one acquired wealth save by his own industry. Long afterwards, the people who lived there during the years that the principles of Equity were the only law looked back with regret mingled with pleasure on those pioneer days of effort to achieve a higher social ideal.
Moncure D. Conway visited Modern Times about 1858 and wrote a description of what he heard and saw of the village and its inhabitants, which was published in the Fortnightly Review, No. 4, July 1, 1865. The article may be consulted in Vol. I., p. 421, but contains many statements, evidently hearsay, concerning the early history of the Equity movement and its founder that are by no means reliable. There is no reason, however, to impugn the trustworthyness of a writer so painstaking and scholarly as Conway when giving the results of his personal observation on the spot. His impressions were favorable, and he carried back with him into the world a lasting sympathy with the pioneers and their aims.
"Not being sure whether a place where people attended to their own affairs and did without money was to be reached by railroad or rainbow," he felt not a little trepidation when the train set him down at " Thompson's," about a mile from Modern Times. Having received a cordial welcome when the object of his visit became known, he was introduced to Warren, whom he thus describes: " There entered presently a man to whom all showed a profound respect, and who was introduced as the reformer, to embody whose ideas the village had been established. He was a short, thick-set man about fifty years of age, with a bright, restless blue eye, and somewhat restless, too, in his movements. His forehead was large, descending to a good full brow; his lower face, especially the mouth, was not of equal strength, but indicated a mild enthusiasm. He was fluent, eager, and entirely absorbed in his social ideas. It was pleasant to listen to him, for he was by no means one of those reformers who, having fought with the world, hate it with genuine philanthropic animosity, but one who had never been of the world at all, had never been stirred by its aims nor moved by its fears, -- one who was not deluged with negations, but amused with a troop of novel thoughts and fancies, which to him were controlling convictions.
"'Every man,' said Goethe, 'is strong enough to enforce his own convictions,' and the assertion had for me a curious illustration in the ability with which this man impressed me with the sense of an essential truth in his ideas and plans for superseding the institutions which have evolved in the slow ages of history."
The villagers and their habits came under this writer's observation. " No two persons were expected to dress alike, think alike, or act alike; nothing was in such disrepute as sameness, nothing more applauded than variety, no fault more venial than eccentricity....
"The arrangements of marriage were of course left entirely to the men and women themselves. They could be married formally or otherwise, live in the same or separate houses, and have their relations known or unknown to the rest of the village. The relation could be dissolved at pleasure without any formulas....
"The next day was Sunday, and in the early morning I walked through and around the village. It consisted of less than one hundred cottages, which, though built on what we sometimes call in America 'impecunious' principles, were neat and clean in their green and white under the bright summer morning; and nearly all had gardens with a few vegetable beds and more flowers. The chief lack was of trees [supplied in due time by the villagers], few or none being in that region; but the fields were afire with the barberry and sumac, -- those burning bushes whose beauty is never consumed. In the various gardens men, women, and children were walking, and some of them working, -- digging and watering plants, -- so that I began to question whether they had any Sunday in Modern Times. An invitation, however, to go to church soon settled that question. The building in which this meeting was held was, I was told, used for every kind of gathering. It was a plain room, with a stage, and served for religious lectures, discussions, theatricals, concerts, and indeed whatever meetings the villagers needed for use or amusement. I was assured, too, that Modem Times was not without good actors, dancers, and singers. I can bear witness that it is not without an able preacher of Positivism -- one who has studied the philosophy of Comte more thoroughly and can state it more clearly than any man in America....
"But more interesting than any sermon were the Modem-Timers themselves, and especially the ladies and their clothes. The men showed, I regret to say, a poverty of invention under the principle that each should obey his or her fancy, absolutely, in the matter of dress; but with the other sex it had been as the breath of a tropic for the varieties of plumage produced. As they came streaming into the church they seemed at first like a party of masqueraders; but a close examination led me to the conclusion that the majority of the costumes were such as women might very fairly assume in a society disembarrassed of conventionalities. The idea of expressing individual taste in dress was fairly carried out; and what the real female verdict upon the ordinary dress of the sex in the world is, may be inferred from the fact that only two or three of them had dresses at all resembling the common one. The most usual dress at Modern Times was that which one sees worn by stage peasants, the variations being in color and in the length of skirt, which ranged through nearly every degree between the knee and the ankle. Of long or trailing skirts there were none. Of 'Bloomers' there were only a few, and these had Turkish trousers instead of plain pantaloons. The short skirt and plain white stockings predominated. Nearly all wore hats with wide brims. There were few decorations, and the colors and shades worn indicated a certain degree of taste among these ladies."
Conway was invited in the afternoon to a gathering of neighbors at the house of a lady physician, to whose intellectual gifts he pays a high tribute. "But though looking around upon the faces of those who were present at the conversazione I saw many traces of the several storms which they had encountered, there was a serenity in them which one can rarely see in those restless eyes and compressed lips to be met with by the thousand on Broadway. There was, too, an easy, cordial relation of one with another, a frankness and simplicity of intercourse, which gave assurance that they were held together by a genuine attraction and sustained by mutual sympathy."
In this essay is given a report of the conversation that took place at the gathering just mentioned. The aims and opinions of the villagers, showing remarkable clearness of understanding and directness of expression, are freely transcribed. The deeper problems of ethical and social life were taken up, each talking mainly upon the phase in which he or she was most interested. The views of each were "given with the utmost simplicity, without any straining after effect or novelty, and in many cases with an almost devout earnestness."
"Late in the evening a pleasant little company gathered in the porch of the house in which I was staying, where there was much informal conversation, and also singing by various gentlemen and ladies. Under the touch of the moonlight they and their picturesque costumes and hymns seemed almost phantasmal, and one had to rub one's eyes to know if one were not in some realm of illusion. Thus ended my visit to Modem Times. In the morning, when I caught the first glimpse of the spires of New York, flame-tipped under the sunrise, I wondered if all of them together symbolized as much true aspiration and purity in those who raised them and yesterday worshiped in them as were animating that little town of whose existence the vast city roared on in utter unconsciousness."2
The history of every attempt hitherto made to elevate humanity by new communities composed of enthusiasts who believe that they know how to reconstruct society is invariably the record of what the world calls a failure. But the failure is only relative. They never accomplish the impossible aims with which they set out, and it is only of the impossible or visionary part of such efforts that the world learns anything; the real things that are accomplished, the practical and often invaluable results that are in nearly every case attained, are known only to the few individuals concerned. It is through the personal gain to these individuals, not merely in observing the results of human frailty, but especially in rich experiences of sympathy and mutual helpfulness, that society is benefited by such social experiments. The only right and scientific attitude toward them is the receptive and sympathetic. Investigation and experiment are not only permissible but indispensable in all other fields of human knowledge and activity. Why are they not equally laudable and essential in social science? We require data, actual first-hand knowledge. And this seems to demand not only enthusiasm, but a measure of unworldliness and faith born of ideals which some look upon as mere illusions. Yet such illusions are stimulating to pioneers in experimental sociology.
To find the specific causes of the failure of Warren's Equity villages to form permanent examples of society conducted on right principles is no difficult task. It should be understood that they did not fail in the sense that New Harmony, Brook Farm, and numerous other socialistic experiments failed. The pioneers of Modem Times had no trouble over property or forms of government. Each owned his house and land, and by mutual understanding political authority was dispensed with. None felt responsible for the behavior of his neighbors, and only aggressive or invasive conduct was resented by combined action. The main cause of the nonsuccess of the village was the scarcity of employment other than that of agriculture. Capital was needed to start factories for the manufacture of articles for which there was a demand in the outside world. The pioneers had but little resources, and the labor-note currency, while of great service amongst themselves, could not help them in transactions with those who neither understood the principle nor accepted the practice of Equitable Commerce.
Edward D. Linton set up a paper-box manufactory which promised to furnish the demand for labor that was no less desirable for the prosperity of the place than essential to its growth in numbers. This enterprise was checked by the disastrous financial panic of 1857 which, in New York City alone, where the product of Mr. Linton's factory was marketed, threw upwards of twenty thousand persons out of work. Before the effects of the ensuing industrial depression had cleared away, the country was in the throes of civil war, and all hope of regenerating society for the time being was dissipated. Though the original aims of the pioneers were gradually lost sight of in the inevitable struggle for existence, the village of Modem Times never wholly departed from its original spirit and character. The co-operative tendencies of the inhabitants and the pleasant external features of the place remain, though at the present writing but three of the early pioneers survive.
It is beyond question that the gregarious instincts of men are sometimes inimical both to the individual good and the social welfare. When resorted to for mutual aid, combination has proved to be a valuable instrument of civilization. But the union must be for a definite purpose and not an excuse for shirking responsibility. There is nothing inherently good in mere combination. Union may become a kind of fetish in whose name the worst abuses and most vicious tyrannies are meekly borne. Nor could governments, unquestioned, procure men who have no personal grounds for quarrel to slay one another in unjustifiable wars, were it not for the superstition which exalts and sanctifies concerted action whether right or wrong. Individuals are universally condemned for doing that which an organized body of men may do not only with impunity but with approbation. There is no surer way to obtain and hold political power than by appeals to the people in the name of patriotism, national honor, the glory of the republic, and other catch-words of the rhetoricians.
The most enlightened minds are often carried away by the glamour surrounding collectivity. Even Socialists, in proclaiming the doctrine of the Social Organism, insist on subordinating the individual to the aggregation we term society, unmindful that society exists and is maintained for the good of the individuals composing it, rather than that the individuals exist for the benefit of society. For unless society subserve the welfare of its members individually, what valid reason remains for its continued existence?
These truths Warren perceived with unerring instinct. By concentrating his thought he seemed, like most special pleaders, to ignore other aspects of the subject no less important. Disunion, disconnection, the dissolving of associated interests, was his favorite theme. He was especially severe on ill-defined, compulsory, and involving combinations. Yet there was nothing in his teaching opposed to voluntary association, though he was inclined to discourage many forms of united effort.
No important social movement has yet succeeded without specific and often arbitrary organization. Mankind in its present state of development appears unable to accomplish much without leaders; and it is by means of organization no less than by example that leaders exercise an effective influence. This is seen especially in politics, and holds equally in other fields. But Warren lacked the ambition, even if he possessed the capacity, to become an organizer or a leader. His adherents, if they ever looked to him for these qualities, sought in vain. He could set them an example in so far as his individual efforts went. They never wavered in their faith in the soundness of his principles. Of his early friends and followers the few that still live are as firmly convinced now as they ever were of the truth of his teaching. But the fact remains that a new social movement, if it is to impress itself permanently upon the thought and life of the age, must have active and aggressive leadership.
Warren's principles proved their value to the individual in his dealings with others, in his relation to society. As guides to personal conduct they are still impregnable. How far they will inspire the individual to undertake and carry out functions with which society in its collective capacity alone can adequately deal remains a speculative question. It may ell be doubted, for example, whether Warren's teaching would inspire an individual or group to plan and carry out so far-reaching a public enterprise as the Metropolitan Park System of Massachusetts. Here we have a Commission with adequate powers and resources devising and executing comprehensive schemes, requiring for their completion many years. In this instance, the community reaps beneficial results of a lasting character despite the drawbacks now incident to public undertakings supported by compulsory taxation. It should not, however, diminish the importance of Warren's work in emphasizing the individual side of the social equation if we admit the limitations of his theories.
When the Equity movement began in 1827, it soon became evident that no aid was to be expected from the newspapers, because the latter depended for their financial support mainly upon the advertisements of profit-making traders, while the new principles tended to eliminate the whole system of profits and the advertising puffery that props it up. "It was evident," said Warren, " that any new truths which tended to break up the present suicidal and desolating habits of business must have a printing power of their own, or make their way into the world with all the mighty power of the press against them. This gave rise to the design of taking the printing power out of the exclusive control of merely mercenary managers, and making it as accessible as the use of speech or the pen."
He began his experiments in 1880 and succeeded in inventing an easily constructed press. The principle of the invention seemed to Warren so very simple that "there was no equitable ground for a patent, and it was given to the public." This press in 1832 was publicly exhibited in New York, and soon after the firm of Hoe & Co. was supplying the large offices with proof presses constructed on the same principle.
To purchase fonts of type was beyond his resources, so the inventor's next task was to devise a mode of casting them. But, owing to the fear engendered by his former innovations, he found it impossible to procure in Cincinnati a type mould at any price. Determined not to be balked by prejudice, he managed to gain admission to a type foundry and there saw the desired implements. He then took lessons in working steel, and soon made a type mould himself. To overcome the difficulty and expense of cutting a steel punch for every letter, he substituted the types for punches and warm lead for copper matrices, and by this means was able to cast type which, to judge from samples of printing done seventy years ago, now in the writer's possession, were a credit to the artificer. His next step "was to combine all the implements for printing in a single piece of household furniture to stand in the next room to the piano," which he also accomplished. His intention was "to domesticate stereotyping, and the arts required for printing drawings, pictorial illustrations, maps, music, etc." And to this work he devoted all the time not occupied with social experiments during the remainder of his life.
We have already noted the use to which he put his inventions during the cholera epidemic in Cincinnati, and his mode of getting out The Peaceful Revolutionist.
After the break-up of the experiment in Tuscarawas County, in 1837, the inventor moved to New Harmony where he resumed his labors on the printing press. He designed and built an entirely new kind of press, for a Democratic paper, The South-Western Sentinel of Evansville, Ind., established in support of Van Buren for the Presidency. The following description of this original mechanism is from an editorial which appeared on Feb. 28, 1840, in the first issue of this paper:
"The first number of The South-Western Sentinel is the first newspaper probably in the world which was ever printed on a continuous sheet. Our press or printing machinery is the invention of Mr. Josiah Warren of New Harmony. He has brought a series of experiments extending through nine years to a successful close, and this machine, which he calls his speed press, is one of the results.
"It receives the paper from a roll, prints it by means of a roller and winds it as it is printed on a second roll. It is worked by a man and a boy, or, at somewhat slower speed, by a man alone. It is supplied with self-inking apparatus by which the distribution of the ink is strictly under control. Its construction throughout is very simple. It has not a single geared wheel about it. It is chiefly composed of rollers, twenty-three in number, with several pulleys. Its form is elegant and its appearance substantial.
"The paper used . . . is cut into sheets after it is printed... Should the experiment which has succeeded admirably thus far, cause the introduction of Mr. Warren's printing machines throughout the Union, the printers' vocabulary will be somewhat changed. We order not so many reams, but so many yards, of paper which comes to us like cloth in rolls. "
But this invention was not destined to be utilized for printing newspapers until more than a quarter of a century later. And when it was adopted, and roller presses became general; Warren and his original invention were forgotten, and others reaped the rewards and got the credit of the ideas originating with the obscure and unambitious reformer.
Truly, the ways of the innovator, or the discoverer of truth, whether in science, sociology or mechanics, are not easy; his paths are not paths of peace. Warren's "speed press" was capable of throwing off sixty or more copies a minute, whereas the pressman who operated it had never seen a press print more than five or six copies a minute. Their instinct of self-preservation at once became aroused, and blind ignorance and pitiful prejudice were arrayed against the inventor. The trick of the workmen was to throw the press out of order at every opportunity. Warren lived at New Harmony, twenty-five miles from Evansville, and in those days it was not always a simple matter to make the journey. But no one except the inventor could set the press in order when it had been maliciously tampered with. On several occasions Warren was sent for, and came to set the mechanism going. The workmen tried to throw the blame of their trickery upon the imperfections of the press. The interests of the paper suffered by the troubles and delays that arose, while the inventor began to lose patience with his insidious foes. But there was no remedy. He could not remain always in the office of the paper to operate the press himself, so, after several months of conflict and experiences both mortifying and costly, he finally concluded to take the press away from Evansville, believing that the ignorance and selfishness of printers would not permit the introduction of his labor-saving invention. One day he arrived with several wagons at the office of the Sentinel, took the press apart, loaded it on his wagons, and returned with it to New Harmony where he, in disgust, proceeded to break it up. The stone press-bed is all that has survived, and that to-day still forms the front door-step of a house in New Harmony.
Typographical inventions again took up Warren's attention upon the close of the second Time store in 1844. His purpose was to extend his methods of stereotyping to all varieties of printing, illustration, and artistic reproduction. His improvements in this field he termed "Universal Typography." In the New Harmony Indiana Statesman for Oct. 4, 1845, appears an illustration which looks like a well-executed wood-cut, with the following explanatory note:
"We are indebted to Mr. Josiah Warren of this place for the above representation of the steamship 'Great Britain,' -- the mastodon of the age. The plate was executed by Mr. Warren's new stereotyping process, and, although not so perfect as it might be made, still it serves to show the usefulness and susceptibility of the invention."
In the Statesman of March 7, 1846, there appears a notice of the "Universal Typography," giving details of the various kinds of work of which it was capable. The plates were very durable and cheap, with a smooth, glossy surface so like stone that the inventor termed them "stone-type." He claimed that the facility with which illustrations could be got up, the rapidity of stereotyping and printing them, together with the durability of the plates, justified the expectation that they would ultimately supersede wood-cuts, steel-plate and copper-plate engraving and printing, and lithography. The process included color-printing, besides effects similar to halftones of the present day. He also invented a method of addressing wrappers and envelopes which saved ninety per cent of the labor required by the common mode.
While it is doubtful if Warren ever received an equivalent for his ingenuity, labor, and outlay upon these inventions, at which he worked during the larger part of his life, it is certain that his methods were utilized by others, and the world is accordingly the gainer by his improvements. The processes now in use for the finer class of stereotype work are based upon Warren's discoveries. He occupied the latter years of his life with studies and experiments conducted with a view to perfecting his inventions, and his final results, it is believed, were not made known to the world nor rendered available when death terminated his labors.
During one of Warren's visits to Boston in 1855, a gentleman named Keith, of some means and much earnestness, took up the reformer's ideas and started the Boston " House of Equity" in a seven-story building in the North End, which he stocked with merchandise and provisions, selling them on the Cost principle. During the first week the sales amounted to $1,000 a day. In connection with this enterprise Mr. Keith projected, in the fall of 1855, a course of twelve lectures on topics of current interest by popular speakers which proved to be very successful. The prices of admission were regulated, according to Equity, by the cost of the undertaking, to the general satisfaction of those who attended. In order to enlarge the scope of his work Mr. Keith hired a warehouse on Washington Street, and commenced to fit it up for the business of a general store on a large scale. The scheme included a bakery in the lower part, from which the public was to be supplied with wholesome bread at cost, and a printing establishment that would issue The People's Paper, then published by Mr. Keith, and other literature of the Equity movement. An educational department was to be one of the chief features. When this scheme was under way a calamity befell the whole enterprise from which it never recovered. The store, already in operation, was burnt down, entailing a loss of many thousand dollars. The fifty persons employed in the business were retained and paid full wages by the proprietor for a month after the fire, as it was expected the business would be resumed. But at this time Mr. Keith met with severe financial reverses in South America where he had investments. As a consequence of these unfortunate events his extensive plans had to be greatly modified and ultimately abandoned. Though the commercial part of this undertaking was never revived, its educational department was removed to Chapman Hall, in which Mr. Keith with the aid of a gentleman named Robinson continued the work. When Mr. Keith's store was closed, and Equity seemed to have subsided, the Boston Post in an editorial observed: "The Boston House of Equity has closed its operations, another evidence of the uncertainty of human schemes. There was, however, a principle in that store which, though but partially developed, a thousand failures could not affect." It is related by Warren that the next day after the store ceased to do business the price of coal in Boston was raised by the dealers two dollars a ton.
One of Mr. Keith's plans, which was carried out in part, was to buy and sell land according to the ideas of Equity. A tract of land was secured in Cliftondale, near Boston, and house lots to the number of four hundred were sold to home-seekers at prices not enhanced by any profit or speculative value beyond the first cost.
So popular had Equity become at this period as the trademark of honest and fair dealing that enterprising merchants, not only in Boston and the suburbs, but in several other cities, placed over their establishments such legends as "Equity Produce Market," "Equity Eating House," "Original Equity Store," and so forth. These proceedings, however, only added the needful spice of humor to the movement. Unscrupulous but alert dealers, without an idea of what Equity stood for, vied with one another for patronage by hoisting Equity colors.
In July, 1854, Warren, while living at Modern Times, began the publication of his "Periodical Letters," which were continued, though somewhat irregularly, until the end of 1858. He spent the winter of 1S55-56 in visiting his old friends in Ohio and Indiana and returned East in March, 1856, settling for a while in Boston, from which place he issued the " Letters" monthly to the close of tlle same year, when he again took up his abode in the Long Island village. He returned to Boston in 1860-61, and never again visited Modern Times. In 1868 he wrote a book containing his reflections upon the Civil War, which added little to what he had previously published.
Warren's ideas were represented in England in 1854 by the London Confederation of Rational Reformers, which carried on an active propaganda by means of tracts and public discussions. J. Bronterre O'Brien, the noted social reformer, became an advocate of the principles of Equitable Commerce. A. C. Cuddon, who paid a visit to Modern Times, was another London disciple, to whom Warren made over his patent rights for Great Britain in printing inventions to be used for the furtherance of the cause. At the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, in 1855, William Parr of Dublin, one of Warren's friends, before the Statistical Section, on Sept. 17, read a paper on Warren's philosophy, describing the Equitable village of Modern Times and giving a concise and sympathetic account of the movement.
The reformer's activity declined with advancing age. Several years were spent quietly at Cliftondale, near Boston, and in 1878 he went to reside with his friends, Mr. and Mrs. Heywood at Princeton, Mass. It was here he wrote and printed his last production, Part III of the "True Civilization" series, giving "Practical Applications" and "the facts and conclusions of forty-seven years' study and experiments in reform movements through Communism to and in Elementary Principles found in a direction exactly opposite to and away from Communism, but leading directly to all the harmonic results aimed at by Communism," comprised in forty-eight small pages. There was, however, less to be found in it than the above description, quoted from the title-page, would indicate.
At Princeton typography occupied part of the veteran's time, while his leisure was frequently beguiled by music. He sang and performed on the violin for the entertainment of his friends. The last months of his life were spent in Boston, at the house of his early friend, Edward H. Linton, where he was cared for in his last illness by kindly hands. Miss Kate Metcalf, one of the pioneers of Modern Times, nursed him till the end. He retained all his faculties, and his intellect was clear.
His interest in social reform remained unabated. In music he never ceased to take pleasure. He was attacked by dropsy, which rendered him unable to move about, but he could write in his usual clear hand till the last. Death he awaited with calm resignation and hailed as a much-desired relief. His time to rest had come. On April 14, 1874, at the age of seventy-six, surrounded by a little band of loving friends, he passed away.
Services were held in Bulfinch Place Church (Unitarian), and his body was interred in Mount Auburn Cemetery. Mr. Linton's house in which he died, was number 29 City Square, Charlestown, just a mile distant from Boston City Hall. The house was recently torn down to make room for the approach to the new bridge across the Charles River. In accordance with his wish, no headstone marks the spot where he lies. So has it often been: the world's best and noblest quietly act their part, pass off the stage untrumpeted, and their existence is soon forgotten. But the fruits of their good deeds abide, and their influence cannot perish.
Individuality is the keynote of Warren's philosophy. Everyone should be a law unto himself, but always exercising his liberty with due regard to the equal rights of others. This conception of personal freedom precludes the invasion of one person by another, or of one body of people by another, even a majority, albeit the invader designates itself Society, the Government. It engenders respect for others. It discards the idea of common property or any indefinite combination of interests that would limit or diminish individual liberty.
This doctrine was crystalized in the phrase, Sovereignty of the Individual, coined by Warren, and borrowed with due acknowledgment by John Stuart Mill in his famous essay on "Liberty." In his "Autobiography" (page 256), Mill speaks appreciatively of "a remarkable American, Mr. Warren," who "had formed a System of Society on the foundation of the 'Sovereignty of the Individual.'"
Herbert Spencer has made the same principle the apex of his synthetic philosophy. In "Principles of Ethics" (Part IV. -- Justice) he formulates it in the law of equal freedom. "Every man is free to do that which he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man." Whatever merit attaches to the discovery of this principle of human conduct as the basis of a clear conception of justice, it must be credited to Josiah Warren, who first saw its full significance, and demonstrated its practical applications. Indeed, it may be said that to this end he devoted, with admirable singleness of purpose, his whole life.
When mankind comes to recognize this great fundamental truth, the need of compulsory, coercive authority, as embodied in government, will pass away. "Under the plausible pretext," declared Warren, "of protecting person and property, governments have spread wholesale destruction, famine, and misery all over the earth where peace and security might otherwise have prevailed.... They have shed more blood, committed more murders, tortures, and crimes in struggles against each other for the privilege of governing than society would or could have suffered in the absence of all governments whatever." While the history of governments in the past affords warrant for this forcible condemnation, the events that have elapsed since Warren wrote amply confirm his unfavorable opinion.
"Governments invade the household," he wrote, "and in sheer wantonness presume to regulate the most sacred feelings of the individual." They make laws to which they require conformity where conformity is impossible, and while neither rulers nor ruled can tell how such laws will be interpreted or administered. Under these circumstances "neither security nor happiness can exist for the governed." While laws are subject to different interpretations according to the whims or interests of judges, lawyers, juries, and other functionaries charged with their execution, there can be no security for person or property. Hence no "form of language is a fit basis for human institutions." To possess the interpreting power of verbal institutions is to possess unlimited power. We must therefore begin anew. Instead of being subject to institutions based on language, which give unlimited power to others, we must build upon the unwritten, unspoken law within us, -- each being a law unto himself. "Everyone must feel that he is the supreme arbiter of his own [destiny], that no power on earth shall rise over him, that he is and always shall be sovereign of himself and all relating to his individuality. Then only shall all men realize security of person and property. "
In this fashion Warren formulated the ideal of modern Anarchism, -- "each being a law unto himself" without violating the like freedom of any other person. Neither Warren nor his disciples, however, have held that all men are at present developed to the degree that none will consciously invade another's rights or abridge his liberty. They declare rather that the ideal law should always be upheld as the guide and rule of social conduct; meanwhile admitting that voluntary organization will still be necessary to defend the individual against aggression or invasion by unsocial and criminal members of society. It is true that this protective function is now assumed by the State, but its police and punitive machinery has all the defects of antiquated institutions which have survived both in spirit and in fact from the distant past.
That the scales of justice are wont to fall on the side with the heaviest purse, that blind justice herself frequently miscarries, that crime often goes unpunished even when detected, are matters of common knowledge that need no demonstration. While not denying the necessity for restraining criminals and preventing aggression, it is easy to show that the State proves itself incompetent and uncertain in this its own prescriptive field. Indeed, if it have no better grounds to rest upon, it must be condemned as inadequate. Its function can be carried out with greater efficiency and certainty by a system of free association, a kind of protective insurance. Voluntary organization has accomplished even more delicate and difficult tasks in the social economy.
But if the arbitrary authority of government can be dispensed with, the numerous and ever-growing functions it has assumed, ostensibly for the good of the community, can equally well be taken away and the like kind of service be performed by voluntary agency. To destroy irresponsible authority, which thrives no less under democracy than under despotism, every support must be removed. According to Warren's ideas, all business now carried on by government activity should be free to be conducted by voluntary, non-compulsory, cooperative agencies, or by private enterprise. Only where responsibility can be quickly and certainly fixed do we obtain satisfactory results. All experience in public affairs, whether municipal or national, confirms this dictum. The complaints and criticisms of civic reformers invariably teem with illustrations.
To sum up on this point: There is no service undertaken by government that could not be more efficiently and more economically performed by associated or individual effort springing up naturally to meet the needs of society. Protection of person and property, the administration of justice, as already pointed out, education in its widest sense, sanitation, even territorial defense, could be accomplished, as we see to-day numberless difficult and socially necessary functions carried on without subordinating the citizens to arbitrary power.
In truth, it is the differentiation and specialization of activities, the non-invasive and voluntary division of social labor, which constitute progress and render possible true civilization. Such a disintegration of political power is possible, however, only when accompanied by certain economic changes intimately bound up with the question of the just reward of labor. The labor problem must be solved so that each may receive the full fruits of his industry.
Equity demands that all natural opportunities requisite to the production of wealth be accessible to all on equal terms. Monopolies arising from special privileges created by law will then disappear. The Cost principle rather than the necessities of the consumer will govern price. The laborer, by means of a medium of exchange representing labor or its products, will receive his just reward. It may be pointed out that there is a tendency all the time toward the practical realization of cost as the limit of price in so far as free competition is operative. Whenever competition prevails there is at once an approximation of price to cost. The regulator of price at the present time in transactions between business men is the Cost principle. It is this that tends to harmonize interests otherwise conflicting. It promotes co-operation and renders it advantageous for all industrial interests to reduce cost. In other words, while free competition will lead to the adoption of the Cost principle, the Cost principle itself will inevitably bring about co-operation and mutual aid. In this way, under freedom and equity would disappear the disastrous, because one-sided, competition which to-day we deplore. Under such conditions the more difficult, laborious, and repugnant the labor, the higher the price it would command. Abolish all law-made privileges and give competition free play and this, says Warren, will be precisely the result.
That Warren, the New England Puritan, was the progenitor of Philosophical Anarchism is strictly true, -- not only because he taught as a political doctrine the negation of all authority, but by reason of his personal influence upon some of those who to-day stand for this social principle. While Robert Owen has been called the father of Socialism as a moral doctrine, Josiah Warren may be described as the real founder of its economic teaching.
It was Adam Smith who said that the produce of labor constitutes the natural recompense or wages of labor. Ricardo, enlarging upon Smith's views, formulated the Time, or Labor, theory of value. Out of these teachings arose a doctrine common to all schools of Socialism: "Labor creates all wealth. Labor is therefore the true measure of price." Proudhon, the French Anarchist, and Marx, the German Revolutionary Socialist, agree in basing their economic systems upon this generalization. But Warren, before either, as early as 1827, recognized this principle, and upon it founded a scheme of social reform. Thus, in different ways, in different countries, and in different languages, Proudhon and Marx arrived at the same conclusion respecting labor and its product which Warren, unaided by familiarity with the economists, had already by practical experiments endeavored to demonstrate.
Value, according to Warren, meant use-value or utility, and ought not to be the regulator of price. The worth or value of an article to the user should never be permitted to determine what, in the language of political economy, is termed exchange value. Thus, a cup of water to a person dying of thirst, although it cost nothing, may be invaluable. A loaf of bread to a starving man, though it cost but five cents, may be beyond price. It is not, therefore, the worth or value of a commodity, not its scarcity, nor the necessities of the consumer, that forms the true basis of its price, but its cost to the producer, -- meaning by cost, all the sacrifices entailed in its production. To the question, What is equitable compensation? Warren answers: It is an equal amount of labor measured by its repugnance. In his system there was no confusion between exchange value and utility. Price, which is the monetary expression of exchange value, would be governed strictly by cost, -- would depend on the amount of labor or sacrifice involved. The things that cost no labor, though of great utility, such as natural opportunities in land, minerals, water, should therefore cease to be private monopolies and be freely accessible on equal terms to all. This view also, it should be noted, is common to Socialism of whatever school.
Warren's theories of value and the reward of labor were not at any time put forth as an explanation of existing economic phenomena, but rather as the principles which, in a perfectly free state of society, would govern economic relations. They were deductions from an ideal conception of justice. With this point borne in mind it will be seen that the Jevonian criticism of the Ricardo-Marx doctrine, held by later economists and many Socialists to be a complete demolition of the "Time theory" of value, leaves Warren's position unshaken. Nor is this all. Some of Ruskin's soundest and most durable work in economics is a confirmation and vindication of the essential doctrines taught by Warren. One of the results of Warren's practical co-operative experiments was to explode the time-worn fallacy of the economists that labor is dependent on capital, that wages are paid out of capital. Without gold or silver, without accumulated capital, he showed in very deed how labor could produce and exchange wealth on equitable terms. But it was Ruskin's unanswerable criticisms of orthodox political economy and not Warren's labors that finally compelled its expounders to abandon these long-cherished errors.
The student of Ruskin as an economist, who is familiar with Warren's views, cannot fail to be impressed with their unity of spirit as well as identity of principle. In his economic writings, particularly in "Munera Pulveris," Ruskin with matchless lucidity elaborates and illumines the problems of labor, value, money, and interest, on lines first laid down by Warren and by Proudhon. Not that Ruskin is at all times in harmony with the ideas of these thinkers, or that he conceived their doctrines in just the way they did; but in fundamentals, in his claims for justice to the laborer, in upholding the dignity of labor, and the necessity for all to work in a well-ordered state of society, in his fearless and convincing exposure of the weakness, folly, and injustice of our economic system, Ruskin stands shoulder to shoulder with the American "Peaceful Revolutionist" on the one side and the French Anarchist philosopher on the other.
The outcome of Warren's theory of value, of Cost the Limit of Price, was to place him squarely in line with the cardinal doctrine of all other schools of modern socialism. He believed that labor was robbed through rent, interest, and profit, and his aim, like that of the Socialists, was to prevent these modes of exploitation. He differed from them only as to the means to be adopted. Like Henry George and his disciples, he held it to be unjust that some should be permitted to monopolize natural resources, the raw material out of which labor creates wealth, to compel tribute under the guise of rent for the privilege of using land, or mines, or water, which are indispensable for man's support. But unlike the Single Taxers, Warren would not have the State become the one great monopolist exacting rent from the user. In applying his principles to land values, Warren's followers assert that use is the only just title to land. To-day the landlord is protected by the State in holding land which he does not and cannot use, except for speculative purposes. He can thus compel the payment of rent by him who is willing to use it. The principle of Equity in making occupancy and use the sole condition of possession at once abolishes monopoly, that is, the right to exclude others from opportunities which the monopolist cannot himself productively use. It accords with equal liberty and so renders substantial justice. While affording to all who desire it the opportunity to occupy and use all vacant or unutilized land, it secures to the present occupants, who are legitimately using their holdings, undisputed permanent possession.
Interest, says Warren, is due to the monopoly of the medium of exchange, which rests on laws and special privileges maintained for the benefit of the few, -- the bankers and capitalists. Money itself has no power of reproduction. It is fruitful only when used by labor in facilitating production and distribution. Interest is not the natural progeny of money but is paid in the long run out of the product of labor. It arises from the system of finance that creates an artificial scarcity of the medium of exchange. Under free competition, with all legal restrictions upon the issuing of money removed, interest would fall to the cost of carrying on the business of lending. It would not exceed the average cost of conducting a bank, which is now not over one-half of one per cent per annum.
Warren's contention is that the equitable measure of the lender's compensation is the cost of lending, -- the average amount of labor required in such transactions. Thus would he demonstrate that neither landlord nor usurer could enforce his claims upon industry unless upheld in his privileges by governmental authority.
Profit, when differentiated from rent, interest, and compensation of labor, is the excess of price above cost, and it will be gradually eliminated as competition becomes more universal and privilege disappears. Under such conditions the merchant and middleman must be satisfied with gains that will cover only the average cost of their labor and experience in conducting business. Monopoly as a source of profit will no longer be a tax upon industry, for in the absence of political authority monopoly will lose its power of extortion.
Money, as defined by Warren, is a document; it should be merely a representative of a definite quantity of property. This alone is the true function of a medium of exchange. A scientifically perfect currency ought to be capable of expanding and contracting in volume according to the demand for it. The restrictions which governments have at all times assumed the right to place upon the issuing and the use of money should never have been permitted. The producer will remain an industrial slave while enthralled by the capitalist and beholden to the money monopolist for the means of labor and exchange. Money based upon labor or its product will at one stroke make the laborer free and destroy the power of those who now live upon his unpaid toil.
Ruskin, following the same line of thought, defines money thus: "The currency of any country consists of every document acknowledging debt which is transferable in the country." (Munera Pulveris, Chap. III.) Warren's labor note is one of the simplest forms of currency. In its original form it is not designed for the needs of a complex commercial system, but the principle is sound and needs only to be adapted to the requirements of industry. This was done by Proudhon in France when he generalized the Bill of Exchange, and organized a "Bank of the People," to demonstrate the feasibility of a system of credit based upon labor. In America, Colonel W. B. Greene elaborated the same ideas into a plan of mutual banking, showing how the credit of individuals could be converted into a safe, effective, and sound currency. The theory of the Mutual Bank is the leading economic reform advocated by Warren's successors, the Philosophical Anarchists. It is the principle of free competition applied to the money problem. Its aim is to place the currency under the control of the producers by basing money, not upon metal, but upon property. The volume of money could then be adapted with precision to the demand for it, and interest would naturally fall to the cost of issuing and guaranteeing money instead of being fixed by an artificially maintained scarcity.
Where labor has free access to land and other raw material, it becomes in truth what Warren termed " Labor-capital," and under the comparatively primitive industrial conditions that prevailed in the Equity and similar co-operative communities, labor is not dependent on accumulated capital. But in the present complex stage of industrialism, the demand for labor depends largely upon the availability of capital for production. A system of free trade in capital such as Mutual Banking contemplates will affect labor and wages beneficially by throwing into productive channels capital which is not now available, owing to the money monopoly and consequent exorbitant rate of interest; the quickened enterprise and expanded production arising from an abundant currency and available capital will thus create a demand for labor that must raise wages to a point coincident with the value of its product. No longer protected by privilege, the capitalist will then be subject to competition, and the very agency which heretofore has condemned the laborer to accept a mere subsistence wage will in that case work equally well to protect him from exploitation by the capitalist.
Nor can any political scheme or legislative enactment so surely raise the wages of labor to its natural recompense, the product of labor, as the economic effect of a steady and increasing demand for labor due to free competition amongst the possessors of capital, which will be the inevitable result of free, accessible, and abundant money. In a radical scheme of economic and industrial reform which does not contemplate communism on the one hand, nor State-ownership of the means of production on the other, it becomes, therefore, the first step to overthrow the money monopoly and democratize the medium of exchange by basing it, not upon a single or a double metal, but upon all products of labor, and by this means capitalizing every form of wealth.
Although it appears to have been beyond Warren's sphere to work out the details of a comprehensive scheme of financial reform, yet he believed that in the solution of the money problem primarily lay the salvation of the laborer and the elimination of the idle rich and other non-productive classes.
Throughout the writings of Robert Owen, covering half a century, the diligent student will find that, despite the various theories and schemes of reform which he untiringly advocated, Owen at no time lost sight of the fundamental importance of a complete and far-reaching change in the existing monetary system. Proudhon not only saw the vital nature of money in the economic relations of society, but propounded a solution of the whole social question based upon a new system of money. Karl Marx was too much absorbed in working out his theory of surplus value to recognize the importance of a radical reform in the medium of exchange. In the economic field no less than in the political, Proudhon's teaching is substantially in accord with Warren's, but Marx differs from Warren, not in the application he made of the principle that labor is the true measure of price, but fundamentally in his failure to comprehend the idea of Individual Sovereignty, -- to see the importance of free competition and complete equal liberty as the primary conditions of economic freedom. In short, Warren and Proudhon are libertarians, while Marx and cognate schools of Socialists are authoritarians.
Notwithstanding the practical agreement of Ruskin with Warren and Proudhon in financial and economic principles, the force of his efforts is weakened by his inability to grasp the significance of the basic doctrine of individual liberty. Ruskin's views were paternalistic if not authoritarian; he leaned toward government as the agency for improving economic conditions rather than belief in the free individual voluntarily working out his social salvation independent of all external authority. Had Ruskin been able to grasp this principle it would have unified and given point to his work as a social reformer and would have placed him among the greatest of them all.
Warren was never a mere theorist. He grappled with the elemental problems of life, -- social, moral, and material. A true pioneer, he was fitted by inclination and experience to perform many things essential to the building up of a new settlement. He understood practically the clearing of forest land, the building of dwellings without costly materials, the laying out of streets, the starting of manufactures, and the multifarious details pertaining to the beginnings of a township. He was skilled in several trades, and was not only competent himself to teach the young, but, fifty years before the advent of the Trades School or the Manual Training system, Warren recognized the value of practical mechanical instruction as an indispensable part of the education of children. He believed that all young people should be prepared to become self-supporting citizens by being taught useful trades. He claimed nothing for boys in education that he did not accord to girls, and his efforts were always devoted toward equalizing industrial conditions for both sexes. He was one of the first to try to break down the apprenticeship system which made every useful art at once a mystery and a monopoly.
An expert musician, a successful teacher, many of his pupils earned distinction and themselves became teachers and leaders in their profession. His knowledge of printing extended to all its branches. In this field alone his inventions would have made the fortune of any man not so entirely devoid of pecuniary acquisitiveness. The purpose to which his life was devoted was not one that brings emolument, praise, or fame. Only the obscure and lowly were the object of his unceasing efforts.
Warren's work in political philosophy was to show that the glittering generalities of the American and French revolutions could be reduced to every-day practice. He carried to their ultimate conclusions the ideas of Jefferson and of Paine. With him the rights of man implied the responsibilities as well as the opportunities of man. If man be sovereign of himself, the forms of law and government must be subordinated and moulded so as to permit the complete realization of that conception.
Nothing militates more against social harmony than indefiniteness of obligation. The credit system, resulting from the law-created scarcity of the medium of exchange, and combined interests that crush out individuality, are equally foes of personal freedom. Hence Warren would deprive the State of all power to issue or control the money of the people; and he perceived inherent evil in every form of combination coercively maintained. It is not each other, but our intercourse with each other, that needs regulation. The most important part of the work of reform is that which should be left undone. The natural government of consequences, rather than legislative enactments, is the only authority to which mankind should conform.
Warren's first incentive to social reform came from Robert Owen. To Owen he was indebted for his views in regard to the effect of environment on character, though he did not accept Owen's fundamental doctrine that man is entirely the creature of circumstances. Compared with Owen, the father of the Equity movement lacked both the organizing and administrative capacity which the founder of New Harmony possessed in a preëminent degree. Neither of these reformers enjoyed literary gifts such as would enable him to make his mark as a writer. Both put their views to the test of actual experience before giving their results to the world. Owen was an indefatigable public speaker, and to say that he was a voluminous writer is to describe his efforts too mildly. Once fairly launched as a public agitator, he wrote incessantly for over forty years. Warren rarely spoke in public, wrote little, and published less. His writings on social reform, if collected, would scarcely fill one good-sized volume.
Owen made his influence felt and his ideas known throughout the world. Kings, nobles, and statesmen were eager students of his theories. At the outset he impressed the rulers of the earth, but he failed to gain the confidence of the laboring classes. His fame was world-wide. -- first, as the greatest philanthropist and most practical reformer of the age; finally, as the wildest visionary and most dangerous revolutionist upon the earth. Warren throughout his life remained obscure. He studiously avoided publicity and believed that his principles would in the long run be accepted on their merits, regardless of his own part in their discovery or propagation. Emperors never sought his advice, nor were prime ministers his disciples. It was not Warren, the American, but Owen, the British Socialist, that President, Cabinet, and Congress assembled to hear deliver from the Speaker's chair in the Capitol six consecutive lectures upon his favorite theories. In his efforts during many years of activity as a reformer, Owen worked from the top downward, thereby hoping in time to reach the lower strata of society. Warren's mission was not to the rich or powerful. His energies were directed to showing, mainly by example, how the toiling masses might themselves work out their economic independence.
Owen to the last believed that the work of reform, of the alleviation of suffering due to economic maladjustments, was the business of governments. His chief hope for improvement lay in the direction of beneficent authority. Warren on the other hand looked upon governments as enemies to all permanent social progress. Only from individuals can come the impetus to reform. Statute laws are at best hindrances, and must be swept away, not by violence, but by the slowly evolved sense of--Justice and equity which will eventually undermine all surviving forms of authority.
Some of Owen's best thoughts, where not already reduced to general practice, are still embodied in Socialistic demands. While the world must ever remain indebted to him as an indefatigable humanist, his paternalistic theories belong to the past and have only transitional value. Warren's ideals concerning free individuality and equity are admitted by progressive reformers to be essentials of a higher state of civilization, demanding a prominent place in the social philosophy of the future.
(This letter from Josiah Warren to a friend, besides revealing something of the man and his mode of thought within a year of his death, has an interest as the last published writing of the reformer.)
I am tired of words, especially on new subjects, where one word requires half a dozen to explain it, and a dozen more to explain the explanations; and I will try here to speak so plainly that no future explanations will be necessary: for I feel that I can do so consistently with our mutual understanding of the great peace-making fact that freedom to differ is the key-note to social harmony; and I add that if this key-note is kept sufficiently prominent no discords that can be introduced, can entirely destroy the symmetry of the composition.
A man who had seen a good deal of the practical operations of the new principles, said: "There! you are all right, now what you want is a race that can't talk."
I am satisfied that the largest portion of our disturbances grow out of the ambiguity of our language: For instance, you speak of my "exceeding sensitiveness to criticism." I don't know whether you intend this as a compliment or otherwise; but however intended, I at once admit its entire truth. Having spent a long life in trying to find the roots of human miseries, and believing that I have succeeded, I freely admit that I am very sensitive to the manner in which the results of a long life's labor are received and treated by the public -- not so much for my own, as for their sake.
I have said repeatedly that wholesale denunciation of ordinary business men as "thieves and robbers" because they live on profits, is, first of all, untrue: because these words, according to prevailing usage, apply only to those who know and profess themselves to be thieves or robbers.
It is also untrue in another respect. Men may live on the profits of their business and yet not get a tenth part of an Equitable compensation for their time and trouble. It is also philosophically wrong to punish people for being what their birth, training and surroundings make them. And this hostile attitude toward them is unnecessarily offensive and insulting, and tends to repel many of the best of men, and to array them against us: when, if we could get their attention long enough to be understood, they might gladly assist in the saving revolution required. Therefore, these wild denunciations are unjust, suicidal, " absurd and ridiculous."
It is absurd to "demand the entire abolition of profits" unless you explain your "idea" of what constitutes profits. If you mean the gains over and above compensation for services (and I cannot think you really mean anything else), you place yourself in a dilemma: because (where common money is taken for service) you never can tell how much of it constitutes an Equitable compensation: -- there is no yardstick, no common understanding to measure by; and you expose yourself and the holy cause of Labor to ridicule by any such announcements.
One of your resolutions says that, "It is an especial object of this League to concentrate attention upon the fact that property not founded on a labor title is robbery. "
This is "ridiculous." A piece of land set apart for each person who desires it, is, I think, the first step in Civilization; and the undisturbed and exclusive control of it is as necessary to Security of Condition as the land itself. This exclusive use and control, the lawyers call "acts of ownership"; and thus the land becomes owned, is property; but it is not founded on a labor title, nor is it robbery; and your direct and persistent war on the ownership of land, in the most excusable view of it, looks to me more like insane fanaticism than anything else. This may look severe, but as I have ascertained by repeated trials that you are not "sensitive to criticism" on this point, nor particularly tender in your published remarks on other people, I make no apology.
If anything could be more damaging than this to Labor Reform, I think it is your proposition to "restore all existing wealth to its proper owners"! This, coming from an Anti-war-under-any-circumstances-man, defies all rational criticism. If this is reform, I refuse to be classed as a Reformer; indeed, I have for many years objected to being so classed, because my convictions are so different from what are commonly called reforms. Nor do I consent to being considered as belonging to any particular class or party: I am simply an INDIVIDUAL, and prefer to be free to approve or disapprove, as measures are presented.
You say you "read my 'Few Words to the Pioneers' with indignation." Others have read them with admiration. Here again we meet the defects of abstract language: we can find none that is not subject (without the greatest care) to different interpretations by different minds. You interpreted my " Ogre" to mean Freedom itself, while I intended to personify the headlong, undiscriminating, irresponsible lewdness that sometimes pursues its own ends without regard to consequences, and which the vulgarity of "Mrs. Grundy" and her mercenary press immediately impute to anyone who makes the least effort to mitigate the tyrannies and horrors growing out of the aggressive Marriage Institutions. My "Ogre," then, is not Freedom, but the enemy of the freedom of speech and of experiment, and consequently the enemy of knowledge.
I feel mortified that, having done my best to paint a landscape, I am obliged to label it, This is a Landscape.
In the holy word Freedom we encounter the anxious world's greatest problem, one which waits for solution in a definition acceptable to all; but the defects of abstract language have baffled all attempts to furnish one. Almost with fear and trembling I ventured years ago to offer one, on condition that I should preserve my freedom to change it whenever "increasing knowledge" should show its defects; and I gave the "SOVEREIGNTY OF EVERY INDIVIDUAL over his or her Person, Time, Property, and Responsibilities"; and I here add, Reputation.
It seems to me that consistent regard to this Justice would secure exemption from the unnecessary interference with, or unwelcome disturbance of, those who sacredly regard this right in others; but that the wanton disregard of it places the invader under the discretion and at the mercy of the invaded and subjects his own Sovereignty to violation in being resisted and driven back.3
In this very article that you read " with indignation" I complimented all the "forlorn hopes" as highly as I knew how, for their noble self-sacrificing devotedness in battling against the hideous Grundy "Ogre" that has so long made social life a prolonged Nightmare by its crude, impertinent meddling in private affairs, where no one's rights of person, property or reputation have been invaded and where no interference is welcome.
You charge me with "evasion," and the "persistent neglect of the social question" -- the subject of Marriage; and imply that I "have much to learn" on that subject. In the first place, it is myself -- not you, nor anyone else -- that is to select the subject that shall employ my time and absorb my energies; but I was studying that subject at the age of sixteen, at least ten years before you were born. It was evident that there was something frightfully wrong somewhere; but what it was I did not see. However, about twelve years ago I came to some conclusions that relieved my anxieties, and that have, ever since, remained undisturbed.
One of these conclusions is, that with the sudden and total abolition of all marriage customs and habits, without replacing, them with some definite, regulating, preserving thought and arrangement, our social condition would be worse, if possible, than it is now.
As I have before intimated, I believe it possible to avoid the oppressions of aggressive institutions on the one hand, and the disastrous effects of inexperience on the other. But I will not attempt to state the mode in a few hasty abstractions that must of necessity be more or less imperfect, to be flippantly pooh-poohed at and set aside on the first glance at its extreme simplicity, nor will I put it into print at all, to fall into the dirty hands of the "Ogre"; but as opportunities offer, I submit the thoughts in my own time and way to careful, cultured, patient enquirers, for their criticisms, and acceptance or rejection. But while I honor the generous sympathies that inspire the widespread and earnest protests against the enslavement of Women, Men and Children under the prevailing aggressive institutions, I take no very active part in demolition, as that work is already being done faster than remedies follow.
Princeton, Mass., July, 1873.
1These lectures, published in book form my still be obtained from Benjamin R. Tucker, the Editor of "Liberty," New York.
2A condensed version of this visit and a short but inaccurate account of Warren's career appear in Moncure D. Conway's "Autobography," Boston, 1904 (Vol. 1. pp. 264, 268).
3He reserves the right to resist, by force if necessary, aggression and invasion. His conceptions corresponds with Herbert Spencer's definition, "Every man is free to do what he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man."