A Free Lover's Creed

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In the March number of this Magazine the editor promises that in the next issue “Moses Harman, editor of ‘Lucifer,’ will give his Free Love creed, as it were—set forth fully what he believes and advocates on the marriage question.”

As fully as possible in the space allowed, I will try to make good this promise.

My creed is short. Instead of “Thirty-nine” articles, it has but three:

I believe in Freedom—the negation of all slaveries.

I believe in Love—the negation of all hate.

I believe in Wisdom, Knowledge utilized—the negation of all ignorance.

I put Freedom first, because, until freedom prepares the way, neither Love nor Wisdom can have room to live and grow.

In these three—Freedom, Love, Wisdom—we have a creed much better adapted to working out the problems of life than is the trinity of our childhood—”Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”

If belief in this trinity, and if a life regulated in accord therewith, constitute one a “Free Lover,” then I do not object to the cognomen. Whether Free Lover is a title of honor or dishonor will depend upon what is in the mind of the speaker. “As a man thinketh in his heart so is he.” Names count for but little, and are apt to be misleading. For this reason I do not label or tag myself, and I object to being tagged by others. Freethinker, Rationalist, Libertarian, are good and expressive, but each has its limitations in the minds of most people. Free Thought, to my mind, includes and necessitates free action—free, non-invasive action. The thought that has not the courage of its convictions—that fears to practicalize and live what it believes to be right—is not Free Thought. It is thought under bondage to fear.

Yes, I believe in Freedom—equal freedom. I want no freedom for myself that all others may not equally enjoy. Freedom that is not equal is not freedom. It is, or may easily become, invasion, and invasion is the denial or the death of freedom. The Spencerian formula: “Each has the right to do as he pleases, so long as he does not invade the equal right of others,” tells what freedom means. It is equivalent to saying that liberty, wedded to responsibility for one’s acts, is the true and only basis of good conduct, or of morality.

But to particularize:

I believe in Freedom to choose and to refuse in matters of food, of drink, of clothing, of books, of paintings, of amusements, or recreations, and—most important of all—I believe in freedom to choose and refuse in matters pertaining to companionships with the other sex. Freedom to choose our food and drink relates mainly to the life of the individual, but the choice of sex-companionship relates mainly to the life of the race, and is therefore incomparably the more important, inasmuch as the whole includes all the component units. The main effort of nature, in the plant and the animal, is to “keep the ball of life rolling”—to preserve the race or species from dying out, with less regard as to what becomes of individual units. Hence amative desire, or sex-love, is more imperious—less under control of calculating prudence, than is any other inherited desire or passion—and rightly so.

Freedom of choice—to be freedom—must be unlimited as to time. To be able to choose the kind or quality of one’s food or drink but once in a lifetime would not be freedom. It would be the negation, the suicide of freedom. And so also in sex-companionships.

The right to make mistakes and to profit by them is vitally necessary to human happiness and progress, and pre-eminently is this true in the most important of all human relationships—that which grows out of the differentiation called sex, since this relationship concerns not only the happiness, the unfoldment, of each individual, but—for weal or foe, for success or failure, for uplifting or for degeneracy, it is this relationship that reproduces the race—the larger selfhood.

I believe in Love; because love is the uniting, the combining, the organizing, the creative force of the universe. It is also the refining, the purifying, the uplifting, the glorifying, the happifying force of the universe. Whoever or whatever debases or kills love, debases or kills life; for life is evolved and preserved through love. Without love life is a desert—not worth having.

I believe in Wisdom—knowledge utilized—because without wisdom to guide, both freedom and love may fail to bring lasting happiness. I believe in wisdom; it is the result of the exercise of love in freedom—love profiting by its mistakes; hence wisdom is the child of love in freedom.

It is because I believe in this trinity that I do not believe in marriage. These three are humanity’s saviors and marriage crucifies them all. Marriage destroys freedom and compels slavery. Marriage kills love and incarnates hate. Marriage is the inveterate foe of wisdom and incarnates ignorance.

“Free Love” is tautological, since there can be no love where freedom is not. If love survives marriage it is not because of, but in spite of, marriage. Bond love is a misnomer, an impossibility. ‘

The attempt to bind love kills it, or changes it to jealousy and hate. Love, freedom, wisdom, constitute life’s zenith, its sunshine; marriage, jealousy, hate, mean life’s nadir, its darkness.

“Ignorance is the only darkness,” says Shakspeare, and marriage promotes and compels ignorance, lest its victims learn how to gain their freedom.

I accept and heartily indorse Mr. Green’s motto for the proposed new Free Thought organization, “Truth, Justice and Purity,” and because I indorse that noble trinity I am an opponent of marriage and an advocate of love in freedom.

I oppose marriage because marriage opposes truth. Marriage is the hot-bed, the prolific breeding ground of deception, hypocrisy, falsehood. By its anti-natural requirements it compels men, and especially women, to dissemble and hide their real thoughts, their real characters, and after the fateful knot is tied the necessity for living a lie is often augmented manyfold. Whether they love or not, the married pair must still profess that they are true to each other and to their marriage vows; and this perpetual profession helps, of itself, to bring the disillusioning. But the disillusioning does not release from the necessity of deception, but rather increases it. The retroactive effect of this habitual deception is fatal to health and to noble development of the wedded pair themselves, and by inexorable causation the children born of such unions are hereditary liars and hypocrites.

What wonder that there is so little of candor, of truth and of honesty in business, in politics, in religion, in love, and in all the relations of life?

I oppose marriage because it opposes justice. Marriage is unjust to woman—depriving her of her right of ownership and control of her person, of her children, her name, her time and her labor. Marriage is unjust to children—depriving them of their right to be born well through natural selection; depriving them of the right to be born of love—of love on all three planes, the physical, the intellectual and the psychic; and compelling them to be born of indifference or of disgust, on one or more of these planes; depriving them, of their right to be reared in an atmosphere of concord and love, instead of an atmosphere of inharmony and hate. Unjust to woman and man alike, in that it deprives both of their natural right to correct their mistakes whenever they recognize them to be such; condemning them to a hell on earth until one or the other, in sheer desperation, shall commit what the marriage law calls a crime sufficiently heinous to release them—after passing through the added hell of the divorce court.

What wonder that the world is filled with hate, with greed, with strife, with wars—of households and of nations—when we remember how and where human beings are made, and reared?

I oppose marriage because it opposes Purity. Purity in sex-companionship is inseparable from love. Marriage does not recognize love as essential to purity, else it would demand the annulment of the marriage bond whenever there is a failure of love. Marriage unites “for better or worse,” and marriage secures the worse by killing love. Marriage is ownership, especially the ownership of woman by man; marriage is “force, authority, law, and love instinctively rebels against all force, all law, except its own.

Hence marriage fosters and compels impurity, prostitution, within its own pale—the worst of all prostitutions, since it is in marriage, mainly, that children are born. Marriage promotes impurity—prostitution—outside its own pale. Marriage is the prolific source of unmarried prostitution. The brothel is the legitimate outgrowth and complement of modern marriage.

I oppose marriage for much the same reason that I opposed its twin relic of barbarism, African slavery—because I believe it to be the “sum of all villainies,” and I say of the laws made to enforce it, as Garrison said of the Constitution of the United States—they are a “covenant with death and a league with hell,” figuratively speaking.

Many other indictments, equally damning might be made against this time-dishonored institution, but I have room only to say that I oppose marriage because I regard it the heaviest load that humanity has now to carry in its toilsome march from the lowlands of barbarism to the highlands of true civilization.

It will doubtless be objected that evolution has been at work, and marriage is now only a “contract,” to those who wish to make it such. Never was a greater mistake. The law dictionaries and the encyclopedias tell quite a different story. They tell us that “its complete isolation from all other contracts is constantly recognized by the courts.” “In marriage every right and duty is fixed by law.” And the law of marriage is based on the old Roman and the Canon law, both of which put the wife in the power of the husband—sink her individuality in that of the husband.

That marriage is less brutal than it once was is because man has risen faster than his institutions, and in spite of his institutions. Hence most husbands are better than the marriage laws authorize or allow them to be. But the same may be said of the old slave owners.

As Burke said of government, so we may say of marriage: “Talk not of its abuse; the thing, the thing itself, is the abuse.” To abolish the abuses of marriage, then, is to abolish marriage.

“But what will you give us instead of marriage?” it will doubtless be asked. This is like asking what will you give us when you take away disease or superstition. The answer is, when disease is gone, health will remain; when superstition is gone, nature and reason will remain; when marriage is gone, Truth, Justice and Purity will remain. Honor, candor, honesty, fidelity will remain. Fewer children will be born, because none will be born except such as are wanted, and they will be welcomed and cared for by mutual affection. The true, rational family will take the place of the narrowly selfish despotism now called by that name. Each member of the voluntary groups will drop to his place like stones in an arch when artificial props are removed. Government by authority will cease, because no longer needed.

Love, friendship, liberty, equality, fraternity, peace and happiness will take the place of hate, despotism, war and misery.

As to monogamy—a very different thing from marriage—under the reign of love, freedom and wisdom, there will be an opportunity for intelligent comparison, and if monogamy proves itself the fittest it will survive; otherwise it will give way to something better. What that something would or could be cannot be told until a fair comparison is possible.

The readers of the Magazine who may care to know what ground Lucifer’s editor takes on the relation of the late tragedy at Boston to the marriage question will be supplied gratis with copies of that paper by writing to 1394 West Congress street, Chicago.

Source: The Freethought Magazine, XV (1897), 145-150


AFTER we published our editorial on the Putnam-Collins tragedy in the January Magazine complaints came to us from a number of quarters that we had misrepresented the Free Love doctrine, and Moses Harm n requested that he might have a hearing on the subject through the pages of this Magazine. Knowing Mr. Harman to be the editor and publisher of “Lucifer,” the organ of the Free Lovers in this country, and one of the ablest disciples of Freeloveism, and withal an honest, conscientious man, who has the courage to put his Free Love theories to practice in his own family, we decided it would be but justice to the Free Lovers, seeing that we had criticised their opinions, to allow Mr. Harman, as their representative, to give their version of what Free Love is in our pages. Besides, we hold, as a cardinal doctrine, that no class of believers should be condemned until they themselves have a fair opportunity to present their doctrines from their own standpoint, and by their ablest representative. This is the theory of true Liberalism in contradistinction to Orthodoxy. We care not how odious an opinion may seem to be at first sight, its advocates should be granted a fair, honorable hearing before they are condemned for advocating them.

Mr. Harman’s article, under the title “A Free Lover’s Creed,” appears on another page of this number of the Magazine, and we request each of our readers to peruse it carefully, as it is probably the very best that can be said in behalf of the Free Love theory.

We promised Mr. Harman that we would reply to his article in the same number of the Magazine in which it appeared, but since reading it we hardly think any reply is necessary. As Brother Moore, of the Blue Grass Blade, often says, it seems ‘most impossible to get a Free Lover to set forth plainly what his views are on the marriage question. We notice that Brother Harman has that defect, but after all, we think the intelligent readers of the Magazine can pretty plainly see through his eloquently presented sophisms and get to Mr. Harman’s real opinions, that seem to be about this: That there should be no marriage laws whatever, that men and women should be allowed to cohabit together, miscellaneously, as their judgment, feelings and inclinations may dictate. That men should be at liberty at any time to choose who shall be the mother of their children, and that women should freely choose the father of the children they desire to have. That there should be no restraint whatever as to parentage in the business of rearing children. After you go down through Brother Harman’s panegyrics on Liberty and Fraternity and his denunciations of marriage Slavery, we are sure you will perceive his ideas as to marriage are about what we have above indicated. Of course Brother Harman, knowing that he was writing his article for a publication read by people who take no stock in his Free Love views, has dressed them up in as attractive a garb as possible. But when he writes for his own journal, “Lucifer,” he is not so careful. In his issue of February 24th on the 2d page, one “Carrie L— of Oregon” asks for a little information as to the meaning of something stated in “Motherhood of Freedom,” a book recently written and published by Mr. Harman. To this inquiry Mr. Harman replies editorially:

“The idea elucidated in ‘Motherhood in Freedom’ is that a woman should be free to choose the best conditions available when she wishes to become a mother. This includes her right to choose a man other than her husband, if she considers that other man better fitted mentally and physically for fatherhood.

“Such choice is necessarily conditional on the willingness of the man she prefers. For instance, a woman may live with and love a man who is consumptive or scrofulous, and thereby unfitted for fatherhood. She may be physically able to bear, and both may intensely desire a child. Now, conventional morality would say that she must bear a child by her husband or remain childless as long as he shall live.”

It will be noticed that Brother Harman is a little more specific here than in his article. As the saying is, he “lets the cat out of the bag” in writing to Sister Carrie. Let us look at this theory for a moment. Brother Harman, of course, holds to equal rights for both men and women. Therefore, if a man’s wife is physically broken down on account of bearing and raising children and possibly taking in washing or doing other labor in support of a lazy husband, and he decides that he needs another child, he shall be permitted to call on one of the neighboring women who is in good health, without consulting her husband or any, one else, to mother his child. On the other hand a husband, by exposure to the inclemency of the weather, in his legitimate occupation, has caught a severe cold that settles on his lungs, which results in consumption, and thereafter his wife concludes that it is best to increase the number of her offspring, and in this matter, to guard against her husband’s consumptive germs, she calls upon her neighbor Brown, requesting him to officiate. When the inhabitants of a whole neighborhood, or of a whole State, practice that kind of “moral philosophy,” what kind of civilization will we have? We will admit it would do away with the kind of prostitution that now infests our large towns and cities, in the same manner it would destroy our rum shops to allow everybody to sell liquor without a license or permit.

As Mr. Harman has stated his views of marriage, we will close this article by presenting our views.

We hold that marriage is the most important and the most sacred contract that human beings can enter into—that it is the most sacred, not because of the Adam and Eve myth story in the mythical garden of Eden, but because it is founded upon the everlasting laws of nature, and has been proved by experience to have produced the greatest amount of happiness of any institution of the world.

We so highly prize this institution that in place of destroying it, as Brother Harman and his Free Love friends are trying to do, we would have the government protect and guard it and improve it in every possible way by legislation and otherwise.

We believe that in all our schools there should be teachers well qualified to teach the students those things that would prepare them for good husbands and good wives, good fathers and good mothers. That, in fact, everything should be done that is possible to do to fit young people for this most important institution.

Young people should be taught to look upon marriage as a life-long institution and to bend all their energies after marriage to make their companion prosperous, joyful, happy and contented. In other words, as before stated, in place of trying to destroy the marriage institution we should do all in our power to improve it.

The above are our ideas of marriage, not clothed in such beautiful and persuasive language as are Brother Harman’s views, but we are willing to submit them, side by side with those of our Free Love friend, and ask the reader to decide which, in his or her opinion, when put to practice, will produce the most complete civilization, and be productive of the greatest happiness?

SOURCE: The Free Thought Magazine. April, 1897. 145-150.

NIGHT in a prison cell! A chair, a bed, a small washstand, four blank walls, ghastly in the dim light from the corridor without, a narrow window, barred and sunken in the stone, a grated door! Beyond its hideous iron latticework, within the ghastly walls,—a man! An old man, gray-haired and wrinkled, lame and suffering. There he sits, in his great loneliness, shut in from all the earth. There he walks, to and fro, within his measured space, apart from all he loves! There, for every night in five long years to come, he will walk alone, while the white age-flakes drop upon his head, while the last years of the winter of life gather and pass, and his body draws near the ashes. Every night, for five long years to come, he will sit alone, this chattel slave, whose hard toil is taken by the State,—and without recompense save that the Southern planter gave his negroes,—every night he will sit there so within those four white walls. Every night, for five long years to come, a suffering woman will lie upon her bed, longing, longing for the end of those three thousand days; longing for the kind face, the patient hand, that in so many years had never failed her. Every night, for five long years to come, the proud spirit must rebel, the loving heart must bleed, the broken home must lie desecrated. As I am speaking now, as you are listening, there within the cell of that accursed penitentiary whose stones have soaked up the sufferings of so many victims, murdered, as truly as any outside their walls, by that slow rot which eats away existence inch-meal,—as I am speaking now, as you are listening, there sits Moses Harmon!—Voltairine de Cleyre, “Sex Slavery.”

[Moses Harman was famous—or infamous—as the editor of Lucifer the Light-Bearer, as a libertarian crusader for women’s rights, free love and freedom of speech. He was arrested and jailed for sending “obscene” materials through the mail, and his imprisonment inspired one of Voltairine de Cleyre’s most impassioned addresses. The “Free Lover’s Creed” is a basic statement of the beliefs of this important figure from the history of anarchism.]

  • Moses Harman, “A Free Lover’s Creed,” The Free Thought Magazine 15, no. 4 (April 1897): 145-150.