Debates on usury

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Debate in The Index, 1873.

This set of exchanges, from The Index, the organ of the Free Religious Association, mark a very early stage in the career of Benjamin Ricketson Tucker (1854-1939). This year-long set of exchanges began before Tucker's 19th birthday. Hard as it is to imagine, there really was a time when Tucker was "comparatively unaccustomed to controversy," and when his grasp of the anarchist ideas of Warren, Greene, Heywood and others had not yet gelled into the "plumb-line." Readers of the early issues of Tucker's Liberty may have been struck by the attention given to the Free Religionists in those pages, but we can see in these letters the mutual respect which tied him to Francis Abbot, later a contributor to The Radical Review, and fed his interest, and ultimately his disappointment, in the development of "free religion." It is likely that these selections do not show off The Index in its best light. Like the attempts to radicalize religion in the 1840s, or the "Christian atheism" of the 20th century, "free religion" suffered from the almost necessarily paradoxical nature of its mission. Not content to be merely a radicalization of Christianity, but not quite content to simply be a form of atheistic freethought, it was something of an "odd package." But it was also the heir of some important elements of the antebellum radical movements, and the continued involvement of individuals such as John Weiss, O. B. Frothingham, and Ednah Dow Cheney lent some degree of real seriousness to the enterprise. Abbot, for all his conventional beliefs about interest and profit, was a committed reformer, and some of the venom in Liberty for the free religionists comes from Tucker's sense that his successors had not been worthy of the mantle of these earlier figures. Notice that several of the other critics of usury and capitalism in this exchange are future Liberty contributors, or New England Labor Reform League members. Josiah Warren and Charles T. Fowler are easy to identify. "E. Walker" is almost certainly Edwin C. Walker, who is known to have contributed to later volumes of The Index.