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Joshua King Ingalls

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The American Socialist, May 24, 1877, 163.

New York, May 4, 1877.

EDITOR AMERICAN SOCIALIST:—Your intimation that the readers of your journal could bear a stronger light on what was deemed a dissolution of the N. Y. Liberal Club, induces me, who have been a member almost from the foundation of the Club, to offer a few words. However correct your previous correspondents may have been in particulars, the general truth of the question cannot be communicated in any such flippant manner.

The Club was organized some seven or eight years ago, by an effort at union among the various shades of Liberalism; represented by well-known persons from one sect of the Positivist school, by others from the ranks of Spiritualism, Free Religion, Free Thinkers, and the skeptical world generally. The progressive Hebrew was represented here as well as the ultra liberal Christian.

While friendly toleration prevailed, it answered well the purposes of a Lyceum, and many able papers have been read there, on almost every subject of science, art, literature, etc., including ethics, politics and economics. Not as much can be said for the discussions which generally followed the reading of such papers. In these, each section generally mounted its hobby, and rode it, gloriously oblivious to its relation to the subject presented, and of the points made by other parties, unless there was an opportunity for personal or sectional hits. On the whole, however, the Club has done good service in “the agitation of thought,” and would have continued useful, but for the development of personal antipathies. These were mixed to a certain extent with sectional, perhaps I should say, sectarian strife. Veil it as we may, the genuine bigot is as often found among unbelievers as believers, and the disciple of the development theory, or of the no-soul or no-God hypothesis, is often as impatient of contradiction, and intolerant of “invasive thought,” as any Catholic or Calvinist.

Allowing much for the desire for orderly methods of investigation, which doubtless actuates the section of Positivists, to which I have referred, there is still manifest a tendency to methodological despotism, not only incompatible with the desultory debates that often enlivened, if they did not enlighten, the audiences; but which would seek, by intellectual “bull-dozing,” to discourage all reflection not consisting of induction from positive knowledge.

As the names of Prof. Wilcox and T. B. Wakeman have been mentioned, I trust I shall be guilty of no discourtesy in alluding to them. The former, though chivalric, is somewhat of a martinet in parliamentary discipline, and proved quite a “thorn in the side” of Ormsby. He also disgusted Mr. Wakeman, the leading mind of the dissenting Positivist school, and who care nothing of parliamentary law, but only for the “three stages” and the “relativity of all knowledge,” and knows no rights but only duties. The explosion proceeded from these conditions; the caucus which nominated Mr. Sterne, and the question of moving or not moving to a new hall only being the occasion of the rupture. To blame one party or another seems to me unreasonable. It is a pity they could not have gone on together; but as they could not, let them do the next best thing, pursue their separate courses without rancor.

With the exception of the Positivists to whom I have referred, there is no real partisan significance in the disruption. The extreme free-thinkers are about equally divided between the new and the old Club. Liberal Religionists and Spiritualists go with each division, and but that their meetings are held on the same evenings, large numbers would attend both meetings; which, indeed, are well and respectably attended. The friends of free thought need not be alarmed, nor its enemies be elated with the idea that Liberalism will die because the Club has become divided.