Reminiscences of an octogenarian in the fields of industrial and social reform/05

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Joshua King Ingalls

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Of my studies in Theology and labors as a preacher, I have little to say; since they are hardly in a line with the social, industrial and economic investigations which have engrossed my more mature thoughts. I had spent a pleasant winter in Cape Cod in the beginning of 1840. Speaking at Hyannis, Yarmouthport, and Harwich, and afterwards visiting Southold, to which place I was called, and remained for three years. In 1841 I held a three days discussion, with Rev. Joseph Henson of the M. E. Church, and which reflected little credit on either of us, as it consisted mainly of quotations of opposing texts of Scripture, with more or less ingenious interpretations of obscure and conflicting passages. But, as I often think of it now, the Bible was vindicated from the charge of teaching unending punishment, in a future state of existence. It was in this year, that I was first able to get a public discussion of the usury question. Had often proposed it, in debating societies in Rhode Island, but only to be laughed at. Our society at Southold, entertained it only on condition, that it should be so worded, as to make me sustain the affirmative. In the discussion which followed, I had no assistance, but was allowed a number of opportunities to reply to the arguments on the other side. At that time, I had little knowledge of political economy, except what I had occasionally seen perverted in the political press: and Adam Smith, and his "Wealth of Nations," was wholly unknown to me, except in name. Nevertheless, I laid down as fundamental, that all wealth was the product of labor: that money nor capital of any kind had power of multiplying themselves, except by exploiting the fruits of labor that labor produced wealth increased only arithmetically; while interest increased geometrically, [23] and involved the absorption of all the wealth loaned, in every ten years: which vas about the period of recurrence of our great financial, and industrial crises. In the debate were two teachers from the Academy, two doctors, a lawyer, and a Judge of the County Court. They urged various platitudes, economic and ethical, but made no points. I was not promptly able to meet. They said that money, like commodities, was worth whatever it would bring, and they confounded use, with consumption. The principal of the Academy, desperate that no argument could stand against mine, finally endeavored to silence me, by saying that the earth produced spontaneously, and that it was Just as right to take interest on money, as it was to take rent for land, or to sell trees growing on land that was bought for money. It was then, that I first saw the actual relation of rent to usury, and the injustice of the ownership of unused land, since it was able to exclude man from his natural environment, and labor from means of self-employment, and of certain subsistence. This, so excited the venerable judge, that he was only able to give utterance to exclamations, and opprobrious epithets, to the disgust of many who had come with the expectation of seeing interest completely vindicated. And the Professor only replied, that as he had shown that property increased through land ownership, he was under no obligation to defend that, and declined to say more. After the discussion was over, a young man who had been about the world somewhat came to me, and said sympathetically, "You are right, I have seen, and noticed many things which confirm your views, and have no doubt that much of the general poverty of the world, and the recurring failures in business, are due to interest taking." This was the first convert I had made, in ten years of talk upon the subject. Other warm friends, who could not account for the break down of the interest advocacy in the debate, still deemed me, a mono-maniac upon the question. After leaving Southold in 1843, one of my friends talking with another, who coincided, said, "Notwithstanding my great liking for Mr. Ingalls, I think his ideas about interest, are the silliest, I can conceive." I have had the pleasure of having both these friends, and many other friends of those days, admit that I was right, and that it was astonishing they could have been so blind. Another, some years later, told me, he had found no point in which [24] his judgment in things, did not correspond with mine, except on the question of interest, that he could not see as I did, and all my arguments were without effect. He was quite prosperous then, and had both taken, and paid interest. At the breaking out of the war in "61," he met with business disasters, and finally went to St. Domingo, in search of gold. We had continued correspondence, and in 1865, I received a letter from him, expressive of disappointed hope, and broken health, in which he said: "Since I have been here, I have been thinking of our frequent talks of twenty years ago, on the Interest question. I could not see then, but I see now, that you were right. As I look hack over the reverses of my life, I see clearly now, that ignorance of that question, has been the main cause of all my embarrassments, and but for which I should now be in easy circumstances, and my family in comfort." It was not long after this, that I learned, that his naturally robust constitution had given way, and that he had succumbed to the enervating climate, exposure, toil and mental care and anxiety. This friend was Captain Isaac Tuthill of New Suffolk, L. I.

After leaving Southold, I went to Danbury, Ct., Where I remained two years. I was then, recalled to Southold, and in addition to preaching assumed management of the Academy in 1845. But the confinement proved too much for me, and my health suffered. I remained however till the Spring of 1848. The action of the New York Association of Universalists, had divided our little society, into factions, more or less embittered with one another; and besides, I began to feel the pressure of the ecclesiastical spirit, and to desire freedom of thought, broader than their new made creed, contemplated.

Soon after returning to Southold in 1845, I had received from friends in New York City, copies of "Young America," a working man's paper, which drew my attention to the question of Private Land-Ownership, with great force, and at once convinced me, of what I had inferred, after the discussion on Interest, that usury of land, (rent) was the basic usury, on which that of money, and of other property chiefly rested. This paper was published by George H. Evans, an Englishman by birth, and a brother of the venerable Frederick W. Evans of the fraternity of the Shakers. He had previously published "The Man," and also the "Working Man's Advocate." [25] "Young America," he devoted almost wholly to Land Reform. He was assisted by John Windt, Lewis Masquerier, Allen E. Bovay, Dr. Wilson, and a host of able correspondents, from every State of the Union, among whom were Judge Waite of Illinois, Senator Walker of Wisconsin, Lewis Ryckman, and Gerrit Smith of New York. In l847, I attended the Industrial Congress in New York City, and for the first time, became identified with the movement for Land Reform. Here, I first met a number of men, of earnest and devoted character, who never swerved from its advocacy while they lived.