Reminiscences of an octogenarian in the fields of industrial and social reform/06

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Joshua King Ingalls

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In 1848, I went as a delegate, to the Industrial Congress, which met that year in Philadelphia. This, was the Presidential year, and misled by the political spirit, the Congress resolved itself into a nominating convention. I had here, my first inside view of political strategy. Though of a mild form, it betrayed the peculiar methods of office-seeking, which has from the first, disgraced our politics, and has at last become almost unbearable.

The Land Reformers, wanted to make a clean ticket, with Judge Waite for President, and Senator Walker, or Andrew Johnson for Vice-president. But Mr. Evans. Mr. Windt, and Mr. Van Amringe, were. Anti-Slavery men, with several of the Pennsylvania, Western and other delegates. After much electioneering, and some balloting, Gerrit Smith, v. as nominated for President, and Wm. S. Waite, for Vice-president. This did not suit some of the Land Reformers—especially those with party proclivities. John Campbell of Philadelphia, bolted outright, and went with the Democratic Party. One of the delegates, boasted that he had come with the money of a prominent politician in his pocket. Notwithstanding this political episode, there was good work done at this Congress. A number of prominent men were present. Among them Mr. Van Amringe, A. J. H. Duganne, John Sheddon, Lawyer Treadwell of Brooklyn, Theophilus [26] Fiske, J. E. Snodgrass, of Baltimore, Geo. Lippard, and many others, and when the merely political issues were not involved, the discussions were profitable, spirited and harmonious. In discussing the question of the disposal of the public lands, there was much enthusiasm displayed, and many enphemistic prophecies were indulged in, as to the progress that would follow the realization of free, and inalienable homes, under the contemplated Homestead Law. I remember Mr. Evan's speech, warning the Congress of the danger of indulging in too sanguine expectation of success, and urging unremitting action; launching out, into a semi-prophetic statement of what would be the consequence, if the purpose of the lobbyists, were carried out, to partition the public lands among corporations, and for the founding of immense estates, to reduce our people to the conditions of mere tenants, and dependent hirelings. He went on to say, that unless our measures were adopted soon, it would be too late, and the land once given up to the dominion of private monopoly, there would be no alternative, but the establishment of a landed aristocracy, and a titled nobility. Agreeing mainly With his forecast of the issue, I took occasion to say, that he did not seem to me, to have taken a sufficient extended view of the situation: that I had "enlisted for the War," and anticipated a life-long fight, and if after a life-time spent in the conflict, I could then see signs of a thorough awakening of the people, to the subject of labor's relation to the land, I could "depart in peace."

But the Congress adjourned and the delegates went home: some to work for the Ticket, some to work for the Abolition cause: but more for the Free Soilers, and a few for both the Democratic and Whig parties respectively. Judge Waite declined to run on the ticket with Gerrit Smith, and so there was no Industrial ticket in the field. We partially endorsed the Abolition ticket, and a few voted for it but I suspect that most of the Land Reformers, were seduced to vote for Van Buren and Adams, cajoled by the false cry of "Free Soil. Free Men," and other designing catch words.

Nearly fifty years has passed since then. A dozen years had scarcely elapsed, when in the very throes almost of national dissolution, a Homestead Law was passed: but so emasculated by political trickery that it has done little toward alleviating the condition of the in-[27]-creasing hordes of landless toilers. Advantage was taken of the good feeling effected by this act, to inaugurate a system of land jobbery, which has had no parallel in the history of land mal-appropriation. Many of the Rail-Road appropriations were already agreed to by the committee, ere the Homestead bill was acted on. Enough land was voted to railroads in a few years, to have given a farm of twenty-five acres (25) to every family in the Union. Subsidies of money, as well as of lands were voted to corporations, which have swallowed both lands and money, and swindled their stock holders as well as the people, by bonding the roads to themselves for more than the values expended in constructing and furnishing their lines. All that Mr. Evans prophesied has become true in the second generation, and labor has been reduced in his last decade of the Nineteenth Century to greater straits than under any system of slavery, or serfdom the world has ever known. But the necessity of recognizing man's relation to the land, and of labor to the opportunity, has meantime become widely felt, among workers, and every well-wisher of his race, as never before: and little doubt can be entertained that commercial feudalism, has nearly run its course, and must soon be supplanted by intelligent co-operation, and equitable division and exchange. It could not happen, but that the older barbarism of personal bondage must give way before the present more subtle form which controls the opportunity of the toiler, and all access to, the passive factors of production, the field, the mine, the home, the shop and every sphere of activity, available to remunerative effort. If this does not also soon disappear, and become superseded by intelligent recognition of economic freedom, civilization itself, will succumb to the retroactive tendencies now in operation, and primitive savagery replace our moribund commercial monarchism.

It may be well to record here an incident that had occurred, a short time before the Industrial Congress held in 1848. The Land Reformers of New York City, had squelched the Whitney plan of building the Pacific Railroad, by pledging the public lands for that purpose. He had appointed a meeting of the Bankers and Capitalists, at the Broadway Tabernacle. He had made them a speech, and was preparing to organize a Company to carry out his scheme. He had not heard before, that there were Land Reformers; but he [28] heard from them, that evening. As soon as he had closed his remarks, a call was made by them, (and they were there in force), for Lewis W. Ryckman, who took the platform, and made an eloquent, and most telling speech. After stating, in a careful manner, what must be the effect of betraying a trust, so vital to the well-being of the people, those who followed trades, as well as those who cultivated the soil, he demanded to be told, what the people had done, that their children who should dwell upon the fertile plains and the valleys of the West, who were to occupy, and improve them, should be doomed to lose their birth right in the Earth, and be made tenants and serfs, or helpless wage Workers to the end of time, for the benefit of titled, or untitled lords, and soulless corporations. The effect of this speech, and the thunders of applause it awoke, fairly frightened Whitney, and his pals, and they left by the rear entrance, giving up the meeting to the control of the Reformers, who discussed, and passed pronounced resolutions against all schemes, for endowing Railroad Companies, or Syndicates with the inheritance of the people.[1]

I had come to New York to reside, and was editing and publishing "The Landmark." Soon after the "Congress," I received an invitation from Gerrit Smith to visit Peterborough, and speak in Madison, Cayuga and Herkimer Counties. He offered to contribute twenty dollars towards my expenses. As it seemed probable that the circulation of my paper might be extended. I accepted the offer. Took the boat to Albany, and rail to Schenectady, and traveled by canal packet to a point nearest Peterborough. I enjoyed the hospitality of Mr. Smith and family, and attended a public meeting of the friends of the movement for Anti-Slavery, in the interest of their candidate, but as a Land Reformer, for they had a Land Reform plank in their platform.

I here met the Rev. Abijah Scofield, their preacher at Hamilton. He belonged to the orthodox wing of the free church movement, which was then making protests against the pro-slavery attitude of the Christian Church. He reported to Gerrit Smith, that he had to go away from home, the next day—Sunday—to attend the funeral of a deceased friend, and wished some one to supply his place in Hamilton. It was accordingly arranged that I should preach for [29] him, the next day, although it was known to Mr. Smith and to Mr. Scofield that I was excluded from the New York Association of Universalists—that Infidel Sect. I preached in the morning on fraternity, and the necessity of charity and tolerance in the exercise of our religious duties, and in the evening upon land reform.

I spoke at Georgetown, Cazenovia, Oriskany Falls, Morristown, Hamilton. Madison, Pratt's Hollow, and other places, and finally attended the Free Church Convention, which gave a day to the consideration of the Land Question. I here met again, Mr. H. H. Van Amringe, who had come from New York to attend this meeting, with Mr. Evans, and Mr. Wm. V. Barr, an active Land Reformer of a vigorous intellect, and much natural facility of speech.[2] I was both amused and instructed by a passage between Mr. Barr, and Mr. Beriah Green, whom he followed. The latter was President of a College at Whitesboro, and a strict constructionist of the moral and religious sentiment which pervaded a wing of the Anti-Slavery Crusaders. He met the demand for land, by a charge of irreligion, on the part of the laboring class, and of indifference to the plea for freedom for the slave. In following, Mr. Barr, apologizingly said, it might be presumption in him, to criticise his learned and logical friend. He had not graduated from any institution of learning, but from a shoe shop. "That is all in your favor," interrupted Mr. Green, "you did not have to unlearn so much you had been mistaught, as I had." Mr. Barr after sketching the situation of the worker, deprived of land and home, surrounded by the falses in business, and imposed upon by the educated fraternity of law, medicine and divinity, turned to Mr. Green, and demanded to know, how the ordinary toiler was to get proper notions of moral, and social duties. Mr. Green finally explained, that he in no wise desired to defend existing institutions, simply because they existed, but only so far as they could he demonstrated to be beneficent, but repeated his suggestion as to holding working men to the duty of siding with the Abolitionists, before they asked alleviation of their own wrongs. Mr. Barr enquired whether he would apply the same rule to the slaves, who not only did not protest against slavery, but were said to make the cruelest overseers, and when emancipated, and able, because the cruelest slave holders. And whether the laborer, [30] ignorant and often as debased as the slave, should be held to the same degree of accountability, as those who had every advantage of circumstance, and education? Mr. Evans, Van Amringe, and myself were given also, opportunity to present our views upon the land question. Dr. J. H. Jackson, since of the Danville Sanitarium, spoke. Wm. Goodell, also.[3] Many of the clergymen present, thought the land question was hardly within the scope of their purpose, although all were Abolitionists; many of them so radical, they—not only would not fellowship slave holders, but no church or membership, which did not disfellowship them. Gerrit Smith, also sustained our points in all respects, stating that the Bible was far more explicit in regard to ownership of land than in respect of slavery, and that if the holder of persons as property was to be excommunicated, much more should the holder of peoples' homes, and means of living. And moreover, that although the Abolition of Slavery, would not abolish land monopoly; the abolition of land monopoly would make slavery practically impossible.

Of this convention I sent this account to the Univercoelum:

Salisbury, N. Y., Oct. 10th, 1848.

Brothers Editors:

Having a few moments' leisure, I have thought to employ them in a brief correspondence. Some of the readers of the Univercoelum already know that I am absent from the city on a lecturing tour. Although the object was to advocate an important political Reform, I have nevertheless had opportunity to observe the Spiritual tendencies in the region visited. Independence of all sectarian bias, has prepared me for the better consideration and arrangement of what elements, in the religious world, I have discovered, in progress of change and development.

On the first Sabbath after my arrival in the interior of the State, I was invited to speak in Rev. Mr. Scofield's church at Hamilton. It was not inquired to what sect I belonged, for I was known to he a reformer: and the attention which was accorded me by these unsectarian people, who are nevertheless esteemed Orthodox, was flattering to one who has been marked as unsound, by a professed liberal and prescribed sect. The truth is, that there is a feeling among [31] the noble hearted of all names, that this unbrotherly strife of sects is anything but christian; and that after all, he who has the spirit and does the work of a Christian, is most Christ-like. In this vicinity there are a number of free Churches, where reformers of all sects, and of no sect, assemble to worship, and hear the Gospel of Reform. Of course it does not essentially interest us to inquire, to what particular division they may have belonged, it is enough to know that they were zealously laboring in unison for the great cause of human advancement.

It was found not inconsistent with our object to be present at the Christian Convention at Canastota. Here were assembled some most earnest and advanced minds, to take into consideration the possibility of establishing a Christian union. The opinion seemed to prevail that in order to have union, it was necessary to have entire toleration. Resolutions were passed to this effect; also, that ministers might be ordained or chosen by the members, while any member had the right to administer the sacrament, or any other ordinance in which it is proper for an Elder to officiate.

It was gratifying to listen to the spirited debates which were excited by these and other resolutions. There were two or three who brought with them a portion of their love of Sect and forms; but they appeared like dwarfed minds, compared with those who unfettered, stood up manfully for liberty and truth. Here was Wm. Goodell, whose acquaintance would be interesting to any reformer. Linden King had come up from the depths of sectarism, to breathe an atmosphere of love and freedom; as well as his son, who is early making the most rapid strides in spiritual advancement. Here was also the enthusiastic Pryne, whose whole soul seems to war with clerical assumption and domination. Here were other earnest men, from different parts of the State, and the blows which they dealt, against the hydraheaded monster, were neither powerless nor misdirected. The eloquence with which they plead the cause of oppressed and down-trodden humanity, bleeding under the severance of all brotherly ties, through mere sectarian prejudice, is seldom exceeded. For myself, there was much to rejoice at in the signs of progress here evinced, and in the manner with which every reference to the great ideas of the common brotherhood were received. Thus while [32] those preferring exclusive claim to these ideas, are treading the backward road of forms and creeds, and sundering ties on earth they believe will be reunited in heaven, true men are coming from the precincts of every denomination, whose love of Christ is greater than of a Church, whose devotion to humanity is greater than their reverence for a creed. That their professions of liberality were not simply formal, may be inferred from the fact that Mr. Van Amringe and myself, were invited to take part in their deliberations, and that what we had to say, was listened to with earnest attention.

That they are yet prepared for a general movement toward a better organization, and a more spiritual union, may be questioned; but the indifference of sectarian establishments to every form of oppression, and to all needful reforms; (especially, the subject of human bondage,) has opened the eyes of those who respect the rights of man, to the enormous evils which have their origin and end in this devotion to Party and strife for denominational supremacy. I ought to remark, also, that among the more advanced there are some differences of opinion with regard to what constitutes a Church; some regarding the church as a human, and others as a divine organization. Of the latter class, is Gerrit Smith, and there is a Church at Peterboro' conducted in conformity to these views, and there are several others in the state, somewhat different from what are called free churches. In order that you may the better understand the character of these bodies, I will give you a synopsis of the basis of the Church at Peterboro,' the form which I happen to have before me. It is prefaced with a beautiful motto from D'Aubigne. "In the beginning of the Gospel, whosoever had received the Spirit of Christ, was esteemed a member of the Church."

You may be surprised to learn that after all, they have a Creed; but it is, as Mr. Grosh would say, a very small one; nay, it is a very large one; so comprehensive that all can be encircled in its embrace. I will not give it entire; yet this is the Spirit of the whole. "We believe that the Church of Christ on earth, is composed of all the Christians on earth, and that the Church of any location is composed of all the Christians in that location; and that members can neither be voted into Christ's Church, nor out of it."

Such is the Catholic Spirit under which they meet; and it is [33] unnecessary to say that freedom and comparative harmony are the result. Being released from the duty of inquisitors, they cheerfully perform the duties of members, and so far from squaring their opinions with an abstract formula, they feel free to express their peculiar views on all points. The following sentiments, in the form of resolutions, will further illustrate their conceptions of what a church ought to be.

"A Church of Christ is a company of moral reformers, and, any organization which refuses to engage in the prosecution of such reforms, especially those that are nearest at hand and most urgent, however excellent may be the character of individuals in it, is not a Church of Christ.

"Sectarism, guilty as it so clearly is, of rending the seamless garment of the Savior—of dividing the Church of Christ into mutually warring parties—tearing asunder those who should esteem themselves to "be One," even as the Father and Son are One—guilty also, as it manifestly is, of making the strongest and most successful appeals to the pride, bigotry and intolerance of the heart, is, therefore, the mightiest foe on earth to truth and reform, to God and Man."

"The members of a Gospel Church are not only free to entertain their respective views, both of doctrine and practice, but are bound to inculcate them."

An interesting feature of their "discipline" is to deal with schismatic, or in other words, those who circumscribe their christian sympathies within the limits of the Sects. If they find that any good man or woman has joined a sect or remains in it, they summon the person to answer to the charge of schism; and in several instances have succeeded in convincing them they had no right to give their affection to what they would admit was only a part of the true Church.

[1] Ryckman was a Fourierist and labor reformer, contributor to Young America, and in 1845 was president of the New England Working Men's Association. In 1847, the Harbinger lists him as vice-president of "an Affiliated Union, Auxiliary to the American Union of Associationists."

[2] Van Amringe was a contributor to The Phalanx, The Harbinger and Young America. In Sociology, Lewis Masquerier notes: "WM. V. BARR was a good speaker, with a pleasant humor. He was in the convention and several legislatures of Kansas."

[3] Goodell was author of The Rights and Wrongs of Rhode Island, Come-outerism: The Duty of Secession from a Corrupt Church, and other works.