Reminiscences of an octogenarian in the fields of industrial and social reform/07

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Joshua King Ingalls

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The New York friends, Dr. Jackson and several others returned with us to Peterboro from the Canastota Convention where we were tendered a reception at the residence of Gerrit Smith, and we held an interesting discussion on the reforms of the day, carried on mostly by Mr. Smith, Van Amringe, Barr, Evans and Dr. Jackson. For my part I sang Dugenne's "Acres and Hands," to an old English air "The Carrier Dove," to which I adapted it. Just before Gerrit Smith's death, some thirty years later, I received a letter from him, saying, he wanted to see Mr. Ingalls again, and hear him sing "Acres and Hands."

We had discussed the interest or usury questions, incidentally on that evening, Mr. Smith remarking that he saw nothing particularly wrong, in taking or paying interest; had himself done both, in the transaction of business, and thought he had been benefited when he received it, and had benefited others when he had paid it. A few years later, he wrote to me, requesting a formal statement of my views, on the subject, saying his wife said she could not reason the case with him; but she felt Mr. Ingalls was right. Whether my arguments produced any effect upon the minds of either, I am unable to say, as the Kansas Embroglio, fugitive slave law, and other matters of national concern, probably absorbed the attention of such thorough Abolitionists.

Dr. Jackson, on the evening referred to, related an amusing incident, which turned a joke upon Mr. Smith. He had, after becoming a convert to Land Reform, made a speech at Syracuse, in which he had squarely taken the ground, that every man had a right to the land which he tilled, and that no one, had a just right to dispossess him. The doctor had met a countryman on the ears who said he had been to Peterboro, to see Gerrit Smith. "I told him," said he "that I had been unfortunate, that the season had been unfavorable, and the old woman sick, and that I could not pay the interest on the mortgage he held still on my farm." "I told him, I did not think he would trouble me and had told my wife, when she insisted on my seeing him, but that whatever came, I was going to rely on his Syracuse speech." [35]

Gerrit Smith promptly on my arrival, had given me the twenty dollars, he had promised, and I obtained a number of subscribers for my paper, and besides had in some places where I had spoken, received some trifling compensation. Before leaving Peterboro, however, I sought an interview with Mr. Smith, and suggested that a little assistance would help me to keep the Landmark going, however disastrous the campaign might prove to the cause of Reform. He declined to assume any farther responsibility at that time. When however running for Governor in 1858, he placed with me five hundred dollars, to start a paper "The Land Reformer," advocating the doctrine, and his candidacy. But the time was unpropitious, and the means used for the purpose, was a dead loss. Seeing its failure certain, I suspended the paper, and returned to him, about half the sum.

When the Landmark was suspended in 1849, there was a foundation which would have served as a basis for a rallying point. "Young America" was declining—the Harbinger, and the Univercoelum were merged in the Spirit of the Age, edited by Wm. H. Channing, but which succumbed after a short life. Numerous papers through the country dropped Reform advocacy, or confined themselves to the support of pure Anti-Slavery sentiment. Still there were friends enough to have sustained a well conducted reform paper, could it have been tided over the crisis. Whether Mr. Smith would assist or no was a matter for him to determine—I mention the matter merely as experiences I have met in reform work.

Mr. Smith's connection with the John Brown raid, has been a matter of grave discussion among his friends. Mr. Frothingham's Life of Gerrit Smith, it is said, was suppressed, because it told too much truth. Brown visited Mr. Thaddeus Hyatt of New York, shortly before the raid, and told him, that Gerrit Smith had let him have money for the purpose he had in view. But refused to communicate his plan, because just then, Mr. Hyatt, pending the extension of his patent, could let him have none. Hyatt was summoned before the United States Senate, but refused to testify, even that he knew nothing of the raid, and defied it, though kept in jail for several months.

From Madison Co. I went to Little Falls, where I lectured and on Sunday spoke to a colored congregation upon land and freedom. At Manheim I tarried with Mr. Zenas Brockett, and addressed a [36] meeting there, also at Salisbury where we met a brother of Mr. Brockett. After speaking, as usual I invited remarks, when the brother arose, and denounced me, and his brother also, saying we deserved to be in states prison, for advocating doctrines so destructive of the rights of property. Mr. Zenas Brockett was a pious member of the Baptist Church at that time, and taking opportunity he confidentially submitted to me his trouble as to what was duty with respect to it. I expressed astonishment that he should come to me, whom he must know, looked with little favor on ecclesiastical organizations of any kind. He thought, he said, I might give him an unbiased opinion for that very reason. I asked him if his church allowed him freedom of expression, on the question of reform, in which he felt such deep interest. He said they did; but he did not know whether it was right to fellowship those who were indifferent to them. I said to him, that if in his place I should stay, and work where I was. If they could not tolerate me, I would go; but it was my opinion, that he should stay in the church and reform it, if possible, so long as he was in agreement with its religious teachings. Some ten years afterwards, these brothers came to our house in New York, staying all night with us. Mr. Zenas Brockett had outgrown his sectarian attachments, and the brother had cut loose from his party superstitions also. We had a most enjoyable visit.

At this point, I would like again to refer to Mr. A. Scofield, whose place I supplied at Hamilton. I enjoyed the neighborly friendship of Mr. Scofield, and his interesting family, some eighteen or twenty years later, both having moved to Glenora.

He preached hereabout, somewhat as a free lance, among the orthodox, and liberal Christians. He finally got into a discussion with Mr. Beach, the Professor of Greek in Starkey Seminary, the public meetings of which I attended. It was on the question of the "Godship of Christ." The one, contending that Christ was God and man— the other, that He was the Son of God. The discussion waxed warm, until parting on mere definitions, the discussion was declared off, on the second evening. For some reason or other Mr. Scofield wished that I should speak, as there was a considerable audience, and the [37] evening was not spent. Rising, I said, it was to be regretted, that two such able men, were spending time and talent in debating questions, at best, purely speculative, while a world of misdirection, ignorance and misery lay waiting the labors of the true disciples of the Christ of the Gospels. In referring to the discussion I said I had been impressed with Mr. Beach's profession of faith in the power of truth, and his statement, that only error feared investigation: but I did not think his charge of intolerance against Trinitarians, however it might apply once, in the times of Calvin and Servetus was true now, certainly not, as to friend Scofield, who twenty years before had invited me to preach to his people, and had now insisted upon my speaking to them, although fully aware of my heretical views. Simply as a test of his sincerity, I then offered to discuss with Mr. Beach the question of the pure manhood of Jesus, as set forth in the Gospels. He declined, giving as a reason, that the orthodox charged his persuasion, with teaching that Jesus was a mere man,—though many in the audience thought the opportunity should have been improved to clear up that very point. A lay brother was found however, to take up the challenge, but the discussion was not allowed to be held in the Christian Church. It came off in the little chapel, near Big Stream, in which Mr. Scofield was preaching, himself presiding at the debate.

I now resume, the thread of my narrative. Returning to New York, after my visit to Peterboro, and other places, I found the Land Reformers completely disorganized—the pseudo "Free Soil" party having by the usual duplicity of catch words and phrases succeeded in alluring many, by making it appear, that their pretentious professions of interest, had some purpose, or meaning. How sincere was their cry, maybe inferred when it is known. that the next election found the following of Van Buren, back in the Democratic Party, out bidding the primitive "Hunkers" in their subserviency to the dominant slave power, and outrivaling them, in their efforts to enforce the "fugitive slave law." It soon became evident, that Land Reform, and every progressive movement, must experience a set back from the reactionary tendency of things. I could keep the Landmark going, but it could no longer keep me going. I gave it up to a printer, William Haddock, who kept it running for several [38] months.[1] I constantly writing for it, without compensation, as long as he was able to publish it.

I received an invitation to speak to the Unitarians in Southington, Ct., and subsequently served as pastor there, for two years.

Early in November of this year, (1848), I was passing through Providence, and called on Mr. and Mrs. Dunbar B. Harris.[2] I met there, and was introduced to George Bradburn, who quaintly said I thought the editor of The Landmark was a bigger man."[3] There was an anti-slavery convention in session and they insisted I should accompany them to it, which I did gladly. On entering Mechanics hall, we found the meeting just called to order. The chairman stated that the business committee, who had been appointed at the afternoon session, were still out, and that there was no regular business before the meeting, and called upon volunteers for addresses till the committee should come in. Mr. Bradburn immediately arose, and said that the editor of a Land Reform paper from New York was present and he, for one, was anxious to hear him speak upon this theme, and how it bore upon the anti-slavery question. The chairman promptly invited me to the platform. I took it, and thanked him for the unexpected opportunity, and supposing my time would be short, commenced without preliminary to explain the object of our movement—much to the following purport: Land is a necessity to life. The man, the animal, the plant, each die when denied access to the earth, and its growths. The right to life, involves the right to land to live and labor upon. Commercial ownership of land which enables one to exclude another from it, and thus enforces involuntary idleness, is as destructive of human freedom as ownership of the person, enforcing involuntary service. I remarked in passing, that our reform did not antagonize the anti-slavery movement, but complimented it—that Gerrit Smith, George H. Evans, John Windt, Mr. Van Amringe and many of our prominent men, were abolitionists in the strictest sense of the term. For myself, I had been a foe to slavery from my school days, when I read Cowper's touching appeal to England for its abolition. But that we had here a much more complex question than ever confronted England. Her slaves were thousands of miles away and could not compete with her wage workers at home. Ours were at home. Liberation of the slaves would bring [39] their labor in more direct competition with our over-crowded- and poorly paid wage-workers. I did not offer this as a reason against the abolition of chattel slavery, but as a reason why the friends of emancipation from chattel slavery, should unite with the friends for the emancipation of the wage-worker, by restoring to him the right to land, for the production of the means of life. I pointed out that setting the man free, without allowing him access to the land, would not benefit the slave, so far as the comforts of life were concerned, but would be a cruel mockery. That few instances of the starvation of slaves could he found, while wage-workers and tenants were starving by the hundreds, and the thousands, and sometimes by the million, as in the then recent landlord famine in Ireland. No menial, or even immoral service ever exacted from the slave, but could be obtained by the landlord, or money lord, and at a price less than the expense of the sane service from the slave. No doubt, but great cruelly is often perpetrated against the slave, but as a rule he is better fed and clothed and sheltered than miners, or even the agricultural laborers of England. No picture, general like that of the miners of Great Britain, can be found in the slave-holding states of this nation. There, men, women and children, bid adieu to the light of heaven, from one week's end to the other, to dig the black diamonds from the bowels of the earth: women are chained to cars, and draw the loads, upon their hands and knees, where the human form cannot stand erect. The agricultural laborers are not as well housed and fed by the English nobility, and landholders, as are their horses, or even their dogs. The real issue was between the rights of man and the rights of property; between the rights of labor and the rights of ownership. It was not the love of being master, but the ability to appropriate the results of labor, which made slave-holding attractive. And it was not color or race-hatred which lay at the bottom of the prejudice, and enmity of the white laborer against the African slaves, so much as the fear that if liberty was given to them, they would crowd him from his opportunity to serve for wages.

I also remarked that the exigencies of the wage system, and of the rent system, had more effectually succeeded in breaking up families, taking away children and separating man and wife, than the chattel [40] system had ever shown, unless under exceptional circumstances. After speaking for a half hour, I noticed the committee filing in, when, thanking the audience for their attention to the utterances of an outsider, I took my seat. Soon after commencing to speak I had observed the entrance of Frederick Douglass. He was then at the height of his popularity. Had just returned from his visit to England where he had been lionized, and patronized by the anti-slavery nobility, who had raised the money to purchase his freedom from his former master. He was not aware at whose instance I had been invited to speak. As soon as the report from the committee had been disposed of, Douglass took the platform, and began a reply to me. He said he had his idea as Well as Mr. Ingalls, about the rights of property; but that the anti-slavery question was a totally different one. It was the question of liberty, not property. He had been in England and saw nothing of the pictures Mr. Ingalls had been showing them; and he depicted in roseate hues, the social conditions of English life. He deprecated the bare idea of comparing the condition of the English worker, with his freedom of person and surrounded by wife and children, with the chattel-slave, who was not the owner of himself, and whose wife and children could be sold from him at any moment. In this vein he continued for a longer time than I had been speaking, then told the audience what they wanted. They wanted to have a speech from Mr. George Bradburn and some other speakers. They wanted to pass resolutions that had been offered by the committee, and to sing "Oh that will be Joyful," and they did not want to hear anything more from Mr. Ingalls. He had scarcely ceased speaking, when a vociferous call was made by the audience for Mr. Bradburn, most of the audience knowing that it was he who had introduced me. He immediately took the stand, and brought the people into genial good humor, by saying, with mock seriousness, "here Mr. Ingalls has been talking to you about wages slavery, and Mr. Douglass about chattel-slavery—both have overlooked the great topic of the day"—he made an impressive pause, and then, "Old Zack is President of the United States for four years." This "brought down the house." Decisive news of the election of Taylor had been received that day. After referring in a satirical way to the great importance of the fact in our national history, [41] he reverted again to us. saying substantially "we need raise no question as to the veracity of either Mr. Ingalls or Mr. Douglass— the former did not speak of what he had seen, and the latter only testified of what he had not seen. He had been with those who were interested in having him see what was best not what was worst under English rule. Mr. Ingalls neglected to tell you, how he derived his knowledge—I will supply the omission. In substance it is from a report of the Parliamentary Committee, appointed to examine into the condition of the mining population and is quite as reliable, I think, as if it had been seen by either gentlemen." After the close of the meeting I was greeted by many friends, some of whom I had not seen for ten years, and also met a number of associationists who affiliated with the anti-slavery people. It was also arranged for me to speak in the same hall on Sunday evening—which I did, to a crowded house. It was the place of meeting for the Second Universalists Society, of which Rev. J. M. Cook was pastor, and to whose courtesy I was indebted for the opportunity.

Some twenty years later I read a report of an address made by Frederick Douglass at a colored people's convention at Lexington, Ky., in which occurred, words in substance, like these: "When the Republican party emancipated and enfranchised you, it failed in justice, in that it did not also award you land."

After the war I met Mr. Douglass at Waterloo, at a meeting of Progressive Friends, before whom I was permitted to present the Land and the usury questions and was treated with respect. I met at the same time Mrs. Lucy Stone, Mr. Powell and Professor Denton, all of whom listened with attention and expressed great interest. Mr. Douglass I met again on a railroad train, when an accident occurred which detained us several hours, and which gave us opportunity for comparison of views on many questions, on which much common ground of agreement was found. The last time I met him was on a Stonington steamer when going to Massachusetts. It was soon after the Freedman's bank swindle had been effected. I began at once to denounce that as one of the most dastardly financial outrages I had ever known, and expressed a hope that he could satisfactorily account for his relations to it at the time, as president. He begged me to believe that he was wholly unaware of the condition of [42] the bank at the time he accepted the office, and that all knowledge its operation was carefully kept from him till the crash came. He had afterward learned that his name had only been associated with the management of the bank to influence more victims to deposit money before the wreck was made.

Mr. Douglass has been eulogized as an early advocate of Woman Suffrage movement and justly so. But in 1868, at the Equal Rights Convention in Steinway Hall, he claimed that it was then the "Negroe's hour,"—as the question of giving him the franchise was then before the country—and that woman should wait. In this he was opposed by Mrs. Stanton, Mrs. Stone, Miss Anthony and most of the advocates of equal rights, and among all the speakers at the convention was only supported by Charles C. Burleigh.

[1] Haddock appears to have written for The Workingmen's Advocate, and appears on the 1844 Working Men's Ticket, along with Windt, Masquerier, and others.

[2] Dunbar was a labor reformer, associate of Seth Luther, abolitionist and Universalist.

[3] Bradburn was an abolitionist and contributor to The Liberator, where he engaged in controversies with Wendell Phillips and William Lloyd Garrison.