Reminiscences of an octogenarian in the fields of industrial and social reform/08

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Joshua King Ingalls

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[NOTE: 8th chapter, labeled "IX" in the original.]


I first met Edward Kellogg, in 1848. He had just published book on "Labor and Other Capital;" in later editions known as the "New Monetary System." It was at a public meeting of the Labor Reformers of New York City. He addressed them upon the subject of Finance recommending government loans on real estate, at a low rate of interest. I felt it necessary to criticise the scheme, and state that the result of his plan would be to give to large land holders the power to control the money of the country, to the exclusion of workers, and of business men. I had admired the sayings of Thos. H. Benton, "Old Bullion," as he was called, and the reformers, were most "hard money men," but they gave him respectful hearing. It first occurred to me, that a credit money might be serviceable, if it could be on a basis, not inviting to unsafe inflation, and the promotion of usury. It occurred to me also that the "legal tender" power of money was subversive of the principles of equity, and was essentially monarchical in its spirit, and tendency. I combated Mr. Kellogg's idea that one of the proper functions of money, was "to earn an income for its owner." In an interview with him, after the meeting he expressed regret that he could not get the endorsement of the audience [43] to his money system since his sympathies were with the toiling and dependent. Later I obtained his book, and wrote an extended notice of it, for the "Univercoelum," which appeared in two numbers, dated April 21st and April 28th, 1849 of that Magazine. In 1850 I called at his house in Brooklyn, and had a conversation of considerable length on the land and finance questions. He had read my criticisms, and admitted the points of danger I had urged; but having more faith in legislation, thought the rate (low) of interest might be determined by law, so as to keep down usury, and prevent increased monopoly of the land. In a subsequent edition, his daughter Mrs. Putnam states that he was, before his demise much exercised in his mind, as to what was a "true rate of interest," and that he had told her he had come to the conclusion that it was the "cost of issuing and maintaining the money in circulation." As the right to realize a gain from the use of money, anything more than the expense of making it, and keeping it good was a point we had especially discussed, it was gratifying to me to learn that he had abandoned entirely his theory put forth in the book that one power of money was to accumulate an income for its holder. His arguments against usury, and his illustrations of the workings of our existing monetary system, his generous sympathy with industrial progress and the well-being of the working people, made the book popular in the next generation, and a text book on finance for the movement in fax or of fiat money known as the greenback party. Taking his idea of money leased on real estate security, and confounding it with government indebtedness, and his "safety fund bonds," with "the interchangeable government bonds," they proposed a mere fiat money, wholly incompatible with his scheme. His scheme would have been a sound financial policy and would have destroyed all individual opportunity for other banking; theirs would have secured immediate relief from the effects of contraction, but would have laid the foundation for the most reckless expansion, and ultimate Public and private bankruptcy

In 1848 I became acquainted with Theodore D. Weld, his wife Angeline, and her sister Sarah Grimke. While absorbed In the Anti-Slavery issue, they each had considerate thought for the wrongs of the industrious poor. I met at their house, Frances Green, John H. [44] Hunt and Llewllyn Heskell. All were progressive people. Mr. Hunt was a brother of Freeman Hunt, the long time editor of The Merchants Magazine, and also of Washington Hunt once Governor New York State. Both were friendly to our movement—John subsequently wrote the "Honest Man's Book." It was epigrammatic in style, and particularly lucid in statement, and treated the land and interest questions in a masterly manner. He was the first far as I have been able to ascertain, who treated the land question in this country, as a political issue, which he did in a speech to the working men, in the New York City Hall Park, at the time of the "bread riots" in 1836. Mr. Freeman Hunt first called my attention to Mr. Kellogg, of whom he was an admirer, and to the money reform Mr. Kellogg advocated.

The "Honest Man's Book," was too true to its name, to be popular with business men. Too abstract to be attractive to the working men, even if they had greater regard for honesty than they display. But there was another feature which made it peculiarly inappropriate to the times—the breaking out of the rebellion. After completing his arraignment of the land and interest laws, in their work of plundering labor of its products, he attempted to forecast the terms of a truly natural government. And this, did not provide for the abolition of Slavery, directly, or other than as a result of social progress and of economic law. This led his anti-Slavery friends to treat with less respect his principal subject and obtained him no friends among those who from principle, political bias, or business interests favored the "peculiar institution" of the South.

My stay at Southington has little that relates to the purpose: this memoir. I enjoyed perfect scope for theologic speculation, however heretical or skeptical. The leading mind in the Society, was Jesse Olney, a man of some reputation as a writer, particularly of school books. Several geographies and readers of his were very popular. He was a Democrat in polities, and less liberal in this sphere than in that or religion.

The movement in 1848 in Europe, had stirred deeply the sentiment of fraternity and justice of the American people: but the fiasco of the free soil party, and the success of the conservative spirit in the election of Taylor and Fillmore, brought on a re-action observed and [45] felt everywhere Failure of liberty in France, Germany and Hungary, discouraged the friends of freedom in all lands. 1849 was especially a retrograde year. My thought was all the while, upon the question of the land and the labor of the world, and though naturally fond of speculative discussion, the theological subtleties, and aimless syllogisms, with deductions from assumed or paradoxical premises palled upon my mind, and gave me a dislike for my employment. Several times, I had taken up questions with industrial bearings, but only to find, that if I spoke fearlessly, it irritated some, while those whose interest I was really speaking showed not the least concern in the matter.

In this state of feeling I determined to resort to some industrial employment, and ultimately went to work at the bench, as a journeyman, in the fall of 1850 with J. H. Keyser & Co. corner of Cliff and Beekman Streets, New York City. Mr. Keyser was a friend of Geo. H. Evans, and advocated land reform at first, a graduated tax afterwards, to discourage the tendency to large accumulations; but finally came to regard the land question, as a "lost cause," as he himself termed it, after the immense subsidies of the people's land, were made to the railroads.[1] He was a considerate, and comparatively just employer, and as such can only he remembered with respect. In the Tweed Ring affair, he was proved more of a victim, than an offender. But for twelve years, I had been engaged in study, speaking and writing on religious and social subjects, and associated with cultured and educated people. The change to a workshop at wages, with many uneducated and ignorant, vicious, and even brutal men was disheartening. Had I realized the full meaning to me, of my choice, I should have shrunk from the trial; but were it to do over again, I should make the same election. I had seen so many, who had embraced progressive views, and advocated them with great zeal yet after having "run well for a season," become estranged, because the new advocacy could not give them a living, that for me, it was plain there was no other way, than to support myself by some regular occupation, and make my labor for the changing of human conditions, wholly a labor of love. Others entertain different views, yet follow them with equal devotion, but this course seemed necessary for me. From that time—more than forty-five years, I [46] have availed myself of every opportunity to speak on ethical and social subjects, without even getting traveling expenses paid, except in a very few instances. Never have I received a dollar, for writing hundreds of articles for magazines or newspapers, drawing petitions, acting as Secretary to many movements, aid, and emigration societies, and others. Have spent much money in publishing, getting printed numerous pamphlets, brochures, and one book three hundred and twenty pages. All with the understanding, that everything received over and above cost, was to be employed extending such publications, and that nothing was to revert to me as profit, or as consideration for any personal service. It is needless to say, that not one-half of the money so spent, has been made up me,—or is ever likely to be.

But I have no wish to communicate to others, the gloom of years I passed through. Gradually the skies brightened, to be obscured many times temporarily, till some twenty years passed away, since which time I have been free from fear of poverty, and dependence.

[1] John H. Keyser, contributor to The Liberator and author of Next Step to Progress. Limitation of Wealth.