Reminiscences of an octogenarian in the fields of industrial and social reform/10

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Joshua King Ingalls

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[10th chapter, labelled "XI" in original]


A number of Reformers of the Individualistic school, were known to me in these years, but I had acted little with them, had read Dana's translation of Proudhon, had met Josiah Warren, Stephen Pearl Andrews, and others of their school, and was impressed with the accuracy of their statement of the industrial, economic, financial, and social questions, but engrossed with the theory of Land Limitation, and which they seemed to ignore, I had not become closely associated with them.

The question as to the extent to which the principle of legal interference should apply in determining what is the law of economic and social science, had at the very first presented itself. I had avoided advocating voting and legislation, as too uncertain to be depended upon as long as error and passion swayed the minds of men. The state of economic and ethic relations had been relied on rather than [52] appeals to political prejudices and material interests of the voters, immediate or remote; because a matter determined at the ballot box, or by a show of hands to-day, could be reversed to-morrow by the same process, while a principle once made clear would remain unaffected by popular caprice or misapprehension. The more I studied the question, and the history of legislation, the more it became apparent that what was needed, was a scientific solution, and not a political measure. Among the Associationists, as those who accepted Fourier's teachings, called themselves, with whom I was on terms of recognition were Albert Brisbane, Charles Sears, John G. Drew, D. Munday, Benja Urner, with some slight acquaintance with Horace Greeley, Geo. Ripley, Parke Goodwin, etc.[1] Between the Associationists and the Individualists, there was a wide distinction in theory, although a basis of common agreement in the estimate at which the conservatism of the governing class was held. All misgovernment and miseries of mankind were attributed by the on, to our unscientific civilization, and by the other to the impertinent obstrusive interference of the dominating spirit of governments.

Confused by the claims of these differing advocates, who were agreed in this that society was all wrong, I sought a medium ground which recognized the right of the individual, without severing the ties which bind society together; which accepted the doctrine of equal freedom, as an hypothesis, by which to determine our degree of development from the past form and entanglements of social life. Seeing no escape from the despotism of the militant spirit pervading all forms of collectiveism, but though the attainment of exact knowledge it appeared that no attempt at association was possible of success, except that which excluded the basic errors of vacant land ownership and the adsorption of wealth by the duplicate geometrical ratio.

Whenever approached by the Associationist or co-operationist to unite with them I demanded in any movement the free use of land and freedom from the grasp of the usurer. This was deemed Greek or nonsense to the disciple of Fourier, with all his claim to science. And the individualist thought it a limitation to his personal liberty to be debarred the right to possess all the land he could buy, and to take or pay such interest as he and his customer could mutually agree upon. I am unable to say how many such movements I have [53] been solicited to enter. Protective Unions, Co-operative colonies. Building, Land Associations, etc. I will only recite a few, and relate some facts coming under my knowledge of the workings of others.

The Brook Farm had existed and collapsed, before my interest was awakened in the social movement. Its early collapse was not due to lack of purpose or of ability on the part of its members, but to the neglect of economic considerations, and the impossibility of carrying forward so refined and aesthetic an endeavor, with so little amassed capital, in a community and under business relations, entirely worldly and predatory. What proved true in this effort at reforming social life, is noticeable in nearly every effort of the kind, which followed, however abortive. I refer to the fact that while every movement has failed, many individuals in each case have developed remarkable mental and executive abilities. The Brook Farmers evoluted into brilliant men of letters, journalists, and political Sages. Greeley, Godwin, Curtis, Ripley, Dana, have become historic names, and others equally worthy of mention have left their impress upon our times.

The most imposing of all attempts at Phalanx making was that at Ceresco, Wis. A large tract of fertile land had been secured, at the government price I think. For a while the pioneer work went bravely on and ultimate success seemed assured. But with success came the danger. The land in the vicinity appreciated. The "unearned increment," of the monopoly controlled acres was scented in the air, by the privileged cormorants, and a craze for land speculation, became contagious in the sacred precincts of the association, itself. The Phalanx collapsed because wealthy and prosperous in its more worldly sense. Warren Chase one of the original promoters, and at one time a member of the State Senate, was a conscientious land reformer, and would not engage in the scramble for the possession of land needed by others. I do not include him among the number of those who got wealth by the dissolution of the Wisconsin Phalanx.

The next if not the first in importance and longer sustained was the North American Phalanx, near Red Bank, N. J. Charles Sears was the business manager. The movement was inaugurated in 1843, and continued till 1859, twelve years or more. Mr. Sears joined M. Deboissier [54] in an attempt to plant a colony in Kansas which though failing socially, succeeded as a business, in silk raising and manufacturing. I met Mr. Sears at reform meetings, and at mutual friends in New York, and several times visited the Phalanx. We often discussed the land and labor question. particularly as it was affected by interest and dividends to capital. I was invited to address the meeting of the members and visitors at one of their public gatherings, on which occasion the subject of capital in Association was critically discussed, and the impossibility of ultimate success, where the principle of paying interest or making dividends to capital was a permanent feature. Some remarks were made, by others, but no one attempted to controvert the positions taken. Much importance was given to the advantages of an associative life and industrial co-operation. Had I know n that the question was seriously agitated the in Association management at the time, the utterance might have been more guarded, and I should have understood why the principle subject was not referred to by the other speakers. After the meeting was over, several persons before unacquainted, introduced themselves to me and expressed their concurrence with my views among whom was Henry Edgar, a student of Comte and the positive philosophy.

The ostensible cause of its dissolution was the great fire, which destroyed their valuable milling property, and Mr. Sotheran in his "Horace Greeley and other pioneers of American Socialism," makes Mr. Greeley say that "there was no pecuniary failure in the ordinary acceptation of the term," since in the settlement "each stockholder received back about 65 per cent. of his investment with interest." But it is true that the struggle between those holding the stock and those who did the work, had reached that degree of intensity, that neither the persons representing the capital, nor the men who did the substantial work, were willing to renew it. A few individuals owned the greater part of the stock, and desired it boomed by declaring large dividends. On going down in the steamer, the year before the fire, I heard a conversation between one of the large stockholders, and a friend in which it was urged that in order to make it a success, more liberal dividends should be made to induce larger investments, After Mr. Sears went to Kansas, in corresponding [55] with me, he acknowledged that the dissolution though hastened by the fire could not long have been postponed, in any event, on account of the requirement of capital.

Mr. Sotheran, in his "Horace Greeley and other Pioneers of American Socialism, quotes Greeley as saying: "Blind competition tends in the formation of gigantic monopolies in every branch of labor; depreciates the wages of the laboring classes; excites an endless warfare between human arms, and machinery and capital—a war in which the weak succumb; renders the recurrence of failures, bankruptcies, and commercial crises, a sort of endemic disease, and reduces the middling and lower classes to a precarious and miserable existence." To all which a natural enquiry suggests itself: Has not the socialism advocated so strongly by Mr. Greeley—the Joint Stock method of business been far more productive of monopolies, than any operation of the competitive system could possibly have become? Why not then remove the bandages from the eyes of blind competition, and allow the truth to be seen? Free and enlightened competition would have prevented and will yet destroy the gigantic monopolies, which the Joint Stock Association has fostered under Greeley's "idea of the sphere of Government." This, Mr. Sotheran has emphasized in his motto to the volume. "We believe that Government, like every other intelligent agency, is bound to do food to the extent of its ability—that it ought actively to promote and increase the general Well being—that it should encourage and foster Industry, Science, Invention, Intellectual, Social and Physical Progress." Now whatever may have been the ideal conception of Horace Greeley as to Social Life, it is quite evident from these quotations as well as from his practice in business and in polities, that his Socialism was of the state character, rather than that of the voluntary and mutual co-operation of individuals. His "Sphere of Government" embraced high protective tariffs, franchise to corporations, though he advocated general laws of incorporations, patent privileges, and the extreme interference of the governing power in everything deemed necessary "to promote and increase the general well being." In fact to Horace Greeley is due, more than to any other writer in this century, the overgrown corporations and syndicates, which he learned in the very last year of his life to [56] comprehend, and to combat with which exceptional ability and chivalry, he finally sacrificed health, ambition and life itself. The dying eagle recognized as his own the quill which had guided the fatal shaft to his heart. Did the reflection that the mighty trusts and credit mobiliers, which crushed his hopes of political preferment, while throttling and paralyzing the industries of the land, had grown strong and powerful under the teachings of his facile pen?

Benja Urner had been identified with three Associative undertakings and witnessed their failures, ere he distinguished himself as a successful business man. The undertaking of John Wilkins and Gen. Guertner in Texas, The North American Phalanx, and the Raritan Bay Union at Eagleswood, N. J. This latter, as with all the others with whose history I have become thoroughly acquainted, split upon the same rock of the exactions of capital. Mr. Urner became an advocate of the Greenback heresy and later a convert to George's Single Tax doctrine. With Col. Daniels he established a weekly "Our Country" which had a brief existence. It advocated Fiat money, co-operation and nationalization of the land.

In 1850 I had through the Spirit of the Age, planned a scheme of an associative colony, which should be effected without depending on other capital than could be obtained by the working members themselves, by beginning in a small way and growing up from the foundation independent of tribute for the use of land or money. It was to form an organization of persons who were able to lay aside a small sum monthly. When a sufficient amount had accumulated to justify a purchase, select public lands were to be purchased, and a few earnest workers w ere to be sent forward to break up and prepare it for cultivation. Carpenters, masons, blacksmith and other artisans were to follow as fast as their labor should be in remunerative demand. And so build up a community where rent and interest and even speculative profit would be practically unknown, and the conveniences for social life, education, etc., be gradually and naturally developed.

I had extensive correspondence from many states. From Maine, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, etc. But our organization was not perfected, when the Land Reformers of the city requested me to represent them in the Fourth Industrial Congress at Chicago, Ill. Thinking that the opportunity would be [57] a good one to look out a location, I suggested to some of my correspondents, that I would have this in mind. From Chicago I came around the lakes to Cleveland, Ohio. And through Ohio to Pittsburg, where there were a dozen or more persons who had signified a disposition to be of our Colony. To my surprise on arriving, they had been led by a land agent to contract for a tract of worn out land on Bull Creek, in West Virginia, about equi-distance from Parkersburg and Marietta. At the solicitation of Oliver Peppard, I accompanied him to the place. Neither he nor myself were satisfied with the land or location; but some money had been paid on it, and so far as the Pittsburg people were concerned, their co-operation in any other movement was out of the question. On arriving in New York I received letters from a farmer in Maine, and two families from Massachusetts that they had sold out their places and were coming to join my colony. As no organization had been formed, no purchase of land made, and no payments of any kind received, this was a little surprising. However, when they arrived in New York I advised them to go to Pittsburg, where they found employment, and joined the "Valley Farm Association" in the Spring. Despite the unfavorable location, and the desultory way in which the movement was made, it was at first much enjoyed. Wm. F. Stevenson, who became Governor of West Virginia was an active member.

When the individual interest began to manifest itself, troubles about division arose, which required the exercise of much judgment and mutual forbearance. The result was that in a few years, all idea of co-operation disappeared, many left;—but for those who remained, comfortable homes and pleasant neighborhood remained. I visited them, or the families which were left, in 1860 and again in 1865.

With the utter failure to get any plan adopted or even understood, I abandoned the idea of becoming a Moses, or even a Joshua of an associate movement, but followed out the suggestion of making my reform work, a work purely of good will, and took up mechanical work as stated in Chapters 9 and 10.

Among the great number of Protective Union Stores, Industrial Cooperative movements, Land Purchasing Associations. etc., which I was solicited to join and from which I was debarred by their refusal [58] to eliminate the charge of interest, it seems necessary to mention only a few.

A plan was formed to establish a co-operative colony in Louisiana by Thos. J. Durant, Col. Daniels of Virginia, and others. The plan had an attractive presentation, and I was earnestly entreated to lend my assistance and influence to it. I replied that I would, if they would leave out the interest the investors were to draw, offering to invest one thousand dollars, the principal of which only should hold as a lien upon the property of the Association. This was declined; then I proposed that the method of counting interest should be after the short method, i. e., of calculating the amount on the whole principal, and deducting the endorsements with their accruing interests, until the sides were balanced, and the debt was cancelled, This would be doubling the return of his investment, to the capitalist in about thirty years, at six per cent., or in about fifteen years at ten per cent., which rate I should prefer.

This proposition being declined, I replied I could by no means be a party to a transaction which would land labor to work forever, against a paltry investment of capital, embodied in plant which at least would require renewing every seven or eight years, but as a test whether their investment differed in any respect from its exploitive capitalistic brothers, I would propose that when the capital had been thrice returned in interest, the principal should be cancelled. To this no reply was received, and whether any progress was made with their speculation is unknown.

In 1879 I was requested to act as secretary to the Co-operative Colony Aid Association, to the formation of which, Mrs. Elizabeth Thompson was the main contributor; but who was seconded by a number of influential persons, among whom were Rev. R. Heber Newton and J. H. Rylance, Dr. Felix Adler, Mr. Jesse Seligman, Banker, Messrs. Montgomery and Saterlaa, Lawyers, and others. I served without compensation till the little colony was started. An organization of 50 or more colonists was formed of industrious persons, desirous to emigrate, and who held regular meetings in the office of the Association, 25 Cooper Union. A paper called "The Worker." was published and being asked to contribute I showed the dangerous nature of subjecting the colonists to a perpetual payment of interest [59] at a high rate, or at any rate, This attracted the attention of some of the Association and when the matter of interest or dividend to the contributors to the fund was discussed, the manager was censured for allowing me to discuss the interest question in the columns of The Worker.

In October of that year during the visit of George J. Holyoake to this country, a well attended meeting was held in the large hall of Cooper Union, over which Rev. Robert Colyer was called to preside, Mr. Holyoake being the principal speaker. He dwelt more particularly upon the subject of co-operation in England, but showed how its principles might be applied to the successful planting of colonies, and the improvement of the condition of workingmen. Rev. R. Heber Newton then described the plan of the "Aid Association," and the work it had in hand. There was need, he said, of a movement "to enable the distressed laborer in great cities to go in goodly companies to places in the country, where they could live happily in co-operative villages and work together for each others good." The Rev. J. H. Rylance said he wanted merely to add "one cordial word of welcome to the gentleman who had addressed them," "there was no truer apostle of human brotherhood than Mr. Holyoake, though he might discard the title of apostle. Colonization should have more attraction for workingmen and be of far greater importance to them than any political question could be. To help themselves was better than reliance upon Senates and Parliaments." E. V. Smalley claimed that the aim of the Colony Aid Association was an eminently practical one.

Dr, Felix Adler also made a brief address on the scope and import of the Association, and the prospects of its future attainments, which he thought would relieve overcrowded cities of their surplus population, while increasing the production of, and demand for labor.

When the rate was discussed I could have nothing to say, not being a member of the board, but only Secretary of the Association, but Mr. Seligman came to the rescue, unexpectantly to me, He objected to six or even five per cent., saving that the Association was organized to help, not to exploit the colonists; that six per cent. was impossible to be paid by more than a few of them, and so the land and such improvements as they should make would have to be [60] given up after all their toil and privation. At his suggestion the rate was fixed at three per cent., which doubles in about twenty-five years, while at six per cent. it would double in twelve years, and in twenty-five years be quadrupled, that is be paid three times over without reducing the debt at all.

The organization of the colonists proved more effective than that of the Aid Association, since the means raised were sufficient to send out only a portion of their members, to say nothing of purchasing land. That was furnished in the last resort, by the donation of a section (640 acres) by Mrs. Thompson. The ability to collect funds had been greatly overrated by the estimates of the finance committee, and the decease of one of the Seligman firm greatly discouraged; their endeavors. As in other cases, I learn that to a portion, of the colonists, the movement has proved beneficial, but that all organization has been abandoned, and the struggle for existence there as elsewhere is proceeding on individual lines.

[1] Sears was affiliated with the North American Phalanx, and contributed to The Phrenological Journal and Science of Health and The Oneida Circular. Drew also contributed to The Phrenological Journal, and wrote on the "usury issue." Sears and Drew were later involved with Albert Kimsey Owen and the journal Social Science.