History of American Socialisms

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History of American Socialisms was written by the American utopian socialist and founder of the the Oneida Community, John Humphrey Noyes. It was published in 1870.


Preface (Dec 1869)[edit]

  • This country has been from the beginning, and especially for the last forty years, a laboratory in which Socialisms of all kinds have been experimenting.
  • The disasters of Owenism and Fourierism have not been in vain; the successes of the Shakers and Rappites have not been set before us for nothing. We may hope to learn something from every experiment.

Chapter I, Introductory[edit]

  • He [A. J. McDonald] was indeed the "Old Mortality" of Socialism, wandering from grave to grave, patiently deciphering the epitaphs of defunct "Phalanxes." We learned from him that he was a Scotchman by birth, and a printer by trade ; that he was an admirer and disciple of Owen, and came from the "old country" some ten years before, partly to see and follow the fortunes of his master's experiments in Socialism: but finding Owenism in ruins and Fourierism going to ruin, he took upon himself the task of making a book, that should give future generations the benefit of the lessons taught by these attempts and failures. His own attempt was a failure. He gathered a huge mass of materials, wrote his preface, and then died in New York of the cholera.
  • I have reason to believe from long experience among social reformers, that such a work is needed, and will be both useful and interesting. It will serve as a guide to all future experiments, showing what has already been done; like a light-house, pointing to the rocks on which so many have been wrecked, or to the haven in which the few have found rest. It will give facts and statistics to be depended upon, gathered from the most authentic sources, and forming a collection of interesting narratives. It will show the errors of enthusiasts, and the triumphs of the cool-thinking; the disappointments of the sanguine, and the dear-bought experience of many social adventurers. It will give mankind an idea of the labor of body and mind that has been expended to realize a better state of society; to substitute a social and cooperative state for a competitive one; a system of harmony, for one of discord.
    • Printed Letter of Inquiry by A. J. McDonald (1851) for the non-published notes for his The Communities of the United States which were utilized for this history.
  • We have reason to believe that he [A. J. McDonald] spent most of his time from his arrival in this country in 1842 till his death in 1854, in pilgrimages to every Community, and even to every grave of a Community, that he could hear of, far and near. He had done his work when he died. His collection is nearly exhaustive in the extent of its survey. Very few Associations of any note are overlooked. And he evidently considered it ready for the press ; for most of his memoirs are endorsed with the word "Complete," and with some methodical directions to the printer. He had even provided the illustrations promised in his circular.
    • Preface to the unpublished book by A. J. McDonald (1854)
  • At one time, sanguine in anticipating brilliant results from Communism, I imagined mankind better than they are, and that they would speedily practise those principles which I considered so true. But the experience of years is now upon me; I have mingled with 'the world,' seen stern reality, and now am anxious to do as much as in me lies, to make known to the many thousands who look for a 'better state' than this on earth as well as in heaven, the amount (as it were at a glance) of the labors which have been and are now being performed in this country to realize that 'better state'.
    • Preface to the unpublished book by A. J. McDonald (1854)
  • It may help to waken dreamers, to guide lost wanderers, to convince skeptics, to re-assure the hopeful; it may serve the uses of Statesmen and Philosophers, and interest the general reader; but it is most desirable that it should increase the charity of all those who may please to examine it, when they see that it was for Humanity, in nearly all instances, that these things were done.
    • Preface to the unpublished book by A. J. McDonald (1854)
  • Of necessity the work is imperfect, because of the difficulty in obtaining information on such subjects; but the attempt, whatever may be its result, should not be put off, since there is reason to believe that if not now collected, many particulars of the various movements would be forever lost.
    • Preface to the unpublished book by A. J. McDonald (1854)
  • It remains for a future historian to continue the labor which I have thus superficially commenced; for the day has not yet arrived when it can be said that Communism or Association has ceased to exist; and it is possible yet, in the progress of things, that man will endeavor to cure his social diseases by some such means; and a future history may contain the results of more important experiments than have ever yet been attempted.
    • Preface to the unpublished book by A. J. McDonald (1854)
  • I here return my thanks to the fearless, confiding, and disinterested friends, who so freely shared with me what little they possessed, to assist in the completion of this work. I name them not, but rejoice in their assistance.
    • Preface to the unpublished book by A. J. McDonald (1854)
  • The plan and theory of this history are our own, and widely different from any that Macdonald would have been willing to indorse. With these qualifications, we still acknowledge a large debt of gratitude to him and to the Providence that gave us his collections.

Chapter II. Bird's-Eye View of the Experiments[edit]

  • We will lay aside the antique religious Associations, such as the Dunkers, Moravians, Zoarites, &c. We count at least seven of these, which do not properly belong to the modern socialistic movement, or even to American life. Having their origin in the old world, and most of them in the last century, and remaining without change, they exist only on the outskirts of general society.
  • We put out of account the foreign Associations, such as the Brazilian and Venezuelan experiments. With these may be classed those of the Icarians and some others, which though within the United States, are, or were, really colonies of foreigners. We see six of this sort...
  • We dismiss two or three Spiritualistic attempts that are named in the list ; first because they never attained to the dignity of Assoc1ations ; and secondly, because they belonged to a later movement than that which Macdonald undertook to record. The social experiments of the Spiritualists should be treated by themselves, as the sequelæ of the Fourier excitement of Macdonald's time.
  • The Associations that are left after these exclusions, naturally fall into two groups, viz.; those of the OWEN MOVEMENT, and those of the FOURIER MOVEMENT.
  • Robert Owen came to this country and commenced his experiments in Communism in 1824. This was the beginning of a national excitement, which had a course somewhat like that of a religious revival or a political campaign. This movement seems to have culminated in 1826 ; and, grouped around or near that year, we find... eleven Communities.
  • Fourierism was introduced into this country by Albert Brisbane and Horace Greeley in 1842, and then commenced another great national movement similar to that of Owenism, but far more universal and enthusiastic. We consider the year 1843 the focal period of this social revival ; and around that year or following it within the forties, we find the main group of Macdonald's Associations. Thirty-four of the list may clearly be referred to this epoch.
  • The amount of land reported is enormous. Averaging it as we did in the case of the number of members, we make a grand total of 136,586 acres, or about 3,000 acres to each Association. This is too much for any probable average. We will leave out as exceptional the 60,000 acres reported as belonging to New Harmony and the McKean Co. Association. Then averaging as before we have a grand total of 44,624 acres, or about 1,000 acres to each Association.
  • Judging by our own experience we incline to think that this fondness for land, which has been the habit of Socialists, had much to do with their failures. Farming is about the hardest and longest of all roads to fortune: and it is the kind of labor in which there is the most uncertainty as to modes and theories, and of course the largest chance for disputes and discords in such complex bodies as Associations. Moreover the lust for land leads off into the wilderness, "out west," or into by-places, far away from railroads and markets; whereas Socialism, if it is really ahead of civilization, ought to keep near the centers of business, and at the front of the general march of improvement.
  • We should have advised the Phalanxes to limit their land-investments to a minimum, and put their strength as soon as possible into some form of manufacture. Almost any kind of a factory would be better than a farm for a Community nursery. We find hardly a vestige of this policy in Macdonald's collections. The saw-mill is the only form of mechanism that f1gures much in his reports. It is really ludicrous to see how uniformly an old saw-mill turns up in connection with each Association, and how zealously the brethren made much of it; but that is about all they attempted in the line of manufacturing.
  • Land, land, land, was evidently regarded by them as the mother of all gain and comfort. Considering how much they must have run in debt for land, and how little profit they got from it, we may say of them almost literally, that they were "wrecked by running aground."
  • We have reason to think that nearly all of them bought, to begin with, a great deal more land than they paid for. This was the fashion of the socialistic schools and of the times.
  • The duration of fourteen Associations is not reported; twelve lasted less than 1 year; two 1 year; four between 1 and 2 years; three 2 years; four between 2 and 3 years; one between 3 and 4 years; one 4 years; one 5 years; one 6 years; one 12 years; and one (it is said) 17 years. All died young, and most of them before they were two years old.

Chapter 3. Theory of National Experience[edit]

  • A vast spiritual and intellectual excitement is one thing; and the institutions that rise out of it are another. We must not judge the excitement by the institutions.
  • The numbers engaged in the practical attempts were very small, in comparison with the masses that entered into the enthusiasm of the general movements and abandoned themselves to the idea of an impending social revolution.
  • Owen in 1824 stirred the very life of the nation with his appeals to Kings and Congresses, and his vast experiments at New Harmony. Think of his family of nine hundred members on a farm of thirty thousand acres! A magnificent beginning, that thrilled the world! The general movement was proportionate to this beginning; and though this great Community and all the little ones that followed it failed and disappeared in a few years, the movement did not cease.
  • Owen and his followers—especially his son Robert Dale Owen and Frances Wright—continued to agitate the country with newspapers, public lectures, and "Fanny Wright societies," till their ideas actually got foot-hold and influence in the great Democratic party. The special enthusiasm for practical attempts at Association culminated in 1826, and afterwards subsided; but the excitement about Owen's ideas, which was really the Owen movement, reached its height after 1830; and the embers of it are in the heart of the nation to this day.
  • Fourier (by proxy) started another national excitement in 1842. With young Brisbane for its cosmopolitan apostle, and a national newspaper, such as the New York Tribune was, for its organ, this movement, like Owen's, could not be otherwise than national in its dimensions.
  • Consider that several of the men who were leaders in this excitement, were also leaders then and afterwards in the old Whig party; and he will have reason to conclude that Socialism, in its duplex form of Owenism and Fourierism, has touched and modified both of the party-sections and all departments of the national life.
  • We must not think of the two great socialistic revivals as altogether heterogeneous and separate. Their partizans maintained theoretical opposition to each other; but after all the main idea of both was the enlargement of home—the extension of family union beyond the little man-and-wife circle to large corporations. ...The same men, or at least the same sort of men that took part in the Owen movement, were afterward carried away by the Fourier enthusiasm. The two movements may, therefore, be regarded as one; and in that view, the period of the great American socialistic revival extends from 1824, through the final and overwhelming excitement of 1843, to the collapse of Fourierism after 1846.
  • As a man who has passed through a series of passional excitements, is never the same being afterward, so we insist that these socialistic paroxysms have changed the heart of the nation; and that a yearning toward social reconstruction has become a part of the continuous, permanent, inner experience of the American people.
  • The Communities and Phalanxes died almost as soon as they were born, and are now almost forgotten. But the spirit of Socialism remains in the life of the nation. It was discouraged and cast down by the failures of 1828 and 1846, and thus it learned salutary caution and self-control. But it lives still, as a hope watching for the morning, in thousands and perhaps millions who never took part in any of the experiments, and who are neither Owenites nor Fourierites, but simply Socialists without theory—believers in the possibility of a scientific and heavenly reconstruction of society.
  • Our theory harmonizes Owenism with Fourierism, and regards them both as working toward the same end in American history.
  • Since the war of 1812-15, the line of socialistic excitements lies parallel with the line of religious Revivals. ...Nettleton and Finney were to Revivals what Owen and Fourier were to Socialism.
  • There was a time between 1831 and 1834 when the American people came as near to a surrender of all to the Kingdom of Heaven, as they came in 1843 to a socialistic revolution. The Millennium seemed as near in 1831, as Fourier's Age of Harmony seemed in 1843. And the final effect of Revivals was a hope watching for the morning, which remains in the life of the nation, side by side, nay identical, with the great hope of Socialism.
  • These movements—Revivalism and Socialism—opposed to each other as they may seem, and as they have been in the creeds of their partizans, are closely related in their essential nature and objects, and manifestly belong together in the scheme of Providence, as they do in the history of this nation. They are to each other as inner to outer—as soul to body—as life to its surroundings.
  • The Revivalists had for their great idea the regeneration of the soul. The great idea of the Socialists was the regeneration of society, which is the soul's environment. These ideas belong together, and are the complements of each other. Neither can be successfully embodied by men whose minds are not wide enough to accept them both.
  • These two ideas, which in modern times are so wide apart, were present together in original Christianity. When the Spirit of truth pricked three thousand men to the heart and converted them on the day of Pentecost, its next effect was to resolve them into one family and introduce Communism of property. Thus the greatest of all Revivals was also the great inauguration of Socialism.
  • Undoubtedly the Socialists will think we make too much of the Revival movement ; and the Revivalists will think we make too much of the Socialistic movement ; and the politicians will think we make too much of both, in assigning them important places in American history. But we hold that a man's deepest experiences are those of religion and love ; and these are just the experiences in respect to which he is most apt to be ashamed, and most inclined to be silent. So the nation says but little, and tries to think that it thinks but little, about its Revivals and its Socialisms ; but they are nevertheless the deepest and most interesting passages of its history, and worth more study as determinatives of character and destiny, than all its politics and diplomacies, its money matters and its wars.
  • Doubtless the Revivalists and Socialists despise each other, and perhaps both will despise us for imagining that they can be reconciled. But we will say what we believe ; and that is, that they have both failed in their attempts to bring heaven on earth, because they despised each other, and would not put their two great ideas together. The Revivalists failed for want of regeneration of society, and the Socialists failed for want of regeneration of the heart.
  • While the Bible men have worked for the regeneration of the soul, the infidels and liberals have been busy on the problem of the reconstruction of society. Working apart and in enmity, perhaps they have accomplished more for final harmony than they could have done together. Even their failures when rightly interpreted, may turn to good account. They have both helped to plant in the heart of the nation an unfailing hope of the "good time coming." ...we may hope that the next phase of national history will be that of Revivalism and Socialism harmonized, and working together for the Kingdom of Heaven.
  • Jonathan Edwards, whose life extended from 1703 to 1758, was the father of it. So that not only since the war of 1812, but before the Revolution of 1776, we find Revivalism, as a system, strictly an American production.

Chapter 4. New Harmony[edit]

  • Owen was the first Socialist that stirred the enthusiasm of the whole American people ; and he was the first, so far as we know, who tried the experiment of a non-religious Community [commune]. And the whole series of experiments belonging to the two great groups of the Owen and Fourier epochs, followed in his footsteps. The exclusion of theology was their distinction and their boast.
  • Owen did not build the village of New Harmony, nor create the improvements which prepared his 30,000 acres for his family of nine hundred. He bought them outright from a previous religious Community [ the Rappites ] ; and it is doubtful whether he would have ever gathered his nine hundred and made his experiment, if he had not found a place prepared for him by a sect of Christian Communists.
  • In the first years of the present century, old Würtemburg, a province always famous for its religious enthusiasms, was fermenting with excitement about the Millennium ; and many of its enthusiasts were expecting the speedy personal advent of Christ. Among these George Rapp became a prominent preacher, and led forth a considerable sect into doctrines and ways that brought upon him and them severe persecutions. In 1803 he came to America to find a refuge for his flock. After due exploration he purchased 5000 acres of land in Butler Co., Pennsylvania, and commenced a settlement which he called Harmony. In the summer of 1804 two ship-loads of his disciples with their families—six hundred in all—came over the ocean and joined him. In 1805 the Society was formally organized as a Christian Community, on the model of the Pentecostal church. ...[they] soon made the wilderness blossom around them like the rose. In 1807 they adopted the principle of celibacy ; but in other respects they were far from being ascetics. Music, painting, sculpture, and other liberal arts flourished among them. Their museums and gardens were the wonder and delight of the region around them. In 1814, desiring warmer land, and a better location for business, they sold all in Pennsylvania and removed to Indiana.
  • On the banks of the Wabash they [the Rappites or Harmonites] built a new village and again called it Harmony. Here they prospered more than ever, and their number increased to nearly a thousand. In 1824 they again became discontented with their location, on account of bad neighbors and malaria. Again they sold all, and returned to Pennsylvania ; but not to their old home. They built their third and final village in Beaver Co., near Pittsburgh, and called it Economy. There they are to this day. They own railroads and oil wells and are reported to be millionaires of the unknown grade. In all their migrations from the old world to the new, from Pennsylvania to Indiana, and from Indiana back to Pennsylvania ; in all their perils by persecutions, by false brethren, by pestilence, by poverty and wealth, their religion held them together, and their union gave them the strength that conquers prosperity.
  • Such were the people who gave Robert Owen his first lessons in Communism, and sold him their home in [New Harmony] Indiana. Ten of their best years they spent in building a village on the Wabash, not for themselves (as it turned out) but for a theater of the great infidel experiment.
  • Thus Owen, the first experimenter in non-religious Association, had substantially the ready-made material conditions which Fourier and his followers considered indispensable to success.
  • On the departure of the Rappites, persons favorable to Mr. Owen's views came flocking to New Harmony (as it was thenceforth called) from all parts of the country. Tidings of the new social experiment spread far and wide... in the short space of six weeks from the commencement of the experiment, a population of eight hundred persons was drawn together, and in October 1825, the number had increased to nine hundred. [As to the character of this population] it was as good as it could be under the circumstances... many intelligent and benevolent individuals... were at various times residents at New Harmony. [But] it is certain... that there was a proportion of needy and idle persons, who crowded in to avail themselves of Mr. Owen's liberal offer; and that they did their share of work more in the line of destruction than construction.
    • A. J. McDonald's notes
  • [Owen] tendered them a Constitution, of which we find no definite account, except that it was not fully Communistic, and was to hold the people in probationary training three years, under the title of the Preliminary Society of New Harmony. "After these proceedings Mr. Owen left New Harmony for Europe, and the Society was managed by the Preliminary Committee.(!) We may imagine... what the nine hundred did while Mr. Owen was away. Macdonald compiled from the New Harmony Gazette a very rapid but evidently defective account of the state of things in this important interval.
    • A. J. McDonald's notes
  • Constitution No. 2. Mr. Owen returned to New Harmony on the 12th of January, 1826, and soon after the members of the Preliminary Society held a convention, and adopted a constitution... entitled The New Harmony Community of Equality. Thus in less than a year, instead of three years as Mr. Owen had proposed, the 'half-way house' came to an end, and actual Communism commenced. A few of the members, who, on account of a difference of opinions, did not sign the new constitution, formed a second Community on the New Harmony estate about two miles from the town, in friendly connection with the first.
    • A. J. McDonald's notes
  • Mr. Owen... made a selection, and by solemn examination constituted a nucleus of twenty-five men, which nucleus was to admit members, Mr. Owen reserving the power to veto every one admitted. There were to be three grades of members, viz., conditional members, probationary members, and persons on trial. (?) The Community was to be under the direction of Mr. Owen, until two thirds of the members should think fit to govern themselves, provided the time was not less than twelve months. This may be called Constitution No 4.
    • A. J. McDonald's notes
  • May 27. The immigration continued so steadily, that it became necessary for the Community to inform the friends of the new views that the accommodations were inadequate, and call upon them by advertisement not to come until further notice.
    • A. J. McDonald's notes
  • Constitution No. 5. May 30. In consequence of a variety of troubles and disagreements, chiefly relating to the disposal of the property, a great meeting of the whole population was held, and it was decided to form four separate societies, each signing its own contract for such part of the property as it should purchase, and each managing its own affairs ; but to trade with each other by paper money.
    • A. J. McDonald's notes
  • I now declare to you and to the world, that Man, up to this hour, has been in all parts of the earth a slave to a Trinity of the most monstrous evils that could be combined to inflict mental and physical evil upon his whole race. I refer to Private or Individual Property, Absurd and Irrational systems of Religion, and Marriage founded on Individual Property, combined with some of these Irrational systems of Religion.
    • Robert Owen's Declaration of Mental Independence (July 4, 1826)
  • August 20. After Mr Owen had given his usual address, it was unanimously agreed by the meeting that the entire population of New Harmony should meet three times a week in the Hall, for the purpose of being educated together. This practice was continued about six weeks, when Mr. Owen became sick and it was discontinued.
    • A. J. McDonald's notes
  • Constitution No. 6. August 25. The people held a meeting at which they abolished all officers then existing, and appointed three men as dictators.
    • A. J. McDonald's notes
  • Constitution No. 7. Sept. 17. A large meeting of all the Societies and the whole population of the town took place at the Hall, for the purpose of considering a plan for the 'amelioration of the Society, to improve the condition of the people, and make them more contented.' A message was received from Mr. Owen proposing to form a Community with as many as would join him, and put in all their property, save what might be thought necessary to reserve to help their friends ; the government to consist of Robert Owen and four others of his choice, to be appointed by him every year ; and not to be altered for five years. This movement of course nullified all previous organizations. Disagreements and jealousies ensued, and, as was the case on a former change being made, many persons left New Harmony.
    • from A. J. McDonald's notes
  • Eighteen months experience has proved to us, that the requisite qualifications for a permanent member of the Community of Common Property are, 1, Honesty of purpose ; 2, Temperance ; 3, Industry ; 4, Carefulness ; 5, Cleanliness ; 6, Desire for knowledge ; 7, A conviction of the fact that the character of man is formed for, and not by, himself.
    • The New Harmony Gazette Nov. 1
  • Nov. 8. Many persons leaving.
    • A. J. McDonald's notes
  • In December the use of ardent spirits was abolished.
    • A. J. McDonald's notes
  • Jan. 1827. Although there was an appearance of increased order and happiness, yet matters were drawing to a close. Owen was selling property to individuals ; the greater part of the town was now resolved into individual lots ; a grocery was established opposite the tavern ; painted sign-boards began to be stuck up on the buildings, pointing out places of manufacture and trade ; a sort of wax-figure-and-puppet-show was opened at one end of the boarding-house ; and every thing was getting into the old style.
    • A. J. McDonald's notes
  • It is useless to follow this wreck further. Everybody sees it must go down, and why it must go down. It is like a great ship, wallowing helpless in the trough of a tempestuous sea, with nine hundred passengers, and no captain or organized crew.
    • John Humphrey Noyes
  • June 18, 1827. The Gazette advertised that Mr. Owen would meet the inhabitants of New Harmony and the neighborhood on the following Sunday, to bid them farewell. I find no account of this meeting, nor indeed of any further movements of Mr. Owen in the Gazette. After his departure the majority of the population also removed and scattered about the country. Those who remained returned to individualism, and settled as farmers and mechanics in the ordinary way. One portion of the estate was owned by Mr. Owen and the other by Mr. Maclure. They sold, rented, or gave away the houses and lands, and their heirs and assigns have continued to do so to the present day.
    • A. J. McDonald's notes
  • I was cautioned not to speak of Socialism, as the subject was unpopular. The advice was good ; Socialism was unpopular, and with good reason. The people had been wearied and disappointed by it ; had been filled full with theories, until they were nauseated, and had made such miserable attempts at practice, that they seemed ashamed of what they had been doing. An enthusiastic socialist would soon be cooled down at New Harmony.
    • A. J. McDonald, 15 years after the catastrophe, revisiting New Harmony
  • Mr. Owen said he wanted honesty of purpose, and he got dishonesty. He wanted temperance, and instead, he was continually troubled with the intemperate. He wanted industry, and he found idleness. He wanted cleanliness, and found dirt. He wanted carefulness, and found waste. He wanted to find desire for knowledge, but he found apathy. He wanted the principles of the formation of character understood, and he found them misunderstood. He wanted these good qualities combined in one and all the individuals of the Community, but he could not find them ; neither could he find those who were self-sacrificing and enduring enough, to prepare and educate their children to possess these qualities. Thus it was proved that his principles were either entirely erroneous, or much in advance of the age in which he promulgated them. He seems to have forgotten, that if one and all the thousand persons assembled there, had possessed the qualities which he wished them to possess, there would have been no necessity for his vain exertions to form a Community ; because of necessity there would of necessity be brotherly love, charity, industry, and plenty. We want no more than these, and if we can not find it, we can not form Communities ; and if we can not find parents who are ready and willing to educate their children, to give them these qualities for a Community life, then what hope is there of Communism in the future?
    • Josiah Warren, leader of the "Individual Sovereignty" sect and previous member of Owen's Community
  • Almost the only redeeming feature in or near this whole scene of confusion—which might well be called New Discord instead of New Harmony—was the silent retreat of the Rappite thousand, which was so orderly that it almost escaped mention. Remembering their obscure achievements and their persistent success, we can still be sure that the idea of Owen and his thousand was not a delusion, but an inspiration, that only needed wiser hearts, to become a happy reality.
    • John Humphrey Noyes

Chapter 5. Inquest of New Harmony[edit]

  • The Professor [Owen] appeared on the stage with a splendid reputation for previous thaumaturgy, with all the crucibles and chemicals around him that money could buy, with an audience before him that was gaping to see the last wonder of science : but on applying the flame that was to set all ablaze with happiness and glory, behold! the material prepared would not burn, but only sputtered and smoked ; and the curtain had to come down upon a scene of confusion and disappointment!
    • John Humphrey Noyes
  • What were the causes of these failures? People will give different answers, according to the general sentiments they entertain. For myself I should say, that such experiments must fail, because it is impossible to mold to Communism the characters of men and women, formed by the present doctrines and practices of the world to intense individualism. I should indeed go further by stating my convictions, that even with persons brought up from childhood to act in common and live in common, it would be impossible to carry out a Communistic system, unless in a place utterly removed from contact with the world, or with the help of some powerful religious conviction. Mere benevolence, mere sentiments of universal philanthropy, are far too weak to bind the self seeking affections of men.
    • Mr. Sargant, English biographer of Owen
  • Owen was a Scotch metaphysician of the old school. As such, he was a most excellent fault finder and disorganizer. He could perceive and depict the existing discord, but knew not better than his contemporaries Shelley and Godwin, where to find the New Harmony. Like most men of the last generation he looked upon society as a manufactured product, and not as an organism endued with imperishable vitality and growth. Like them he attributed all the evils it endured to priests and politicians, whose immediate annihilation would be followed by immediate, everlasting and universal happiness. It would be astonishing if an experiment initiated by such a class of thinkers should succeed under the most favorable auspices.
    • Positivist, John Pratt in a communication to The Oneida Circular
  • Owen was a skeptic by training, and a cautious man of business by nature and nationality. He was professedly an entire convert to his own principles ; yet set an example of distrust by holding on to his thirty thousand acres himself. This would do when dealing with starving Scotch peasantry, glad of the privilege of moderately remunerated labor, good food and clothing. Had he been a benevolent Southern planter he would have succeeded admirably with negro slaves, who would have been only too happy to accept any 'Principles.' He had to do with people who had individual hopes and aspirations.
    • Positivist, John Pratt in a communication to The Oneida Circular
  • The internal affinities of Owen's Commune were too weak to resist the attractions of the outer world. Had he brought his New Lanark disciples to New Harmony, the result would not have been different. Removed from the mechanical pressure of despair and want his weakly cohered elements would quickly have crumbled away.
    • Positivist, John Pratt in a communication to The Oneida Circular
  • The people Mr. Owen had to deal with in Scotland were of the servile class, employes in his cotton-factories, and were easily managed, compared with those he collected here in the United States. When he went to Indiana, and undertook to manage a family of a thousand democrats, he began to realize that he did not understand human nature, or the principles of Association.
  • At the west I met some persons who claimed to be disciples of Owen. From what I saw of them, I should judge it would be very difficult to form a Community of such material. They were very strong in the doctrine that every man has a right to his own opinion ; and declaimed loudly against the effect of religion upon people. They said the common ideas of God and duty operated a great deal worse upon the characters of men, than southern slavery. There is enough in such notions of independence, to break up any attempt at Communism.
    • G. V. Hamilton, at an evening gathering of the Oneida Community
  • They have taught us one great lesson ; and that is, that good circumstances do not make good men. I believe the circumstances of mankind are as good as Providence can make them, consistently with their own state of development and the well-being of their souls. Instead of seeking to sweep away existing governments and forms of outward things, we should thank God that he has given men institutions as good as they can bear. We know that he will give them better, as fast as they improve beyond those they have.
    • L. Bolles, at an evening gathering of the Oneida Community
  • Although the apparent effect of the failure of Owen's movement was to produce discouragement, still below all that discouragement there is, in the whole nation, generated in part by that movement, a hope watching for the morning. We have to thank Owen for so much, or rather to thank God, for using Owen to stimulate the public mind and bring it to that state in which it is able to receive and keep this hope for the future.
    • J. B. Herrick, at an evening gathering of the Oneida Community
  • Owen's method of getting together the material of his Community, seems to us the most obvious external cause of his failure. It was like advertising for a wife ; and we never heard of any body's getting a good wife by advertising.
    • John Humphrey Noyes
  • The socialistic theorizers all assume that Association is a step in advance of civilization. If that is true, we must assume also that the most advanced class of civilization is that which must take the step ; and a discrimination of some sort will be required, to get that class into the work, and shut off the barbarians who would hinder it. ...This method, or something like it, has been tried in most of the non-religious experiments. The joint-stock principle, which many of them adopted, necessarily invites all who choose to buy stock. That principle may form organizations that are able to carry on the businesses of banks and railroads after a fashion ; because such businesses require but little character, except zeal and ability for money-making. But a true Community, or even a semi-Community, like the Fourier Phalanxes, requires far higher qualifications in its members and managers.
    • John Humphrey Noyes
  • Judging from all our experience and observation, we should say that the two most essential requisites for the formation of successful Communities, are religions principle and previous acquaintance of the members. Both of these were lacking in Owen's experiment. The advertising method of gathering necessarily ignores both.
    • John Humphrey Noyes
  • He [Owen] confessed that until he received the revelations of Spiritualism, he had been quite unaware of the necessity of good spiritual conditions for forming the character of men. The physical, the intellectual, the moral, and the practical conditions, he had understood, and had known how to provide for ; but the spiritual he had overlooked. Yet this, as he now saw, was the most important of all in the future development of mankind.
    • Mr. Sargant, Owen's biographer

Chapter 6. Yellow Springs Community[edit]

  • The fame of New Harmony has... overshadowed and obscured all other experiments that resulted from Owen's labors in this country. It is perhaps scarcely known at this day that a Community almost as brilliant as Brook Farm, was started by his personal efforts at Cincinnati, even before he commenced operations at New Harmony. The following sketch, clipped by Macdonald from some old newspaper (the name and date of which are missing), is not only pleasant reading but bears internal marks of painstaking and truthfulness. It is a model memoir of the life and death of a non-religious Community...
    • John Humphrey Noyes
  • The beginning of the Owen movement in this country was signalized by a conjunction with Swedenborgianism. The significance of this fact will appear more fully, when we come to the history of the marriage between Fourierism and Swedenborgianism which afterwards took place at Brook Farm.
    • John Humphrey Noyes
  • Full of zeal for the improvement of society Owen conceived that he had discovered the cause of most of its evils in the laws of meum et tuum [mine and yours] ; and that a state of society where there is nothing mine or thine, would be a paradise begun. He brooded upon the idea of a Community of property, and connected it with schemes for the improvement of society, until he was ready to sacrifice his own property and devote his heart and his life to his fellow men upon this basis.
    • Unknown member of Yellow Springs quote, clipped by A. J. McDonald from an unknown newspaper article
  • At Cincinnati he soon found many congenial spirits, among the first of whom was Daniel Roe, minister of the "New Jerusalem Church," a society of the followers of Swedenborg. This society was composed of a very superior class of people. They were intelligent, liberal, generous, cultivated men and women—many of them wealthy and highly educated. They were apparently the best possible material to organize and sustain a Community such as Owen proposed.
    • Unknown member of Yellow Springs ibid.
  • Although Christianity was wholly ignored in the system, there was no free-loveism or other looseness of morals allowed. In short, this Community began its career under the most favorable auspices ; and if any men and women in the world could have succeeded, these should have done so.
    • Unknown member of Yellow Springs ibid.
  • Self-love was a spirit which would not be exorcised. It whispered to the lowly maidens, whose former position in society had cultivated the spirit of meekness—"You are as good as the formerly rich and fortunate ; insist upon your equality." It reminded the favorites of former society of their lost superiority ; and in spite of all rules, tinctured their words and actions with the love of self. Similar thoughts and feelings soon arose among the men... deep and strong. ...at the end of three months—three months!—the leading minds in the Community were compelled to acknowledge to each other that the social life of the Community could not be bounded by a single circle. They therefore acquiesced, but reluctantly, in its division into many little circles.
    • Unknown member of Yellow Springs ibid.
  • Still they hoped, and many of them no doubt believed, that though social equality was a failure, community of property was not. But whether the law of mine and thine is natural or incidental in human character, it soon began to develop its sway. The industrious, the skillful and the strong, saw the products of their labor enjoyed by the indolent, the unskilled, and the improvident ; and self-love rose against benevolence. A band of musicians insisted that their brassy harmony was as necessary to the common happiness as bread and meat ; and declined to enter the harvest field or the work-shop. A lecturer upon natural science insisted upon talking only, while others worked. Mechanics, whose day's labor brought two dollars into the common stock, insisted that they should, in justice, work only half as long as the agriculturist, whose day's work brought but one.
    • Unknown member of Yellow Springs ibid.
  • It was useless to remind all parties that the common labor of all ministered to the prosperity of the Community. Individual happiness was the law of nature, and it could not be obliterated ; and before a single year had passed, this law had scattered the members of that society, which had come together so earnestly and under such favorable circumstances, back into the selfish world from which they came.
    • Unknown member of Yellow Springs ibid.
  • The writer of this sketch has since heard the history of that eventful year reviewed with honesty and earnestness by the best men and most intelligent parties of that unfortunate social experiment. They admitted the favorable circumstances which surrounded its commencement ; the intelligence, devotion, and earnestness which were brought to the cause by its projectors ; and its final total failure. And they rested ever after in the belief that man, though disposed to philanthropy, is essentially selfish ; and that a community of social equality and common property is impossible.
    • Unknown member of Yellow Springs ibid.

Chapter 7. Nashoba[edit]

  • MacDonald erects a magniloquent monument over the remains of Nashoba, the experiment of Frances Wright. ... she was the leading woman in the communistic movement of that period, but... she had a very important agency in starting two other movements, that have had far greater success, and are at this moment strong in public favor, viz., Anti-Slavery and Woman's Rights. If justice were done, we are confident her name would figure high with those of Lundy, Garrison, and John Brown on the one hand, and with those of Abby Kelly, Lucy Stone and Anna Dickinson on the other.
    • John Humphrey Noyes
  • This experiment was made in Shelby Co., Tennessee, by the celebrated Frances Wright. The objects were, to form a Community in which the negro slave should be educated and upraised to a level with the whites, and thus prepared for freedom; and to set an example, which, if carried out, would eventually abolish slavery in the Southern States; also to make a home for good and great men and women of all countries, who might there sympathize with each other in their love and labor for humanity. She invited congenial minds from every quarter of the globe to unite with her in the search for truth and the pursuit of rational happiness.
    • A. J. McDonald
  • She [Wright] visited the German settlement of Rappites at Harmony, on the Wabash river, and after examining the wonderful industry of that Community, she was struck with the appropriateness of their system of coöperation to the carrying out of her aspirations. She also visited some of the Shaker establishments then existing in the United States, but she thought unfavorably of them.
    • A. J. McDonald
  • Owen learned all he really knew about practical Communism, and more than he was able to imitate, from the Rappites. They learned Communism from the New Testament and the day of Pentecost.
    • John Humphrey Noyes
  • Her plan in brief was, to take slaves in large numbers from time to time (either by purchase, or by inducing benevolent planters to donate their negroes to the institution), and to prepare them for liberty by education, giving them half of what they produced, and making them pay their way and purchase their emancipation, if necessary, by their labor. The working of the negroes and the general management of the Community was to be in the hands of the philanthropic and wealthy whites associated with the lady-founder. The theory was benevolent; but practically the institution must have been a two-story commonwealth, somewhat like the old Grecian States which founded liberty on Helotism.
    • John Humphrey Noyes
  • The trouble at Brook Farm, according to Hawthorne, was that the amateurs who took part in that 'pic-nic,' did not like to serve as 'chambermaids to the cows.'
    • John Humphrey Noyes
  • No difference will be made in the schools between the white children and the children of color, whether in education or any other advantage. ...It will be seen that this establishment is founded on the principle of community of property and labor: presenting every advantage to those desirous, not of accumulating money, but of enjoying life and rendering services to their fellow-creatures; these fellow-creatures, that is, the blacks here admitted, requiting these services by services equal or greater, by filling occupations which their habits render easy, and which to their guides and assistants, might be difficult or unpleasing.
    • Frances Wright, assignment, upon falling ill, of Nashoba to her trustees
  • No life of idleness... is proposed to the whites. Those who cannot work must give an equivalent in property. Gardening or other cultivation of the soil, useful trades practiced in the society or taught in the school, the teaching of every branch of knowledge, tending the children, and nursing the sick, will present a choice of employment sufficiently extensive.
    • Frances Wright, assignment, upon falling ill, of Nashoba to her trustees
  • 'This Communistic experiment and failure was nearly simultaneous with that of New Harmony, and was the immediate antecedent of Frances Wright's famous lecturing-tour. In December 1828 she was raising whirlwinds of excitement by her eloquence in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York...

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