Historic Failures in Early American Socialism by Daniel Joseph Ryan 1920
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In American history, at its very beginning, we find an experiment in socialism which by its failure forms the first lesson for Americans. When the company of adventurers sent out the first settlement to Virginia, it was conducted as a socialistic community, and it was the first attempt in this country at communism in labor and supply, in which all personal interest was eliminated and of which the common result of dissension, shiftlessness and insubordination resulted.
Dr. William Robertson in 1788 wrote The History of the Discovery and Settlement of America, in which he gives the history of Virginia to the year 1688. He describes the situation thus:
"During the interval of tranquility procured by the alliance with Powhatan, an important change was made in the state of the colony. Hitherto no right of private property in land had been established. The fields that were cleared had been cultivated by the joint labour of the colonists; their product was carried to the common storehouses, and distributed weekly to every family, according to its number and exigencies. A society, destitute of the first advantages resulting from social union, was not formed to prosper. Industry, when not excited by the idea of property in what was acquired by its own efforts, made no vigorous exertion. The head had no inducement to contrive, nor the hand to labour. The idle and improvident trusted entirely to what was issued from the common store; the assiduity even of the sober and attentive relaxed, when they perceived that others were to reap the fruit of their toil; and it was computed, that the united industry of the colony did not accomplish as much work in a week as might have been performed in a day, if each individual had laboured on his own account. In order to remedy this, Sir Thomas Dale divided a considerable portion of the land into small lots, and granted one of these to each individual in full property.
"From the moment that industry had the certain prospect of a recompense, it advanced with rapid progress. The articles of primary necessity were cultivated with so much attention as secured the means of subsistence; and such schemes of improvement were formed as prepared the way for the introduction of opulence into the colony."
The socialistic experiment of Virginia was applied to the settlement of New England by the Puritans. They, like the settlers in Virginia, were sent out by a company similar to that which settled Virginia and "a similar attempt at communism of labor and supply was made, this time under the most favorable conditions, among a people conscientious and bound together by strong religious enthusiasm." It was a dismal failure and was abolished by Governor William Bradford. In his History of the Plymouth Plantation he thus desribes the experience of the Pilgrim fathers:
"The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundrie years, and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanite of that conceite of Platos and other ancients, applauded by some of later times—that the taking away of propertie, and bringing in communitie into a comone wealth, would make them happy and florishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this communitie (so fare as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much imployment that would have been to their benefite and comforte. For the yong-men that were most able and fitte for labour and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to worke for other mens wives and children with out any recompense. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in devission of victails and cloaths, than he that was weake and not able to doe a quarter the other could; this was thought injuestice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labours, and victails, cloaths, &c., with the meaner and yonger sorte, thought it some indignite and disrespect unto them. And for mens wives to be commanded to doe service for other men, as dresing their meate, washing their cloaths, &c., they deemd it a kind of slaverie, neither could many husbands well brooke it. Upon the point all being to have alike, and all to doe alike, they thought themselves in the like condition, and one as good as another; and so if it did not cut of those relations that God hath set amongst men yet it did much diminish and take of the mutuall respects that should be preserved amongst them. And would have bene worse if they had been men of another condition."
The United States in the first half of the nineteenth century was a fertile ground for isms of all kinds. Its free institutions afforded a planting ground for the seeds of all sorts of doctrines and philosophies. During this period there were transplanted from France and England visionary projects, attempting to carry out the socialistic ideas embodied in the literature of centuries before. Cabet, the French author of Icaria, in 1848 contracted for a million acres of land in Texas, and planted thereon "Icaria" the city and community of his dreams. The individualistic sentiment of humanity that rests in every human heart broke loose in Icaria, the result of which was, after disappointments, harsh experience, bitter dissensions, the experiment was a pathetic failure. Cabet himself was expelled from the Society. It struggled on, however, in one form or another until 1895, when the last vestige disappeared.
There were two other Frenchmen who created, during this period, a most profound sociological impression in the United States. These were Compte De Claude Henri Saint-Simon, generally referred to as SaintSimon, and Charles Fourier. In addition to these was Robert Owen, an Englishman, who stands easily as the first of this grouping of Utopians, and he is generally known as the "Father of Modern Socialism." The doctrines of Saint-Simon were never practically applied in the United States, except as under and through the influence of Fourier. The associations formed for the purpose of carrying out community of life in this country came under these two divisions: the Owen movement and the Fourier movement.
Robert Owen came to this country and commenced his experiments in socialism 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. Owen was full of zeal for the improvement of society; he conceived that he had discovered the cause of its evils in the law of meum et tuum; and that a state of society where there is nothing of mine or thine would be a paradise begun. He brooded on this idea until he was ready to sacrifice his own property, and devote his life to his fellow men upon this basis. Too discreet to inaugurate the new system among the poorer classes of England, whom he found perverted by prejudices and warped by the artificial forms of society there, he resolved to proceed to the United States and among the comparatively unperverted people, liberal institutions and cheap lands of the west to establish social communities founded upon common property, social equality and the equal value of every man's labor.
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Fourierism was introduced into this country by Albert Brisbane, father of the celebrated editorial writer of to-day, and Horace Greeley, in 1842. Their communities were known as "Phalanxes." They established a community at Brook Farm, Massachusetts, and to this community there fled for refuge many of the most brilliant minds of that day, among them being Horace Greeley, of the New York Tribune; Park Godwin, a noted journalist; Charles A. Dana, afterwards of the New York Sun; Nathaniel Hawthorne; Ralph Waldo Emerson; Theodore Parker; Thomas W. Higginson, James Russell Lowell and the two well-known Unitarian ministers, George Ripley and William Henry Channing. Outside of the anti-slavery movement there was never gathered in New England a more remarkable galaxy of leaders of human thought. Brook Farm lasted five years. It fell to pieces largely on ac- • count of the strong personalities that formed its control.
We can well understand this, when we consider a small community in which Charles A. Dana and Horace Greeley were in constant, daily contact, or Henry James and Ralph Waldo Emerson. A writer of that period who was familiar with the operations of this community, says that it died from the "gift of tongues"—in other words, the eternal tendency of authors with ideas to express themselves, broke out here. If there is any one thing that cannot exist under and is absolutely incompatible with socialism it is the freedom of expression either by tongue or pen. Cabet was wise in his plan for "Icaria," when he forbade newspapers to exist within his settlement.
It is impossible to devote the time to a treatment of the operation and history of these experiments individually, but for the purpose of accuracy a recitation of these attempts, with their time of existence, forms a catalogue of the failure of applied socialism that is a great lesson to the student of this question.
The experiments of the Owen epoch are as follows:
1. Blue Spring Community; Indiana; no particulars, except that it lasted "but a short time."
2. Co-operative Society; Pennsylvania; no particulars.
8. Coxsackie Community; New York; capital "small;" "very much in debt;" duration between one and two years.
4. Forfestville Community; Indiana; "over 60 members;" 325 acres of land; duration more than a year.
5. Franklin Community; New York; no particulars.
6. Haverstraw Community; New York; about 80 members; 120 acres; debt $12,000; duration five months.
7. Kendal Community; Ohio; 200 members; 200 acres; duration about two years.
8. New Harmony; Indiana; 900 members; 30,000 acres, worth $150,000; duration nearly three years.
9. Nashoba; Tennessee; 15 members; 2,000 acres; duration about three years.
10. Yellow Springs Community; Ohio; 75 to 100 families; duration three months.
The experiments of the Fourier epoch are as follows:
1. Alphadelphia Phalanx; Michigan; 400 or 500 families; 2814 acres; duration two years and nine months.
2. Brook Farm; Massachusetts; 115 members; 200 acres; duration five years.
3. Brooke's Experiment; Ohio; few members; no further particulars.
4. Bureau County Phalanx; Illinois; small; no particulars.
5. Clarkson Industrial Association; New York; 420 members; 2000 acres; duration from six to nine months.
6. Clermont Phalanx; Ohio; 120 members; 900 acres; debt $19,000; duration two years or more.
7. Columbian Phalanx; Ohio; no particulars.
8. Garden Grove; Iowa; no particulars.
9. Goose Pond Community; Pennsylvania; 60 members; duration a few months.
10. Grand Prairie Community; Ohio; no particulars.
11. Hopedale; Massachusetts; 200 members; 500 acres; duration not stated, but commonly reported to be seventeen or eighteen years.
12. Integral Phalanx; Illinois; 30 families; 508 acres; duration seventeen months.
13. Jefferson Co. Industrial Association; New York; 400 members; 1200 acres of land; duration a few months.
14. Lagrange Phalanx; Indiana; 1000 acres; no further particulars.
15. Leraysville Phalanx; Pennsylvania; 40 members; 300 acres; duration eight months.
16. Marlboro Association; Ohio; 24 members; had "load of debt;" duration nearly four years.
17. McKean Co. Association; Pennsylvania; 30,000 acres; no further particulars.
18. Moorhouse Union; New York; 120 acres; duration "a few months."
19. North American Phalanx; New Jersey; 112 members; 673 acres; debt $17,000; duration twelve years.
20. Northhampton Association; Massachusetts; 130 members; 500 acres of land; debt $40,000; duration four years.
21. Ohio Phalanx; 100 members; 2,200 acres; deeply in debt; duration ten months.
22. One-Mind Community; Pennsylvania; 800 acres; duration one year.
23. Ontario Phalanx; New York; brief duration.
24. Prairie Home Community; Ohio; 500 acres; debt broke it up; duration one year.
25. Raritan Bay Union; New Jersey; few members; 268 acres.
26. Sangamon Phalanx; Illinois; no particulars.
27. Skaneateles Community; New York; 150 members; 354 acres; debt $10,000; duration two and onehalf years.
28. Social Reform Unity; Pennsylvania; 20 members; 2,000 acres; debt $2,400; duration about ten months.
29. Sodus Bay Phalanx; New York; 300 members; 1,400 acres; duration a "short time."
30. Spring Farm Association; Wisconsin; 10 families; duration three years.
81. Sylvania Association; Pennsylvania; 145 members; 2394 acres; debt $7,900; duration nearly three years.
32. Trumbull Phalanx; Ohio; 1500 acres; duration two and one-half years.
33. Washtenaw Phalanx; Michigan; no particulars.
34. Wisconsin Phalanx; 32 families; 1,800 acres; duration six years.
A recapitulation of the foregoing shows this: That the communities established by the Owen group of socialists were as follows;
In Indiana 3; in New York 3; in Ohio 2; in Pennsylvania 1; in Tennessee 1.
The Fourier groups were located as follows:
In Ohio 8; in New York 6; in Pennsylvania 6; in Massachusetts 3; in Illinois 3; in New Jersey 2; in Michigan 2; in Wisconsin 3; in Indiana 1; in Iowa 1.
The two groups combined were distributed as follows:
Ten in Ohio; nine in New York; seven in Pennsylvania; four in Indiana; three in Massachusetts; three in Illinois; two in New Jersey; two in Michigan; two in Wisconsin; one each in Tennessee and Iowa.
None of these associations lasted very long; and most of them died before they were two years old.
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