essays

This is part of a series

1897

After Nestor: Alpacas, Walt Whitman, and the Kaiser

Instead of a Book, By a Man Too Busy to Write One

Tucker’s final topics: anti-liberty laborers, alpaca entrepreneurship, harsh words for Walt Whitman and his Kaiser, and resolutions in memory of Spooner.

Instead of a Book, By a Man Too Busy to Write One

Part Eight: Miscellaneous

 

Do the Knights of Labor Love Liberty?

(published in Liberty on February 20, 1886)

To the Editor of Liberty:

In Liberty of January 9 I see, in your notice of our friend, Henry Appleton, having become the editor of the Newsman, this precautionary language, or mild censure, from you to him: “Will he pardon me if I add that I look with grave doubts upon his advice to newsdealers to join the Knights of Labor? His own powerful pen has often clearly pointed out in these columns the evils of that organization and of all others similar to it.” And further own you say: “A significant hint of what may be expected from the Knights of Labor is to be found in the address of Grand Master Powderly, the head and front of that body, before its latest national convention. He said in most emphatic terms that it would not do for the organization to simply frown upon the use of dynamite, but that any member hereafter advocating the use of dynamite must be summarily expelled.”

Now, I do not know how much you know about the Knights of Labor, nor do I know how much our friend, Henry Appleton, knows about the Knights of Labor. But this much I am impelled to say after reading your reproving strictures,—that it is neither safe, prudent, or wise to condemn or censure any body of liberty-loving and earnestly truth-seeking people who are associated together to enlighten themselves as to what real Liberty is as well as to what are their most important and highest natural rights, duties, or privileges without a full knowledge of their objects, aims, and their methods to promote and achieve them. I can further confidently say that I have for more than forty years been an earnest seeker for these all-important natural scientific principles as taught or set forth by the most advanced individual thinkers or defenders of Liberty,—real Anarchists, if you please,—and I have found more persons holding said views and seeking the knowledge of these natural, inalienable laws or principles of scientific government among the members of this condemned association or school than I ever found outside of it. And I am confident that I can find more friends and earnest defenders of Liberty in its ranks than I can find outside of it. In fact, this school was founded to place Labor on a scientific basis and teach individual self-government at the expense of the individual without invading or infringing on the rights of others. Therefore, notwithstanding the opinions you have formed or the conclusions you may have arrived at in regard to this association or school, I fully indorse Friend Appleton’s advice to the newsmen as well as all other useful workers who are in pursuit of Liberty, truth, justice, and a knowledge of their natural rights and highest duties. And although the association or school may be composed of a large majority of members who are laboring under the disadvantages of previous superstition, education, or training by the bossism of Church and State, nevertheless I esteem it the best opportunity, opening, or school in which to free them from said superstitions that I have ever met with, and for which the best minds in said school are constantly and earnestly laboring. And pardon me, Friend Tucker, for the suggestion that perhaps, if you knew more about their objects, aims, and methods, you might think better of them than you now do.

Fair Play

Criticism from a man like “Fair Play,” whom I know to be a real knight of labor, whether nominally one or not, is always welcome in these columns, and will always deserve and secure my attention. In attending to it in this special case my first business is to repeat what I have said already,—that I misquoted Henry Appleton, that he has never advised newsdealers to join the Knights of Labor, and that he is as much opposed to the principles and purposes of that order as I am.

I don’t pretend to know very much about the Knights of Labor, but I know enough already to make it needless to know more. I know, for instance, their Declaration of Principles, and my fatal objections to these principles, or most of them, no additional knowledge of the order could possibly obviate or in any way invalidate or weaken. Of them the preamble itself says: “Most of the objects herein set forth can only be obtained through legislation, and it is the duty of all to assist in nominating and supporting with their votes only such candidates as will pledge their support to those measures, regardless of party.” Does “Fair Play” mean to tell me that he knows of any “real Anarchist” who consents to stultify himself by belonging to a society founded on that proposition? If he does, I answer that that man either does not know what Anarchy means, or else is as false to his principles as would be an Infidel who should subscribe to the creed of John Calvin. Anarchy and this position are utterly irreconcilable; and no man who understands both of them (with the possible exception of Stephen Pearl Andrews) would ever attempt to reconcile them.

But what are these objects which these “liberty-loving” people expect to realize by that eminently Anarchistic weapon, the ballot? The Declaration goes on to state them. “We demand at the hands of the State” (think of an Anarchist demanding anything of the State except its death!):

“That all lands now held for speculative purposes be taxed to their full value.” How long since taxation became an Anarchistic measure? It is my impression that Anarchists look upon taxation as the bottom tyranny of all.

“The enactment of laws providing for arbitration between employers and employed, and to enforce the decision of the arbitrators.” That is, the State must fix the rate of wages and the conditions of the performance of labor. The Anarchist who would indorse that must be a curiosity.

“The prohibition by law of the employment of children under fifteen years of age in workshops, mines, and factories.” In other words, a boy of fourteen shall not be allowed to choose his occupation. What Anarchist takes this position?

“That a graduated income tax be levied.” How this would lessen the sphere of government!

“The establishment of a national monetary system, in which a circulating medium in necessary quantity shall issue direct to the people without the intervention of banks; that all the national issue shall be full legal tender in payment of all debts, public and private; and that the government shall not guarantee or recognize private banks, or create any banking corporations.” If “Fair Play” knows of any Anarchists who have subscribed to this, I wish he would furnish their addresses. I should like to send them Colonel Greene’s Mutual Banking and the keen and powerful chapter of Lysander Spooner’s Letter to Grover Cleveland which treats of the congressional crime of altering contracts by legal-tender laws. Perhaps they might thus be brought to their senses.

But need I, as I easily might, extend this list of tyrannical measures to convince Friend “Fair Play” that, however much I might know about the Knights of Labor, I could not think better of them than I now do?

The trouble is that “Fair Play” and reformers generally do not yet know what to make of such a phenomenon in journalism as a radical reform paper which, instead of offering the right hand of fellowship to everything calling itself radical and reformatory, adopts a principle for its compass and steers a straight course by it. They all like it first-rate until its course conflicts with theirs. Then they exclaim in horror. I am sorry to thus shock them, but I cannot help it; I must keep straight on. When I launched this little newspaper craft, I hoisted the flag of Liberty. I hoisted it not as a name merely, but as a vital principle, by which I mean to live and die. With the valued aid of “Fair Play” and others, added to my own efforts, it has been kept flying steadily at the masthead. It has not been lowered an inch, and, while I have strength to defend it, it never will be. And if any man attempts to pull it down, I care not who he may be, Knight of Capital or Knight of Labor, I propose, at least with mental and moral ammunition, to “shoot him on the spot.”

 

Play-House Philanthropy.

(published in Liberty on November 26, 1881)

Among the ablest and most interesting contributions to the columns of the Irish World are the sketches of one of its staff correspondents, “Honorious,” in which that writer, week after week, with all the skill and strategy of a born general, marshals anecdote, illustration, history, biography, fact, logic, and the experiences of every-day life in impregnable line of battle, and precipitates them upon the cohorts of organized tyranny and theft, making irreparable breaches in their fortifications, and spreading havoc throughout their ranks. The ingenuity which he displays in utilizing his material and turning everything to the account of his cause is marvellous. Out of each new fact that falls under his notice, out of each new character with whom he comes in contact, he develops some fresh argument against the system of theft that underlies our so-called “civilization,” some novel application of the principles that must underlie the coming true society.

Unless we are greatly mistaken, the latest of his assaults will not prove the least effective, since in it he has improved an excellent opportunity to turn his guns upon enemies nearer home, enemies in the guise of friends. He briefly tells the story of the career of a Yorkshire factory-lord, one Sir Titus Salt, who, through his fortunate discovery of the process of manufacturing alpaca cloth, accumulated an enormous fortune, which he expended in the establishment of institutions for the benefit of his employees and in deeds of general philanthropy. To this man he pays a tribute of praise for various virtues, which, for aught we know, is well deserved. But he supplements it by forcible insistance on the fact that Sir Titus was but a thief after all; that, however great his generosity of heart, it was exercised in the distribution of other people’s earnings; and that his title to exemption from the condemnation of honest men was no better than that of the more merciful of the Southern slave-owners. The importance of this lesson it is impossible to overestimate. Gains are no less ill-gotten because well-given. Philanthropy cannot palliate plunder. Robbery, though it be not born of rapacity, is robbery still. This Sir Titus Salt but serves as a type of a large class of individuals who are ever winning the applause and admiration of a world too prone to accept benevolence and charity in the stead of justice and righteousness.

Perhaps the most conspicuous example of the class referred to now posing before the world is the man referred to by “Honorious” in connection and comparison with Sir Titus,—Godin of Guise, the famous founder of the Familisterre. “The great Godin of Guise,” “Honorious” styles him; and it is precisely because this clear-headed writer, misinformed as to the real facts, makes him the object of exaggerated and misplaced adulation that the present article is written. Of Sir Titus Salt we could not speak, but of the Familisterre and its founder we can say somewhat that may interest and enlighten their admirers. But first the words of “Honorious”:

Sir Titus Salt was the companion, as a noble-souled employer, to that fellow-philanthropist, the great Godin of Guise, who founded the famous social palace known as the Familisterre, although not so grand a character as the renowned Frenchman. Titus Salt was a sectarian. His $80,000 church was for the accommodation of his own sect, and those who held to other creeds found no place of worship from his money. Godin was a grand, liberal soul. Though educated a Catholic, he made the most liberal provision for every shade of belief among his working people, and he despised every form of narrowness and bigotry. Godin, too, was too noble a soul to descend to the arts of the politician, and would have despised himself had he solicited a vote from any of his people. So wonderful was the success of his industrial experiment at Guise that Louis Napoleon became jealous of the possibilities for labor which he had demonstrated, and that despicable fraud and royal scoundrel, “Louis the Little,” repeatedly went out of his way to hamper his business, and even sought to disenfranchise him.

Let us see how much of this is true,—if this man is really great, or only a pretender and a sham. It was once our privilege to visit the Familisterre. The visit extended through the better part of a week, and occurred at a very favorable time, including one of the two annual fête days (celebrating Education and Labor) peculiar to the institution. But the impression left on our mind was by no means favorable. The establishment seemed pervaded throughout by an atmosphere of supervision and routine, tempered here and there by awkward attempts at the picturesque. The air of buoyant contentment which the glowing accounts given of the Social Palace would lead one to expect did not characterize the members of the large household to any great extent. The workmen seemed to feel themselves and their class still the victims of oppression. A very slight acquaintance with them was sufficient to reveal the fact that their “boss” and “benefactor” does not appear as godlike in their eyes as in those that view him at a distance. In the presence of the inquiring observer their faces assumed an expression that seemed to say: “Oh, you think it’s all very pretty, no doubt: no rags here, no dirt; everything clean and orderly, and a moderate degree of external comfort among us all. But all this has to be paid for by somebody, and it is the outside world that foots the bills. Our master has the reputation of being very kind and generous, but he is our master. We enjoy this material welfare at the expense of something of our independence. Besides, he’s got a soft thing of it,—rolling up his millions year by year and excusing himself by distributing a certain proportion of his stealings among us; but he and the rest of us are living very largely on our fellow-laborers elsewhere, out of whose pockets these immense profits come.”

And actual questioning proved that their faces told the truth. Inability to converse fluently in French prevented us from inquiring closely into details; but from an intelligent young Russian visiting the place at the same time and on much the same mission as ourselves, whose knowledge of French and English was excellent, we elicited information quite sufficient. The more intelligent of the workmen had told him confidentially just what we had read in their faces as stated above, not a few of them confessing that M. Godin, who at that time was a member of the National Chamber of Deputies, held his seat by a method strikingly similar to that which in Massachusetts the Boston Herald is wont to apologize for as “civilized bulldozing,”—that is, prior to election day he contrived to have it understood among his employees that a convenient opportunity would be found for the discharge of such of them as should fail to vote for him, no matter what their previous political affiliations or present political beliefs. And yet “Honorious” says (or seems to hint) that he is not ambitious, and “Honorious” is an honorable man. Hundreds of thousands of honorable men share the same delusion,—for a delusion it certainly is.

A strange sort of “philanthropist,” this! A singular “nobility of soul” is M. Godin’s! His religious liberality referred to by “Honorious” evidently does not extend into his business and politics. Here is a man, ingenious, shrewd, calculating, with large executive capacity and something of a taste for philosophy, who discovers an industrial process which, through a monopoly guaranteed by the patent laws, he is enabled to carry on at an enormous profit; he employs hundreds of operatives; for them and their families he builds a gigantic home, which he dignifies by the name of a palace, though it needs but a few bolts and bars to make it seem more like a prison, so cheerless, formal, and forbidding is its gloomy aspect; he distributes among them a portion of the profits, perhaps to quiet his conscience, perhaps to become noted for fair dealing and philanthropy; the balance—more than sufficient to satisfy the ordinary manufacturer subject to competition—he complacently pockets, putting forth, meanwhile, the ridiculous pretence that he holds this fund as a trustee; finally, knowing nothing of Liberty and Equity and sneering at their defenders, he professes to think that he can regenerate the world by the fanciful and unsound schemes of education that he spends his leisure hours in devising and realizing, supporting them with wealth gained by theft, power gained by indirect bribery and bulldozing, and popularity gained by pretence and humbuggery. Nevertheless, for doing this the whole humanitarian world and not a few hard-headed reformers bow down and worship him! Even clear-sighted “Honorious” heaps honors on his head. But “Honorious” knows, and does not fail to emphasize, the true lesson of the man’s life, which is that the impending social revolution has certain fixed principles behind it; that one of these principles is, “Thou shalt not steal”; that any scheme by which a single individual becomes inordinately rich, whether as proprietor or trustee (unless the trust be purely voluntary), is necessarily carried on in violation of that principle; and that whoever prosecutes it as in accordance with that principle thereby proves himself either too ignorant or too insincere to be allowed to serve, much less to lead, in the revolutionary movement. Such a man is of the plunderers, and should be with them. Idol-smashing is no enviable task; but to unmask the pretensions of play-house philanthropists whose highest conception of distributive justice seems to be the sharing with a fortunate few of goods stolen from the many is a service that, however disagreeable, is of prime necessity in the realization of that Equity which distributes to each the product of his labor and that Liberty which renders it impossible for one to reap the profit of another’s toil.

 

A Gratifying Discovery.

(published in Liberty on May 31, 1884)

Liberty made its first appearance in August, 1881. Of that issue a great many sample copies were mailed to selected addresses all over the world. Not one of these, however, was sent from this office directly to Nantucket, for I had never heard of a radical on that island. But, through some channel or other, a copy found its way thither; for, before the second number had been issued, an envelope bearing the Nantucket postmark came to me containing a greeting for Liberty, than which the paper has had none since more warm, more hearty, more sympathetic, more intelligent, more appreciative.

But the letter was anonymous. Its style and language, however, showed its writer to be a very superior person, which fact, of course, added value to the substance of its contents. The writer expressed his unqualified approval of the political and social doctrines enunciated in the first number of Liberty (and certainly in no number since have those doctrines been stated more boldly and nakedly than in that one), saying that these views had been held by him for years, and that the advent of an organ for their dissemination was what he had long been waiting for. He gently chided Liberty, nevertheless, for its anti-religious attitude, not so much apparently from any counter-attitude of his own or from any personal sensitiveness in that direction, as from a feeling that religious beliefs are essentially private in their nature and so peculiar to the individuals holding them as to exempt them from public consideration and criticism. After admonishing Liberty to abandon this objectionable feature of its policy, the letter closed by saying that I did not need to know the writer’s name, but, for the dollar enclosed, I might send the paper regularly to the “Post Office Box No. 22, Nantucket, Mass.”

Only the substance of the letter is given above, the manuscript having been inadvertently destroyed with an accumulation of some others some time ago. To the given address Liberty has regularly gone, and I never failed to wonder, when mailing-day came, as to the identity of the mysterious Nantucketer.

Lately came the revelation. It will be remembered that a death occurred in Nantucket a few weeks ago which attracted the attention of the whole country and occasioned columns of newspaper tribute and comment. In reading the various obituaries of the deceased, I learned that he was a man who had thought much and written radically on political subjects with a most decided trend toward complete individual liberty, that, nevertheless, he had been brought up in the Roman Catholic church, and to the end of his life was outwardly connected with it, though refusing on his death-bed to admit the priests to his presence for the administration of the sacrament; and that, though a member of a profession which necessarily made him a public man, he had always shunned publicity and notoriety in every way possible.

As these facts simultaneously presented themselves, the thought suddenly flashed upon my mind that I had found the holder of Box No. 22. Through a relative visiting Nantucket I instituted inquiries at the post-office on that island, and was promptly notified that the box in question had been rented for the past few years by the late Charles O’Conor. It was as I expected. The text of his letter, alas! is gone, but not its substance from my memory. The extracts from his published writings soon to appear in these columns will show how extreme a radical he was in his attitude towards governments, although in them he never expressed the fundamental thought acknowledged in his letter to me. Perhaps he regarded that as too strong meat for babes.

I am no hero-worshipper in the usual sense of that term, and among the friends of Liberty there are a number of humbler men than Charles O’Conor, whose approval I value even more highly than his; but none the less is it with extreme gratification that I now authoritatively record the fact that the great lawyer whose wonderful eloquence and searching intellectual power kept him for two decades the acknowledged head of the American bar, far from being the Bourbon which an ignorant and dishonest press has pictured him, was a thorough-going Anarchist.

 

Cases of Lamentable Longevity.

(published in Liberty on March 31, 1888)

The Emperor William is dead at the age of ninety-one. His was a long life, and that is the worst of it. Much may be forgiven to a tyrant who has the decency to die young. But the memory of one who thus prolongs and piles up the agony no mercy can be shown. As Brick Pomeroy says, there is no such a thing as enough. In ninety-one years of such a man as William, Germany and the world had altogether too much. However, it is not kings alone that live too long. That awful fate sometimes befalls poets. Among others it has overtaken Walt Whitman. That he should live long enough to so far civilize his “barbaric yawp” as to sound it over the roofs of the world to bewail Germany’s loss of her “faithful shepherd,” and should do it too by the unseemly aid of the electric telegraph at the bidding of a capitalistic newspaper and presumably for hire, thus presenting the revolting spectacle of a once manly purity lapsing into prostitution in its old age, is indeed a woful example of superfluity of years. The propensity of poets of the people, once past their singing days, to lift their cracked voices in laudation of the oppressors of the people, burning what they once worshipped and worshipping what they once burned, tends to reconcile one to the otherwise unendurable thought that Shelley and Byron were scarcely suffered to outlive their boyhood. The fall of Russell Lowell was a terrible disappointment to those who never tire of reading the Big’low Papers and know The Present Crisis by heart, but the bitterness of their cup is honey beside the wormword which all lovers of Leaves of Grass must have tasted when they read the lament of the Bard of Democracy over the death of the tyrant William. As one of his most enthusiastic admirers, I beseech Walt Whitman to let the rest be silence, and not again force upon us the haunting vision of what he once described, in the days when he still could write, as a “sad, hasty, unwaked somnambule, walking the dusk.”

 

Spooner Memorial Resolutions.1

(published in Liberty on May 27, 1887)

Resolved: That Lysander Spooner, to celebrate whose life and to lament whose death we meet to-day, built for himself, by his half century’s study and promulgation of the science of justice, a monument which no words of ours, however eloquent, can make more lasting or more lofty; that each of his fifty years and more of manhood work and warfare added so massive a stone to the column of his high endeavor that now it towers beyond our reach; but that nevertheless it is meet, for our own satisfaction and the world’s welfare, that we who knew him best should place on record and proclaim as publicly as we may our admiration, honor, and reverence for his exceptional character and career, our gratitude for the wisdom which he has imparted to us, and our determination so to spread the light for which we are thus indebted that others may share with us the burden and the blessing of this inextinguishable debt.

Resolved: That we recognize in Lysander Spooner a man of intellect, a man of heart, and a man of will; that as a man of intellect his thought was keen, clear, penetrating, incisive, logical, orderly, careful, convincing, and crushing, and set forth withal in a style of singular strength, purity, and individuality which needed to employ none of the devices of rhetoric to charm the intelligent reader; that as a man of heart he was a good hater and a good lover,—hating suffering, woe, want, injustice, cruelty, oppression, slavery, hypocrisy, and falsehood, and loving happiness, joy, prosperity, justice, kindness, equality, liberty, sincerity, and truth; that as a man of will he was firm, pertinacious, tireless, obdurate, sanguine, scornful, and sure; and that all these virtues of intellect, heart, and will lay hidden beneath a modesty of demeanor, a simplicity of life, and a beaming majesty of countenance which, combined with the venerable aspect of his later years, gave him the appearance, as he walked our busy streets, of some patriarch or philosopher of old, and made him a personage delightful to meet and beautiful to look upon.

Resolved: That, whether in his assaults upon religious superstition, or in his battle with chattel slavery, or in his challenge of the government postal monopoly, or in his many onslaughts upon the banking monopoly, or in his vehement appeal to the Irish peasantry to throw off the dominion of the privileged lords over themselves and their lands, or in his denunciation of prohibitory laws, or in his dissection of the protective tariff, or in his exposure of the ballot as an instrument of tyranny, or in his denial of the right to levy compulsory taxes, or in his demonstration that Constitutions and statutes are binding upon nobody, or in the final concentration of all his energies for the overthrow of the State itself, the cause and sustenance of nearly all the evils against which he had previously struggled, he ever showed himself the faithful soldier of Absolute Individual Liberty.

Resolved: That, while he fought this good fight and kept the faith, he did not finish his course, for his goal was in the eternities; that, starting in his youth in pursuit of truth, he kept it up through a vigorous manhood, undeterred by poverty, neglect, or scorn, and in his later life relaxed his energies not one jot; that his mental vigor seemed to grow as his physical powers declined; that, although, counting his age by years, he was an octogenarian, we chiefly mourn his death, not as that of an old man who had completed his task, but as that of the youngest man among us,—youngest because, after all that he had done, he still had so much more laid out to do than any of us, and still was competent to do it; that the best service that we can do his memory is to take up his work where he was forced to drop it, carry it on with all that we can summon of his energy and indomitable will, and, as old age creeps upon us, not lay the harness off, but, following his example and Emerson’s advice, “obey the voice at eve obeyed at prime.”


  1. Offered by the author of this volume at the Lysander Spooner Memorial Services held in Wells Memorial Hall, Boston, on Sunday, May 29, 1887.

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