A Warren of the West
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A Warren of the West
By Edward H. Clement
THERE is another Warren besides Dr. Joseph Warren of Revolutionary fame though of the same Pilgrim-descended family. Josiah Warren, born in Boston in 1798, in Mr. William Bailie’s able sociological study (Small, Maynard & Company), is apotheosized as one of the heroes of the larger Social Revolution. This revolution is always going on—but it was particularly active in the years of Joseph Warren’s young manhood and middle life or until the grim realities and actualities of the Civil War swept away, like cobwebs and mists, all mere word spinnings and thought refinings upon social philosophy and social reorganization. Josiah Warren was one of the pioneers before Robert Dale Owen, and he had his own individualized ideas which he did not surrender even in his provisional partnership with the great English reformer. He lived continually experimenting with society-building and town-planting, with perhaps half a dozen or so new communities to his credit, west and east. He was a part, and a large part, of the great Fourierite movement of the second quarter of the nineteenth century which culminated in experimental communities throughout the land. Horace Greeley became its sponsor in the press and Brook farm gained for it a place in American literature.
But Josiah Warren stood apart from this also, as from Robert Dale Owen’s co-operative movement. As his biographer says: “Until this wave subsided and the sincere but mistaken communists had time to learn by experience the inevitable but melancholy lesson, the Individual reformer decided to remain quiescent.” He then spent some years in mechanical pursuits during which he invented the cylinder printing press though others patented it twenty years after. But his most enduring achievement and monument is his doctrine crystallized in the phrase. “Sovereignty of the Individual.” This was coined by Warren and was borrowed, with due acknowledgment, by John Stuart Mill in his famous essay on Liberty. In his autobiography Mill speaks appreciatively of “A remarkable American, Mr. Warren,” who “formed a system of society on the foundation of the sovereignty of the individual.” Herbert Spencer has made the same principle the apex of his synthetic philosophy. In his “Principles of Ethics” he formulates it in the law of equal freedom: “Every man is free to do that which lie will provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man.” Whatever merit attaches to the discovery of this principle of human conduct as the basis of a clear conception of justice, Mr. Bailie insists, must be credited to Josiah Warren who first saw its full significance and demonstrated its practical applications. Indeed it may be said that to this end he devoted with admirable singleness of purpose his whole life. “When mankind comes to recognize this great fundamental truth the need of compulsory cohesive authority as embodied in government will pass away,”says the idealist anarchism of the Tolstoi stripe. “Under the plausible pretext,” wrote Warren, “of protecting person and property, governments have spread wholesale destruction, famine and misery all over the earth where peace and security might otherwise have prevailed. They have shed more blood, committed more murders, tortures, and crimes in struggles against each other for the privilege of governing than society would or could have suffered in the absence of all governments whatever.”
After a strenuous life, thickly strewn with apparent failures, this Warren of the West came back to Boston and its neighborhood. Several years were spent hereabouts in authorship and parlor lecturings, with his home at Cliftondale and at Princeton, Worcester County, where he died in 1874, at the age of 76.
The unpatented early Warren “speed press” was capable of throwing off from its cylinders and endless roll of paper, sixty or more copies a minute, whereas the pressmen who operated it had never seen a press print more than five or six copies a minute. The mean instinct of self-preservation in the printers led them to throw the press out of order at every opportunity. It was a physical illustration of the fate of all his schemes for the reformation of society by doing away with capital and creed in business. The immediate examples were failures—the principles are “marching on.”
The germ of his idea was the “Equity Store” which he opened in Cincinnati in 1827. It was a little country store but it was believed by its founder to the day of his death to have contained the germ of the co-operative movement of the future, a fairer and finer co-operation than that of Robert Dale Owen.
In the early decades of the nineteenth century Cincinnati was on the outer edge of civilization, and as, at home in Boston, Josiah Warren had played with his brother George in brass bands as a professional musician, when the young man gone west reached this frontier town he decided to settle there as an orchestra-leader and teacher of music. He devoted his leisure at first, however, to several mechanical inventions, one of which was a lamp for burning lard that would furnish a cheaper and better light than tallow. In a year or two the young Bostonian was running a lamp manufactory in Cincinnati.
But this was sold almost as soon as started, in order that Warren and his family might join Owen in the grand experiment which was about to begin at New Harmony, Indiana, where 900 enthusiasts were gathered from all parts of the country on the Rappite estates (owned by Rapp, the founder of this German social reform) and laying the foundations of the intelligent community which is today a centre of light and leading as it always has been for the Middle West—”The Athens of the West, a horse of culture and a centre of reform” as it is called in a recent number of Unity. Two years sufficed for Warren of the vicissitudes, disappointment and inharmony of the New Harmony community as it hen existed. He left there thoroughly convinced of the inadequacy of communism to correct the evils of private capital and the failure both of paternalistic authority and majority rule as forms of government. Twenty-nine years later, writing of his New Harmony experiences, Warren thus records his mature judgment: “What a world of disappointment and suffering this experience might have saved others who have kept on organizing communities, phalansteries, political parties, and national revolutions, only to fail of course as we did, and to destroy by degrees the little hope that exists of making the world more fit to live in.” All the affairs of the community were decided either by Owen as proprietor, or by the will of the majority; personal liberty was at a discount and incentive to sustained individual effort was lacking. Cured here for good of all faith in any scheme based on community of goods and authority of organization, Warren returned to Cincinnati at twenty-nine a confirmed Individualist—today his panegyrist hails him as “the First American Anarchist”—an American Tolstoi before Tolstoi.
He was not long in elaborating an experiment which was either to prove the practicability of Individualism or demonstrate its futility. His invention was then and long afterwards known as the “Time Store,” or as he called it the “Equity Store.” Its business was conducted on the principle of the equal exchange of labor measured by the time occupied and exchanged, hour for hour, with other kinds of labor. All goods were marked with the price in plain figures which was their Cost price, plus a nominal percentage to cover freight, shrinkage, rent, etc., usually about four cents on the dollar. Business was done in this manner: The purchaser selects what he needs; the time spent by the merchant in waiting upon him, is found by reference to the big clock of the store; and the customer gives his labor note for so many minutes in carpenter work, or if the customer be a woman, say, so many minutes in needle work. The store keeper thus agreed to exchange his time in distributing goods for an equal amount of the time of those who bought goods. Profits on the goods there were none. Here was the application and the principle of pure labor for labor, the Cost principle in its most primitive form. His store was also a depository for salable products. The depositor of goods when his wares had been accepted was at liberty to take other goods to an equal amount from the store or to take Josiah Warren’s labor notes instead. The Equity Store had many sympathetic friends who wished to raise capital for its enlargement, but Warren discouraged them, as it was inconsistent to ask capital’s aid while trying to kill capital. One wholesale merchant assured Warren that the time would come when all the world would conduct its business on those principles.
During Warren’s first residence in Cincinnati he had obtained a lease for ninety-nine years from Mr. Nicholas Longworth, the well known Cincinnati merchant, giving him eight blocks of the best building land in the middle of Cincinnati. Upon this estate the young genius from Boston built a few brick houses in one of which he lived for several years. But it was in one of these blocks that the first Equity Store was set up, to furnish a concrete example of the meaning of Cost as the limit of price: and in order to engage in the broader dissemination of his principles the Boston reformer decided to terminate the store experiment, and soon after that his conscientious scruples as to holding land for speculative purposes, in order to acquire wealth by rise of land values not due to the creation of the individual owner but to social causes beyond his control, caused him to go to Mr. Longworth and return unconditionally the lease which would have made him a multi-millionaire.
Warren and Robert Dale Owen were close friends for a while and Owen invited Warren to come to New York and found an institution devoted to educating the world to Equitable Commerce, for which Owen would furnish the funds. But Owen’s previous arrangements delayed action until Warren tired of waiting for him. returned to Ohio, and there his next move was an “Equity” village. At this time in a sparsely settled country village he supported his family by his precarious earnings as a band musician. But inspired by his steadfast faith in the ultimate regeneration of the race he began the building of his Tillage, with half a dozen families. Malaria and constant sickness soon carried off the less robust of their members and deterred others from coining. So he again returned to New Harmony, which despite the failure of communism had grown Into a prosperous town. Here a new “Time Store” was inaugurated and “no institution political, moral or religious ever assumed a more sudden and extensive popularity than the Time Store of New Harmony,” writes Warren. His own account of its ending is this: “When all the stores in the surrounding country had come down in their prices to an equilibrium with the Equity Store, the custom naturally flowed back again to them and the next step was to wind up the Time Store and commence a village.” With the money which his typographical inventions had brought him $7,000 for stereotyping patents, he secured land and began another model town, in which he was to show the victims of capital how they could escape from its tyranny. When they began on the new plan in July, there was not $10 in the possession of all the settlers. Rut by the following December most of the families had good houses, some being built of brick two stories high, nearly or wholly paid for. The owner of the mill issued his notes payable in lumber: a man paid for his lot with his labor notes; the mill needed that man’s labor and the owner of the mill needed lumber. The man who sold his labor issued his notes promising his labor in the mill, the owner of the mill took them of the land owner for lumber, and the laboring man redeemed them in tending the mill. “With all my hopes.’ said Warren, in writing about this new town (which was called Utopia). “I did not expect to see land bought with labor notes so soon as this.”
But still another settlement was to be among the fruits of this indomitable optimist’s propagandism. Having taken up his abode in 1850 in New York City, where he converted Stephen Pearl Andrews, the philosophical writer and reformer, to the philosophy of “Equity”—a following arose both in New York and in Boston for Warren’s Individualistic form of co-operation. Warren was accustomed to hold informal meetings in “parlor conversations,” in which he disseminated his ideas. The Fourierites were easily won over to Warren’s improvements on their ideas in these gatherings for the discussions of social problems in the light of the now varied experience of the veteran. A colony was founded in Long Island 40 miles from New York and called “Modern Times.” The publicity which the New York papers gave it in the ‘50s drew to it an undue number of cranks and disreputable and “otherwise obnoxious” persons of both sexes. But the village finally shook itself free of them—and broad avenues, tree shaded streets, pretty cottages, surrounded by strawberry beds and well-tilled gardens with a population of honest and industrious people, formed the community. Moncure D. Conway who visited Modern Times in 1858, described Warren as “A man to whom all show a profound respect, and who was introduced as the reformer to embody whose ideas the village had been established. He was a short, thick-set man about fifty years of age, with a bright, restless blue eye, and somewhat restless, too, in his movements. His forehead was large, descending to a good full brow; his lower face, especially the mouth, was not of equal strength, but indicated a mild enthusiasm. He was fluent, eager, and entirely absorbed in his social ideas. It was pleasant to listen to him.” The panic of 1857 wrecked the enterprise of Modern Times, but though the original aims of the pioneers were lost sight of in the struggle for existence, the village of Modern Times, like the town of New Harmony, has never wholly departed from its original spirit and character.
It is impressive, in looking back over the career of this Massachusetts genius whom Mr. Bailie has restored to public knowledge, to see that whatever he did, whether in achievement, or in martyrdom, was done in the name and for the good of all. His surrender of his ninety-nine year lease of eight blocks of land in the heart of Cincinnati, his throwing open to public benefit the idea of stereotyping a cylinder of type and printing from the endless roll now in universal use, for better dissemination of knowledge, and with the naive design of “taking the printing power out of the exclusive control of merely mercenary managers and making it as accessible as the use of speech or pen”—all is of the fine altruism which has come to be recognized as the highest test of character—that “feeling which if perfect, would make a man never think of, or desire, any beneficial condition for himself, in the benefits of which all the rest are not included,” as John Stuart Mill simply and nobly formulated it.
Edward H. Clement. “A Warren of the West.” The New England Magazine. XXXV (1906), 185-189.