Thursday, May 25, 2006

John A. Lant, Radical Printer and Journalist

I'm always interested to find radicals from the NW Ohio area. There are no shortage of interesting connections here: Lysander Spooner was involved in land speculation in what became Grand Rapids, OH, just down the road a few miles. Samuel "Golden Rule" Jones was Toledo's "anarchist mayor" (and Pingree, the progressive mayor of Detroit during the 1890's depression, had been a member of William B. Greene's Civil War regiment.) There have been important free thought, free religionist (The Index, to which Greene and Benjamin Tucker contributed) and socialist (W. F. Ries) publications based in Toledo. Henry Demarest Lloyd wrote about Toledo's battles with the oil and gas trusts in the 1880's and 90's, and George H. Phelps wrote his The New Columbia, or, The Re-United States while engaged in a later set of battles against Standard Oil.

Recently, when I started work again on Lewis Masquerier's writings, I found yet another local connection. Masquerier's "Premium remedy for hireling slavery," was printed by John A. Lant, a comrade to whom Masquerier devotes two separate sections in Sociology (1877) and its Appendix (1884). Lant was subject to persecution and prosecution by Anthony Comstock for material in his paper, the Toledo Sun. He also apparently made the original plates of Oahspe, a spiritualist "bible" (about which, see this letter to Banner of Light, 1883). Lant's papers and publications are scarce and scattered, but here are Masquerier's accounts of his life and trials.


Was born in Blairsville, Pa., December, 9, 1842. He absorbed the educational advantages of a small township school, and at thirteen began life in a printing office at Pittsburgh Leaving the case in 1860 he joined the army and served throughout the war as a private soldier. His special acts of heroism and humanity were as marked as was his general disregard of the cockney discipline of the camp. At the second Fredericksburg he responded to a call for volunteers to scale the fortifications, and with three others, led them forward, life in hand, to the top, revealing through the morning light to the commanding officers on the plain below that the enemy had withdrawn to their inner works, when the troops were ordered up and a fierce battle fought and won. Soon after the war he established papers in Sharon, Pa., and Toledo, O. At the latter city he started the land and labor agitation, organizing the Free Land League and other reforms in 1872. The panic on, he rebuked the immorality of officery, church, state and nation, invoking official enmity and wrath. The state Legislature was petitioned to suppress his paper, but partisan bigotry did not prevail; then Federal authority was summoned and he was convicted and fined. His office was seized in his absence by the Sheriff and sold at once. Undaunted he sought to hire his paper printed, but could get no one to do the work. With one compositor he went to an abandoned printing office at Oak Harbor and issued two numbers under great mechanical and pecuniary embarrassment; then to Sandusky, O., where the Kinney Bros., who had just issued a Life of Captain John Brown, made him welcome and gave him the use of their office. There he issued five numbers, when he returned to Toledo, and resumed his publication. He was again harassed and threatened, and a complaint lodged that he was mailing copies of his paper to persons who had not subscribed for it! The Government took this offense in hand, but it was never brought to issue. In the spring of 1876 he removed with his family press and type, to New York, where he threw off copies of his Toledo Sun by thousands. It was refused admission at the post-office, but sold rapidly among the people. Spies were on his track and he was arrested at the instance of one of them by two U. S. marshals, and put into prison. An enormous bail was demanded, which, when furnished, was refused! the U. S. attorney stating "if we admit this man to bail he will go on printing his paper, and that we are not going to permit." On appeal to Judge Blatchford, three weeks later, the bail was accepted and the prisoner released to await the action of the Grand Jury. Meantime he was indicted without notification, and re-arrested on a bench warrant on default of bond, a week before his bond was due! This blunder was but a part of the infamous proceedings. Believing that he was meanly accused and basely misunderstood, two counselors on the day of trial volunteered to defend him, but the judge refused to adjourn the case. No U. S. prisoner at that time had the right to testify in his own behalf, and Lant was obliged to silently submit to the merciless will of his licentious persecutors. He was instantly convicted in the face of numerous petitions from the people, and three weeks later was sentenced to fine and imprisonment in language both malignant and unjust, and wholly unbecoming the lips of an American judge. The court record is silent as to the specific nature of his offense, but the "pardon" which was handed him at the close of his year and a half's imprisonment, reads, "for transmitting unlawful matter through the mails." While a prisoner of war, Lant was subjected by the enemies of his country to less indignity and cruelty than was heaped upon him by the vindictive officials and fanatical bigots who claimed to be its friends. His voice and pen have never been silent as the columns of his Labor and Industrial Liberator attest. For the past few years he has been engaged is the production of reformatory books, and is at present active in the living reforms of the day."

"Appendix to Sociology," p. 29-30.




After the pious imprisonment of Abner Kneeland for saying he could not believe in the orthodox God of the Christians in this country, and after the imprisonment of George Jacob Holyoake by the English Church in England for saying that the people were too poor to support a church, all Freethought men had hoped that such pious persecutions had ceased forever during this century. But the indictment and imprisonment of John A. Lant shows that the demon of religious hatred and vengeance still rankles in the Christian's heart. For merely criticizing the Beecher-Tilton adultery case in common with the rest of the press, and for publishing in his little paper a medical term used in medical works, he has been thus outraged in his liberty of speech and immured in prison at hard labor, leaving a helpless wife and three small children with no means Of support but the charity of friends. The informer, the persecutor, judge and jury have all united in this cowardly and mean proceeding. They charge him with blasphemy, when if there were any such a crime as blasphemy, it must be committed by the Christians themselves for calling one of the persons in their trinity by the vulgar and slang term, of Holy Ghost, and in representing the sublime Power and Intelligence of the Universe as being gibbeted on two cross-beams of wood.

Here, then, right among us, an outrage has been committed such as took place throughout the reign of Christendom, of burying in prison the innocent reformer by those who are really the true felons that ought to have been punished. One portion of the New York press joined in the cry of "wolf," while the other was either ignorant or heedless at the time of this outrage, which is enough to make the earth quake with indignation and spit volcanic fire. It must have been a toadying rump majority in Congress that amended the post-office law and appointed a fanatical Hudibras to execute it.

"Sociology," p. 137.

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