Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Greene meets Kossuth, Springfield, MA, April 26, 1852

From Kossuth in New England : a full account of the Hungarian governor's visit to Massachusetts with his speeches, and the addresses that were made to him, carefully revised and corrected, with an appendix (1852).

Soon after entering the hotel, Kossuth was introduced to each member of the legislative committee. Immediately afterwards, and while the committee were yet in the reception-room, General Wilson introduced to Kossuth the Rev. William B. Greene, of Brookfield, who presented him with a purse of one hundred dollars, the subscription of certain inhabitants of Brookfield to the Hungarian fund, and then addressed him as follows:

"Sir: knowing your high regard for municipal institutions, and your dislike to all centralization, the selectmen of Brookfield, local officers chosen by the people of that town, have taken the liberty to send you the following letter, which they request me to read to you. As it is advertised in the newspapers that you will stop ten minutes at the West Brookfield station, the selectmen have instructed me to request you—if it suits your convenience—to defer any remarks you may be pleased to make, in reply to their letter, until they have the honor to meet you at that place. They send their letter to Springfield, in order that no moment may be lost, and that you may have the whole time at your own disposal, when you arrive at Brookfield; for it is natural to suppose that the people would prefer to hear you speak, rather than to hear their own letter read."

"Brookfield, April 25th.

"To LOUIS KOSSUTH, Governor of Hungary de jure:
"Money is strong, iron is strong, calumny is strong; but truthful thought, which appeals to the conscience,—that mightiest element of man's nature,—and human speech, which is the vehicle of thought, are stronger than these. Human thought and human speech are the levers upon which God lays his hand, when he wills to upheave the nations. Your words recall to the mind of this people the days of its first love. Amid the glare of material interests, we were in danger of forgetting, for a time, the high destiny to which we have been called by Divine Providence; we were in danger of forgetting that we stood at the head of the advance guard of liberated nations; but liberty, which is the righteousness of states, is, like all righteousness, revealed from faith to faith; and. the spirit of the American Revolution, reflected back again from the revolutions of Europe, comes to consciousness of itself, and can never again forget itself Yet our hearts became glad, notwithstanding all this, when we heard of your saying, in New Jersey, that you should make not many more speeches, because the time for action was drawing nigh; we rejoice to think that even your voice, powerful as it is, may soon give place to an equally authentic voice, that shall speak in the thunder of Hungarian artillery. For we believe (because you have said it) that the day of Hungary's resurrection is even now at hand; though we knew well, before you said it, that God would not suffer your down-trodden country to remain always in her living tomb.

"We are all peace men here; we are all waiting for the descent of the New Jerusalem from God out of Heaven. But we know that the world is wicked, and that despotism, which lives by violence, must perish by violence; we know that our Lord came, not to bring peace to those who profit by iniquity, but a sword; we know that he said, ' I am come to kindle a fire in the world, and what would I that it were already kindled!' So long as the Austro-Russian despotism shall bear sway in the world, punishing women by the scourge, imprisoning, torturing and slaughtering men, corrupting the moral sentiment of the leaders of opinion,—yea, even in republican America,—the kingdom of the God of peace cannot be established on the earth; for it is written, 'There is no peace, saith my God, for the wicked.'

"No man can isolate himself from other men; no nation can isolate itself from other nations. The nation that wraps itself in its own selfishness begins to suffer moral death. That which interests the welfare of the human race interests every particular man.

"We are not of the number who say, What is Hungary to us, or we to Hungary? for we recognize that whatever relates to man, and especially to man aspiring after freedom, relates to us also. We honor ourselves in our own hearts, we rise in our own estimation, because we are conscious of being able to commune with you, and with the spirit of Hungary, in sympathy, if not in action.

"Certain individuals in Brookfield have subscribed small sums to the Hungarian fund. We have to request, if it would suit your pleasure, that you would be so good as to touch with your hand the notes they will receive in exchange for their subscriptions. So shall our children, when they touch those notes, touch that which you also have touched; and thus will they be able to establish a certain solidarity between themselves and you, and, through you, a certain solidarity with the Hungarian people. Who knows but what some magnetic influence may thus be transmitted to them, which shall strengthen their aspirations for freedom, and thus increase the love of liberty in the world?








Kossuth, in reply to Mr. Greene, addressed him personally, as clergyman, in some very impressive remarks on the subject of peace, which, unfortunately, were not reported at the time, as they were entirely extemporaneous and unexpected. He promised to reply to the letter of the selectmen when he should arrive at North Brookfield. To Kossuth's remarks upon peace, Mr. Greene replied substantially as follows:

"Sir: The sentimentalism which passes under the name of 'peace doctrine' is evidently unscriptural; and you have shown it to be irrational. It is true our Lord said, 'Resist not evil;' and also, 'If a man smite thee on the right cheek, turn unto him the left;' but these commands have no absolute application; for, if they were of absolute application, they would not have been subsequently repealed. It is written, 'Jesus said unto his disciples, When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye anything? And they said, Nothing. Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip; and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.' Thus it appears that when our Lord was illegally arrested by the self-constituted force to whom he was betrayed by Judas Iscariot, Simon Peter was armed, in accordance with the express command of his Master; for the words here quoted were uttered in reference to that occasion. We read, a few verses further on, 'And they said, Lord, behold, here are two swords. And he said unto them, It is enough.' Enough for what? Not enough to insure success in a contest with the creatures of the high-priest, and of the rulers; but enough to vindicate the principle that, when kings, emperors, high-priests, judges,—like those of Russia and Austria, for example,—assume tyrannical powers, their illegal usurpations may be lawfully resisted by the sword, and this whether the occasion presents itself in Judea or in Hungary. Our Lord did not suffer his servants to proceed in their resistance; and he explains his conduct by saying that he proposed to establish his kingdom, not visibly, at first, but rather in the hearts and consciences of men; but he remarks that his servants would have fought, if it had been his object to establish a visible kingdom in the world. Now, I take it that the republic of Hungary proposes to exist actually and visible on the face of the earth; and that it is, therefore, a political organization, for which the servants of Christ may lawfully fight. It is your duty, sir, to serve God in your heart, and to do all in your power to hasten the triumph of the Prince of Peace; but you have duties toward Caesar, as well as duties toward God; that is, duties in this existing world of political relations, as well as duties in that kingdom which exists now spiritually, but which shall hereafter exist politically also. It is written, 'There were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.' Your present duty towards Caesar—that is, your duty, as a Christian man, in your relations with the political powers which are soon to disappear and make way for Christ's kingdom—appears to me, sir, to be, this,—to attack the Austro-Russian despotism, as soon as occasion offers, with the sword. Any person who reads the Scriptures without prejudices must, I think, see that the so called 'peace doctrines' are not taught there.

"The religion of the New Testament is opposed to everything which tends to isolate man from man, and nation from nation. Wars are of two kinds: wars of tyrants against the nations, for the purpose of creating division, scission, enmity, between nation and nation, between town and town, between man and man; such wars are condemned by the gospel: and wars of the people against the tyrants,—wars which have for their object to establish harmony, peace and brotherhood, between nation and nation, town and town, man and man: such wars are holy. It is written, mystically, that, to further the purposes of a holy war of the people against their tyrants, the waters of the great rivers shall be dried up, to prepare a way for the kings of the east; and that the tyrants and their creatures shall be gathered together in a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon, there to undergo a final defeat at tho hands of God, and of the Lamb, and of the children of the heavenly kingdorn. All the prophets and apostlcs foretell this holy war, which is predetermined in the immutable counsel of God. It is for us to take care that, when the bridegroom comes, we may not he found sleeping.

"Isolation reigned under all the old religions; but solidarity, which is the opposite of isolation, will reign in the world when the religion of Christ triumphs. The Jews contradistinguished themselves frorn the Gentiles, the Greeks from the Barbarians, and the Romans conceived themselves to be, by mere right of birth, supreme over all other men. But how does the apostle characterize the New Dispensation? He says, 'There is neither Jew nor Grcek, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all ONE in Christ Jesus. There is neither circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free; for Christ is all, and in all. Through Christ, we have access by one spirit unto the Father. Now, therefore, ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.' The apostle speaks of a 'mystery' that had been kept secret in the counsels of God from the foundation of the world; a mystery that angels had desired to look into, but had not been able until after it was revealed in the operation of the constitution of the church. What is the mystery which was revealed, 'to the intent that unto principalities and powers in heavenly places might be made known the manifold wisdom of God'? It is this: 'that in the dispensation of the fulness of times, God might gather together in one all things in Christ, both things which are in heaven and things which are on earth.' So the bond of solidarity takes hold of heavenly as well as of earthly things,—as, indeed, Wesley sings, in the hymn commencing, 'The saints above and saints below in one communion join.' Thus the principles of the gospel are identified in express terms with the principle of solidarity, that fundamental principle of all genuine democracy. Thus democracy, when received in its truth, is shown to be identical with religion.

"The doctrine of the apostle does not differ from that of his Master. Our Lord said, in the most solemn moment, perhaps, of his life, when he instituted the communion service (that sacrament of solidarity), and just before he was destroyed, 'I pray, Father, that they all may be ONE; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they may be ONE in us.' And, in the same connection, he intimates that the solidarity of his disciples is to be the evidence to the world of the reality of his mission. 'I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in ONE; that the world may know that thou hast seet me.' A Christianity that forgets the doctrine and the practice of solidarity is no Christianity; for it fails to present the requisite characteristics: it is something against which the gates of hell continually prevail."

At North Brookfield a large crowd had collected on the further side of the depot. Kossuth left the cars to reply to the letter of the selectmen, which, he said, was one of the most gratifying addresses he had received since his arrival in America." I am told," said he, " that you are an agricultural people. I love agriculture. O, that it might be given me to have the tranquillity of a country life in my own dear land, during my few remaining years! You say you are men of peace. I am a man of peace. God knows how I love peace. But I hope I shall never be such a coward as to mistake oppression for peace. So long as there is oppression, there must be strife; and so long as my country is oppressed, I must be a man of strife. But you hear the democratic locomotive. That waits for no man, and I must bid you farewell."

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Calvin Blanchard: A Crisis Chapter on Government

It's been awhile since this has been up in the Labyrinth. Yesterday, when I was discussing Tom Paine with my Great Ideas students, I passed around a couple of 19th century editions of Paine's work: the D. M Bennett collection of "major works" (edited by Calvin Blanchard) and an 1839 George Henry Evans edition of The Crisis with a list of Blanchard's titles pasted inside the front. One of my students tracked down the current incarnation of The Truth Seeker. She wasn't terribly impressed. So I figured it was time to get the Crisis Chapter back online so we can all be reminded what brilliant kooks are capable of.

Calvin Blanchard, A Crisis Chapter on Government (1865)

We are in the midst of one of those awful crises, when vindictiveness, called "civil government," stands nakedly revealed, so that all who have eyes can plainly see this horrible monster. Now's the time to tell the truth--the whole truth--and "shame the devil." Now's the time to strike an effectual blow for real freedom.

Governments are triumphant monopolies of murder, robbery, swindling and all that is atrocious and detestable. Ever since the beginning, they have forced mankind to kill or prepare and hold themselves in readiness to kill each other by the thousands and even millions at a time, and by the cruelest and most destructive means that spite can devise.

All the so-called religions the world has yet "experienced" have solemnly declared that "Almighty God" upholds these governments, all the moralists that have had any practical influence have sanctioned that declaration and all the infidels and political economists have said Amen: some of the infidels most libelously substituting the word "Nature"--their miserably narrow comprehension of it--for "Almighty God."

Whenever one of these governments gets conquered and overthrown by another of them, or by internal revolution, (events that often happen), "Almighty God," the moralists, the infidels, and the political economists turn dead against the fallen government. Whenever rebellionists murder and steal, and devastate so magnificently that the police cannot put them down, they thereby gain "belligerent rights;" their murdering, robbing, &c., &c., &c. thenceforth considered honorable, and enterprising individuals of other nations may honorably join them. But these are not half the inducements that governments hold out to excellence in atrociousness; they punish in the cruelest and most disgraceful manner, all the scoundrels they can catch and convict, who do not attain that excellence; and they plan society so that every man and woman must try their luck at scoundrelism or pay the expenses of those who do.

The fastest of all governments is Demagoguery--swindlingly named "elective" or "free government." The buncomest [?] demagoguery the world has ever seen--a rotted-off branch of the most abominable of monarchies--has just capt the climax: it has spawned an atrociousness far more atrocious than any before, and that cannot be surpassed. One of the principals in a million or so of murders, with robbery and devastation to match, struts flauntingly wherever he pleases, with his insignia, (as do all the principals who are not to proud to stay and associate with their fellow-citizens), and the great general who was pitted against him writes him the politest notes, signing himself "Very *** *****, your obedient servant," while reimprisoning at hammering stone, about a hundred escaped convicts, whose crimes did not average the damage of $20. In demogogueries, the great brigands have to be sated with plunder every year; at furthest, every four years. In monarchies they are only sated once in a life time.

The legislature of a single State in the "Model" Demogoguery perpetrated more and viler corruption in the year of grace "1865," than did the most tyrannical monarchy in the world.

But in spite of the murderers, and robbers, and swindlers, and impostors and quacks that govern mankind, liberty has gained some ground through those only possible liberators, the scientists and artists. It is now manifest destiny that these will finally rule the world, and then freedom with be a reality. It cannot be long before present government runs the length of its tether. Unless it stops in its course, such hells as the people of the United States hope they have just got through the hottest of (March, "1865") will come in such quick succession that no one will be at all provident in guessing "it won't come in my day." The reins of power will then spontaneously fall into the hands of those who will abolish all vindictiveness and constraint; mankind will then be as free as the planets in their orbits; "Heaven" will be realized on earth; the earth itself will be physically changed so as to meet the case, and all through material development; through science and art--the same that has given to us the steamboat and the railroad. The great car of progress speeds on. Noiselessly but surely it will reach its destination. Wealth will then be incomparably more valuable than it now is, thousands of times more plenty, and perfectly secure to its individual owners. Machinery will do all labor that is repulsive, and be owned in shares, by the Universal Mutual Guarantee Co. "The People" will dwell in palaces, splendid as the faith-built "mansions in the skies." All the women will be enchantingly beautiful, all the men faultless, all the children real angels. Love will be free, and universally reciprocal, "virtue" and "vice" obsolete, all constraint banished, everybody completely happy. Between desire and its object, there will intervene only the exertion requisite to impart due pleasurableness to possession. life will last until all clearly imaginable varieties of delight pall on the five senses from repetition. Sickness will be unknown. Death itself will be only a welcome, painless transit to everlasting forgetfulness.

All this is clearly preconceived, and therefore must necessarily take place. For thought is not absolute, but relative. the impossible, self-evidently cannot be conceived, even prospectively. Mentality does not transcend materiality, but functionally depends on it, objectively and subjectively. Perfection--"Heaven"--is preconceived even by common intellectual faculties; though mistakenly, in toto, as to method. Perfection, therefore, will, self-evidently, be realized. Nature--all which to or in man exists--is not, fixedly, a mere half and half of good and evil. Nature is "God" and will prove all-sufficient.

Hark ye, my fellow-citizens of the United States. You seem wholly intent on having another patch up of old government schemes and devices. That patch up won't last fifty years; then, or probably much sooner, you'll have a civil war a great deal worse than the present one; t will be felt both North and South. Do you think it was the enslavement of the Negro that caused this war? Pshaw! It was the enslavement of human nature that has caused all the war that has ever taken place! And human nature can't be conquered; she is backed up, slowly but surely, by Almighty Power, by the force of all cognizable existence, marshalled by ART.


1. How much deeper in war debt has the detestable Monarchy of England run in a thousand years than the "Model Republic" has in less than a century? Professor Lewis says our war debt is not over $3,000,000,000; be he don't reckon the state, county, city and even village war debt.

2. Wouldn't it be perfectly true to call every "election" a Game of Caucus and Ballot Box--a Grand Raffle for the Public Treasury--a Stupendous Swindle? Are not the People mere cards of the politicians in playing that game? Do they any more than decide for this or that spoil distributor, between whom the odds is merely the difference between tweedledum and tweedledee?

3. If the State Capitol at Albany and the State Prison at Sing Sing had changed inmates in "1865," wouldn't a great act of justice have been done? and wouldn't the "dear people" have gained immensely thereby? and might not this question have been fairly raised with respect to the incumbents of the Federal Capitol any time since the commencement of Andrew Jackson's administration?

4. Were the "angels" who sang "peace on earth and good will to men" "heavenly angels" or "masked imps of hell," judging the tree by its fruit?

5. How much more honorable is war (except war absolutely necessary in defense of most important rights) than assassination? How much more honorable is it to compel, or entice (generally by lying and intoxication) peaceful men to kill each other, and to bombard and starve women and children by the thousands, than to creep, ever so stealthily, behind your single enemy and stab only him in the back? What's the difference between cowardice and the difference between our treatment of secessionists and State prisoners?

We are education and habituated to consider the most cruel and cowardly assassination as "honorable war!" and to submit to the most expensive and abominable oppression that can be imposed, because that oppression is magically surrounded with a make-believe of freedom.

Disdainful of Monarchies, the Great Republic sycophantically apes their religion, their law, their moralism. She even emulates their cowardice, in knuckling to generals, in crime, whilst savagely torturing and hanging comparative nothing as [?] in crime. Abolish this horrid injustice; take the lead in delivering mankind from the religious, political, and moral "Hell" in which they have always been tormented, and be the glory of the nations, whilst earth and man endure. By "whorawing" and calling ourselves a great people, and all that sort of thing, over such gross injustice, we are but preparing a volcano more dreadful than the one that has just spent its worst fury. Right is mighty and will prevail.

The distinction that is made between scoundrels under the law and scoundrels over the law; between "criminals" and officer [?] "warriors," slaps justice full in the face, and kicks right, and honor, and mercy, and truth, clean out of court, and stinks most abominably of cowardice.

Let us pardon ALL scoundrels, beginning with the hen-roost robbers, and proceeding thence to pardon the Secessionists of every grade, and then even those scoundrels at the very bottom of the pit of scoundrelism--the UTTERLY CORRUPT, LOBBY ANOINTED LEGISLATORS. Then, let us have a new order of things; a REALLY


ARTICLE I.--All constraint shall be abolished; every man, moan and child shall be fully developed or perfected, and be so situated as to do exactly as they please.

ARTICLE II.--Congress shall make an appropriation sufficient to rear every child born in the United States, in the best manner that MATERIAL SCIENCE AND ART can devise, and similarly provide for the mothers, during their lying in.
ARTICLE III.--Supernaturalism: all that pretends to go beyond or exceed the powers or laws of nature, is henceforth and forever excluded from the domain of government.

There, Fellow Citizens, that's just what's got to be done, and there will only be worse and worse "Hell to pay" till it is done. Till just this is done, mankind will be worse and worse tormented by the religious, political, and moral quacks, who screen themselves behind "Divine Providence" and teach and habituate us to worship a personification of their own unsurpassable foolishness and villainy, as "Almighty God."

"I accept this war as the providence of God," says Hardee, Secesh General and D. D., as reported by the N.Y. Herald. Nearly all the Union Generals and D. D.s agree with Saint Hardee on this tremendous point. But just think of it; just try to think that any real "God" couldn't or wouldn't do what "He" wanted to do except by means of big guns and little guns and put punchers and brain splitters, and Libby prison horrors, and Shoddy, and bounty jumpers, and widows and orphans made by the hundred thousand, and a million or so of murders, including that of President Lincoln, and more than five billion dollars other damage. Why, men can do such things in that way, and the foolishest and wickedest men have done just exactly that. What's the use of "Him"?

If the theology of General Saint Hardee and his brother theologians in the States north of Dixie be true, isn't it the rankest blasphemy to offer those big rewards for Jeff Davis & Co., and call them murderers and fugitives from justice? Haven't they, up to the time of their hegira, acted under the "providence of God"? What if Jeff and his colleagues should offer to surrender, and turn State's evidence against their principal, on condition of being let off? What would Secretary Stanton, General Hardee, and our other civil and military doctors of divinity do in such a case? In "God's" name, what could they do?

There! I've spoken the bold truth, and I'll bet it will "shame the devil" and a good many of his imps; that "devil," the only "devil" that ever was or can be--ignorance; alias Mystery; alias Foolishness; he is one of the two great Omnipresents who live on balderdash and have their thrones in the realm of nonsense; and his imps, all of them who instigate any harm worth noticing, are the parsons, politicians, and moralists. These miserable wretches are chargeable with all the woe mankind have ever endured. I wouldn't have a thousand billionth part of their guilt resting on me, for all the gold in the universe.



Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Oops! Wrong Brookfield? Mass. Historical backroads prove tricky

Hehe. Thanks to some help from the very kind folks at the West Brookfield Historical Commission, it looks like we may have to revise one of the generally accepted "facts" about William B. Greene's career. The West Brookfield firm of Merriam & Chapin printed a number of the pamphlets Greene wrote and published while he was a pastor in the area, but it looks like he was probably serving the First Congregational Church of Brookfield (identified in some contemporary accounts as South Brookfield), rather than the similarly named church in West Brookfield. With 20/20 hindsight, this looks obvious to me. Now that I know what to look for, it's clear that the 1853 state Constitutional Convention had delegates from North Brookfield (Amasa Walker), West Brookfield (Hammond Brown), and Brookfield (William B. Greene). But Mr. Brown seems to have been quiet during the proceedings (or was silenced by bad OCR in the online versions), so maybe I can be forgiven for not immediately making sense of this town-partitioning maze.

I'm guessing anyone who has driven back roads in New England will cut me at least a little slack.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

"Song of Espousal" in the Moss Rose for 1847

I've been able to verify that William B. Greene's first published work, the poem Song of Espousal, did in fact appear in the Moss Rose holiday gift annual for 1847. The annual is apparently a renamed reprint of the Atlantic Token for 1841, where the poem initially appeared.

The poem is accompanied by an engraving:

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Most of the engravings in the annual appear to be stock cuts. This probably is as well, but I was immediately struck by the fact that it looks much like the descriptions of Greene in his youth. The R. Woodman credited may well be the English Richard Woodman, who did portraits and engravings. However, Greene's circle of acquaintances included a Horatio Woodman, and it's not hard to imagine the Nathaniel Greene, always ready to promote his son's interests, might well have send along a portrait of his son to the publishers of the Token, with whom he had had dealings in the past, including a short translation in the same issue of the annual. The multiple reprintings of "Song of Espousal" in various papers may well have been due to the efforts of the proud father.

The Fund: A Boston Land Bank of 1681

An important episode in the story of the New England land banks is The Fund at Boston, in New England, apparently the earliest practical land bank experiment in the colonies. Much of what we know of it comes from a pamphlet with the delightfully cryptic title Several relating to the FUND, Printed for divers Reasons, as may appear (1681 or 1682). Because all that we have of the Severals is one unbound sheet, probably issued as a prospectus, I've simply posted the whole thing up on The Very Idea!.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Incredible Shrinking. . .

William B. Greene

An observation, based on the collations I've been doing of Greene's borrowings from sources such as William Beck and Edward Kellogg:

The mutual bank writings of 1849 and 1850 are full of Greene's personal ideas, personal analyses, pet projects, etc. In 1857 he cuts a tremendous amount of stuff out, adding some new material from Beck and a commentary on the colonial land bank. What remains is largely derived, or outright lifted, from a few sources. Greene's personal stamp is much fainter here. The 1870 edition is a little leaner still. There are some new clarifying footnotes in the 1874 Fragments, Greene's swan song. Then the 20th century, the 1927 edition amounts to a bit over half of the 1870, again heavy on the material from Beck, Kellogg, and the land bank. The section on Proudhon is replaced with a longer piece from Solution to the Social Problem, but Greene's commentary disappears. Then the Indian 1946 edition mixes in material not by Greene, without clear attribution. The long quote in the Wikipedia article on Greene is, though certainly clear and useful, something written by the editors in 1946.

Greene was engaged in a kind of general retirement from the time he left Brookfield on, so perhaps there is some parallel here.

The Very Idea!

I've set up a public mirror for the lecture-essays I'm posting to my Great Ideas class this semester. Returning to the part-time faculty gig has been good for my research. You haven't really lived the life of an independent scholar until you've tried to do serious work with just a library courtesy card. So if you're curious what has dragged me away from blogging for the last couple weeks, or are just interested in American intellectual history, check out The Very Idea! I like to think of it as a nice public place where my students can fight with my friends...

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Natural Gas Wars, Then and Now

The more things change. . . and all that.

There are moments when it really feels like nothing much ever changes, except perhaps the scale of our collective foolishness. Last night, over coffee, i set down Wealth Against Commonwealth (1894), in which Henry Demarest Lloyd chronicled, among other things, Standard Oils "gas wars" against the citizens and governments of various American cities, to read the New York Times coverage of the Russia-Ukraine natural gas feud. The mid-winter shutoff, in order to force an increased rate, is a tactic as old as the industry.

For those who don't know the earlier story, American Radicalism, 1865-1901, Essays and Documents (1946), by Chester McArthur Destler, has a nice treatment of it, along with a great essay on the influence of Edward Kellogg and other good stuff. Destler, who wrote an excellent book on Lloyd, Henry Demarest Lloyd and the Empire of Reform, is one of the great historians of our Progressives, the land taxers and Christian socialists who understood and attempted to put into practice basic libertarian principles.

More Land Bank Beginnings: William Potter

William B. Greene came to "abandon all claims to novelty or originality as regards our own scheme for a Mutual Bank," on discovering the Massachusetts land bank schemes of 1714 and 1740. These, in turn, we are told, owed their inspiration to an early "project published in London in the year 1684." I have not yet tracked down the "project of 1684," but George Athan Bilias, in The Massachusetts Land Bankers of 1740 (University of Maine Bulletin, LXI: 17 (April, 1959)), identifies the origin of the land bank idea as William Potter's 1650 pamphet, A Key of Wealth, or a New Way for Improving of Trade, lawfull, easie, safe, and effectuall: shewing how a few tradesmen agreeing together may (borrow wherewith to) double their stocks ... without ... paying any interest ... in such sort as both they and all others ... who are in a way of trading, may ... multiply their returnes ... and so, as the same shall tend much to ... inrich the people of this land . Edwin R. A. Seligman, on page 14 his 1914 address, "Curiousities of Early Economic Literature," takes the same position, and gives a brief analysis of the text, together with a reprint of the full title page. He reports that a copy of Potter's book was brought to Massachusetts and prompted an early colonial experiment in 1681. Seligman's essay is full of short notices of interesting texts, including some of the later Massachusetts land bank pamphlets, as well as works by Winstanley and Thomas Spence, and various replies to William Cobbett. Among the text as the Leslie Brock Center for the Study of Colonial Currency is Andrew McFarland Davis' Currency and Banking in the Province of the Massachusetts Bay, the first chapter of which treats the colonial banks, mentions Potter's influences, and cites anotherland bank text, John Woodbridge's Severals relating to the fund, printed for divers reasons as may appear (1682), which looks like it ought to be of interest.

William Potter followed up the 1650 Key of Wealth with Humble proposalls to the honorable the Councell for Trade, and all merchants and others who desire to improve their estates: shewing what particulars if enacted by Parliament would ... conduce to advance trade, imploy the poore, diminish interest, improve publique revenues, and prevent the cruelty of creditors and the injustice of debtors, tending ... to promote the enterprise discovered in a late treatise entituled The key of wealth, and in an abstract thereof, called The trades-man's jewel in 1651, and also issued, in 1650, a 16-page abstract of the Key titled The trades-man's jewel, or, A safe, easie, speedy and effectual means for the incredible advancement of trade and multiplication of riches: shewing how men of indifferent estates may abundantly increase both their own and other mens trading and riches ... by making their bills to beome current in stead of money .

All of these texts have been anthologized or microfilmed. I'm using the colonial land banks as one of the case studies for my Great Ideas classes this semester, so I should be able to provide a little closer analysis of the source material soon.