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Source: This essay first appeared in the journal Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought ,
vol. 1, no. 3 July/September 1978 published by the Cato Institute
(1978-1979) and the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the
editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio. It is republished with thanks
to the original copyright holders.
Eric Foner is deWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University.
Eric Foner, "Radical Individualism in America: Revolution to Civil War"
Table of Contents
Nothing is more characteristic of American society than efforts to
reform it. From the earliest days of colonial settlement, virtually
every generation has witnessed some endeavor to improve the
institutions of American life. But even as historians remark on the
persistence of radicalism and reform in the American past, they have
found it difficult to account either for the roots of the radical
impulse, or for its strengths and weaknesses, successes, and failings.
Too often, studies of the radical tradition are cast in a "heroic"
mold, in which radicals are pictured as heroes to be emulated rather
than historical figures defined by their own time, even as they
struggle to transcend it. Such an approach is able to provide striking
portraits of individual radical figures and movements, but it is
usually less successful in examining the social, cultural, and
political aspects of American life which have limited the spread of
radical movements. On the other hand, those who, like Louis Hartz, have
dismissed radicalism altogether, positing an all-encompassing liberal
ideology from which there has been virtually no dissent, have
difficulty in accounting for the persistence of American radicalism in
spite of an all-too-frequent lack of success.1
It is only recently that ideology has come to play a central role in
the study of American history. The writings of Bernard Bailyn, J. G. A.
Pocock, and Eugene Genovese, to name only a few, are a salutary
reaction against a period of "consensus" history during which
historians argued that Americans have produced no ideas worthy of
serious consideration. These writers have reopened the question of the origins and development of radical ideology in the American past.2
Radical Traditions: Jacobin vs. Jeffersonian
In studying the radical tradition, it is essential to distinguish
among a number of distant, although interrelated, expressions of
American radical thought. One can begin with the distinction drawn by
Yehoshua Arieli in his brilliant analysis of American political
culture, between the Jacobin and Jeffersonian traditions: the first
collectivist, unitary, and oriented toward the state, the second
voluntarist, pluralist, and oriented toward the individual and his
"pursuit of happiness." A related, but not identical, distinction can
be made in terms of the attitude of radical movements toward the
institution of private property. The most prominent strain of American
radicalism has derived from what C. B. Macpherson calls the theory of
"possessive individualism," which defines liberty as freedom from
dependence upon the will of other persons, and views possession of
private property as a necessary guarantee of individual autonomy. The
most common strain of American radicalism has been the attempt both to
expand the boundaries of individual liberty (often focusing on groups
excluded from its benefits, such as blacks and women), and to create a
society simultaneously possessing all the attributes of the American
dream—equality and liberty, freedom and order, private property and
access to personal advancement. A second element of the radical
tradition begins its critique with society, rather than the individual.
Such movements as communitarianism and socialism have attempted not to
perfect the individualist ethos but rather to transcend it, erecting a
competing vision of the good society, defined by the collective good.
Whatever one's opinions of the Jacobin and Jeffersonian ideological
strands, both are intrinsically American, for both can be traced back
to the republicanism of the American Revolution. It is here that the
analysis of nineteenth-century American radicalism must begin.3
English Roots: Commonwealthmen
During the past decade, a series of significant works have
chronicled the ideological causes and consequences of the American
Revolution. Drawing on the pioneering work of Caroline Robbins, such
writers as Bailyn, Pocock, and Gordon Wood have traced the
republicanism of the Revolution to a group of English political
theorists beginning with James Harrington, and succeeded by the coffee
house radicals and opposition politicians of the eighteenth century.
These publicists, variously known as Commonwealthmen, Radical Whigs, or
the Country Party, developed a pervasive critique of the "corruption"
overtaking English life as a result of the political and economic
changes of the eighteenth century. They were especially critical of the
rise of cabinet power—the creation of political stability through
expanding the national bureaucracy and filling Parliament with various
appointees and sinecurists. These Radical Whigs opposed the financial
revolution evidenced by the creation of the Bank of England and other
large moneyed corporations in order to underwrite the new national
debt. They feared that the spread of market relations into all areas of
English life would unsettle the foundations of traditional liberty. In
contrast to the manipulation of Parliament by the Crown, they exalted
the ideal of balanced government. The Commonwealthmen were inimical to
the emergence of speculators, financiers, and stockjobbers in the
national debt, who were all dependent on the state for their income;
they looked with nostalgia to a time when men of independent means
controlled the destiny of Parliament.4
In England, the Country Party comprised a small and not very
influential band of reformers. But their influence in America was
considerable. Their writings helped shape an image of a corrupt Old
World, where liberty was in retreat, and helped to shape the
republicanism which emerged as the ruling ideology of revolutionary
America. As Wood and Pocock describe it, American republicanism rested
on a number of central concepts: "virtue"—the ability of men to
sacrifice individual self-interest to the common good;
"independence"—freedom from relationships except those entered into
voluntarily; and "equality"—"the soul of a republic," according to Noah
Webster. History demonstrated that rulers consistently sought to usurp
the rights of the people; liberty could be preserved only by basing
government on popular representation and ensuring that virtue,
independence, and equality characterized the republican citizenry.
Liberty could not exist where men lived in the abject conditions of
poverty typical of the Old World.
Republican Solidarity and Republican Individualism
In the work of Pocock, republicanism emerges as a nostalgic quest
for the virtues of a simpler time, a negative response to the political
and economic developments of the eighteenth century. In emphasizing the
concept of "virtue" as central to republican thought, Pocock implicitly
rejects Louis Hartz's assumption that liberalism and competitive
individualism dominated American thought from the beginning. But Joyce
Appleby has charged Pocock with ignoring the individualist, liberal
strand of republican thought. Within republican ideology, it appears,
there existed a tension between a traditional corporate view of
society, emphasizing the common interests of a homogeneous
"people"—especially when set against their rulers—and
a more individualist social vision. The latter strand, as Appleby
emphasizes, was greatly strengthened by the Revolution itself. As
reflected in the Madisonian concept of politics, republican
individualism insisted that the purpose of government should be to give
free rein to the competition of conflicting interests, rather than to
stifle that competition in pursuit of a unitary general good.5
This transition from communal harmony to competitive individualism
was hastened by the influence in America of the third generation of
opposition thinkers in eighteenth-century England. As Staughton Lynd
has emphasized, such writers as James Burgh, Richard Price, and Joseph
Priestley expanded the long-standing demand by Protestant Dissenters
for religious liberty, into a call for complete freedom of conscience
and a warning of the dangers posed to personal liberty by powerful
governments. Therefore, side by side with the classical republican
definition of liberty (as that attainable only through self-denial and
active citizenship), there also emerged a newer conception of freedom
as simply a collection of rights belonging to the people. In this
conception the key to liberty was not "virtue" and public spiritedness,
but the setting of limits to the exercise of authority. Such a view
drew on traditions lying deep within English and American political
culture. The heritage of the "free-born Englishman," that sense of
hostility to authoritarianism and an assertion of the right to resist
arbitrary power, is not sufficiently emphasized by students of Country
Party thought, but as E. P. Thompson has shown, it played an extremely
important role in popular politics in the eighteenth century.6
The individualist definition of freedom obviously possessed strong
affinities for the view of economic life Adam Smith was proposing at
precisely this time. In laissez-faire economics, as in Madisonian
politics, the public good emerged from free competition and the private
pursuit of gain. As the Dissenters demanded that government give up its
traditional supervision of the religious realm, classical economists
called for a separation of government from the economy. It is easy to
forget the radical implications of this demand in the context of the
eighteenth century. The call for success based on individual merit was
a powerful weapon of assault against the aristocratic world. In effect,
it demanded the dismantling of hereditary privilege, of
government-granted favors, and of all artificial distinctions among
individuals. Competitive individualism was eagerly embraced by the
emerging bourgeoisie, since that class possessed the qualities
presumably required for success in what came to be called "the race of
life"—frugality, self-discipline, and the ability to postpone immediate
gratification. The losers in the "race" would be the profligate and
unproductive aristocracy, and the undisciplined lower orders. But the
call for rewards to talent and an end to privilege also generated an
enthusiastic response among other
classes, such as artisans and yeoman farmers, to whom "aristocracy"
represented a threat to the very meaning of the American Revolution.
Paine: Dissent Tradition and Radical Individualism
No figure of the American Revolution is more closely associated with
the history of American radicalism, or reflects more clearly its
complex intellectual origins, than Thomas Paine.7 Born in England in 1737, the son of a staymaker, Paine emigrated to America in 1774. He won fame as the author of Common Sense,
that brilliant call for American independence, and thenceforth devoted
himself to promoting the national war effort. In addition, Paine became
intimately involved in the complex struggle in Pennsylvania, which saw
the Revolution broaden into a debate over the fruits of independence.
The highly democratic Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776, with its broad
suffrage, unicameral legislature, and annual elections, reflected a
process occuring in virtually every colony as part of the Revolution:
the expansion of political participation and the decline in deferential
politics. In Pennsylvania and areas like western Massachusetts,
backcountry North Carolina, and the Hudson Valley of New York,
"equality" became the great rallying cry of those who sought to
restructure the political life of the colonies. The demand for
"equality" was, as Franco Venturi has written, a "protest ideal," a
critique of a society based on hierarchy and privilege, rather than a
demand for massive social levelling. While remaining firmly within the
republican tradition which linked individual autonomy to the possession
of productive property, some Pennsylvania radicals proposed that the
state discourage large concentrations of wealth, since "an enormous
Proportion of Property vested in a few Individuals is dangerous to the
Rights, and destructive of the Common Happiness of Mankind."8
Paine himself, though passionately attached to "equality" as an
ideal of society and the basis of republican government, did not, in
the 1770s, subscribe to such proposals. But in his writings, he did
touch on virtually every theme which would flow into the
nineteenth-century radical tradition. First, there was his conscious
effort to democratize political participation, his attack on the idea
that a traditional elite should enjoy a monopoly of political power.
The literary form of Common Sense reflected Paine's complete
rejection of deference as thoroughly as did its political content.
Written in a style designed to reach a mass audience, it was a catalyst
of the massive politicization of American life during the era of the
Revolution. Paine's literary style, as Harry Stout observes, was akin
to Patrick Henry's mode of public speaking. Both broke the previous
rules of political discourse, and both aroused consternation among
Common Sense not only called for American independence, but
bitterly denounced the elements of inequality which characterized the
Old World—monarchy, aristocracy, and hereditary privilege. Paine
articulated the utopian thrust of the American Revolution, the complete
rejection of the Old World and the possibility of creating a better
society in the New. "We have it in our power to begin the world over
again," he wrote; "The birthday of a new world is at hand." Paine
redefined the meaning of the Revolution, transforming it from a
struggle over the rights of Englishmen, into a contest with meaning for
all mankind. As Arieli writes, Paine's vision of America "could only be
created by a man who knew Europe well enough to hate its society and
who longed desperately enough for salvation to envision in a flash of
illumination the destiny of the New World as liberation from the Old."
At times, Paine's rejection of European political forms led him to a
condemnation of all government, expressed so strongly that he has
sometimes been claimed as a precursor of nineteenth-century anarchism.
In Common Sense, Paine drew a sharp distinction between society
and government, the one natural, voluntary, and harmonious, the other
coercive, artificial, and productive of evil. Like the Newtonian
universe, human society was based on harmony and order; it was outside
interference by the state which corrupted human nature and created,
through war, oppressive taxation, and grants of artificial privilege,
the inequalities of Europe. For Paine, monarchical government was the
primary cause of poverty and inequality in the Old World. And yet, his
view here was not altogether consistent. It has recently been argued
that Paine in the 1770s and 1780s often acted as the spokesman for the
artisan class, from which he himself had sprung.10
Artisans, beset by competition from British manufacturers, looked to a
strong American government to protect their own enterprises. They, and
Paine, supported the Constitution of 1787 in the hope that it would
create a government actively promoting the economic development of the
nation, and releasing the economic energies of its citizens. In the
Paineite social outlook, society was divided between producers—artisans
and farmers, and nonproducers—speculators, financiers, and rentiers.
The activities of the former could be encouraged by government; the
latter, in a republic, would be cut off from their sources of
income—government favors and court sinecures—and destroyed.
Paine's writings thus expressed many of the central themes of early
American radicalism: democracy, equality, the distinction between
producers and nonproducers, the sharp contrast between the Old and New
Worlds and the implied fear of the "Europeanization" of American
society, and a suspicion of government as an artificial imposition on
the natural workings of society.
Jeffersonian Republicanism and Land Ownership
Land was, of course, central to the variant of republican ideology
associated with Thomas Jefferson. "Those who labor in the earth,"
Jefferson wrote in an oft-quoted passage, "are the chosen people of
God…. Corruption of morals in the mass of cultivators is a phenomenon
of which no age nor nation has furnished an example." Often interpreted
as pure nostalgia, (the "myth of the garden" according to Henry Nash
Smith) Jeffersonianism, in fact, expressed the common republican
conviction that liberty sprang from the independence of the individual.
Passionately averse to debt and credit for the web of dependence in
which they enmeshed individuals, Jefferson perceived self-sufficient
farming as the surest basis for republican independence and virtue.
Like so many Americans of the era, Jefferson distrusted large cities
with their population of wealthy nonproducers and dependent,
impoverished laborers. Thus, Thus, as Leo Marx argues, it was simply
the livelihood of the farmer but his social, moral, and political
qualities which made the yeoman the basis of Jeffersonian
republicanism. And, Jefferson's fear of a dependent lower class helps
explain his conviction that if the slaves of the South were freed, they
should be returned to Africa.11
Jeffersonianism rested, therefore, on a commitment to ownership of
landed property as the basis of independence. But, as Gary Wills has
recently argued, Jefferson allowed that society had a responsibility to
promote the widest diffusion of landed property. One way of doing this
would be to grant every head of family fifty acres to stake out his own
independence. Where uncultivated land and poverty coexisted, he wrote,
the natural right of all men to a portion of the land had been violated.12
Edmund Morgan has recently emphasized that the spectre of a large
class of propertyless poor haunted the republican theorists of the
Revolution. Moreover, republicanism was ambiguous, or even hostile, to
capitalist development as the eighteenth century perceived it. In
Country Party thought, "corruption" flowed in part from the financial
revolution of the eighteenth century and from the new
classes—speculators, government bondholders, placemen—which it spawned.
Paine and Jefferson wished to preserve the social basis of
republicanism—the wide diffusion of property among urban craftsmen and
Yet, as Madison observed at the Constitutional Convention, history
seemed to present Americans with an insoluble dilemma. A republic
required a citizenry possessing the independence provided by private
property, yet economic development seemed destined to create an
ever-increasing class of propertyless poor, congregating in large
cities, and susceptible to manipulation by demagogues. Thus, Madison's
Constitution rested on an elaborate structure of checks and balances,
to prevent the propertyless from using political power to despoil the
propertied. William Appleman Williams argues that Jeffersonians sought
to resolve this dilemma through territorial expansion. America could
remain a nation of industrious farmers, and avoid the corruption and
political degeneracy of Europe, only by expanding into the interior.
Yet, underlying even this solution lay a deep historical pessimism.
For, even after the Louisiana Purchase doubled the nation's size,
Jefferson had to admit that land was not infinite. Eventually it would
be filled up, and then the classic historical dialectic of progress and
corruption, growth and decay, evidenced in the history of all previous
republics, would overtake the American experiment as well. And there
was a further dilemma: territorial expansion required an aggressive
foreign policy, conducted by a strong central government. Here lay the
fatal flaw in the idea of the West as America's salvation. Jefferson
could speak glowingly of the nation as an "empire of liberty," but he
never confronted the question: can an empire also be a republic?13
Hamilton's State Capitalism vs. Jefferson's Market Capitalism
The political debates which emerged in the aftermath of independence
were framed by the republican ideology of the Revolution. Central to
the issue between Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans in the
1790s, according to a recent work by Richard Buel and Lance Banning,
was the question of the relationship of the new national state to early
capitalist development. Party differences first arose over the fiscal
program proposed by Alexander Hamilton—the funding of the federal debt,
establishment of a national bank, and promotion of manufacturing. These
policies appeared to Jeffersonians as an attempt to recreate in America
a powerful state on the English model, welding it to the interests of
the business classes. The Hamiltonian program thus raised the specter
of the state promoting the growth of "nonproductive" classes, dependent
for their livelihood on the government. By way of contrast,
Jeffersonians proposed to allow the free market to develop in its own
way, confident that the result would be an equitable distribution of
the nation's economic resources.14
Jefferson could dismantle the state capitalist program of the
Hamiltonians after his election in 1800, but he could not reverse the
economic process at work in early nineteenth-century America. Between
1800 and 1850, the nation experienced a thorough economic revolution,
reflected in the emergence of the factory system in textile
manufacturing, the transportation revolution, the spread of market
relations throughout the society, and the creation of a new urban
wage-earning class. As Robert Shallope has recently observed, the old Jeffersonian paradigm was incapable of explaining, or even discussing, these new economic developments.15
By the time of Jefferson's death in 1826, the profound social and
economic changes American society had experienced since the Revolution
were beginning to generate radical criticism. The republican heritage
of the Revolution did not contain readily apparent answers to the
economic problems of the Age of Jackson. America had eliminated kings
and aristocrats, and had extended the right to vote to virtually the
entire white male population. Yet the twin threats to republican
society—dependence and inequality—more and more seemed to characterize
American life, especially in the large eastern cities. Much of the
radicalism of these years reflected a search for the causes. Some
critics found the reasons for social dislocation and inequality in
artificial privileges and monopolies created by the government. Others
located the source of social problems in private control of new
technology. In a study of the industrialization of the Pennsylvania
village of Rockdale, Anthony Wallace terms this strand of radicalism
"communal industrialism." Demanding that social relations be guided by
cooperation rather than competition, that productive property be
regulated by the community, it drew on classical republicanism in its
hostility to concentrated economic wealth and power.16
The expression of radicalism which diverged most completely from the
liberal, individualist ideology of the emerging order were the numerous
communitarian experiments created in these years. Between 1800 and 1860
over one hundred such communities were founded. They varied greatly in
their internal structure. At one extreme stood Oneida in New York
State, whose regimen of mutual self-criticism and dictatorial direction
by John Humphrey Noyes left little room for individual initiative. And
at the other was the communitarian anarchism of Josiah Warren, which
blended extreme individualism with labor radicalism in a unique
amalgam. Warren accused most utopian socialists of reproducing on a
small scale the arbitrary authority typical of the larger society. The
true policy of a community, he believed, was "allowing each individual
to be absolute despot or sovereign" over himself. At Modern Times
community on Long Island, there were virtually no rules or laws. "A man
may have two wives, or a woman, two husbands, or a dozen each, for
ought I care," said Warren. "Everybody has a perfect right to do
everything." (Warren's remark points up the central importance of the
family in the history of communitarian experiments. Many utopians
challenged the nuclear family and proposed alternatives ranging from
the celibacy practiced by the Shakers to the polygamy of the Mormons,
the "free love" advocated by some Owenites, and
the system of "complex marriage" devised by Noyes at Oneida.) Warren's
radicalism also extended to labor relations: he insisted Americans
needed to be freed from the coercion of the marketplace as well as that
of the state. In Cincinnati, Warren organized a "time store" and a
currency, "labor notes," so that goods could be exchanged for their
value in human labor, and middlemen and nonproducers would be
eliminated entirely, thereby allowing the worker to receive the full
product of his labor.17
Historians have devoted more attention to the Owenite communities of
the early nineteenth century than any other variant. As Arthur Bestor
shows in his classic study, Owenism embodied a plan for social reform
blending communitarianism, a critique of the competitive ideology of
the emerging capitalist order, and a science of society based on an
environmentalist conception of human nature. J.F.C. Harrison has
emphasized the millennial aspect of Robert Owen's aim—nothing less than
the creation of a "new moral world" in which social harmony would reign
supreme. Although Owen's famous experiment at New Harmony was
short-lived and torn by dissention, Owenism exerted a powerful
influence on the early labor movement. Two themes of Owen's thought,
the labor theory of value and his stress on education as a means of
social improvement and character-molding, were especially influential.
The ideal of cooperation, moreover, remained a strong element in labor
ideology well into this century, as did the conviction that men could
shape a more equitable society through a conscious rebuilding of their
Workingmen's Movement: Equal Rights vs. Special Privileges
Despite the colorful quality of communitarian experiments, they
represented a secondary strain in the radical impulse of the 1820s and
1830s. More pervasive was the influence of the early labor movement,
which drew on the tradition of republican egalitarianism to challenge
the social consequences of the economic transformation of the nation.
For the urban artisan (the central figure in the early labor movement)
the most disturbing economic development was the decline of skill, the
loss of the "dignity of labor." The most striking example was, of
course, the emergence of the early factory system in New England; more
typical was the gathering of artisans into urban workshops, the
subdividing of traditional crafts, and the introduction of unskilled
workers into the trades. As a result, journeymen found it increasingly
difficult to become independent masters and were faced with the
prospect of a lifetime of wage labor. At the same time, the imposition
of new forms of work discipline in factories, workshops, and even the
artisans' own shops, represented a striking change from an earlier
period when the craftsman generally controlled the rhythm and pace of
his own labor.
Urban laborers responded to these changes by forming workingmen's
political parties (the first such organizations in the world),
producers' cooperatives, and labor unions. As Alan Dawley observes in a
significant study of workingmen in Lynn, Massachusetts, the great
rallying cry of the early labor movement was Equal Rights. The economic
inequalities of the Jacksonian era infused new life into the
traditional social distinction between producers and nonproducers, and
encouraged the view that capitalists were growing rich by accumulating
the fruits of the laborers' toil.19
"You are the real producers of all the wealth of the community,"
said one labor newspaper. "Without your labors no class could live. How
is it then that you are so poor, while those who labor not are rich?"
The quest for an answer to this question led leaders of the labor
movement to a variety of political, social, and economic programs. One
common demand was the removal of intermediaries between producers and
consumers, the nonproducing merchant and banker. This was the rationale
of Warren's time store, as well as of producers' cooperatives, which
reflected a collective response to the problem of preserving the
artisan's traditional independence. Cornelius Blatchley, a physician
who popularized "Richardian socialist" doctrines in a series of
pamphlets, insisted that the rich exploited laborers by receiving an
unearned income on their property. Equality thus required the abolition
of interest on money and rent on land.20
Other specific demands of workingmen included the abolition of
imprisonment for debt, the establishment of a free public school
system, and reform of the legal system. Hostility to lawyers had long
been a component of American radicalism, reflected, as Richard Ellis
shows, in persistent complaints about the high fees charged by courts
and lawyers, the use of the English common law in American courts, and
the inaccessibility of legal procedures to the average citizen. An
important recent study by Morton Horwitz reveals how court decisions
during the first half of the nineteenth century transformed the legal
conception of property, insulating corporations from some of the social
effects of their actions, limiting their liability for damages and, in
effect, transferring property from smallholders to corporate
enterprises. Horwitz's study of the way in which the legal system
helped subsidize the emerging capitalist order helps explain the
hostility to lawyers and judges within the labor movement.21
The writings of Edward Pessen and, more recently, Anthony Wallace,
demonstrate the extent to which the early labor movement was the
intellectual child of the Enlightenment and the American Revolution.
The central tenets of labor though derived from Paineite
republicanism—a belief in natural rights and social progress, the
division of society into producers and nonproducers, and hostility
to government actions which seemed to grant privileges to nonproducing
classes. Through the influence of Paine and Owen, the early labor
movement also reflected the heritage of deism and rationalism. Labor
leaders in New York and Philadelphia were as hostile to the attempt of
revivalists to create a "union of church and state," as they were to
the growth of inequality in the economic realm.22
Probably the most original theorist of the early labor movement was Thomas Skidmore, a teacher and machinist who published The Rights of Man to Property.
The title was meant to pay homage to the heritage of Paine while at the
same time transcending Paineite republicanism in an attempt to solve
the economic problems an earlier generation had not had to confront. A
passionate devotee of the ideal of equality, Skidmore proposed the
abolition of inheritance: under his plan, all property would revert to
the state at death, while each individual would receive a sum of money
from the state at the beginning of his adult life. Skidmore thus did
not challenge the institution of private property, or the notion of a
"race of life" in which accumulations of wealth would be unequal. What
he objected to were concentrations of property which were not the
result of the immediate labor of each individual. His was an attempt to
combine the ideals of equality and individual competition.23
A different solution to the problem of inequality was devised by
George Henry Evans, the immigrant English radical who edited the Workingman's Advocate
in New York City in the 1830s and became a leading figure in the
National Reform Movement in the next decade. Along with Thomas Devyr,
an Irish immigrant who had participated in the British Chartist
movement, Horace Greeley, and a few others, Evans popularized the
principle of land reform as the solution to urban poverty. Land
monopoly was, Evans insisted, the root cause of poverty and inequality.
It drove men into large cities, where their competition for employment
drove wages down to subsistence levels. America could only enjoy
industrial development with high wages if every worker had access to a
homestead, enabling him to escape the city if working conditions were
not to his liking. Evans criticized manufacturers who sought to keep
the price of public land high, so as to create a low-wage working
force. (Manufacturers insisted that without low wages or tariff
protection, they would be unable to compete with British industry.)24
"A perfect free trade in all things:"
the Locofoco and William Leggett
Evans was also associated with the Locofoco, the radical wing of the
New York Democratic party, who represented the absorption of part of
the workingmen's impulse into party politics. The theme of the Locofoco
was equal rights and hostility to monopoly. Whereas the
Whig party viewed society as governed by a harmony of interests between
capital and labor, Locofoco inherited the traditional portrait of
pervasive social conflict between producer and nonproducer. They
objected particularly to what they perceived as the grant of special
governmental favors and privileges to capitalistic groups. William
Leggett, a leading Locofoco spokesman from his editorial post on the New York Evening Post,
insisted the function of government was simply to make "general laws,
uniform and universal in their operation…. Governments have no right to
interfere with the pursuits of individuals by offering encouragements
and granting privileges to any particular class or industry or any
select bodies of men."25
In the work of Walter Hugins, the Locofoco emerge as doctrinaire
adherents of the principles of laissez-faire, whose views stood in
sharp contrast to the Whig American Plan, under which the government
would consciously promote and shape the nation's economic development.
Hugins, the leading modern student of the New York workingmen's
movement, stresses the Locofoco's opposition to all kinds of monopolies
and privileges, including even the "medical monopoly"—the licensing of
physicians by the state and the banning of certain kinds of medical
practice. Medicine, like manufacturing and transportation, should be
"left free to the competition of capital and enterprise." Leggett's
principle was "a perfect free trade in all things."
The greatest monopoly of all, of course, was the Second Bank of the
United States, and the Locofoco supported the administration of Andrew
Jackson in its attack on the "Monster Bank." But while many Jacksonians
hoped the destruction of the Bank would clear the way for increased
activities by state banks, the Locofoco were hostile to all banks of
issue, demanding a currency based on specie. Paper money not only
robbed the worker of a part of his wages by constantly deteriorating in
value, but encouraged "intemperance, dissipation, and profligacy," by
promoting a speculative mentality in which nonproducers thrived and
producers suffered. "Its direct and indirect tendency," Leggett wrote,
"is to create artificial inequalities and distinctions in society; to
increase the wealth of the rich and render more abject and oppressive
the poverty of the poor." Hostility to paper money and banks of issue
was a major reason for the support the Democratic party received among
wage-earners, especially the immigrant Irish who arrived in the eastern
cities with no money, and were dependent upon wages for their
The Locofoco did not wish to destroy all banking activities, but
they objected to banks issuing paper money and the granting of bank
charters by special acts of the legislature. Instead, they demanded a
general banking law, so that the "banking monopoly" would be broken,
coupled with the abolition of small paper notes. They did not oppose
savings banks, since savings were a crucial means by which workers escaped the wage system, a prime element of transition between the wage-earning class and independence.
The Locofoco represented the most radical expression of competitive
individualism during the Jacksonian era. Blaming the granting of
economic privileges by the state for the increase in inequality, they
demanded a return to the natural functioning of the economic order,
freed from privilege and monopoly. Yet they lacked a critique of the
emerging economic order itself; their focus was on the ties between
that system and the government. In this they reflected the crisis of
the republican heritage itself. Geared to looking for political
solutions for economic problems, republicanism was not attuned to
analyzing the new capitalist economy apart from its relationship to the
Reform and Perfectionism
If the early labor movement struggled with the problems resulting
from massive economic change, another series of reform movements
focused on freeing the individual from sin. In the 1830s and 1840s a
veritable army of reform movements sprang into existence, promoting
causes ranging from temperance, abolition, and peace, to spiritualism
and good health. Behind the reform impulse lay a religious
revolution—the evangelical revivals known as the Second Great
Awakening. Preachers like the evangelist Charles G. Finney held great
revivals in New England, upstate New York, and some of the urban
centers, emphasizing the doctrine that men were free moral agents, with
the power to choose between good and evil. In contrast to traditional
predestinarian Calvinism, evil was not seen as the product of conscious
choice, not innate depravity. The revivals emphasized both the ability
of men to save themselves by an act of will, and the necessity on the
part of the saved to attack the sins of others. The key doctrine of the
reformers influenced by the revivals was perfectionism, the belief that
both man and society could indeed be made free from sin. Here was a
utopian vision which not only inspired the creation of new reform
movements, but led to the transformation of old ones. From attempts to
mitigate evils which could never be wholly eliminated from human life,
reforms now became efforts to cleanse the world of sin entirely. Thus,
antislavery became immediate abolitionism, temperance became total
abstinence, the movement against war became pacifism and nonresistance.26
Much has been written on the reform movements of the antebellum
years, but historians have found it difficult to strike a balance
between the liberating impulse embodied in reform, and its tendency
toward social control. Perhaps the tension was inherent in the
Protestant heritage itself, which stressed both the integrity of the
individual, and the need for order and stability in a society in which an
elect of redeemed oversee the morality of the unregenerate. Reform has
been interpreted by Clifford Griffen as a form of "moral stewardship,"
whereby one version of morality was imposed upon the entire society
(though not without resistance from groups like Irish and German
immigrants who did not share the reformers' definition of sin).
Similarly, the various benevolent societies of the 1820s and 1830s—the
Home Missionary Society, American Bible Society, etc.—can be seen as
attempts to impose order and morality on the new urban lower classes,
notorious for their intemperance and infidelity. Paul Johnson, in his
studies of the revivals in Rochester, sees revivalism and reform as
serving the interests of the emerging manufacturing elite. According to
Johnson, the revivalists' emphasis on self-discipline, temperance, and
hard work reinforced the demands of the new industrial order, and
helped manufacturers assert their control over a recalcitrant work
force. The evangelical drive for moral order, in this view, coincided
with the need for punctuality, sobriety, and obedience in the mills and
Such interpretations have been criticized by Lois Banner who points
out that there were other roots to reform movements than religious
benevolence. Moreover, evangelicalism possessed a second aspect: its
emphasis on individual redemption led many converts into an intense
anti-institutionalism and, occasionally, all the way to anarchy. Some
reformers came to challenge all existing institutions as illegitimate
exercises of authority over the free will of the individual, and as
interferences with his direct relationship with God. In the form of
"come-outerism," this strand of reform demanded that the redeemed sever
their connection with the state, army, and organized churches, in the
quest for perfect freedom. At the same time, however, as David Rothman
has shown, many reformers engaged in the building of new institutions
in the hope of remaking the human character. What Rothman terms the
"discovery of the asylum"—the sudden outburst of construction of
prisons, insane asylums, poorhouses, and schools—also reflected the
perfectionist belief that human beings could become truly free. If the
poor, the criminal, the insane, were removed from their accustomed
environments and placed in a controlled setting, they could be
instilled with the virtues of self-discipline and good order, and
eventually become productive members of society. As Rothman observes,
these new institutions quickly lost their reforming zeal and became
places of incarceration for the poor, a transformation which helps
explain the intense hostility of the lower classes (especially Irish
immigrants) toward them and the reformers who created them. But this
does not mitigate his point that, at the outset, these reformers
embodied a truly radical vision—that human personality could be remade.28
No individual reform movement reflects the dialectic of liberation
and control more fully than the expansion of free public education.
Traditionally viewed as a step in the progress of American democracy,
the rise of the common school has recently been subjected to critiques
by Michael Katz, and Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis. To these
writers, the "silent curriculum" of the schools is as important as the
subjects taught. The purpose of public education is to create an
orderly, deferential, and disciplined population, who can become an
obedient work force upon graduation. The educational system, write
Bowles and Gintis, is "best understood as an institution which serves
to perpetuate the social relationships of economic life…by facilitating
a smooth integration of youth into the labor force." However, other
writers have pointed to the pervasive conflict surrounding the schools
in these years. Rather than reflecting the views of one class, the
schools were a battleground, pitting professional educators and
proponents of centralization against immigrants and workingmen.
Universal public education was a demand of the labor movement as well
as manufacturers, although as Katz shows in his study of Beverley,
Massachusetts, workingmen were often disillusioned with the schools
when free public education did not seem to produce the economic
equality which had been expected of it.29
One other reform which merits individual attention is the early
movement for women's rights. The history of American women has, in a
sense, only begun to be written, but it appears that the early
nineteenth century was a period of declining status for women, the
majority of the population. Increasingly, society's image of women came
to center around the home. At the same time, as work moved from the
household to the workshop and factory, the productive function of women
in the home became increasingly unimportant. Some women followed
spinning and weaving out of the household and became the nation's first
factory labor force. Others, especially in the middle class, found
themselves with fewer and fewer responsibilities and opportunities in
The early feminist movement had roots dating back at least as far as
the Age of Revolution, which had produced, in Mary Wollstonecraft, the
first great ideologue of women's rights. In the 1820s and 1830s, the
Owenites had demanded greater rights for women and Frances Wright, the
Scottish-born follower of Robert Owen, had become notorious by
delivering public lectures demanding not only legal equality for women,
but the right to birth control and divorce as well. The Owen-Wright
brand of feminism was the child of Enlightenment rationalism and its
heritage of natural rights. It was thus somewhat different from another
expression of early feminism, which stemmed from the great revivals. At
first, the revivals stimulated the formation of women's reform
societies which did not challenge the conception of women as the
guardian of household and family.
Moreover, increasing numbers of women participated in the crusade
against slavery. From their experiences in abolitionism, some came to
challenge the status of women as well as blacks. The leading example of
the way abolition fed into early feminism was that of the remarkable
Grimké sisters, Sarah and Angelina. Daughters of a prominent South
Carolina family, they became, in the 1830s, Quakers and advocates of
emancipation. Denounced by the Massachusetts clergy for addressing
mixed audiences of men and women, the Grimkés undertook to defend the
right of women to a role in public affairs. The controversy aroused by
their activities not only helped split the abolitionist movement but
inspired those, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who
organized the Seneca Falls convention of 1840 where women's suffrage
was first demanded.30
As Ellen DuBois has argued, the women's suffrage movement challenged
the pervasive division of society into public and private spheres, with
women confined to the private world. It demanded access for women to
the political realm as well as to all branches of employment. On the
other hand, William O'Neill has suggested that the early feminists
gradually receded from a critique of the nuclear family and sexual
discrimination within the home, issues which had been raised by Frances
Wright but were considered too controversial by later feminists. A
related question is the class basis of the feminist constituency. Gerda
Lerner argues that the early women's rights movement was resolutely
middle-class, and had little to offer the growing class of female
factory workers. These women also organized themselves in the 1830s and
1840s, but along lines of class, not gender. The female workers of
Lowell, Massachusetts, conducted a series of strikes in these years
against the deterioration of working conditions and wages, but they
tended to look to the male labor movement for allies, rather than the
early feminists, and did not view the ballot as a panacea for their
The greatest of all the antebellum reform movements was, of course,
abolition. But it was not free from the conflicting tendencies of the
reform impulse in general, or from the problems of class constituency
reflected in the women's rights movement. Sentiment against slavery was
hardly new in the 1830s. It could be traced back to the American
Revolution and before. But prior to this decade, the prevailing
expression of antislavery was the American Colonization Society, which
proposed the gradual elimination of the South's peculiar institution
and the deportation of the freedmen to Africa. (This policy was
resisted by most leaders of the free black community, although a few,
like the early black nationalist Paul Cuffe, did attempt to promote
voluntary emigration to Africa.)32
The 1830s witnessed a complete transformation in the crusade against
slavery. Drawing on the idea of perfectionism, abolitionists abandoned
the earlier gradualist approach and demanded immediate emancipation.
Essentially, as Gilbert Barnes noted many years ago, immediatism was a
call for repentance by the slaveholder for the sin of slavery. Instead
of a complex institution embedded in a web of social institutions,
slavery came to be viewed essentially as a moral and religious
question. "We believe slavery to be a sin, always, everywhere, and
only, sin—sin in itself," wrote William Lloyd Garrison. Here lay the
radicalism of the immediatist approach: identifying slavery as a sin
eliminated the possibility of compromise with the South.33
It is not surprising, therefore, that abolitionists tended to view
slavery in highly abstract and individualist terms. Slavery was an
exercise of authority forbidden by God; the central wrong was the
black's loss of the right of self-ownership, the transformation of a
human being into a thing. From this position, some abolitionists moved
to "non-resistance," denying the legitimacy of all coercive relations
in American society. Many, in addition, condemned existing institutions
for their complicity in the existence of slavery. What Stanley Elkins
calls the anti-institutionalism of abolitionists was, in part, a
conviction that slavery was so deeply embedded in American life, that
its abolition would require fundamental changes in other institutions
as well. To remove slavery, said Garrison, he was willing to see every
political party "torn by dissentions, every sect dashed to fragments,
the national compact dissolved." In its most extreme form, then,
abolitionism's stress on the autonomy of the individual could lead, as
Lewis Perry has shown, to a species of anarchism.34
William Lloyd Garrison
Garrison was the most important single abolitionist leader of the 1830s, and his inauguration of The Liberator
in 1831 is usually taken to mark the emergence of a new, militant breed
of abolitionist agitators (even though some of his doctrines had been
anticipated by the fiery black abolitionist David Walker in the late
1820s). What set Garrison apart from previous opponents of slavery were
his hostility to the idea of colonization, the doctrine of immediatism,
the harsh, invective language he employed to condemn slavery and
slaveholders, and his insistence that the rights of free blacks in the
North must form a central part of abolitionist doctrine. It was this
last concern which won him immense support among the northern free
black community. In its early years, a majority of the readers of The Liberator were free blacks, and many helped raise funds for the journal. Abolition was the first integrated radical movement in American history, even though blacks sometimes resented their exclusion from important policymaking positions.35
The abolitionist movement spread from a tiny handful of radicals in
1831 to a movement reaching into every corner of northern society a few
years later. If Garrison was its propagandist, the man who helped
mobilize its constituency was Theodore Weld. A brilliant orator in his
own right, Weld organized a group of speakers who disseminated
abolitionist doctrines throughout the free states. Often, the initial
response to their efforts was violent hostility. The mid-1830s
witnessed a series of anti-abolitionist riots, culminating in the
murder of abolitionist editor Elijah P. Lovejoy, who died defending his
press in Alton, Illinois. The effect of the riots was that a large
group of northerners, who may not have agreed with immediate
abolitionism, came to sympathize with the movement and defend its right
to freedom of speech. At the same time, when Congress enacted the "gag
rule" to prevent the reading of antislavery petitions, it seemed
further proof that the "Slave Power" was utilizing its influence in the
federal government to undermine the liberties of northerners. "The
contest," one abolitionist wrote, "is fast becoming—has become—one, not
alone of freedom for the black, but of freedom for the white.36
The main work of abolitionism was completed by the end of the 1830s.
The movement had not, of course, accomplished its goal of emancipating
the slaves. Indeed, in response to the abolitionist assault, the South
at the same time suppressed internal dissent and developed the
proslavery argument in its most advanced form. What the abolitionists
did achieve was the destruction of the conspiracy of silence which had
prevented serious debate on the slavery issue. The abolitionist legacy
to the radical tradition was their mastery of the techniques of
agitation in a democratic society. They understood that the reformer
who stands outside the political realm and directs his efforts toward
influencing public opinion, can have as great an impact on policy as
the most powerful statesman.37
Slavery contradicted the central ideals and values of artisan
radicalism—liberty, equality, independence—and the founding fathers of
the movement, Thomas Paine and Robert Owen, had both been opponents of
Recent research, moreover, moving away from a definition of
abolitionists as representatives of a declining elite, has underscored
the central role played by artisans in the urban abolitionist
constituency (although not in the leadership). Nonetheless, relations
between the labor and abolitionist movements remained unfriendly
throughout the 1830s. In the very first issue of The Liberator,
Garrison condemned the labor radicals for setting class against class,
and a few weeks later he insisted that social inequality resulted not
from "wealth and aristocracy," but from differences in talent and
diligence among individuals.39
Some scholars have viewed the abolitionists as complacent champions
of middle-class values, who were, as a result, hostile to attempts to
alter northern labor relations. There is a certain truth in this; after
all, the Tappan brothers, wealthy New York merchants who helped finance
the movement, were themselves representatives of the very class which
was transforming labor relations to the detriment of the workingmen.
Yet the abolitionists were not apologists for their society. They often
criticized the spirit of competition and greed so visible in northern
life, as the very antithesis of Christian brotherhood. Yet they did
tend, in contrast to the labor movement, to accept the economic
relations of the free states as fundamentally just. If the labor
movement articulated an older ideal of freedom, stretching back to the
republican tradition of the Revolution (in which freedom was equated
with ownership of productive property) the abolitionists expressed a
newer definition. Freedom for them meant self-ownership; that is,
simply not being a slave. It was this individualist conception of
personal freedom which not only cut abolitionists off from the labor
movement, but, as Gilbert Osofsky argues, rendered them unable to make
a meaningful response to the economic condition of Irish immigrants,
despite a principled effort to overcome nativism and reach out for
Irish support in the 1840s.40
A few abolitionist leaders did, in the 1840s, attempt to bridge the
gap separating them from the labor movement. Most prominent was
Nathaniel P. Rogers, the New Hampshire editor who proposed a grand
alliance of the producing classes North and South, free and slave,
against all exploiters of labor. Yet most abolitionists condemned
Rogers for accepting the notion of "wage slavery." Wendell Phillips,
later so prominent in labor reform circles, in 1847 insisted that the
solution to the grievances of workingmen lay in individual
self-improvement rather than social reform: "to economy, self-denial,
temperance, education, and moral and religious character, the laboring
class and every other class in this country, must owe its elevation and
It has recently been argued by David Brion Davis, that the
abolitionist movement in England helped to crystallize middle-class
values and identify them with the interests of society as a whole. By
isolating slavery as an unacceptable form of labor exploitation,
abolition implicitly, though usually unconsciously, diverted attention
from the exploitation of labor occurring in the emerging factory
system. "The anti-slavery movement," Davis writes, "reflected the needs
and values of the emerging capitalist order." A somewhat similar
argument has been proposed for the United States by Alan Dawley and
Anthony Wallace. Had it not been for the dominance of the slavery
question in the 1850s and 1860s, Dawley suggests, an independent labor
party might have emerged in American politics.
Wallace sees the antislavery movement as an evangelical crusade adopted
by both factory owners and their employees. This united them in
accepting the ideal of a Christian, industrial republic based on free
labor, in which the interests of labor and capital would be brought
These arguments, reminiscent of Elie Halevy's proposition that the
rise of Methodism prevented revolution in early nineteenth-century
England, would seem, however, to ignore the strand of antislavery
thought which condemned both wage-slavery in the North and chattel
slavery in the South. During the 1840s and 1850s, increasing numbers of
workingmen were drawn into antislavery circles, by the variant known as
free soilism. The trend toward reconciling the two movements reflected
the increasing prominence of the land issue in the 1840s. For labor
leaders like Evans, as we have seen, a homestead policy was a way of
solving the problems posed by the increasing stratification of wealth
in eastern cities. The renewed emphasis on land also reflected, as
David Montgomery and Bruce Laurie argue, a turn in the labor movement
away from the cooperative effort of the 1830s, toward more
individualist solutions. Self-help and a nativist tendency to blame
immigration for the problems of the crafts shattered the multi-ethnic
labor solidarity of the 1830s, according to Montgomery.43
George Washington Julian
The key figures in the tendency to link antislavery and land reform
were Horace Greeley and George W. Julian. Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune,
moved from an interest in communitarianism to the belief that "the
public lands are the great regulator of the relations of Labor and
Capital, the safety valve of our industrial and social engine." The
homestead policy would create harmony between capital and labor, by
offering every citizen the economic alternative of "working for others
or for himself."
Emerging from a Whig economic background, Greeley viewed the state
as an active agent of economic development. For him, land reform was
part and parcel of a broad program of state-sponsored economic growth,
including tariffs, internal improvements, and regulation of currency.
Julian, the Indiana congressman who became a staunch free soiler and
land reformer, reflected, by way of contrast, the vitality of the
Jeffersonian tradition. For Julian, the proper role of government was
to curb monopoly and speculation, rather than undertaking economic or
Julian was indeed a classic Jeffersonian, believing in free trade, a
specie currency, and the virtue of the agrarian life. His land reform
commitment rested heavily on the idea that the only valid title to
property was labor. Thus, he opposed not only plantation slavery, but
land speculation. His biographer, Patrick Riddleberger, insists that
during the 1850s land reform was secondary to Julian's antislavery
views. Making land readily available to settlers would create "a
formidable barrier against the introduction of slavery" in the West.
Later, during the Civil War and Reconstruction, land reform became his
primary concern. Julian denounced the policy of large government land
grants to railroads and the engrossment of the public domain by
speculators, as subverting the policy inaugurated in the Homestead Act
of 1862. By the end of the 1860s he had become the "leader of a little
group of recalcitrants" in Congress. They opposed monopoly and land
speculation and sought to protect the public domain from railroads,
speculators, bounties to veterans, and grants to agricultural colleges.
Moreover, with a small group of other radical Republicans, Julian
endeavored to extend the principle of land reform to the postwar South.
Advocating the confiscation of the property of the large planters, he
warned that these lands must not "become the basis of new and
frightening monopolies" with the slaveholder replaced by the "grasping
monopolist of the North, whose dominion over the freedmen and poor
whites would be more galling than slavery itself." His aim was to "see
to it that these teeming regions shall be studded over with small farms
and tilled by free men."
Julian, then, represented the convergence of many of the strands of
antebellum radical individualism within the early Republican party. The
Republicans, in effect, sought to solve the ideological debate over
slave and free labor by returning to the classic Madisonian answer of
expansion as the key to preserving personal freedom and republican
government. Their defense of the "free labor" system of the North
accepted the labor movement's definition of freedom as resting on
ownership of property, and of permanent wage-earning status as
virtually a form of "slavery." But they denied that this condition
would exist within the North, so long as the safety valve of westward
expansion was available. By cutting off access to the West for northern
farmers and laborers, the spread of slavery would be a step down the
path of the "Europeanization" of American society. Thus, the
Republicans did, as Dawley argues, locate the threat to republican
equality outside northern life. Yet at the same time, in their
homestead policy and in their refusal to countenance a permanent
wage-earning class, they also represented at least a partial
culmination of the radical tradition. The Republicans' concept of a
society based on free labor exalted the values of personal liberty with
independence, and the demand for equality of opportunity for all in a
competitive social order.45
Civil War: Twilight of Radical Individualism
The Civil War represents in part the greatest triumph, in part the
death-knell, of the antebellum tradition of radical individualism. On
the one hand, the abolition of slavery represented a vindication of the
ideals of personal freedom and autonomy; in this sense the war
represented, in Lincoln's words, a new birth of freedom. Yet it has
also been argued by William Appleman Williams and George Dennison, that
the Civil War separated Americans at last from their revolutionary
heritage. It was not simply that the effort to coerce the South to
remain in the Union was, as Williams argues, a betrayal of the ideal of
self-determination, or the right of the people to determine their own
form of government. Every argument utilized to support American
independence in 1776 could be employed with equal effect in support of
the southern cause in 1860–1861. Further, as Dennison insists, the war
represented an end to the dream of America as a nation whose
institutions rested on consent rather than force. Dennison finds the
antecedents of this transformation in the suppression of the Dorr War
in Rhode Island in the early 1840s. This set a precedent which, he
believes, cast traditional ideas of popular sovereignty and the right
of revolution into disrepute, and created the justification for the use
of force to put down challenges to civil authority. Order and
stability, he claims, had become as important to Americans as liberty
Finally, as George Fredrickson points out, the Civil War led many
abolitionists and reformers to abandon their previous stance as
disinterested critics of society, and to identify themselves
whole-heartedly with the war effort. Here, too, there was an antebellum
precedent. The response of abolitionists to John Brown's raid in 1859,
their endorsement of his attack on Harper's Ferry, symbolized the
waning of the old pacifist, nonresistance strain of antislavery
thought, and a willingness to adopt violence as a legitimate means of
combatting slavery. A few reformers, such as Adin Ballou, architect of
the Hopedale community in Massachusetts, remained true to their
nonresistance principles during the war and refused to join in the
patriotic fervor. Some of the members of Josiah Warren's Modern Times
community left the country rather than participate in the war effort.
But for the most part, the war appeared as the culmination of the
reformers' efforts and it promoted, as Fredrickson argues, a tendency
to view government, rather than voluntary associations or individual
effort, as the source of future reforms. Thus, institutionalism
replaced anti-institutionalism, nationalism succeeded individualism for
many reformers. In addition, abolitionists found themselves in the
anomalous position of defending the Lincoln administration's suspension
of the writ of habeas corpus, jailing of newspaper editors, and use of
troops to break strikes, all in the name of the war effort.47
The Civil War, moreover, required an effort of mobilization, a
strengthening of the apparatus of government, unmatched in
nineteenth-century American history. The war stimulated, too, the consolidation
of business enterprise, the increased use of mechanization, and the
rise of great fortunes. Such bonanzas were often promoted by the
government itself, through aid to railroads, a high tariff, the
issuance of lucrative bonds, and other wartime economic measures. The
Republican party itself was transformed in the process. For during the
1850s, that party had contained a strong element derived from the
Locofoco wing of the Democratic party, namely, Jacksonians hostile to
the use of the state to grant economic favors and promote economic
growth. Many of these Jacksonian Republicans would return to the
Democratic party after the war. George W. Julian and other radical
individualists were disillusioned both by the expansion of federal
power and by the Republicans' adoption of the old Whig economic program
of state intervention with its special privileges, tariffs, and paper
Aileen Kraditor, "American Radical Historians," is a good introduction
to some of the problems of interpreting the history of American
radicalism, although Kraditor's rather uncritical use of the concept
"hegemony," borrowed from the Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci,
leads her to underestimate the persistence of radicalism in the
American past. Louis Hartz, Liberal Tradition, dismisses American radicalism altogether. Sidney Lens, Radicalism, exemplifies the "heroic" tradition, while Harvey Goldberg, American Radicals, and David Herreshoff, American Disciples of Marx,
contain thoughtful studies of individual radical theorists. (Full
citations for works listed in the footnotes may be found in the
bibliography at the conclusion of this article.)
2. Bernard Bailyn, Ideological Origins; J.G.A. Pocock, Machiavellian Moment; Eugene D. Genovese, Political Economy of Slavery. See also Eric Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men.
3. Yehoshus Arieli, Individualism and Nationalism; C.B. Macpherson, Possessive Individualism. See also the excellent essay by Warren Susman in Daniel Walden, ed., American Reform.
4. The most important contributions to the study of ideology during the era of the American Revolution have been Bailyn, Ideological Origins; Pocock, Machiavellian Moment; and Gordon Wood, Creation of the American Republic. All rely heavily on the pioneering work of Caroline Robbins, Eighteenth Century Commonwealthman.
5. Joyce Appleby, "Social Origins of American Revolutionary Ideology."
6. Staughton Lynd, Intellectual Origins, traces the libertarian tradition from the Protestant Dissenters through the nineteenth century; E.P. Thompson, Making of the English Working Class,
one of the most influential historical studies of the past fifteen
years, analyzes the origins and transformation of working-class
radicalism in England in the era of the industrial revolution.
7. The most recent study of Paine is Eric Foner, Tom Paine and Revolutionary America.
8. On popular radicalism in the Revolution, see the essays in the collection, American Revolution, edited by Alfred Young; Elisha P. Douglass, Rebels and Democrats; Wood, Creation. Franco Venturi, Utopia and Reform, is an excellent brief analysis of trans-Atlantic republican and egalitarian ideals.
9. Harry S. Stout, "Religion, Communications, and the Ideological Origins."
10. In Foner, Tom Paine and Revolutionary America.
11. Good brief introductions to the "agrarian" component of Jeffersonian thought may be found in Leo Marx, Machine in the Garden; Robert Kelley, The Transatlantic Persuasion; Henry Nash Smith, Virgin Land.
12. Gary Wills, Inventing America. See also Chester Eisinger, "The Influence of Natural Rights."
13. Edmund Morgan, "Slavery and Freedom"; William Appleman Williams, Contours of American History; William Appleman Williams, America Confronts A Revolutionary World.
14. Richard Buel, Jr., Securing the Revolution; Lance Banning, The Jeffersonian Persuasion. On the Democratic-Republican societies, the radical edge of Jeffersonianism in the 1790s, see Eugene Link, Democratic-Republican Societies; Philip S. Foner, ed., To Light the Torch (a collection of the societies' minutes, resolutions, and addresses); and Alfred Young, Democratic Republicans of New York.
15. Robert E. Shalhope, "Thomas Jefferson's Republicanism."
16. Anthony Wallace, Rockdale.
17. A good, brief introduction to the communitarian experiments can be found in Ronald Walters, American Reformers. On Warren, who lacks a full biography, see the chapters in Michael Fellman, Unbounded Frame; James Martin, Men Against the State; and William Reichert, Partisans of Freedom. Raymond Muncy, Sex and Marriage in Utopian Communities, examines alternatives to the nuclear family.
18. Arthur E. Bestor, Jr., Backwoods Utopias. See also the perceptive and original study by J.F.C. Harrison, Quest for the New Moral World, a comparison of Owenism in Britain and America.
19. Alan Dawley, Class and Commuity. On the "Richardian Socialists," see David Harris, Socialist Origins.
20. A general survey of the workingmen's parties may be found in Philip S. Foner, History of the Labor Movement, vol. I See also Walter Hugins, Jacksonian Democracy, and Joseph Blau, ed., Social Theories.
21. Richard Ellis, Jeffersonian Crisis; Morton Horwitz, Transformation of American Law.
22. Edward Pessen, Most Uncommon Jacksonians; Wallace, Rockdale. On rationalism in the labor movement see John Jentz, "Artisans, Evangelicals, and the City."
23. Edward Pessen, "Thomas Skidmore."
24. A good brief sketch of Evans and his circle is in Frank Thistlethwaite, American and the Atlantic Community. On Devyr, see Ray Boston, British Chartists in America.
25. Hugins, Jacksonian Democracy, and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Age of Jackson, contain good introductions to the Locofoco.
26. Alice Felt Tyler, Freedom's Ferment, and Walters, American Reformers, survey the reform movements. On perfectionism, see John Thomas, "Romantic Reform," and on pacifism, Peter Brock, Radical Pacifism. See also, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Orestes Brownson.
27. Clifford Griffen, Their Brothers' Keepers; Paul Johnson, A Shopkeepers' Millennium.
28. Lois Banner, "Religious Benevolence," David Rothman, The Discovery of the Asylum.
29. Michael Katz, The Irony of School Reform, and Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis, Schooling in Capitalist America represent "revisionist" literature on the history of education. Struggles over the schools are discussed in Carl Kaestle, Evolution of an Urban School System, and Dianne Ravitch, Great School Wars.
30. Changes in the status of women are discussed in several of the essays in Berenice Carroll, ed., Liberating Women's History, and in Mary Ryan, Womanhood in America. On the Grimké sisters, see Gerda Lerner, The Grimké Sisters, and for a general survey of American feminism, Eleanor Flexner, Century of Struggle.
31. Ellen DuBois, Feminism and Suffrage; William O'Neill, Everyone Was Brave; Gerda Lerner, "The Lady and the Mill Girl."
32. The best recent survey of abolitionism is James Stewart, Holy Warriors. On colonization, see the discussion in George Fredrickson, Black Image.
33. Gilbert Barnes, Anti-Slavery Impulse. See also Anne C. Loveland, "Evangelicism and Immediate Emancipation."
34. Stanley Elkins, Slavery; Lewis Perry, Radical Abolitionism.
35. The best study of Garrisonian abolitionism is Kraditor, Means and Ends. On black abolitionists, see Benjamin Quarles, Black Abolitionists.
36. Anti-abolitionist violence and its results are discussed in Russell B. Nye, Fettered Freedom, and Leonard Richards, Gentlemen of Property and Standing.
37. Still the finest examination of the abolitionist as agitator is the chapter on Wendell Phillips in Richard Hofstadter, American Political Tradition.
The subject of relations between the labor and abolitionist movements
badly needs modern study. See two older works: Herman Schlüter, Lincoln, Labor, and Slavery; and Bernard Mandel, Labor: Free and Slave.
39. Jentz, "Artisans, Evangelicals," and Richards, Gentlemen, emphasize the role of artisans in the abolitionist constituency.
40. Bertram Wyatt-Brown, Lewis Tappan; Gilbert Osofsky, "Abolitionists and Irish Immigrants."
41. On Rogers, see the essay by John Thomas, in Martin Duberman, ed., The Antislavery Vanguard.
42. David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery; Dawley, Class and Community; Wallace, Rockdale.
43. On the rise of Free Soil in the 1840s, see Helene Zahler, Eastern Workingmen, David Montgomery, "Shuttle and Cross," and Bruce Laurie, "Nothing on Impulse," detail changes in labor attitudes.
44. On Greeley's land policy, see Foner, Free Soil; on Julian, Patrick Riddleberger, George Washington Julian.
45. See Foner, Free Soil.
46. For the war as a new birth of freedom, see James McPherson, The Struggle for Equality. For the war separating Americans from their revolutionary traditions, George Dennison, The Dorr War (on that conflict see also Marvin Gettleman, The Dorr Rebellion), and Williams, America Confronts.
47. George Fredrickson, The Inner Civil War. On John Brown and the response to him, see Stephen Oates, To Purge This Land With Blood.
48. See the chapter on the "Democratic-Republicans" in Foner, Free Soil. Also see David Montgomery, Beyond Equality; DuBois, Ferninism and Suffrage. On Thaddeus Stevens, see Eric Foner, "Thaddeus Stevens, Confiscation, and Reconstruction." Chester M. Destler, American Radicalism; Eric Foner, "Class, Ethnicity, and Radicalism."
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Bowles, Samuel and Gintis, Herbert. Schooling in Capitalist America. New York: Basic Books, 1976.
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Buel, Jr., Richard. Securing the Revolution: Ideology in American Politics 1789–1815. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1972.
Carroll, Berenice, ed. Liberating Women's History. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1976.
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Dawley, Alan. Class and Community: The Industrial Revolution in Lynn. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1976.
Dennison, George M. The Dorr War: Republicanism on Trial, 1831–1861. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1976.
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———————. Tom Paine and Revolutionary America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.
———————. "Thaddeus Stevens, Confiscation, and Reconstruction." In The Hofstadter Aegis. Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, eds. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1974.
Foner, Philip S. History of the Labor Movement in the United States. New York: International Publishing Company, 1947.
Foner, Philip S., ed. To Light the Torch of Liberty. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1977.
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———————. The Inner Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1965.
Genovese, Eugene D. The Political Economy of Slavery. New York: Random House, 1965.
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Herreshoff, David. American Disciples of Marx. New York: Monad Press, 1967.
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Jentz, John B. "Artisans, Evangelicals, and the City: A Social
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Johnson, Paul. A Shopkeepers' Millennium: Society and Revivals in Rochester, New York. New York, 1978.
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Katz, Michael B. The Irony of Early School Reform. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968.
Kelley, Robert. The Transatlantic Persuasion. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1969.
Kraditor, Aileen. "American Radical Historians and Their Heritage." Past and Present 56 (1972): 136–153.
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Laurie, Bruce. "'Nothing on Impulse': Life Styles of Philadelphia Artisans, 1820–1850." Labor History XV (1974): 337–366.
Lens, Sidney. Radicalism in America. New York: Apollo Editions, 1966.
Lerner, Gerda. The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina. New York: Schocken Books, 1971.
———————. "The Lady and the Mill Girl: Changes in the Status of Women in the Age of Jackson." Midcontinent American Studies Journal X (1969): 5–15.
Link, Eugene P. Democratic-Republican Societies, 1790&ndash1800. New York: Octagon Books, 1942.
Loveland, Anne C. "Evangelicism and Immediate Emancipation in American Anti-Slavery Thought." Journal of Southern History XXXII (1966): 172&ndash188.
Lynd, Staughton, Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism. New York: Pantheon Books, 1968.
Macpherson, C.B. The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1962.
Mandel, Bernard. Labor: Free and Slave. New York: Associated Authors, 1955.
Martin, James J. Men Against the State. Colorado Springs: Ralph Myles Publisher, Inc., 1970.
Marx, Leo. The Machine in the Garden. New York: Oxford University Press, 1964.
McPherson, James M. The Struggle for Equality. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1964.
Montgomery, David. Beyond Equality: Labor and the Radical Republicans 1862&ndash1872. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1967.
———————. "The Shuttle and the Cross: Weavers and Artisans in the Kensington Riots of 1844." Journal of Social History V (1972): 411&ndash446.
Morgan, Edmund S. "Slavery and Freedom: The American Paradox." Journal of American History LIX (1972): 5&ndash29.
Muncy, Raymond L. Sex and Marriage in Utopian Communities. New York: Penguin Books, 1973.
Nye, Russell B. Fettered Freedom. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1949.
Oates, Stephen B. To Purge This Land With Blood: A Biography of John Brown. New York: Harper & Row, 1970.
O'Neill, William. Everyone Was Brave. New York: Quadrangle, 1969.
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