Friday, April 8, 2011

The Colonel and the Pacifist


Women’s suffrage, temperance, pacifism (called non-resistance) and communes (called “associationism”.  The 1840’s can seem a lot like the 1960’s.  Except for the temperance part.  The connection was most obvious in quotation from Henry David Thoreau that became quite popular.  In the 1960’s everyone was marching to a different drummer. Often it was the same different drummer, but life is full of those types of paradoxes.  “Reform” in the 1850’s, though started focusing on one all consuming issue.  Slavery.  Temperance and women’s rights went on the back burner.  Associationism was all but forgotten or converted into corporate paternalism.  Non-violence was, for the most part, entirely abandoned, with violent means being actively embraced.

Two Unitarian ministers illustrate this transition in two critical events.  They are Thomas Wentworth Higginson, the colonel and Adin Ballou, the pacifist or as he put it, the non-resistant.  They had a lot in common.  Their lives spanned most of the 19th century.  Higginson, born in 1824, was a generation younger than Ballou, who was born in 1802. The generational difference was a factor in their different views.  They both lived long lives Ballou dying in 1890 and Higginson in 1911.  In the roll of Unitarian Ministers, they might each get an asterisk.  Higginson was a graduate of Harvard Divinity School, but he only served two parishes for a total of eight years.  Newburyport, where he was dismissed for his anti-slavery views and “The Free Church” in Worcester, which he left to enter military service. After the war, he did not return to ministry but made his living as a writer.  His writing career was distinguished and it appears that he barely missed being included in the canon of 19th Century American Literature that included his friends Emerson and Thoreau.

Ballou spent almost his entire adult life in the ministry much of it as a Unitarian.  He was, however, a Universalist.  He came out on what was then the wrong side of the Restorationist controversy.  The Restorationists held that those who were sinful in this life would go through some sort of process rather than everyone going straight to heaven.  The Restorationists  position was sarcastically summarized by his older and more distinguished, at least with in the denomination, cousin Hosea as “So you think they need to be smoked a bit.”  Adin was also upset to observe Hosea manipulating two congregations into something of a bidding war for his services.  So on top of everything else, cousin Hosea must have been better paid.  At any rate, Adin’s heretical views caused him to leave Universalism and become a Unitarian.  He was not overall impressed with Unitarianism or Unitarians, but he appreciated the non-creedal principles that allowed him to belong.

Ballou was also a writer.  For many years, he published a newspaper to promote the Restorationist viewpoint.  In his later life, he supplemented his income by writing, producing the tomelike History of the Town of Milford and the even weightier, literally, History of the Ballous in America.  The former is prized as a collectible, at least in the Blackstone Valley.  The latter is, I understand, a heritage item among the numerous Ballou descendants of today. I own both.  I am not planning on reading them anytime soon.

His works of more general interest were his Autobiography, The History of the Hopedale Community and Christian Non-Resistance.  Adin Ballou was in no danger of being part of the canon that Higginson barely missed.

There are several important differences.  The age difference can account for their different views on non-resistance, which was generally rejected by the second generation of abolitionists, much to the chagrin of William Lloyd Garrison.  Their other major difference is their relationship to the intellectual life of New England.  Higginson, although not wealthy, was an insider.  His father had been treasurer of Harvard.  He attended Harvard himself having a distinguished academic career.  He was one of the founders of Atlantic Magazine and a frequent contributor.  He lived much of his life in Cambridge and Newport.

Ballou was untouched by academic training at the college level.  Although he did not grow up in dire poverty, his father was too cheap to send him to college.  I suspect that if he had gone to college, we might have lost one of the 19th century’s most original thinkers. Except for a brief time in Brooklyn, he spent his career in the Blackstone Valley serving in Milford, Mendon and Hopedale (Hopedale being the town that his community morphed into).


What I have identified as the critical events for each of them occurred around 1855.  In the grand scheme of “Reform”, we might consider Higginson’s life leading up to his event as a prequel.  His event marks his movement into the center stage, although never quite in the starring role.  Ballou’s long life after his event might be viewed as an epilogue.  Each of the incidents occurs around 1855.

There has been a somewhat tedious debate as to whether the American Civil War (or whatever else you might want to call it) was about slavery of “states rights”.  The debate can sometimes take the form of “Tastes Great” “Less Filling”.  I believe the answer is simple the war was about a state right, the right to secede from the Union.  If, however, you read the South Caroling Secession Ordinance and the Constitution of the Confederacy, it is hard to discern what secession is about other than slavery.  Much of the state’s rights part of the ordinance has to do with the federal government not cracking down on the states that allowed people to agitate against slavery and interfere with the return of fugitive slaves to their masters.  To the extent, we can take the Ordinance at its face value; we have to view Higginson and his ilk as a serious aggravating factor.


By 1854, Higginson was well established in Reform circles.  When a major temperance convention refused to allow women on its executive committee, Lucy Stone and he led a walkout.  He was one of those who called for a national women’s rights convention in 1850.  Although, he did not attend, he among those who did attend were Lucy Stone, Abby Kelley, Frederick Douglas and William Lloyd Garrison. 


The event in 1854 was quite dramatic.  Anthony Burns, a fugitive slave, was being held in Boston.  Attempts at legal redress had failed.  The Fugitive Slave Law was biased in favor of the claimant.  On top of that Burns had made a tactical error in admitting that he was the slave in question and coming up with a story to justify his trip north (He fell asleep on a ship that he was working on).  Extralegal methods were required.  Not long before a fugitive named Shadrach was freed by a group of black Bostonians walking in one end of the courthouse and out the other with Shadrach in their company.  Even in 1854, disunion was in the air.  The failure of Northern states to honor the constitutional rights of southerners to recover their rightful property was a provocation that must be suppressed.  It is estimated that the federal government ended up spending $50,000 on the rendition of Burns including a specially chartered ship and a company of marines (The rendition of Anthony Burns, unlike the recent Halls of Montezuma did not work its way into their hymn.  It seems that not all our country’s battles are worth remembering).  The amount spent was so far out of proportion to Anthony Burns’ economic value that a Richmond newspaper commented that more such victories would bankrupt the South.

The attempted rescuers of Burns faced several obstacles.  A rescue attempt was expected, so he was in a third floor room with barred windows and armed guards.  Most of the crowd were non-resistants.  Their “plan” was to stand in the street pointing and yelling “Shame, shame” as Burns was escorted to the ship by a motley crew including the Leathernecks.  Higginson and some others thought more direct action was required.  The final problem was that they were not very well organized or disciplined.  At least that was the view of the future Colonel of Infantry.

Signals got crossed and the group that battered down the door of the building where Burns was being kept was not as large as was hoped.  There was a confused struggle and one or more gunshots.  In the end, Burns was not rescued and James Batchelder was dead from one of the bullets fired.  If you look at the website of the US Marshals, you will see the roll of honor, marshals killed in the line of duty.  The second name on the list along with the date of death (May 24, 1854) is James Batchelder.  Unlike the fallen marshals to come in the next 50 years he was not killed in the Wild West by desperadoes.  He was shot a short distance from Faneuil Hall in Boston by otherwise respectable people.  He was not maintaining law and order on the wild frontier.  He was returning a runaway slave.

I don’t fault the marshals for counting Batchelder on their roll of honor.  The law is the law.  Marshals are marshals.  Dead is dead.  The killer of Batchelder, who, at least by his own account was not Higginson was never brought to “justice”.  If he had been clearly identified, there would not have been a Massachusetts jury to either indict or convict him. It was a bit, like what went on in Mississippi one hundred years hence.  Only they finally got those guys.  Higginson suggested that they take up a collection for Batchelder’s widow, but the suggestion didn’t get very far

After the attempted rescue of Burns, Higginson just went from bad to worse as far as the defenders of the status quo were concerned.  Because of the Fugitive Slave Law, runaways were not really safe until they reached Canada.  Higginson declared that form henceforth Worcester would be Canada.  A slave catcher did once attempt to operate in Worcester.  He only got out of the city alive because Higginson and a group of abolitionists escorted him to the railway station.  One of the escort group kicked the guy in the ass every time Higginson wasn’t watching.

The next step in the radicalization of Thomas Wentworth Higginson was the Kansas issue.  The Missouri compromise, which had dictated the legality of slavery in newly admitted states based on their geographical relationship to the Mason Dixon line, had been superseded by the concept of “popular sovereignty”.  The residents of the territory would vote on whether slavery would be allowed.  The slaves didn’t get to vote nor did women for that matter.  In practice, though there was a significant liberalization of electoral qualification.  For practical purposes, you didn’t have to be a resident.

This gave the pro-slavery forces an edge.  They could just stroll over from Missouri, vote and go back home.  Abolitionists, on the other, hand actually had to go to Kansas, which is somewhat further from New England than is Missouri.  They went there to stay.  There was a New England Emigrant Aid Society to help them on their way.  The situation in Kansas became a violent convoluted mess.  It was referred to as Bleeding Kansas and Bloody Kansas in reference to the violence, but it could well be called bloody Kansas in the English sense of an annoying mess.  There were two legislatures for a while.  It became a sacred cause of democracy to not require that the constitution created by a convention elected through clear fraud be not put to a vote of the present residents.  This of course was coming from people who thought that their equal rights were being infringed because they couldn’t take their slaves wherever they felt like taking them.

Higginson went to Kansas and wrote about his adventures there.  He befriended an abolitionist notorious from what was called the Potawamie massacre.  Higginson would ultimately write an article for Atlantic on the man’s family.  More significantly, he befriended him and helped support his next enterprise.  Thomas Wentworth Higginson, along with Theodore Parker, was one of the “Secret Six” that helped financing John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry.  Besides throwing a scare into the South, the reaction to the raid in the North where Brown was openly mourned was an outrage.  The raid on Harper’s Ferry is much better known than the Anthony Burns rescue.  It was also botched much more dramatically with several of Browns men killed on the site including one of his sons.  Higginson’s involvement as a backer in the affair gave him the experience of being on the wrong side of the law.  None of the Secret Six were ever prosecuted for what in effect was a treasonous plot.  Casualties on the side of law and order were much lighter but one Marine was killed in the assault on Browns redoubt.  Private Luke Quinn is sometimes considered the first casualty of the Civil War, but, in his auotbiography, Higginson gives the honor to James Batchelder.  The Marshals came on the scene later and picked up the prisoners from the Leathernecks.  It would seem from the Burns incident that they learned to send in the Marines as the first to fight for right (as then understood) if not for freedom.

Higginson was not done. When war broke out, he took a commission as a captain in a Massachusetts regiment.  Soon though he was offered a colonel’s rank as commander of the First South Carolina Volunteers.  He had not switched sides.  FSCV consisted of recently liberated slaves.  Higginson was the ideal officer to command them.  Unlike many white officers, he had developed a high opinion of the fighting abilities of African Americans from his abolitionist days.  He recognized their peculiar speech as a dialect worth studying.  After the war he published a collection of spirituals that he gathered by listening at the fringe of the campfires.  In my opinion this was more important than Emily Dickinson’s poetry probably his greatest source of editorial fame.  Under Higginson the regiment was on the fringe of the war and had no great military accomplishments.  They captured Jacksonville Florida but the high command did not think it was worth hanging onto.  He played a critical roll though.  A more typical bigoted officer might not have had the confidence in his men that was necessary to train them.  He might even have provoked a mutiny.  If this had caused an abandonment of the experiment with “colored troops”, the effect might have been profound.  Over one million men served the Union in what became a war of attrition.  178,000 were African American.

Ballou’s incident is not nearly exciting as the Burns rescue attempt.  As a matter a fact, although it clearly happened in some form, we do not have a good description.  I like to think of there being a meeting although it might have been Adin reading a letter or a memorandum.  What was the topic of the meeting?  Be still my beating heart.  Adin was being taught about “depreciation” a concept he had overlooked not being a person well skilled in finance.  Could three men sitting in a room calmly discussing accounting principles be as fraught with significance as an incident involving a company of marines and the gunning down of a US Marshall?  Well maybe not as fraught, but fraught enough.

The community founded by Adin Ballou was one of several intentional communities founded in the period between 1830 and 1850.  In a bit of hyperbole Emerson wrote that every man had the constitution of a new community in his pocket.  The three most commonly mentioned are Brook Farm, Fruitlands and the Northhampton Association.  Brook Farm is by far the most famous having the luck, good or bad, to be the model for the fictional Blithedale of the Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne, an occasional visitor, who defaulted on his financial pledge to the community.  Ballou’s community ran longer than the three of them put together.  Known variously as Hopedale and Fraternal Communion One (in retrospect Fraternal Communion One and Only) embraced most contemporary ism’s – abolitionism, pacifism, feminism and temperance.  At its core was a Christian Perfectionism that renounced all forms of coercion based on violence.  This did not just mean not serving in the militia.  It also meant not voting, serving on juries or suing.  Ultimately, all “carnal” government rests on force.

The economic system was perhaps the most significant feature.  The community was organized as a “joint stock company” which seemed to have some of the attributes of a contemporary limited liability company.  The organization was meant to navigate the dangerous channel between the Scylla of communism and the Charybdis of unbridled capitalism.  Those who provided capital were entitled to a limited return either 4% or 6% and wages were not equal, but rather were limited to those of “a first class operative”.  After 17 years, the community was doing so well that Adin thought he could hand off the leadership and focus on the Practical Christian Republic, which would be a network of Hopedales, ultimately covering the world.  Grandiose as the scheme may appear, he was better grounded than most such visionaries.  Hopedale was real and it seemed to work.  As a matter of fact, it probably really did work until George Draper convinced Adin Ballou that it did not.  Which brings us to the incident.

On February 5th 1855, the financial report of the community was presented.  It showed assets of $65,420.24 and liabilities of $65,270.09 for a deficit of $145.15.  The community did not have a negative net worth however.  Included in “liabilities” was $41,300 in joint stock.  This was the amount of money that had been contributed by members.  Thus, the community was in a strong position from a balance sheet viewpoint.  In calculating the net income that had produced the small deficit there were payments for labor of community members of about $16,000. 

At our presumed meeting, though, George Draper says to Adin.  Ah Reverend Ballou, but have you considered depreciation?  Depreciation?  Yes, there should be journal entries decreasing the carrying value of tangible assets to reflect wear and tear.  What would your deficit be then?

William Draper, George’s son, in defending what amounted to his father’s hostile takeover of the community made much of the depreciation issue.  He saw that as a reflection of the community’s poor accounting.  He related the story of a tool.  The original cost was never depreciated and even worse each time there was a repair the cost of the repair was capitalized increasing the book value of the used tool.  If you, like I, reminisce about the famous frauds through the ages you will recall that this was what they were doing at World Com.  If earnings were, off they would decrease repairs and increase fixed assets to get back on target.  It doesn’t hold a candle to the complex machinations at Enron, but it got the job done.  The World Com boys wouldn’t have fooled William Draper who learned good fixed asset accounting from his dad, George.  There is one little hole in his analysis though.  Included in the Hopedale balance sheet was about $145 in tools.  If the single overvalued tool that so horrified the Drapers, father and son, were the only tool and it was effectively worthless, the assets of the community would be reduced by less than 1%.

Adin thought that George gave the community a good deal by arranging that none of the members would be responsible for any debts.  Subsequently he bought brother Ebenezer’s share of the enterprise in order to sell it to son William – at a profit.  William resented that at the time but later in life came to believe that it was character building.  You can read about this sad story in a book called from Commune to Company Town.  You must go hunting if you want to find the story of the tool.  It appears in William Draper’s autobiography, which is not easy to come by.

After the war, Higginson mainly focused on his literary career.  He made some trouble on the Newport school board when he tried to get them to integrate.  He served a term in the Massachusetts legislature where he worked for woman’s suffrage.  Some New England abolitionists put their belief in equality aside when dealing with the Irish immigrants in their midst.  Not so Higginson who also campaigned to not force Catholic children to read the King James Version of the bible in the public schools.  One of the first instances of intolerance that he had witnessed as a child was the torching of the Ursuline convent in Charlestown.  Higginson’s consistency on human rights issues produced an interesting result.  When one of his proposal for woman’s suffrage was introduced, two Irish legislators walked off the floor.  When he asked them later why they had done so the answer was that they didn’t agree with his proposal, but they could not bring themselves to vote against him.  In the twilight of his life, he spent time opposing the new imperialism of the US coming out of the Spanish American War.  He died in 1911.  At his funeral there was an honor guard of African American soldiers.

Ballou spent the rest of his life as a minister.  He wrote several books including a History of the Hopedale Community in which he confessed to his ignorance of fixed asset accounting to be a major factor in its downfall.  He died in 1890.  William Draper paid for a statue of him to be erected.  Before funding the statue Draper made certain that, other people were paying for the land.  Hopefully whoever owns the statute has been recording appropriate depreciation deductions.

In terms of the advancement of human rights it is hard to not believe that the violent means advocated and practiced by Higginson accomplished much more than the non-resistance of Ballou.  The war, which Higginson gives himself a lot of credit for winning (Without Higginson, First South Carolina fails.  Therefore Union does not have 178,000 “colored troops”, which arguably tips the balance) gave us the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments. The latter two were not, however, well enforced until the 1960’s.

Ballou in the introduction to his autobiography wrote:

Times and generations are coming that will justly estimate me and my work, and assign both to their proper place in the providential plan for the progress and redemption of humanity.  For them, as it has proved, have I lived and labored, rather than for my contemporaries.  To them I appeal for vindication and approval; to them I bequeath whatever is valuable and worth preserving of my possessions
It can sound like the sour grapes of “I could have been a better leader if they had just given me better followers”.  However, there is actually something to be said for his view.

The image I like to pick to support his thesis is a Norman Rockwell print.  We see a little black girl surrounded by four men in suits.  To emphasize the difference in size we do not even see their heads.  They are wearing yellow armbands.  The yellow armbands were to identify them as US Marshalls.  They are escorting Ruby Bridges to her first day at school.  What would James Batchelder or the marshals that took John Brown off the hands of the marines had thought?  I would like to think it would be “Marshalls are Marshalls.  The law’s the law.”  No Marshalls went on the role of honor that day.  No marines were required, although in a similar drama at a high school in Little Rock paratroopers were brought in.  By truck.  Oddly enough this particular struggle had begun in Kansas over school integration.  It was definitely less exciting than the violence in Bleeding Kansas, but the Brown decision is today better remembered.  The Supreme Court had gotten into the act contradicting Justice Tawney’s holding in the Dred Scott decision that African Americans had no rights a white man was bound to respect.

When we think of the civil rights struggle of the fifties and sixties the figure that comes to mind is Martin Luther King, who preached not “non-resistnace” but rather non-violent resistance.  The people who fought with him faced violence.  The faced it unarmed.  Some of them died.  By the reckoning of the civil rights time line on Information please there were 11. 

I’m sure with careful research you could come up with more, but surely nothing like the 600,000 that died in the war.  Or even the five thousand that fell on one hot day in a place in Maryland called Antietam or Sharpsburg depending which side you were on - even after 9/11 the deadliest day in American history.  Probably not even the 150 Harvard graduates that Higginson helped memorialize.  It is counter intuitive that unarmed resistors were much less likely to be killed than those who were armed, but that is how it worked out.  What does this have to do with Ballou?

It is fairly well know that Martin Luther King followed the lead of Gandhi.  Gandhi was influenced by one of Higginson’s friends Henry David Thoreau, but more so by Leo Tolstoy.  However, who influenced Tolstoy ?  In the Kingdom of God is within he tells us


Another champion of non-resistance has been overlooked in the same
way--the American Adin Ballou, who lately died, after spending
fifty years in preaching this doctrine.  Lord God, to calmly and
meekly abide the doctrine.  How great the ignorance is of
everything relating to the question of non-resistance may be seen
from the fact that Garrison the son, who has written an excellent
biography of his father in four great volumes, in answer to my
inquiry whether there are existing now societies for non-
resistance, and adherents of the doctrine, told me that as far as
he knew that society had broken up, and that there were no
adherents of that doctrine, while at the very time when he was
writing to me there was living, at Hopedale in Massachusetts, Adin
Ballou, who had taken part in the labors of Garrison the father,
and had devoted fifty years of his life to advocating, both orally
and in print, the doctrine of nonresistance.

Tolstoy goes on to quote from Ballou’s work extensively concluding

I mention all this to show the unmistakable interest
which such works ought to have for men who make a profession of
Christianity, and because one would have thought Ballou's work
would have been well known, and the ideas expressed by him would
lave been either accepted or refuted; but such has not been the
case.

Ballou died in August, 1890, and there was as obituary notice of
him in an American journal of Christian views (RELIGIO-
PHILOSOPHICAL JOURNAL, August 23).  In this laudatory notice it is
recorded that Ballou was the spiritual director of a parish, that
he delivered from eight to nine thousand sermons, married one
thousand couples, and wrote about five hundred articles; but there
is not a single word said of the object to which he devoted his
life; even the word "non-resistance" is not mentioned.

Two ahisotorical thought experiments come into my mind when I think about this.  One is the pragmatic one.  Although it involves throwing around some arbitrary numbers, it is within reason that you could have bought all the slaves for what the war cost.  One of the reasons that this would not have happened is that many of those opposed to slavery were only against its expansion and actually, they were as opposed to having free blacks move into their states and territories, as they were opposed to slaves being brought in.  Nonetheless, it has a special irony.  One estimate of the total value of all slaves was 1.6 billion dollars.  The war cost the Union in current money alone on that order.  Towards the end, it was running a million dollars a day. (This with privates earning $13 per month, unless they were black). Imagine if those resources had gone into building infrastructure instead of destroying it.   

The other thought experiment has somewhat more plausibility, though not much.  It was dangerous to be an abolitionist, but it really depended on where you lived.  It was not much of a problem if you lived in Worcester Mass, but Charleston SC was a different story.  The Grimke sisters decided to make themselves scarce from their native city.  To go to Charleston, stand on the church steps, and give a speech that said slavery was wrong would have been suicidal.  The thought experiment is to ask what would have happened if they had done it any way.  They wouldn’t have hung William Lloyd Garrison.  Hanging would have been much too good for him; something particularly gruesome would have to be thought up on the spot. Run of the mill abolitionists though would probably have been hung after maybe being given a chance to learn their lesson with a good thrashing like the one Charles Sumner received on the floor of the Senate.  But what if they kept coming?  Would they have hung the Grimke sisters and Abby Kelley? If we were to start in 1855 say how many people they would have been willing to hang every day in Charleston just for saying they thought slavery was wrong ?  If they hung 100 per day for the next ten years, they still would not have come close to the lives that the war took. 

Of course, you could not find the 365,000 people that it would take to do that although I think they would have stopped well before that.  But they were able to find over 1,000,000 men to go down there armed which, again counter intuitive as it might seem, was probably even more dangerous. 

A contemporary Unitarian Universalist  parish would probably have no qualms about hiring somebody like Thomas Wentworth Higginson.  He would fit right in.  Ballou’s brand of unbending Christian Perfectionism would probably not go over all that well.  His poor record of fiscal management would probably not be held against him though.  But when the country picked one African American to honor with a holiday it was not someone that Higginson celebrated in his series of articles on slave revolts  like Denmark Vesey or Nat Turner.  It was Martin Luther King whose principles trace straight back to Ballou.

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