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From John V. Denson, “Slavery Laws in Alabama” (1908), Part II: Runaways

This text is transcribed from John V. Denson’s 1908 pamphlet, Slavery Laws in Alabama. The booklet was originally published as part of the Alabama Polytechnic Institute Historical Studies series. John V. Denson was a student and later GTA instructor at Alabama Polytechnic for History and Latin, later a prominent lawyer in the Auburn-Opelika area. Like most of the historical studies from Alabama Polytechnic (now Auburn University) from the first decade of the 1900s, the pamphlet apologizes for Southern slavery, and adopts a point of view that is at times frankly white supremacist. The pamphlet begins with a discussion of the law of manumission; here is the next section, on the law concerning fugitive slaves.

[7] RUNAWAYS: The laws of Alabama relating to runaways were never cruel and never overstepped the bounds of conservative measures for the recovery of property. The act of 1805, in Secs. 12 and 13, provided that runaway slaves[9] might be apprehended by any person and carried before the next justice of the peace, who should commit such runaway to jail or send to his master, who was to pay a fee of six dollars and reasonable costs and charges, and further, that all slaves lying out hid, killing hogs, etc., were to be taken by force by the patrol, at the direction of the justice of the peace, and committed to jail, the provost’s remuneration being thirty dollars paid by the state, three-fourths of which were to be repaid by the master in addition to his taxes. By the act of 1809[10] it was provided that [8] when a runaway slave was committed to jail and was not claimed by the owner within six months after the first publication of commitment, the sheriff should sell such slave, the proceeds going to the county; but if the owner should afterwards assert and prove his title, he could recover the amount paid to the county for the slave, but could not divest the title of the purchaser of such runaway, the time for such claim being limited in 1848 to five years after first publication.[11]

A slave found at a distance of eight miles from his master’s plantation without a pass from his master, or one who had lain out more than two days without leave of his master, was considered a runaway.

The penalty visited upon any person who knowingly aided any negro or any other slave to runaway or depart from his master’s service was imprisonment in the penitentiary [9] for a term of not less than two nor more than five years.[12]

So far as I have been able to discover there never existed in Alabama any statute, as there did in other states, providing for the outlawing of runaway slaves. In 1741 there was such a statute in North Carolina, providing that, Any person may lawfully kill a slave who has been outlawed for running away and lurking in swamps, etc.,[13] and a similar statute existed earlier in Virginia. In Maryland and the District of Columbia a similar law existed providing that when a slave should runaway from his master’s service into the woods and remain there, killing hogs, etc., and should refuse to surrender, and offer resistance to persons legally empowered to pursue and capture, it should be lawful for such pursuers to shoot, kill, and destroy such slave.[14] The Alabama law, it seems to me, gave very little more authority to legal pursuers of fugitive slaves than is now given to officers when engaged in the pursuit of fugitives.

In North Carolina a proclamation of outlawry against a slave was authorized whenever he should runaway from his master and conceal himself in some obscure retreat, and to sustain life, should kill hogs, etc., and any person might lawfully kill such outlawed slave.[15] Also in Virginia two justices of the peace were authorized to outlaw runaways, whom any person might kill, without accusation of crime for so doing, but this act was repealed in 1792.[16]

This authority to outlaw slaves never existed in Alabama, and a person neverp possessed authority to kill a slave without possibility of accusation of crime, the law in Alabama [10] most resembling this being as follows: Any justice of the peace receiving information that three or more runaway slaves are lurking in swamps and other obscure places, may by warrant, reciting the names of the slaves and their owners, if known, direct a leader of the patrol of the district, and if there be none, then any other suitable person, to summon and take with him such power as may be necessary to apprehend such runaways, and, if taken to deliver them to the owner or to commit them to the jail of his proper county.[17]

Even after 1860, when it would be natural to expect more rigorous laws, the only new laws as to runaways were acts providing for increased compensation for taking up runaway slaves.[18]

  1. [9] Sec. 12. All runaway slaves may be apprehended by any person and carried before the next justice of the peace, who shall commit such slave to jail or send him to his owner, who shall pay six dollars for the slave so taken, and costs and charges.

    Sec. 13. In cases of slaves lying out hid, killing hogs, etc., the justice of the peace must direct the provost of patrols to take the slaves by force and commit them to jail, the provost receiving thirty dollars from the Territory, three-fourths of which was to be repaid by the master in addition to his taxes.

    See also Ala. Justice, p. 425.

    Toulmin’s Dig. of 1807, p. 378.

  2. [10] Sec. 20. When any slave shall be committed to the jail of any county as a runaway, and such runaway shall not be claimed and proved by the owner thereof within six months of the first publication of the commitment of such slave in some newspaper published in this state, it shall be lawful for the sheriff of said county to sell said slave at public auction, at the court house of his proper county, upon giving at least thirty days’ previous notice of such sale, by advertisement published in some newspaper in this state at the court house of the proper county, and at least two other public places in the same; and out of the proceeds arising from the sale of any runaway slave as aforesaid, the sheriff shall be entitled to the same commissions and fees as are allowed in execution, and the balance, after paying all prison fees and maintenance of said runaway slave while in jail, shall be for the use of the proper county: Provided, that if the owner of such runaway slave shall, after such sale prove his property in any such slave, the proper county shall pay to him the amount that shall have gone into the treasury, on account of the sale of such slave, but the right to any slave, sold as aforesaid, shall be and remain vested in the purchaser under the sale made by the sheriff as aforesaid.

    Clay’s Ala. Dig., p. 542, sec. 20.

    Almost word for word in Ala. Justice, p. 432, and referred to Dig. p. 373.

  3. [11] There may arise in some minds this question: When a negro committed to jail as a runaway, is not claimed by any man as a slave, why is it not presumed that he is a free negro and discharged? Free negroes did live in Alabama, for there are laws which are specially applicable to them, and before 1834 emancipated slaves might remain in Alabama as free negroes, and therefore there might arise some question as to whether such free negro was free or slave, but the Supreme Court of Alabama, in the case of Field v. Milly Walker, Ala. Rep. vol. 17, p. 81, has held that a person of color in this state is presumed to be a slave and the burden of proof is on such person of color.
  4. [12] Acts of ’40-’41, p. 129, sec. 15.

    Every person, who shall knowingly aid any negro or any other slave to run away, or depart from his master’s service, such person, so offtending, on conviction, shall suffer imprisonment in the penitentiary not less than two, and not exceeding five years.

    See also Clay’s Dig. of 1843, p. 419, sec. 15.

  5. [13] Stroud, p. 103; Haywood’s Manual, pp. 521-522.
  6. [14] Goodell’s American Slave Code, p. 231, Laws of Maryland, 1723, chap. 15, sec. 7.
  7. [15] Stroud, p. 38.
  8. [16] Goodell’s American Slave Code, p. 231; Stroud, p. 103.
  9. [17] Ala. Code of 1852, sec. 1024; Clay’s Dig., p. 541, sec. 15. This law was enacted in 1805, by the Miss. Territory.
  10. [18] Acts of ’61, p. 15.

    AN ACT. To amend section 1023 of the Code in relation to runaway slaves.

    Sec. 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the State of Alabama, in General Assembly convened, That hereafter it shall be the duty of justices of the peace before whom runaway slaves are brought, instead of committing them to jail, to order and direct such slaves to be delivered to their owner, overseer or agent, in all cases where the justice is satisfied that the name of the true owner is made known, and where the residence of such owner, his overseer or agent, is nearer than the county jail: Provided, that the owner, his overseer or agent, shall on delivery of the slave pay the fee now allowed by law for arresting, and the compensation hereinafter provided to the taker-up, or such other person as may have the custody of the slave, and in case of the refusal of the owner, his overseer or agent, to pay such fees and compensation promptly on delivery, then it shall be the duty of the person having charge of the slave, and the justice shall so instruct him, to carry the slave back to the office of the justice, who shall forthwith commit him to the county jail.

    Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That where runaway slaves are committed to jail, it shall be the duty of the justice in such cases to endorse on the back of his warrant to the sheriff, the cost and charges for apprehending and bringing to jail, and to certify the same to the owner, when delivery is made to him, but in no case to exceed the amount allowed by law.

    Sec. 3. And be it further enacted, That for bringing a runaway slave to jail, the persons performing such service shall be entitled to the sum of ten cents a mile in coming to and returning from the jail, estimating the distance by the nearest route, and ferriages, and to the same compensation when the slave is carried to his master, or overseer, and the justice for his service shall be allowed the sum of seventy-five cents.

    Sec. 4. And be it further enacted, That any justice who allows and endorses on the warrant or certificate to the owner, larger or other fees and compensation, than is now allowed by law, and by the provisions of this act, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and, on conviction, shall be fined not less than double the aggregate amount endorsed, or certified, to be recovered before any magistrate for the use of the owner. App’d. Dec. 7, 1861.

    Also in the Acts of ’63, p. 63, appears this act.

    AN ACT, To increase the fees now allowed by law for apprehending and committing to jail runaway slaves.

    Sec. 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Alabama, in General Assembly convened, That for apprehending and committing a runaway slave to jail, or for delivering him to his owner, the sum of ten dollars shall be allowed instead of six dollars as now provided by law; and for taking a runaway slave to jail the person performing such service shall be entitled to fifteen cents per mile, in giong to and returning from the jail, and to a like compensation when the slave is delivered to his master or overseer, instead of ten cents per mile as now provided, and the justice of the peace shall be allowed for his services one dollar and a half in lieu of seventy-five cents now allowed. App’d Dec. 7, 1863.

    Also in ’64 this act was passed. Acts of ’64, p. 78.

    AN ACT, To increase the compensation for taking up a runaway slave.

    Sec. 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the State of Alabama, in General Assembly convened, That from and after the passage of this act the compensation for taking up a runaway slave shall be twenty-five dollars, instead of the amount now allowed by law. Provided, that this act shall terminate with the existing war. App’d Dec. 10, 1864.

From John V. Denson, “Slavery Laws in Alabama” (1908), Part I: Emancipation


This text is transcribed from John V. Denson’s 1908 pamphlet, Slavery Laws in Alabama. The booklet was originally published as part of the Alabama Polytechnic Institute Historical Studies series (which had also previously published Meriwether Harvey’s Slavery in Auburn, Alabama). John V. Denson was a member of the Board of Instruction for Alabama Polytechnic for History and Latin. Like most of the historical studies from Alabama Polytechnic (now Auburn University) from the 1900s, the viewpoint of the pamphlet is frankly white supremacist, and romanticizes and apologizes for Southern slavery. It is however an extensive and detailed study of the slave code in Alabama in particular. Here is the first section, on the law of manumission. More to follow.

Slavery Laws in Alabama


John V. Denson.

In this study of the laws of Alabama that related to slavery, it is not my intention to discuss at all the administration of the laws nor the conditions resulting from any maladministration of them, but merely the laws themselves in the abstract. To get the legal facts about their administration would be a matter of great difficulty, for the courts in which the great majority of slave cases were tried, that is, courts of a justice of the peace, were not courts of record, and the only facts accessible concerning them would be the personal statements of old citizens, and however interesting these might be, they would not be authoritative. The study, then, is a discussion of the statutes that have existed from time to time in Alabama relating to the slave and the free negro from 1819 to 1865. Where it was possible I have compared Alabama laws with the laws of other States. *EMANCIPATION:* Leaving aside any moral questions that may be incident to the emancipation of slaves, I shall discuss it solely from the legal standpoint. Slaves in Alabama were considered and dealt with as property, as chattels personal, and since the right of the owner of any property is absolute, it would seem, at first glance, that the owner of slaves should be allowed to deal with them without interference, and certainly to give them freedom if he saw fit. But slaves were a peculiar kind of property, and for the welfare of the public it was necessary that some restraints be placed upon the powers and rights of the master. A man may own a large quantity of gun-powder, and his property rights are absolute, but for the good of the public he is restrained in a degree, and is forbidden to store it in certain places. [2] And so the Legislature restrained the power of the slave master for various reasons. According to the law slaves were property, and creditors had a legal right to look upon them as security for their debts due from slave owners. The right of the creditor was valid and the master was bound to recognize it, the law providing that an emancipated slave was liable to be taken to satisfy a debt contracted before such emancipation. Again, it was necessary to prevent a freed slave from becoming a charge upon the public, and the master must give bond guaranteeing this. There was among slave-holders a very general impression that the influence of a free negro upon slaves was demoralizing, nor was this unreasonable. The slave might become restless under the taunts of his free brother, or encouraged to hope for freedom himself, and so might run away or incite an insurrection. Hence after 1834 the slave when freed was required to leave the State. also there was current in the South an idea that unrestrained emancipation would result in one of two conditions: either the emancipated negro must remain in the condition of the free negro in competition with the white man for his daily bread, or he must become lord of the soil, as he had in Hayti and Jamaica. Southerners, at least many of them, believed that the negro was incapable of providing sustenance for himself in competition with the whites, and they thought that a large percentage of negroes would be without work, almost starving, and the consequence would be plunder and pillage. The alternative of becoming owners of the soil was even more to be avoided, certainly if reports from Jamaica and Hayti were to be believed.[8] Unrestrained emancipation might turn loose upon Southern white men a horde of ignorant creatures, unchecked by wise leaders, and incapable of being controlled. All these things the South feared, and the laws checking emancipation were intended to prevent them. The Constitution of Alabama, formed in 1819, contained [3] the following statements about emancipation: The General Assembly shall have no power to pass laws for the emancipation of slaves, without the consent of their owners, or without paying their owners, previous to such emancipation, a full equivalent in money for the slaves so emancipated. They shall have the power to pass laws to permit the owners of slaves to emancipate them, saving the rights of creditors, and preventing them from becoming a public charge.[9] The early statute law in Alabama was the act of the Mississippi Territorial Legislature, passed in 1805, when Alabama was included in the Territory, and it remained the law until 1834. That statute provided: That from and after the passage of this act it shall not be lawful for any person or persons holding or owning slaves, to liberate them or any of them, unless they first prove to the satisfaction of the General Assembly, that such slave or slaves have done some meritorious act, either for the benefit of the said owner or for the benefit of this Territory; and in the said case the owner or owners of the said slave or slaves shall give bond or security to the Governor, for the time being, that the said slave or slaves shall not become chargeable to the public. Provided, nevertheless, that all slaves so emancipated shall be liable to be taken by execution to satisfy any debt contracted by the person emancipating them before such emancipation is made. Section 2 of this act provides: That any slave claiming freedom shall proceed by petition to the county or circuit court of his master’s county; the master must enter into a bond approved by the governor, in a sum to be adjudged by the court, that such [4] slave will be subject to the order of the court and abide by the judgment of the court, the slave to remain in the service of the master till the determination of the suit.[10] It will be noticed that this statute contains no provision that the freed slave shall leave the state, and there was no such provision until 1834. Another noticeable feature is that there is nothing contained in the statute that would prevent a person’s directing in his will that slaves be taken out of the state by his executors, to free territory, and there set free, and a provision of this kind did not occur until 1860. So far as I can find no will containing a bequest of this nature was ever declared null and void. In South Carolina the act of 1820[11] was the same as that quoted above, but in 1841 an act was passed which declared void all bequests, deeds, etc., which intended after the death of the owner to remove slaves from the state and liberate them.[11] Goodell, in his American Slave Code, published in 1853, makes the unqualified statement that, In South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama, the legislature, only by express enactments, has authority to emancipate slaves, and cites as his authority Stroud, P. 147. Stroud’s work was published in 1827.[12] Mrs. Stowe, in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published in 1851, makes the same statement, but cites no authority.[13] If these two persons had taken the trouble, they might have found that in 1834 the Legislature of Alabama enacted a law which provided that judges of the county court might, upon petition of the owner, emancipate slaves, in consideration of long, faithful, and meritorious services performed, and for other good causes, provided such slaves should leave the State within twelve months, never to return, and if such slaves should return, they were to be apprehended by the sheriff [5] and were liable to be sold for life as slaves. As in all provisions for emancipation, it was definitely set forth that nothing in the act should be so construed as to prejudice the rights of the creditors of the owner of the emancipated slaves.[14] This act remained in force until the act of 1860, which revoked and annulled all emancipation laws. The method of procedure under this act was simple. The master desiring to emancipate a slave made publication in his county newspaper for at least sixty days previous to making application, giving the name and description of the slave; at the appointed time the petition was filed and the cause tried. If there was proof that the slave had served his master with fidelity, or other good cause was shown, and no sufficient objection was offered, the judge of probate, acting upon authority conferred by the Legislature, declared the slave free.[14] [6] This act remained in force till 1860. At that time a stringent act prohibiting emancipation was passed, and it is natural to find it. Intensified by the sectional conflict in Kansas, and by the raid of John Brown, the antipathy between the South and the North was growing apace. In Alabama, one of the results of this was the sweeping act of 1860, which was as follows:

Sec. 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Alabama, in General Assembly convened, That from and after the passage of this act, all clauses, items, words, or directions contained in any last will and testament, or other instrument, made for the purpose of emancipating any negro slave or slaves, either directly or indirectly, is hereby declared to be void and of no effect.

Sec. 2. Be it further enacted, That any and all clauses of any last will and testament or other instrument by which any executor, administrator, trustee, incorporation or society of persons, may be authorized or directed to remove any slave or slaves from the state of Alabama, for the purpose of emancipating such slave or slaves, is hereby declared to be void and of no effect.

Sec. 3. Be it further enacted, That all gifts and bequests by last will and testament, or other instrument, of any slave or slaves to any person or persons, or to any trustee, incorporation or society of persons, upon the trust or condition that such slave or slaves shall be removed beyond the limits of the state of Alabama, and to some state or territory, where African slavery does not exist, shall be utterly null and void.

Sec. 4. Be it further enacted, That all laws and parts of laws authorizing the emancipation of any slave or slaves, by any proceedings before any court in the state of Alabama, are hereby repealed.

Sec. 5. Be it further enacted, That the provisions of this act shall not apply to wills and testaments or other instruments which may have become effectual before its passage.[15]

  1. [8]Stearn’s Notes on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Note 9.
  2. [9]Three clauses seem to have been taken almost verbatim from the constitution of Mississippi (1817), except that the latter forbade the emancipation of slaves without the consent of their owners unless where a slave shall have rendered to the State some distinguished service, in which case the owner shall be paid a full equivalent for the slaves so emancipated. See Poore’s Charters and Constitutions.
  3. [10]Toulmin’s Dig. of 1807, p. 259. Hitchcock’s Ala. Justice, p. 421.
  4. [11]O’Neal’s article on S. c. laws in DeBow’s Industrial Resources of the South, vol. 2, p. 274.
  5. [12]Goodell’s American Slave Code, p. 341.
  6. [13]Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Key, vol. 2, p. 354.
  7. [14]

    Acts of the Legislature, ’33-34, p. 29.

    Sec. 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the State of Alabama, in General Assembly convened, That whenever the owner or owners of any slave or slaves, shall be desirous of emancipating such slave or slaves, such owner or owners shall make publication in some newspaper printed within the county where such slaves reside, (or if there be no paper printed in said county, then in the nearest paper thereto,) for at least sixty days previously to the making application in which shall be set forth the time and place that such application will be made, together with the names and description of the slave or slaves, sought to be emancipated; and at the time appointed the judge of the county court may upon petition filed, proceed to hear and determine upon the application so made, and if, in his opinion, the said slave should be emancipated, in consideration of long, faithful, and meritorious services performed, or for other good and sufficient cause shown, the said judge may proceed to emancipate and set free such slave or slaves; and the clerk of the court shall make record of the same in a book to be kept by him for that purpose: Provided, that such slave or slaves shall remove without the limits of this state, within twelve months after such emancipation, never more to return, and that such emancipation shall not take effect until after such removal.

    Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That if the said slave or slaves shall return within the limits of this state after such removal and emancipation, he, she, or they, shall be subject to be apprehended by the sheriff of the county within which the same may be found and imprisoned, and after having advertised the same for at least thirty days, may be sold to the best bidder for cash as slaves for life; and the proceeds of such sale, after paying all expenses, shall be paid into the county treasury for the use of said county.

    Sec. 3. And be it further enacted, That it shall be the duty of all sheriffs, constables and patrols, to apprehend slaves who shall return after having been so emancipated and removed, and bring them before some justice of the peace who shall commit them; and the same compensation shall be allowed in such cases as is allowed for apprehending runaway slaves.

    Sec. 4. And be it further enacted, That nothing in this act contained shall be so construed as to prejudice the rights of the creditors of the owner of slaves so emancipated.

    App’d, Jan. 17, 1834.

    See also Clay’s Ala Dig. of 1843, p. 545, secs. 37, 38, and 40. Also Ala. Code of 1852, secs. 2044-2048.

  8. [15]Acts of 1859-60, p. 28. App’d Jan. 25, 1860.

Over My Shoulder # 49: Sic Semper

Here’s the rules.

  1. Pick a quote of one or more paragraphs from something you’ve read, in print, over the course of the past week. (It should be something you’ve actually read, and not something that you’ve read a page of just in order to be able to post your favorite quote.)

  2. Avoid commentary above and beyond a couple sentences, more as context-setting or a sort of caption for the text than as a discussion.

  3. Quoting a passage doesn’t entail endorsement of what’s said in it. You may agree or you may not. Whether you do isn’t really the point of the exercise anyway.

Here’s the quote. This is from my class readings, Herodotus (c. 449 BCE), The Histories (trans. G.C. Macaulay and Donald Lateiner); I read it during one of my study jags over at The Coffee Cat. It’s Herodotus’s version of the end of the life of Cyrus the Great, the first King of Kings of the Persian Empire. At this time in his life, Cyrus had gained supreme power over the Persians, taken power over the old Median Empire, and set out on decades of large-scale conquest, subjugating nearly all of the peoples in Asia Minor, the Levant, and Mesopotamia. He then went with his army to the river Aras, in the hopes of expanding his conquest onto the Central Asian plains.

201. When [Babylon] also had been subdued by Cyrus, he desired to bring the Massagetai into subjection to himself. This nation is reputed to be both great and warlike, and to dwell towards the East and the sunrise, beyond the river Araxes and over against the Issedonians. Some say that this nation is of the Scythian race.

. . . 205. Now the ruler of the Massagetai was a woman, who was queen after the death of her husband, and her name was Tomyris. To her Cyrus sent and wooed her, pretending that he desired to have her for his wife. Tomyris, understanding that he was wooing not herself but rather the kingdom of the Massagetai, rejected his approaches. Cyrus after this, as he made no progress by craft, marched to the Araxes and campaigned openly against the Massagetai, forming bridges of boats over the river for his army to cross, and building towers upon the vessels which gave them safe passage across the river.

[. . . The captive king Croesus advised Cyrus to leave behind part of his army, along with preparations for a feast with strong wine, as a snare for the Massagetai warriors, who had no experience with Persian drinks.]

211. . . . After this when Cyrus and the sound part of the army of the Persians had marched back to the Araxes, and those unfit for fighting had been left behind, then one-third of the army of the Massagetai attacked and proceeded to kill, not without resistance, those whom the army of Cyrus had left behind. Seeing the feast that was set forth, when they had overcome their enemies they lay down and feasted, and being satiated with food and wine they went to sleep. Then the Persians came upon them and slew many of them, and took alive many more even than they slew, and among these the son of the queen Tomyris, who was leading the army of the Massagetai; and his name was Sparagapises.

212. She then, when she heard that which had come to pass with the army and also the things concerning her son, sent a herald to Cyrus and said: Cyrus, insatiable of blood, do not celebrate too much what has come to pass, namely because with that fruit of the vine, with which you fill yourselves and become so mad that as the wine descends into your bodies, wicked words float up upon its stream,—because setting a snare, I say, with such a drug as this you overcame my son and not by valor in fight. Now therefore hear this my word, giving you good advice:—Restore to me my son and depart from this land without penalty, triumphant over a third part of the army of the Massagetai. If you shall not do so, I swear to you by the Sun, who is lord of the Massagetai, that surely I will give you your fill of blood, blood-thirsty though you are.

213. These words were reported to him, but Cyrus disregarded them; and the son of the queen Tomyris, Sparagapises, when he sobered up and he realized his plight, entreated Cyrus that he might be loosed from his chains and gained his request. So soon as his hands were free, he put himself to death. 214. He then ended his life in this manner; but Tomyris, as Cyrus did not listen to her, gathered together all her power and joined battle with Cyrus. This battle I judge to have been the fiercest of all the battles fought by Barbarians,[1] and I am informed that it happened thus:—first, it is said, they stood apart and shot at one another, and afterwards when their arrows were all shot away, they fell upon one another and engaged in close combat with their spears and daggers; and so they continued their fight with one another for a long time, and neither side would flee; but at last the Massagetai got the better in the fight. The greater part of the Persian army was destroyed there upon the spot, and Cyrus himself died there, after he had reigned twenty-nine years. Then Tomyris filled a skin with human blood and had search made among the Persian dead for the corpse of Cyrus. When she found it, she let his head down into the skin and doing outrage to the corpse she said this over it: Though I yet live and have overcome you in fight, nevertheless you have destroyed me by taking my son with craft. I nevertheless according to my threat will give you your fill of blood. There are many tales told about the end of Cyrus, but this one is to my mind the most worthy of belief.

— Herodotus (c. 449 BCE), The Histories, Book I §§ 212-213. (Trans. G.C. Macaulay and Donald Lateiner.)

  1. [1] [Sic. By Barbarians, Herodotus simply means nations that do not speak Greek. —CJ]

Bruce Levine, The Fall of the House of Dixie on Robert E. Lee and the whipping of the Norris slaves

This passage is from Bruce Levine’s 2013 study, The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution That Transformed the South (Random House, 2013). Levine’s text includes an error of misreading the sources: in reading descriptions of the escape and whipping, he seems to have mistakenly parsed my sister Mary, a cousin of ours, and I determined to run away as my sister, Mary (a cousin of ours), and I determined to run away, thus mistaking Mary Norris for the unnamed cousin of ours in Norris’s testimony (in fact, according to Pryor, inf., the cousin is George Parks).

Hundley was anxious to attribute such conduct to only the greediest and cruelest masters. In fact, however, cracking whips and piercing cries were heard throughout the South. Robert E. Lee liked to think of himself as a humane owner. But he could react as fiercely as any other when his power and authority were challenged. In 1859, three of Lee’s slaves–Wesley Norris, his sister, and a cousin named Mary–attempted to escape from the Arlington plantation. Recaptured in Maryland, the unfortunate people were jailed there for two weeks and then delivered back into Lee’s hands. Promising to teach them a lesson they would not soon forget, Lee had them taken to the barn, stripped to the waist, and whipped between twenty and fifty times each on their bare flesh by a local constable named Dick Williams. As the punishment proceeded, Wesley Norris later recalled, Lee stood by, and frequently enjoined Williams to lay it on well, which he did.44

44. Elizabeth Brown Pryor, Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee through His Private Letters (New York, 2007), 260-261.

–Bruce Levine, The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution That Transformed the South (Random House, 2013). 11, 309n44.

Us, the Unnoticed

This is from Bernardo Soares’s (or Fernando Pessoa’s, as you like)[1] Book of Disquiet, text 24. In the context of the book, the passage is contextually even more striking because it contains only the second time (after dozens of pages) that anything appears in the text that was said by another human voice besides the narrator’s. And the first that what someone else said is actually breaks through, or alters Soares’s train of thought.

Today, feeling almost physically ill because of that age-old anxiety which sometimes wells up, I ate and drank rather less than usual in the first-floor dining room of the restaurant responsible for perpetuating my existence. And as I was leaving, the waiter, having note that the bottle of wine was still half full, turned to me and said: So long, Senhor Soares, and I hope you feel better.

The trumpet blast of this simple phrase relieved my soul like a sudden wind clearing the sky of clouds. And I realized something I had never really thought about: with these café and restaurant waiters, with barbers and with the delivery boys on street corners I enjoy a natural, spontaneous rapport that I can’t say I have with those I supposedly know more intimately.

Camaraderie has its subtleties.

Some govern the world, others are the world. Between an American millionaire, a Caesar or Napoleon, or Lenin, and the Socialist leader of a small town, there’s a difference in quantity but not of quality. Below them there’s us, the unnoticed: the reckless playwright William Shakespeare, John Milton the schoolteacher, Dante Alighieri the tramp, the delivery boy who ran an errand for me yesterday, the barber who tells me jokes, and the waiter who just now demonstrated his camaraderie by wishing me well, after noticing I’d drunk only half the wine.

— Bernardo Soares, The Book of Disquiet text 24 (pp. 27-28)
New York: Penguin. trans. Richard Zenith.

  1. [1] Pessoa wrote almost all of his mature literary work under a number of heteronyms, that is, signatures that represented not only an alternate name, but actually a complex set of interacting characters that Pessoa invented and set into the Portuguese literary scene of his day.

Now available: Three articles from The Liberator (December 29, 1832), on Nullification, Colonization, the Constitution and the Union

To-day, over at the main Fair Use Repository site, there’s been some work on transcribing articles from The Liberator — the ultra-abolitionist newspaper published by William Lloyd Garrison from 1831 to 1865. I’m happy to announce that three new complete articles are available, all from the same issue — Vol. II, No. 52 (December 29, 1832). The newly-available articles are:

  • “A Hint for Wild Colonizationists”, a passage quoted from Sir Walter Scott, intended as a snarky reply to those who proposed that black slaves should be emancipated only on the condition that former slaves were forced to emigrate to new colonies in Africa.

  • “Nullification”, a collection of columns from other Boston newspapers, which had responded harshly to an Abolitionist lecture on the Nullification crisis, and which accused abolitionist agitation of endangering the union between the Northern and Southern states.

  • “The Great Crisis!”, Garrison’s reply to the mainstream newspaper columns reprinted in “Nullification,” in which Garrison takes one of his first steps toward condemning any political “union” that depends on the enslavement of an entire race, and with any political compact or compromise that protects the institution of slavery. Garrison writes, in response to a claim that the terms of the federal union forbid interference with slavery in the Southern states:

    There is much declamation about the sacredness of the compact which was formed between the free and slave states, on the adoption of the Constitution. A sacred compact, forsooth! We pronounce it the most bloody and heaven-daring arrangement ever made by men for the continuance and protection of a system of the most atrocious villany ever exhibited on earth. Yes—we recognize the compact, but with feelings of shame and indignation, and it will be held in everlasting infamy by the friends of justice and humanity throughout the world. It was a compact formed at the sacrifice of the bodies and souls of millions of our race, for the sake of achieving a political object—an unblushing and monstrous coalition to do evil that good might come. Such a compact was, in the nature of things and according to the law of God, null and void from the beginning. No body of men ever had the right to guarantee the holding of human beings in bondage. Who or what were the framers of our government, that they should dare confirm and authorise such high-handed villany—such flagrant robbery of the inalienable rights of man—such a glaring violation of all the precepts and injunctions of the gospel—such a savage war upon a sixth part of our whole population?—They were men, like ourselves—as fallible, as sinful, as weak, as ourselves. By the infamous bargain which they made between themselves, they virtually dethroned the Most High God, and trampled beneath their feet their own solemn and heaven-attested Declaration, that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights—among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They had no lawful power to bind themselves, or their posterity, for one hour—for one moment—by such an unholy alliance. It was not valid then—it is not valid now. Still they persisted in maintaining it—and still do their successors, the people of Massachussetts, of New-England, and of the twelve free States, persist in maintaining it. A sacred compact! A sacred compact! What, then, is wicked and ignominious?

    […] It is said that if you agitate this question, you will divide the Union. Believe it not; but should disunion follow, the fault will not be yours. You must perform your duty, faithfully, fearlessly and promptly, and leave the consequences to God: that duty clearly is, to cease from giving countenance and protection to southern kidnappers. Let them separate, if they can muster courage enough—and the liberation of their slaves is certain. Be assured that slavery will very speedily destroy this Union, if it be left alone; but even if the Union can be preserved by treading upon the necks, spilling the blood, and destroying the souls of millions of your race, we say it is not worth a price like this, and that it is in the highest degree criminal for you to continue the present compact. Let the pillars thereof fall—let the superstructure crumble into dust—if it must be upheld by robbery and oppression.

Read, cite, and enjoy!

Countereconomics on the shopfloor

So lately I’ve been reading through a cache of syndicalist and autonomist booklets that I picked up a couple years ago from a NEFACker friend of mine who was soon to move out of Vegas. Partly for my own edutainment, but also because I am doing some prep work for possibly introducing a sort of Little Libertarian Labor Library to the ALL Distro.[1] Anyway, here’s a really interest passage I ran across in a booklet edition of Shopfloor Struggles of American Workers — a talk by the Detroit auto-worker and autonomist Marxist Martin Glaberman — on the difference between asking workers to vote on an issue and asking them to strike over it, taking as an example the internal conflicts over the union bosses’ no-strike pledge during World War II.

One of the things I want to start with, because it does provide a framework, and is not simply an event from the past, is something I did some work on a number of years ago about auto workers in the United States during World War II, the kinds of struggles that went on on the shop floor, within the union, between the workers and the government, a complex reality. What it revolved around was the struggle against the no-strike pledge in the UAW When the United States entered World War II, virtually all of America’s labor leaders graciously granted in the name of their members a pledge not to strike at all during the war.

In the first months of the war, the first year, there was an actual drop off in strikes. The end of 1941 through 1942 was a period that put a finish to the late thirties, the massive organizational drives, the sit-down strikes, the violence, all the things that created the big industrial unions. The job hadn’t been entirely done. Ford wasn’t organized until early 1941. Little Steel wasn’t organized, unionized, until the war was well under way, and so on.

Gradually, however, as the war went on, the number of strikes, (by definition all of them were wildcats, all of them were illegal under union contracts and under union constitutions) began to escalate until by the end of the war, the number of workers on strike exceeded anything in past American labor history. What was distinct about the UAW wasn’t just that the wildcat strikes were larger in number and more militant, but the fact that something took place which made it possible to make a certain kind of record. It was the only union in which, because there were still two competing caucuses, leaving rank and file workers a certain amount of democratic leeway to press for their point of view, an actual formal debate and vote took place on the question of the no-strike pledge.

A small, so-called rank and file, caucus was organized late in 1943 and early 1944, to begin a campaign around a number of issues, but the central issue was the repeal of the no-strike pledge. … So[2] they proceeded to have a referendum. This referendum was in some respects the classic sociological survey. Everyone got a postcard ballot. Errors, cheating, etc. were really kept to a minimum. Everyone on the commission thought that it was as fair as you get in an organization of a million or more members. It took several months to do. When the vote was finally in, the membership of the UAW had voted about two to one to reaffirm the no-strike pledge.

The conclusion any decent sociologist would draw is that autoworkers on the whole thought that patriotism was a little bit more important than class interests, that they supported the war rather than class struggle and strikes, etc. There was a little problem, however, and this is why this is such a fascinating historical experience. The problem was that at the very same time that the vote was going on, in which workers voted two to one to reaffirm the no-strike pledge, a majority of autoworkers struck ….

To visualize it is fairly simple: you’re not voting on the shop floor; you get this postcard, you’re sitting at the kitchen table, you’re listening to the radio news with the casualty reports from Europe and the Pacific and you think, yes, we really should have a no-strike pledge, we’ve got to support our boys. Then you go to work the next day and your machine breaks down and the foreman says, Don’t stand around, grab a broom and sweep up, and you tell him to go to hell because it’s not your job and the foreman says he’s going to give you time off and the next thing you know, the department walks out. … The reality is that in a war which was probably the most popular war that America took part in, workers in fact, if not in their minds or in theory, said that given the choice between supporting the war or supporting our interests and class struggle, we take class struggle.

— Martin Glaberman, Shopfloor Struggles of American Workers (1993?)

Glaberman puts this out as a distinction between what workers say in their minds or in theory and what they say or do in fact. I’m not sure that’s right — doesn’t the story about the foreman involve the workers’ mind and beliefs just as much as the story about the kitchen table? — but I think the most important thing here is Glaberman’s attention to the context at the point of decision, and how that shapes what kind of decision a worker thinks of herself as making. Not just the outcome of the choice, but really the topic, whether the worker is asked to make some kind of political choice about what she ought, in some general and detached sense, she ought to value (isn’t Patriotism important?), or she finds herself making an engaged, personal choice about what’s happening — what’s being done — to her and her fellow workers right now, on the margin. There is a lesson here for counter-economists.

Freedom is not something you vote on. It’s something you struggle for. And what’s far more important than trying to figure out how to get people to endorse the right ideology, or, worse, the least-bad set of policies and candidates to each other across the kitchen table, is figuring out how you and your neighbors can best cooperate with each other, practice solidarity and withdraw from maintaining and collaborating with the state. People who would never respond to a smaller-government candidate or a libertarian ideological pitch often will act very differently when you open up opportunities to support grassroots alternatives and withdraw from the day-to-day inhumanities of war taxes, regulations, police, prisons, borders, and the state-supported and state-supporting corporate capitalist economy. Meanwhile, those who talk all day about changing votes, and building parties to more effectively capture a few more votes here and there, and have nothing else to offer, are wasting time, resources, and organizing energy on efforts that are not merely futile, but in fact actively lethal to any hope of motivating and coordinating effective practical action.

See also:

  1. [1] The basic idea: L4 would encompass some of the material we already have (Chaplin’s General Strike, Carson’s Ethics of Labor Struggle) and a lot of new and classic material, with new titles published at regular intervals, all with the basic underlying goal of (1) providing some decent labor-oriented materials for ALL locals, and (2) providing a decent source (mostly, currently, lacking) for IWW local organizing committees and other radical labor efforts to find some decently produced, low-cost booklet-style materials for lit drops and outreach tables, beyond just the IW, Anarcho-Syndicalist Review, and the relatively expensive books you can purchase through GHQ.
  2. [2] [After an inconclusive floor debate in convention. —RG]

Friday’s Reading: one on post-WWII bohemian-anarchism, one on early anarcho-capitalism, and some mutualist portraits

I spent most of the day booked with a consulting client and doing some house-cleaning, which was much-needed anyway but especially so in light of an impending family visit from Michigan and from Maine. Still, I had the time to catch up on some things I’ve been meaning to read. It all turned out to be PDFs I’d accumulated, but now that I have a Kindle (thanks to a Christmas present) it’s actually no longer excruciating for me to sit around reading PDFs. In any case:

  • I got the chance to read The New Cult of Sex and Anarchy (!), Mildred Edie Brady’s shocking exposé of the emerging Northern California counter-culture — of 1947. (The article went into the April 1947 issue of Harpers. (Suggested by Jesse Walker.)

    This is, roughly, the intellectual and artistic milieu that the Beats would eventually emerge from, and monopolize in the public consciousness; but that particular coffeeklatsch was still 10 years away from their public breakthrough, and in 1947 there was a lot more attention on Henry Miller, California surrealism, and the occasional cameo by Man Ray and Kenneth Rexroth. I should say that the article is not as stupidly alarmist as the title that some editor no doubt inflicted on it; maybe the whole thing would have read like more of an awful calumny when the story was published, on the eve of the Great Sexual Backlash, when sexualism was something more hotly contested than it now is.

    Anyway the sex part in the article has to do with the author’s obsession with the bohemian mens’ obsession with Wilhelm Reich. The anarchy part refers, by turns, either to an artistic radical indifference to State and social authority; or, at times, to genuine intellectual anarchism. Anyway, I don’t know that the article will offer you any really deep insights, but it’s fun, and a nice time-piece, and also a rare glimpse (even if distinctly from the outside) of the anarchist/bohemian milieu, such as it was, in the now-rarely-discussed, now-mostly-forgotten years just after World War II. It also told me little about, but gave me the titles of, a number of new little publications to chase down. Anyway. Here’s some of the interesting, and some of the ugly, on the part of the subjects:

    Pacifica Views was openly anarchist and its influence was enhanced by the sympathetic representation of the [Conscientious Objector’s] position in the community. Its editor, George B. Reeves, successfully accomplished this not only through the magazine itself but also in the Human Events pamphlet Men Against the State. Even in Pacifica Views, however, the anarchism-sexualism tie was aired by several weeks’ discussion of Wilhelm Reich’s thesis and the magazine’s political position was embellished with a sure come-on for the young—sexual freedom for the adolescent and the deep political significance that lies in developing a healthy sexuality among the masses of the people who are endemically neurotic and sexually sick.

    ANARCHISM is, of course, nothing new to the West. There have been in both Seattle and San Francisco small anarchist groups ever since the first World War and before, and remnants of them have persisted. Some are hangovers from the days of the Wobblies. Others are made up of first and second generation European immigrants—like the San Francisco group, the Libertarians, which is largely Italian. All during the thirties these small groups existed without benefit of attention from young intellectuals who in those days were most apt to be thumping their typewriters on behalf of the United Front.

    Not long after December 7, 1941, however, the poet Kenneth Rexroth left the ranks of the Communists in San Francisco and turned both anarchist and pacifist. Around him, as around Miller, there collected a group of young intellectuals and writers who met weekly in self-education sessions, reading the journals of the English anarchists, studying the old-line anarchist philosophers like Kropotkin, and leavening the politics liberally with psychoanalytic interpretations from Reich. It was and is, however, a decidedly literary group in which politics is all but submerged by art, where poems, not polemics, are written, and where D. H. Lawrence outshines Bakunin—Lawrence the philosopher, of Fantasia and the Unconscious rather than Lawrence the novelist.

    Nevertheless, the anarchism of this group is taken seriously enough to call forth tokens to the political as well as the sexual; and at meetings of the Libertarians, today, you will be apt to find young intellectuals sprinkled among the moustachioed papas and bosomed mamas [sic! Really? —R.G.] who, until recently, had no such high-toned co-operation. In this particular group around Rexroth, the Henry Miller kind of anarchism is held to be irresponsible, for Miller goes so far on the lonely individualistic trail as to sneer at even anarchist organization.

    To the outside observer, however, the differences between the Miller adherents and the Rexroth followers are more than outweighed by their similarities. They both reject rationalism, espouse mysticism, and belong to the select few who are orgastically potent. And they both share in another attitude that sets them sharply apart from the bohemians of the twenties. They prefer their women subdued—verbally and intellectually.

    No budding Edna St. Vincent Millay or caustic Dorothy Parker appears at their parties. If the girls want to get along they learn, pretty generally, to keep their mouths shut, to play the role of the quiet and yielding vessel through which man finds the cosmos. Although there are a few women writers found now and then in Circle [a prominent literary magazine from the San Francisco scene] — Anais Nin is a favorite and Maude Phelps Hutchins (wife of Robert Hutchins, chancellor of the University of Chicago) has appeared—the accepted view of both the wome nand the men seems to be that woman steps out of her cosmic destiny when the goal of her endeavor shifts beyond bed and board. This doesn’t mean that the women are economically dependent, however. Most of the girls hold down jobs. But the job is significant only in that it contributes to a more satisfactory board.

    — Mildred Edie Brady (1947), The New Cult of Sex and Anarchy, Harper’s (April 1947).

    Well, nobody could say that revolooshunerry chauvinism is some kind of new problem in the scene; Manarchy abides.

  • I also finished off Jarret Wollstein’s Society Without Coercion: A New Concept of Social Organization (1969), one of the first documents (to my knowledge) to advocate self-described, self-identified anarcho-capitalism. Wollstein was a dissident Objectivist (less dissident and more uniformly Objectivist-influenced than, say, Roy Childs). It’s been suggested that Wollstein was the first to coin the phrase anarcho-capitalism. I don’t know if that’s right or not, but in any case here’s some of his reasons for employing the term; in this one he mentions it as a term already floating around the circles he’s a part of.

    2.4 Naming A Free Society

    To name the social system of a free society is not as nominal a task as at first it may appear to be. It is not only the existence of complete social freedom which is absent from today’s world, but also the idea of such freedom. There is, in truth, probably no word in the English language which properly denotes and connotes the concept of the social system of a free society.

    A number of persons who have recognized the fallacies in the advocacy of not just this or that government, but who have also recognized the inherent contradiction in government itself (such as Murray Rothbard and Karl Hess) have decided that since archy means rule, or the presence of government — which they are against — they will designate their sociological position as anarchy — no rule, or the total absence of government. This decision is unfortunate, to say the least, since it embodies several epistemological fallacies. Firstly, the term anarchy is a negative one; to say that one is for anarchy is only to say that one is against government. It is not to say what are the positive social forms which one advocates. This may be perfectly fine if one, in fact, advocates no positive social forms. However, if one advocates freedom and its economic expression laissez-faire capitalism, the designation anarchy or anarchism, of itself, will hardly suffice. Secondly, anarchy merely means no rule not no coercion. It is perfectly possible to have an anarchist society with coercion initiated by random individuals and robber gangs. So long as these persons do not claim legal sanction or create formal and enduring institutions, one would have a very coercive anarchist society. Further, it is possible for there to be an anarchist society in which no force was initiated, although due to the personal irrationality and mysticism of its occupants, no rational person would want to live in it. For example, imagine a society occupied exclusively by non-violent schizophrenics, or equivalently, by Zen Buddhists. [sic. Really? —RG]

    Less important, but also significant, is the fact that the term anarchy, in present usage, has come to mean not only no rule but also has come to imply social chaos and senseless violence. This is a corruption of the original meaning of the term, but nevertheless it makes the word anarchy an impediment rather than an implement to communicating the concept of a free society. When one wishes to defend in principle and implement in reality a free society, it is irrational to deliberately choose a term which one knows will alienate, at the outset, persons with whom one eventually intends to deal.

    Another term has been suggested by Robert LeFevre, advocate of the free market and founder of Ramparts College [sic—RG] in California. Mr. LeFevre rejects the term anarchy primarily because of its past close association with collectivism and, recognizing the fallacy of limited government, proposes in its stead the word autarchy, meaning self-rule. Again this term suffers several epistemological faults. It fails to state how one should rule oneself, and in fact says nothing about the nature of social order.

    Next we have the term voluntarism, also advocated by many proponents of the term anarchism. This expression is superior to the term anarchy in that it does exclude coercion from its subsumed concept of social order. It is therefore acceptable for this communicative purpose. However, several necessary differentia in the valid concept of a free society are still lacking. Conceivably one could have a voluntary collectivist society (at least for a while), in which individuals voluntarily become slaves, as well as a voluntary individualist society, in which the individual is his [sic —RG] own master. Consequently, this term is not fully satisfactory.

    A phrase in increasingly popular use which I advocate as the best presently available specification of the socio-economic position of persons advocating a society of consistent rational freedom is anarcho-capitalism. Here the prefix anarcho indicates the lack of coercive government, and the word capitalism indicates the positive presence of free trade based upon respect for man’s [sic] rights. This term is not ideal: the prefix anarcho has negative semantic value, and the term capitalism is intimately associated with the present American statist mixed economy. However, it would seem to be the best term which we now have, and consequently we will use it (and in more limited contexts voluntarism) in the remainder of this essay.

    — Jarret B. Wollstein (1969), Society Without Coercion: A New Concept of Social Organization. Society for Rational Individualism. 21-22.

    A bit further down there’s also some material on strategy. After rejecting retreatism, and purely theoretical education, Wollstein advocates counter-institutions. Sort of….

    4.1 Alternatives to Government Institutions

    How often have you presented a brilliantly stated, logically air-tight thesis to a collectivist only to have him [sic] say, That’s fine in theory, but in practice it wouldn’t work. THis of course is an absurdity, but it is next to impossible to convince most collectivists of this fact by purely forensic ability. Clearly, if we are to convince the great majority of American intellectuals, something more than logical theorizing is necessary.

    What I propose is the actual creation of alternatives to government institutions — initially schools, post offices, fire departments and charity; later, roads, police, courts and armed forces. Libertarians recognize that government services are hopelessly obsolete and inherently economically unsound. With the present system it is patently impossible to assess the costs of education and police investigations at all. Rather than trying to politically convince two hundred million Americans that this is so on the basis of rational economic theory, libertarians should instead demonstrate the fact by actually creating the far superior institutions of a free society. Fire departments, schools and post offices should immediately be set up by men and women who understand the free market and who are competent as businessmen [sic].

    One way to do this would be for rational businessmen [sic] to cooperate with libertarian students and theorists in order to establish such enterprises as franchise operations, using all of the skills of modern industry. Simultaneously, libertarians should act politically to free the market to facilitate these enterprises; meanwhile theoreticians should attempt to infiltrate the mass media, or start their own popular magazines and telecommunications facilities to emphasize to the American people that these institutions are working far better than their governmental equivalents; and then to explain why they are doing so. Such a dramatic demonstration of the efficacy of the free market might well accomplish what mere talk alone is unable to do: free America.

    How can the men and women of America fail to understand the value of freedom in all areas of human enterprise when private post offices, roads and police are actually providing far better services than government is capable of delivering?

    — Jarret B. Wollstein (1969), Society Without Coercion: A New Concept of Social Organization. Society for Rational Individualism. 40.

  • Finally, I got a start on Dear Tucker: The Letters from John Henry Mackay to Benjamin R. Tucker, which run from 1905 to 1933 (ed. and trans. by Hubert Kennedy, 2002). I haven’t gotten deep enough in for any interesting pull-quotes from the text. But I did come across these rad portraits of Clarence Lee Swartz (a frequent contributor to Liberty and author of What Is Mutualism?) and Steven T. Byington (another frequent Liberty correspondent, founder of Liberty’s Anarchist Letter Writing Corps, and the translator of Stirner). Both photos are from the Labadie Collection.

    Clarence Lee Swartz (1868-1936)

    Steven T. Byington (1869-1957)

Ignorance and Markets

This is an unsigned editorial from the January 2009 issue of Philosophy (vol. 84, no. 327). Submitted for comment, without much commentary from my end. (Yet.)

Editorial: Ignorance and Markets

It may not be true that no one predicted the recent crash in the financial world. But it is certainly true that most well-informed observers and participants, including most importantly those who believed they were actually running things, were caught unawares. If they had been aware, they would have been able to avoid the worst consequences, at least for themselves, and even profit from the situation.

The 2008 financial crash has been compared to the fall of the Berlin Wall, in that just as the one signalled the end of an uncritical belief in socialism, at least of a centralised sort, the other signals the end to an uncritical belief in markets.

Let us leave aside the point that the markets of 2008 were actually heavily regulated in all sorts of ways, and so hardly unfettered. There is in fact an interesting parallel between 1989 and 2008 in one significant respect. Both events were largely unforeseen.

In one sense this is encouraging. For all our knowledge and technology there is much, even in human affairs, which is unpredictable and uncontrollable. This is, in a sense, judgment on hubris. It can also be liberating, particularly for those who do not see themselves as masters of the universe.

But should 2008 be seen as a decisive moment as far as belief in markets is concerned? Much will depend on what is meant by a market, no easy question when, as already mentioned, no markets to-day are unfettered, and are not likely to be in the foreseeable future.

We should, though, not forget that for followers of Adam Smith, such as Hayek, one of the main philosophical arguments in favour of markets was precisely the unpredictability of human action and of events more generally. From this perspective markets are not seen as perfect predictors, which there cannot be. But in situations of uncertainty they are seen as the most efficient and least hazardous way of disseminating information in a society and of responding to what cannot be predicted. It would be somewhat paradoxical if a failure of prediction was in itself taken to be an argument against a system which takes unpredictability as its starting point.

— Philosophy 84 (2009), 1. Cambridge University Press.


The death of Alexander Agassiz, from The Dial (April 16, 1910)

Here’s a passage from The Dial: A Semi-Monthly Journal of Literary Criticism, Discussion, and Information. The passage is from the regular Casual Comment feature; this one taking notice of the death of the American scientist and industrialist Alexander Emanuel Agassiz (d. March 27, 1910).

The passing of a noted naturalist and a distinguished contributor to the literature of natural science is noted with regret in the sudden death, March 28, of Professor Alexander Agassiz, at the age of seventy-five. Gifted son of a gifted father, he shone not only as an original investigator in that father’s domain of science, but also as a mining engineer and a remarkably able man of business. His work at Harvard, where he stepped into Louis Agassiz’s shoes without getting lost in them, and where he built up a great museum of comparative zoölogy and made the university his pecuniary debtor to the extent of a half a million dollars, is well known. His success as superintendent and then president of the Calumet and Hecla mines is to be read in the astonishing rise of Calumet and Hecla stock from next to nothing until it is now quoted at six hundred dollars a share. The elder Agassiz used to declare, when invited to turn his scientific knowledge to his own and others’ pecuniary account, that he had no time to waste in money-making. The son found time to make moeny and to spend it beneficently, besides continuing his special researches in his favorite branches of science. His original and unostentatious ways of giving were in marked contrast with the methods pursued by some other public benefactors. When, six years ago, he was offered $75,000 for conducting some deep-sea soundings in the Pacific, on condition that the enterprise should be known as the Carnegie-Agassiz Expedition, he promptly declined the offer and found money elsewhere — chiefly in his own pocket. The life of such a man is full of inspiration to others; and it is to be hoped that a worthy biography of Alexander Agassiz may in due time be forthcoming.

–From Casual Comment, The Dial, April 16, 1910, p. 264