Jacksonian Miscellanies, #13: April 8, 1997

Topic: 'Explanatory Notes' on Nashoba - Part 2

Copyright by the editor, Hal Morris, Secaucus, NJ 1997. Permission is granted to copy, but not for sale, nor in multiple copies, except by permission.

Jacksonian Miscellanies is a weekly email newsletter which presents short documents from the United States' Jackson Era, with a minimum of commentary. Anyone can receive it for free by sending to hal@panix.com a message with

as either the subject line, or as the *only* line in the message body. If you want to make a comment or query, please send a separate message to hal@panix.com.

Jacksonian Miscellanies can also be read at http://www.panix.com/~hal/jmisc. The WWW version is augmented with much biographical, bibliographical, and other information.

Please direct responses to hal@panix.com, even though you may receive Jacksonian Miscellanies by way of a mailing list. That way I am more certain to read them, and perhaps, with your permission, post useful excerpts in a later issue.

The following appeared in the New Harmony Gazette, February 6, 1828. It was part 2 of a 3 part series written by Frances, or "Fanny", Wright. For part 1, and a good bit of background on Miss Wright and what she was writing about, the new subscriber may want to request issue #11, or view it on the Web Site (see above).

This in one of Frances Wright's most radical statements. The first half (of this, part 2) is mostly an attack on the current state of the marriage institution; to excerpt a few passages:

Part 2, "Explanatory Notes, respecting the Nature and Objects of the Institution of Nashoba, and of the Principles upon which it is founded. Addressed to the Friends of Human Improvement, in all Countries and of all Nations", by Frances Wright, from the New Harmony Gazette, Feb. 6, 1828.

The limits of the present address will not admit of a detailed defence of the principle, and explanation of the practice of cooperative labor. And however great their advantages, the founder of Nashoba views them as entirely subordinate to the one great principle of human liberty, which she believes them calculated to further and secure. She sees in the cooperative system, as it has been termed, the means -- not the end. But after mature consideration of its theory and some observation of its practice, believing it the best means yet discovered for securing the one great end, that of human liberty, and equality, -- she has for that reaons and that reason only, made it the base of the experiment at Nashoba.

The Institution of Nashoba being thus founded on the broad basis of human liberty and equality, as well as the subsequent regulations of the trustees are shaped in accordance with it. It will be seen by a reference to that public record, of which it is recommended to attach a copy to this address, that the personal independence of each individual member of the society is effectually secured, and that without disputing the established laws of the country, the institution recognizes only within its bosom the force of its own principles.

It is declared in the deed of the founder, that no individual can be received as member, but after a noviciate of six months, and then only by a unanimous vote of the resident proprietors. It is also provided that the admission of a husband shall not involve that of a wife, nor the admission of a wife that of a husband, nor the admission of either or both the parents that of the children above the age of fourteen. Each individual must pass through a separate trial, and be received or rejected on the strength of his or her merits or demerits. Ans, as, in the reception of members, the individual character is the only one recognized, so, by the principles of the society that character can never be forfeited. The marriage law existing without the pale of the institution, is of no force within that pale. No woman can forfeit her individual rights of independent existence, and no man assert over her any rights or power whatsoever, beyond what he may exercise over her free and voluntary affections; nor, on the other hand, may any woman assert claims to the society or peculiar protection of any individual of the other sex, beyond what mutual inclination dictates and sanctions, while to every individual member of either sex is secured the protection and friendly aid of all.

The tyranny usurped by the matrimonial law over the most sacred of the human affections, can perhaps only be equalled by that of the unjust opinion, which so frequently stamps with infamy, or condemns to martyrdom the best-grounded and most generous attachments, which ever did honor to the human heart, simply because unlegalized by human ceremonies, equally idle and offensive in the form and mischievous in the tendency.

This tyranny, as now exercised over the strongest and at the same time, if refined by mental cultivation, the noblest of the human passions, had probably its source in religious prejudice, or priestly rapacity, while it has found its plausible and more philosophical apology in the apparent dependence of children on the union of their parents. To this plea it might, perhaps, be replied, that the end, how important soever, is not secured by the means. That the forcible union of unsuitable and unsuited parents can little promote the happiness of the offspring; and supposing the protection of children to be the real source and object of our code of morals and of our matrimonial laws, what shall we say of the effects of these humane provisions on the fate and fortunes of one large family of helpless innocents, born into the world in spite of all prohibitions and persecutions, and whom a cruel law, and yet more cruel opinion, disown and stigmatize. But how wide a field does this topic embrace! How much cruelty -- how much oppression of the weak and the helpless does it not involve! The children denominated illegitimate, or natural, (as if in contradiction of others who should be out of nature because under law) may be multiplied to any number by the unprincipled father, easily exonerated by law and custom from duties or paternity, while these duties, and their accompanying shame, are left to a mother but too often rendered desperate by misfortune! And should we follow out our review of the law of civilized countries, we shall find the offspring termed legitimate, with whom honor and power and possession are associated, adjudged, in case of matrimonial dissentions to the father, who by means of this legal claim, has, not unfrequently, bowed to servitude the spirit of a fond mother, and held her, as a galley slave, to the oar.

But it is not here that this subject can be discussed in all its bearings. The writer of this article will, however, challenge all the advocates of existing institutions and existing opinions to test them by the secret feelings of their bosoms, and then to pronounce on their justice. She will challenge them to consider the wide field of human society as now existing, to examine its practice and to weigh its theory, and to pronounce on the consistency of the one and the virtue of the other. She will challenge them to determine how many of the moral evils and numerous family of physical diseases, which now torture the human species, have not their source in the false opinion and vicious institutions which have perverted the best source of human happiness -- the intercourse of the sexes -- into the deepest source of human misery. Let us look into our streets, our hospitals, our asylums; let us look into the secret thoughts of the anxious parent trembling for the minds and bodies of sons strating into life, or mourning over the dying health of daughters condemned to the unnatural repression of feelings and desires inherent in their very organization and necessary alike to their moral and physical well-being. Or let us look to the victims -- not of pleasure, not of love, nor yet of their own depravity, but of those ignorant laws, ignorant prejudices, ignorant code of morals, which condemn one portion of the female sex to vicious excess, another to vicious restraint, and all to defenceless helplessness and slavery, and generally the whole of the male sex to debasing licentiousness, if not to loathsome brutality.

And must we be told that private vices are public benefits, that the units of individual misery make the sum of the general good? or that the immolation of some and suffering of all are requisite to secure public order and to moderate human population to the supplies yielded for its support?  As if living creatures, could ever, for any space of time, positively exceed the means of subsistence, or as if their tendency to increase beyond a healthy sufficiency of these means could ever be repressed save by the increase and spread of real knowledge, which should teach human beings to consider the creation of other human beings as the most important of actions, and the securing to the beings of their creation a sound and healthy organization and equally a sound and healthy education, with all the means of a happy existence, as the most important of all duties. In the moral, intellectual and physical cultivation of both sexes should we seek, as we can only find, the source ans security of human happiness and human virtue. Prejudice and fear are weak barriers against passions, which, inherent in our nature and demanding only judicious traning to form the ornament, and supply the best joys of our existence, are maddened into violence by pernicious example and pernicious restraint, varied with as pernicious indulgence. Let us correct our views of right and wrong, correct our moral lessons, and so correct the practice of rising generations! Let us not teach that virtue consists in the crucifying of the affections and appetites, but in their judicious government. Let us not attach ideas of purity to monastic chastity, impossible to man or woman without consequences fraught with evil, nor ideas of vice to connections formed under the auspices of kind feelings. Let us enquire, not if a mother be a wife, or a father a husband, but if parents can supply to the creatures they have brought into being, all things requisite to render existence a blessing! Let the force of public opinion be brought against the thoughtless ignorance, or cruel selfishness, which, either with or without the sanction of a legal or religious permit, so frequently multiplies offspring beyond the resources of the parents. Let us check the force of passions, as well as their precocity, not by the idle terror of imaginary crime in the desire itself, but by the just and benevolent apprehension of bringing into existence, unhappy or imperfect beings. Let us teach the young mind to reason, and the young heart to feel, and instead of shrouding our bodies, wants, desire, senses, affections and faculties in mystery, let us court enquiry, and show that acquaintance with our own nature can alone guide us to judicious practice, and that in the consequence of human actions, exists the only true test of their virtue or their vice.

We need only observe the effects of the present system to be convinced of its error. Where is the repressive force of public opinion perceived? Whom does it affright? The poor, the ignorant, the unhappy pauper, the diseased profligate, the licentious hypocrite? Is it they who feel the force either of just or unjust censure, or who hesitate to call into existence sentient beings born to ignorance, want and disease. No; is it not rather upon that class whose feelings and intellects have been most cultivated, and who, consequently, are best fitted to give life to a healthy and intellectual race, upon whom the weight of coercive prejudice falls?

Let us advert to the far more important half of the human species -- whether we consider their share in the first formation and rearing of the infant, or their moral influence on society. -- Let us consider the effects of existing institutions and opinions as exemplified among women. In what class do we find the largest proportion of childless females and devoted victims to unnatural restraints? Certainly among the cultivated, talented and independent women, who (in England most especially) shrink equally from the servitude of matrimony, and from the opprobrium stamped upon unlegalized connexions.

But again the writer of this address must observe that she can here only touch upon subjects which she feels herself prepared to examine in detail, but which she must defer until a suitable medium be supplied in the periodical publication which it will be her object to issue so soon as it can be done consistently with the interests of the institution.

It is considered that the peculiar object of the founder, the benefit of the negro race, may best be consulted by the admission and incorporation of suitable individuals of that and the mixed race on the same principles of equality which guide the admission of all members; and further, that such individuals may best be found, among the free citizens of color who form no inconsiderable, and frequently, a very respectable body in the American population, more especially in that of the southern cities.

As it was the object of the founder to attempt the peaceful influence of example, and silently to correct the practice, and reach the laws through the feelings and the reason of the American people, she carefully forbore from outraging any of the legal provisions in the slave state in which she ventured to attempt her experiment, or those of any of the slave states with which she is acquainted, and trusted confidently to the national good sense, and to the liberality fostered by the national institutions for the safety of any experiment however opposed to the national prejudices, which should be undertaken in a spirit of kindliness to all men, and conducted within the limits of private, or, as in the present case, of associate property.

It is not supposed that (with some rare exceptions) human beings raised under the benumbing influence of brutal slavery can be elevated to the level of a society based upon the principles of moral liberty and voluntary cooperation. The experiment therefore as respects the slave population, it is intended to limit, at Nashoba, to the first purchase of the founder, excepting in cases where planters becoming members, may wish to place their negroes under the protection of the institution. And looking to effect the more especial object of the Institution through the present free race of color, and, more especially, by the education of colored children, the founder judged that she should best conciliate the laws of the southern states and the popular feeling of the whole union, as well as the interests of the emancipated negro, by providing for the colonization of all slaves emancipated by the Society in a free country without the limits of the United States. Personal observation had taught her the danger of launching a freed slave into the midst of an inimical population. And if unfit, as he must of necessity be, for incorporation into the society as a free proprietor, it appeared consistent with justice and humanity to enforce his being sent to a country of safety for his color when ejected from the protection of the Institution.

While fondly looking to the regeneration of America's citizens of color, the writer of this address believes that slavery may safely be left to work its own ruin. The falling price of cotton must soon reduce to zero the profits of the upland planter, and unfortunately the growth of sugar is restricted by climate to a small portion of the American slave territory. But when the bankrupt fortunes of the southern planters shall have put an end to the internal slave trade of the United States; and Maryland, Virginia, and Kentucky, the Guinea of the states farther south, shal have lost their last staple commodity of profit, the principles avowed at Nashoba may then attract the national attention, and the olive of peace and brotherhood be embraced by the white man and the black, and their children, approached in feeling and education, gradually blend into one their blood and their hue.

The writer of this address is fully aware that the topic most offensive to the American public is that under consideration. But so to that public is it more peculiarly addressed; not, it will be believed, with a view to offend, but with the single view of exposing the principles of Nashoba to the American people, and calling their attention to the cool investigation of a subject, unhappily seldom approached but with the anger of sectional, or the pride of national feeling.

The strength of the prejudice of color as existing in the United States and in the Eurpoean colonies can in general be little conceived and less understood in the old continent. Yet however whimsical it may there appear, is it in fact more ridiculous than the European prejudice of birth? The superior excellence which the one supposes in a peculiar descent or merely in a peculiar name, the other imagines in a peculiar complexion or set of features. And perhaps it is only by considering man in many countries and observing all his varying and contradictory prejudices that we can discover the equal absurdity of all.

Those to whom the American institutions and American character are familiar, and who have considered the question of American negro slavery in all its bearings, will probably be disposed to pronounce with the writer of this address that the emancipation of the colored population cannot be progressive through the laws. It must and can only be progressive through the feelings; and, through that medium, be finally complete and entire, involving at once political equality and the amalgamation of the races.

And has nature (as slave apologists would tell us) drawn a Rubicon between the human varieties of physiognomy and complexion, or must we enter into details to prove that no natural antipathy blinds the white Louisianian to the charms of the graceful quadroon -- however the force of prejudice or the fear of public censure makes of her his mistress, and of the white-skinned, but often not more accomplished or more attractive female, his wife?  Or must we point to the intercourse in its most degraded form - where the child is the marketable slave of its father? Idle indeed is the assertion that the mixture of the races is not in nature. If not in nature, it could not happen, and, being in nature, since it does happen, the only question is whether it shall take place in good taste and good feeling and be made at once the means of sealing the tranquility, and perfecting the liberty of the country, and of peopling it with a race more suited to its southern climate than the pure European, -- or whether it shall proceed, as it now does, viciously and degradingly, mingling hatred and fear with the ties of blood -- denied indeed, but stamped by nature herself upon the skin. The education of the race of color would doubtless make the amalgamation more rapid as well as more creditable; and so far from considering the physical amalgamation of the two colors, when accompanied by a moral approximation, as an evil, it must surely be viewed as a good equally desirable for both. In this belief the most especial object of the founder of Nashoba is to raise the man of color to the level of the white. Where fitted by habits of industry and suitable dispositions to receive him as a brother and equal, and, after due trial, as proprietor trustee of the property; to educate his children with white children, and thus approaching their minds, tastes and occupations, to leave the affections of future generations to the dictates of free choice.

You can support this site at no cost if you make an Amazon purchase using this link to get to Amazon: Thanks