Author Bibliography (in progress)

A Voluntary Political Government: Letters from Charles Lane (1843)

AUTHOR: Lane, Charles

PUBLICATION: The New Age, Concordium Gazette and Temperance Advocate. Vol 1.2. 13 May 1843, 11-14; Vol. 1.4. 27 May 1843, 26-29; Vol. 1.5. 3 June 1843, 35-37; Vol. 1.6. 10 June 1843, 41-44; Vol. 1.7. 1 July 1843 49-53; Vol. 1.8. 1 August 1843, 65-68; Vol. 1.9. 1 September 1843, 81-83.

Reprinted as: A Voluntary Political Government: Letters from Charles Lane. Compiled and Introduction by Carl Watner. St.Paul, Minn.: Michael E. Coughlin, Publisher, 1983.

Originally, the letters were published in The Liberator.

While these letters do not touch on ethical veganism, they are important statements of the political and moral convictions of Charles Lane as they directly informed the establishment of Fruitlands. Indeed, most of these letters were penned in the few months just before the reformers moved to Fruitlands.

KEYWORDS: self-government, libertarianism, voluntaryism, labor rights, slavery, Abolition

Lane, Charles. "Social Tendencies

SUMMARY (Ridvan Askin, edited Deborah Madsen):

The letters were initially penned on the occasion of A. Bronson Alcott's brief imprisonment in January 1843 due to his refusal to pay his poll taxes, prompted by his libertarian / ethical anarchist convictions. Below, the letters appear in chronological order, which does not correspond to the sequence of publication in the The New Age, Concordium Gazette and Temperance Advocate. Additionally, the Gazette editions are sometimes incomplete, omitting important passages.


Letter 1: January 16, 1843 (Watner letter 1)
L., C. [Charles Lane]. “State Slavery – Imprisonment of A. Bronson Alcott – Dawn of Liberty.” The Liberator Vol. XIII, no. 4 (27 January 1843): 16 (col. 3-4).

“the fact is not yet perceived that all the true purposes of the corporate state may as easily be carried out on the revolutionary [voluntary] principle, as all the true purposes of the collective church. Every one can see that the Church is wrong when it comes to men with the Bible in one hand and the sword in the other. And is it not equally diabolical for the State to do so? The name is of small importance. When Church and State are divorced by public opinion, they still may carry on an adulterous intercourse” (16).


Letter 2: January 28, 1843 (Watner letter 1; Gazette letter 6, publ. Aug 1)

L., C. [Charles Lane]. “A Voluntary State Government.” The Liberator Vol. XIII, no. 6 (10 February 1843): 22 (col. 2).

“Let us suppose that success should attend the present abolition efforts, and all the colored population are liberated, or are at least what we call set free; still, this master evil, this monster tyrant will remain. Whereas, if we could but penetrate, at once, to this deeper, this more radical vice, the shallower crime would at the same time be dried up” (22).

“Slavery, we know, is the Ireland of the United States. It is the machinery by which one portion of the race has, in almost every age, oppressed another portion; and the transference of the colored man to hireling servitude would leave him a bondman still. Why then should we aim alone at the mere modification, when with as much ease we might carry the whole question?” (22).

“Every abolitionist must perceive, by this time, that the great obstruction to colored freedom consists in this very fact of government, not of charity, but of force. The State and its intrigues, its place-hunting, its office-seeking, is at this moment the only serious obstacle to that freedom, in favor of which public opinion is even now strong enough, if this hard, compacted hindrance did not stand in the way. Moral feeling, I declare, Sir, is at this hour clear enough, potent enough, to carry this small step, this triffling section of personal freedom, were but our brute force government superseded by a voluntary government” (22).

“Away, then, with such a delusion! There is no safety for a person or property, while a government by force exists. Let us supersede it by one of charity. Let us have a voluntary State, as well as a voluntary Church, and we may possibly then have some claim to the appellation of free men. Till then, at least, we are slaves”(22).


Letter 3: February 21, 1843 (Watner letter 1; Gazette letter 2, publ. May 27 (incomplete – omits passages)

L., C. [Charles Lane]. “Voluntary Political Government.” The Liberator Vol. XIII, no. 9 (3 March 1843): 36 (col. 2-3).

“The purposes and pretences for which the representative system of government has credit, it wholly fails to secure. Nay, in many instances, it is the foremost actor in breaking the principles it declares it exists to maintain” (36).

“Just to that degree in which a consciousness of the divine government is developed in the individual is he restrained from destruction, violence, or wrong to his neighbors. There is no other preventive of crime” (36).

In other words, Lane advocates voluntaryism (anarchism) because governments actually do not protect either property or person; they cannot prevent crime, they simply retaliate, but “[r]etaliation is itself a crime, and a grosser crime than the original attack,” as Lane puts it (36).

“Why, sir, the supposed wild and lawless red man, whom we have exiled from his native forests, could do nothing worse in principle than this. He left the result of personal assaults unavenged, even when it amounted to murder. - So too perhaps would the untaught Irishman, and the Scotch Highlander. But nothing so bad as to attack in a body the most meek, inoffensive, and well-disposed of the community ever entered the minds of these 'great untaught'” (passage omitted in Gazette; 36).

“We prefer a voluntary church as the only true church. We shall shortly devise a voluntary political organization as the only true State. Human beings, we are now convinced, can not be rendered more fit for heaven by human coercion; neither can they by such a contrivance, be better qualified for a true life on earth” (36).


Letter 4: March 7, 1843 (Watner letter 2)
L., C. [Charles Lane]. “A Voluntary Political Government.” The Liberator Vol. XIII, no. 12 (24 March 1843): 48 (col. 2-3).

“My neighbors know my character, my estate, my property, my rights. Granting for this inquiry that man may justly hold property, I see no more difficulty in deciding a case of large amount than the question of a toy between two children in a family. […] A wicked man may keep the lawful owner from his estate, it may be said, by cajoling his neighbors or some other trick. I think it unlikely; and if practicable, the innocent and injured are now subject to greater injustice by party judges and juries, by prejudice and popular feeling. A voluntary court called together, when wanted, would certainly be superior to the present system” (48).

“Take the case of personal property as it is designated. Government, with all its pretended parental care, leaves every owner of wealth so much exposed, that besides paying taxes and local rates to a considerable amount, he is obliged to expend a large sum of money for locks, bolts, and other defenses, and if the property is very portable, such as gold, silver or paper money, - he cannot either by night or day leave it unguarded. We see by this simple fact how little they who most willingly support the government, they who in fact are the government, I say we see how little, when it comes to actual practice, these parties rely on the government for protection. The wealthy know intuitively how the State preserves their property, as the negro knows practically how it preserves his liberty” (48).

“A citizen's house is broken open; he is robbed. In spite of all his care and his payments to the State, his worldly goods are taken away. He finds at all events that the Police is not a preventive or truly protective one. He applies to the executive. Does he obtain restitution of affirmation of his loss? Oh no! Government has so educated its citizens that it has no reliance on their words in such a case, and an individual deprived of his entire property is left naked by this protective government. […] In fact so reckless, so thoughtless, is the present system that it has scarcely one affirmative principle to support it. Such as it lays claim to in words it no more carries in effect than it does when proclaiming personal liberty for every citizen, yet denies it to some because they have a darker skin” (48).

“Pretty nearly all minds are now convinced that prisons, that receptacles provided for malefactors by the State, were schools for the education of men in crime. Let us grant that no longer are they so in any eminent degree; yet let us ask whether the State itself, as at present constituted, is not one large school for crime? Its foundation is force, its argument is force, its practice is force” (48).

“Every thing, every pursuit, every function of our nature is so fenced round by forceful institutions that after all its boasted freedom the spontaneous and youthful spirit of America has to look around and ask where this freedom is. Neither in blacks or whites is it very self-evident. The whole plan is like a checker board where one is checking another in wrong and no institution can pretend to be promotive in a positive manner of virtue and healthfulness. Indeed the highest boast of American statesmen on behalf of its Constitution is that it is 'a most admirable system of checks and balances” (48).


Letter 5: March 27, 1843 (Watner letter 3)

L., C. [Charles Lane]. “A Voluntary Political Government.” The Liberator Vol. XIII, no. 14 (7 April 1843): 56 (col. 2-3).

“The town meetings, to the external eye the mere circumference of the wheel, is the very centre of it, the axle upon which it revolves, and the power which imparts its motion. […] We have secured the guidance of the best educated classes, and we shall go ahead all right. - The Lawyer, the Banker, the Merchant, the Doctor have condescended to take us by the hand, so that we could not possibly be better off. […] These assemblies, once perhaps the seats of truth, of liberty, of safety, have now become a mimic scene, in which the wires that move the puppets are so obvious to all but the acting parties that their sober seriousness, as well as their moral utility, is entirely gone. […] In such towns the hinderative conservatism of lawyers, doctors, and bankers, is on the decline, and the progressive conservatism of industrious moral thought is on the ascendent. Such men have already adopted some steps towards a voluntary government, and they have only to proceed onwards and attain the whole. They are beginning to be liberated from the farcical incubus of the legal, medical, and pecuniary night-mare” (56).

On government and education:

“Let fact be known to every sincere mind that this mixture of education and politics is only a contrivance to gild the iron chains by which men are so despotically bound. […] All that is now accomplished by a forced taxation to secure that information to the children which they are denied at home could as well be done by a voluntary union amongst the interested parties untainted by that demoralizing force which compels a parent to contribute who is able and willing and does devote himself daily to the education of his offspring” (56).

“Never was there a greater absurdity than to pretend to enfranchise the human mind from ignorance and bad passions by force. Love alone can aid in this work, and therefore the sooner the town ceases to force any one against his conscience or spontaneous will to pay a cent towards it, the sooner they will really commence the business they aim at” (56).

“The teachers are cut too pattern. Genius dare not show his face. - A man of new ideas would alarm the clerical, legal, trading spirits under which something nicknamed education, is now used to beguile the people. Thus instead of helping the people forward it keeps them all down to a low standard” (56).

“I am fully alive to the arguments pro and con on the subject of poor laws, but whether the balance shall be found in favor of combined action or of individual and private donation, quite sure I am that charity cannot be sustained by force. There is no charity in raising money by force to put the care of the poor people up to the best bidder; that is to say to place them in the tender mercies of a person who will feed them at the lowest rate per head. Townsmen cannot do such things on charitable principles” (56).


Letter 6: March 31, 1843 (Gazette letter 1, publ. May 13; not included in Watner)
Charles Lane. “American Correspondence.” The New Age, Concordium Gazette and Temperance Advocate Vol. 1, no. 2 (13 May 1843): 11-14.

This letter, published under the heading “American Correspondence” and addressed to a “Dear Friend,” does not really belong to this series of letters (hence its omission in the Watner volume), but it is closely related in many respects, as it gives the reasons and (economic) means for establishing in America a Utopian community of immigrants.

“All sorts of employments and pursuits may be found here, from pencil-making to whale-fishing” (12).

“A voluntary, self-supporting co-operative attempt, would certainly be preferable to the exportation of paupers, and a very moderate sum for each individual would accomplish the object: still, I think the poor as such should be helped” (12).

“It occurs to me continually that this is the land for the liberation of mankind, physically, socially, mentally, and morally” (13).

“I perceive that if Mr. Greaves had effected his design of coming out here, some important result would have followed. Our operations will be less striking, less intellectual; but what they lack in these respects, we must endeavor they shall compensate in depth and permanency” (13).

“[T]o make a successful appeal to the human race, it is necessary to build up bodies, flesh and blood, bricks and timber, fields, gardens, orchards – an entire life. If we can do something of this sort on a small scale – it scarcely matters how small – we shall not have lived in vain” (13).

“Chartism is a noisy, and free trade agitators are as boisterous as ever; socialism proceeds as slowly, and the government waits, as much as usual, to be urged by the pressure without. I should not like to be condemned to return until my greater hopes here are shown to be fallacious” (13).

“A phalanstery is spoken of this spring, to be called 'The Sylvania Phalanx,' to consist of about 100 persons at first. Mr. Brisbane, I believe, is the leader, and in New York State the land is to be selected” (14).


Letter 7: April 17, 1843 (Watner letter 4; Gazette letters 3 & 4, publ. June 3 & 10)
L., C. [Charles Lane]. “A Voluntary Political Government.” The Liberator Vol. XIII, no. 17 (28 April 1843): 68 (col. 2-4).

“Almost a priori it might be asserted that all the operations which are limited to the township might be committed at once to the voluntary principle; therefore no very strong arguments are needed for its proof. If the neighborhood will not take care of itself, either on the ground of selfish regard, or on the superior principle of the common good, there must certainly be so great a defect of heart and head that such individuals might not longer to be trusted with the management of their own affairs; and still less should they be permitted to a participation of authority over men” (68).

“The mischief that all countries, adopting the representative system, have suffered by party is scarcely exceeded by that of the feudal system which it supplanted. To name only one of the serious disadvantages of this system of giving up our own government, the perception now is almost universal that the best neighbors seldom or never are chosen. The best men are not party men, and never can be, and none but a man espousing, or rather chained to one party or other, has any chance of appointment” (68).

“In the Massachusetts legislature, during the session just closed, how many days, how many thousand dollars, were absolutely wasted, according, not to my assertion merely but by evidence of the members of the representative body, may be seen by any one who will take the trouble to search the records, or to read the newspaper reports. […] But these, it may be said, are accidental evils, and not necessarily parts of the system. They have, however, clung so closely to representation ever since parliaments were invented that it is pretty evident they are essentially vices in the representative plan. 'If you would have your work done, do it; if you would not have it done, set some one else about it,' is an adage as applicable to nations as to individual men of business. […] Nations and people have been unhappily under the representative system, not on account of the defects in its several modes, but because itself is one huge defect. It is actually a defection from the principle of self-government, or conscience government, or God government in the human soul” (68).

“The argument is briefly this; if the work is desirable, it will as surely be done as any other voluntary association is formed. One feels here to be rather combatting against no body; and that the real difficulty lies in finding reasons why the nation should interfere, and not why it should leave alone” (68).

“We ought to understand that the pretense for this heavy load of a forceful government arises wholly out of our personal appetite for foreign luxuries of diet and dress. If we subsisted and clothed ourselves as we easily could, by native products, we should not be plunged into this difficulty. Ships of war need not be kept afloat to protect merchant vessels for a pure and simple people, who are contented with the products of their own land, avoiding slavery to their own base appetites, and the infliction of slavery on other men. Protection of the mercantile navy has not shown much regard for men when it has protected merchants in carrying over sea whole cargoes of human beings to be sold to interminable slavery. Why, Sir, piracy is not much worse than this” (68).


Letter 8: May 4, 1843 (Watner letter 5; Gazette letter 5, publ. June July 1)

L., C. [Charles Lane]. “A Voluntary Political Government.” The Liberator Vol. XIII, no. 19 (12 May 1843): 76 (col. 2-4).

“No fact in human life is perhaps more clearly established than the tendency there is in men to depart in action from the principles they have laid down in words. In religion it is fearfully so; in morals scarcely less; and in politics we have seen, in the instance of negro slavery, how men could reconcile words and actions the very reverse of each other” (76).

“The Constitution [of Massachusetts] declares the body politic to be a voluntary association. - The principle announces love and choice; practice enacts necessity and force. All, therefore, on behalf of which I am asserting may be summed up as the restoration of the primary constitutional principle. I give no strained or unusual value to the word 'voluntary' on this occasion. Either it means choice, or it means nothing at all. If it does not assert the free voluntariness of every individual who comes into 'the body politic' it signifies nothing” (76).

“Of course I present not this argument to the State. For to do that would be to admit its rightful establishment; an act of moral impropriety and false logic which we hope to avoid. But I lay it out for the consideration of that large class of minds which is rather alarmed than invited by novelty. I thus show that the 'voluntary' principle was clearly and fully recognized, so far as words can prove, by the framers of the Constitution of 1780. Mine is therefore no new doctrine, whatever the practice may be. If the practice has not yet obtained, it is time it should. If men have not yet acted up to their own principles, this is the age to call upon them to do so. These illusions must no longer deceive men; and be the idea of voluntary government entirely new, or 63 years old, or 630 years old, I suppose it may obtain if we think proper, and we shall be determined to that by the conscience which rules us” (76).

“A fact showing how far the people, even in this favored land, are indebted to the government for their safe and tranquil enjoyments is now in current report. The Lowell manufacturers finding a resistance to reduced wages on the part of their operatives, are reported to have sent to Great Britain for a supply of their poor factory hands who will be glad to work at the reduced rates offered. You will perceive that such an occurrence would be impossible under a voluntary, or real self-government, which had no custom house and no high tariff to maintain, made for the very purpose of propping up these destructive factories. The circle of misdoing, so evident in Old England, is thus attaining completion in New England. The manufacturers, the joint stock companies, the wealthy, engender the government; the government generates taxation; taxation has its custom house and high tariff, which in return foster the factories, by which the wealthy become wealthier, and the poor poorer. Thus, as of old, and in distant modern nations, the government itself becomes the great instruments in producing 'danger and agitation,' under the pretence of aiding the people's 'safety and tranquility'” (76).


Letter 9: May 17, 1843 (Watner letter 6)

L., C. [Charles Lane]. “A Voluntary Political Government.” The Liberator Vol. XIII, no. 21 (26 May 1843): 84 (col. 2-4).

“Cleansed, purified, refined - polished to the highest degree - the democratic form of government which we have set up; still that it is final, none can imagine. Misfortunes at least, if not crimes it has, as well as merits. - Yes, republicanism is not without a parallel to monarchy, in that particular of being not wholly virtuous. Practically, doubtless, democracy representative, which differs little from monarchy representative, is a much better working machine than monarchy absolute. But, few countries now lie in this degrading plight, if ever they did, for it is difficult to conceive of the absolute rule of one mind uninfluenced by an action from without. The real apprehension lies against aristocracy. This is the monster of longest life and most alarming nature. He takes all shapes, and finds a home in all places. When driven from one den, he flies to another. No longer duke, or count, or baron, he can become president, merchant, banker. When castle or chateau no more can enshrine him, a back parlor, or counting house will serve. When his patronage of chivalry and art is exposed as the cover of self aggrandisement, straightway he is transformed to a patron of science and manufacture. As the baronial hall crumbles to dust, the huge, grim factory rises to a greater height. And who shall say which is the weightier curse? The foundation of chivalry had its glitter and show animal freedom and valorous death; factory feudalism boasts its glitter and profits, intellectual eminence and national benefit. Both alike succeed in subjugating the people, who in some degree always suffer, and the best of positions are yet in danger” (84).

“So it is with our poor factory operatives, they toil, they have their limbs deformed or mutilated; mind and body, though by a slower process, are despoiled and degraded, and they have little to produce for their share of the advantages, which still belong to the aristocrats. Aristocrats, moreover, of wealth, not of family or title; and aristocrats of wealth are universally admitted to be the most tyrannous” (84).

“I have just had the pleasure of communing with an English friend who passed the greater part of last year in Appensell, Switzerland. This canton is not republic, but a pure democracy. - The government is not representative, but all the males above 18 years of age may, and the greater part actually do, vote on all questions brought before the assembled canton, of which the population amounts to 40,000 persons. - They choose their Landemann, Councillors and other officers, whom they pay by small salaries of about one hundred dollars each; and in this manner for 400 hundred years they have found it practicable to pass permanent and temporary laws, and to carry on all needful functions of government. At the death of a proprietor, his property is divided equally amongst the children, whether he make a will or not. Even in this defective self government, in comparatively great ignorance, they have managed to be tolerably happy for ages, and what may be the strangest of all facts to republican eyes, they have neither poor house nor prison in this extensive population of 40,000 souls” (84).

“In fact the government is identical with the people, and therefore there can be for them no objection to it” (84).

“Is there no other or no better principle in the human soul than that of dark and brutal fear which alone can be tamed, not subdued, by dark and brutal force? Force! Force in all things! No freedom! No spontane[i]ty! Always, you must! Never, you may. The wild red man, the wilder Hottentot, could not maintain a system more subversive of humanity” (84).

“Not those alone who are called wicked, but those who are admitted to be only unfortunate are treated harshly. Society treats lunatics very little better than it does criminals, though there is now arising a sensibility of this error. We may even see it declared in the common newspapers that the cash expenditures for the prosecution and punishment of criminals is so great that the end scarcely counterbalances the means, and that cheaper modes of regulating humanity could easily be devised. This regards the money only. But when we bring into the account the wear and tear of the superior human feelings, civilization must be declared a bankrupt” (84).

“There cannot be two opinions on this point. It behooves us therefore as christians, as philanthropists, aye, even as selfish beings of any sound discrimination to turn our backs upon this forceful and representative system. It is destructive of manhood, of individual largeness and integrity, or love and neighborly feeling. - Men cannot expand to their full size of intellectual or moral being so long as it continues” (84).


Letter 10: June 3, 1843 (Watner letter 7; Gazette letter 7 (1st sentence and last 5 paragraphs omitted), publ. Sept 1)

L., C. [Charles Lane]. “A Voluntary Political Government.” The Liberator Vol. XIII, no. 24 (16 June 1843): 96 (col. 2-3).

“the question will naturally arise, 'what are we to do?' As the religious teacher would answer when such a question is put on the deepest ground, so I reply 'do nothing.' - Whenever events turn out unhappily we have to adopt this course. It is the best medicine, whether the mind or the body, the Church or the State, be sick. […] 'Leave it alone,' is our best treatment. Like all our enemies, State oppression will die of itself if we meddle not with it” (96).

“If a person should fall into the river we all run to help him out, and not a man of us but would be glad to lose the whole day in his restoration. We should do so singly with joy, and never think of calling a town meeting to debate the subject. Why not then when a neighbor has fallen by bad education, or unhappy organization, into the flood of immorality, should we not willingly and spontaneously make the same sacrifices to help him out? By so much as the soul is more precious than the body we should fly to submit still greater offerings” (96).

“When the North American republic was founded, it was an established axiom in the world, that governors and governed were two distinct races amongst men, one of which was born to submit to the other, just as is now held to be the case as to blacks and whites. But a successful experiment for above sixty years has demonstrated a different principle, and we have advanced a good way into the truth that governor and governed may be one” (96).

“Would it not be a preferable plan for every town to set its own criminals to work in the fields, or the shop, before they have grown into desperate characters, instead of passing them through state trials and state prisons? If it is yet premature to expect every separate family to ensure the moral conduct of its own members, it would be some little amendment of our present system to let each group of families take upon itself its own responsibilities” (96).

“The assessor of this town, (Concord) has recently applied for an inventory of the contents of my pocket and other effects, in order that I may be taxed to pay soldiery, jailers, and other slaves, in whom I have no faith. I have of course declined any voluntary participation in the system, and having replied in the spirit of these letters, and referred to them, I await the consequences” (96).

“in unity with Mr. Bronson Alcott, and other friends, many persons have looked forward to the commencement of a state of things some steps in advance of the present, though possibly not comprehending all that is ideally living in the mind. Such a commencement appears not to be practicable. An estate of nearly one hundred acres is devoted to this purpose; if not totally free from all relation to property; yet approaching as nearly as circumstances will permit. It is remotely, though not distantly situated; and as no house is owned, but one is merely lent for a short time, you will perceive that for a party whose capital is exhausted in obtaining the freedom of restoring, subduing and using a piece of God's earth, there is plenty of work to be done, besides this of writing which we have so long enjoyed together” (96).


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