The Ethics of the Homestead Strike

In his Liberty review of William Bailie’s The First American Anarchist, Clarence L. Swartz noted that, “Sidney H. Morse, the sculptor, was, during the last two years of Warren’s life, his most active propagandist. Furthermore, Morse’s efforts were so great that they did not fail of appreciation by Warren, and the latter showed his full recognition of their value by making Morse his literary executor.” Morse is one of those major figures who never seems to get quite the attention he deserves. He was the editor of The Radical, a contributor to The Radical Review, as well as to Liberty, The Irish World, The Conservator, etc. He was an artist and sculptor, and, it seems, gave lectures on the transcendentalists and other topics while simultaneously sketching or sculpting. He is the least frequently remembered of the formative influences on Benjamin R. Tucker, but probably not an unimportant one. His contributions to Tucker’s periodicals included “So the Railway Kings Itch for an Empire, Do They?” by “A red-hot striker,” in The Radical Review and the serial “Liberty and Wealth, in Liberty. The latter is a peculiar alternate history of New Harmony, where the ideas of a “Joseph Warden” (familiar ideas on the cost principle and individual sovereignty) are accepted and things turn out a bit differently than they did in our history.

Some recent searching turned up his Ethics of the Homestead Strike: A Narrative by the Wayside, published by the press of The Conservator, Horace Traubel’s journal, which championed a kind of “Whitmanesque socialism” (according to one critic, certainly Traubel championed Whitman) and had some single-tax leanings. Unfortunately, once again, the Google Books edition is lacking pages, but I’m already working on getting those from another library. In the meantime, here is Morse’s 1892 summary of equitable commerce, from this very interesting addition to the Warrenite literature:


1. Homestead strike not in it. Successful or not, no result affecting solution of labor issue.

2 (Aside.) Pinkerton’s band should be broken up like other private bands that let themselves to do murderous work. This, or else free competition, and the whole police work of the country turned over to private enterprise — answerable in their work for all manner of misdemeanor.

3. The labor issue turns on the usurpations of capital. The gist of which is — the demand for hours of labor without, so to speak, a labor-return.

4. Capital used at cost. Whatever labor it costs to manipulate it, enters into price, nothing more. No price for benefits or favors.

5. Settles the land question. Price of land — cost of labor improvement. Put posts around a thousand acres and call them yours? Nonsense! You are not even entitled to pay for your labor in planting your posts. No earthly use to any one else;, no, nor to yourself. You can ask another to pay for your folly. Land to be sold or exchanged must have a labor- basis No labor, no price. Not land sold or exchanged, after all, but labor.

So with everything. Not the thing, but the labor in it, should settle price.

6. “My necessities are great. I must have it at any price.”

Honest answer : “I know nothing of your necessities. I measure my price by my own sacrifice.”

This idea of a cost-price as against a value-price starts a thousand questions, most of them arising, however, from the state of things under the old or value system. To say, “I set price according to cost to me, not value to you,” upsets all the calculations of the present piratical business program.

7. No matter — since it furnishes, approximately, at least, an answer to the question, what is a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work? The reply being, “Another fair day’s work, of course.” The Carnegies take heed.

8. Equality, liberty, fraternity, to be realized politically, socially, industrially, if ever Democracy is triumphant.

9. What equality, what liberty, what fraternity are : studies for everybody.

10. Warren’s idea — that to harmonize you must first individualize everybody and everything — worthy of profound consideration.

11. Instead of union, we must look for harmony. The individual notes must preserve their separate individual tones : so together co-operating, sound the grand anthem of Democratic life, liberty, peace.

Consider the matter at length under the following heads:

  1. Exchange of labor, including time and skill.
  2. Competition under cost-system.
  3. Money.
  4. Organization.
  5. Co-operation.
About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.