Declaration of Sentiments and Constitution of the New-England Labor-Reform League (1869)



Having met to promote associative effort for the emancipation of labor, it is proper to indicate reasons which inspire this action, and the objects we aim to accomplish. Believing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, inalienable privileges, we affirm the right of every human being to the means necessary to secure and maintain them. Land, mines, air, water, vegetables, animals, all material and spiritual objects, unmodified by human skill are natural wealth, to be held free and common; the personal inheritance which beneficent Providence bestows upon his children; Labor creates all values equitably vendible, while property, as an original motive power, earns nothing; the maximum price which may, therefore, be put upon any commodity, is the cost of labor, the sacrifice of comfort required to produce it, and right to property with value in exchange, are limited by moral law to the amount of service invested.

Classes, like races of men, are made of one blood; naturally declining to be dependent on others longer than is avoidable, we also instinctively assist our weaker fellows, look upon injustice with impatience to correct it, unless some special bribe [4] induces us to aid in keeping them down; hence the wide-spread and increasing poverty of laboring-classes, now deemed inseparable from civilized society, is not ordained by an impartial Creator, unwilling that any should suffer, nor approved of human nature, everywhere yearning to better its conditions: but subtle prevalence of the old infidelity to right, which declared chattel bondage the natural state of working people. The claim to own and sell what one has not earned, or received as the free gift of other’s service, the practical abandonment of the only honest title to property, labor, has degraded exchange to a species of piracy, wherein there is not only no intention to render equivalent for equivalent, but studied effort to get the largest possible amount of another’s service or property, for the least possible return; erected overreaching into a system, a “science,” whereby privileged parties are absolved from the moral obligations of rational beings obedient to essential right, and make iniquity a matter of business. Justice and liberty are supplanted by extortion and mastership, and prevailing fraud, infecting the whole body politic, makes men doubt the possibility of honesty, and believe poverty, crime, antagonism, and war, still in the realm of “necessary evils,” where the powers of darkness reign supreme.

This art of getting more than one gives, sanctioned in law and custom, is the mainspring of advantage-taking monopoly, and enforces a progressive inequality of wealth. And since rent, interest, and profit or dividends, are possible only where privileged parties can speculate on the necessities of the serving classes, and thereby live without work, speculative gain, in all these forms, we arraign on its inherent sinfulness, and shall enforce the consequent duty of its immediate abolition. Except as they represent work done, or risk incurred, interest is extortion; rent, robbery; and profit, only another name for plunder. The capitalist as farmer, merchant, manufacturer, banker, or builder, is entitled to free scope, and full return for his investment, service and risk,—no more. To “make money,” otherwise than by earning it, is the business of counterfeiters. When the original cost has been paid, in the form of rent or interest, equitable debt is discharged, and the property in question rightfully belongs to the party who has thus rendered an equivalent. Hence loan, purchase, mortgage, inheritance, [5] all titles which supersede or violate the creative, irrevocable claim of labor, being morally wrong, are therefore void. If questionable contracts occur between individuals, they must be made on their own responsibility, at their own risk and expense; but collective right, the State, can recognize no transaction which invades abstract justice.

Desiring no levelling division of property, we assert the right to originate and acquire it; aware that government helps reform chiefly by getting out of its way, and believing unrestricted liberty to create and exchange products, the inalienable right of workers the world over, we ask no special legislation, but simply opportunity and reciprocity. The marvellous results of the partnership of industry, wherever fairly tried, enable us to assure all engaged in production and exchange that the pecuniary success of any laudable enterprise is in exact mathematical ratio to the participation of labor in the products thereof. Fair pay, reduced hours of service, and co-operative industry, cam he permanently secured only by abolishment of those chronic usurpations which make property a many-headed master, empowered to increase illimitably, at labor’s expense; and by guaranteeing to all parties a free contract.

The indigence of working-men, and the extreme penury of working-women, is not so much the fault of individual employers implicated in the crime, as the natural result of a system which makes cheating lucrative and honorable, most of all to rob the weak and defenceless; and substantial relief will come, only through utter abolition of the power to take one’s earnings without equitable return.

Money is a medium of exchange, and should be allowed to increase only through labor. Its ability to servo, not its power to steal, floats it. The use of one’s credit, as of his conscience or his vote, is a natural right, antecedent to, and independent of government; hence we believe in free money, the destined mediator between capital and labor. An exclusive currency, whether of specie or paper, enables the privileged few in control to make interest and prices high, wages low, and failures frequent, to suit their speculative purposes. The present system, by compelling us to pay impoverishing tribute to its centralizing power, deranges and defrauds agriculture, manufactures, [6] commerce, and takes bread from millions of tables in these states. The only sure way to protect slaves was to destroy mastership; so we would remove the necessity for usury laws, by abolishing despotic money. To this end, we demand the immediate withdrawal of the notes of the national banks, to be replaced with treasury certificates of service, receivable for taxes, and bearing no interest; and free banking laws, in order that money may be furnished anywhere at cost. Based on actual values, issued by voluntary associations on principles of mutual insurance, where individuals draw against labor and property, registered and guaranteed, as banks now draw against bonds deposited, and cumulative credit is represented in great central clearing-houses, money rill be backed by, and convertible into, the only thing it honestly represents, —service in the concrete form of commodities.

We seek the removal of tariffs, with other fraudulent schemes of indirect taxation,—protective systems to be sustained by direct tax, if at all,—and the provision of free public markets, in centres of commerce, where producers and consumers can meet without the expensive intrusion of advantage-takers, who now combine to plunder them both. Travel and transportation, railroad, express, and telegraphic lines, all must cease to enrich special classes at popular expense, and serve the general welfare at cost. An utterance of the primary wants of man, in behalf of universal interests, no class movement, this is the battle of the manufacturer, of the merchant, of the farmer, of legitimate enterprise in all its manifold tendencies to make inclination one with duty, liberty the bride of order, and wealth coexistent with the blessed necessity of labor. Free contracts, free money, free markets, free transit, and free land—by discussion, petition, remonstrance, and the ballot, to establish these articles of faith as a common need, and a common right, re avail ourselves of the advantages of associate effort under the following—


ART. 1.—This association shall be known as the NEW-ENGLAND LABOR-REFORM LEAGUE.

ART. 2.—Its object shall be the abolition of class laws and false customs, whereby legitimate enterprise is defrauded by speculative monopoly, and the reconstruction of government on the basis of justice and reciprocity.

ART. 3.—All persons, irrespective of sex, race, condition, or nationality, who subscribe to its principles, and contribute to its funds at least one dollar annually, shall be regarded as members of this League, and entitled to a voice and vote in its meetings; and that no one may be compromised by any vote of the majority, the minority shall be recorded whenever requested.

ART. 4.—Its officers shall be elected annually, and consist of a President, Vice-Presidents, a Recording Secretary, a Corresponding Secretary, a Treasurer, and Auditor, who shall perform the customary duties of their respective offices; and of an Executive Committee, of not less than five or over twelve members.

ART. 5.—The Executive-Committee shall have power to enact their own by-laws, fill any vacancy in their body, or in the offices of Secretary and Treasurer, employ agents and publishers, direct the Treasurer in the applications of all moneys and call special meetings of the League. They shall arrange for general conventions, provide for the expenses, and prescribe rules for the conduct thereof; make an annual report of their doings, of the expenditures and funds of the League, and adopt the most energetic measures in their power to advance its object,.

ART. 6.—The annual meeting of the League shall be held at such time and place as the Executive Committee may direct, when the account of the Treasurer shall be presented, the annual [8] report read, appropriate addresses delivered, and such other business transacted as may be deemed expedient.

ART. 7.—All associations having the same principles and purposes, may become auxiliary to this League, and their members shall be entitled to equitable representation in its meetings. Its public conventions shall allow freedom of criticism and dissent, and respect diversities of opinion as tending to the discovery and establishment of truth.

ART. 8.—This Constitution may be amended at any regular meeting of the League, by a vote of two-thirds of the members present, provided the changes have been previously submitted to the League in regular session, or to the Executive Committee.

Since this Association is strictly voluntary, no tax will ever be assessed, and members are free to withdraw at pleasure. Those wishing to join can send names, and admission fees, to the Treasurer. Those desiring to form local societies, auxiliary to or independent of this League, will be assisted in doing so, by addressing the President.

Printed by order of the League in convention.

E. H. HEYWOOD, President,
H. H. BIGELOW, Treasurer,


(1) Approved by the Executive Committee, to be submitted to a future convention.

New England Labor Reform League, Declaration of Sentiments and Constitution of the New-England Labor-Reform League (Boston: The League, 1869).

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Independent scholar, translator and archivist.