John Adams, mutual bank advocate

With two other researchers now working on Josiah Warren, I’ve been trying (as regular readers will know) to get notes together and sources archived. It’s rather wonderful, I must say, to be working in a field so wide open that it’s a relief to find that someone else can make use of your research. One less book to write. My notes on The Boston Investigator turned out to be a little less complete than I had hoped, so I’ve been taking another look at those microfilm reels—no hardship since each pass through a literature as rich as this tends to create leads that need to be followed up with more digging. I knew, for example, that there was more material by Peter I. Blacker, who became an advocate of equitable commerce and individual sovereignty following Warren’s 1848 lectures in Boston, so collecting the rest of Blacker’s contributions to the Investigator became something of a priority. Of course, pursuing Blacker beyond the debates directly related to Warren’s influence meant introducing myself to a whole new cast of characters. Blacker wrote some pro-women’s rights material in 1853, the year of the Massachusetts State Constitutional Convention, at which William B. Greene delivered a speech in favor of women’s suffrage (the occasion for some unkind words by Lord Acton.) In the debate that followed, dragging on into 1854, a great deal hinged on the implications of T. L. Nichols’ Woman in All Ages and Nations (to which Stephen Pearl Andrews contributed an introduction.) Blacker debated “Common Sense,” a regular contributor, and was joined by “J. Adams” of Brookfield, MA. Brookfield was, of course, where Green had been a Unitarian minister from 1845 until about 1853. By 1854, the Greenes had probably moved to Paris, but a few years before the section of western Massachusetts where they lived had been the site of a currency reform agitation that inspired a number of petitions to the General Court. We know almost nothing about this movement, beyond the dates of a few petitions, and some tantalizing hints that Greene was preaching reform from the pulpit and may have been involved with a cooperative store in Brookfield. We do, however, have a few names of petitioners. The Massachusetts Ploughman and New England Journal of Agriculture for January 19, 1850 reports that on the 15th January the Senate received a number of petitions, including that of:

. . . John Adams and others for a Mutual Bank in Brookfield . . .

It appears that John Adams of Brookfield did not abandon currency reform on the Proudhon-Greene-land bank model after Greene left Brookfield. A search through the pages of the Investigator for more contributions by Adams has already revealed a three-part essay on “Social Reform” citing Proudhon and advancing Greene’s project, though without use of the “mutual bank” terminology. “Social Reform, No. I” is now available online, and I’ll be transcribing the other parts soon, as well as looking for more contributions to the Investigator. It’s a particular pleasure to welcome figures like John Adams and Peter I. Blacker to the ranks of known mutualists, despite their relatively obscurity. Knowledge of their existence and activities makes it that much more likely that we will, at some point, be able to establish the extent and influence of the early mutual bank propaganda.

Coming attractions: the next couple of rolls of microfilm ought to bring me to the period in which early anarchist Eliphalet Kimball was active. His Thoughts on Natural Principles, an obscure entry in the very limited literature on anarchism pre-1870, was originally published in the Investigator.

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.