Joshua King Ingalls, “Man and His Rights”

This is the second installment of J. K. Ingalls’ series on the “natural rights of man.” In it, we find the general plan that unites the majority of Ingalls’ contributions to The Spirit of the Age.

“When the subject of property, its rights, and the relation it sustains naturally to man, have been discussed, there may be an outline given of a translatory association, the aim of which shall be to unite the efforts of all friends of the race, who look with hope to the future, all friends of industrial reform, all oppressed producers, who feel the injustice of their position, into a general system of co-operation, to be carried out in practical association as fast as wisdom shall direct.”

This is a broad call to the diverse audience to which The Spirit of the Age attempted to appeal, but it is an outline of his project, leading from his 4-part discussion of the questions of property and rights to the later writings on “transition.” The practical result was the proposal for a “mutualist township”—multiple proposals, actually, as Albert Brisbane and Ingalls simultaneously proposed plans. We’ll see more about the Valley Falls Association that was the result in later posts.


Man is the rightful lord of this lower world. He is not arbitrarily placed at the head of creation, but by a law of nature, which causes all bodies to gravitate to their true positions, and take rank and order, according to their essential elements. He embraces, in himself, the perfection of all forms and kingdoms; and whatever may be believed in reference to superior agency and influence, it is through his intellectual and more power, chiefly, that all change of rule, all amelioration of conditions, all improvement in the relations of men and things, is to be effected. It is not necessary at present to consider the comparative claims of the different races or castes of men to superiority. It may be that some are, and must be greater than the rest; but this does not prove that one has all the rights and the other none; that one may become property of another. It may be contended that some, we deem of the human race, are not men at all. This will invalidate no position we assume, for we are talking of men, not brutes. Neither will it affect materially the practical result; because capacities, rights, and duties, are co-extensive. The is no necessity for pleading the right of the beast to be taught reading and writing, he has no capacity, and hence no right and no duty in this respect.

And since this broad ground is taken, it is unnecessary to go into farther detail with regard to what man is, or who are men. No person, in asserting his freedom, will claim the right to exercise powers that he does not possess; how should any right be guaranteed him by society, without exacting the discharge of correspondent duties. And let not this proposition be misconceived. Society is no compact, where rights and duties are compromised and cancelled. The true order is organized of God, is natural, and as a consequence, asks no yielding up of natural rights, as both monarchists and democrats oft contend. When considered collectively, and it is only inn this way he can be considered truly, man must be seen to possess rights commensurate with his powers, bound, in duty, only to act in proportion as these are enjoyed. Hence they must never be defined so as to come in collision, or cause one man to suffer oppression from another. The natural rights of men are indicated by their capacities and their needs, they are morally confirmed by requirements. Existence itself presupposes time and space for its enjoyment. But no extension of this right can destroy itself; that is, no right of life in you, can destroy the right of life in me. No right of life in society can destroy the right of life in the individual. The only ground for justification, in the deprivation of human life, is the extreme necessity for self-preservation from some one violating this right. The moral duty, even in this case is not discussed; but, on the lowest ground of natural justice, there is no conflict or compromise required of this primary right of man, from which all others flow. If this is kept in mind it will save from much confusion, when we come to consider more complicated rights, rendered obscure and contradictory by the present antagonistic system. For upon this common ground all will agree; and no scientific person, with judgment unbiased, would receive a system that involved a conflict of interest, rights, or duties.

From the right of life flows naturally the right of action, involving the right of possession to that which must be acted on. The distinction now made may be deemed unimportant; but let it be employed, if for nothing but convenience. These possessions shall be termed natural, in contradistinction from those which are acquired. It will be seen that they have a prior existence, since all possessions we have acquired, must have proceeded from the exercise of our natural rights and powers upon possessions previously accorded to our control. The right under consideration indicates a right of possession in our person, in so much as the earth’s surface, the air, the sunshine and the water, as are necessary to the sustenance and development of our beings. To make natural right to signify less than this than this, is to throw open all again to chance and conjecture. To talk of general rights, and yet in or manifesto, refuse to descend and particularize these, and indeed many more, is but to attempt a repetition of those tyrannies, which, in the name of order, have perpetrated every injustice, and, with great pretensions of regard for freedom, have sanctioned slavery, monopoly, and the worst species of gambling. This right of possession in the passive agent, without which the right of action is nugatory, is first in order, and cannot, of course, justly be made to yield to those more collateral. However circumstances my affect the expediency of asserting these rights, they are inherent in man, inalienable and indefeasible. As there is no conflict in the great right of life, when understood in the catholic sense, so there is none in this right of possession, when duly defined. There has been created a great abundance of soil, of wood, stone, metals, minerals, and all materials suited to man’s needs and the employment of his energies; enough, thrice told, for all the race, were their highest wants satisfied, and their powers carried to the highest degree of activity. This right, like the other is self-limiting; it can bestow no power on one to possess, while it takes from another a corresponding power. It must then be set down as an inflexible law: that right of possession in the passive agent, which we term a natural possession, is second only to the right of life, and can neither sanction the deprivation, of a single human being, of place and means to live and labor, nor in any case be made secondary, to the right over acquired possessions. The principle in our civil systems, which subjects the natural to the acquired right, is an inversion of the order of nature and of God, and has wrought out such results as we see. Another scheme for upholding the inverted pyramid is scarcely worth the trying.

The action, in accordance with these principles, results in products. The right of the man to these can surely not be questioned. And yet many of the confused notions entertained on the subject of remuneration to capital, arise here. It is regarded as an open question among Associationists, whether the passive agent is entitled to compensation, and upon the decision of this, is supposed to rest the other question, whether capital shall be paid a premium. They are regarded, indeed, one and the same thing. The one, however, has no more connexion with the other, than it has with how many wives a man may have, nor so much. For the appreciation of a part to the passive agent, would be giving back to the soil, and to the elements, what we have drawn from them in some form or another. This is evidently a law of nature which is seen everywhere to indicate itself, when the products of labor are exchanged for gold, to pay rent and interest; the passive agent being denied its due, fails to yield, as readily, its reproductive qualities responsive to he labor or man. To set up a man as representative of the passive agent, is to confound all classification. An absentee landlord of Ireland, is allowed by this ignorance or violation of the first elements of right, to represent the passive agent, upon which some hundreds and thousands of the active agents are employed. A few roots and herbs go to the active agent, and all the grain and more valuable productions go to the passive agent, i. e. the landlord! An irresponsible parasite of the active species here receives all that is claimed as belonging to the passive elements. What a ridiculous aspect does this assumption and action present, toward the principle of nature, on which it professes to be based! But the subject is too serious for ridicule. What horrible results have attended the working of the falsehood? Both the active and passive agents have been reduced to poverty, by its operation, to maintain an excrescence unnecessary to either. The fruitful properties of the soil, the vital energies of the man, have been exhausted by this unnatural scheme; and the barrenness of the one, and destitution of the other, must follow every attempt at such violation of the prime laws of nature. It needs not, that the right of society to regulate the award between the active and passive agents, be denied. We must protest, however, once for all, against any right of society, to allow these agents to represent each other, so as to make property or man, or enable one man, in the name of property, to share the products of another man’s labor. The first right established, and there would arise none of this confusion; for even if it was proposed to reward the owner of the passive agent, it would amount to nothing as it would be the producer himself; since the thing requisite to be acted on, is, by natural rights, the possession of the actor. Were the rights of man properly understood and guarded, nature would vindicate her own, and secure the proper award to the earth and its spontaneous production.

Thus far we have come, and arrived at Fourier’s conception of the right of property, which is simply this, that to each one belongs of right, whatever is the fruit of his activity. This is styled property, by which is signified acquired possessions. And if the reader please, the terms property and possessions, will be employed hereafter, to distinguish between acquisitions, and what belongs to us by natural rights. This right of property then, is second to that of possessions, as that is to the right of life. It is more conditional; because, if necessity demand, it must be waived to secure the enjoyment of either of the others. As we do not believe in the conflict of rights, however, we will only designate its proper place in the natural order. In another number we shall farther define property, and determine the nature and order of its rights. It is only referred to now, for the purpose of clearly exhibiting what is appropriate to man. Although of a lower order, this is one of the rights of man, and depends not on having a place in our “bill of rights,” or in Fourier’s or Proudhon’s system of socialism. The mark of the man is stamped on that which his activity has created; though the law says it belongs to another, though the communist says it belongs to society, this fact, neither can change. If he is compelled, or moved from choice, to yield it to the master, the miser, or the general fund, or bestow it on a suffering brother, it makes no difference, and the credit, honor, or gratitude accruing from it justly are his due. The very law of society which forces it from him, the very demand of the community, would be a tacit admission of this right, which they seek to destroy. Unquestionably the time will come, when a perfect regard of human rights and the holy dictates of brotherhood, will leave no cause for distinctive individual property, as now held; but this will result from the operation of just and equitable sentiments, pervading the whole body, which will enable every one to be estimated at his just importance, without attending to long columns of figures, or length of purse. General plenty of all needed things, and an industry, rendered attractive to all, will also banish in a measure, that selfish avarice and disposition to shrink from equitable toil, which is at once cause and effect of our social inequalities. But it will be, because the essential principles of justice are observed, and no one is disposed to appropriate that to himself which another has produced, that indifference of the individual will be induced to a constant personal care and control of his productions. Whenever society or individuals attempt to make that appropriation of them, which belongs to him alone, his assertion of the prerogative must follow.

Freedom of exchange for the products of his labor is another right of man, considered in reference to his fraternal relations and rests upon this ground. If he has not an equal, in the measure of natural justice, he can not claim the right of free trade. But between those equals, no power under heaven, may justly prevent fraternal exchanges. The whole system of revenue, derived from exchange of products, for whatever pretence; all prohibition of trade between man and man; and all legal impediments to an equitable system of commerce, of whatever nature, are clear and undisguised infringements of human rights, plain violations of every dictate of fraternal sentiment. This is not the highest of man’s rights, to be sure. It is secondary, even to the right of property; but still it is a right, and need be brought into conflict, with no other, in a well regulated society. With regard to the expediency of asserting this right under existing institutions, nothing requires to be said. We are not discussing political policy, which is the lowest form of subserviency of the man to the thing; but natural right in a society organized on scientific and Christian principles; with the first we have nothing to do; with the last everything.

What is necessary to our subject, then, is the acknowledgment of this trinity of Rights—of possessions, of property, and of exchange. Any scheme of organization which shall bring them into antagonism is unworthy of man’s attention. It is not necessary to mystify our meaning to the common mind, by the employment of empty technicalities. What is right can be easily comprehended, where the interested feelings, engendered by existing injustice, are brought into subjection to the voice of conscience. Were the disposition, to abide by the decision of inflexible justice, generally felt, there would be little difficulty in convincing men that nature’s order is far better than all the experiments of the empiric. We are called to contemplate an entire subversion of all the elements of human rights, in present civil and social institutions; made subservient as they all are to a thing which, to man bears the relation of creature to the creator, effect to the cause. This thing is property, capital, a monopoly of the products of labor, wrested from the producer by force or craft, a monopoly of the common bounties of nature, in other words, the passive agent, and even of the active agent, man himself. We need no scheme of half-way compromise, between these wrongs and indubitable right. Any system that does not boldly propose for its aim the entire abolition of the one, and the establishment of the other on indestructible foundations, is unworthy a moment’s thought, fro an intelligent workingman, or a love or his race. Because the time, the wisdom, the men, the means, are here to form an organization, which shall not only exclude these evils in its own form, but gradually and surely, effect their peaceful overturn in all human society. When the subject of property, its rights, and the relation it sustains naturally to man, have been discussed, there may be an outline given of a translatory association, the aim of which shall be to unite the efforts of all friends of the race, who look with hope to the future, all friends of industrial reform, all oppressed producers, who feel the injustice of their position, into a general system of co-operation, to be carried out in practical association as fast as wisdom shall direct.

Joshua King Ingalls, “Man and His Rights,” Spirit of the Age, I, 9 (September 1, 1849), 130-131.

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Independent scholar, translator and archivist.