Joshua King Ingalls, The Exodus of Labor (1852)

This essay originally appeared in The Shekinah, Vol. 1 (1852), p. 363-369. The Shekinah was one of several periodicals edited by S. B. Brittan, a spiritualist, reformer, and friend of J. K. Ingalls. Ingalls seems to have contributed something to nearly all of Brittan’s projects. I’ll be posting other material by and about Ingalls in the near future, as I start to finalize the forthcoming print collection.


Through long, long ages has labor sighed and toiled under a worse than Egyptian bondage. Its utmost stretch of memory can scarce recall its pastoral days, when it frolicked and gamboled with the herd upon the plain or mountain side. Enslaved by the gold of civilization, which itself has mined and coined, it is no less oppresssed in the middle of the Nineteenth Century, than it was in the days of ancient barbarism, or more recent feudalism. Nor has it scarce other hope than the oppressed Hebrew felt, when his demand for freedom was met by an increase of task, while at the same time he was compelled to furnish his own material.

But it is not our intention to dwell on the fearful picture, where a background of darkness is only relieved by the gaunt forms of human beings, yoked to ceaseless and unrequited toil; our object is to inquire whether these bondmen and bondwomen have another and more powerful prospect in the future; whether, indeed, an Exodus be possible, and what must be its character and direction.

And, first of all, it would seem necessary to settle this important question: Do the existing relations which labor sustains to its own production, wealth, admit of any possible emancipation of the laborer from his present acknowledged wrongs? The point at issue has nothing to do with the question whether certain persons, favorably endowed or suited, may not work themselves out of the oppressed condition; because under every system of tyranny, individuals have risen from the lowest to superior estates. In doing so, however, they have not changed the condition of the classes to which they formerly belonged, and may indeed have been instrumental in heaping new burdons upon [362] the already overtasked slave. The simple fact that under existing conditions, the power of increase in wealth is “as the squares of the periods,” while labor is only awarded in proportion to the “addition of periods”—and that at such rates as fail to furnish suitable sustenance and means of advancement—demonstrates that under such a system labor has no hope, that while it lives and rules, labor must starve and die.

However shocking this declaration may be to the conservative rich or poor, to the worshiper of gold, on the throne or in the ditch, it must be made; for, until this truth is proclaimed and received by prince and peasant, the millionaire and the common laborer, there is no hope of reconciliation for mankind, no redemption of humanity from bondage, no reign of justice, and no adequate reward for the industry of the toiling. To vary and amend that system, will avail nothing; the inhuman falsehood which underlies our financial and commercial systems, which places money before man, and enables the former to assert dominion over his personal liberty, his right to home, to the earth, to the products of his own industry, however modified and disguised, will work out its own ungodly and terrible results. To express in a concise manner what is meant, it is enough to say, that for the slave to be free, it is necessary that slavery should die; for the people to enjoy liberty, that absolutism be extinguished; and for labor to enjoy it own productions, that the claims and exactions of capital be utterly abrogated and annulled.

But as the writer’s views on these subjects are already before the public, let us address ourselves to the method of transition that must ensue, unless the race have already progressed to the culminating point, and their future history is to be but a backward march through the ages from which they have slowly and painfully emerged. Two measure, earth-wide from each other, have principally been insisted on. First, revolution; embracing the death of tyrants, and the destruction of wealth. The second, mediation, conciliation and compromise between the oppressed and the tyrant, between labor and wealth, between God and Mammon. Whether either of these can effect any salutary result, it is not difficult to decide. The records of blood [363] give no reliable testimony to the efficacy of revolt. A tyrant, no longer endurable, or too weak to maintain his reign of injustice, is made to give place to one more moderate or cunning, but no less dangerous. Destruction of caste and rank can do little to secure any people against tyranny; for the same elements of ignorance, selfishness, and worse than childish reverence for name, the outward show and display of power, will soon create a new order of nobility, and establish an empire from the relics of the monarchy. We use these terms in their widest sense, allowing the absolutist principle, signified by tyranny, to comprehend all domination of the thing over the man, whether it be a rule of legitimacy or usurpation, of a monarchy, hierarchy, aristocracy, or democracy. That which exalts form, rank, or wealth above the human soul, and claims that man was made for these, and not these for man, is equally dangerous to all freedom, especially freedom of labor, whether in despotic or republican systems. As it was a questionable expedient which demolished the pagan idols, idolatry being thereby ingrafted on Christianity, so to destroy the world’ despots, who are only upheld by a strange semi-superstition of the people, would only be to give that feeling a different object of exercise. It is questionable, indeed, whether it be not more legitimate to acknowledge and reverence the rule of a man than the dominion of gold. The servile or ambitious mind, actuated by blind selfishness, will have some emblem of power to worship; if it be not a monarch by right divine, it will be the dollar of divine might. And never, until a higher position is assumed, and the thoughts and affections of men become more expanded—so that fraternal love shall have control where self-love predominates, and the human spirit be reverenced in every human form—will any radical change be even so much as possible.

While men will seek isolated and conflicting interests, by competition and hazardous speculation, the results consequent on such procedure will inevitably be experienced. Plethoric wealth, idleness, extravagance, extortion, oppression and dissipation, will develop themselves at one extreme, and squalid poverty, vagrancy, dependence, servility and disorder, at the other. Nor is help for this result any where to be found, but in [364] striking at the foundation of evil. No political measure, yet proposed by any party, can so much as delay the terrible catastrophe, which is already casting its dark shadow over us. The fragmentary efforts at association, based upon the same false ground that money may share the awards of human toil, have thus far proved only able to benefit a few, at the expense of many, as the competition of the world must necessarily affect all organizations, in proportion as they acknowledge the principle of man’s subserviency to wealth.

Nor does it seem possible to effect any permanent good by organizations for building or for manufacturing. The result is to build up, more and more, the populous places, and thus concentrate the evils of monopoly and speculation which exhibit themselves in the cities and larger towns of our country. For though it may increase the proportions of those who have homes and wealth, it can not change the dependence nor lessen the toil of those who have not. To succeed truly, a movement toward social and industrial regulation must begin with the cultivation of the earth; not, however, to the exclusion of any useful trade or art. It should produce as far as possible every thing needed for consumption. Thus it would be enabled to avoid subjection to the exactions of the business system without, and yet be enabled, by its position, to exert a favorable influence abroad, as it could dictate terms to such as needed its surplus productions.

In the place of violent revolution, or a half and half compromise with tyranny, by joint-stock association or otherwise, I would then recommend emigration to the victims of oppression, both in the old and in the new world, of whatever nation, race, or color. A great portion of the continent and of Africa is open to colonization. If the despotism of courts or of coffers will not raise its yoke from the neck of labor, why then let labor slip from under the yoke; for this alternative it always has. Tyranny and wealth think labor can not get on without them. Let us see, then, how they will get on without labor. Is the desolation of those ancient seats of despotism and of riches a lesson which can only be learned by constant repetition?

There is no truth in history more clear than that the most [365] important changes to nations or races have been intimately connected with emigrations. The Exodus of the Hebrews but typifies what has been the experiences of all the historic or prominent races. Had not the propher-voice of Moses aroused that people to action, and infused into them a desire to go up and “possess the land which the Lord their God had given them,” they never would have attained any higher condition than that of a servile and dependent race. Our forefathers would have failed to become the free and independent people they were had they remained in oppressed and corrupted Europe. The impetus to all modern civilization and refinement was given to each European nation itself by emigration, so that scarce a relic remains of ancient European nationalities or institutions as they existed in the times of the Cæsars.

In all systems based on partial and unequal principles, corruption and oppression develop more and more with the duration and stability of institutions. Whether there is good enough in our Anglo-American institutions to combat effectually the evil we have ingrafted in our system from the European stock, or otherwise, it is evident that a comprehensive movement looking toward the possession of the land, yet unappropriated, would do much to strengthen the bands of justice and of right in the Atlantic States, and greatly weaken the power of wealth which now exacts the moiety of all labor’s productions.

Developments at the seat of government seem to indicate that a systematic effort to people the public lands would not be opposed, if it was not encouraged in that quarter. And it might be well, if, while the savans there are discussing this proposition, the people would decide it for them by actual occupation, and rely upon the best and only true claim—that they need the land, and use it.

There are various reasons why any comprehensive and successful experiment must look to the occupation and cultivation of the soil; the principal of which is, that by so doing, all competition and conflict of labor with itself will be avoided. The soil is the source of all sustenance and of all needful wealth. Its monopoly severs labor from its most natural province, and compels it to seek servile employment, and to underbid itself in [366] the mart where merchandise of limbs and bodies, and of heads and hearts, is made. Moreover, agriculture is the basis of all other trades and forms of business whatever, and where that is first well established, or being established, all other useful occupations can be securely followed. The great obstacle to be encountered in all this movement is the antagonism of jealousy, envy, and lack of harmony and good will among the industrious classes themselves. And no employment can be so well carried on by people individually as the cultivation of the earth. There is the least in it to excite feelings of prejudice or antagonism, and the most to develop the elements of mutual assistance and cooperation.

I do not look for any sudden change and combination in the social elements. Happy, indeed, if, after forty years wandering in the wilderness, we arrive at a true condition. Unless the experience of the last four hundred years, not to say eighteen, have no lesson, the design of Providence is to develop now the self-reliance, self-control, and real identity of the individual. Submission, then, to communal authority, arbitrarily imposed, is no more a part of the Divine plan than the authority of Cæsar or of Mammon. Man must be MAN; not a slave, not a wheel or lever, in some nicely constructed machine. He is the offspring of Deity, and his birthright must be maintained and respected. Nothing to my mind is so calculated to infuse self-respect and to give an elevated tone to labor, as the consciousness of being dependent only on the cooperation of Nature, and of toiling with her for the supply of those wants which only indicate her bounteous provision.

If there is a portion of the laboring class which more especially need an Exodus, for them I see no other hope than that connected with emigration and independent municipal arrangements. Emancipation, in the place, and under the influence of existing prejudices and institutions, would scarcely be regarded as an individual benefit; and not the slavery, but only the kind would be changed. The chattel would, and, as a general thing, must become the hireling. While if he emigrates, especially to a country where such prejudices do not exist, or, still better, to the land of his forefathers’ and is enabled to get possession of [367] the soil he at once becomes an independent and self-relying freeman, in the truest and best sense. The subject of colonization has long been opposed by those who have claimed exclusive friendship for the colored man. A hopeful sign of the times is, that both they and he are coming to think more favorably of it, and to act for its promotion. The exercise of a due degree of wisdom will make that movement one of momentous import to the race and to the world.

It has been denounced as a scheme of singular turpitude, intended to increase rather than lessen the evils of slavery; but even if such had been the aim of its first founders, and of many now engaged in it, it should not prevent those from giving it encouragement who see clearly its potency to develop and elevate the race to which it more especially refers. It should certainly not prevent colored persons from taking advantage of its facilities, who are qualified and ready to take upon themselves the responsibilities as well as the privileges of independence.

It is also a promising indication, that attempts are already making to organize the emigration which is so rapidly filling the Western States. Associations have recently been formed, for the purpose of settling in towns and villages, where the ruggedness and isolation of frontier life is superseded at once by the enjoyments and advantages of society, schools, churches, stores, and markets; and by having the different trades represented, Bo as to furnish the agriculturist with the manufactures he requires, and an opportunity to dispose of his surplus products near home. These efforts must not only prove of great benefit to those directly interested, but are sure to be followed by comprehensive movements for the realization of a more true and beautiful life, while they will make more easy the transition from competitory to coöperative labor.

This transition must, in the very nature of things, be gradual. Prejudice, personal pride and selfishness, and habits of life which stand in the way of progress, must slowly wear away, and give place to love of humanity, and a spiritual reverence for the rights and possessions of all. The reform must be both spiritual and practical. Mere spiritual development, as the history of all sects bears witness, will end in asceticism or [368] fanatical partisanship, while mere temporal improvement will only beget penuriousness, and worldly pride and ostentation. In each of these directions the experience already attained ought to be sufficient. A movement, then, both deeply religious and thoroughly practical, is required, that oppressed and imbruted labor may arise to its natural position, and assume its divine prerogatives. Nothing short of this can save. Patent systems of divinity or politics are all futile now, and worse than useless. The devotion of the patriarchs; the patience and heroism of the martyrs; the untiring industry of the miser, with the diffusive spirit of unbounded charity; the stern determination of the Puritans to put down all wrong; with the deep reverence which love and religion inspire toward every being in human form; and the union of love, wisdom, and practical executive force;—these are the requisites to form an organization, and to give shape and direction to this anarchy of transition, which, with terror, is overwhelming alike earth’s tyrants and earth’s slaves, by its clamor for solution, and the establishment of true order.

In the spread of more exalted sentiments, the development of fraternal and universal love, combined with untiring effort to make practical the great idea of Republican Christianity, I see the future of labor to be hopeful beyond the utmost stretch of its present conceptions, divine, indeed, as it once was in the Type of enfranchised humanity, whose motives were disclosed in these words: “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” Labor, unconscious of it divinity, its godlike and creative force, shall soon awake—is even now awaking—to a sense of its own power, its duties, and its rights, and emancipation is sure. Its imperative demand for the land which God hath given, and which the powers of tyranny and wrong scarce dare longer deny, indicates that its progress will be at last in the right direction, and that its prospects and destiny will be no longer uncertain. It needs no prophet’s vision, no poet’s imagination, to portray the promised land to which it tends, “flowing with milk and honey.” For what has not labor done, even when shackled in chains, pinched with cold and want, with every hope crushed, and every noble aspiration withered? What will it not do, when accorded its divine rights, and moved by an enlightened and world-[369]-embracing love? Nor has earth a power to stay for a moment its enfranchisement. Only its own blindness, and servility, and antagonism can retard the Exodus; and even these will be conquered, yet not, it may be feared, until they shall have so far favored tyranny, that only through a Red Sea a passage will be found possible, and weary days of wandering be made to precede the advent of Universal Peace, and Right, and Brotherhood, the dawning light proclaims to be very, very near.

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

1 Comment

Comments are closed.