Josiah Warren, To The Friends Of The Equal Exchange Of Labor In The West

I’m in the process of compiling some communications of Josiah Warren with The Free Enquirer, the continuation of The New-Harmony Gazette which Robert Dale Owen and Francis Wright published in New York. Despite his disillusionment with the elder Owen’s experiment at New Harmony, Warren remained friends with Robert Dale. (See George W. Warren’s account of his father’s life for details of the connections between the Owen and Warren clans. Clark Kimberling’s notes are excellent, as are the rest of his pages on New Harmony.)

This first letter is interesting for the criticisms Warren makes of cooperation on the Rochdale model, which still involves profit and competition. I think the tensions within Warren’s thought, which seem to be built into the notion of co-operation without combination, and those that naturally arise between that thought and other forms of individualist anarchism, are nicely highlighted in this piece.

[July 17, 1830]

For the Free Examiner.
New York, July 4th, 1830.

In compliance unto your earnest request when I left you, I open this correspondence to inform you, that our previous practice in Cincinnati meets with the most decided approbation of those with whom I have conversed on the subject between that place and this.

Frances Wright and Robert Dale Owen have expressed their unqualified approval of the practice which so beautifully illustrates the principles they have ardently labored to develope, and which clearly demonstrates to the most common capacity the practicability and the superior advantages of such a mode of reform; and I think I do not assume too much in feeling confident of their ready concurrence and co-operation as far as such principles are honestly adhered to.

I have seen a gentleman from England who was actually engaged in co-operative measures in that country; he informs me that there were two hundred and thirty associations formed or forming, but if I rightly understand their plan, I fear they will see the necessity of change, or be defeated. You know that the success and the undisturbed harmony of our proceedings in Cincinnati were the results of the total absence of coercion of any kind, and to the complete personal liberty which every one at all times enjoyed; now this can never be the case where, instead of removing the causes of interference, we attempt rather to counteract each other, and thereby, annihilate all freedom and happiness by becoming aggressors under the authority of the strongest power, whether it be arms, the vote of the majority, or public opinion.

I believe that our friends in England have connected interests by making common stock of the profits on the sales in the stores. This connecting interest involves them in the necessity of carrying their measures by vote of the majority, which we avoided by a total separation of interests;—every one acting in the individual character each taking on himself or herself all the responsibility of his or her conduct.

Besides if I am rightly informed, the rewards of the different kind of labor in these associations still remains unequal; if so, they must retain among them the principle of competition, which of itself must defeat any efforts at reform, however well intended, or perseveringly and honestly pursued.

Would not our friends in that quarter like to open a correspondence with us here in a manner perhaps similar to this? I think we could benefit each other very much by such means. These subjects are new to all of us, we have to feel out a new path through the surrounding darkness, and if any one should stumble upon any thing worth observing, all of us can by such means, benefit by the experience.

When any practical steps are taken here towards arrangements similar to those we had in Cincinnati, I expect to report them to the friends there, according to our previous understanding, through the medium of the Free Enquirer; but our practice is not to promise what we will do, but to speak of what we have done, and let that furnish a criterion by which to judge of the future.

As practical measures have not yet commenced, none of our friends in Ohio are wanted here at present; but when they are they may expect me to make it known. In the mean time if they have business to be transacted here, they may address me, and expect to have it attended to, on the principle of labor for labor.

I can inform J. P. of Cincinnati, Dr. S. U. Of S. H—and others who wanted types, that I can obtain some second hand pica and brevier very good for their purposes; the prime cost will be about 28 cents per pound, and the time employed in packing and shipping will be calculated according to the above principle.

J. W.

P. S. If this should appear to some a novel method of corresponding with distant friends, my excuse is, that the times are novel, and that the subject itself is novel inasmuch as that it is a system of commerce which requires no secrecy or concealment: and moreover, that the unavoidable difference in the human character has taught me to act entirely as an individual, and not to hesitate in doing that which is evidently desirable and beneficial until all others can agree with me in opinion, as to the propriety of doing what is not customary.

J. W.
About Shawn P. Wilbur 2301 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.


  1. Very good Shawn,
    Was it the interaction between Warren and Andrews which concretized the two prongs of their practice: Individual Liberty and Cost The Limit of Price? Was there something prior to this?

    Andrews becomes such an important figure in American anarchism, through his collaboration with Warren, his background and experience in the alternative social schools, and his promotion of sexual freedom that he rather overwhelms the importance of Warren.

    By the way, I found a reference to Warren going to a medium/spiritualist for advice prior to starting back up in Ohio (she approved).

    What was Warren’s connection with the spiritualist movement?

    Best to you,
    Just Ken

  2. The 1846 “Equitable Commerce” has shown up on Google Books (1849, 2nd ed., w/o SPA’s editing). The Warren-Andrews team-up seems to date from about 1850, but both “prongs” are in the 1846 volume. It makes sense. Warren was probably pulling 180 degrees away from the serious communists like Paul Brown, with Owen waffling and uncertain between the various stronger voices, but controlling the purse-strings and land leases. We know that “co-operation without combination” was the organizing principle of the equity villages before Modern Times. (Btw, if you haven’t seen it yet, William Pare’s 1855 “Equitable Villages in America” is online at JSTOR. The “view from Ralahine” is well worth a look. Journal of the Statistical Society of London, Vol. 19, No. 2. (Jun., 1856), pp. 127-143.)

    I’ve been trying to figure out what kind of an influence Warren really had in the anarchist movement. The simple labor-note idea didn’t actually gain many adherents, and was primarily of interest to people like Warren and Andrews, who had come out of Owenite or Fourierist circles. I’ve yet to sort through Warren enough to decide to what extent the cost-price convergence for him represented the fruit of a full economics, and to what extent it just seemed like a useful and equitable rule of thumb. But I suspect it was more of the latter. He’s actually explicit about
    “values” coming from all sorts of subjective factors, and just sort of sidesteps the question of value to concentrate on rules for a voluntary equitable commerce.

    Andrews is probably most significant in his messings about with Texas slaves, and his work importing shorthand. For organized radicalism, his association with Woodhull and Claflin probably tops everything.

    I’m not sure about the spiritualist connection. It will be interesting to see what Crispin Sartwell digs up. I see he’s added a timeline very much like the one I’ve put up for Greene, and it has some suggestive bits.

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