William B. Greene’s 1870 “Mutual Banking”

I’ve been spending more time scanning and proofing than posting lately. The most important result of that is that William Batchelder Greene’s 1870 Mutual Banking, Showing The Radical Deficiencies Of The Existing Circulating Medium, And The Advantages Of A Free Currency is now available in pdf form. This was the last edition of the mutual banking work that was issued during Greene’s lifetime, and is the clearest statement of the practical elements of Greene’s doctrine. All of the 20th-century editions of Mutual Banking have been derived from this edition, but all of these have been edited, so that the complete 1870 edition has been very difficult for most readers to access.

Once more into the publishing history: Greene wrote a series of articles for the Worcester Palladium in 1849. These, or some of these, were incorporated into Equality, which appeared the same year, and which was continued in Mutual Banking in 1850. These works were written while Greene was the pastor of a Unitarian church in western Massachusetts, and reflect both his occupational concerns and the monetary concerns of his parishioners, who still felt the effects of the Panic of 1837, and who still remembered the crises and scandals associated with the payment of Revolutionary War soldiers. Brookfield, where Greene was pastor, was Daniel Shays’ hometown. These early works also show the influence of the French 48ers, such as Proudhon and Pierre Leroux. Greene had been introduced to these figures through his father, Nathaniel Greene, who had translated a volume of Lammenais, through Orestes Brownson, who was a family friend and early mentor, and through the foreign bookstore and lending library of Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, who had championed Greene in transcendentalist circles. In the 1840s, Greene is engaged in a really remarkable attempt at synthesizing Baptist and Unitarian elements of Christian theology with these French influences, and with American economic writings, such as those of Edward Kellogg and William Beck. That complex synthesis makes for fascinating reading, if you can follow the twists and turns. It undoubtedly also left many readers baffled about what precisely the point of the whole matter was. In 1857, when financial panic once again struck the U.S., Greene was living in France, but he took the occasion to pare the two volumes down into one more coherent work, released as The Radical Deficiency Of The Existing Circulating Medium, And The Advantages Of A Mutual Currency. The 1870 Mutual Banking is a slight revision of that work, issued to support the work of the New England Labor Reform League. There are reasons to suspect that Greene had little to do with the publication, beyond cleaning up the text one more time. The shift in the title from “mutual currency” to “free currency,” and the connection (in Ezra Heywood’s Preface) of mutual banking with greenbackism both seem to reflect Heywood’s approach more than Greene’s. Advertisements in The Word offered Mutual Banking together with works by Warren, Ingalls, Kellogg, and Spooner—implying more agreement between those figures than the debates in the pages of the paper demonstrated. I’ve found no evidence that Greene shared any of Heywood’s enthusiasm for the National Labor Union’s “greenback doctrine.” But, as the Address of the Internationals shows, Greene and Heywood did share a sense of the connections between workers’ struggles. (Kevin Carson has posted an interesting commentary on the Address. Check it out.) We know that, at this time, Greene was still hard at work pursuing his old preoccupations with the “doctrine of life” and “universal history,” but he no longer had an appropriate pulpit for much of that material, and he appears to have been willing to lend his mutual bank writings to younger allies, despite some significant differences in approach.

In any event, Greene’s final revision (not including a few notes added in the Fragments) is the most coherent edition of the work, and it was the edition reprinted by both Benjamin R. Tucker and Henry Cohen, after his death, as they pursued the next stage of the mutual bank agitation. The bibliographic details are still a bit uncertain, but it appears that Cohen published multiple editions of Mutual Banking, starting in 1895. (The editions of the Anti-Interest League and those by E. H. Fulton appear to be versions of the Cohen edition. I would be interested in details of these editions from anyone who has, or has access, to them. An edition with the title Mutual Banking. A Simple Plan To Abolish Interest On Money. [Columbus Junction, IA: E H Fulton, 1895] remains elusive, if it is not ultimately spectral.) This edition included a new introduction and several new footnotes. From Cohen’s edition spring all 20th-century editions. Cohen was also the editor of Proudhon’s Solution of the Social Problem (1927), which included Charles A. Dana’s Proudhon and His Bank of the People, selections from Proudhon’s works (pdf and bibliographic details here), and an edited version of his own edition of Mutual Banking. It was this edition which formed the basis for the familiar Modern Publisher’s/Gordon Press edition.

I’ve posted a second pdf of the 1870 edition, with the passages included in Cohen’s edition highlighted, so that it’s easy to see what you’ve been missing. My Introduction to that text includes a few more publication details, for those of you who haven’t already been overwhelmed.

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2637 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.