Voluntarism and Social Reform - RR144M23

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Professor: Rushdoony, Dr. R. J.
Title: 23. Voluntarism & Social Reform
Course: Course - American History to 1865
Subject: Subject:History
Lesson#: 23
Length: 0:40:01
TapeCode: RR144M23
Audio: Chalcedon Archive
Transcript: .docx Format
American History to 1865(8).jpg

This transcript is unedited. It was:
Archived by the Mt. Olive Tape Library
Digitized, transcribed, and published by Christ Rules
Posted by with permission

Our concern now is with voluntarism and reform. Voluntarism and reform. We have been dealing in our evening classes with the principal of voluntarism, where by, after seventeen-forty and the great awakening in particular, instead of things being handed down from above by statist action the American principal as it developed and became a unique contribution to world history was for voluntary action from the grass roots springing out of faith. Out of the convictions of the individual man, so that churches created not as established churches, state supported, but supported by the people.

Various reformed movements, schools, everything. Instead of state established, representing the faith and the convictions of the people. As a result, a wide variety of reformed movement in the early half of the eighteen hundreds began to spread and for better or worse became major forces of the American sea.

Of these, perhaps the most conspicuous was the antislavery movement. Now it is ironic when we examine the origins of it, how insignificant is was. The most fanatical, the most extreme of the anti-slavery or abolitionist agitators was William Lloyd Garrison; who published “The Liberator” he was so extreme that even those who were anti-slavery were very angry and embarrassed by his activity. They felt his extremism discredited the entire movement. That there was no future for the anti-slavery movement when rabble rouser’s and hot heads, extremists like Garrison, took it over.

When some of the first issues of the liberator in eighteen thirty-one came out Southerners who first encountered them went up in smoke because Garrison was so extreme. Garrison made it clear that the only thing that mattered to him was freedom! On one occasion he publicly burned a copy of the constitution to express his contempt for a document that allowed slavery to exist. In one way or another, the public acts of Garrison were extremely offensive.

But when he first began the issues that the Southerners picked up so upset them that they wrote to the mayor of Boston to protest the kind of rabble rousing activity of William Lloyd Garrison and the Liberator. Now Odis, when he received the letter from the South was very puzzled! “What was all this talk about Garrison and “The Liberator”?” He’d never heard of either one. So he did some investigating and he found that there was one man with a handful of colored ex slaves operating in a little cubby hole of an office on next to no funds, issuing these papers from time to time proclaiming the gospel of abolitionists. [00:04:27]

He was very relieved and he wrote a letter to the Southerner

He was very relieved and he wrote a letter to the Southerners saying, “You have nothing to worry about! Here in Boston we didn’t even know this man existed. And I assure you he is nobody and there is no-one who follows him.” However, the startling fact was that within a few years some of the finest young men from the most important families in Boston were reading and following Garrison! And Garrison’s influence was spreading everywhere.

Influence of Garrison in the abolitionist movement instead of being insignificant became tremendously important. Because Garrison as an extremist, hits savagely and hard on the issue. He made even people who disliked him intensely feel a little bit guilty because they weren’t making an all-out stand on a moral issue! His power as a result grew enormously in spite of his extremism or perhaps because of it.

Garrison, in other words, was pushing ideas to their nth degree he was demanding that people take an either or stand! And as a result he became progressively a powerful force on the American scene in spite of the fact that his following was never too great. I’d like to read now, a few things from the first issue of “The Liberator”, which appeared as a weekly paper.

January 1, 1831.

Garrison Rd.

“In Defending the Great Cause of Human Rights”

“I wish to derive the assistance of all religions and of all parties assenting to the self-evident truth maintained in the American Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I shall strenuously contend for the immediate enfranchisement, or freeing of our slave population.

I am aware that many object to the severity of my language... but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject I do not wish to think, or speak, or write with moderation. No, no! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a ‘moderate’ alarm. Tell him to ‘moderately’ rescue his wife from the hands of a ravisher. Tell the Mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire from which it has fallen... But urge me NOT to use ‘moderation’ in a cause like the present! I am in earnest! I will NOT equivocate, I will NOT excuse, I will NOT retreat a single inch, and I WILL be heard. The apathy of the people is enough of make every statue leap from its pedestal and to hasten the resurrection of the dead.” [00:08:28]

Now this is strong language and it in particular began

Now this is strong language and it in particular began to spread rapidly among a segment of the population in New England in particular. Does anyone know where its appeal was?


Does anyone know the kind of following the abolitionist had? It was among the Unitarians, the Transcendentalist, the Rationalists, the various people who had no gospel. Who, having abandoned the historic Calvinism of New England and having moved into a Unitarian of varying forms no longer had a real gospel. But they hungered for some kind of word to proclaim to people; a word of freedom, a word of liberation. And so it is they looked to various thing as a new gospel. For Horace Mann the new gospel became state control of schools, Horace Mann proclaimed the saving power of the common school or of the public school. He visualized a future in which America would be crying free, prison free, free of all moral and social problems. How? Through the state schools. He imagined that people looking back a century later would think that people in the eighteen thirties lived very primitively and crudely because by that time under the enlightening and blessing influence of the state schools, crime would disappear, poverty and ignorance would disappear, and people would live in peace, prosperity, and happiness. What had happened for Horace Mann was that government control of schools had become the new means of salvation!

Now the Unitarians and Transcendentalists went into one movement or another seeking salvation. [00:11:05]

These movements by the Unitarians attracted their zeal

These movements by the Unitarians attracted their zeal and their fervor so that they had all the passion of the old time Puritans; ready to go out and conquer the world! Only, not for Christ now, but for their faith. What they did was to take the Puritan attitude which still lingered in their midst and transfer this into a totally secular, totally humanist, context. And so Garrison could say “On this subject I do not wish to think, or speak, or write with moderation.” Subsequently abolition became so powerful in Unitarian circles that a group of very, very wealthy Unitarians formed a council The Secret Six, The Secret Six was made out of six very wealthy Unitarians, and then a second six was made out of Unitarian thinkers of whom Emerson was one. Emerson was a part of the secondary six. It is interesting, and I referred to this “Nature of the American System” one of the secret six was a very wealthy Unitarian who was also a Unitarian minister although usually not in church work, cause he didn’t need to work; Thomas Wentworth Haggenson; a very powerful man who once said he always had money for treason. He was influential in the support of Horace Man, he was influential in the support of abolition, he was influential in the support of-- can anyone think of a man that The Secret Six used?


Not too far from here. John Brown. John Brown, a hoodlum and a killer, John Brown was financed by The Secret Six to try to start a war, because they felt the best thing that could happen for the cause of abolitionism and centralism or socialism would be a war! And they were right. The sad fact is that John Brown failed at Harper’s Ferry to start a war and the South Carolinian’s foolishly did John Brown’s work for him when they fired on Fort Sumter. [00:14:23]

Now this was one of a number of movements

Now this was one of a number of movements. Another was Dorothea Dix’s movement on prison reform. Dorothea Lynn Dix was a New England woman, a Unitarian like the others, who got herself involved in reform. Her name was so famous; incidentally, that another woman picked it up some years ago and created the Dorothea Dix letter column. For a long, long time when I was of your age, the most popular column in the U.S. was the Dorothea column. Which was like the Abigail Van Boerum and Ann Landers column. Like the two combined. Everybody in the United States read the Dorothea Dix column. Well the woman who adopted that name had borrowed it from the original and the real Dorothea Dix. Dorothea Dix began to visit prisons, poor houses, institutions for the mentally disordered, and began a reform movement to improve these prison facilities which were often very poor. And she, in January of 1843 presented a memorial to the Massachusetts legislature in which she pleaded for a correction of the abuses and she did get action out of the legislators. [00:16:15]

She wrote, “I come to present the strong claims of

She wrote, “I come to present the strong claims of suffering humanity. I come to place before the legislature of Massachusetts the condition of the miserable, the desolate, the outcast. I come as the advocate of helpless, forgotten, insane, and idiotic men and women. Of being sunk to a condition from which the most unconcerned would start with real horror. Of beings, wretched, in our prisons, and more wretched in our alms houses, men of Massachusetts: I beg, I implore, I demand pity and protection for these of my suffering outrage sex. Fathers, husbands, brothers, I would supplicate for this boon. But do I say? I dishonor you; divest you at once of Christianity and humanity. Does this appeal imply distrust? If it becomes burdened with a doubt of your righteousness in this legislation, then, blot it out. While I declare confidence in your honor not less than your humanity, here you will put away the cold calculating spirit of selfishness and self-seeking. Lay off the armor of local strife and political opposition. Here and now, for once, forgetful of the earthly and perishable, come up to these halls and consecrate them with one heart and one mind to works of righteousness and just judgement.

Injustice is also done to the convicts. It is certainly very wrong that they should be doomed day after day and night after night to listen to the ravings of mad men and mad women. This is the kind of punishments that is not recognized by our statutes and is what the criminal ought not to be called upon to undergo. The confinement of the criminal and of the insane in the same building is subversive of that good order and discipline which should be observed in every well regulated prison. I do most sincerely hope that more permanent provision will be made for the proper insane by the state- either to restore Wooster Insane Asylum to what it was originally designed to be, or else make some just appropriation for the benefit of this very unfortunate class of our fellow beings.”

Now this is the kind of thing that abounded in that day. One kind of moral reform after another- some good, some bad. But influenced by the spirit of voluntarism that was as it was carried outside of the Christian fold into the Unitarian and other circles. [00:19:08]

Another such movement was the women’s rights movement

Another such movement was the women’s rights movement. In 1848 there was the Seneca Falls declaration and resolution on women’s rights. Now there was some cause for the women to feel distressed. In Biblical law, I deal with the movement and I point out how after the war of independence the laws with regard to woman went downhill and the woman was progressively deprived of all her rights, so that a woman could be literally robbed of everything she inherited by her husband and she had no recourse. The condition was truly an ungodly one, and it is to the shame of the churches of the day who had been so caught up in emotionalism that they did nothing about it! And it remained for the securely minded to do something about it. But even then these women who did work on it were while justified in a great deal of what they did, operating of humanistic and egalitarian premises.

Now the Seneca declaration is very interesting in that it was in effect a copy of the Declaration of Independence of 1776. I’m going to read it to you because I think it is so interesting, and yet in spite of its egalitarian ideas much that it had to say about what had been done to women was true.

“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied but one to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them a decent respect of the opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the Causes that impel them to such a Course. We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men and Women are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends it is the Right of those who Suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it and to insist upon the institution of a new Government. Laying it’s foundation on such principals and organizing its powers in such form as then shall seem most likely to affect their safety and happiness...” [00:22:31]

And then it goes on to speak of the long train of abuses

And then it goes on to speak of the long train of abuses and usurpation's, and to declare that such has been the patient suffering of the women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled. And then they go on to give a long list of complaints and resolutions. In a sense it was justified, in spite of their egalitarianism. Because the women could say, as they did say, some of us are well treated we have good husbands, but as far as the law is concerned we are, to all practical intent, the moment we marry, slaves! We’ve been stripped of all legal rights. And in the eyes of the law we are like children; incompetent. Wherein are we different from the black slaves? After all many of the blacks have good masters, who treat them well, who are very earnestly concerned about their welfare; so many of the masters are like many of our husbands, good husbands, good masters.

So we’re not complaining just because some masters are bad, that slavery is wrong, or because some husbands are bad, that the situations is wrong, but that in principal the enslavement of women, stripping her of all legal rights, reducing her to the status of a minor who is mentally incompetent and who’s affairs, who’s money, who’s wealth, who’s property immediately passes to her husband when she marries, is without justification.

Now on this point they were clearly in the right. The condition of women was not a product of scripture, it did not exist in the Middle Ages nor did it exist in the colonial period... it was a product of the enlightenment. The enlightenment deified reason. And when it deified reason it saw man, the male, as reason. As though somehow more rational than women are. You still find this attitude surviving.

I don’t know whether you’ve seen the movie “My Fair Lady”? If you haven’t you’ve missed a real treat, it’s a delight. And there’s a song in it that goes “Why can’t a woman be like a man?” and, ah, Professor Higgins goes on and on “why can’t she be sweet and reasonable the way men are? Why can’t she be sensible like a man?” and so on, and so on, and so on. The whole thinking being, just in line with this: Men are reasonable. There’s no problem until they tangle with a woman! And women are SO unreasonable. And of course, this is the thinking of the enlightenment. That reason is the property of man and emotions are the property of women.

And in terms of this, because the enlightenment deified reason, it put man firmly in control and said “Well, since the woman represents emotion, she obviously is incompetent!” Now there’s nothing like this in scripture! What scripture does say, is while the man is the head, this doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the smartest. A man may be an officer, and there may be a lieutenant under this officer who is smarter than the officer, but the captain is still in charge! You may be a lot more intelligent that the pilot who’s flying the plane... but he’s still in charge of the plane. There is a principal of authority. [00:27:17]

So, in the church and in the home, the man is given

So, in the church and in the home, the man is given authority over the woman. But it’s not the authority of a being over a slave, but the relationship is as a king with his prime minister. And if you want to see the kind of authority and power and dignity the woman has, look at Proverbs 31. A very competent woman, a wise business manager who can handle her husband’s affairs and estate.

But with the enlightenment, all this was changed. And the result of this kind of thing, the worship of reason and the downgrading of emotions and saying that women somehow didn’t have reason they were just emotional creators. A woman became something that was incompetent by definition and therefore was consistently downgraded. We still have a great deal of this kind of thinking amongst us, we haven’t wiped it out of our mind. Because habits of a couple centuries of thought, habits of thought for two centuries, do not disappear from a culture immediately!

But the effect of this was deadly, and it led to the enslavement of women! Their total deprivation of rights. There are one or two states where this type of thing is still on the books and rather ungodly things happen. For example, this woman whose husband was an alcoholic, of no account, immoral, who deserted her and yet she didn’t have the ability to get a divorce in terms of some of the laws of the state because of desertion so many years of waiting were required, she went to work and built up a business and began to make a life for herself and her children and her husband was able to walk in after several years, take all that, leave her with nothing but the clothes on her back and it was entirely legal. [00:29:36]

Now that still prevails in certain places, unless it

Now that still prevails in certain places, unless it’s been changed in the last year or two. But this kind of legislation in particular in those areas where the European influence was the strongest, Texas law with regard to woman is very bad. Some of the Eastern states still have it. The further west you go the more the woman has, a better status. But some of the old laws from the influence of the Enlightenment still prevail in some of the Eastern states. I don’t know what it’s like in Pennsylvania it could have been changed in the last few years, the laws of Pennsylvania used to be very unfair to women. VERY unfair.

As a result the woman’s rights movement had a great deal of justification and it began to make great head way but because the nation became involved as a result of the Civil War in a long war and then after that all the problems that ensued, reconstruction, conflict over that. The women’s rights movement was shoved to the side and it took the beginning of this century for it again to get under way. To be able to command public interest.

I have referred already to another one of the reformed movements that represented a new gospel for the liberal Unitarian traditional Horace Mann and his idea’s. I’d like to read a few verses from Horace Mann’s report, twelfth annual report to the Massachusetts board of education in 1848.

“And it came what he expected the public schools to do.” He wrote, “Vast and over shadowing private fortunes are among the greatest dangers to which the happiness of a people and a republic can be subjected. Such fortunes would create a feudalism of a new kind. But one more oppressive and unrelenting than that of the middle ages now surely nothing but universal education can counter work this tendency to the domination of capital and the servility of labor. If one class possess all the class and education while the residue of society is ignorant and poor, it matters not by what name the relation between them may be called. The latter in fact and in truth will be the servile dependents and subjects of the former. But if education be equally defused it will draw property after it by the strongest of all attractions, for if such a thing never did happen and never can happen as that an intelligent and practical body of men should be permanently poor.

Property and labor in different classes are essentially antagonistic. But property and labor in the same class are essentially (praternal?). But the people of Massachusetts have in some degree appreciated the truth that the un exampled prosperity of the state, it’s comfort, it’s confidence, it’s general intelligence and virtue, is attributable to the education more or less perfect which all its people have received. That they are sensible of the fact equally important, namely, that it is to the same education that two thirds of the people are indebted, for not being today the vassals of as severe a tyranny in the form of capital as the lower classes of Europe are bound to in the form of brute force.

Education then beyond all other devices of human origin is the great equalizer of the conditions of man. The balance wheel of the social machinery. I do not here mean that it so elevates the moral natures that make man disdain and abhor the oppression of their fellow man but I mean that it gives each man the independence and the means by which he can resist the selfishness of other man. It does better than to disarm the poor of their hostility toward the rich, it prevents being poor.” [00:34:18]

Education in other words, Horace Mann said, will save

Education in other words, Horace Mann said, will save mankind. Men will be saved by education. Therefore, if we emphasize education strip it of this nonsense of the Christian presuppositions which clutter up our schools- this was his implied premise. We will verify change in the world. Beginning of course by changing this country, and so the school -this was the means of salvation.

Of course there were other gospels of salvation that were very popular in the day. Socialists, Fourierist’s, flourished, they attempted to establish communes all over the country, Owen’s and his experiment, the Oneida colony, sexual communism, the Brooks farm in New England, one experiment after another whereby man was going to be saved by a new social arrangement of people. By communistic ideas. By sexual reform. One way or another salvation. Of course we have these things again today this sexual freedom leak, the new left, the communes... we again have these same beliefs voluntaristic in principal but not having the gospel seeking the gospel in some social arrangement, in some environmental factor.

Again we had other ideas of salvation gospels propagated by various groups having a variety of plans of salvation. One of them we have with us today in a name of a particular food. The Graham cracker. The Graham cracker gained its name from a man named Graham who believed that he was going to regenerate mankind through certain kinds of foods. As a result there were a wide variety of cultists, whether it was food or something else. [00:37:02]

They were going to save mankind by this means

They were going to save mankind by this means. There were some who believed that the only way to renew man was to avoid extremes in foods, anything that was too hot or too cold. Therefor ice water was bad for you and soft drinks were bad for you and tea and coffee were bad for you. Not because of the ingredients- that of course is knowledge we have since acquired about some of those things- but because you should avoid the extremes of hot and cold.

Such idea’s as I indicated became extremely popular, and one group after another arose on the American scene especially in the 1940’s and 50’s. With one wild idea of reform after another. Now these groups were especially popular in the cities and among the people of intelligence who had as a result of their education at Harvard and other schools, lost their faith! And having lost their faith they were looking around for a new gospel. They very often came up with some very, very ridiculous ideas.

Someone wrote a book on one aspect of this period, which he titled “The Mad Forties”. Because there were so many of these Salvationist ideas that were the height of absurdity. Now, are there any questions?


We still of course as I indicated not only have this, but such movements are very, very strong with us today and they do a great deal of damage, sometimes even to good ideas. We have health food cults as they did then, who do a great deal of harm, for example, to the very important, nutritional ideas that health foods do offer us. And we have the environmental people with their ideas of salvation by going back to a supposedly perfect untouched environment. [Tape Ends] [00:39:50]

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