Occasionally, a researcher’s inquiry will lead to a surprising find in our collections or turn up a previously unrealized cache of rare publications. Last week, just such an inquiry led me to four rather rare publications by Josiah Warren, often called “The First American Anarchist.”
Born in Boston in 1798, Warren was a musician and inventor in Cincinnati, Ohio before crossing paths with Welsh industrialist and social reformer Robert Owen in 1824. Warren and his family lived and participated in Owen’s experimental utopian socialist society of New Harmony, Indiana for two years before ultimately rejecting Owen’s cooperative social philosophy.
Warren, concluding that society must preserve the autonomy of all individuals, founded his own social philosophy based on the “sovereignty of the individual.” Warren’s theory called for self-government and individual responsibility as essential elements for an equitable society, as well as a system of “equitable commerce.”
Warren defined equitable commerce as a barter system where the cost of goods should be equal to the labor exerted to produce those goods, rather than the subjective worth of goods. Instead of using cash for the purchase of goods, Warren advocated for the exchange of equitable money or “labor for labor” notes.
In 1833, Warren wrote and printed “The Peaceful Revolutionist,” asserted to be the first anarchist periodical. Warren’s objective to have total control over the printing of his publications, led to his invention in the early 1830s of the first printing press to print onto a continuous roll of paper, known as the “speed press.” Warren also cast his own type to use in the printing of his periodicals and pamphlets.
In the early 1850s, with his philosophy of individualist anarchism and in collaboration with fellow anarchist Stephen Pearl Andrews, Warren established a new society on Long Island, NY named Modern Times. Although Warren’s Modern Times community quickly dissolved, Warren continued to publish numerous pamphlets espousing his philosophy. Four of these pamphlets are held in the Archives & Special Collections at Amherst College.
All of these pamphlets can be found in our Library Catalog and are available for research in the Archives & Special Collections:
Warren, Josiah. Response to the Call of the National Labor Union for Essays on the following Subjects : 1. The Specie Basis Fallacy : 2. Strikes : 3. Co-operation : [etc.] / by the Author of “True Civilization”. Boston, 1871. AC call number: File HD8072 .W31
Warren, Josiah. The Principle of Equivalents : A Subject of Immediate and Serious Interest to Both Sexes and All Classes of All Nations. Long Island, NY?, 1861. AC call number: File HB201.P75
Warren, Josiah. Political Platform for the Coming Party. Boston, 1871. AC call number: File E671.P65
Warren, Josiah. Periodical Letter on the Principles and Progress of the Equity Movement. v. 1, no. 8 (March 1855). AC call number: File HN1.P47
Bailie, William. Josiah Warren: The First American Anarchist, A Sociological Study. New York, Arno Press, 1972.
Butler, Ann. “Josiah Warren, Peaceful Revolutionist.” Thesis. Ball State University, 1978.
Warren, Josiah, and Crispin Sartwell. The Practical Anarchist: Writings of Josiah Warren. New York: Fordham UP, 2011.
Wikipedia: Josiah Warren. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josiah_Warren.