Ohio History Journal

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Radical Responses to Capitalism

in Ohio Before 1913





By the time Ohio entered the last two decades of the nineteenth century, various

forms of radicalism had already emerged which challenged the basic tenets of the

prevailing style of life. A number of communitarian settlements had been estab-

lished in the state, beginning with the first Shaker experiments, Union Village in

1805 and Shakertown in 1806. The Wurttemberg Separatists, soon after, founded

the Zoar community in 1817. Some of these settlements represented apocalyptic

sectarian communism with emphasis on withdrawal from the neighboring world for

the purpose of religious and social regeneration. As such, they were the outgrowths

of religious movements ultimately traceable to the Protestant Reformation. All re-

jected individualism as offering no hope to a troubled world.1 The social and eco-

nomic aspects of the Shaker program, for instance, included the following considera-


The great inequality of rights and privileges which prevails so extensively throughout the

world, is a striking evidence of the importance of a reformation of some kind . . . .

The United Society of Believers (called Shakers) was founded upon the principles of

equal rights and privileges, with a united interest in all things, both spiritual and temporal. . . .2

Not all communitarian experiments were basically religious movements; some

were clearly secular and designed primarily for social reform. Perhaps the best

examples of the secular type were those based upon the theories of the European

utopian socialists Robert Owen and Charles Fourier. After achieving fame as

founder of the model factory town of New Lanark in Scotland, Owen, a wealthy,

self-made British industrialist, established a community in New Harmony, Indiana,

in 1825. Here he hoped to put into practice his beliefs in the equality of men and

the necessity for community ownership of goods. It was Owen's view that controlled

environmental improvement was the key to social progress. Although New Harmony

was unsuccessful, due largely to inadequate planning and supervision, Owen's



1. Arthur E. Bestor, Jr., Backwoods Utopias: The Sectarian and Owenite Phases of Communitarian

Socialism in America, 1663-1829 (Philadelphia, 1950), 5-7; Albert T. Mollegen, "The Religious Basis of

Western Socialism," in Donald Drew Egbert and Stow Persons, eds., Socialism and American Life

(Princeton, 1952), I, 114.

2. Calvin Green and Seth Y. Wells, A Summary View of the Millennial Church, or United Society of

Believers, Commonly Called Shakers . . . (Albany, 1848), 2-3.

Mr. Meyer is chairman, department of history, Moorhead State College, Moorhead, Minnesota.