“State Slavery–Imprisonment of A. Bronson Alcott–Dawn of Liberty.” by Charles Lane

To the Editor of the Liberator.

SIR—Another stone in the old castle of human wrongs has this day been loosened, of which you and your readers will be interested in learning the particulars, if, in the unavoidable excitement of the occasion, they can be reported. Thousands feel the iniquity of the incorporated state system as keenly as the millions have felt the incompatibility and baseness of the incorporated church system. A forced church, a tyrannous love, has long been felt to be no church and no love whatever; and not a few persons in this country, as well as in all other parts of the world, are fully prepared to suffer violence, persecution and death, rather than commit any act to support such false and forced Christianity. But of the numbers who feel that the State, when it calls upon us by its club law, its mere brigand right of a strong arm, to support guns and bayonets, murderous armies and navies, legislators, judges, jailers, executioners, teachers, &c. &c. no one has yet, it seems, ventured to act upon the conviction, and passively endure the consequences, whatever they might be, of a faithful adherence to principle. It is often said, that in a condition of society where one is obliged to let pass so much that is immoral, it is not worth while to undergo so much inconvenience as close imprisonment on account of State prosecution.

Very different to this, however, has been the feeling of A. BRONSON ALCOTT. of Concord; and being convinced that the payment of the town tax involved principles and practices most degrading and injurious to man, he had long determined not to be a voluntary party to its continuance. Last year, by the leniency of the collector in prepaying the 1 1-2 dollar, the question was not brought to issue, and only the humblest instrument of the State was subdued, in so far as he declared the law was too base for him to execute. This year, a step further has been gained.

By the system of putting up the collector’s office to public auction, and accepting the man who will do the dirty work for the lowest per centage, the town is pretty sure to secure the services of the most suitable instrument of its tyranny. When the citizens generally shall take the trouble to look into the law and the circumstances of this affair, they will shudder at the slavery to which they subject themselves; and the sooner they do so, the better; for greater oppressions than any they have thrown off, have grown from smaller beginnings.

This year, a collector was appointed, who could execute the law; and although no doubt it went hard with him to snatch a man away from his home, from his wife, from the provision and education of his little children, in which latter he found Mr. Alcott serenely engaged, he nevertheless did it. He witnessed, with his own eyes, the little hasty preparations to attend him to the jail, the packing up a few personal conveniences to ward off the inclemencies of the season, and yet, with no higher authority than the general warrant in his pocket, which, without particular investigation, trail, or inquiry, hands over the liberty of every townsman to his discretion, he took a fellow-citizen, an unoffending man, to a long confinement.

To the country jail, therefore, Mr. Alcott went, or rather was forced by the benignant State and its delicate instrument. Probably the authorities anticipated that if they showed a rigid determination to enforce this old monstrous system, a weakness would be discovered somewhere; that domestic attractions would be too potent; that wive or friend would interfere, and pay the money. But they were mistaken. A virtuous man is not often surrounded by friends, who would persuade him to desert conscience, and turn his back upon moral principles, just at the trying moment. In this case, at all events, no one was unwise enough so to act.

Having worked up to this point, it appears the enemy’s courage failed. The constable collector having brought his victim to the jail, the next step was to find the jailer, who appeared to be not at home. A considerable delay ensued, during which the prisoner, of course, waited patiently; and after nearly two hours had thus been passed, the constable announced that he no longer had the right to detain his caption.—On inquiring how that happened, he said that both the tax and costs had been paid. To the question, by whom the payment had been made, he replied by naming a gentleman who may be regarded, and who would willingly be regarded, as the very personification of the State.

In these facts, humble as the individual and the circumstances may appear, we have a wide and deep subject for reflection, which I trust you will not permit to pass in a barren manner. This act of non-resistance, you will perceive, does not rest on the plea of poverty. For Mr. Alcott has always supplied some poor neighbor with food and clothing to a much higher amount than his tax. Neither is it wholly based on the iniquitous purposes to which the money when collected is applied. For part of it is devoted to education, and education has not a heartier friend in the world than Bronson Alcott. But it is founded on the moral instinct which forbids every moral being to be a party, either actively or permissively, to the destructive principles of power and might over peace and love.

Suppose this tax were levied by the town in its caprice, and the full value of the amount were to be returned the next day to each payer in bread. Would it not be a sacred duty in every man, in the virtuous integrity of his nature, to deny such a proceeding? Doubtless it would. All but the meanest souls would thereby be raised to dis-annex themselves from the false and tyrannous assumption, that the human will is to be subject to the brute force which the majority may set up. It is only tolerated by public opinion, because the fact is not yet perceived that all the true purposes of the corporate state may as easily be carried out on the revolutionary principle, as all the true purposes of the collective church. Every one can see that the Church is wrong when it comes to men with the Bible in one hand, and the sword in the other. And is it not equally diabolical for the State to do so? The name is of small importance. When Church and State are divorced by public opinion, they still may carry on an adulterous intercourse.

Then, look at the peculiar law in this case. When a debtor is imprisoned by an ordinary creditor, he can be bailed out, and have considerable liberty to employ himself, preserve his health, and the like. But the impersonal town is an inexorable monster, and permits not his debtor to quit the prison walls. He is treated as a convicted felon. No trial, no jury is permitted him.

Many are the points worthy of consideration involved in this uncouth, barbaric, unchristian state of the law; and I earnestly trust you will not allow the occasion to escape your enlightened and benevolent pen, nor fail to inform the public at large of the facts.

Yours, sincerely,

Concord, Mass., January 16, 1843.            C. L.

From William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator, vol. 13, no. 4 (1843): page 4.