Monday, March 26, 2007

Albert Brisbane, The Mutualist Township

Albert Brisbane, "The Mutualist Township," The Spirit of the Age, II, 12 (March 23, 1850), 179-183.

For the Spirit of the Age.



Under this title, I propose a new Organization of the Township, in which the great and beneficent principle of Mutualism will be introduced.

By Mutualism I understand; reciprocity of services, combination in general or collective interests, and cooperation in the higher branches of Industry.

This principle of Mutualism has been applied to Insurance against fire, in which it has been found highly advantageous. It can be applied, and with still greater advantage, to other departments, to the general business and industrial operations of an agricultural and manufacturing township.

The Mutualist principle is also to be found in the Odd Fellows' Order, and other societies of the kind, and in the commercial reform now in progress in New England, known under the name of Protective Unions.

This great principle is applicable to Commerce, to Credit, (exchanges of products on time,) to Insurance—of crops as well as houses, to various branches of labor susceptible of joint prosecution, to building, &c.

If a body of intelligent farmers and mechanics would unite and found a Mutualist Township, I estimate that they could increase thereby two-fold their prosperity, and augment greatly the sources of their moral and intellectual happiness. It would be most advantageous to our Farmers emigrating to, and settling in the new regions of the West. It would offer them incalculable advantages over the present individual, isolated, disjointed system of emigration and settlement. It would prevent a majority of the evils now attendant upon settlement in new countries, and render such settlement comparatively easy.

A Mutualist Township could be founded in two ways. 1st. By a band of reformers who wish to escape the poverty, anxiety and competional conflicts of our great cities and our populous agricultural districts.

2nd. By a body of Farmers and Mechanics intending n to emigrate to the West, and desirous of avoiding the evils and dangers of isolated emigration, such as unhealthy locations, deception and frauds in the purchase of lands, want of school, of society, of places of religious worship, and other drawbacks on new settlements.

Let us give a general outline of the plan of a Mutualist Township, as it could be carried out by either of these two classes of men.


The proper number of families would be about eighty—sixty farmers and twenty mechanics. The number could be increased or diminished without essentially affecting the plan. Twenty or thirty farmers, and half a dozen mechanics could found a township on the principle proposed: they should, however, reserve space to increase the number to one hundred, for all the advantages of Mutualism cannot be secured on so reduced a scale.


Suppose there are some three or four farmers or mechanics—men of intelligence and means—living in the same neighborhood, who decide upon emigrating to the West: they could form the nucleus. Let them come together, and form a combination or a society for the purpose of carrying out the idea. The first thing they would require is a plan of operations; this I will endeavor to furnish them; it is the result of some reflection, and one which I believe to be practicable and of easy application.

Having agreed upon their plan, the individuals forming the nucleus would advertize in the papers in their part of the country, stating their plan, and inviting farmers and mechanics to join them in their project of emigration and organization of a Mutualist Township.

For such an enterprise active, industrious men—possessing some means—are necessary.

As soon as a minimum number of adhesions is obtained, say twenty, a general meeting would be held, the society organized, and the plan of operations definitely agreed upon.

If it were a band of reformers who took the initiative in the enterprise they could take the same course. Two or three capable and earnest men could form the nucleus, and draw around them the materials—the men and means —necessary to put the plan into operation.

The two primary points to be determined are—1st, the time at which each member desires to emigrate; 2nd, the amount of means which each can furnish in cash, tools, implements, merchandize, and other kinds of portable or available property.

This information once obtained, calculations could then be made as to the nature, character, and extent of the operations to be entered into.


A simultaneous emigration of all the members would not take place, but successive departures, as arrangements could be made to erect houses and locate the emigrants in their new homes.

The society would select one or two judicious men, possessing the requisite knowledge, who would be dispatched to seek for a good and healthy location. Three conditions should be observed in its choice—1st, health; 2nd, a fertile soil; 3rd, means of communicating with a good market.

How often is the isolated emigrant deceived or cheated in the selection of a location, and made to expiate by sickness or death an erroneous choice!

I will mention three regions, which I believe combine all the above conditions, together with cheapness of soil. The first is the Western shore of the Mississippi River above St. Louis; the second, Western Virginia on the Ohio River; and the third, the southern part of Louisiana, bordering on the Gulf of Mexico—the Attakapas country, west of New Orleans. This region of country, for sixty miles back from the Gulf, possesses, owing to the daily and regular sea breeze, a salubrious and healthy climate: fevers commence when you leave the range of the gulf breeze; this region is fertile, and is one of the finest in the United States.

Let us suppose the location chosen and purchased. The next step to be taken is to prepare the tract or domain for the reception of the emigrants. The society would select a corps of mechanics—masons and carpenters—under the direction of a competent business man, who would proceed to the tract and commence erecting buildings.

Plans of houses would be made by a skilful architect and the members would make a selection, guided by their tastes and means. The houses of the members would be erected in the order of their emigration. An individual could reserve his town lot or farm, and wait for two, three or four years before leaving.

Each member would pay for his own house; there would be no mingling of interests and accounts. The means of the members, let me add, would not be put into a common fund, but each would retain possession and entire control of his own property.

Each person could build separately, without any concert with the others, if he wished; but the society, by concert of action and the application of proper business talent, could construct much cheaper than the individual, and combination in building operations would, to a certain extent, be entered into. Arrangements could be made, for example, to buy materials in common, to have a brickyard and burn the brick on the spot, and to raise a fund to support the mechanics while engaged on the work, paying them the balance at a future day, or in such property as the members could dispose of.

As fast as the houses were erected, the members would emigrate and take possession of their new homes. It would, of course, require some months of preparation, after the formation of the society, before the first squad of emigrants could leave.

The immense advantages of a concerted and combined system of emigration, such as is here proposed, will be readily understood by the thinking mind. The members will avoid—1st, frauds and deceptions in the purchase of lands; 2nd, unhealthy locations; 3rd, poor soil; 4th, badly or ignorantly constructed houses, which are often the cause, in new countries, of fevers; 5th, the disadvantages of isolation, such as want of schools, want of aid in cases of sickness, want of society, and so forth; 6th, separation from friends. On the other hand, they will enjoy all the opposite advantages, together with those growing out of the system of Mutualism, which I will proceed to describe.

I have pointed out the manner in which the society could be formed and the emigration organized. I will now explain the organization of the Township itself.


Calculated for sixty farming families and twenty mechanics.

A tract of land containing from five to six thousand acres lying in a body and forming as nearly as possible a square, would be purchased; it would form the domain of the township. This would allow to each farming family nearly one hundred acres, which is more than is necessary with a good system of cultivation; but reservations would be made for the admission of a certain number of additional members.

This tract would be about three miles square—the quarter of a township; it should not be much larger, for the residences of the members being, under the mutualist system, concentrated around a central square, the distance otherwise would be too great to the boundaries of the domain.

In our individualist townships the land is divided in an irregular manner; the houses are scattered incoherently over it, and the inhabitants live separately and isolatedly, with few ties or relations with each other. A different system is to be adopted in the Mutualist Township. The domain would be laid out in a regular manner, as if it were the property of a single individual. The roads and to avenues passing through it would be distributed with a view to facilitate general relations, and place all parts in easy communication, and the farms would be located symmetrically on them, in a way to be the most accessible possible from the center.

In the center of the township, a large square, containing about fifty acres, would be laid out. Here would be the central point or focus of life, and of all general operations. Around it would be located the houses of the inhabitants; in the center would be erected the public edifices;—a Mechanics' Hall, or a large building with workshops, large and small, for the mechanics; the church and school-house; and a commodious building containing a counting-room, a store, store-rooms, a council hall, a hall for public meetings, a place for social unions and festives, and an inn for the accommodation of travelers.

Before entering into details let us distinguish the branches of Industry, and the interests to which the principle of Mutualism will be applied.

Mutualism and reciprocity can be applied to those branches of business and labor which are of a general character, which do not require the close association of the members, which do not interfere with private life and interests, and with private enterprize. Mutualism would not be introduced, for example, into households or domestic life. Each family would have its separate house, with its domestic interests and affairs distinct and under its own control. But Mutualism could be introduced, for example, into commercial operations. The members could have a common store, buy their goods at wholesale, and sell them at cost price, thus saving the intermediate profits besides the frauds of the present commercial system.

Each farmer would have his separate farm, which he would cultivate as he judged proper, responsible for the amount of his production. Cooperation would not be introduced into this department, at least until sufficient experience in other branches had been obtained. But the farmers of the township could unite in obtaining threshing machines, cider presses, and other agricultural machinery.

Mutualism could be applied to such general matters without interfering in the least with individual liberty or private enterprise, but on the contrary, facilitating them essentially.

Each farmer would manage his own private affairs, those of production among others, but he could combine with the other farmers of his township in the sale of his products. They could have a general store-house and granary on the domain, and an agent in the neighboring city to attend to their sales and purchases.

Each mechanic would have his own workshop, and would ca carry on his branch of industry as at present, but the 20 mechanics could unite and construct a commodious edifice—a Mechanics' Hall, in which they could have rooms at much less expense and with far greater convenience than in to separate workshops.

Let us lay down the principle that Mutualism will be applied to industrial operations, but not to domestic life and to operations only of a general nature, which are susceptible of combination, and which do not interfere with individual responsibility, enterprise, and freedom of action.

The following are the principal branches in which Mutualism can be introduced:—

Commerce, or sales and purchases.

Exchanges of products between farmers and mechanics.

Credit, or exchanges of products on time.

Public workshops.

Public buildings.

Granaries, stables, and barns.

Agricultural machinery.


Fencing, ditching, and draining.

Herds of cattle and horses; flocks of sheep.

Baking and Washing.

The dairy.

Minor branches of industry, like the raising of poultry, the care of bees, &c.

Let us explain briefly the organization of these elements of the township, preluding with a few remarks on the dwellings.


The houses of the members would not be scattered irregularly over the domain, but concentrated and located around the central square or public place, so as to facilitate communications and public relations. There should be a general unity, though not monotony, in their architecture, and a general symmetry in their distribution. The township should present at its center the appearance of a beautiful village, in which a much higher degree of taste would be evinced than in our present villages. To each house would be attached a piece of land containing from two to five acres, which would form the garden of the family.

This concentration of houses around the public square is important in so many respects, that it is to be particularly recommended to those who wish to organize a Mutualist Township. The farmers would go from their houses to their farms, extending from the public square to the limits of the domain. This may appear too great an inovation at first sight, but when the reader understands the mutualist system of granaries, stables, teams, and agricultural machinery, he will see that any apparent difficulties are overcome.

Each farmer would have, as was stated, his separate farm, which he would cultivate as he judged proper. Mutualism in cultivation, or joint-agricultural orations, could not be attempted, at least in the beginning. It is true that at a later period the members might unite their farms, and introduce a joint system of agriculture; but in this case agricultural labor would have to be systematically organized, which would be too difficult an undertaking in the outset. Let us not therefore undertake to apply Mutualism to cultivation, at least in the foundation of the township.


The members would organize commercial operations so as to avoid the enormous intermediate profits now paid to commerce, and escape the speculations, extortions and frauds f practiced by the trading on the producing classes. The labor of the latter would net them one-third more, if they organized exchanges, that is, purchases and sales, properly.

The township would have its store, under the supervision of the Industrial Council. A proper person employed as commercial agent would attend to purchases and sales, and take the place of three or four merchants, and a dozen clerks under the present system. This agent would be paid a fair price for his services, and not allowed to speculate on the community, like our irresponsible merchants.

Stocks of goods would be laid in twice a year, purchased wholesale at the lowest cash prices, and sold at cost, transportation added, to the members. The Commercial Protective Unions of New England demonstrate the practicability of this system.

The farmers and mechanics of the township would exchange their products without any intermediate profit, and make advances to each other of the same, that is, give credit to each other reciprocally.

Credit stripped of the complication now connected with it, is simply an exchange of products on time, that is, an exchange in which one of the products is created and delivered before the other.

There will be no real prosperity for any country until agriculture and manufacture are combined in the same locality. The Mutualist township would effect to a certain extent this desired end, and secure to the members the advantages of such a combination.


The 20 mechanics, instead of building 20 separate workshops, would construct a commodious edifice for their operations with 20 or more rooms for the different branches of work. It would cost less, besides affording far greater facilities for work, particularly as regards power, which they could not obtain in small workshops. A steam engine would furnish the necessary power for all the mechanical operations of the township. With the waste steam the building could be warmed, thus saving fuel and avoiding the danger of fire This edifice could be located on one side of the public square; it would be surrounded by trees, and would form one of the architectural ornaments of the village.

The property in it would be represented by stock, divided into shares; each mechanic would own stock sufficient to represent his workshop, or his share of the building. This stock he would sell as he now would a house or a piece of land. The mechanics should not rent, but should own the building. The rental system is ruinous in the end to the producer, and should be avoided in the Mutualist township.


In the center of the public square would be erected what we may call the Township Hall, with the Mechanics Hall on one side and the Church and School-house on the other. It would be the point where all the business transactions of the township would take place, and all operations of a mutualist character regulated. It would contain the store, the ware-rooms for the deposit of the products of the place, which were destined to be exchanged between the inhabitants or sold on the spot to strangers, a Council room, a hall for public meetings, a place for public amusements, and a small inn for the accommodation of travelers.

The Industrial Council, elected by the inhabitants and entrusted with the general regulation of the industrial affairs of a mutualist character, would hold its meetings here


I have now to propose an innovation which will conflict to some extent with present habits, and consequently present prejudices, but it is too important to pass it over for this reason; I would call the particular attention of the farmers to it. It will save them over one-half the labor and expense now necessary in the care of teams and cattle, and will free them from being, what so many farmers now are, the body servants of their horses and oxen. It will also save the necessity of fencing, so enormous an expense at present.

Sixty farmers require at present 60 barns and stables, 120 teams, and 200 to 300 cows. The labor of taking, care of these barns, stables, teams, and cattle separately is immense; it is one of the greatest drawbacks on agriculture. The farmer has but little time to devote to high farming, and to the acquisition of knowledge necessary to a scientific prosecution of his business; he is absorbed in the grosser labors of the farm. The mutualist system applied to the care of animals will avoid all this, and open a new life to the farmer, and a new era in farming. A few extensive barns, stables, and granaries, properly located would take the place of the 60 separate, inconvenient, and generally badly constructed barns and stables necessary under the present system. Here would be united and concentrated all the teams, cattle and agricultural machinery of the township. These buildings would be erected at the joint expense of the farmers, each of whom would furnish in cash products or labor, his share toward their construction. (It is possible that one range of rural buildings centrally located, may be made to answer all purposes; a few large barns only would then be scattered over the domain. This is a matter for the farmers to decide upon, guided by the best experience.)

Instead of 120 teams, 60 would answer the purpose,—and if of a superior quality, and well taken care of, they would do more really effective work than 120 ordinary teams now do. Half the number necessary under the present system would be sufficient in the mutualist township, because all agricultural operations—plowing, harvesting, &c.— could be so combined as to avoid complication and waste of time. One hundred ancl fifty cows of a superior breed, and well taken care of, would give more milk than 300 of our ordinary cows, often miserably neglected. An economy of 50 per cent in teams and cattle, and a further economy of nearly as much in taking care of them, will reduce to a mere trifle comparatively, the labor now spent in the care of animals,—which makes animals of men.

The teams and stables would be taken care of by a body or group of persons who would volunteer to do the work, and who would be paid fairly for their labor: they could earn as much in this department as in any other. The sons of the farmer, and even of the mechanics,—young people who are generally fond of horses—would be naturally attached to this kind of work: it would be open to all. The farmers themselves would often take part in it, and pay in labor for the use of the teams they employed.

The farmers would hire teams to do their plowing &c. The rates charged would be sufficient to cover the expense of keeping the animals, and the wear and tear; no more. It would be cheaper than to keep teams of their own. The farmers would pay for the use of the teams in cash, in products,—hay, oats, and corn,—or in labor at the stables.

The same system would be applied to the care of the granaries and barns. A certain number of persons having a taste for the work, or wishing occupation, would combine and devote themselves to it, receiving the current rate of wages for their labor.

The farmers would draw their grain directly from the fields to the granaries; it. would be thrashed out and would remain without further molestation until sold. All other products,—hay, hemp, peas, beans, &c.—would be transported direct from the farms to the general barns and granaries. The farmers would order their products sold at such times as they judged proper. They would be guided in their decisions by the advice of the Industrial Council and the commercial agent.

Let the reader reflect on the numerous advantage$ which such a system of combination in teams and stables, granaries and storage would secure to the farmers of a township, and he will be convinced that it would be a most desirable innovation I consider it one of the most important improvements connected with the mutualist township. Besides its economies and other material advantages, it would possess one still greater—a moral advantage, that of elevating the farmer above parasitic farm drudgery, and of securing him the time for mental culture.


Threshing machines, plowing, reaping, mowing, and raking machines, and other agricultural machinery of a labor-saving character, would be procured by the town hip, and placed within the reach of all the members. In connection with this subject I will mention that the members would exchange labor with each other. A farmer, if he wished, could obtain the aid of a dozen others, and with good teams and with labor-saving machinery, they would do as much work in one day as he, working alone, could do in twenty, or perhaps thirty. In these exchanges exact accounts will be kept, so that in the end none will be losers, but all gainers thereby.


This is a source of great expense, constant care, and a vast amount of hard labor to the farmer in our individualist townships. It is a kind of labor which is not in itself necessary, like plowing or reaping; it grows out of the defects of our general agricultural system, and is to be classed among the parasitic work belonging to that system. With the aid of the combined stables, barns, and teams, all internal fences will be unnecessary. The cattle will be kept up, or within certain enclosures.

(To be Continued.)

No comments: