The Origins of Individualist Anarchism in America

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tend to fall into two opposing errors on the American past: the
familiar “Golden Age” view of the right-wing that everything was
blissful in America until some moment of precipitous decline (often
dated 1933); and the deeply pessimistic minority view that rejects
the American past root and branch, spurning all American institutions
and virtually all of its thinkers except such late nineteenth-century
individualist anarchists as Benjamin R. Tucker and Lysander Spooner.

The truth
is somewhere in between: America was never the golden “land of
the free” of the conservative-libertarian legend, and yet it managed
for a very long time to be freer, in institutions and in intellectual
climate, than any other land.

America did not set out deliberately to be the land of the free.
On the contrary, it began in a tangle of tyranny, special privilege,
and vast land monopoly. Territories were carved out either as
colonies subject directly to the English Crown, or as enormous
land grabs for privileged companies or feudal proprietors.

What defeated
these despotic and feudal thrusts into the new territory was,
at bottom, rather simple: the vastness of the fertile and uninhabited
land that lay waiting to be settled. Not only relative freedom,
but even outright anarchist institutions grew up early in the
interstices between the organized, despotic English colonies.


There is
a good possibility that for a couple of decades in the mid-seventeenth
century, the coastal area north of Albemarle Sound in what is
now northeastern North Carolina was in a quasi-anarchistic state.
Technically a part of the Virginia colony but in practice virtually
independent, the Albemarle area was a haven for persons chaffing
under the despotic rule of the English Crown, the Anglican Church
and the large planter aristocracy of Virginia. Roger Green led
a Presbyterian group that left Virginia proper for Albemarle,
and many Quakers settled in the area, which specialized in growing

This semi-libertarian
condition came to an end in 1663, when the English Crown included
Albemarle in the mammoth Carolina land grant bestowed on a group
of eight feudal proprietors. Little is known of pre-1663 Albemarle,
since historians display scant interest in stateless societies.[1]


the freest colony in America, and the major source of anarchistic
thought and institutions, was little Rhode Island, which originated
as a series of more or less anarchic settlements founded by people
fleeing from the brutal politico-religious tyranny of the Puritans
of Massachusetts Bay (who referred to the new territory as “Rogue’s
Land”). Unsettled and untouched by the land grants or the Crown,
the Rhode Island area provided a haven close to the Massachusetts
Bay settlement.

the first refugee settlement, was founded in 1636 by the young
Reverend Roger Williams. A political and especially a religious
libertarian, Williams was close to the Levellers — that great
group of English laissez-faire individualists who constituted
the “extreme left-wing” of the republican side in the English
Civil War. At first, the Williams settlement was virtually anarchistic.
As Williams described it, “the masters of families have ordinarily
met once a fortnight and consulted about our common peace, watch
and plenty; and mutual consent have finished all matters of speed
and pace.”

But this
anarchistic idyll began to flounder in a tragically ironic trap
that Williams had laid for himself and his followers. Williams
had pioneered in scrupulously purchasing all the land from the
Indians voluntarily — a method of land acquisition in sharp
contrast to the brutal methods of extermination beloved by the
Puritans of Massachusetts Bay. But the problem was that the Indians
had erroneous theories of property. As collective tribes they
laid claim to vast reaches of land on which they had only hunted.
Not having transformed the land itself, they were not entitled
to all of the land that they sold.

Hence, Williams
and his group, by purchasing all of this unsettled land, willy-nilly
acquired these illegitimate land titles. Thinking that he had
been generous, voluntaristic and libertarian, Williams (and his
group) fell into the trap of becoming a feudalistic group of landowners.
Instead of automatically acquiring the land in Providence that
they homesteaded, later settlers had to purchase or rent the land
from the original Williams claimants. The result was that Williams
and his original colleagues, who had formed “The Fellowship,"
found themselves in the position of being oligarchic rulers of
Providence as well as Providence’s land “monopolists.” Once again,
as so many times in history, land-monopoly and government went
hand in hand.

While a libertarian,
Williams never became an explicit anarchist, even though he established
an anarchistic community in Providence. The honor of being the
first explicit anarchist In North America belongs to Williams’s
successor, a leading religious refugee from Massachusetts, Anne
Hutchinson. Anne and her followers, who had become far more numerous
a band of heretics than Williams had amassed, emigrated to the
Rhode Island area in 1638 at the suggestion of Williams himself.
There they purchased the island of Aquidneck from the Indians
and founded the settlement of Pocasset (now Portsmouth).

Anne soon
became restive at Pocasset, seeing that her follower and major
founder of the settlement, the wealthy merchant William Coddington,
had quickly established his own theocratic rule over the infant
colony. For Coddington, as “judge” of the settlement, based his
decrees and rulings on the “word of God," as arbitrarily interpreted
by himself.

this time far more explicitly and consciously than Williams, founded
his dictatorial power on his deed of purchase of the island from
the Indians. Since his was the only name on the deed of purchase,
Coddington claimed for himself all the “rights” of land monopolist
and feudal lord, allotting no rights to homesteading settlers.

Anne Hutchinson,
not yet an anarchist, now launched a political struggle against
Coddington in early 1639 forcing him to give the entire body of
freemen a veto over his actions. In April, Coddington was forced
to agree to elections for his post as Governor, a position that
he had expected to be his permanently by feudal right. Anne’s
husband, William Hutchinson, defeated Coddington in the elections,
and Coddington and his followers left Pocasset to found a new
settlement called New Port at the southern end of the island.
The victorious Hutchinsonians adopted a new constitution, changing
the name of the town to Portsmouth, and stating that (1) all male
inhabitants were equal before the law; (2) Church and State were
to be kept separate; and (3) trial by jury was to be established
for all.

thereafter Coddington declared war upon Portsmouth and at the
end of a year of turmoil, the two groups agreed to unite the two
settlements. Coddington was once more chosen as governor, but
with democratic institutions and religious liberty guaranteed.

From the
point of view of social philosophy, however, the important consequence
of this struggle with Coddington was that Anne Hutchinson began
to reflect deeply on the whole question of liberty. If, as Roger
Williams had taught, there must be absolute religious liberty
for the individual, than what right does government have to rule
the individual at all? In short, Anne Hutchinson had come to the
conclusion of the “unlawfulness of magistry government.”

As Anne’s
biographer Winifred Rugg put it: “She was supremely convinced
that the Christian held within his own breast the assurance of
salvation … For such persons magistrates were obviously
superfluous. As for the others, they were to be converted, not

Anne persuaded
her husband to resign as one of Coddington’s major assistants
in the colony. In 1642, soon after his resignation, William Hutchinson
died. Deprived of her husband and disgusted with all government,
Anne left Rhode Island to settle at Pelham Bay, near New York
City. There, in the late summer of 1643, Anne and her family were
killed by a band of Indians, who had been set upon by the Dutch
of New York.

But while
Anne Hutchinson was dead, her ideas lived on. Some of her followers,
headed by Anne’s sister Mrs. Catherine Scott, headed the new Baptist
movement in Rhode Island, which, as we shall see, was later to
erupt as a highly important movement of Baptist anarchists.

One of the
most interesting individualists of the American colonial period
was Samuell Gorton. An English clothier, his libertarian political
and religious views and individualistic spirit got him persecuted
in every colony in New England, including Providence and Portsmouth.
An opponent of theocracy, and indeed of all formal religious organizations,
Gorton opposed all transgressions of government against the rights
guaranteed by English common law. Fleeing Anglican England, Gorton
successively had to escape from Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Portsmouth,
and Providence. In the Providence incident Roger Williams began
to display that totalitarian temperament, that impatience with
anyone more individualistic than he, that was later to turn him
sharply away from liberty and towards statism. Williams agreed
to the expulsion of Gorton from Providence, declaring that Gorton
was “bewitching and bemadding poor Providence … with his
unclear and foul censures of all the ministers of this country…”

Accused of
being “anarchists,” denounced by Governor Winthrop of Massachusetts
Bay as a “man not fit to live upon the face of the earth,” Gorton
and his followers were forced in late 1642 to found an entirely
new settlement of their own: Shawomet (later Warwick) which he
purchased from the Indians. There the little settlement was under
continued threat of aggression by their mighty Massachusetts neighbor.
While Gorton was not explicitly an anarchist, the little town
of Shawomet lived in an anarchist idyll in the years that it remained
a separate settlement.

In the words
of Gorton, for over five years the settlement “lived peaceably
together, desiring and endeavoring to do wrong to no man, neither
English nor Indian, ending all our differences in a neighborly
and loving way of arbitration, mutually chosen amongst us.” But
in 1648, Warwick joined with the other three towns of Rhode Island
to form the colony of the “Providence Plantation.” From that time
on Warwick was under a government, even though this was a government
far more democratic and libertarian than existed anywhere else.
As a respected leader of the new colony, now considered “fit to
live” in Rhode Island, Gorton managed to abolish imprisonment
for debt, lower the term of indentured service, and even to be
the first to abolish slavery in America, even though abolition
turned out to be a dead letter.

After two
decades of struggle against the aggressions of Massachusetts,
Roger Williams was finally able, in the mid-1650s, to win immunity
for Rhode Island, by gaining the protection of the victorious
republican revolutionaries of England. At the time of winning
its protection from Massachusetts, Williams described the colony
as having “long drunk of the cup of as great liberties as any
people that we can hear of under the whole heaven.” “Sir,” Williams
added, writing to his libertarian English friend Sir Henry Vane,
“we have not known what an excise means; we have almost forgotten
what tithes are, yea, or taxes either, to church or commonwealth.”

Yet it was
almost immediately after this triumph that Williams savagely turned
on the liberty of the colony he had founded. Why the shift? Several
reasons can be found: first, the inevitable corruptions of governmental
power on even the most libertarian of rulers; and second, Williams’s
impatience with those even more libertarian than he. But a third
reason has to do with the loss of liberty in England.

For two decades,
Roger Williams had worked closely with the most libertarian and
individualistic groups in the revolutionary movement in England;
but now, just as the laissez-faire, individualist “left” seemed
to have triumphed, England suddenly moved precipitously rightward
and stateward under the new dictatorship of the Independent Oliver
Cromwell. The shift away from liberty in England was embodied
in Cromwell’s brutal suppression of the Levellers, the leaders
of libertarianism in the Revolution. With the mother country sliding
away from liberty and into dictatorship, the aging Williams undoubtedly
lost much of his previously firm grip on libertarian principle.

shift from liberty was first revealed in 1655, when he suddenly
imposed a system of compulsory military service on the people
of Rhode Island. It was in reaction to this violation of all the
libertarian traditions of Rhode Island that a vigorous opposition
developed in the colony — an opposition that eventually
polarized into outright individualistic anarchism.

Heading this
move toward anarchism was the bulk of the Baptists of Rhode Island.
Led by the Reverend Thomas Olney, former Baptist minister of Providence,
and including also John Field, John Throckmorton, the redoubtable
William Harris, and Williams’s own brother Robert. This group
circulated a petition charging that “it was blood guiltiness,
and against the rule of the gospel to execute judgement upon transgressors,
against the private or public weal.” In short, any punishment
of transgressors and/or any bearing of arms was anti-Christian!

response was to denounce the petition as causing “tumult and disturbance.”
The anarchists thereupon rose in rebellion against Williams’s
government, but were put down by force of arms. Despite the failure
of the revolt, the 1655 elections of a few months later, elected
Thomas Olney as an assistant to the inevitably re-elected Williams,
even though Olney himself had led the uprising.

proceeded to aggrandize statism still further. The central government
of the colony decided to bypass the home-rule right of the individual
towns to finance the colony, and appointed central officials to
levy general taxes directly upon the people. Laws against “immorality”
were also strengthened, with corporal punishment to be levied
for such crimes as “loose living.” The anti-immorality laws were
probably a part of an attempt by Williams to curry favor with
the Puritanical Oliver Cromwell. Most ominously, after Cromwell
had ordered Rhode Island to punish “intestinal commotions,” the
colony swiftly passed a law against “ringleaders of factions”
who were thereafter to be sent to England for trial.

Baptist anarchism,
however, continued to intensify in Rhode Island. One of the new
adherents was none other than Catherine Scott, a leading Baptist
preacher and the sister of Anne Hutchinson. In this way, Anne’s
lone pioneering in philosophical anarchism before her death had
planted a seed that burst forth a decade and a half later. Also
adopting anarchism were Rebecca Throckmorton, Robert West, and
Ann Williams, wife of Robert. Finally, in March 1657, the crackdown
on freedom of speech and dissent arrived. Williams hauled these
four anarchist opponents into court, charging them with being
“common opposers of all authority.” After this act of intimidation,
however, Williams relented and withdrew the charges. But Williams
had accomplished the singular purpose of his repression: the frightened
anarchist leaders lapsed into silence.

The formidable
William Harris, however, could not be frightened so readily. Harris
circulated a manuscript to all the towns of Rhode Island, denouncing
all taxation and “all civil governments.” He called upon the people
to “cry out, No lords, No masters.” Harris predicted that the
State, which he called “the House of Saul," would inevitably grow
weaker and weaker, while the “House of David” (namely Harris and
his followers) would grow stronger and stronger. Harris also condemned
all punishments and prisons, all officials and legislative assemblies.

William Harris
was now hauled into court by the Williams administration. He was
charged with “open defiance under his hand against our Charter,
all our laws … Parliament, the Lord Protector [Cromwell]
and all governments.” Instead of quieting under repression as
had Mrs. Scott and the others, Harris swore that he would continue
to maintain his anarchism “with his blood.” Persistently refusing
to recant, Harris reiterated his interpretation of Scripture,
namely that “he that can say it is his conscience ought not to
yield subjection to any human order amongst men.” The General
Court found Harris guilty of being “contemptuous and seditious,”
and the evidence against Harris and his son was sent to England
in preparation for a trial for treason.

The treason
trial never materialized, because by good fortune the ship carrying
the evidence to England was lost at sea. But Harris was finally
sufficiently cowed to abandon his anarchism. He turned instead
to a lifelong harassment of the hated Roger Williams through endless
litigation of land claims.[2]


The third
great example of anarchism in colonial America took place in Pennsylvania.
This was William Penn’s “Holy Experiment” for a Quaker colony
that would provide “an example [that] may be set up to the nations.”
While religious liberty was guaranteed, and institutions were
relatively libertarian, Penn never meant his new colony, founded
in 1681, to be anarchistic or anything of the like.[3]
Curiously, Pennsylvania fell into living and functioning anarchism
by happy accident.

Lured by
religious liberty and by cheap and abundant land, settlers, largely
Quaker, poured into Pennsylvania in large numbers.[4]
At the end of eight years 12,000 people had settled in the new
colony. The first touch of anarchy came in the area of taxation.
While low excise and export duties had been levied by the Pennsylvania
Assembly in 1683, Governor Penn set aside all taxes for a year
to encourage rapid settlement. The next year, when Penn wanted
to levy taxes for his own personal income, a group of leaders
of the colony persuaded Penn to drop the tax, in return for them
personally raising a voluntary gift for his own use. William Penn
returned to England in the fall of 1684, convinced that he had
founded a stable and profitable colony.

One of his
major expectations was the collection of “quitrents” from every
settler. This was to be in continuing payment for Penn’s claim
as feudal landlord of the entire colony, as had been granted by
the Crown. But Penn, like the proprietors and feudal overlords
in the other colonies, found it almost impossible to collect these
quitrents. He had granted the populace a moratorium on quitrents
until 1685, but the people insisted on further postponements,
and Penn’s threatened legal proceedings were without success.

the people of Pennsylvania continued to refuse to vote to levy
taxes. They even infringed upon the monopoly of lime production,
which Penn had granted to himself, by stubbornly opening their
own lime quarries. William Penn found that deprived of feudal
or tax income, his deficits from ruling Pennsylvania were large
and his fortune was dissipating steadily. Freedom and a taxless
society had contaminated the colonists. As Penn complained, “the
great fault is, that those who are there, lose their authority
one way or other in the spirits of the people and then they can
do little with their outward powers.”

When Penn
returned to England, the governing of the colony fell to the Council
of Pennsylvania. Although Penn had appointed Thomas Lloyd, a Welsh
Quaker, to be president of the Council, the president had virtually
no power, and could not make any decisions of his own. The Council
itself met very infrequently, and no officials had the interim
power to act. During these great intervals, Pennsylvania had no
government at all — as indicated by the fact that neither
quitrents nor taxes were being levied in the colony.

Why did the
Council rarely meet? For one thing because the Councilors, having
little to do in that libertarian society and being unpaid, had
their own private business to attend to. The Councilors, according
to the laws of the colony, were supposed to receive a small stipend,
but as was typical of this anarchistic colony, it proved almost
impossible to extract these funds from the Pennsylvanian populace.

If the colonial
government ceased to exist except for the infrequent days of Council
meetings, what of local governments? Did they provide a permanent
bureaucracy, a visible evidence of the continuing existence of
the State apparatus? The answer is no; for the local courts met
only a few days a year, and the county officials, too, were private
citizens who devoted almost no time to upholding the law. To cap
the situation the Assembly passed no laws after 1686, being in
a continuing wrangle over the extent of its powers.

The colony
of Pennsylvania continued in this de facto state of individualist
anarchism from the fall of 1684 to the end of 1688: four glorious
years in which no outcry arose from the happy citizens about “anarchy”
or “chaos." No Pennsylvanian seemed to believe himself any the
worse for wear.

A bit of
government came to Pennsylvania in 1685, in the person of William
Dyer who was the appointed Collector of the King’s Customs. Despite
frantic appeals from William Penn to cooperate with Dyer, the
Pennsylvanians persisted in their anarchism by blithely and consistently
evading the Royal Navigation Laws.

It is no
wonder that William Penn had the distinct impression that his
“Holy Experiment” had slipped away from him, had taken a new and
bewildering turn. Penn had launched a colony that he thought would
quietly follow his dictates and yield him a handsome feudal profit.
By providing a prosperous haven of refuge for Quakers, Penn expected
in return the twin reward of wealth and power. Instead, he found
himself without either. Unable to collect revenue from the free
and independent-minded Pennsylvanians, he saw the colony slipping
quietly and gracefully into outright anarchism — into a
peaceful, growing and flourishing land of no taxes and virtually
no State. Thereupon, Penn frantically tried to force Pennsylvania
back into the familiar mold of the Old Order.

In February
1687 William Penn appointed five Pennsylvanians as commissioners
of state. Assigned to “act in the execution of the laws, as if
I myself were there present.” The purpose of this new appointment
was “that there may be a more constant residence of the honorary
and governing part of the government, for keeping all things in
good order.” Penn appointed the five commissioners from among
the leading citizens of the colony, and ordered them to enforce
the laws.

the colonists were quite happy about their anarchism, and shrewdly
engaged in non-violent resistance toward the commission. In the
first place, news about the commission was delayed for months.
Then protests poured into Penn about the new commission. Penn
soon realized that he had received no communication from the supposedly
governing body.

Unable to
delay matters any longer, the reluctant commissioners of state
took office in February 1688. Three and one-half years of substantive
anarchism were over. The State was back in its Heaven; once more
all was right in William Penn’s world. Typically, the gloating
Penn urged the commissioners to conceal any differences among
themselves, so as to deceive and overawe the public “Show your
virtues but conceal your infirmities; this will make you awful
and revered with ye people.” He further urged them to enforce
the King’s duties and to levy taxes to support the government.

The commissioners
confined themselves to calling the Assembly into session in the
spring of 1688, and this time the Assembly did pass some laws,
for the first time in three years. The most important bills presented
to the Assembly by the Council and the Commissioners, however,
was for the reimposition of taxes; and here the Assembly, at the
last minute, heroically defied Penn and the government, and rejected
the tax bills.

After a brief
flurry of State activity in early 1688, therefore, the State was
found wanting, taxes were rejected and the colony lapsed quickly
back into a state of anarchism. Somehow, the commissioners, evidently
exhausted by their task, failed to meet any further, and the Council
fell back into its schedule of rare meetings.

In desperation,
Penn acted to appoint a Deputy-Governor to rule Pennsylvania in
his absence. Thomas Lloyd, President of the Council, refused the
appointment, and as we saw from the reluctance of the commissioners,
no one in happily anarchic Pennsylvania wanted to rule over others.
At this point, Penn reached outside the colony to appoint a tough
old non-Pennsylvanian and non-Quaker, the veteran Puritan soldier
John Blackwell, to be Deputy-Governor of the colony. In appointing
him, Penn made clear to Blackwell that his primary task was to
collect Penn’s quitrents and his secondary task to reestablish
a government.

If John Blackwell
had any idea that the Quakers were a meek people, he was in for
a rude surprise. Blackwell was to find out quickly that a devotion
to peace, liberty, and individualism in no sense implied an attitude
of passive resignation to tyranny — quite the contrary.

initial reception as Deputy-Governor was an augur of things to
come. Sending word ahead for someone to meet him upon his arrival
in New York, Blackwell landed there only to find no one to receive
him. After waiting in vain for three days, Blackwell went alone
to the colony. When he arrived in Philadelphia on December 17,
1688, he found no escort, no parade, no reception committee. After
having ordered the Council to meet him upon his arrival, Blackwell
could find no trace of the Councilor of any other governmental
officials. Instead he “found the Council room deserted and covered
with dust and scattered papers. The wheels of government had nearly
stopped turning.”[5]

Only one
surly escort appeared, and he refused to speak to his new
Governor. And when Blackwell arrived at the empty Council room,
his only reception was a group of boys of the neighborhood who
gathered around to hoot and jeer.

The resourceful
Pennsylvanians now embarked on a shrewd and determined campaign
of non-violent resistance to the attempt to reimpose a State on
a happy and stateless people. Thomas Lloyd, as Keeper of the Great
Seal, insisted that none of Blackwell’s orders or commissions
were legally valid unless stamped with the Great Seal. And Lloyd,
as Keeper, somehow stubbornly refused to do any stamping. Furthermore,
David Lloyd, the clerk of the court and a distant relative of
Thomas’s, absolutely refused to turn over the documents of any
cases to Blackwell, even if the judges so ordered. For this act
of defiance Blackwell declared David Lloyd unfit to serve as court
clerk and dismissed him. Thomas promptly reappointed David by
virtue of his power as Keeper of the Great Seal. Moreover, out
of a dozen justices of the peace named by Blackwell, four bluntly
refused to serve.

As the revolutionary
situation intensified in Pennsylvania, the timid and shortsighted
began to betray the revolutionary libertarian cause. All of the
Council except two now sided with Blackwell. Leader of the pro-Blackwell
clique was Griffith Jones, who had allowed Blackwell to live at
his home in Philadelphia. Jones warned that “it is the king’s
authority that is opposed and [it] looks to me as if it were raising
a force to rebel.” On the Council, only Arthur Cook and Samuel
Richardson continued to defy the Governor.

was of course appalled at this situation. He wrote to Penn that
the colonists were suffering from excessive liberty. They had
eaten more of the “honey of your concessions than their stomachs
can bear.” Blackwell managed to force the Council to meet every
week in early 1689, but he failed to force them to agree to a
permanent and continuing Councilor from every county in Philadelphia.
Arthur Cook led the successful resistance, pointing out that the
“people were not able to bear the charge of constant attendance.”

The climax
in the struggle between Blackwell and the people of Pennsylvania
came in April 1689, when the Governor introduced proceedings for
the impeachment of Thomas Lloyd, charging him with high crimes
and misdemeanors. In his address, Blackwell trumpeted to his stunned
listeners that William Penn’s powers over the colony were absolute.
The Council, on his theory, existed not to represent the people
but to be an instrument of Penn’s will. Blackwell concluded his
harangue by threatening to unsheathe and wield his sword against
his insolent and unruly opponents.

Given the
choice between the old anarchism or absolute rule by John Blackwell,
even the trimmers and waverers rallied behind Thomas Lloyd. After
Blackwell had summarily dismissed Lloyd, Richardson and others
from the Council, the Council rebelled and demanded the right
to approve of their own members. With the entire Council now arrayed
against him, the disheartened Blackwell dissolved that body and
sent his resignation to Penn.

The Councilors,
in turn, bitterly protested to Penn against his deputy’s attempt
to deprive them of their liberties. As for Blackwell, he considered
the Quakers agents of the Devil, as foretold in the New Testament,
men “who shall despise dominion and speak evil of dignities.”
These Quakers, Blackwell charged in horror, “have not the principles
of government amongst them, nor will they be informed…”

Faced with
virtually unanimous and determined opposition from the colonists
Penn decided against Blackwell. For the rest of the year, Blackwell
continued formally in office, but he now lost all interest in
exerting his rule. He simply waited out his fading term of office.
Penn in effect restored the old system by designating the Council
as a whole as his “deputy governor.” Replacing vinegar with honey
Penn apologized for his mistake in appointing Blackwell, and asserted,
“I have thought fit … to throw all into your hands, that
you may all see the confidence I have in you.”

soon slipped back into anarchism. The Council, again headed by
Thomas Lloyd, met but seldom. When a rare meeting was called it
did virtually nothing and told William Penn even less. The Assembly
also met but rarely. And when Secretary of the colony William
Markham (a cousin of Penn, who had been one of the hated Blackwell
clique) submitted a petition for the levying of taxes to provide
some financial help for poor William Penn the Council totally
ignored his request.

when Markham asked for a governmental organization of militia
to provide for military defense against a (non-existent) French
and Indian threat, the Council preserved the anarchistic status
of the colony by blandly replying that any people who are interested
could provide for their defense at their own expense. Anarchism
had returned in triumph to Pennsylvania. The determined non-violent
resistance of the colony had won a glorious victory.

Penn, however,
refused to allow the colony to continue in this anarchistic state.
In 1691 he insisted that a continuing deputy-governor be appointed,
although he would allow the colony to select a governor. The colony
of course chose their resistance hero Thomas Lloyd, who assumed
his new post in April. After seven years of de facto anarchism
(with the exception of a few months of Council meetings and several
months of Blackwellite attempt to rule), Pennsylvania now had
a continuous, permanent head of government. “Archy” was back,
but its burden was still negligible for the Assembly and the Council
still met but rarely and, above all, there was no taxation in
the colony.

But the virus
of power, the canker of archy, once let loose even a trifle, feeds
upon itself. Suddenly, as a bolt from the blue, the Council in
April 1692 passed a new bill for the reestablishment of taxation
and the revered Governor Lloyd concurred in this betrayal. The
question now reverted to the popularly elected Assembly, always
the political stronghold of liberty in the province. Would they
too succumb? The freemen of Philadelphia and of Chester sent the
Assembly petitions strongly protesting the proposed imposition
of taxation. They urged the Assembly to keep “their country free
from bondage and slavery, and avoiding such ill methods, as may
render themselves and posterity liable thereto.” Heeding these
protests, the Assembly refused to pass a tax law. De facto
anarchy was still, though barely, alive.

however, was by now doomed, and governmental oppression, even
without taxes, quickly returned to Pennsylvania. This new outcropping
of statism was stimulated by opposition from a split-off from
Quakerism headed by the scholarly Scottish Quaker George Keith,
the outstanding Quaker minister of the middle colonies and the
schoolmaster at Philadelphia. He was religiously more conservative
than the bulk of the Quakers, leaning as he did toward Presbyterianism,
but politically he was more individualistic. Stimulated by the
anarchism he found in Pennsylvania, Keith quickly concluded logically
from the Quaker creed that all participation in government
ran counter to Quaker principles.

The return
of Pennsylvania to government in the spring of 1691 especially
provoked George Keith. How, he asked, could a Quaker minister
like Thomas Lloyd, professing belief in non-violence, serve as
a governmental magistrate at all, since the essence of government
was the use of violence? A telling point: in short, Keith saw
that Quaker non-violence logically implied, not only refusal to
bear arms, but complete individualistic anarchism.

in the fall of 1692, the Keithian “Christian Quaker” faction was
expelled from the body of Quakers. And to their shame, the main
body of Quakers, after having been persecuted widely for their
religious principles, reacted to a split in their own ranks
in the very same way. Keithian pamphlets were confiscated and
the printers arrested; Keith himself was ordered to stop making
speeches and publishing pamphlets “that have a tendency to sedition,
and disturbance of the peace, as also to the subversion of the
present government.” Three Keithian leaders including Keith himself,
were indicted for writing a book denouncing the magistrates, and
the jury was packed with the friends of the Quaker rulers. Despite
Keith’s pleas that Quakers are duty-bound to settle all their
disputes peacefully and voluntarily, and to never go to court,
the men were convicted and fined (though the fines were never
paid), and denied the right to appeal to the Council or to the
provisional court. Government was back in Pennsylvania —
with a vengeance.

would very soon be back too. William Penn, a close friend of the
recently deposed King James II of England, was in deep political
trouble at court. Angry with Penn, peeved at the anarchism and
the pacifism of the colony, and anxious to weld the northern colonies
into a fighting force for attacking the French in Canada, King
William, in late 1692, named Benjamin Fletcher governor of both
New York and Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania, no longer under the proprietary
of William Penn, was now a royal colony.

Fletcher assumed the reins of government in April 1693. As in
other royal colonies, the Council was now appointed by the Governor.
Fletcher convened the Assembly in May, and was able to drive through
a tax bill because of his and the Council’s power to judge all
the existing laws of Pennsylvania, and of a threat to annex the
colony to New York. Taxes had arrived at last; archy was back
in full force, and the glorious years of anarchism were gone.[6]

But a flurry
of anarchism remained. In its 1694 session, the Pennsylvania Assembly
decided to allocate almost half its tax revenue to the personal
use of Thomas Lloyd and of William Markham, whom Fletcher had
appointed as his Deputy-Governor. Infuriated, Fletcher dissolved
the Assembly. After a year of imposition, taxes had again disappeared
from Pennsylvania.

Fletcher lost interest in Pennsylvania, which after all these
years was decidedly a poor place for raising tax revenue. The
colony returned to its old quasi-anarchistic state, with no taxes
and with a Council that did little and met infrequently. But,
meanwhile, William Penn was campaigning energetically for returning
to his feudal fiefdom. He abjectly promised the King that Pennsylvania
would be good: that it would levy taxes, raise a militia, and
obey royal orders. He promised to keep Fletcher’s laws and to
keep Markham as governor. As a result the King restored Pennsylvania
to the ownership of Penn in the summer of 1694, and by the spring
of the following year, Markham was installed as Deputy-Governor
under the restored Penn proprietary. But in the spring 1695 session,
the now elected Council again refused to consider any tax bill.

The Assembly
continued to refuse to pass a tax bill for another year and a
half. With the exception of one year, Pennsylvania thus remained
in a quasi-anarchist state of taxlessness from its founding in
1681 until the fall of 1696: fourteen glorious years. Governor
Markham was only able to push through a tax bill at the end of
1696 by a naked usurpation of the powers of government: decreeing
a new constitution of his own, including an appointed Council.
Markham was able to purchase the Assembly’s support by granting
it the power to initiate legislation and also to raise the property
requirement for voting in the towns, thus permitting the Quakers
to exclude the largely non-Quaker urban poor from having the vote.

A libertarian
opposition now gathered, led by Arthur Cook (Thomas Lloyd now
deceased). It included a coalition of former Keithians like Robert
Turner and old Blackwell henchmen like Griffith Jones. The opposition
gathered a mass petition in March 1697, signed by over a hundred,
attacking the imposed constitution, the increase in suffrage requirements
in the towns, and particularly the establishment of taxation.
When the opposition Councilors and Assemblymen, elected as a protest
under a separate set of votes under the old constitution, were
summarily rejected, Robert Turner denounced this threat to “our
ancient rights, liberties and freedom.” Turner particularly denounced
the tax bill of 1696, and urged that the tax money seized from
its rightful owners “by that unwarranted, illegal and arbitrary
act, be forthwith restored.” But all this was to no avail. Pennsylvania
soon slipped into the same archic mould as all the other colonies.
The “Holy Experiment” was over.


None of this
material has ever appeared in any work on the history of individualist
anarchism in the United States. James J. Martin’s excellent Men
Against the State
(DeKalb, Ill., Adrian Allen Associates,
1953) does not go back before the nineteenth century. In any case,
Martin’s methodology prevents him from acknowledging these men
and women of the seventeenth century as anarchists, since he believes
Christianity and anarchism to be incompatible. Neither Rudolf
Rocker’s Pioneers
of American Freedom
(Los Angeles, Rocker Publications
Committee, 1949) nor Henry J. Silverman’s (ed.) American
Radical Thought: The Libertarian Tradition
Mass., D, C. Heath Co., 1970) touches on the colonial period.
The only history of individualist anarchism that deals with the
colonial period is the pioneering work by Eunice Minette Schuster
American Anarchism
(1932, rep. by New York, De Capo Press
1970). Schuster deals briefly with the religious views of Anne
Hutchinson and the Quakers, but deals hardly at all with their
political ideas nor with the institutions that they put into practice.
Corinne Jacker’s The
Black Flag of Anarchy
(New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons,
1968) only sharply condenses Schuster.

[Libertarian Analysis,
Winter 1970, Vol. 1, No. 1., pp. 14–28]

The author’s
bio in Libertarian Analysis read: “Murray N. Rothbard
is a professor of economics at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn.
He is the editor of the Libertarian Forum. His most recent
book is Power
and Market
.” Comment
on the blog

The lack of recordkeeping in stateless societies — since
only government officials seem to have the time, energy, and
resources to devote to such activities — produce a tendency
toward a governmental bias in the working methods of historians.

He was one of the original band that had helped Williams found

1657 was the year that the first Quaker landed in Rhode Island
from England. It is no surprise that within a decade this new
individualistic sect had converted a majority of Rhode Islanders,
including most of the former Baptists and Hutchinsonians.

Particularly remarkable was the treatment of the Indians by
Penn and the Quakers. In striking contrast to the general treatment
of Indians by white settlers, the Quakers insisted on voluntary
purchase of Indian land. They also dealt with the Indians as
human beings, deserving of respect and dignity. As a consequence,
peace with the Indians was maintained for well over half a century;
no drop of Quaker blood was shed by the Indians. Voltaire wrote
rapturously of the Quaker achievement; for the Indians, he declared,
“it was truly a new sight to see a sovereign William Penn to
whom everyone said ‘thou’ and to whom one spake with one’s hat
on one’s head; a government without priests, a people without
arms, citizens as the magistrates, and neighbors without jealousy.”

Edwin B. Bronner, William
Penn’s “Holy Experiment”
(New York, Temple University
Publications, 1962), p. 108.

One reason for the failure of any Pennsylvania resistance to
the new regime was that the unity of the colonists had foundered
on the rock of the Keithian schism. One beneficial result of
royal rule was the freeing of Keith and his friends. Keith,
however, returned to England, and with his departure the Keithian
movement soon fell apart. The final irony came in later years
when Keith, now an ardent Anglican minister in America, his
former Quakerish individualist anarchism totally forgotten,
helped to impose a year’s imprisonment on grounds of sedition
against the established Anglican Church of New York, upon the
Reverend Samuel Bownes of Long Island.

N. Rothbard
(1926–1995) was the author of Man,
Economy, and State
, Conceived
in Liberty
, What
Has Government Done to Our Money
, For
a New Liberty
, The
Case Against the Fed
, and many
other books and articles
. He
was also the editor – with Lew Rockwell – of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report

Rothbard Archives

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