The Course of American Democratic Thought

By Ralph Henry Gabriel; Robert H. Walker | Go to book overview

Chapter20
THE SOCIAL GOSPEL AND THE SALVATION OF SOCIETY

IN 1872 WHEN THE RAILROAD KINGS were the economic lords of America, the Reverend Jesse H. Jones, a Congregational minister in North Abington, Massachusetts, felt that the time had come to bring to fruition a plan that had been forming in his mind since he had read John Ruskin's The Crown of Wild Olive, published in America in 1866. The Slade professor of the fine arts at Oxford, having turned from the reform of art to that of society, was preaching a curious economic and social philosophy which he called communism. Jones aspired to the rôle of the Ruskin of America, although his proposed program differed much from that of the Englishman. It had, in fact, more in common with the platforms of the ill-fated Fourierist communities which rose and fell in the 1840's.

Jones felt that the Christian Church should minister to the industrial wage earner and to the railway worker as much as to the employer. In Boston in 1872 Jones founded the Christian Labor Union, using the local assembly of the new Knights of Labor as his model. The purpose of the organization was the education of the workers and the support of labor reforms. All the members of the little band which Jones gathered about himself were ardent supporters of Steward's Eight-Hour Movement. One of these, a Catholic and a former judge in New Orleans, had once fallen under the spell of Fourierism and still meditated colonization schemes. To carry its message to America the Christian Labor Union established a monthly journal, hopefully named Equity, and appointed Jones its editor.

Under the influence of the cooperative movement developing in Great Britain and in the United States, Equity proclaimed the desirability of cooperative banks, workshops, and stores. Boldly espous

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