Gavel Gamut


Gavel Gamut
By Jim Redwine
(Week of 3 November 2012)


In his Documentary History of the Indiana Decade of the Harmony Society 1814 – 1824 at pages 89 – 90 of Volume II, Karl J.R. Arndt sets out a letter from Robert Owen to George Rapp dated August 4, 1820. The letter was sent from New Lanark, “North Britain” and any response was to be sent through “Mr. Quincy Adams, the Secretary of State for the American Home Department”.
Arndt was unable to locate any response to this particular letter from Rapp, but Owen’s early interest in New Harmony, Indiana apparently grew out of his reading about Rapp’s first communal living endeavor in Harmonie, Pennsylvania.
Owen wrote:

“Most worthy Sir: Having heard much of your society, & feeling a peculiar interest respecting it I am induced to solicit a correspondence with you, in the expectation of procuring a correct account of your establishment.

My first attention was called to it by some travels published in America by a Mr. Mellish (John Mellish, Travels in the United States of America in the Years 1806 to 1807, and 1809, 1810 and 1811) who visited the original settlement near Pittsburgh – and who gave many details which to me appeared to promise many important future advantages.”

Owen was looking to Rapp for guidance mainly in converting a society from one based on private and individual ownership to a collective, communal one. His letter continued:

“You have since had an opportunity of creating a second settlement under the full benefit of the experience derived from the first & the particulars of the result of these two experiments would be of real value to me in order to ascertain the practical inconveniences which arise from changes to society from a state of private to public property …”
Rapp’s vision for a communal society was based on Christianity and a belief the Second Coming was imminent. Owen’s vision was of a purely secular society based on principles of the Enlightenment. What Owen sought from Rapp was advice, not as to their respective visions, but practical information on how a day to day collective community can be made feasible. Owen shared with Rapp information about Owen’s own nascent movement:

“There is a colony here of about 2400 persons who I have already placed under new circumstances preparatory to a still more improved arrangement from which incalculable advantages to all classes may be expected. I am now in the midst of preparing a further development of the system I have in view & it will give me pleasure to send you a copy of it the earliest opportunity after it shall be ready.”

Owen’s 1820 letter gives no indication either Owen or Rapp was thinking of a purchase of New Harmony by Owen. But, Owen’s interest in a new world order fit the atmosphere of the New World and opened up possibilities neither Owen nor Rapp may have previously considered. George Rapp was every bit the business man Robert Owen was. Owen’s letter may have been the catalyst for Rapp’s new vision that a sale of New Harmony and a return to Pennsylvania was called for.