Rutland Reform Convention (1858)

[Online editor’s note: this document illustrates how closely various radical causes were mutually entangled in 19th-century American thought. – RTL]

[Reported for the New York Times]


RUTLAND, June 25, 1858.

This convention was called to order at the precise time mentioned, 10 a.m., by Mr. John Landon, a leading merchant of Rutland.
RRC.2 It was evident form the first that Spiritualism was the predominant feature, there being at the first start, Miss A. W. Sprague, Mr. H. B. Storer, Miss H. F. Huntley, Miss M. S. Townsend, and Miss Sarah A. Horton, all trance mediums, on hand and ready for any spiritual exigency.
RRC.3 On the platform were Mrs. E. L. Rose, Mrs. Julia Branch, Mr. Marble, Mrs. F. D. Gage, Henry C. Wright and Thomas Curtis of Philadelphia, and S. B. Brittan and Dr. Newton.
RRC.4 On calling the meeting to order, Mr. LANDON made a short speech, the purport of which was that this is a free Convention, and that perfect freedom of speech will be permitted to all to speak on all topics.
RRC.5 The Rev. Mr. JASON F. WALKER, of Glen’s Falls, and Mr. Yerrinton, of ‘The Liberator,’ was appointed the official reporter of the Convention.
RRC.6 Vice-Presidents – Dr. H. Koon, Gibson Smith, Thos. Middleton, H. C. Wright, E. L. Rose, Sherman Thomas, Joseph Adams, A. Kilburn, Mary L. Sweetser, P. P. Clarke, G. F. Kelly, E. B. Holden, Miss A. W. Sprague, Joshua Young, Miss Sarah A. Horton, R. R. Fay, G. F. Hendee, Wm. Weston and Amidon Rice.
RRC.7 Secretaries – Wm. H. Root, A. B. Armstrong, J. R. Forrest, N. Weeks, L. Clarke, George H. Bigelow.
RRC.8 Business Committee – Jason F. Walker, J. R. Forrest, N. Weeks, H. P. Cutting and Albert Landon.
RRC.9 Committee of Entertainment – B. F. French, R. T. Aldrich and L. Russell.
RRC.10 The Business Committee reported the following resolutions:


1. Resolved, That the authority of each individual soul is absolute and final in deciding all questions as to what is true or false in principle, or right or wrong in practice; therefore the individual, the church or the State that attempts to control the opinions or the practice of any man or woman, by authority or power outside of his or her own soul, is guilty of a flagrant wrong.


2. That Slavery is a wrong which no power in the universe can make right; therefore, any law, constitution, court or government, any church, priesthood, creed or Bible, any Christ or any God, that by silence or otherwise authorizes man to enslave man, merits the scorn and contempt of mankind.


3. That the phenomena of what is called modern spiritualism have abundantly demonstrated the fact that an intercourse between embodied and disembodied human spirits is both possible and actual; that the conviction of the possibility and actuality of spiritual intercourse is opposed to all despotism, impurity and sensualism, and conduces to the inauguration of the only authority consistent with the human soul as favorable to sound morality.


4. That it is always wrong and inexpedient for man to take the life of man; therefore capital punishment, war, and all preparations for war, are wrong, and inconsistent with the interests of individuals and society.


5. That the only true and natural marriage is an exclusive conjugal love between one man and one woman, and that the only true home is the isolated home based upon this exclusive love. [Online editor’s note: this item, while employing some free-love language, seems intended to distance the document from the free-love movement broadly considered; though items 1, 6, and 16 are squarely in the free-love tradition. – RTL]


6. That the sacred and important right of woman is to decide for herself how often and under what circumstances she shall assume the responsibility, and be subjected to the sufferings and the cares of maternity; and man can commit no greater crime against woman as wife and mother, against his child, against society, and against humanity, than to impose on her a maternity whose responsibility and sufferings she is not willing to accept and endure.


7. That nothing is true or right, and nothing is false or wrong, because it is sanctioned or condemned by the Bible – therefore our Bible is powerless to prove any doctrine to be true or any practice to be right, and it should never be quoted for that purpose.


8. That natural justice, individual and social morality, the peace and material wealth and prosperity, the nation’s spirit of human brotherhood, demand that all international tariffs be immediately and forever abolished, and that the Governments in all their various departments be supported by direct taxation.


9. That the earth, like the air and light, belongs in common to the children of men on it. Each human being is alike independent; each child, by virtue of his existence, has an inalienable right to so much of the earth’s surface as is convenient by proper culture to his support and perfect development, and none has a right to any more; therefore all laws authorizing private property in land for the purpose of speculation, and which orevent men and women form possessing any land without paying for it, are as unjust as would be any laws compelling them to pay for air or light, and ought to be at once forever repealed.


10. Whereas, The Jewish Sabbath is confessedly abolished by the Gospel dispensation, and whereas the same the same authority sets apart no other day to be similarly observed, therefore resolved, that all efforts of church and priests to enforce an observance of the Christian Sabbath, as of divine appointment, is a flagrant violation of individual right, and must be prosecuted in a dishonest disregard of the spirit and positive teaching of the New Testament. [Online editor’s note: what happened to item 7? – RTL]
RRC.21 11. Whereas, a social being depends on his fellow men for the cultivation and development of his physical, mental and moral powers; and whereas, owing to the limitation and vicissitudes of life, he can accomplish but little for his own or future generations; therefore, resolved, that the duties of man belong to man, and the time, talent and means spent on and for any other purpose, is detrimental to human progress, and a robbery to the race.
RRC.22 12. That the moral law is the natural growth of a healthy condition of social life, and that a study of the nature of man and the relations he sustains to his fellow-man, can alone give him the knowledge of the laws to govern him rightly.
RRC.23 13. That no system or creed can be useful that does not lead to the removal of ignorance, poverty, vice and suffering, and promote freedom, intelligence and happiness.
RRC.24 14. Whereas, the character of man is formed for him by the combined powers of organization previous to birth, and influence after birth; therefore, resolved, that it is the highest duty of society to investigate and remove the causes which have a tendency to form inferior or vicious character.
RRC.25 15. That the time and devotion spent on religious services can confer no benefit on an Infinite and Independent Power, and can therefore be no virtue.


16. Whereas, The assumed superiority of man over woman has held her in submission, and entailed slavery and dependence on the sex, and consequently misery on the race – therefore,
RRC.27 Resolved, That immediate steps should be taken to remove that error and its consequences, and place woman politically, industrially, educationally and socially, on a perfect equality with man.


RUTLAND, Vt., June 26, 1858.

The chief incident at the Convention to-day was introduced by Mrs. Julia Branch of New York, of the following resolution:
RRC.29Resolved, That the slavery and degradation of woman proceeds from the institution of marriage; that by the marriage contract she loses the control of her name, her person, her property, her labor, her affection, her children, and her freedom.’
RRC.30 An exciting discussion followed upon this resolution, the speakers being Mrs. Branch, S. S. Foster, Joel Tiffany, Mr. Lovey, Mrs. Ernestine L. Rose, F. W. Coane and others.
RRC.31 The afternoon session was devoted to a discussion of the Slavery question, and speeches were made by Parker Pillsbury, William Goodell, S. S. Foster, Mrs. Rose and others.
RRC.32 Mr. Foster cared nothing about the Union. He would say, rather than a single slave should be held in bondage, ‘Down with the Union; down with the Constitution; down with religion; down with the Church; down with the Bible – and let all go to hell and damnation.” (1)
RRC.33 The Convention is to be continued this evening and to-morrow. About 2,000 people were present to-day, and more are expected to be in attendance to-morrow (Sunday).
RRC.n1.1 (1) We are assured by Mr. Yerrinton, the official reporter of the Convention, that this language was never uttered by Mr. Foster; but the telegraphic wires have sent the malicious falsehood all over the country, and it will generally be regarded as true. –
[Ed. Lib.

The Liberator, July 2, 1858, p. 3

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