Clark after Haymarket

  • John F. Henry
Part of the Contemporary Economists book series (CONTECON)


In the period 1887–1890, one observes a marked change in Clark’s position in a number of related areas. There is increasingly less argumentation based on divine law, this position eventually disappearing from the discussion altogether;1 now science, particularly that of Darwin, takes a dominant position. Second, Clark’s general theoretical perspective takes on a more conservative slant; it is increasingly less critical of prevailing arrangements and no longer promotes his supposedly ‘socialist’ solution to the problems then facing the United States economic order.


Private Property Moral Basis Current Wage Economic Republicanism Pure Profit 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    At least this is the case in his writings for the economics profession. As will be seen, the religious element remained in publications designed for church organs.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    1886 was a crucial year for the union movement in the United States. May 1 heralded the occasion of a national strike in an attempt to secure the eight-hour day. While feelings were running high throughout the country, social stress probably peaked in Chicago, one of the leading industrial cities of the country, where the eight-hour movement coincided with a strike already in place against the McCormick Harvester plant. On May 3, police fired on striking workers killing at least four, and on the next day a demonstration was held in Haymarket Square to protest the killings. As the mass meeting was winding down, police appeared and someone (most likely a police agent) threw a bomb, killing eight policeman. The police then opened fire on the remaining crowd and City officials then proceeded to round up labor leaders, arresting hundreds, and sending eight well-known anarchists to trial. The eight, of whom only one was on the scene of the attack, were charged with murder (though not throwing the bomb). Following a rigged trial under Judge Joseph Gary with the jury consisting of foremen from various Chicago mills, four were hanged, three were given life sentences and one committed suicide while in custody. Haymarket signalled the beginning of a massive assault on organized labor. Employers, governments at all levels, the press, and police and military units organized the first ‘Red Scare’ in an attempt to squash the labor movement in the US. See Foner, 1975, pp. 105–31.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    This is not to say that the anti-labor, anti-radical campaign met with unlimited success. Strikes, protests and populist agitation continued into the mid-1890s as witnessed by Homestead in 1892, Pullman in 1894, Coxey’s ‘army’ of 1894 and the formation of the Populist Party in 1892. For a survey of the period, see Destler, [1953] 1964; Goodwyn, 1976; Wiebe, 1967.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    For case studies of the purges and their relationship to the maintenance of authority, see Furner, 1975. For an account of a more recent period of such activity, see Schrecker, 1986. Perhaps the most telling point in such studies is that there were so few academics to purge, this a marked comment on the supposed independence and courage of this segment of the population.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    In this same letter, Clark asks Adams to not let Ely know that Clark had been in contact with Adams.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Interestingly, as Engels noted: ‘Before Darwin, the very people … who now see nothing but the struggle for existence everywhere were stressing precisely the cooperation in organic nature’ (Engels, cited in Meek, [1953] 1971, p. 197). Very quickly, it would appear, Darwin’s general theory was reduced to a set of empty phrases which, nevertheless, suited the temperament of the time, and which resulted in the ‘Cardboard Darwinism’ of the modern period. See Gould, 1987, pp. 26–50.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    At the conclusion of this piece, Clark reports on recent developments in Connecticut where, following the attempt to crush a strike, employers, working with ministers (Washington Gladden is specifically mentioned) then organized their own unions (company unions) to provide the proper direction for labor.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    While this is not crucial to the argument, it should be pointed out that Clark misinterprets, consciously or unconsciously, Smith’s definition. He includes in Smith’s ‘profits of stock’ the return to management or the ‘entrepreneurial’ return, a position that Smith himself adamantly and overtly rejected. For Smith, profits represented simply a return to ownership. See Smith, [1776] 1937, p. 48.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    In September, 1889, Clark debated George as part of an American Social Science Association meeting in Saratoga, New York. Along with Clark on the’ single Tax Debate’ panel was Edwin Seligman, soon to be Clark’s colleague at Columbia. For the details of the debate, see Barker, 1955, pp. 565–7.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    ‘The Moral Basis of Property in Land’ was one contribution to the Journal of Social Sciences debate on the’ single tax’-George’s program by which all government revenues were to be raised by a tax on land, a tax that represented the rental value of that land.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    On Veblen’s position see ‘Between Bolshevism and War’ in Veblen, [1921] 1954, pp. 437–49. Compare to Lenin, The State and Revolution, [1917] n.d., ch. 1.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    And, Clark is mindful that the origin of private property was theft, though he amends the actual history of the process by which the land was filched. Arguing that ‘ … the government originally held the land [and conceded] to Indians a right of occupation, it extinguished that right by a series of treaties. If there was injustice in the manner in which this was done-and there is no need of denying that there was,-the responsibility for it rests on the state as a whole, and would not be righted by further seizures by the government which was the offending party’ (Clark, 1890c, p. 69). Now, clearly, the government was not the original holder of the land, and it did not ‘concede’ the actual occupiers a ‘right of occupation’. The important point here, I would argue, is not Clark’s sorely erroneous history of the process but the expressed position that, having committed injustices in this process, current justice would not be served by restoring the land to it rightful owners. Thus, a ‘moral basis’ is established at one point in the process-once the land is alienated-and moral qualms (or outrage) that stem from the history prior to alienation are ruled out of order. Morality, then, is not some historic constant (as argued earlier and which was suggested as springing from a deity), but merely an arbitrary relationship that takes its basis from the institution of private property.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    In fact, the’ survival of the fittest’ justification as applied to society owes more to Spencer than to Darwin.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    The significance of an ethical standard that is given by the economic (or political) attributes of the organization being examined cannot be overstated. In setting forward such a standard, the theoretician accepts the social institutions as given; then, rather than critically evaluating those institutions, erects an argument that, as it takes them as a starting point, rationalizes those very institutions. In such a fashion, for instance, slavery could readily be justified as morally sound. John C. Calhoun, perhaps the most noted statesman the slave South ever produced, once claimed that slavery was ‘ … a good-a positive good’, that the slave-master relationship was ‘ … the most solid and durable foundation upon which to rear free and stable political institutions’. In 1858, a southern Congressman stated that it was God’s will upon which ‘ … the moral aspect of this institution … ’ was created. Such a justification was neatly summed up be a southern clergyman who argued that ‘[b]onds make free, so they be righteous bonds’. (Quoted in Beard and Beard, 1934, pp. 705–6.)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© John F. Henry 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • John F. Henry
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EconomicsCalifornia State UniversitySacramentoUSA

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