The Communistic Societies of the United States, by Charles Nordhoff, , at sacred-texts.com
The "Principles of the Separatists," which are printed in the first volume of Joseph Bäumeler's discourses, were evidently framed in Germany. They consist of twelve articles:
"I. We believe and confess the Trinity of God: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
"II. The fall of Adam, and of all mankind, with the loss thereby of the likeness of God in them.
"III. The return through Christ to God, our proper Father.
"IV. The Holy Scriptures as the measure and guide of our lives, and the touchstone of truth and falsehood.
"All our other principles arise out of these, and rule our conduct in the religious, spiritual, and natural life.
"V. All ceremonies are banished from among us, and we declare them useless and injurious; and this is the chief cause of our Separation.
"VI. We render to no mortal honors due only to God, as to uncover the head, or to bend the knee. Also we address every one as 'thou'— du.
"VII. We separate ourselves from all ecclesiastical connections and constitutions, because true Christian life requires no sectarianism, while set forms and ceremonies cause sectarian divisions.
"VIII. Our marriages are contracted by mutual consent, and before witnesses. They are then notified to the political authority; and we reject all intervention of priests or preachers.
"IX. All intercourse of the sexes, except what is necessary to the perpetuation of the species, we hold to be sinful and contrary to the order and command of God. Complete virginity or entire cessation of sexual commerce is more commendable than marriage.
"X. We cannot send our children into the schools of Babylon [meaning the clerical schools of Germany], where other principles contrary to these are taught.
"XI. We cannot serve the state as soldiers, because a Christian cannot murder his enemy, much less his friend.
"XII. We regard the political government as absolutely necessary to maintain order, and to protect the good and honest and punish the wrong-doers; and no one can prove us to be untrue to the constituted authorities."
For adhering to these tolerably harmless articles of faith, they suffered bitter persecution in Germany in the beginning of this century.
Subject to the above declaration they have a formal constitution, which divides the members into two classes, the novitiates and the full associates. The former are required to serve at least one year before admission to the second class, and this is exacted even of their own children, if on attaining majority they wish to enter the society.
The members of the first or probationary class do not give up their property. They sign an agreement, "for the furtherance of their spiritual and temporal welfare and happiness," in which they "bind themselves to labor, obey, and execute all the orders of the trustees and their successors," and to "use all their industry and skill in behalf of the exclusive benefit of the said Separatist Society of Zoar;" and to put their minor children under the exclusive guardianship and care of the trustees.
The trustees on their part, and for the society, agree to secure to the signers of these articles "board and clothing free of cost, the clothing to consist of at any time no less than two suits, including the clothes brought by the said party of the first part to this society." Also medical attendance and nursing in case of sickness. "Good moral conduct, such as is enjoined by the strict observance of the principles of Holy Writ," is also promised by both parties; and it is stipulated that "no extra supplies shall be asked or allowed, neither in meat, drink, clothing, nor dwelling (cases of sickness excepted); but such, if any can be allowed to exist, may and shall be obtained [by the neophytes] through means of their own, and never out of the common fund."
All money in possession of the probationer must be deposited with the society when he signs the agreement; for it a receipt is given, making the deposit payable to him on his demand, without interest.
Finally, it is agreed that all disputes shall be settled by arbitration alone, and within the society.
When a member of the first or probationary class desires to
be received into full membership, he applies to the trustees, who formally hear his demand, inquire into the reasons he can give for it, and if they know no good cause why he should not be admitted, they thereupon give thirty days' notice to the society of the time and place at which he is to sign the covenant. If during that interval no member makes charges against him, and if he has no debts, and is ready to make over any property he may have, he is allowed to sign the following COVENANT:
"We, the subscribers, members of the Society of Separatists of the second class, declare hereby that we give all our property, of every kind, not only what we already possess, but what we may hereafter come into possession of by inheritance, gift, or otherwise, real and personal, and all rights, titles, and expectations whatever, both for ourselves and our heirs, to the said society forever, to be and remain, not only during our lives, but after our deaths, the exclusive property of the society. Also we promise and bind ourselves to obey all the commands and orders of the trustees and their subordinates, with the utmost zeal and diligence, without opposition or grumbling; and to devote all our strength, good-will, diligence, and skill, during our whole lives, to the common service of the society and for the satisfaction of its trustees. Also we consign in a similar manner our children, so long as they are minors, to the charge of the trustees, giving these the same rights and powers over them as though they had been formally indentured to them under the laws of the state."
Finally, there is a formal CONSTITUTION, which prescribes the order of administration; and which also is signed by all the members. According to this instrument, all officers are to be elected by the whole society, the women voting as well as the men. All elections are to be by ballot, and by the majority vote; and they are to be held on the second Tuesday in May. The society is to elect annually one trustee and one member of the standing committee or council, once in four years a
cashier, and an agent whenever a vacancy occurs or is made. The time and place of the election are to be made public twenty days beforehand by the trustees, and four members are to be chosen at each election to be managers and judges at the next.
The trustees, three in number, are to serve three years, but may be indefinitely re-elected. They have unlimited power over all the temporalities of the society, but are bound to provide board, clothing, and dwelling for each member, "without respect of persons;" and to use all confided to their charge for the best interests of the society. They are to manage all its industries and affairs, and to prescribe to each member his work; "but in all they do they are to have the general consent of the society." They are to appoint subordinates and superintendents of the different industries; are to consult in difficult cases with the Standing Committee of Five, and are with its help to keep the peace among the members.
The agent is the trader of the society, who is to be its intermediate with the outside world, to buy and sell. This office is now held by the leading trustee.
The standing committee is a high court of appeals in cases of disagreement, and a general council for the agent and trustees.
The cashier is to have the sole and exclusive control of all the moneys of the society, the trustees and agent being obliged to hand over to his custody all they receive. He is also the book-keeper, and is required to give an annual account to the trustees.
The constitution is to be read in a public and general meeting of the society at least once in every year.
The system of administration thus prescribed appears to have worked satisfactorily for more than forty years.
"Do you favor marriage?" I asked some of the older members, trustees, and managers. They answered "No;" but they
exact no penalty nor inflict any disability upon those who choose to marry. "Marriage," I was told, "is on the whole unfavorable to community life. It is better to observe the celibate life. But it is not, in our experience, fatally adverse. It only makes more trouble; and in either case, whether a community permit or forbid marriage, it may lose members."
About half of their young people, who have grown up in the society, become permanent members, and as many young men as girls. They do not permit members to marry outside of the society; and require those who do to leave the place. "Men and women need to be trained to live peaceably and contentedly in a community. Those who have been brought up outside do not find matters to their taste here."
Bäumeler taught that God did not look with pleasure on marriage, but that he only tolerated it; that in the kingdom of heaven "husband, wife, and children will not know each other;" "there will be no distinction of sex there." Nevertheless he married, and had a family of children.
When a young couple wish to marry, they consult the trustees, whose consent is required in this as in the other emergencies of the community life; and the more so as they must provide lodgings or a dwelling for the newly married, and furniture for their housekeeping. Weddings, however, are economically managed, and the parents of the parties usually contribute of their superfluities for the young couple's accommodation.
When marriages began among them, a rule was adopted that the children should remain in the care of their parents until they were three years old; at which time they were placed in large houses, the girls in one, boys in another, where they were brought up under the care of persons especially appointed for that purpose; nor did they ever again come under the exclusive control of their parents. This singular custom, which is practiced also by the Oneida communists, lasted at Zoar until the year 1845, when it was found inconvenient.
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CHURCH AT ZOAR.
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SCHOOL HOUSE AT ZOAR.
The sixty or seventy young persons under twenty-one now in the community live with their parents. Until the age of fifteen they are sent to school, and a school is maintained all the year round. Usually the instruction has been in German; but when I visited Zoar they had an American teacher.
On the blackboard, when I visited the school, a pupil had just completed an example in proportion, concerning the division of property among heirs; and I thought how remarkable it is that the community life ever lasts, in any experiment, beyond the first generation, when even the examples by which children of a community are taught arithmetic refer to division of property and individual ownership, and every piece of literature they read tends to inculcate the love of "me" and "mine." I do not wonder that general literary studies are not encouraged in many communities. As for the Zoar people, they are not great readers, except of the Bible and the few pious books which they brought over from Germany, or have imported since.
The Zoar communists belong to the peasant class of Southern Germany. They are therefore unintellectual; and they have not risen in culture beyond their original condition. Nor were their leaders men above the general level of the rank and file; for Bäumeler has left upon the society no marks to show that he strove for or desired a higher life here, or that he in the least valued beauty, or even what we Americans call comfort. The little town of Zoar, though founded fifty-six years ago, has yet no foot pavements; it remains without regularity of design; the houses are for the most part in need of paint; and there is about the place a general air of neglect and lack of order, a shabbiness, which I noticed also in the Aurora community in Oregon, and which shocks one who has but lately visited the Shakers and the Rappists.
The Zoarites have achieved comfort—according to the German peasant's notion—and wealth. They are relieved from
severe toil, and have driven the wolf permanently from their doors. Much more they might have accomplished; but they have not been taught the need of more. They are sober, quiet, and orderly, very industrious, economical, and the amount of ingenuity and business skill which they have developed is quite remarkable.
Comparing Zoar and Aurora with Economy, I saw the extreme importance and value in such an experiment of leaders with ideas at least a step higher than those of their people. There is about Economy a tasteful finish which shows a desire for something higher than mere bread and butter, a neatness and striving for a higher kind of comfort, which makes Economy a model town, while the other two, though formed by people generally of the same social plane, are far below in the scale.
Yet, when I had left Zoar, and was compelled to wait for an hour at the railroad station, listening to men cursing in the presence of women and children; when I saw how much roughness there is in the life of the country people, I concluded that, rude and uninviting as the life in Zoar seemed to me, it was perhaps still a step higher, more decent, more free from disagreeables, and upon a higher moral scale, than the average life of the surrounding country. And if this is true, the community life has even here achieved moral results, as it certainly has material, worthy of the effort.
Moreover, considering the dull and lethargic appearance of the people, I was struck with surprise that they have been able to manage successfully complicated machinery, and to carry on several branches of manufacture profitably. Their machine shop makes and repairs all their own machinery; their gristmills have to compete with those of the surrounding country; their cattle, horses, and sheep—of the latter they keep no less than 1400 head—are known as the best in the county; their hotel is a favorite summer resort; their store supplies the
neighborhood; and they have found among themselves ability enough to conduct successfully all these and several other callings, all of which require both working skill and business acuteness.
They rise at six, or in summer at daylight, breakfast at seven, dine at twelve, and sup at six. During the long summer days they have two "bites" between meals. They do not eat pork, and a few refrain entirely from meat. They use both tea and coffee, and drink also cider and beer. Tobacco is forbidden, but it is used by some of the younger people. In the winter they labor in their shops after supper until eight o'clock.
Each family cooks for itself; but they have a general bakehouse, and make excellent bread. They have no general laundry. They have led water into the village from a reservoir on a hill beyond. Most of the houses accommodate several families, but each manages its own affairs. Tea, coffee, sugar, and other "groceries," are served out to all householders once a week. The young girls are taught to sew, knit, and spin, and to do the work of the household. The boys, when they leave school, are taught trades or put on the farm.
In their religious observances they studiously avoid forms. On Sunday they have three meetings. In the morning there is singing, after which the leading trustee reads one of Bäumeler's discourses, which they are careful not to call sermons. In the afternoon there is a children's meeting, where there is singing, and reading in the Bible. In the evening they meet to sing and hear reading from some work which interests them. They do not practice audible or public prayer. There are no religious meetings during the week; but the boys meet occasionally to practice music, as they have a band. The church has an organ, and several of the houses have pianos. They do not allow dancing. There is no "preacher," or clergyman. They have printed a hymn-book, which is used in their worship.
Bäumeler had some knowledge of homoeopathy, and was during his life the physician of the community, and they still use the system of medicine which he introduced among them. Like all the communists I have known, they are long-lived. A number of members have lived to past eighty—the oldest now is ninety-one; and he, strangely enough, is an American, a native of New Hampshire, who, after a roving life in the West, at last, when past fifty, became a Shaker, and after eleven years among that people, came to Zoar twenty-eight years ago, and has lived here ever since. The old fellow showed the shrewd intelligence of the Yankee, asking me whether we New-Yorkers were likely after all to beat the Tammany Ring; and declaring his belief that the Roman Catholics were the worst enemies of the United States. He appeared to be, what a person of his age usually is if he retain his faculties, a sort of adviser-general; he sat in the common room of the hotel, and when any one came in he asked him about his business, and gave him advice what to do.
The oldest German member is now eighty-six; and there are still between thirty and forty people who came over from Germany with Bäumeler. The latter died in 1853, at the age of seventy-five.
Most of the members now are middle-aged people, and the society is prosperous. Thirty-five years ago, however, it had double the number it now counts. Occasionally members leave; and in the society's early days it had much trouble and suffered some losses from suits for wages brought against it by dissatisfied persons. Hence the stringent terms of the covenant.
They use neither Baptism nor the Lord's Supper.
In summer the women labor in the fields, to get in hay, potatoes, and in harvesting the grain.
They address each other only by the first name, use no title of any kind, and say thou (du) to all. Also they keep
their hats on in a public room. The church has two doors, one for the women, the other for the men, and the sexes sit on different sides of the house.
The hotel contains a queer, old-fashioned bar, at which the general public may drink beer, cider, or California wine. In the evening the sitting-room is filled with the hired laborers of the society, and with the smoke of their pipes.
Such is Zoar. Its people would not attract attention any where; they dress and look like common laborers; their leading trustee, Jacob Ackermann, who has carried on the affairs of the society for thirty years and more, might easily be taken for a German farm-hand. It is the more wonderful to compare the people with what they have achieved. Their leader and founder taught them self-sacrifice, a desire for heavenly things, temperance, or moderation in all things, preference of others to themselves, contentment—and these virtues, together with a prudence in the management of their affairs which has kept them out of debt since they paid for their land, and uprightness in their agents which has protected them against defalcations, have wrought, with very humble intelligence, and very narrow means at the beginning, the result one now sees at Zoar.