The Nineteenth Century Irish Anarchism

Ireland, more than most countries in nineteenth century Europe, had a sizeable rate of emigration, between 1801 and 1921, for example, it is estimated that the population declined by 8 million.(1) As it had a bearing on almost every aspect of life it necessarily also affected political movements on the island, and contributed significantly to political movements elsewhere in the world where Irish emigrants settled. Lines of political communication became stretched but contact and interaction between emigrants and their native places remained and became quite important in the development of political ideologies. Anarchism was no different in this sense, and most historians of the various anarchist movements have realised increasingly that discussions on French or German or Spanish anarchism have to be set in a global context or that of diasporas that take cognisance of European migration, particularly to the Americas. (2)

This chapter on the nineteenth century is a product of that development and awareness of anarchist diasporas be they Germanic, Francophone, Hispanic or indeed, Anglophone. It is, however, also an acknowledgement that evidence for Belfast-based anarchism in the nineteenth century is utterly absent and we therefore need to look elsewhere for Belfast anarchists and libertarians. Our starting point has been the signposts left by two seminal historians of anarchism: Max Nettlau and Paul Avrich. (3) Both men have in different ways highlighted the importance of diasporic anarchism and sketched out the backgrounds of many anarchists active outside of their places of origin. Many of these individuals were Irish or of Irish descent with not a few having some roots in Ulster. For example, there is more than a possibility that one of the pioneering English anarchists, the London-based shoemaker, James Harragan, born 1849 was the son of an Ulsterman. The name is found most often on the north coast and north-west, and a similar reasoning could lead us to suggest Carl T. Quinn, another nineteenth century ‘English’ anarchist was in fact from the slightly less exotic location of Tyrone. It might also be possible to place the Tipperary-born Agnes Henry (1850- 1910), one of the earliest anarcho-feminists, into a context where she also had one or two Ulster relatives. The Irish-born anarcho-syndicalist Wilf McCartney, who was very active, though in his 60s, during the turbulent 1930s in south London, may be another with roots somewhere in the province. Much more research needs to be done into these nineteenth and early twentieth century English-based anarchists before any such theories (or wild allegations), can be allowed to develop. It does, however, hold interesting possibilities vis-à-vis adding to the wider interactions between anarchism in the various regions of the British Isles, and particularly the impact of the Celtic fringe on the development of British anarchism. (4)

The two ‘men of the north’ on whom we do have slightly more information, William Bailie of Belfast and Bolton Hall of Armagh, were active chiefly in the US and contributed a considerable amount to the development of anarchism and anarchist ideas on that continent. Both shared a fascination with the individualist libertarian tradition but wedded this to a firm sense of communalism and social radicalism that eschewed all right-wing and capitalist notions of ‘liberty’ and their basis in the ‘freedom’ to exploit and oppress the working class. Nonetheless, this individualist anarchism displayed many of the stoic, libertarian and idiosyncratic traditions of the Ulster Protestant working class, who in the eighteenth century had escaped the ‘near slavery’ of indentured service to the burgeoning bourgeoisie of the Atlantic coastal towns of America and pushed into the west and south, and the wilderness to live ‘free’ among the native American Indians as fellow hunter gatherers. As America industrialised in the nineteenth century this longing for a biblical ‘Eden’ or rural idyll so captured in the works of Henry David Thoreau (1817- 62), the poet Walt Whitman (1819-92), and the radical economist, Henry George (1839-97), among a host of others, became a strong theme in American anarchism.

Bolton Hall (1854-1938), son of a Presbyterian minister from Armagh, Rev. John Hall (1829-98), perhaps best typifies this tradition. Hall’s father had emigrated to the US in 1867 and became minister of the wealthy Fifth Avenue congregation in New York and helped build the church into the richest in the country, with one of his sons, Thomas, following him into the ministry. Bolton Hall himself became a hardware merchant and married Susie Hurlbut Scott in February 1884 and settled down to the life of a prosperous Manhattan businessman. (5) However, the poverty and injustice surrounding him allied to a strong sense of moral outrage against inequality embedded since infancy, as he had been, in a strictly Calvinist atmosphere, persuaded him to seek out alternatives. Like many of his generation from Belfast to Boston he became a follower of the aforementioned Henry George and his seminal ‘back-to-the- land’ classic Progress and Poverty (1879).

Moving from theory to practice he founded the ‘Free Acres’ commune on a 75-acre wooded site in New Jersey for those like himself, anxious to escape capitalist, authoritarian society and experiment with new modes and libertarian ways of living. As a current member of the community writes, ‘there were dozens of experimental communities in the US at the time’, and Hall had connections with communities in Stelton, New Jersey, Helicon Hall in Englewood, NJ, Arden, Delaware, Royecroft in Aurora, New York and Fairhope, Alabama. ‘These experimental societies were a manifestation of the social ferment before World War 1’, and Free Acres ‘advocated racial and sexual equality, liberation from Victorian sexual mores and social strictures, and had a special sensitivity towards the environment well before their time’. (6)

Bolton Hall (1854-1938)
As a good personal friend of many contemporary American anarchists and a person committed to putting libertarian ideals into practice, Bolton Hall did not confine himself behind the pastoral township existence of Free Acres. He campaigned continuously on a number of fronts being honorary vice- president of the American Anti-Imperialist League, a man described by Emma Goldman as an ‘unconditional libertarian’. His friendship with Goldman lasted many years and he was arrested and imprisoned briefly in 1916 with others for distributing birth control information at an open-air anarchist meeting in New York, at which Emma was speaking. By this time Hall had become a lawyer and offered his services free-of-charge to a number of anarchists over the years, as well as buying Emma Goldman a small farm in upstate New York around 1906. He was a prolific writer and among his works are Free America (New York, 1904), A Little Land and a Living (NY, 1908), Life, Love and Peace (NY, 1909), Things As They Are (NY, 1909), Mastery of Grief (NY, 1913), What Tolstoy Taught (NY, 1913), and Three Acres and Liberty (NY, 1918). But Hall was not some dewy-eyed, lifestyle anarcho-sentimentalist uninterested and uninvolved with class struggle. He was an organiser and treasurer of the American Longshoremen’s Union and a consistent supporter of industrial struggles and working class militancy in general. (7) Despite this legacy, Hall saw himself and has been remembered as a libertarian and an individualist, though an ‘altruistic individualist’ is the assessment of Nettlau. Hall’s father trained in Belfast and died in Bangor, but there seems little evidence that Hall ever came back home to visit his native Armagh, though there is a slight possibility that he did so in 1923.8 He ill-fits inclusion perhaps in a discussion of Belfast anarchism, but his importance to American anarchist history (and neglect on this side of the Atlantic), means omitting mention of him would be grossly unfair. In addition, he does bear some interesting resemblance in terms of character and politics with the central concern of this chapter, the Belfastman, William Bailie.

William Bailie (1867-1957)
‘The anarchist tendency is a necessity of progress, a protest against usurpation, privilege, and injustice’.9
By the time William Bailie wrote these words in 1906, he had already been an anarchist of some 20 years standing with a number of articles, polemics, letters and campaigns to his name. In addition, he had contacts on two continents and several countries, had played a key role in facilitating anarchist propaganda in England and helped bridge the historic ideological gulf between individualist and communist anarchism in north America.

We have very little information on William Bailie’s background, although we know from Avrich that he was Belfast-born and emigrated as a young man to Manchester, sometime in the mid-1880s. What his occupation was is as yet unclear, but he was quickly drawn to the libertarian socialism of William Morris and joined the Manchester branch of the Socialist League. He appears to have been a conscientious and active member who did a lot of work in the branch, and arranged Kropotkin’s lecture in the city in 1890. By then, the Manchester Socialist League was already almost wholly anarchist and this may have partly been due to Bailie’s efforts.10 However, like many other militants of the period a mixture of repression at home and opportunities for revolution on the other side of the Atlantic beckoned and he emigrated to the US in 1891, settling in Boston. It is generally believed that he then made the transfer from anarchist-communist to individualist anarchist, but an examination of Bailie’s interests and his American writings reveals him to have developed a unique synthesis of these two streams of anarchist thought.(11)

William Bailie is chiefly known for his biography of the great individualist American anarchist, Josiah Warren (1798-1874), who was a pioneering advocate of mutualism – that system of equality and reciprocation, localised and federated freely into autonomous communities, with an economy based on barter and mutual exchange, so favoured by the ‘father of anarchism’, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. This was superseded in many respects by the development of anarchist ideas through the collectivism of Bakunin, the communism of Kropotkin and the syndicalism of Pouget and Rocker. However, during Bailie’s time the last of these tendencies was only beginning to emerge, and his chief aim seems to have been to achieve firstly, a re- assessment of Warren as a communist and individualist anarchist, and secondly, to demonstrate that the two schools of thought should and could be combined. The first of these tasks was certainly achieved, despite what has been seen as a biased and one-sided biography by Bailie, and Nettlau has been keen to emphasise Warren, ‘the father of American anarchism’, as a ‘communitarian and individualist’. (12)

Besides his work as a propagandist, William Bailie participated in other forms of activism. He allied himself with the individualist Benjamin Tucker (1854-1939), and contributed many articles to Tucker’s paper, Liberty which was published from 1881 to 1908 (see list at end of chapter). Tucker waxed and waned through much of his individualism, but he was an enthusiastic supporter of striking workers though a stern critic of trade unions which he saw as wishing to create an alternative (worker’s) state. This theme of support for militant action by workers and opposition to state socialist trade unionism ran through most individualist analyses of the period and littered the pages of Liberty, though the newspaper encouraged debate and featured a deal of anarchist-communist material over the years. Presumably, Bailie, like his comrade Tucker, supported the major strikes of the period such as at Lawrence, Massachusetts and Cripple Creek in 1894, as well as the Homestead, Pullman and Paterson, New Jersey mass actions. Certainly, his background in libertarian socialism and anarchist communism in an industrial setting had made Bailie more aware of and sympathetic to collective action in general, and he most definitely retained and encouraged a belief in broadening and unifying anarchist thought as well as class solidarity.13 Bailie clearly believed that anarchists should also look at vegetarianism, sexual liberation and women’s liberation, for example, and incorporate elements such as these into the anarchist agenda. He himself operated a vegetarian restaurant cooperative for a while with his partner, although most of his life he worked as a basketweaver. (14)

Much more research needs to be done into William Bailie before a proper analysis can be made of his life and politics. Certainly most of it appears to have been lived as an individualist anarchist whose chief concerns were the encroachment of the state into people’s lives, the rise of American imperialism and the domineering conservative morality and jingoistic nationalism of the United States’ power elites. He did, however, maintain a support for workers in struggle and a realisation that personal freedom was tied inexorably to collective and economic freedom. Like the Glasgow anarchists of the 20th century, he was one of the few anarchist thinkers to make the case for an inseparable link between what most of his contemporaries considered diametrically opposed trends of anarchist thought – the egoist or Stirnerite anarchists and the collectivist and/or communist anarchists. This was because he saw the greatest personal freedom of the egoists encouraged in the freedom of economic equality, and that it would please the egoist to work in cooperation with others as a choice, but also as a logical self-interest in order to establish and maintain his or her liberty. He wrote, ‘Egoism implies perfect aid, cooperation, collective effort, often conduce to egoistic satisfaction, to individual welfare. Perfect individualism therefore implies those kinds of conduct’. (15) While this is far from an exposition of classical revolutionary or even class struggle anarchism, it does show how Bailie had evolved a fairly unique conception of anarchism uniting the various often mutually antagonistic strands and adding important issues on which he felt it was impingent upon anarchists to take a stand. That such things are now taken for granted by many anarchists and anarchist groups was not down to Bailie, but his important work must have made a significant contribution in time and place.

Articles by William Bailie in the newspaper, Liberty (1881-1908).
Issue No. 235, page 2; Issue No. 236, page 3; Issue No. 238, page 1; Issue No. 239, page 2; Issue No. 255, page 3; Issue No. 268, page 3; Issue No. 272, page 3; Issue No. 389, page 2; Issue No. 391, page 14; Issue No. 393, page 11;
On anarchism – Issue No. 253, page 2; On capitalism – Issue No. 257, page 1 & 3; On collectivism – Issue No. 264, page 1 & 3; On competition – Issue No. 276, page 1; On crime – Issue No. 231, page 2-3; On economics – Issue No. 378, page 4-5; On education – Issue No. 210, page 3-4 and Issue No. 235, page 1; On government – Issue No. 255, page 1; Issue No. 266, page 1 & 3; Issue No. 375, page 3-4; On individualism – Issue No. 256, page 1 and Issue No. 263, page 13; On labour – Issue No. 254, page 1; Issue No. 271, page 1 & 3 and Issue No. 272, page 1; On liberty – Issue No. 258, page 1; On Loria – Issue No. 376, page 3-4; On martyrs – Issue No. 217, page 2-3; On monopoly – Issue No. 368, page 4-5 and Issue No. 371, page 3-4; On property – Issue No. 259, page 1; Issue No. 260, page 1; Issue No. 261, page 1 & 3; and Issue No. 267, page 1; On railroad – Issue No. 369, page 3-4; On sacrifice – Issue No. 227, 3-4; On socialism – Issue No. 265, page 1 & 3; On society – Issue No. 223, page 1-4; Issue No. 253, page 1; Issue No. 264, page 1 & 3; On the state – Issue No. 391, page 26-33; On wages – Issue No. 274, page 1 and Issue No. 279, page 1; On war – Issue No. 392, page 43-50; Clarence Lee Swartz on Bailie – Issue No. 388, page 2 and Issue No. 392, page 50-57; Benjamin Tucker on Bailie – Issue No. 267, page 1; Issue No. 272, page 2-3 and Issue No. 274, page 1.

1. S.J. Connolly (Ed.), The Oxford Companion to Irish History (Oxford, 1996), p.170.
2. Carl Levy, Gramsci and the Italian Anarchists (London, 2001), is a good example of this expansion of historical research outwith national boundaries.
3. Max Nettlau, A Short History of Anarchism (London, 1996); and Paul Avrich, Anarchist Portraits (Princeton, 1998).
4. John Quail, The Slow Burning Fuse: The Lost History of the British Anarchists (London, 1978), pp.49-50; and International Genealogical Index (IGI) @, 1881 British Census for 12
James Place, London; and Hermia Oliver, The International Anarchist Movement in Late Victorian London (London, 1983), p.109, p.123, pp.126-7, p.128, p.50, p.90, p.95, pp.124-7, p.139 & p.152.
5. IGI, 1880 US Census, 19th Ward, Manhattan, New York & marriage record, 6 February 1884 of Bolton Hall to Susie Hurlbut Scott, New York; and re. John Hall.
6. Nettlau, p.383 and p.254; and Linus Yamane, ‘Free Acres’ @ Hall left Free Acres in disgust in 1936 after tax-paying adjustments were agreed to by the community. The community still exists but is quite different from Hall’s original vision for it.
7. Emma Goldman, Living My Life Vol.I (New York, 1931), see chapter 27 for material on Hall; and Alice Wexler, Emma Goldman: An Intimate Life (London, 1984), p.118 & p.213.
8. Ellis Island Immigration Centre Archive on the net @ Bolton Hall passenger records.
9. William Bailie, Josiah Warren: The First American Anarchist: A Sociological Study (New York, 1906), p.xiii.
10. Avrich, p.154; and Quail, p.94; IGI records, which are not comprehensive, contain only one William Bailie, born in 1867 to Adam Bailie and Mary Coyle, a Belfast family who subsequently re-located to Manchester, though there is no William there in the 1881 Census.
11. William Gary Kline, The Individualist Anarchists: A Critique of Liberalism (Lanham, Maryland, 1987), p.65.
12. Nettlau, p.45 & p.405; and James J. Martin, Men Against the State: The Expositors of Individualist Anarchism in America, 1827-1908 (Illinois, 1953), bibliographical essay; and Kline, p.80.
13. Nettlau, pp.30-42; and Kline, pp.60-1 and p.78.
14. Biographical note on Helen Matilda Tufts Bailie, Helen Tufts Bailie Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northhampton, Massachussetts, html; Bailie’s papers and those of his partner are kept in Smith College, though focus more on Helen Tufts than William.
15. Kline, pp.65-6 and p.80.