Besides being first and last a teacher, Amos Bronson Alcott
was also an ardent reformer. He was associated with many groups advocating substantial reform of American society, among them the abolitionists and the Non-Resistance Society. The abolitionists, under the leadership of William Lloyd Garrison, staunchly opposed North American slavery and exposed it for the barbaric institution that it was. The Transcendentalists were strong abolitionists: among the most prominent were Thomas Wentworth Higginson
, Ralph Waldo Emerson
, Henry David Thoreau
, Margaret Fuller
, Samuel Joseph May
, William Henry Furness
, Moncure Daniel Conway
, Franklin Benjamin Sanborn
, Theodore Parker
, Thomas Treadwell Stone
, and John Weiss
. The Non-Resistance Society, an offshoot of the abolitionist movement, took the central principles affirmed by the abolitionists and applied them to many other institutions which they believed were responsible for the systematic oppression of humanity. They called upon men and women to reject any human institution opposed to "divine law" and asserted that it was the duty of all conscientious persons to withdraw immediately from such institutions, leaving them to collapse under the burden of their own evil.
Those meeting Alcott for the first time were often quite overwhelmed by his eagerness for reform. Samuel J. May
, while serving in Brooklyn, Connecticut as Unitarian minister and member of the school committee, invited Alcott to visit him for the first time in August 1827. He later said of the experience, "I have never, but in one other instance, been so immediately taken possession of by any man I have ever met in life. He seemed to me like a born sage and saint. He was radical in all matters of reform; went to the root of all things, especially the subjects of education, mental and moral culture" (Frederick C. Dahlstrand, Amos Bronson Alcott: An Intellectual Biography
[East Brunswick, New Jersey: Associated University Presses, Inc., 1982], p. 49).
This concept, despite its virtuous appeal, turned out to be far more attractive in theory than in practice. In Concord, Massachusetts
, Alcott found that as he cut ties with his oppressors, he himself became oppressed. To reject society's institutions was to assume the status of an outsider; assuming the status of an outsider invited poverty; and poverty stifled the free workings of the spirit. Nonetheless, as Alcott developed his economic philosophy at this time, he remained committed to following the divine dictates of conscience regardless of the social penalties for doing so. He found himself simply unable to remain in an economic system "whose root is selfishness, whose trunk is property, whose fruit is gold." Alcott's theory denied both private and public ownership of property and embraced farming as a possible way to live in honest relations to God and man. Thus, Alcott took up farming both to experience the purifying discipline of manual labor and to disengage himself from an economy of oppression. When farming could no longer supply his family's needs, Alcott began to chop wood for one dollar a day. However, since he believed that hired labor was the most blatant form of economic bondage, and since any money he did earn was often negligible compared with the total amount of his debt, he did not work as hired labor for long. Often, Alcott borrowed money from friends and relatives, reasoning that the charity of friends was a means of drawing out their higher nature: "Persons, here and there, are taking us kindly by the hand, and without complaints or misjudgments, ministering of their love, their confidence, their respect and substance to our needs."
Alcott left Concord with a renewed faith in a divine economy and, in 1842, began to seek members for his utopian community Fruitlands