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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Free Love


by John Anderson

"I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is; I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute." -- Rebecca West

My soon to be published book, Free Love, profiles the brave socialist reformers of America's nineteenth century and examines their experiments to establish a Garden of Eden in the new world. In all my writing work to date, my objective is to recover notable Americans from obscurity and false myths. Renegade reintroduces Simon Girty and examines how a myth created about him was used to achieve the racist ends of a few Indian-hating writers and public figures. This new book, to be published by American Books, attempts to show how a few courageous socialists built the foundation for today's feminist movement.

It has always struck me as odd that so few American heroes of the nineteenth century are honored today. Yes, the Civil War, its generals, and Abe Lincoln are given great attention. Otherwise, the middle period between the Revolution and the Civil War is largely noticed only for its oddities: mesmerizing healers; frontier outlaws; New York gangs; spirit speakers; clairvoyants and prophets; and notorious figures such as the polarizing Andrew Jackson, the crooked Boss Tweed, the terrorist John Brown, and the remarkably weak Martin Van Buren and Millard Fillmore.

What about those few who did so much to shape the nation we live in today while America moved so quickly from a developing country after the War of 1812 to a major world power by the end of the Mexican War of 1846? It was during this period that subsistence farming gave way to industry with innovations in transportation (the telegraph, the steam-operated printing press, efficient paper making), the mechanization of agriculture (McCormick's reaper, John Deer's steel plow), and mass production of almost everything. So many issues that faced Americans then are the same that confront us today: social reform; religious zeal; immigration; financial markets in crisis; wars criticized for their immorality.

The courageous socialists who set up egalitarian communities throughout America in their various attempts to make the new nation live up to its Constitution go ignored today because all their experiments failed. Teddy Roosevelt reportedly said, "Far better it is to dare mighty things than to live in that gray twilight that knows neither victory or defeat." Thanks to the socialist women and men profiled in Free Love who dared mighty things, women won equal rights and the feminist movement was established. The lessons that may be learned from the reformers who dared to try to establish a Utopian nation should be useful to those who today strive to cultivate a truly organic garden in America. The early risk takers lived something Emily Dickinson wrote, "We never know how high we are until we are called to rise; and then, if we are true to our plan, our statures touch the skies."

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