“A Republic of Social Industrialism:” The Reform Thought of T.B. Wakeman



Freethinker, philosopher, Populist, and amateur sociologist Thaddeus Burr Wakeman (1837-1913) has received scant attention from historians. Fellow critics of the unbridled capitalism of Gilded Age America such as Edward Bellamy, Henry George, Henry D. Lloyd, and Lester Ward have all been the subject of considerable study. Yet Wakeman shared platforms and corresponded with at least three of these influential men. This historical neglect is probably attributable to several facts: Wakeman’s personal papers (at least the few that survived a devastating fire late in his career) are still in family hands; he never held an academic position at a major university; and his narrow naturalism and philosophical monism were unfashionable by the 1890’s, perhaps encouraging the first generation of commentators to dismiss him as an eccentric.

Admittedly a secondary figure, Wakeman still can throw considerable light on the reform thought of the late nineteenth century. Wakeman’s work highlights the tensions within the political and economic critique articulated by his community of discourse. The democratic-collectivist ideal that some historians have identified in the last quarter of the nineteenth century was an evocative blend of themes new and old but was also fraught with internal tension.1 Egalitarian rhetoric was often joined to an elitist or paternalist model. While evident in the writings of Bellamy and Ward, this illiberal, hierarchical strand is central to Wakeman’s thought and clearly attributable to his earlier encounter with Comtean positivism. One of the few scholars to treat Wakeman, Arthur Lipow, fails to identify or explain the foreign and domestic sources of Wakeman’s alleged authoritarianism. This omission is curious since Lipow refers to the “American Comtean tradition” in the introduction to his provocative study, Authoritarian Socialism, and Wakeman’s Comtean writings are more numerous than his explicitly Nationalist work. Wakeman did not, as Lipow claims, merely “borrow his ideas” from the Mugwumps. Rather, Comte’s influence best explains the elitism and organizational emphasis Lipow identifies. The wedding of “conservative doctrine” and a “collective perspective” that Lipow discovered represents an excellent illustration of positivism’s interaction with the varied strands of Gilded Age thought.2 Moreover, the following analysis confirms that Gilded Age social critics clearly anticipated the subsequent conflict within Progressivism between democratic and elitist or bureaucratic impulses.

T.B. Wakeman was born into an affluent Connecticut family of Puritan ancestry. His parents were pious Christians and directed their bright son toward the ordained ministry.   Accordingly, he attended Princeton, graduating second in his class in 1854. His family then arranged for Thaddeus to serve as an assistant in a Presbyterian church in New York City but the introspective twenty-year –old had other plans. Wakeman had read widely in his final year, and what he encountered led him to question Princeton orthodoxy. Thus, about the time of his graduation, Wakeman approached his elder brother Abram and told him that he no longer felt called to the Christian ministry. Instead, he explained to his alarmed sibling, he planned to study philosophy in Germany. Abram, a prominent New York lawyer, quickly dismissed these plans to study abroad and informed the wayward Thaddeus that he was to pursue a career in the law under his tutelage. The younger Wakeman relented and worked in his brother’s law office as he read for the bar exam. After being called to the bar, Thaddeus joined Abram’s firm, though he later left to start his own practice on Nassau Street in Manhattan. Wakeman prospered as a lawyer and lived for many years in a fashionable residence on 116th Street in Harlem.3

As a young, liberal-minded lawyer in post-Civil War Manhattan, Wakeman encountered a small group of American positivists under the tutelage of an English ex-patriot, Henry Edger. Auguste Comte had appointed Edger an”apostle” for his positivist church in the 1850’s. Edger’s lectures in New York finally attracted an organized following in 1867 and the inquisitive Wakeman was among the disciples.4 Comte’s ideas profoundly influenced Wakeman, although he soon broke with orthodox positivism. In fact, Wakeman’s first published work in the 1870’s represented his effort to revise Comtean social and religious thought in an American direction.

The positivism that the young Wakeman encountered in post-war New York was the social and religious thought of Comte’s controversial “second system”. In the final sections of the massive Cours de philosophie positive (1830-1842), Comte suggested how his new science of society, “sociology,” might solve the contemporary social and intellectual crisis. Scientific sociology could deliver European civilization by resolving the central tension of contemporary society, that is, the opposition of order and progress. His system, Comte later declared, promised to “bring the demands of progress in to complete unison with requirements of order, representing the ultimate regeneration as consisting in the discipline of the forces evoked during the period of preparation.”5 By broadening the realm of scientific thought to include social phenomena, a science of society that commanded universal acceptance could develop. For one, this new science might circumscribe the limits of political debate by revealing what was possible to reform, as well as what was not susceptible to amelioration.   Comte observed: “ …social phenomena may, from their complexity, be more easily modified than any others…This is the first scientific foundation of all rational hopes of a systematic reformation of humanity…[but] still they can never be more than modifications: that is, they will always be in subjection to those fundamental laws, whether statical or dynamical, which regulate the harmony of the social elements…”6

Throughout, Comte assumed that social progress was the inevitable result of this process: “The only ground of discussion is whether [social] development and improvement…are one; whether the development is necessarily accompanied by a corresponding amelioration, or progress, properly so called. To me it appears that the amelioration is as unquestionable as the development from questionable as the development from which it proceeds, provided we regard it as subject, like the development itself, to limits general and special, which science will be found to describe.”7

Scientific observation had to precede political action so that reforms were consistent with historical trends. Then, too, sociology provided government planners the requisite tools to effect social control; technocratic manipulation could arise from a science of society. Just as science had tamed nature, so also it could augment or redirect social forces to desired ends.   These technocratic, interventionist themes were central to Comtean positivism.8

But Comte was no simple liberal reformist.   Although he believed that empirical study and planned intervention could eliminate social ills, Comte could only find real improvement upon order, the kind of stable hierarchical order evident in nature. Comte sought to avoid the sort of unrestrained, undirected revolutionary change that France had undergone since the last part of the eighteenth century.   Moreover, one can readily recognize that Comte’s philosophy, although it embraced historicism, did, in fact, seek an end to history. Comte looked forward to the ultimate organization of all social life upon unchanging scientific principles. Positive science, alone, he believed, could bring the current, chaotic transitional era to a close.9

Comte’s controversial blueprint for social regeneration contained in the Systeme de politique positive (1851-4) was the logical culmination of his effort to reconcile order and progress. The new, scientifically sanctioned moral order required a positive religion and Comte there sketched out both the doctrinal basis and institutional expression of his “Religion of Humanity.”   Humanity became the appropriate object of worship under the new faith. Referred to collectively as the “Great Being,” it included all those in the past, present, and future who sought human betterment. To facilitate popular religion, Comte composed a new calendar that commemorated this pantheon of past humanitarians. Love, especially altruistic motherly love, was the fundamental principle that underlay Comte’s religion; he therefore stressed the emotional and nurturing characteristics of women and their proper sphere of influence in the home and family. Outside the home, a“Positivist priesthood” ran the educational system and served as both the educational system and served as both the scientific authorities and censors. Their head was the “High Priest of Humanity” in Paris---Comte himself.10 Thus, Comte sought to establish a “Spiritual Authority” distinct from the “Temporal Authority,” those economic elites who assumed the running of the political order. This separation of “authorities”, and the elitist and technocratic assumptions that underlay it, were the foundational to Comte’s social blueprint in the Systeme.

While Wakeman came to criticize various aspects of Comte’s social and religious vision, the French philosopher’s influence on the impressionable young lawyer was profound.   Wakeman directed his main criticism at Comte’s admiration for Roman Catholicism as an institution and his advocacy of a hierarchical papal model for the future Positive polity. Wakeman described the attempt to realize such a papal system in America as “retrograde and worse than useless.” As for the appearance of the future polity, Wakeman had few doubts. “It is useless to deny,” he declared,” that the Republic is the great modern fact in Sociology, and the great hope and ideal of the world.” In light of these facts, Wakeman concluded, “it may be proper to distinguish Positivism, with its progressive Republic, from Comtism with its retrograde Papacy.”11

Aside from differing with Comte as to the precise character and shape of the Positive polity, Wakeman also differed with the Master’s tactics for establishing the new world order.   Comte’s attempt to secure conservative support for his cause had been “fruitless” and was based upon false assumptions. Men of means remain selfish, Wakeman observed.   “The Conservatives have shown, again and again, that they will force a revolution,” he wrote, “if they can, rather than relinquish a profitable injustice. Upon them the Religion of Humanity has been chiefly wasted.”12 The natural allies of positivism were, Wakeman believed, the very groups Comte had dismissed as “Revolutionists”---the “Evolutionists, Scientists, Liberals, Democrats and Socialists.”   Positivists must not alienate such individuals, for they are “the only people who have either the power or the will to secure progress and thereby develop order.”13 Only the progressive, freethinking element in politics or religion was likely to entertain the positivist perspective. Cooperating with these groups, positivism could become a kind of liberal umbrella, or in Wakeman’s own words, “the mother and nurse of all reforms, and of all beneficent, political and social changes….” As part of a larger reform movement, positivists need not be tied to a specific utopian blueprint; such “details of organization” would doubtless appear as society progressed. Such an approach was not a repudiation of Comte, Wakeman argued, but was, rather, consistent with his own “law of adaptation and adjustment.”14

Yet, Wakeman did not throw out Comte’s idea of a “spiritual power” or priesthood. He simply sought to place the “new wine” of Comte’s in a “new bottle,” one consistent with “a republican point of view.” Wakeman believed that America’s universities were the probable “centres of the new theoretical power.” It required the secularization of these institutions, under the direction of men dedicated to science. With such a system of higher education, the nation could attain a social and intellectual cohesion as an outgrowth “of the positive method itself.”15 The faculty of such universities might properly assume the title of priests, being all exponents of the true faith of humanity.

For the purpose of analysis, Wakeman’s social and political thought separates into three periods---1854-1866 (before encountering Comte); 1867-1888 (after Comte); and 1888-1913 (after reading Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward). History records very little about Wakeman’s politics during the first period other than his antislavery sentiments and his involvement with his older brother, Abram, in the early organization of the Republican Party in New York. In 1872, Wakeman joined Horace Greeley in supporting the Liberal Republicans. From then until his nomination for New York attorney general by the Progressive Labor party in 1887, there is no record of his partisan activities.16 But a number of articles and addresses published 1872 and 1887 furnish considerable insight on Wakeman’s evolving social and political vision, on the reform thought of the Gilded Age, and on its problematic legacy.

For example, Wakeman’s arguments in favor of a high protective tariff reveal his attempt to fuse republican principles and Comtean social science.   Contrary to Spencer, but echoing Comte, Wakeman believed that state intervention was a reasonable option founded upon sound scientific laws. The chief end of government, Wakeman argued in 1888, “is the welfare of the people, which depends upon their independence.” And they could only secure such independence through a diversified economy since a “one-product producing people” depends upon others and this “cannot be one of any great culture, wealth or happiness.” Perhaps more important, however, Wakeman believed that agriculture and manufacturing were “the chief productive employments of mankind. “Most commerce,” he argued, was but “a waste of human life, energy, and capital” because merely transporting “really produces nothing.” A system of free trade could force the United States to accept the wage levels and living standards of less civilized nations in order to compete properly with them.   Such a competition might then force American workers to become a “dependent class, become serfs or slaves, like the cooley Chinese or imported Italians, under masters or importers. When the labor of a country is chiefly performed by such a class, a republican democracy cannot exist. The names may be changed, but the master and slave will reappear, and the Republic must end under the poverty of its producers and their consequent degradation.”17

It was no coincidence, observed Wakeman, that the principle of free trade formed the foundation for the slave economy of the Southern Confederacy. Nor had the threat to the republic disappeared with the end of the war and defeat of secession. “The trouble is,” noted Wakeman, with alarm, “that the Free Trade party and influence now seeking control of our country, is the direct political, social and economic successor of the slaveocracy, and is working in the same spirit and for the same ends.”18 Nor was Wakeman’s republican sympathy for the small, independent producer simply a rhetorical ruse to hide the vested interests of industrialists.   Wakeman continued to champion the rights of labor and suggest radical measures to improve the lot of workers. If protection benefited only the wealthy few “then the remedy is by proper limitation of wealth by taxation or to inaugurate cooperation to take the place of the captain of industry. Free Trade is no remedy for this trouble, it gives us a new set of capitalists---the merchant, importer and banker, against whom no remedy is possible under Free Trade.”19

Again, the wage laborer was his primary concern; Wakeman noted several times that protection tended to raise and sustain higher wages.

Wakeman’s arguments here about a protective tariff are intriguing because they are a blend of traditional democratic principles with Comtean insights. Not only was free trade un-republican and un-American, but it was also unscientific, Wakeman contended.   “Political Economy,” he wrote, “has become a branch of Social Science or Sociology” where scientific and historical laws determine one’s conclusions. Consequently, a “larger social view of human relations and progress”---transcended the negative individualism and deductive character of the Manchester School. The question then became whether protection was or was not “the true economy of Social Science.” Wakeman had no doubt that the “higher standpoint” of the new political economy pronounced protection scientific.20 For Wakeman, then, the appeal of the economics of Henry C. Carey, Richard Ely, and Francis A. Walker was essentially Comtean. Such systems were scientific, empirical, historical, organic, and altruistic.

These last three features of the new social science could, however, create tensions within Wakeman’s political thought if he sought to remain loyal to the liberal, egalitarian, and individualistic principles that defined American political culture. Like his more orthodox Comtean predecessors, Wakeman grew fond of using a hierarchical “beehive” analogy to argue for cooperation in human society.   In the same lecture on the tariff, Wakeman declared that one must not adopt “the point of view of individual selfishness, instead of the point of view of social welfare and the advantage to the commonwealth in the long run.” After all, he reasoned, was not “the lot, fate, and welfare of every individual bee…indissolubly connected with that of the hive?”21 Sociology, it seemed, always taught that the good of the social “hive” was the primary consideration. Both Comte’s teaching about altruism and Nature itself appeared to confirm this truth for Wakeman. The illiberal and elitist potential of such a model was only brought out in bold relief in Wakeman’s later work.

Another, not unrelated ideological tension evident in Wakeman’s political writings of the 1880’s arose from his Comtean conception of social reform as scientifically conceived, directed, and in some larger historical sense, inevitable. Wakeman reckoned that the “discovery “of a “Logic of History” made sociology possible. This “Logic of History” was a fusion of Comte’s law of the three stages with Spencer’s evolutionary sociology.22 Social scientist were now generally agreed, explained Wakeman, “that there is a law of historic progress and evolution…[just as] there is a law of gravity.” Moreover, like Comte, Wakeman’s logic of history was explicitly teleological. “The voice of science,” he concluded, “is that this humanistic kingdom, or better, this Republic of Man, is the outcome of the logic of history…”

Yet, though inevitable, the progress of society toward the positivist state could be smooth and logical, or it could be socially disruptive and haphazard. Like Comte, Wakeman believed that one of the greatest blessings of sociology was that it allowed one to anticipate and even stimulate social development. “The revolution,” reflected Wakeman, “if it is understood, organized and manned, is gradual and safe; it is but another name for the growth and progress of man.” Without scientific leadership and direction, progress became “the result of blind facts, forcing events and revolutions like the broken and dammed up ice in the mountain gorge.” The body, for instance, cannot advance, cannot even function properly “without limbs or organs.”23 As for who should provide this leadership for social reform, Wakeman’s answer, while not explicitly anti-democratic, often sounded elitist. Clearly for Wakeman, it was the Freethinkers, scientists, and other cognoscenti who constituted the revolutionary vanguard and led human society toward the Positive state.

Hence, Wakeman’s Comtism already had within it significant deterministic and elitist elements before it encountered Edward Bellamy’s nationalism. Wakeman’s notion of scientific prevision and his image of social reform as elite-let both primarily came from Comte and they made him very receptive to the utopian vision of Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward. This characteristic tension between democratic and elitist or bureaucratic themes emerges most clearly in Wakeman’s Nationalist writings.   Bellamy had an ambiguous effect upon Wakeman; he reinforced some of the social conservatism and organicism originally drawn from Comte, while he eventually pulled Wakeman in a more egalitarian or socialist direction. These sometimes conflicting tendencies are especially interesting in the politics of a positivist concerned with “republicanizing” Comtean ideology.

To begin with, Bellamy’s angry rejection of the chicanery and corruption of Gilded Age politics clearly bolstered Wakeman’s apolitical elitism. Wakeman wrote that the bosses from within and the trusts from without had thoroughly corrupted the American political process. “Ours is no longer a government of the people,” Wakeman lamented. Political power had passed out of the hands of the people and into those of the political and economic elites. Under such a system , the future looked bleak.   “Parties must more and more,” Wakeman posited, “become sugjected to the control of Trusts and Monopolies and popular elections can be little more than the record of their wished and interests.” Such was not the intent of the republic’s founders. Wakeman held that “the original plan of our government” was to have it “rest upon practical democracy.”   The advent of national political party organizations in the 1830’s undermined this arrangement. Such mass organizational structures were “more irresponsible and independent of the people than any King….” As trusts and monopolies arose, the parties became their agents and legislatures became corrupted just as the Roman senate and British parliament before them. Since government by such parties was certainly not government by the people, it was imperative that the initiative of governing somehow return again to the people.24

Wakeman’s argument here is an odd mixture of positivist and traditional republican rhetoric. Nationalists must resolve this question using practical means, he declared, and to do so, they could benefit from reading Patrick Henry.   While most of the Founding Fathers failed to foresee the form of corruption the republic took, Wakeman held that Henry anticipated some of these developments in his criticisms of the Federal constitution. The sheer size of the electoral districts and complexity of the country ensured “a government of parties and partisans” undercutting “democratic principles.” Republican government must rest, Wakeman agreed with Henry, “upon small districts of the people able to meet and vote in primary assemblages.”25 Yet, the socio-economic ends Wakeman sought were vastly different than those of an eighteenth century republican such as Henry. The sort of system Wakeman envisaged spelled tyranny to Henry or to most of his contemporaries. Wakeman did propose that town assemblies gather to elect state legislators the name delegates who in turn assembled in convention to elect Congress. Congress itself elected the President, with all political activity outside the local assemblies carefully proscribed. Such an arrangement might warm the heart of a traditional anti-party republican; however, Wakeman did not seek to curtail governmental power. Rather, the state administered all those things “necessary to secure the general welfare of the people, such as transportation, and the production and distribution of the common means of living…”26 Thus, not unlike Bellamy, Wakeman adopted traditional republican and anti-monopoly means to serve state socialist ends.

How Wakeman responded to critisisms of Nationalism also underlines the tension within his political theory, between egalitarian and hierarchical impulses. To those who doubted whether social evolution could create some form of socialism, Wakeman answered that such a system was the inevitable outcome of “the fundamental law of history and Sociology.” Nor did it represent the negation of the individual; social “integration,” said Wakeman, “is the inevitable counterpart of individuation.” Not publicly managed integration, but privately controlled monopoly most threatened individual liberty. “The lesson of history,” Wakeman wrote,”is that Republics and Liberty always go down when the necessary integrations of civilization and progress, military or other, pass from the control of the people.” If huge concentrations of capital were the inescapable products of modernization then the question was: “Shall the people become the slaves of this capital, or its masters?” The issue of personal liberty was as central to this conflict as to those of 1775 and 1861 and to do nothing threatened liberty far more than the proposed measures. Neither should people fear Bellamy’s military model. An industrial “army” was not identical with a military army, Nationalists simply used these terms as metaphors. Explained Wakeman: “The word ‘army’ is short poetry for the order, economy, punctuality and reliable cooperation and co-, not sub-ordination of the public administration of industries.”   Nationalist government, Wakeman contended, was most definitely not one “of force or of authoritarianism.”27

But, although Wakeman assured the skeptical that Nationalism tolerated “every priest, sect, fanatic and phase of thought and opinion,” this did not include partisan political activity outside government or electoral assemblies. Like Comte, Wakeman did not value political pluralism. Wakekman’s reason for his proscription of partisan politics usually centered upon “bossism” and related corruptions of the American system.   Wakeman’s chief concerns, though, often were civil service reform and a more efficient electoral system, two goals both secured by eliminating national political parties. When listing the benefits of his proposals, for example, Wakeman stressed that they could “save the people an immense amount of money, time, worry, disappointment, corruption, and deviltry of nearly every description.”28 Wakeman noticeably did not say here that the mass of citizens might acquire a greater voice in the decision-making process or that they could enjoy a lessening of inequality.   Furthermore, elitists might easily turn Wakeman’s ascending scale of indirect elections to their own ends. Such “forced atomization of the electorate” and the “substitution of bureaucratic administration for politics” might purge the nation of party “Bossism” but it could also destroy genuine political freedom.29 Having eliminated parties, Wakeman’s utopia takes on a unitary, authoritarian character. Under such a system, Wakeman observed chillingly, “the state becomes the true Church.”30

One should avoid, however, overdrawing the anti-democratic features of Wakeman’s reformism.   Wakeman and fellow Bellamyites did seek to organize as “a party above parties” but their attitudes here were strongly colored by the political corruption of the Gilded Age. While certainly favored by some genteel reformers to serve their own narrow class interests, the plebiscitary system suggested by Wakeman could also conceivably benefit the working classes.   It is therefore misleading to conclude that Wakeman disdained “the urban working class, particularly the swelling number of non-English speaking immigrant workers.”31

Although Wakeman was not without ethnic prejudice, his political writings do not exhibit such an attitude. Moreover, Wakeman’s political association with the Progressive Labor and Populist parties in New York, including running as a candidate under both banners at different times, does not suggest a hatred of the urban proletariat. The former party was a non-Marxian, socialist splinter group that broke away from the United Labor Party (ULP) in 1887. The exodus came as a result of the takeover of the ULP by Henry George’s single-taxers at their Syracuse convention.   Progressive Labor and Populist leaders included labor journalist John Swinton, who had also visited Comtist meetings in New York during the late 1860’s, and Wakeman, who they named to run for state attorney general. Anti-George labor unions represented the party’s main constituency and Wakeman’s association with the Progressive Labor and Populist parties underlines his sympathy for urban workers.32 Later, Wakeman was a leading figure in the People’s Party in New York. Notably, New York Populists were among the most advanced and socialistic of the various state parties.33

A short piece contributed to The Open Court in April of 1891 provides the best portrait of Wakeman’s political orientation during the early 1890’s. Entitled “Our Future Polity,” the article is in part Wakeman’s reflections upon his earlier critique of Comte’s political theory. “Many of the open minds and hearts of the more aspiring students of sociology in America, and especially in New York, gave this new [Comtean] Gospel a thoughtful consideration,”   Wakeman remembered. But Comte’s actual blueprint, he lamented, “was the stumbling block over which there was no passing for many of us.” The critique, which he had anticipated some ten or more years earlier, remained relevant. Wakeman still contended that “the Utopia of the future will be finally a re-integration of Plutocracy and Catholicism into some form of Socialism---a Republic of social form of Socialism---a Republic of social industrialism…” Comte’s “American students have never been able to agree with their French masters in this realm and thus,” Wakeman lamented, “Positivism, or Constructive Liberalism received a check in its hopeful progress from which it has never recovered…” Spencer’s “Monopolistic Feudality [sic] or Anarchy” were certainly not the answer. The future lay instead, just as it had a decade earlier, in the direction of a revised Comtism. Wakeman had then argued for and still proposed “the continuance of our Republic, saved by gradually passing to the people the monopolistic powers which had once gone to the nobility of blood or of wealth.”34

Wakeman, then, did not repudiate his earlier attempts to apply Comte to American society but, in fact, saw his involvement in the reform causes of the 1880’s and 1890’s as a practical application of his Comtean principles. By extension, Wakeman also conceived of his Populist activities as a practical way to realize the goals he had found so attractively outlined on Looking Backward. Nationalism and Populism were “two distinct though not divergent lines” both directed toward “economic Freedom in America,” declared Wakeman.   For him, the People’s party was the only political vehicle that could bring about a few of the “ultimate ideals of Looking Backward.”35 Under Populism, Nationalism extended only to limited sectors of the economy. Many agreed that natural monopolies such as transportation and communication should undergo nationalization. For this the Populists labored.

All the same, Wakeman was still willing to argue under the Populist flag for Nationalism on what he termed “advanced ground.” Wakeman here supported a publicly owned and managed economy akin to Bellamy’s utopia. The government, Wakeman believed, should provide all of the basic requirements for free and civilized existence.   Wakeman’s rationale for this wholesale nationalization was less Comtean, at least when addressing potential voters, and more inkeeping with the rhetoric of equal rights and anti-monopoly.   “Monopolies,” explained Wakeman,”are built by giving franchises to a few, and these few turn around and dictate the cost of living to the many. It is an unjust and unfair arrangement.”36 Although the organizational and systemizing ends of Wakeman’s proposals clearly owed much to Comte and bellamy, his rhetoric frequently sounded more Jasksonian than Comtean. Wakeman seems, then, to have had an authentic democratic impulse, which moved in a collectivist direction during the 1880’s along with much Gilded Age reform thought. Yet, there remained in his system a hierarchical, bureaucratic principle, a deep commitment to rational order derived largely from Comte and strengthened by parts of Bellamy’s work.37

After the collapse of Populism following Bryan’s defeat in 1896, Wakeman became less active politically and seldom addressed political questions in his writing. His few comments suggest that Wakeman’s activities became even more drawn to statism during the opening decade of the new century. In Science is Religion (1904), Wakeman defined the state as “the social action of each people for their protection and general welfare on the earth.” Such a state was supreme in all things, including religion. “The republic,” declared Wakeman, “and not the church is supreme---Vox populii, vox Dei.” The interventionist, omnicompetent state thus ensured that religious institutions “passed under the control of the people.”38

Moreover, the organicist and corporatitist elements in Wakeman’s ideology are especially evident in his later work. To survive, the republic must become highly unified. Explained Wakeman,” We cannot expect each for all unless all is for each, with a resultant interest and honor which will make the life and welfare of the republic that of its humblest socius, or member also. That such Spartan-like devotion is still possible is made manifest by the action of the Japanese people in their present Russian war.   Without the supreme devotion of its people [to the state and nation] the long continuance of a republic is not possible.”39 In the watershed presidential election of 1912, Wakeman cast his ballot for Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive ticket.

The Gilded Age was a time of intellectual ferment in America. Certainly, in the realm of social and political thought, it was a transitional period, breaking ground for the flowering of the Progressive era. The thought and political career of T.B. Wakeman enrich our picture of the community of discourse that included Bellamy, Ward, and others.   As Wakeman’s work confirms, the legacy of Gilded Age reform thought was ambiguous, hobbled as it was by internal contradictions. And yet, although Wakeman’s critique of the Robber Barons and the party Bosses lacked inner coherence, neither were the Progressives able to resolve these fundamental tensions.   Herbert Croly, Walter Weyl, and others dedicated to elite-let reform and bureaucratic management often received criticism for the anti-democratic assumptions underlying their political thought.   Croly did evidence a more egalitarian spirit in Progressive Democracy (1914) than he had in The Promise of American Life (1909), but this tension remained a fundamental problem for many Progressives.40 The preceding analysis underlines, however, that the ‘positivism of the Progressives’ had its roots in the Gilded Age.41


1. See, among others: Chester M. Destler, American Radicalism, 1865-1901 (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1966); Lawrence Goodwyn, The Populist Moment: A Short History of the Agrarian Revolt in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978); Arthur Lipow, Authoritarian Socialism in America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982); Bruce Palmer, “Man Over Money”: The Southern Populist Critique of American Capitalism (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1980); and John L. Thomas, Alternative America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983). I have confirmed that TBW corresponded at least with Bellamy and Ward.   

2. Lipow, Authoritarian Socialism, 245, note #73. 

3. Wakeman Hartley, private interview at home, Norfolk, Conn. July 30, 1984; obituary, Greenwich Graphic, April 25, 1913, 1; Encyclopedia of Connecticut Biography: Genealogical, Memorial (New York: American Historical Society, d.), Vol. 9, 20-21; Robert H. Down, A History of Silverton Country (Portland: Berncliff Press, 1926), 221-22; “Thaddeus B. Wakeman,” Social Science Review 2 (April 28, 1888), 2. Who Was Who in America, Vol. 1 (Chicago: Marquis Publications, 1968), 1287; obituary, The Nation 96 (May 1, 1913), 447. Thaddeus Burr Wakeman, Free Thought, Past, Present and Future (Chicago: H.L. Green, 1899?), 21-28.   Brother Abram won election to the thirty-fourth Congress as a Whig with Know-Nothing support, but failed re-election as a Republican in 1856. Abram was important in state Republican circles and became postmaster of New York City when appointed by President Lincoln, a post he held during most of the civil War. See Biographical Directory of the American Congress, 1774-1971 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1971), 1866.   Abram’s connections with the Republican party were well known; an angry crowd set fire to his house during the anti-draft riots of 1863 (W. Hartley, Interview).   

4. Robert E. Schneider, Positivism in the United States: The Apostleship of Henry Edger (Argentina: Rosario, 1946), 100-106. 

5. Auguste Comte, System of Positive Polity, trans. Richard Congreve   (New York: Burt Franklin, 1966) vol. 4, 463. 

6. Auguste Comte, The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte, trans. Harriet Martineau (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1853) vol. 2, 75. 

7. Comte, Positive Philosophy, vol. 2, 73.

8. See Maurice Mandelbaum, History, Man and Reason: A Study in Nineteenth-Century Thought (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1971), 68-69. 

9. Comte, Positive Philosophy, vol. 2, 9. Gertrud Lenzer, ed. Auguste Comte and Positivism: The Essential Writings (New York: Harper and Row, 1975), xxxii. 

10. See Comte, System, vol. IV, esp. chapters 1, 2, 4, 5; Lenzer, Comte, pp. xxv-xxvi. I concur with Lenzer and others regarding the essential unity of Comte’s ‘two systems’.

11. T. B. Wakeman, An Epitome of the Positive Philosophy and Religion (New York: Society of Humanity, 1877), vii-viii.

12. T. B. Wakeman, Epitome, ix. 

13. T. B. Wakeman, Epitome, ix.

14. T. B. Wakeman, Epitome, xii, ix. 

15. T. B. Wakeman, Epitome, x-xi.

16. Down, Silverton, 221-222, note # 12; T.B. Wakeman, Free Thought, 24-27.

17. T. B. Wakeman, “The Sociology of Free Trade and Protection,” Social Science Review, April 28, 1888, 3, 4. On this subject, Wakeman sounded much like political economist Henry C. Carey. Wakeman was familiar with Carey but was not a strict disciple.

18. T. B. Wakeman, “Sociology”, 4. 

19. T. B. Wakeman, Sociology, 5. For a discussion of how Republicans viewed protectionism as a pro-labor policy, see James L. Huston, “A Political Response to Industrialism: The Republican Embrace of Protectionist labor Doctrine,” Journal of American History 70 (June, 1983), 35-57. 

20. T. B. Wakeman, “Sociology,” 3. 

21. T. B. Wakeman, “Sociology,” 3. 

22. T. B. Wakeman, Evolution or Creation? (p., 1883), 53-54.  

23. T. B. Wakeman, Man: A Weekly Journal of Progress and Reform & Oct., 1881, 10.   

24. T. B. Wakeman, “Politics and the People,” The Nationalist, December, 1889, 11, 12-13. 

25. T. B. Wakeman, “Politics,” 14-15.

26. T. B. Wakeman, “Politics,” 16. 

27. T. B. Wakeman, “Emancipation by Nationalism,” The Arena, October, 1891, 592, 594, 595, 596. 

28. T. B. Wakeman, “Politics,” 16; Lipow, Authoritarian Socialism, 244.

29. Lipow, Authoritarian Socialism, 242-243.

30. T. B. Wakeman, “Unchurched Millions,” The Arena 2 (1890), 612. Wakeman was fond of quoting James Parton’s dictum: “The proper and practical religion of a citizen of the United States is, in the first instance, The United States of America.” See T.B. Wakeman, “The Universal Faith,” Open Court, April 25, 1889, 1586.

31. Lipow, Authoritarian Socialism, 243.

32. T. B. Wakeman, Free Thought, 25; Down, Silverton Country, p. 222;   Howard Quint, The Forging of American Socialism: Origins of the Modern Movement (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1953), 50-53. 

33. Quint, Forging, 225, 243. Lipow fails, as he does with Bellamy, to identify or explain the foreign and domestic sources of Wakeman’s alleged authoritarianism. This omission is curious since he refers to “the American Comtean tradition” in his introduction and Wakeman’s Comtean writings are more numerous than his explicitly Nationalist work. Wakeman did not, as Lipow claims, merely “borrow his ideas” from the Mugwumps. Rather, Comte’s influence best explains the elitism and organizational emphasis Lipow   The wedding of “conservative doctrine” and “a collectivist perspective” that Lipow discovers here represents an excellent illustration of American Comtism’s encounter with the varied strands of Gilded Age reform thought (Lipow, Authoritarian Socialism, 245, note # 473.) 

34. T. B. Wakeman, “Our Future Polity,” Open Court, April 30, 1891, 2791. 

35. T. B. Wakeman, “A New Nation,” Commonwealth, February 4, 1893, 3. 

36. T. B. Wakeman, “A New Nation,” 4. See also Commonwealth, February 18, 1893, 7 for an account of a party rally for General Weaver at which Wakeman 

37. These same tensions, so evident in Wakeman’s political writings, also appear in Edward Bellamy’s work. Again, Comte seems to have played a significant role both in Bellamy’s religious and social thought. The similarities between Edward Bellamy’s personal background and that of Wakeman are striking. Though Bellamy was sixteen years Wakeman’s junior, both were products of fairly strict Calvinist upbringings. Both attended colleges with Protestant denominational ties, though Bellamy for only one year; both rejected the faith of their parents as young adults; and both became lawyers and journalists, although Bellamy practiced law for less than a year.   More importantly, both men seemed for much of their adult lives to be seeking to recapture the fervor and security orthodox belief had once provided them. Like Wakeman, Bellamy often appeared—in the words of John L. Thomas—on a “search for a substitute for inherited Christian doctrine” (“Introduction” in Looking Backward, 2000-1887 by Edward Bellamy [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967], 12). In the quest for a meaningful modern substitute, both men found Comte’s theories very attractive. 

38. T. B. Wakeman, Science Is Religion (Los Angeles: Singleton Davis, 1905), 14, 15, 32. 

39. T. B. Wakeman, Science Is Religion, 34, 35. 

40. See Robert Wiebe, The Search For Order, 1877-1920 (New York: Hill & Wang, 19 c), 159-163. 

41. R. Jeffrey Lustig, Corporate Liberalism: The Origins of Modern American Political Theory, 1890-1920 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), chs.6, 7. See also: David W. Levey, Herbert Croly of the New Republic: The Life and Thought of an American Progressive (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985).