Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Resistance and Transformation: An Adult Program on Unitarian Universalist Social Justice History

Handout 2: Adin Ballou and Christian Non-Resistance

Adin Ballou (1803-1890) was in varying turns both a Unitarian and a Universalist minister. He was actively involved in the movement to abolish slavery beginning in the late 1830s, until the abolition of slavery following the Civil War. He was also a leading theorist for the New England Non-Resistance Society, which argued for the abolition of slavery through non-violent means. The passage of the Fugitive Slave Law caused Parker and many other abolitionists to call for violent resistance to slavery. Adin Ballou, however, remained steadfast in his conviction that slavery could be best ended through the use of non-violence.

The problem of slavery was in Ballou's opinion not a political one but a moral one. He wrote, "Slavery is the baleful offspring of sin. It originates in contempt of God, and hatred of brother man." The only way slavery would be ended was if people obeyed "the law Eternal" which required "fraternal love in every soul." Rather than focus on political reform in the hopes that it would eventually end slavery, Ballou choose instead to engage in moral reform.

This philosophy led him to found the utopian society of Hopedale in 1841. The community was to serve as a model of the moral life he envisioned. He wrote, "The Hopedale Community was a systematic attempt to establish an order of Human Society based on the sublime ideas of the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man, as the Gospel of Jesus Christ." The community was organized as a joint stock company and members worked together in various industries that were collectively owned. They agreed to practice non-violence even as they worked for social change. The community harbored fugitive slaves and was frequently visited by abolitionists such as Frederick Douglas, who left an escaped slave in the community's care.

Ballou's pacifist views brought him into conflict with other leaders in the anti-slavery movement. As the Civil War approached, he refused to moderate his position. Unlike Parker and other many other prominent abolitionists, Ballou did not call for the use of violence in resisting the Fugitive Slave Law. In fact, he placed his pacifism as "higher and purer" than anti-slavery. He believed that even after the work of the abolitionists was done there would still be a need to work to end violence. This position left him isolated from other abolitionists and sidelined by the movement. The Hopedale community dissolved shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War. Ballou felt himself to be failure, both for his inability to build a lasting utopian community and for his lack of success at spreading his gospel of non-violence.

The pacifist views of Ballou did not gain widespread in his lifetime or afterward. However, late in his life he corresponded with the Russian author and philosopher Leo Tolstoy. In the process of writing The Kingdom of God is Within You, his master work on non-violent theory, Tolstoy consulted with Ballou about his thoughts on and experiences with pacifism. Tolstoy's book went on to have a significant impact on both Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Through Tolstoy's writing, Ballou's influence has continued to this day.