Charles A. Dana, Carefree Socialist

Charles A. Dana, who might be termed a hippie of the 1840’s, lived for a period at George Ripley’s Transcendentalist “Brook Farm” commune in Massachusetts. New York Tribune publisher Horace Greeley later employed Dana as an editor in the 1850’s who gladly published the radical articles of Karl Marx, then exiled in London. Lincoln-appointed Dana Assistant Secretary of War and had him spy on generals to ascertain their political leanings — in 1865 Dana ordered manacles placed on state prisoner Jefferson Davis’s wrists.

Bernhard Thuersam,


Charles A. Dana, Carefree Socialist

“[Charles A.] Dana, though poor, had no such hardening time of it [growing up]; he had no “riding to plough,” no tree chopping, no printer’s apprentice job. He clerked in Buffalo to save money for a term at Harvard. Opinions formed during such a youth gave way easily before the experience of later years. In their boyhood the one thing that he and [Horace] Greeley had in common was an intense fondness for reading — Greeley for the country weeklies and for any book he could borrow. Dana plumbed deeper; he was absorbed in the ancient philosophies and languages.

Both resented the oppressions of capital. The breeding ground of Dana’s socialism was Harvard — “where I learned the art of living without means” — and the lectures of Emerson. “They make me think,” he wrote to his sister.

Dana’s father dreaded what Emerson, Carlyle and particularly Harvard might do to his boy. “I know Harvard ranks high as a literary institution,” he wrote to him, “but the influence it exerts in a religious way is most terrible — even worse than Universalism . . . Ponder well the paths of thy feet lest they lead down to the depths of Hell.”

From his sister’s home at Guildhall, Vermont, Dana on April 12, 1840, told of his carefree life . . . ”here I study 8 hours daily. I am fed, warmed, lighted and otherwise cared for, for about nothing — perhaps a dollar a week — taken unwillingly.” Because of poor eyes, poor health and a poorer purse Dana did not return to Harvard for the fall term of 1841 . . . ”So genial Harvard is, and where but for the term bills and washerwomen one would never guess that there were such things as money and money-getting  in the world. Indeed I hold it an evidence of human depravity that there are such things . . . ”

The Brook Farm [commune] atmosphere therefore precisely fitted his mood. Contentedly he wrote his sister from there on September 17, 1841: “I am living with some friends who have associated themselves together for the purpose of living purely and of acting from higher motives than the world generally recognizes . . . ”

(Horace Greeley, Henry Luther Stoddard, G.P. Putnam & Sons, 1946, pp. 101-102)


Got anything to say? Go ahead and leave a comment!