UPDATE April 29, 2013:
Today is the 150th anniversary of Seth Luther’s death. Since last year’s post, records have been found locating Luther possible final resting place in Brattleboro, Vermont. A WIKI page is in formation, and other plans to follow. Here is a great link to a 1974 essay by on Luther by Carl Gersuny called “Seth Luther – The Road From Chepachet.”
In the week we celebrate the signing of the marriage equality bill, let us remember this great organizer and agitator with what he said so many years ago:
“It is the first duty of an American citizen to hate injustice in all its forms.”
Original Post April 29, 2012:
Today is the anniversary of the death of Seth Luther. He died on April 29, 1863.
Seth Luther*: Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame inductee; Union Organizer; leader of the Dorr Rebellion and radical of the worst sort. On the weekend that we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Bread and Roses strike in Lawrence it also seems appropriate to look a little farther back to our roots here in Rhode Island. As the saying goes, the most radical idea in America today is a long memory.
Luther was an itinerant organizer and agitator whose father fought in the American Revolution. He spent time on what was then the American Frontier and Deep South before coming home to try and establish roots and a career as a carpenter. His passion for justice and the rights of the oppressed led him to join the nascent labor movement as a speech maker and organizer.
In a speech he delivered in Boston in 1834, Luther said:
“It is true, a Rhode Island Nabob said, in a public document, ‘The poor must work or starve, and the rich will take care of themselves.’ But I venture to assert, that the rich never did take care of themselves or their property, in peace or war. It is protected by the laboring, the producing class. It is created by the laborer, drawn out of his hands by the means of bad laws and then forsooth he must protect it at the expense of his health, oftentimes of his life, for the benefit of those, who will have nothing to do with the creation of wealth or its protection after it’s created.”
Luther could just as easily be describing the conditions working people face today. In another parallel to the conditions organizers face, then and now. When Luther died, by then a broken man, this was the commentary The Providence Journal added to the notice of his death:
“He was natural radical, dissatisfied with all existing institutions about him, and labored under the not uncommon delusion that it was his special mission to set things right…His ideal of a pure democracy seemed to be that blessed state wherein the idle, the thriftless, and the profligate should enjoy all the fruits of the labor of the industrious, the frugal, and the virtuous. The possessors of property everywhere he looked upon as banded robbers, who he hated as born enemies of the human race. He had considerable talent for both writing and speaking; but he was too violent, willful, and headstrong to accomplish any good. Soon after the troubles of ’42, he became insane, and was sent to the Dexter Asylum, where he remained until 1848, when the Butler Hospital was opened for patients. He was then removed to that institution by the city, where he remained for ten years; thence to Brattleboro where he has just closed his worse than useless life.”
Would you expect anything less?
*Source: Peaceably if we can, Forcibly if we must! Writings by and about Seth Luther. Edited by Scott Molly, Carl Gersuny, and Robert Macieski and published by the Rhode Island Labor History Society, 1998.