In the 1830s Ballou's ministry extended to include some moral reforms.
The first was Temperance. This movement, he later said, became "a primary
school from which I went forth to all my later moral and social reform
It provided discipline for his mind, heart, and character. Having been a
moderate drinker, he realized that he must give himself whole-heartedly to
He lived among lively reforms in the 1830s and 1840s: Brook Farm,
Fruitlands, the Mormons, the Oneida Community, Peace movements,
Transcendentalism, prison reform, care of the mentally ill, the rights of
women, the abolition of war, and the abolition of slavery.
The leading spirit of the abolitionist movement was William Lloyd Garrison
(1805-1879), who established his paper, The Liberator, in 1831.
As abolitionism became a major movement in the mid-thirties, violent
attacks on their meetings and their leaders increased, culminating in the
murder of the abolitionist printer Elijah Lovejoy in November 1837.
Ballou was stirred by the violence, and began to preach against the sin of
slavery, which divided his congregation, but formed a local anti-slavery
society and an anti-slavery library.
Ballou and others established a "Standard of Practical Christianity" in 1839.
In it the signers announced their withdrawal from politics and government,
renouncing war, slavery, intemperance, licentiousness, covetousness, worldly
ambition, and corporal punishment of children.
Adults were to receive a uniform wage. Women were to be paid the same wages as
men, and were eligible for any office. Ballou described the membership as
"composed of men and women belonging to the more substantial, self-respecting
class of American society," including six or eight ministers, two physicians,
several teachers, farmers, gardeners, carpenters, machinists and other
handicraftsmen. It was, he said, "a plain, common sense, intelligent, high-minded
population. As a whole, we were in no sense a set of visionary dreamers, deluded
fanatics, restless impracticables, and thriftless incompetents."3
At its height in the early 1850s, Hopedale had about 230 members. It came to an
end in 1856 when the wealthy Draper brothers, who held a majority share of the
stock, withdrew their shares and invested in a factory. Hopedale became just a
mill village. Ballou stayed there the remaining 34 years of his life, even keeping
on good terms with the Draper brothers. He served as pastor of the Hopedale parish.
He wrote a detailed history of the Hopedale community, an autobiography, a
volume on Practical Christian Socialism, three volumes on Primitive
Christianity, a history of the town of Milford, and a genealogy of the Ballous
in America. He became interested in spiritualism in the late 1840s and wrote a
book on Spirit Manifestations in 1852.4
Ballou differs from some other religious pacifists in asserting the necessity of
resistance to human evil. This resistance may occur in two forms: moral resistance,
such as example and persuasion, and also what he calls "non-injurious, benevolent
physical resistance." As examples of the use of non-injurious physical force he
points to the restraint of a madman, holding a delirious sick person on the bed,
or compelling a child from injuring another.
Adin Ballou, as a "Practical Christian," did not rest his case with the biblical arguments.
Chapter IV opens a second line of argument based on natural philosophy, in which
he argues that the law of self-preservation is better served by non-resistant
principles than by force and violence. According to Peter Brock, the eminent
historian of peace movements, this is the first known attempt to base an absolute
pacifism on naturalistic rather than religious grounds. Chapter V, "The Safety of
Non-Resistance", consists of 20 stories showing the efficacy of the method, and
Chapter VI answers some more general objections to the difficulty of being
non-resistant. In all, Ballou provides 40 examples and illustrations of
non-resistance in action. The final chapter examines the stance of the
non-resistant person toward governments which authorize or tolerate forms of
violence such as war, capital punishment, slavery, or penal injury.
As Peter Brock has said, "Ballou's general presentation was indeed defective.
It suffers, like so many of the writings of his contemporaries, from sentimentality
and excessive optimism. Basically his concern lay with proving the religious case
Other than abstaining from the use of violence and from supporting violence-based
government, Ballou had no program for developing a society of peace and justice,
especially with regard to the liberation of the oppressed. He relied upon the
conversion of individuals, and their influence of their example upon others,
or at most the creation of fraternal communities which could show a better way.
In the life of the Hopedale community he sought to avoid all violence and domination.
Shortly before his death in 1890, Ballou began a correspondence with Count
Leo Tolstoy, who was amazed to learn that this prophet of non-resistance had been
almost forgotten in America. Ballou's son-in-law, William S. Heywood, wrote:
Here we found Ballou's journal of Feb. 16, 1886:
Some three years later, the local pastor of Hopedale sent Tolstoy some of Ballou's
works (Christian Non-Resistance, Non-Resistance in Relation to Human Government,
and others) with his photograph and an explanatory letter.
In July 1889, Ballou received a letter from Tolstoy which highly commended, in
their principal features, the views contained in the publications, and responded
by saying, "I have seldom experienced so much gratification as I had in reading
Mr. Ballou's treatise and tracts. I cannot agree with those who say that Mr.
Ballou 'will not go down to posterity among the immortals.'" And soon, Ballou
heard that "Two of your tracts are translated into Russian and propagated among
believers and richly appreciated by them."12
By the 1880s, Tolstoy's new teachings were becoming known not only in Russia but
throughout the world, and culminating as an account of his belief in Christ's
teaching, a book of 500 pages, entitled The Kingdom of God is Within You:
Christianity not as a mystical doctrine but as a new understanding of life (1893).
The great theme of the book is the failure of Christians to acknowledge "the
law of non-resistance to evil by violence," particularly with regard to war and
legalized state violence, and also the hypocrisy of justifying war and injustice
in the name of Christ. At the end Tolstoy called for a personal decision to look
within and see the truth:
You need only free yourself from falsehood and your situation will inevitably
change of itself. There is one and only one thing in life in which it is granted
man to be free and over which he has full control - all else being beyond his
power. That one thing is to perceive the truth and profess it.
The book was completed April 1893 after 3 years, and was prohibited by the censor,
but typed copies spread abroad and were published in Germany, France, England,
and the United States. Tolstoy displayed Ballou's works, including "How Many Does
it Take?" and "Ballou's catechism of Non-Resistance."
I could not avoid a statement of why I disbelieve, and regard as erroneous,
the Church doctrine which is usually called Christianity... Among the many
divergences of that doctrine from the teaching of Christ, I pointed out as the
chief one its omission to acknowledge the law of non-resistance to evil by
violence which, more evidently that other differences, indicates how the Church
doctrine perverts the teaching of Christ... Like most people I knew very little
of what had previously been done and preached and written on the subject of
non-resistance to evil.
For fifty years Ballou wrote and published books dealing principally with the
question of non-resistance to evil men by violence. In those works, admirable in
clearness of thought and beauty of exposition, the question is considered from
every possible angle, and the binding nature of this command on every Christian
who acknowledges the Gospel as the revelation of God is established.
I mention all this to show the unquestionable interest such works ought to
have for those profess Christianity, and that consequently Ballou's work ought to
have become well known and the ideas he expressed either accepted or refuted;
but nothing of the sort occurred. ... Ballou's work convinced me of this still more.
So that all that has been preached by the Quakers... Garrison... as well as the
whole of Ballou's life-work, are as though they did not exist and never had
The circumstances of this event are interesting. Gandhi was 24, living alone in
Pretoria, South Africa. He compared Tolstoy's teaching to that of the
fundamentalists who had been pressing him to accept Christ. "Before the
independent thinking, profound morality, and the truthfulness of this book, all
the books given me ... paled into insignificance," he wrote.16
This suggests that he did not find these qualities in his missionary friends.
It also suggests that this was what he was searching for.
Gandhi later wrote of Tolstoy's book, "Its reading cured me of my skepticism and
made me a firm believer in ahimsa [nonviolence]."17
It also helped him resolve the question of religious identity, for Tolstoy's
Christianity was not based on special revelation, but was simply one instance of
a universal law. The law of love was the mark of true religion in every tradition.
Gandhi thereafter understood Christianity in Tolstoy's way. It liberated him
from orthodoxy, as it had liberated Tolstoy, and provided a foundation for his
identification with Hinduism.
Ten years pass before we find another reference to Tolstoy in Gandhi's writings,
though he had read many of Tolstoy's pamphlets and books, and kept a picture of
Tolstoy in his law office.
When Gandhi was in London in 1909, he sent a letter to Tolstoy about the condition
British Indians in South Africa. Tolstoy responded, "I have just received your
most interesting letter which has give me great pleasure. God helps our dear
brothers and co-workers in the Transvaal. That same struggle of the tender
against the harsh, of meekness and love against pride and violence, is every year
making itself more and more felt here among us also, especially in one of the very
sharpest of the conflicts of the religious law with the worldly laws - in refusals
of military service. Such refusals are becoming ever more and more frequent...
I greet you fraternally, and am glad to have intercourse with you."18
Gandhi continued the correspondence. Gandhi wrote 5 times to Tolstoy, and Tolstoy
wrote 3 times to Gandhi. Tolstoy's last letter to Gandhi stated, "Your activity is
the most essential work, the most important of all the work now being done in the
Tolstoy died on November 7, 1910.
Despite Gandhi's admiration for Tolstoy, and his consistent citation of Tolstoy as
the greatest proponent of nonviolence, there were significant differences between
them. "Gandhi differed from Tolstoy both in his much more positive attitude toward
the state and the nation, and in his belief in the need for active resistance to
Tolstoy taught absolute non-resistance. He believed that all coercive action was
forbidden by Jesus, and this included almost all actions of government, not only
war. He believed that as religion was based on the Law of Love, and the state was
based on violence, they were incompatible. He also believed that the power which
would undermine the state and permit a return to true religion was consistent
individual refusal to cooperate. Such individual action could also lead to the
formation of small voluntary communities of non-resistants living the new life
and spreading the doctrine.
Gandhi taught nonviolent resistance. While asserting, with Tolstoy, the ethical
primacy of nonviolence, he believed in taking purposive action to remove evils
and to establish a better society. Unlike Tolstoy, Gandhi did not see nonviolent
action as simply the refusal to participate in state violence, but as a means of
inducing the state to change its policies. He took a more political route, seeking
not to supplant the state with a perfectionist society, but to transform it by the
efficacy of nonviolent means of social reform. Thus Gandhian nonviolence is not
non-resistance, it is nonviolent resistance or nonviolent transformation.
Gandhi once acknowledged three debts to Tolstoy: First, he practiced what he
preached; he exemplified truth. Second, he was the greatest apostle of nonviolence
of our age. Third, his doctrine of "bread-labour," namely that "everyone was bound
to labour with his body for bread."21
As we end, we return to Adin Ballou. "Ballou's moral power or non-injurious force
has been compared to Gandhi's satyagraha, or truth-force. Indeed, the
principle in each case is roughly the same. But Ballou, unlike Gandhi, failed to
develop his ideas in any detail or to apply it in concrete instances, real or
hypothetical. Of course, Ballou was Gandhi's precursor; we can scarcely demand
the same of him as we may require from his successor."22