Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more;
but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid.
-- Micah 4:3-4


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Adin Ballou, Tolstoy, and Gandhi

James D. Hunt

There is a progression of three men: from Adin Ballou, to Tolstoy, and to Gandhi. There could have other men or women. But I chose these men. Three men, and three books.

I. Adin Ballou (1803-1890)

He was born in Rhode Island, and lived within 20 miles of his birthplace for most of his career. As a Baptist, he was converted at the age of 12, and his schooling ended in 16. He began preaching in Universalist churches, then in Unitarian churches. He also established a weekly paper, named The Practical Christian.

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 attainments."1 It provided discipline for his mind, heart, and character. Having been a moderate drinker, he realized that he must give himself whole-heartedly to the reform.

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.

Hence we voluntary withdraw from all interference with the governments of this world ... but will quietly pay the taxes levied upon us, conform to all innocent laws and usages ... freely express our opinions of governmental acts, and patiently endure I whatever penalties we may for conscience' sake incur.2
In 1842 Ballou and his colleagues purchased 258 acres, known as the Dale, in Milford, Massachusetts, and renamed it "Hopedale." It was to be a missionary society for temperance, for antislavery, for peace, for education, and for women's rights. It was a joint stock company rather than a communitarian society. Ballou did not trust the principle of community property.

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

In 1846, Adin Ballou published his most acclaimed work, Christian Non-Resistance, in all its important bearings, illustrated and defended, a book of 240 pages in seven chapters, printed in Philadelphia (and soon reprinted in England). "Here is a little book," the Preface began,

in illustration and defense of a very unpopular doctrine. The author believes it to be as ancient as Christianity and as true as the New Testament ... It is soberly and frankly addressed to the reason, conscience and higher sentiments of mankind - not to their propensities and lower passions ... It is a book for the future, rather than the present, and will be better appreciated by the public half a century hence than now. But a better future is even now dawning, and it is needed to help develop the coming age of love and peace. A great transition of the human mind has commenced, and the reign of military and penal violence must ultimately give place to that of forbearance, tolerance, and mercy.5
"Christian Non-Resistance," Ballou begins, "is that original peculiar kind of non-resistance, which was enjoined and exemplified by Jesus Christ."6 Ballou based his position on the New Testament. Chapter I defines his terms and describes the idea. Chapter II examines the Scriptural passages which authorize the idea. The key passage is of course from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:39, "resist not evil." Chapter III answers objections based on situations in the Bible where violence seems to be approved. These three chapters are the core of his position.

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 for pacifism."7 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:

Upon the appearance in this country of the first of the translated writings of this Russian author and the consequent heralding as a new interpreter of the gospel of Christ and a restorer of primitive Christianity as Jesus taught and exemplified it, Mr. Ballou availed himself of an early opportunity of becoming acquainted with the views and principles upon which such unusual representations were based... His hopes in this direction were not realized - that he was seriously disappointed indeed in both the man and his teachings, the sequel clearly shows.8

Here we found Ballou's journal of Feb. 16, 1886:

Commenced reading a lately purchased book, Count Tolstoy's My Religion.9 Found many good things in it on ethics, with here and there an indiscriminating extremism in the application of Christ's precepts against resisting evil with evil, and in his views of penal judgment and covetousness, or mammonism. But on theology found him wild, crude, and mystically absurd. His ideas concerning the divine nature, human nature, eternal life, Christ's resurrection, humanity's immortality, and the immortality of individuals, etc., are untrue, visionary, chaotic, and pitiably puerile. So it seems to me in this first perusal. But I will read further and think him out more thoroughly.10
Heywood wrote, "Further reading and more thorough thinking, however, did not bring him to a more favorable conclusion."11

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

Adin Ballou died April 20, 1890

II. Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)

Tolstoy was a giant figure among reformers and critics of the industrial societies of the late nineteenth century. The religious crisis he experienced at the age of fifty, after achieving fame and wealth through his great novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina, provided him with a new identity in Christian perfectionism. He discovered the core of the Gospel in the Law of Love, which required the renunciation of all forms of violence. The logic of these discoveries led him toward the material simplification of life and the attempt to live by one's own physical labor. He abjured tobacco, alcohol, meat, private property, money, government, and sex (but he had some problem with that). His aim was to transform society through an inner moral revolution in each person. These concepts he promoted through a torrent of stories, essays, and books during the last thirty years of his life.

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.

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 existed.13

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."

III. Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948)

When Gandhi was studying law in London 1894, he wrote a "Guide to London," which mentioned of Tolstoy that "few men have been more given to wine and cigarettes... a man stupefies himself with these stimulants..."14 This, Gandhi's first reference to Tolstoy, suggests that his knowledge came through vegetarian and health literature. Gandhi was not deeply moved until the publication of The Kingdom of God is Within You, a book which, he wrote, "overwhelmed me."15

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 world."19 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 evil."20

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.

IV. Conclusion

Three men and three books: Ballou's Christian Non-Resistance, Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is Within You, and the other book? A small book which Gandhi wrote in 1909 after a sojourn in London, Hind Swaraj, or Indian Home Rule. He wrote, "My countrymen ... believe that they should adopt modern civilisation and modern methods of violence to drive out the English. Hind Swaraj has been written in order to show that they are following a suicidal policy, and that, if they would but revert to their own glorious civilisation, either the English would adopt the latter and become Indianised or find their occupation in India gone."

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

Presented at the conference on "Non-Violence in the Contemporary World: Society, Politics and Religion" at Elon University, April 23- 24, 2002.


1. Adin Ballou, Autobiography (Lowell MA, 1896), 222.

2. Ballou, Autobiography, 310.

3. Adin Ballou, The History of the Hopedale Community (Lowell, MA, 1897), 339.

4. Edward K. Spann, Hopedale: From Commune to Company Town (Ohio State University Press, 1992) is now the best history of the community, with a fresh perception of Ballou. Spann described Ballou's autobiography as "notable both for its objectivity and for the absence of any profound introspection." (p. 181)

5. Adin Ballou, Christian Non-Resistance in All its Important Bearings, Illustrated and Defended (Philadelphia: J. Miller McKim, 1846), ii-iii.

6. Ballou, Christian Non-Resistance, 9.

7. Peter Brock, Freedom From War: Nonsectarian Pacifism 1814-1914 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991), 98. I commend his entire chapter "The Pacifism of Adin Ballou" as one of the best modern assessments.

8. William S. Heywood, editor, in Ballou, Autobiography, 508.

9. Usually translated as What I Believe (1884).

10. Ballou, Autobiography, 509.

11. Heywood, in Ballou, Autobiography, 509.

12. Heywood, in Ballou, Autobiography, 510.

13. Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God and Peace Essays (London, 1936).

14. Mohandas K. Gandhi, "Guide to London" in The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi [hereafter CWMG] (Delhi 1958-1984), 1:89.

15. Gandhi, Autobiography, 114.

16. Gandhi, Autobiography, 114.

17. Gandhi, speech on the birth anniversary of Tolstoy, 10 September 1928. CWMG 37:260.

18. Tolstoy to Gandhi, 8 October 1909.

19. Tolstoy to Gandhi, 7 September 1908 (O.S.); trans. Vladimir Chertkov, as cited by Isabella Fyvie Mayo in The Open Road (London, March 1911), 197. Quite different translations are given by R. F. Christian in Tolstoy's Letters (New York 1978) 2:706, by A. Maude in Tolstoy, Recollections and Essays (London 1937), 438, and by Pauline Padlushak in CWMG, 10:513. See the discussion of this correspondence in Kenneth Rivett, "Gandhi, Tolstoy and Coercion," South Asia (Australia) N.S. 54 (December 1988), 29-56, esp. 33ff.

20. Peter Brock, Pacifism in Europe, 468.

21. Gandhi, CWMG 37:260.

22. Brock, Freedom from War, 96.