Stockbridge – a radical tradition


The following excerpt is taken from a 1913 tribute to Professor Levi Stockbridge by William H. Bowker, one of the students in the first 1867 class at Mass Aggie.  In his 1904 eulogy he stated that had Stockbridge been born in the 20th century  “he would have become, in the best sense of the word, a socialist.”

Definition of the word radical….. in a medieval philosophical sense, from Latin radicalis “of or having roots,” or “going to the origin” or “basic principles”.

Speaking with affection about Professor Stockbridge, William Bowditch states….

He was thoroughly and sincerely democratic.  He had no love for an aristocracy, and especially no love for any kind of a ruling class whose power came from wealth (a plutocracy).  In one of his class lectures he broke out one day with the remark, “no one should hog it all, no one has the right to more than a stated amount of property – for example, a million dollars.”  Some years after when reminded of this remark he was asked how he would regulate the size of fortunes….  he said;

“I would regulate them through the probate court, and if a man’s estate was found by official expert appraisal, to be worth more than the allotted sum, the excess should go to the State.” 

When it was suggested that it would tend to destroy ambition and nullify initiative and effort he explained:

“I would give every person a chance to make by lawful means, not by a  ‘lawful steal’ (as he termed stock watering(1)) as much as they could during their lifetime, but they must give it away before they died.” 

Stockbridge felt that the effect of such a plan, properly safeguarded, would not lesson ambition within reasonable limits but would tend to lessen greed, and eventually make an inherited plutocracy impossible.  He believed adults, like children growing up, should have prizes to work for and should play the game according to the rules, but that the rules should be modified to meet new conditions.  Stockbridge was what might be termed a “limited individualist” (2).  He would give the individual every opportunity up to a certain point, and then, as he expressed it, “I would clip his wings.”

(1)  Watered stock is an asset with an artificially-inflated value. The term is most commonly used to refer to a form of securities fraud common to corporations.

(2)  Stockbridge held the “limited individualist” belief that society’s greater good would best be served by the state’s limiting individual wealth to one million dollars in order to preclude the existence of an inherited plutocracy. Such ideas were consistent with his membership in the pro-labor, pro-farmer, anti-monopolist Greenback Party. In his 1904 eulogy, Bowker speculated that had Stockbridge been born in the twentieth century, “he would have become, in the best sense of the word, a socialist.”

Authors Note:  In 1880, Levi Stockbridge ran unsuccessfully for  Congress as a member of the Labor-Greenback Party.  This political movement began as an agrarian organization associated with the policies of the Grange.  They tried to forge a farmer–labor alliance to protect workers by supporting an 8-hour work day and to prevent the use of government forces to break up union strikes.  The organization evolved into the People’s Party commonly known as the “Populists”.

For a copy of the full text of the 1913 speech, see Tribute.


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