William Batchelder Greene

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William Batchelder Greene
William B. Greene
Born (1819-04-04)4 April 1819
Haverhill, MA
Died 11 March 1878(1878-03-11) (aged 58)
Somerset, England
Nationality American
Alma mater Harvard (1841)

William Batchelder Greene (April 4, 1819 – May 30, 1878)[1] was a 19th-century individualist anarchist, Unitarian minister, soldier and promotor of free banking in the United States.


Greene was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts,[1] he was the son of the Democratic journalist and Boston postmaster Nathaniel Greene. He was appointed to the U. S. Military Academy from Massachusetts in 1835, but left before graduation. He was made 2nd lieutenant in the 7th infantry in July, 1839, and, after serving in the second Seminole War, resigned in November 1841. Subsequently, he was connected with George Ripley's utopian movement at Brook Farm, after which he met several transcendentalists including Orestes Brownson, Elizabeth Peabody and Ralph Waldo Emerson.[2] He studied theology at Harvard Divinity School, graduating in 1845. He was a pastor at a Unitarian church in Brookfield, Massachusetts before leaving to Europe.

Greene returned in 1861 to serve in the American Civil War. Although a Democrat, he was a strong abolitionist, and at the beginning of the Civil War became colonel of the 14th Massachusetts Infantry, afterward the 1st Massachusetts Heavy Artillery. In 1862, while stationed with his regiment in Fairfax, Virginia, he was recalled and assigned by Gen. George McClellan to the command of an artillery brigade in Gen. Whipple's division. He resigned his commission in October 1862, to continue his travels and writings.

According to James J. Martin, in Men Against the State, Greene did not become a "full-fledged anarchist" until the last decade of his life, but his writings show that he had by 1850 articulated a Christian mutualism, drawing heavily on the writings of Proudhon's sometimes-antagonist Pierre Leroux. (see Equality 1849, Mutual Banking 1850)

The existing organization of credit is the daughter of hard money, begotten upon it incestuously by that insufficiency of circulating medium which results from laws making specie the sole legal tender. The immediate consequences of confused credit are want of confidence, loss of time, commercial frauds, fruitless and repeated applications for payment, complicated with irregular and ruinous expanses. The ultimate consequences are compositions, bad debts, expensive accommodation-loans, law-suits, insolvency, bankruptcy, separation of classes, hostility, hunger, extravagance, distress, riots, civil war, and, finally, revolution. The natural consequences of mutual banking are, first of all, the creation of order, and the definitive establishment of due organization in the social body, and, ultimately, the cure of all the evils. which flow from the present incoherence and disruption in the relations of production and commerce. (The Radical Deficiency of the Existing Circulating Medium 1857).

In his radical, anonymously published pamphlet Equality Greene had this to say about equality before the law: "It is right that persons should be equal before the law: but when we have established equality before the law, our work is but half done. We ought to have EQUAL LAWS also." His comments were directed towards the creation of corporations.[3]

Greene was a fine mathematician, and was versed in Hebrew literature and in Hebrew and Egyptian antiquities.

Mutual Banking[edit]

Greene is best known for the works Mutual Banking,[4] which proposed an interest-free banking system, and Transcendentalism, a critique of the New England philosophical school. In 1850 and 1851, he organized citizens of Brookfield, Warren and Ware, Massachusetts to petition the state's General Court for a charter to establish a mutual bank. "Upon all the petitions, the Committee on Banks and Banking, after hearing the arguments of the petitioners, reported simply, "Leave to withdraw!" (The Radical Deficiency of the Existing Circulating Medium 1857). Similar attempts by the New England Labor Reform League in the 1870s met with similar results. Greene's mutualist banking ideas resembled those of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, as well as the "land banks" of the colonial period. He had an important influence on Benjamin Tucker, the editor of the anarchist journal Liberty.


He spent his final days in Somerset, England. His remains were transported to Boston, to be buried at Forest Hills, Roxbury (Jamaica Plain).[5]

Noted works[edit]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

(in French) Ronald Creagh: L'Anarchisme aux États-Unis 1826 - 1896. Coll. Études Anglo-américaines. Klincksieck, Paris 1983 ISBN 2864600234. Green see Ch. 8: William B. Greene et les origins du mouvement anarchiste dans le Massachusetts, pp. 343 -398 (can be read at amazon.com)


  1. ^ a b "Col William Batchelder Greene of Haverhill, MA". anceSTORY archives. anceSTORY archives. Retrieved 28 November 2014. 
  2. ^ Wayne, Tiffany K. (2014-05-14). Encyclopedia of Transcendentalism. Infobase Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4381-0916-9. 
  3. ^ "10.3M - Rhetorical Processes and Legal Judgments: How Language and Arguments Shape ... - Google Books". Retrieved 2017-05-24. 
  4. ^ "MUTUAL BANKING". www.the-portal.org/. the-portal.org. Retrieved 28 November 2014. 
  5. ^ "William Batchelder Greene". findagrave.com. Find A Grave, Inc. Retrieved 28 November 2014. 

External links[edit]