An Early Pamphlet–J. P. Moore’s “This Strange Town–Liberal, Missouri”

Checking with the copyright catalogue, I find copyright was made in 1963 by J. P. Moore but was never renewed, which means the book has entered the public domain. The author is long since deceased.

THIS STRANGE TOWN–LIBERAL MISSOURI
A HISTORY OF THE EARLY YEARS
1880 – 1910

BY J. P. MOORE

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An Early Pamphlet

In 1889 the Goodspeed Publishing Company of Chicago put out a voluminous history of the State of Missouri. Included in the volume was a history of Barton county, within which was some account of the founding of Liberal.

It would be repetitious to go over the town’s early statistics here. But of interest is a brief introductory comment by the Goodspeed historian, and quotation at some length from a pamphlet in which reference is made respecting the purposes and ideals of the founder and those pioneers who came to Liberal for ideological reasons, and of their social activities, at that time.

The name of the author of the pamphlet is not given, but from the information recited, there is good reason to believe the writer was Mr. Walser, himself. He was the one most likely to be “in the know.” And therein is revealed the bitterness Mr. Walser is known to have harbored toward the church in a period a few years earlier, when the controversies between the Freethinkers and the Christians raged at their peak. The date of the publication of the history coincided with the year Mr. Walser retreated from his, at first, seemingly adamant position and sold his public forum building to the opposition–the church, the Methodist–so the pamphlet must have been written at an earlier date. He did not have to sell, as he owned the property in its entirety, and was a wealthy man. At the time of the sale he had already espoused spiritualism, which holds to a belief in a future life–a point held in common with the church. In view of his softened position, later in life, towards the teachings of Jesus, he might not at the time the Goodspeed history was published have felt as strongly as indicated in the pamphlet.

This is the Goodspeed history’s introductory comment in its reference to Liberal:

“Liberal, population 500. The considerations which lead to the founding of Liberal under its suggestive name and by a people who sought there a home in which their own peculiar ideas might prevail, have thus been set forth in a pamphlet designed to call attention to the claims of the town upon all men of like view, and mark as sui generis among the towns of the southwest; and, indeed of the whole country.”

Then followed direct quotation of several paragraphs from the pamphlet:

“The reason we started the town was that it was apparent to all that no person could live in a Christian community and express an honest opinion regarding the Christian religion adverse to the interests of priestcraft without hazarding his business and social standing…This wicked independence of character and manly deportment never fails to reap the full wrath of the church, and there are but few people firm enough to brook such opposition and contend with such odds against them. To give an asylum to those noble men and women who were willing to sacrifice the comforts of life and joys of social intercourse, rather than live in a life of deception and falsehood, was the incentive that actuated us in starting the town of Liberal, where we could all enjoy the benefits of free American citizens, without having some self appointed bigot dictate to us what we should think, believe, speak, print or send through the mails. Therefore we called together such progressive minds as were willing to work for the upbuilding of humanity, and laid out the town for the attainment of the above blessings.

“It is not necessary for us to give, in this place, the opposition and difficulties we were compelled to surmount to maintain ourselves here. Bearding, as we did, the great lion of orthodoxy in his den, not by opposition, but by a better and higher standard of life than had been offered by it, we naturally aroused…rancor, hatred, revenge and opposition…Ever believing in the Godship of humanity, we went steadily ahead to the upbuilding of manhood, and now we have gained the respect of the surrounding people…With one foot upon the neck of priestcraft, and the other upon the rock of Truth, we have thrown our banner to the breeze and challenged the world to produce a better cause for the devotion of man than a grand, noble and perfect HUMANITY.

‘Bound to no creed, to no sect confined,
The world our home, our brethren all mankind.’

“We do not prescribe a belief for anyone, nor do we measure a man by his faith. Everyone is measured by his own standard of manly worth. We do not feel under obligation to extend respect to a person who does not respect himself; nor can we hold a person up who will not stand alone. Our standard of morality consists of but four words: BE TRUE TO THYSELF. No one can do wrong without receiving the effects of wrong. With this standard in view, we invite all lovers of humanity to join with us, with the pledge on our part to do them as much good and as little harm as possible.

“To meet the social want and combine doing good with the pleasantries of life, we have in active usefulness two organizations which contribute to the social welfare and interest of the members as well as the public good; both looking towards the improvement and benefit of humanity. One is the Brotherhood, which is an organization intended to meet all the needs of the age, including absolute secularization of the government, as the finer requirement of the heart and brain, in one grand system of ethics. The Brotherhood is duly incorporated by state authorities. So far it has been approved (proved) satisfactory to all of its members. It presents an ethics and addresses itself to both mind and heart. The moral, intellectual and social qualities of man’s nature find in this organization ample food for all the demands of life. It presents opportunities for doing good which must engage the noblest impulses of the human breast. There is nothing in the constitution or the tenets set forth that can be objected to by the most extreme atheist or spiritualist. It leaves the supernatural to the speculation of those who find solace in pondering upon the unknowable, and directs the mind of man and the wants of man and his ennoblement, ‘believing the most important study of mankind is man.’…Another is the Ladies’ Progressive Lyceum, which meets once a week, devoting a two hours’ sessesion to such handiwork as the members see fit to devise, or their fancy may dictate, and to instructive reading and the discussion of all subjects calculated to benefit mankind. The various articles of ornament or apparel made by the society are quarterly arranged for sale by way of public fair and entertainment, the net proceeds of which are retained in the treasury or expended for charitable purposes, or as the society may direct…This is an interesting feature of our town, demonstrating the active labors of women for the promotion of good and the achievement of her sex. It is thought that through the direction and management of the organization, various industries will, in time, be put in operation which will give employment to females, and create a demand for women’s work…

“A Sunday instruction school and Sunday night meetings are maintained; and a Liberal Normal School building (the) Universal Mental Liberty Hall and Opera House, occupied by the school, Sunday school and library clubs, are well-finished frame buildings erected at a cost of $6,000.”

The foregoing quotations from that early day pamphlet make it easy to visualize that there were really some fierce ideological clashes–and sequences have proven that these clashes were sometimes much more than verbal. Some of this is evidenced by the laying out of Waggoner’s addition to Liberal and the founding of the town of Denison, or Pedro, alongside Mr. Walser’s original town plat. These extraordinary countermeasures were taken by dedicated men–men favorable to Christianity–to combat the unorthodox ideologies of Mr. Walser and his fellow-Freethinker associates. The building of the barbed wire fence by the “infidels” was an interim episode.

To go to such lengths for a cause, on either side, required great strength of character, hardihood and genuine loyalty, each to his own belief. There can be no doubt they were sincere.

This pamphlet was probably distributed widely through available channels to publicize the town of Liberal, with the view of attracting to it persons who might agree with the principles proclaimed, and have a desire to live in such a community of kindred minds.

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