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Walter Crane by Frederick Hollyer, 1886 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am  closing this mini-series on art in 19th-century Britain, except for future posts on individual artists: Aubrey BeardsleyKate Greenaway, Randolph Caldecott, as well as artists who illustrated their own texts, a foremost example being Beatrix Potter.


Walter Crane by his father Thomas Crane (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

From Abolitionism to Socialism

  • Immigrants to the United States
  • The Declaration of Independence
  • Wage Slavery

However, before closing, I can’t resist taking a closer look at Walter Crane who dared say the “Chicago four” (see Haymarket affair, Wikipedia) had been wrongfully convicted. His contracts were cancelled and he was shipped back to Britain.

As I read about Walter Crane, it occurred to me that slavery laid the foundation for wage slavery and that, consequently, there might be a link between abolitionism and socialism (labour unions).

Most immigrants to the United States were people escaping persecution, poverty, a change of régime, not to mention revolutions or other evils. There was no room in Europe for the Pilgrim Fathers and the Puritans, but there was land in what was or would become the United States.

However, among immigrants to the United States, there were persons seeking far more than the acquisition of a little white house surrounded by a picket fence. They were seeking the privileges that birth conferred upon European aristocrats, and which money might confer upon certain immigrants. Slavery had afforded nearly free wealth to plantation owners. Once a plantation owner had bought his slaves, wealth was within easy reach. Could the same not be done for industrialists?

In fact, the British had laughed when they read the text of the Declaration of Independence (4 July 1876). Britain was about to lose its better-located American colony, but as principal writer of the United States Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson was seeking for the white what the black slaves could not attain and it so happened that Thomas Jefferson owned a large number of slaves.

If there were slaves, all men were not created equal. If there were slaves, the Creator had not endowed man with certain unalienable rights. Finally, if there were slaves, they did not possess a life of their own. They therefore had no rights and could in no way pursue happiness?

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

I am inclined to think that Jefferson meant what he wrote, but that he was dependent on his slaves to the point of blindness and that he perhaps could not see the blacks as altogether human. He was unable to travel to France, where he spent several years, unaccompanied. He took slaves with him.

Therefore, it is possible that slavery had left in the American mind the thwarted notion that wealthy did not have to earn their wealth, which could serve to explain why an employer hired children and overworked employees he also underpaid. There was a ‘precedent:’ slavery. Workers were not owned, but why should they be paid adequately when the goal of the industrialist was to make as large a profit as possible. This could explain why Walter Crane, a socialist, made himself persona non grata at a gathering of polite society in Boston. Employers had rights: a profit.

It has been labelled wage slavery.


Design by Walter Crane (Photo credit: Google Images)

The Gilded Age

  • a mindset
  • wage slavery
  • entitlement, or a “right” to

Slavery could be and was abolished, at a price: Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. But what could not be removed was a mindset. There was a precedent. Slaves had made the plantation owner rich, so factory owners would pay workers a less than adequate salary. Machines had increased productivity and so would employees.

“Increased mechanization of industry is a major mark of the Gilded Age‘s search for cheaper ways to create more product.” (See Gilded Age, Wikipedia.)

In other words, one type of slavery, the enslavement of the blacks, would be followed by another type: wage slavery.

“According to historian Steve Fraser, workers generally earned less than $800 a year, which kept them mired in poverty. Workers had to put in roughly 60 hours a week to earn this much.”

The Haymarket Affair

  • Walter Crane driven out of the United States
  • Socialism = Labour Unions

Consequently, abolitionism was followed by socialism or a degree of Marxism. After the Haymarket affair (1886), labour unions would develop. Employees paid union dues to be protected and it occurred to certain new Americans that they too could levy dues from businesses to ‘protect them.’

The Boston socialites who drove Walter Crane out of the United States may have been the wives of wealthy factory employers. In fact, they may have been the wealthy employers themselves. Yet, the social Walter Crane attended in 1891 was a Boston anarchist meeting. How could anarchists drive an artist out of a country? It seems that the expulsion of Walter Crane was a sign of things to come, a ‘precedent.’ A few decades later, McCarthyism arose.


(Photo credit: Google Images)

The Arts and Crafts Movement and Socialism

It should be noted however that although the Arts and Crafts Movement and William Morris are associated with socialism, William Morris owned a company and Kelmscott Press. Machines were used. They were not deemed useless; they were in fact very useful. Members of the Arts and Crafts Movement used machines. These increased the availability, at a reasonable price, of the various elements required to make a home beautiful: fabrics, wallpaper, decorative tiles, glassware, furniture, etc. Two stories merge: the Golden Age of Illustration, illustrations that could be reproduced, and the domestication of art, products that could be manufactured. However, Walter Crane was a member of the Art Workers Guild.

Almost immediately below, a photograph shows Morris & Co.‘s employees weaving at his Merton factory.

(See Arts and Crafts Movement, Wikipedia.)

The weaving shed in Morris & Co's factory at Merton, which opened in the 1880s

The weaving shed in Morris & Co.‘s factory at Merton, which opened in the 1880s

Walter Crane: Women’s Clothing

  • a woman’s health
  • liberty

I forgot to mention that Walter Crane was a ‘clothes activist.’ He was “a Vice President of the Healthy and Artistic Dress Union, a movement begun in 1890.” (See Walter Crane, Wikipedia.) Women were forcing themselves into corsets and very tight clothes. Crane therefore militated against tight-fitting garments. Bless him! About two or three decades later, Coco Chanel started designing flexible clothes. Jersey was a fabric Coco Chanel loved.


The impact of the Industrial Revolution cannot be understated. Machines did the work, but our industrialists did not differ substantially from slave-owners. The goal was a profit even if the welfare of workers was put in jeopardy. A profit was a noble goal. People tend to have a good opinion of themselves and they may close their eyes if money is to be gained and even ill-gained.

Thus were born our labour unions.

With kind greetings to everyone.

Walter Crane & Johann Strauss
Roses from the South


(Photo credit: Google Images)

© Micheline Walker
21 December 2015