Spring–Summer 2016

Anarchist Calendrics

The chronological agitations of Moses Harman

Byron Ellsworth Hamann

Two mastheads from Moses Harman’s newspaper Lucifer the Light Bearer—one giving the year as E.M. 290 (top) and the other noting both the E.M. year, 292, and the C.E. year of 1892.

What calendar system should date the masthead of an anarchist newspaper? In late nineteenth-century Kansas, editor Moses Harman experimented with several possibilities.

Harman was born in West Virginia on 12 October 1830. Over the next few years, his parents slowly moved the family west, finally settling in Crawford County, Missouri, in 1838. Harman would stay in this part of the country (the tristate area of Missouri, Illinois, and Kansas) for the next seven decades, until a winter spent in Los Angeles convinced him to move to southern California. He spent the last two years of his life there, and died in 1910.

After graduating from high school in 1851, Harman tried a number of professions: farmer, teacher, circuit-riding preacher, and, during the Civil War, hospital nurse. (Problems with one of his legs prevented him from enlisting for the Union.) Married in 1866, and widowed in 1877, Harman left Missouri for Kansas in 1879. There, in the riverside town of Valley Falls, he embarked on a new career as radical journalist and chronological agitator.[1]

Three years earlier, in 1876, the National Liberal League was founded in Philadelphia. A coalition of various organizations across the United States, its initial aim was the total separation of state from church, including a repeal of Sunday laws and an end to religious instruction in public schools. Soon after moving to Valley Falls, Harman became involved in the local League chapter. In 1880, he was elected coeditor of the chapter’s new monthly periodical, the Valley Falls Liberal. The paper’s goals were outlined in a front-page prospectus: “To support the cause of LIBERALISM in its effort to break the chains which have been riveted upon the minds and souls of men and women by that religion of Fear and Hate, misnamed Christianity...”

Inspired by this manifesto, Harman quickly moved to replace the paper’s Anno Domini dating with a new chronology, apparently of his own design. Starting in November 1880, the masthead of the Valley Falls Liberal carried the American Nation (A.N.) count, its Year 1 corresponding to 1776. As Harman explained in the January, A.N. 105 issue: 

The year 1880 since the Christian Era, came, and is now just gone to keep company with the “years beyond the Flood.” But when that Flood was, and when that Era commenced, authentic history does not inform us. Christian scholars are very much divided on these questions. It is pretty generally admitted, however, that the Chronology with regard to the latter is wrong—some placing the error at four, and some at eight or nine years. Thus we ought to call the year now commencing 1885 or 1889 instead of 1881. Then again, it is conceded generally that Jesus of Nazareth was not born in winter but in spring; and hence the year should commence, not in January but in April or May. In view of these difficulties and for other reasons that will readily present themselves, we prefer to reckon time from a date concerning which there is no dispute: and, as Americans, we choose to date our little paper from our National Birthday.

Readers of the January issue might have been surprised that its A.N. date was still 105, as it had been in December—but this was because the new year in Harman’s system did not begin until July. And so when midsummer arrived, the masthead (finally) read: “Valley Falls, Kansas, July, A.N. 106.”

Two months later, in September—having just celebrated the paper’s one-year anniversary—Harman changed its name from the (local-sounding) Valley Falls Liberal to the (statewide) Kansas Liberal. He also updated the masthead mission statement: “Total Separation of the State from Supernatural Theology. Perfect Equality before the Law for all Men and Women. No privileged classes or orders—No Monopolies.” The renamed paper continued to be dated with the A.N. system for the next seven months. But in April 1882, at the same time the Kansas Liberal’s headquarters were temporarily moved to Lawrence, Harman reverted to mainstream chronology: April 13, 1882. The paper was back in Valley Falls by October, and early in 1883 chronological experimentation also returned. The 12 January issue was dated E.M. 283: in the Era of Man.

This system had been promulgated the previous fall at the sixth annual National Liberal League convention. Held in St. Louis from 29 September to 1 October 1882, the convention turned to the topic of calendar reform on its third and final day. A detailed article on the proceedings appeared in the 25 October 1882 issue of the Boston Investigator:

After this business was concluded, Mr. George Chainey, of Boston, arose and said that several resolutions and suggestions relative to a new secular calendar had been referred to the Committee on Resolutions, and that they desired him to report the following, which he read: —

Whereas, The uncertain and mythical origin of the Christian calendar now in general use commits those who use it, to some extent, at least, to the Christian theology; and,

Whereas, It would be relief to many and a great convenience to have a more certain, modern, and purely secular date for recording time,

Resolved, That we earnestly recommend all those who do not wish so [to] express their adherence to the Christian theology to unite in all parts of the world upon a common, secular, universal date as the year one of a modern era; and,

Whereas, Three great events common to the whole human race, and which gave mankind a new heaven and new earth, point to the year known as “A.D. 1600,” making our present year 282, as the proper beginning of the modern era, we call special attention to those facts, viz.:—

1. The general publication and acceptance of the new or Copernican system of astronomy.

2. The discovery of the unity of the human race (i.e., humanity in its solidarity and continuity) by the extension of commerce and European civilization to Asia, Africa, and Australia, and the recognition of progress in the success of the ages and generations of the human race.

3. The foundations of International Law by Hugo Grotius (begun in 1600 and published in 1625); and,

Whereas, These events, which changed the face of the world, are fitly consecrated by the martyrdom of the great Liberal of his age, Giordano Bruno, who was burned to death by the Christian Church at Rome, on the 16th day of February, 1600, for proclaiming the new astronomy, the true solar system, the infinity of the heavens and of worlds; and,

Whereas, This modern date may be most conveniently used to succeed the old era, having its last two figures the same, and being capable of a familiar contraction to ’82 for 282, just as the old date, 1882, is contracted to ’82; therefore,

Resolved, That the National Liberal League adopt this date, and earnestly recommend its general use.

The resolution was adopted unanimously and with applause.

Then followed a discussion of what to name the new chronology. The system’s creator, George N. Hill (secretary of the Investigator Hall Society in Boston), pushed for Anno Scientia—the Era of Science, or E.S. Another proposal was for “Age of Reason.” But in the end, “Era of Man” (E.M.) won out, “passed by so large a majority that it was almost a general consent.”

Back in Kansas, in late August 1883 (E.M. 283)—eight months after introducing Era of Man dating—Moses Harman rebooted the Kansas Liberal. He changed its name to Lucifer the Light-Bearer (“the name applied by the ancients to the morning star, the Herald of Dawn”) and expanded its content. An ad for Lucifer printed in the 11 June 1884 issue of Liberty (a radical paper from Boston) announced a wide range of controversial topics—and Harman’s interest in anarchism, which he had already voiced in the Kansas Liberal, was asserted at the start:

A fortnightly free thought, anarchistic journal, devoted to the fearless discussion of all questions of human interest, including the land question, the money question, the question of the relations of the State to the Individual, the question of prohibition vs. temperance, the marriage question, heredity, etc., etc. LUCIFER discusses all these and other subjects from the standpoint of Individualism, holding that no true Socialism is possible where the rights of the individual man and woman are not regarded as the only rights there are, and respected accordingly.

LUCIFER repudiates the imposed authority alike of gods and states, and holds in infinite scorn the prurient meddlesomeness of society.

LUCIFER carries with it the sparkling light and invigorating breezes of the wide-sweeping prairies of the West. It preaches the gospel of reciprocal Rights and Duties, and sounds a trumpet-call to ACTION.

Throughout these changes of title and themes—and across various updates in design—the E.M. system stayed in the masthead. Not all of Harman’s readers understood what the abbreviation meant, and so from time to time he offered them an explanation. The 8 January E.M. 286 issue included this extended commentary:

A St. Louis correspondent (whose name we have mislaid) asks:

“What do you mean by ‘E.M. 285’ at the head of your title page?”

To save trouble and time in answering this frequently recurring question, we will here give a brief résumé of what we have frequently before stated in these columns, in regard to the matter.

The abbreviations “E.M.” mean Era of Man, and are used instead of, or in contradistinction from “A.D.”—Anno Domini, or Era of Christianity; and for these among other reasons:

1st. We object to the popular or Christian Chronology because of its lack of historical foundation, or starting point. In other words, we object to it because it bears upon its face an acknowledged falsehood. No scholar, be he Christian or non-Christian, will dare to maintain that Jesus of Nazareth was born on the 25th of Dec., eighteen hundred and eighty-five years ago. Every historian of any note agrees that the true date of the Nazarene’s birth, both as to day and year, is shrouded in the obscurity of tradition; and, if candid, he will also agree that the very existence of the man Jesus, as an historical personage, cannot now be established.

2d. As Rationalists we object to the use of A.D. (year of our Lord) because we acknowledge allegiance to no lord or master, whether temporal or spiritual. The so-called Christian Era began during what may be aptly be termed the theologic era, or Era of gods and superstitions. It was the age of belief in the supernatural—of belief in the subordination of man to the arbitrary will of a deity or of many deities. Man, as such, had no rights that the gods were bound to respect. Rights belonged to the gods and to their representatives, the kings, princes and priests.

3d. The revolt against the rule of the gods as represented by priests and kings is of comparatively recent date. Not until about three hundred years ago—not until the circumnavigation of the globe had determined the true shape of the earth—not until modern science, telescope in hand, turned her gaze upon the dome of heaven and showed to mortals that there is no dome there! no thrones there! no gods there!—Not till the new cosmology of Copernicus and Galileo began to take the place of the mythological cosmogony, did the true Era of Man begin.

4th. The immediate and necessary result of this destruction of the old cosmogony—the cosmogony which made the earth the center and chief fact of the universe—was a radical reconstruction of the methods of thought and investigation. Instead of referring to Authority for the truth of any theory—in morals, in government, in religion—all theories were subjected to the remorseless crucible of scientific investigation, which takes nothing for granted. The result of this investigation, thus far, is that there is nothing outside of or beyond Nature, and that chief fact or product of nature is man. And though kings and priests, in the name of their gods, still hold sway over the greater part of humankind, they no longer refer to their deities alone as the source of their power. They are now willing to admit that the people have rights that must be respected, even by the viceregents of the gods themselves.

The number 286 that we place on our title page to represent the year now just begun, refers to the death of Giordano Bruno, a distinguished martyr to science, which event took place in Rome, Feb. 1601; of the Christian chronology.[2] We use this number,

(a) Because it records a well-known fact in modern history, and for this reason there is not likely to be any dispute in regard to the initial point of the new calendar.

(b) The martyrdom of Bruno was a most memorable event in the history of the struggle between Science and Theology—between Reason and Superstition—between the Rights of Man and the assumed rights of gods, kings, and priests.

(c) The centuries reckoned from the death of Bruno correspond with the centuries of Christian chronology.Hence the two calendars are easily referable to each other.

For these reasons, besides others that might be named, we place E.M. at 286 at the mast-head of LUCIFER to designate the current year.

Harman’s last foray into chronological experimentation took place at the start of 1892, when he adopted a dual-dating system for Lucifer’s masthead. The day of the week, month, and day were still followed immediately by the E.M. year. But that number was now followed by a bracketed C.E. date. The inaugural example read: “Friday, January 1, E.M. 292 [C.E. 1892].”

We might be tempted—following twenty-first century conventions—to interpret this abbreviation as an early appearance of the “Common Era” or “Current Era” phrasing that exploded into popularity circa 1989. Ironically, however, this is not what C.E. meant for Moses Harman. Instead, C.E. meant “Christian Era.”[3]

It is certainly true (as Early English Books Online reveals) that the phrases “common Aera” and even “before the common Aera” had been around since the 1600s. But they were often qualified by an appended “of Jesus” or “of Christ.” And they do not seem to have been linked to any abbreviations: the use of a phrase is one thing; the baptism of a chronological system quite another. The chronological markers C.E. and B.C.E. emerged in the middle of the nineteenth century—and when they did, their C stood for “Christian.” Moses Harman’s apparently perverse insistence on stressing the Christian origins of the C.E. was not idiosyncratic: it was a common interpretation of a new abbreviation.

Perhaps the earliest and highest-profile use of these twin abbreviations was in the title of Morris J. Raphall’s Post-Biblical History of the Jews; From the Close of the Old Testament, about the Year 420 B.C.E. Till the Destruction of the Second Temple, in the Year 70 C.E. This two-volume work was a bestseller. First published in Philadelphia in 1855, it was reprinted the next year in both New York and London, followed a decade later by another New York printing in 1866. Vexingly, Raphall never provides a “Note to the Reader” explaining how to interpret his titular B.C.E. / C.E. abbreviations. But a look at his prose is revealing. Across nine hundred pages, Raphall never uses the phrases “Common Era” or “Current Era.” Instead, like Harman, he refers to the Christian era: “It must be borne in mind that, from Josephus, who wrote in the first century of the Christian era”; “others assume the third century of the Christian era as the probable date...”[4] Raphall was a rabbi at New York’s Greene Street Synagogue in Greenwich Village, and so was well aware that the Anno Domini system was provincially Christian: neither common, nor necessarily current.

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