everything bad that begins with an A

First posted 3 years ago today:

We married on September 29th, 2001.

Two years of marital bliss …

(Anyone who ever appreciated that joke has long grown tired of it, but it continues to amuse me.)

Not only is today our anniversary, but it is also Ludwig von Mises’s 123rd birthday.

We got married on his 120th birthday, though I didn’t know it at the time. I barely knew who Mises was … um, had been.

Our ceremony, which took place in front of the Barboursville Ruins, only looked like an anarchist wedding.

No official of Church or State stood above or between us. We wrote our own vows, which we exchanged in English and French, with best man and maid of honor translating, and then we pronounced ourselves married.

But in the back of the field, behind the guests, was Charlottesville’s sheriff, in uniform, filling out the paperwork that means our union is recognized by the government. I’m more radical in theory, it seems, than I am in practice.

Still, I’m inspired by the story of Lillian Harman, daughter of the great 19th-century liberal anarchist, Moses Harman. The Harmans published a journal on birth control, reproductive rights, sexual consent … all topics one might think were protected under the First Amendment, but which ran afoul of the infamous Comstock laws.

When the U.S. Deputy Marshall arrived at the publication’s offices, looking to arrest the staff, the co-editor, E. C. Walker, and Lillian, age 16, weren’t there. They were already in jail for having conducted a non-state, non-church marriage in September 1886.

In their ceremony, E. C. Walker pledged, “Lillian is and will continue to be as free to repulse any and all advances of mine as she had been heretofore. In joining with me in this love and labor union, she has not alienated a single natural right.”

Lillian pledged, “I make no promises that it may become impossible or immoral for me to fulfill, but retain the right to act always as my conscience and best judgment shall dictate.”

The ceremony concluded with Moses Harman declaring, “I do not ‘give away the bride’, as I wish her to be always the owner of her own person . . .”

When the judge asked if there was any reason why sentence should not be passed, Lillian answered: “Nothing except that we have committed no crime.”

Lillian was sentenced to a month and a half, her husband to two and a half months, but they refused to pay court costs and remained in jail for six months.

Lillian Harman gave her reason for breaking the law: “I consider uniformity in mode of sexual relations as undesirable and impractical as enforced uniformity in anything else. For myself, I want the right to profit by my mistakes … and why should I be unwilling for others to enjoy the same liberty? If I should be able to bring the entire world to live exactly as I live at present, what would that avail me in ten years, when as I hope, I shall have a broader knowledge of life, and my life therefore probably changed?”

Moses Hull, publisher of the Des Moines New Thought, wrote that the couple had been jailed “for being anarchists, agnostics, atheists, and everything bad that begins with an A.”


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