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Jo Labadie and His Gift to Michigan

A Legacy for the Masses

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)




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The Water Board Incident

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  Agnes Inglis (1870-1952)
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Special Collections Library
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor


Published in 1859, the same year as Darwin's On the Origin of Species, John Stuart Mill's On Libertywas the great philosophical argument for complete civil freedom and became the philosophical basis of most modern civil liberties organizations.

The precocious son of the utilitarian philosopher, James Mill, the younger Mill never attended a school or university, became entirely self-educated, and wrote learned articles from his early years. Various debates within the circle of philosophical radicals fostered Mill's independence, and membership in the Speculative Society encouraged his tolerance for a very wide range of views. Mill's renowned autobiography revealed that his intellectual concentration combined with emotional starvation resulted in a youthful nervous breakdown, from the despair of which he was rescued by his conclusion that happiness was not merely dependent on finding pleasure and that cultivation of the feelings is as important as gaining a grasp of concepts.

Mill held that every individual has the logical right to speak, write, and publish opinions since these cannot inflict physical harm on any other person, and that only bodily harm or property damage should be protected by law.

Jo Labadie enthusiastically welcomed Mill's libertarianism, akin to anarchist principles of individual freedom. As the author of columns he called "Cranky Notions", Labadie appreciated Mill's statement in On Liberty, "Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded, and the amount of eccentricity in a society has been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor, and moral courage it contained."



"What citizen of a free country would listen to any offers of good and skillful administration in return for the abdication of freedom?"

John Stuart Mill



"The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, as long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs or impede their efforts to obtain it."

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty