Bellamy, Edward (1850–1898)

Edward Bellamy, an American author and socialist, wrote the influential utopian novel Looking Backward: 2000–1887. Bellamy's political and social ideas led to the Nationalist movement, and the members of this movement joined later populist reform movements, including the political manifestation of Populism in the form of the People's Party.

Bellamy was born March 26, 1850, in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, a small manufacturing town near Springfield, Massachusetts. He studied literature at Union College in Schenectady, New York, for a year in 1868, but he did not receive a degree. Bellamy then traveled in Europe for about a year. The wretched condition of factory workers in Europe startled him. Bellamy said he had not recognized the poverty present in the United States nor the factories near his home until he was awakened by his overseas experience.

A series of economic and social calamities forced late-nineteenth-century Americans to consider alternative visions. The Panic of 1873, the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, and the social unrest and threat of anarchy spawned by incidents such as the 1881 assassination of President James Garfield and the Chicago Haymarket Riot of 1886 created an audience receptive to Bellamy's ideas.

In Looking Backward, published in 1888, Bellamy offers solutions to the problems caused by economic inequality. The novel tells the story of Julian West, a wealthy young man who falls asleep in Boston one night in 1887 and awakens in the year 2000. His host guides him through a socialist utopia free from the old social problems. Cooperation replaces competition in the new rational and communal society. Nationalism eliminates inefficient and destructive competition among corporations. A single national syndicate controls the nation's wealth with industrial production structured to equally benefit all of society.

The book became a bestseller, with 400,000 copies distributed in the United States within a decade and more elsewhere in the world. Looking Backward appealed to the new middle class of white-collar workers and salaried professionals who worried about the corruption of partisan politics, the violence of the lower classes, and the concentration of capital among the wealthy. The social order Bellamy proposed protected the interests of the middle class. Nationalism offered the benefits of industrial progress with bureaucratic control that guaranteed employment and protection from political interference.

Bellamy called for the immediate nationalization of the telegraph, telephone, railroads, and coal mines. Municipalities would acquire gas, water, and electric companies, mass transit lines, and other public services.

The Nationalists claimed to be a conservative party because Bellamy sought to protect republican institutions from the corrupt power of capitalists and monopolists. Nationalism offered economic equality in addition to political equality. Bellamy claimed his ideas belonged to a tradition of American movements seeking a cooperative society.

The first Nationalist club formed in Boston, and Bellamy Nationalist Clubs appeared in 150 cities by 1890. The clubs met weekly to discuss Bellamy's ideas. Clubs appeared in most northern cities, with a concentration of clubs in eastern Massachusetts and California.

Bellamy started a monthly magazine, The Nationalist, in May 1889. Bellamy used the journal to further explain his ideas and to promote the clubs. Members of the Boston club formed the Nationalist Education Association to spread their doctrines and named Bellamy as president of the new group.

Many Nationalists and other nonconformists had joined the Populist coalition. In the New Nation, Bellamy cheered the spread of the Farmers’ Alliance and pledged to support the People's Party. Bellamy applauded the Populist critique of trusts, monopolies, and Wall Street. Nationalists attended the organizational meeting of the People's Party in 1892 in St. Louis.

The Nationalist movement declined during the remainder of the 1890s. The New Nation ceased publication in 1894. Bellamy published a sequel to Looking Backward, Equality, in 1897, but the novel did not gain as much attention as its predecessor. Bellamy died from tuberculosis on May 22, 1898, at his childhood home in Chicopee Falls.

Jeff Wells

See also: American Non-Conformist ; Cooperative Commonwealth ; Depression of 1873 ; George, Henry (1839–1897) ; Gilded Age ; Northeast and Industrial Midwest, Populism in the ; Public Education ; Shays's Rebellion (1786–1787)


Bowman, Sylvia E. Edward Bellamy. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1986.

Bowman, Sylvia E. The Year 2000: A Critical Biography of Edward Bellamy. New York: Bookman Associates, 1958.

Franklin, John Hope. “Edward Bellamy and the Nationalist Movement.” New England Quarterly 11 (4): 739–72.

Lipow, Arthur. Authoritarian Socialism in America: Edward Bellamy & the Nationalist Movement. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982.

Morgan, Arthur E. Edward Bellamy. New York: Columbia University Press, 1944.

Patai, Daphne, ed. Looking Backward, 1988–1888: Essays on Edward Bellamy. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988.

Thomas, John L. Alternative America: Henry George, Edward Bellamy, Henry Demarest Lloyd, and the Adversary Tradition. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press, 1983.