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Robert Dale Owen from Who-When-What Book, 1900

Robert Dale Owen (November 7, 1801–June 24, 1877) was a longtime exponent in his adopted United States of the socialist doctrines of his father, Robert Owen, as well as a politician in the Democratic Party.

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Owen emigrated to the United States in 1825, and helped his father create the Utopian community of New Harmony, Indiana. After the community failed, Owen returned briefly to Europe, then moved to New York City and became the editor of the Free Enquirer, which he ran from 1828 to 1832. Owen's Moral Physiology, published in 1830 or 1831, was the first book to advocate birth control in the United States (specifically, coitus interruptus). Along with Fanny Wright, he was an intellectual leader of the Working Men's Party. In contrast to many other Democrats of the era, Owen and Wright were opposed to slavery, though their artisan radicalism distanced them from the leading abolitionists of the time. (Lott, 129)

He returned 1833 to New Harmony, Indiana, and served in the Indiana House of Representatives twice (1835–1838; 1851–1853). After two unsuccessful campaigns, he was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1842, and served from 1843 to 1847. While in Washington, he drafted the bill for the founding of the Smithsonian Institution.

Owen was elected a member of the Indiana Constitutional Convention in 1850, and was instrumental in securing to widows and married women control of their property, and the adoption of a common free school system. He later succeeded in passing a state law giving greater freedom in divorce.

In 1853, Franklin Pierce appointed Owen as United States minister at Naples. After leaving that post in 1858, Owen retired from political life, but remained an active intellectual.

He wrote to President Lincoln on September 7, 1862, urging him to end slavery on moral grounds. A few days later the Emancipation Proclamation was read to the Cabinet.

In March 1865, he submitted a radical initial draft of the Fourteenth Amendment that was eventually modified into the final draft.

He was a strong believer in Spiritualism (despite admitting having been duped into believing in a spirit named "Katie King") and was the author of two well-known books on the subject: Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World (1859) and The Debatable Land Between this World and the Next (1872).

Owen died at his summer home in Lake George, New York, and was buried in New Harmony, Indiana. The town of Dale, Indiana was named after him.

Books authored[]

  • Moral Physiology; or, A Brief and Plain Treatise on the Population Question (1830/1)
  • The Policy of Emancipation (1863)
  • The Wrong of Slavery (1864)
  • Beyond the Breakers (1870)
  • Threading My Way (1874)


Template:Start box |- ! colspan="3" style="background: #cccccc" | United States House of Representatives Template:USRepSuccessionBox |- ! colspan="3" style="background: #FACEFF;" | Diplomatic posts

|- style="text-align: center;" |- style="text-align:center;" |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"|Preceded by
Edward Joy Morris |width="40%" style="text-align: center;" rowspan="1"|United States Ambassador (as Chargé d'Affaires and Minister Resident) to the Two Sicilies
1853–1858 |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"| Succeeded by
Joseph Ripley Chandler |- |}

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