Scottish-born social reformer. He was influenced by the abolitionist and social activist Frances Wright and the ‘Free Enquirers’, a liberal group that advocated an early form of socialism. Moving to New York to join the group's inner circle (1829), he edited the Free Inquirer and helped form the Association for the Protection of Industry and for the Promotion of National Education. Joining his father in England (1832), he coedited The Crisis with him for six months, then returned to New Harmony where he served three terms in the Indiana legislature (1836–38) and was able to secure large-scale public school funding. He also served two terms in the US House of Representatives (1843–47). Appointed chargé d'affaires at Naples (1853) and then minister (1855–58), he embraced spiritualism in Italy. On his return to the USA (1858), he became a leading advocate of the emancipation of slaves; commissioned to purchase arms for the state of Indiana (1861–63), he wrote an influential pamphlet, ‘The Policy of Emancipation’ (1863). As chair of a national committee to study freed slaves, he wrote The Wrong Slavery (1864). He was also the author of an autobiography and several novels.
Owen was born in Glasgow, Scotland. He taught briefly in New Lanark, Scotland, where his family owned the cotton mills, and occasionally he ran the factories in his father's absence. Influenced by Robert Dale (his father), whose theory of social reform was based on cooperation, practical education, and humane working conditions, he emigrated with his father to the USA (1825) to set up the New Harmony Colony in Indiana. Unfit for manual labour, the son taught school there and edited the New Harmony Gazette. The community failed (1827) and he would later criticize its participants as ‘lazy theorists’ and ‘unprincipled sharpers’. (His father returned to England in 1828.)