Lysander Spooner

Lysander Spooner (1808-1887), an individualist...

Lysander Spooner (1808-1887), an individualist anarchist who wrote The Unconstitutionality of Slavery (1845). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once you read Lysander, there is no turning back. His writing is easily understood at the 5th or 6th grade level. It is easy to understand why there is no mention of him in the public school system – too many kids would realize the farce that has been built around them.

“A Defence For Fugitive Slaves:”

The rescue of a person, who is assaulted, or restrained of his liberty, without authority of law, is not only morally, but legally, a meritorious act; for every body is under obligation to go to the assistance of one who is assailed by assassins robbers, ravishers, kidnappers, or ruffians of any kind.

An officer of the government is an officer of the law only when he is proceeding according to law. The moment he steps beyond the law, he, like other men, forfeits its protection, and may be resisted like any other trespasser. An unconstitutional statute is no law, in the view of the constitution. It is void, and confers no authority on any one; and whoever attempts to execute it, does so at his peril. His holding a commission is no legal protection for him. If this doctrine were not true, and if, (as the supreme court say in the Prigg case,) a man may, if he choose, execute an authority granted by an unconstitutional law, congress may authorize whomsoever they please, to ravish women, and butcher children, at pleasure, and the people have no right to resist them.

The constitution contemplates no such submission, on the part of the people, to the usurpations of the government, or to the lawless violence of its officers. On the contrary it provides that “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” This constitutional security for c, the right to keep and bear arms,” implies the right to use them, ‑‑ [*28] as much as a constitutional security for the right to buy and keep food, would have implied the right to eat it. The constitution, therefore, takes it for granted that, as the people have the right, they will also have the sense, to use arms, whenever the necessity of the case justifies it. This is the only remedy suggested by the constitution, and is necessarily the only remedy that can exist, when the government becomes so corrupt as to afford no peaceable one. The people have a legal right to resort to this remedy at all times, when the government goes beyond, or contrary to, the constitution. And it is only a matter of discretion with them whether to resort to it at any particular time.

It is no answer to this argument to say, that if an unconstitutional act be passed, the mischief can be remedied by a repeal of it; and that this remedy may be brought about by discussion and the exercise of the right of suffrage; because, if an unconstitutional act be binding until invalidated by repeal, the government may, in the mean time disarm the people, suppress the freedom of speech and the press, prohibit the use of the suffrage, and thus put it beyond the power of the people to reform the government through the exercise of those rights. The government have as much constitutional authority for disarming the people, suppressing the freedom of speech and the press, prohibiting the use of the suffrage, and establishing themselves as perpetual and absolute sovereigns, as they have for any other unconstitutional act. And if the first unconstitutional act may not be resisted by force, the last act that may be necessary for the consummation of despotic authority, may not be.

To say that an unconstitutional law must be obeyed until it is repealed, is saying that an unconstitutional law is just as obligatory as a constitutional one, ‑‑ for the latter is binding only until it is repealed. There would therefore be no difference at all between a constitutional and an unconstitutional law, in respect to their building force; and that would be equivalent to abolishing the constitution, and giving to the government unlimited power. [*29]

The right of the people, therefore, to resist an unconstitutional law, is absolute and unqualified, from the moment the law is enacted.

The right of the government “to suppress insurrection,” does not conflict with this right of the people to resist the execution of an unconstitutional enactment; for an “insurrection” is a rising against the laws, and not a rising against usurpation. If the government and the people disagree, as to what are laws, in the view of the constitution, and what usurpations, they must fight the matter through, or make terms with each other as best they may.

But for this rights on the part of the people, to resist usurpation on the part of the government, the individuals constituting the government would really be, in the view of the constitution itself, absolute rulers, and the people absolute slaves. The oaths required of the rulers to adhere to the constitution, would be but empty wind, as a protection to the people against tyrannies if the constitution, at the same time that it required these oaths, committed the absurdity of protecting the rulers, when they were acting contrary to the constitution. The constitution, in thus protecting the rulers in their usurpations, would continue to act as a shield to tyrants, after they themselves had deprived it of all power to shield the people. It would thus invite its own overthrow, and the conversion of the government into a despotism, by those appointed to administer it for the liberties of the people.

This right of the people, therefore, to resist usurpation, on the part of the government, is a strictly constitutional right. And the exercise of the right is neither rebellion against the constitution, nor revolution it is a maintenance of the constitution itself, by keeping the government within the constitution. It is also a defence of the natural rights of the people, against robbers and trespassers who attempt to set up their own personal authority and power, in opposition to those of the constitution and people, which they were appointed to administer.

To say, as the arguments of most persons do, that the peo- [*30] ple, in their individual and natural capacities, have a right to institute government, but that they have no right, in the same capacities, to preserve that government by putting down usurpation ‑‑ and that any attempt to do so is revolution, is blank absurdity.

Frederic Bastiat

English: Cover of the 2007 edition of The Law ...

English: Cover of the 2007 edition of The Law by Frédéric Bastiat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Writing from the same time period as Lysander but a whole ocean away; nonetheless both men were on the same wavelength. Spooner is to Bastiat as Michelangelo is to Frank Lloyd Wright.

“The Law:”

But on the other hand, imagine that this fatal principle has been introduced: Under the pretense of organization, regulation, protection, or encouragement, the law takes property from one person and gives it to another; the law takes the wealth of all and gives it to a few — whether farmers, manufacturers, ship owners, artists, or comedians. Under these circumstances, then certainly every class will aspire to grasp the law, and logically so.

The excluded classes will furiously demand their right to vote — and will overthrow society rather than not to obtain it. Even beggars and vagabonds will then prove to you that they also have an incontestable title to vote. They will say to you:

“We cannot buy wine, tobacco, or salt without paying the tax. And a part of the tax that we pay is given by law — in privileges and subsidies — to men who are richer than we are. Others use the law to raise the prices of bread, meat, iron, or cloth. Thus, since everyone else uses the law for his own profit, we also would like to use the law for our own profit. We demand from the law the right to relief, which is the poor man’s plunder. To obtain this right, we also should be voters and legislators in order that we may organize Beggary on a grand scale for our own class, as you have organized Protection on a grand scale for your class. Now don’t tell us beggars that you will act for us, and then toss us, as Mr. Mimerel proposes, 600,000 francs to keep us quiet, like throwing us a bone to gnaw. We have other claims. And anyway, we wish to bargain for ourselves as other classes have bargained for themselves!”

And what can you say to answer that argument!

This question of legal plunder must be settled once and for all, and there are only three ways to settle it:

  1. The few plunder the many.
  2. Everybody plunders everybody.
  3. Nobody plunders anybody.

We must make our choice among limited plunder, universal plunder, and no plunder. The law can follow only one of these three.

Limited legal plunder: This system prevailed when the right to vote was restricted. One would turn back to this system to prevent the invasion of socialism.

Universal legal plunder: We have been threatened with this system since the franchise was made universal. The newly enfranchised majority has decided to formulate law on the same principle of legal plunder that was used by their predecessors when the vote was limited.

No legal plunder: This is the principle of justice, peace, order, stability, harmony, and logic. Until the day of my death, I shall proclaim this principle with all the force of my lungs (which alas! is all too inadequate).


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