Lysander Spooner (1808 - 1887)

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Birthdate:
Birthplace: Petersham, Massachusetts, USA
Death: Died in Athol, Massachusetts, USA
Cause of death: Illness
Occupation: American Letter Company, Abolishonist, Scholar
Managed by: Daniel Spooner
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About Lysander Spooner

Lysander did not leave the family household and was, consequently, obligated to repay his father for having fed and reared him. From his sixteenth to his twenty-fifth year, Lysander was bound by a formal agreement to work on the family farm and, after the fashion of an apprenticeship, the father was to provide food, lodging, and "good educational advantages." Whatever Lysander learned was sufficient to enable him to teach school for a short time. Later he worked as tutor for a wealthy farmer's children in nearby Winchendon, Massachusetts.

Lysander intended to be as successful as his brother when he left the family farm and went to nearby Worcester; he too worked in a store, and he too did clerical work - in the office of the Registrar of Deeds in Worcester. His year's service there say him become a careful and "very reliable" examiner and executor of titles. The next step was into the law and, in 1833, Lysander begain his legal studies in the offices of John Davis (1787-1854). An eminent politician, Davis was shortly elected governor and served several terms; later, he was a United States Senator (1835-40; 1845-53), and he was long prominent in the national councils of the Whig party. As Davis spend much time out of Worcester, Spooner probably learned most of his law from a distinguished jurist, Charles Allen (179701869). Allen was then state senator from Worcester, and he later served many years as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Davis and Allen must have been impressed with Spooner's ability, as it was a mark of some favor for a lawyer to allow a young man to study in his office.

The influence of Davis and Allen on Spooner was by no means small; they were conservative, judicious, and above all, rigorously logical. In their offices, Spooner mastered the fine art of legal reasoning, ever to mark his own writings. Men of independent judgment, Davis and Allen both were strong foes of slavery long before abolition became a popular cause in Massachusetts. Davis was on of two senators who refused to vote for a declaration of war against Mexico in 1845. Allen became a Free Soil congressman in 1848. Moreover, as Spooner grew older, he came to model his life on that of the older Davis. What an observer said of Davis, might later have been said of Spooner; he was called "a great white bear." Possessed of an awkward and impressive dignity

Lysanders activism began with his career as a lawyer, which itself violated Massachusetts law. Spooner had studied law under the prominent lawyers and politicians John Davis and Charles Allen, but he had never attended college. According to the laws of the state, college graduates were required to study with an attorney for three years, while non-graduates were required to do so for five years.

With the encouragement of his legal mentors, Spooner set up his practice in Worcester after only three years, openly defying the courts. He saw the three-year privilege for college graduates as a state-sponsored discrimination against the poor and also providing a monopoly income to those who met the requirements. He argued that such discrimination was "so monstrous a principle as that the rich ought to be protected by law from the competition of the poor." In 1836, the legislature abolished the restriction. He opposed all licensing requirements for lawyers, doctors or anyone else that was prevented from being employed by such requirements. To prevent a person from doing business with a person without a professional license he saw as a violation of the natural right to contract.

After a disappointing legal career - his radical writing seems to have kept away potential clients - and a failed career in real estate speculation in Ohio, Spooner returned to his father's farm in 1840.

Postal rates were notoriously high in the 1840s, and in 1844, Spooner founded the American Letter Mail Company, which had offices in various cities, including Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. Stamps could be purchased and then attached to letters which could be sent to any of its offices. From here agents were dispatched who travelled on railroads and steamboats, and carried the letters in hand bags. Letters were transferred to messengers in the cities along the routes who then delivered the letters to the addressees. This was a challenge to the United States Post Office's monopoly. As he had done when challenging the rules of the Massachusetts bar, he published a pamphlet titled "The Unconstitutionality of the Laws of Congress Prohibiting Private Mails." Although Spooner had finally found commercial success with his mail company, legal challenges by the government eventually exhausted his financial resources. He closed up shop without ever having had the opportunity to fully litigate his constitutional claims. The lasting legacy of Spooner's challenge to the postal service was the 3-cent stamp, adopted in response to the competition his company provided.


Spooner attained his greatest fame as a figure in the abolitionist movement. His most famous work, a book titled The Unconstitutionality of Slavery, was published in 1846 to great acclaim among many abolitionists but criticism from others. Spooner's book contributed to a controversy within the abolitionist movement over whether the United States Constitution supported the institution of slavery. The "disunionist" faction, led by William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips, argued the Constitution legally recognized and enforced the oppression of slaves (as, for example, in the provisions for the capture of fugitive slaves in Article IV, Section 2). They also cited the frequent appeals to Constitutional compromise by Southern politicians, who insisted that protection of the "peculiar institution" was part of the sectional compromise on which the Constitution was based. The disunionists thus argued that keeping the free states in a political union with the slave states made the citizens of the free states complicit in the slave system, and denounced the Constitution as "a covenant with death and an agreement with hell."

Spooner challenged the claim that the text of the Constitution supported slavery. Although he recognized that the Founders had probably not intended to outlaw slavery when writing the Constitution, he argued that only the meaning of the text, not the private intentions of its writers, was enforceable. Spooner used a complex system of legal and natural law arguments in order to show that the clauses usually interpreted as supporting slavery did not, in fact, support it, and that several clauses of the Constitution prohibited the states from establishing slavery under the law. Spooner's arguments were cited by other pro-Constitution abolitionists, such as Gerrit Smith and the Liberty Party, which adopted it as an official text in its 1848 platform. Frederick Douglass, originally a Garrisonian disunionist, later came to accept the pro-Constitution position, and cited Spooner's arguments to explain his change of mind.

From the publication of this book until 1861, Spooner actively campaigned against slavery. He published subsequent pamphlets on Jury Nullification and other legal defenses for escaped slaves and offered his legal services, often free of charge, to fugitives. In the late 1850s, copies of his book were distributed to members of Congress sparking some debate over their contents. Even Senator Albert Gallatin Brown of Mississippi, a slavery proponent, praised the argument's intellectual rigor and conceded it was the most formidable legal challenge he had seen from the abolitionists to date. In 1858, Spooner circulated a "Plan for the Abolition of Slavery," calling for the use of guerrilla warfare against slaveholders by black slaves and non-slaveholding free Southerners, with aid from Northern abolitionists. Spooner also participated in an aborted plot to free John Brown after his capture following the failed raid on Harper's Ferry, Virginia.

In 1860, Spooner was actively courted by William Seward to support the fledgling Republican Party. An admitted sympathizer with the Jeffersonian political philosophy, Spooner adamantly refused the request and soon became an outspoken abolitionist critic of the party. To Spooner, the Republicans were hypocrites for purporting to oppose slavery's expansion but refusing to take a strong, consistent moral stance against slavery itself. Although Spooner had advocated the use of violence to abolish slavery, he denounced the Republicans' use of violence to prevent the Southern states from seceding during the American Civil War. He published several letters and pamphlets about the war, arguing that the Republican war aim was not the overthrow of slavery, but rather to maintain the Union by force. He blamed the bloodshed on Republican political leaders such as Secretary of State Seward and Senator Charles Sumner, who often spoke out against slavery but would not attack it on a constitutional basis, and who pursued military policies seen as vengeful and abusive.

Though denouncing its embrace of slavery, Spooner sided with the Confederate States of America's right to secede on the basis that they were choosing to exercise government by consent - a fundamental constitutional and legal principle to Spooner's philosophy. The North, by contrast, was trying to deny the Southerners their inherent right to be governed by their consent. He believed they were attempting to coerce the obedience of the southern states to a union they did not wish to enter. He believed that Compensated Emancipation was a preferable way to end slavery, something many nations had done. He argued that the right for states to secede derives from the same right of the slaves to be free. This argument was not popular in the North or South once the war started, as it was contrary to the government positions held on both sides.

-------------------- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lysander_Spooner

Lysander Spooner (January 19, 1808 – May 14, 1887) was an American individual anarchist, libertarian, political philosopher, Deist, abolitionist, supporter of the labor movement, legal theorist, and entrepreneur of the nineteenth century. He is also known for competing with the U.S. Post Office with his American Letter Mail Company, which was forced out of business by the United States government.

Life overview Spooner was born on a farm in Athol, Massachusetts, on January 19, 1808, and died "at one o'clock in the afternoon of Saturday, May 14, 1887, in his little room at 109 Myrtle Street, Boston, MA, surrounded by trunks and chests bursting with the books, manuscripts, and pamphlets which he had gathered in his active pamphleteer's warfare over half a century long."[1]

Spooner advocated what he called Natural Law – or the "Science of Justice" – wherein acts of initiatory coercion against individuals and their property were considered "illegal" but the so-called criminal acts that violated only man-made legislation were not.[citation needed]

Early years Legal career His activism began with his career as a lawyer, which itself violated Massachusetts law.{[2]} Spooner had studied law under the prominent lawyers and politicians John Davis and Charles Allen, but he had never attended college.[citation needed] According to the laws of the state, college graduates were required to study with an attorney for three years, while non-graduates were required to do so for five years.[citation needed]

With the encouragement of his legal mentors, Spooner set up his practice in Worcester after only three years, openly defying the courts.[citation needed] He saw the three-year privilege for college graduates as a state-sponsored discrimination against the poor and also providing a monopoly income to those who met the requirements. He argued that such discrimination was "so monstrous a principle as that the rich ought to be protected by law from the competition of the poor."[citation needed] In 1836, the legislature abolished the restriction.[citation needed] He opposed all licensing requirements for lawyers, doctors or anyone else that was prevented from being employed by such requirements.[citation needed] To prevent a person from doing business with a person without a professional license he saw as a violation of the natural right to contract.

After a disappointing legal career - his radical writing seems to have kept away potential clients - and a failed career in real estate speculation in Ohio, Spooner returned to his father's farm in 1840.[citation needed]

American Letter Mail Company Being an advocate of self-employment and opponent of government regulation of business, Spooner started his own business called American Letter Mail Company which competed with the U.S. Post Office. Postal rates were notoriously high in the 1840s,[3] and in 1844, Spooner founded the American Letter Mail Company, which had offices in various cities, including Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York.[4] Stamps could be purchased and then attached to letters which could be sent to any of its offices. From here agents were dispatched who traveled on railroads and steamboats, and carried the letters in hand bags. Letters were transferred to messengers in the cities along the routes who then delivered the letters to the addressees. This was a challenge to the United States Post Office's monopoly.[citation needed] As he had done when challenging the rules of the Massachusetts bar, he published a pamphlet titled "The Unconstitutionality of the Laws of Congress Prohibiting Private Mails." Although Spooner had finally found commercial success with his mail company, legal challenges by the government eventually exhausted his financial resources. He closed up shop without ever having had the opportunity to fully litigate his constitutional claims.[citation needed] The lasting legacy of Spooner's challenge to the postal service was the 3-cent stamp, adopted in response to the competition his company provided.[5]

Abolitionism Spooner attained his greatest fame as a figure in the abolitionist movement. His most famous work, a book titled The Unconstitutionality of Slavery, was published in 1845 to great acclaim among many abolitionists but criticism from others.[citation needed] Spooner's book contributed to a controversy within the abolitionist movement over whether the United States Constitution supported the institution of slavery. The "disunionist" faction, led by William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips, argued the Constitution legally recognized and enforced the oppression of slaves (as, for example, in the provisions for the capture of fugitive slaves in Article IV, Section 2).[citation needed] They also cited the frequent appeals to Constitutional compromise by Southern politicians, who insisted that protection of the "peculiar institution" was part of the sectional compromise on which the Constitution was based.[citation needed] The disunionists thus argued that keeping the free states in a political union with the slave states made the citizens of the free states complicit in the slave system, and denounced the Constitution as "a covenant with death and an agreement with hell."[6] More generally, Wendell Phillips disputed Spooner's notion that any unjust law should be held legally void by judges.[7]

Spooner challenged the claim that the text of the Constitution supported slavery.[8] Although he recognized that the Founders had probably not intended to outlaw slavery when writing the Constitution, he argued that only the meaning of the text, not the private intentions of its writers, was enforceable. Spooner used a complex system of legal and natural law arguments in order to show that the clauses usually interpreted as supporting slavery did not, in fact, support it, and that several clauses of the Constitution prohibited the states from establishing slavery under the law.[citation needed] Spooner's arguments were cited by other pro-Constitution abolitionists, such as Gerrit Smith and the Liberty Party, which adopted it as an official text in its 1848 platform. Frederick Douglass, originally a Garrisonian disunionist, later came to accept the pro-Constitution position, and cited Spooner's arguments to explain his change of mind.[9]

From the publication of this book until 1861, Spooner actively campaigned against slavery.[10] He published subsequent pamphlets on Jury Nullification and other legal defenses for escaped slaves and offered his legal services, often free of charge, to fugitives.[11] In the late 1850s, copies of his book were distributed to members of Congress sparking some debate over their contents. Even Senator Albert Gallatin Brown of Mississippi, a slavery proponent, praised the argument's intellectual rigor and conceded it was the most formidable legal challenge he had seen from the abolitionists to date. In 1858, Spooner circulated a "Plan for the Abolition of Slavery,"[12] calling for the use of guerrilla warfare against slaveholders by black slaves and non-slaveholding free Southerners, with aid from Northern abolitionists. Spooner also participated in an aborted plot to free John Brown after his capture following the failed raid on Harper's Ferry, Virginia (Harper's Ferry is now part of the state of West Virginia).

In 1860, Spooner was actively courted by William Seward to support the fledgling Republican Party.[citation needed] An admitted sympathizer with the Jeffersonian political philosophy, Spooner adamantly refused the request and soon became an outspoken abolitionist critic of the party. To Spooner, the Republicans were hypocrites for purporting to oppose slavery's expansion but refusing to take a strong, consistent moral stance against slavery itself.[13] Although Spooner had advocated the use of violence to abolish slavery, he denounced the Republicans' use of violence to prevent the Southern states from seceding during the American Civil War. He published several letters and pamphlets about the war, arguing that the Republican objective was not to eradicate slavery, but rather to preserve the Union by force. He blamed the bloodshed on Republican political leaders, such as Secretary of State William H. Seward and Senator Charles Sumner, who often spoke out against slavery but would not attack it on a constitutional basis, and who pursued military policies seen as vengeful and abusive.[14][15]

Although he denounced the institution of slavery, Spooner recognized the right of the Confederate States of America to secede as the manifestation of government by consent, a constitutional and legal principle fundamental to Spooner's philosophy; the Northern states, in contrast, were trying to deny the Southerners that right through military force.[16] He believed they were attempting to restore the Southern states to the Union, against the wishes of Southerners. He argued that the right of the states to secede derives from the natural right of slaves to be free.[14] This argument was unpopular in the North and in the South after the War began, as it conflicted with the official position of both governments.[17]

As a means to end slavery without bloodshed, Spooner offered compensated emancipation, a method tested and proven in those nations that had orchestrated the peaceful abolition of slavery.[18]

Monetary theory and wage labor Spooner believed that government restrictions on issuance of private money made it inordinately difficult for individuals to obtain the capital on credit to start their own businesses, thereby putting them in a situation where "a very large portion of them, to save themselves from starvation, have no alternative but to sell their labor to others" and those who do employ others are only able afford to pay "far below what the laborers could produce, [than] if they themselves had the necessary capital to work with."[19] Spooner said that there was "a prohibitory tax --- a tax of ten per cent. --- on all notes issued for circulation as money, other than the notes of the United States and the national banks" which he argued caused an artificial shortage of credit, and that eliminating this tax would result in making plenty of money available for lending[19] such that: "All the great establishments, of every kind, now in the hands of a few proprietors, but employing a great number of wage labourers, would be broken up; for few or no persons, who could hire capital and do business for themselves would consent to labour for wages for another."[20]

Economist Murray Rothbard, in 1974, refuted Spooner's theory. Though agreeing that government should not have any regulations on money, he argued that "an increase in the supply of money does not confer any benefit whatever on society" but simply dilutes the purchasing power. Moreover, Rothbard said that in an anarchist society, the quantity of money would actually not increase as Spooner theorizes, but that supply would be even more limited than when governments and central banks manage the money supply, and fortunately so.[21]

Reconstruction Spooner harshly condemned the American Civil War and the Reconstruction period that followed. Though he approved of the abolition of black slavery, he criticized the North for failing to make this the purpose of their cause. Instead of fighting to abolish slavery, they fought to "preserve the union" and, according to Spooner, to bolster business interests behind that union. Spooner believed a war of this type was hypocritical and dishonest, especially on the part of Radical Republicans like Sumner who were by then claiming to be abolitionist heroes for ending slavery. Spooner also argued that the war came at a great cost to liberty and proved that the rights expressed in the Declaration of Independence no longer held true - the people could not "dissolve the political bands" that tie them to a government that "becomes destructive" of the consent of the governed because if they did so, as Spooner believed the South had attempted to do, they would be met by the bayonet to enforce their obedience to the former government.

The Union government's actions during the war caused Spooner to radicalize his views to an anarchistic view. In response, Spooner published one of his most famous political tracts, No Treason. In this lengthy essay, Spooner argued that the Constitution was a contract of government (see social contract theory) which had been irreparably violated during the war and was thus void. Furthermore, since the government now existing under the Constitution pursued coercive policies that were contrary to the Natural Law and to the consent of the governed, it had been demonstrated that that document could not adequately stop many abuses against liberty or prevent tyranny from taking hold. Spooner bolstered his argument by noting that the Federal government, as established by a legal contract, could not legally bind all persons living in the nation since none had ever signed their names or given their consent to it - that consent had always been assumed, which fails the most basic burdens of proof for a valid contract in the courtroom.

Spooner widely circulated the No Treason pamphlets, which also contained a legal defense against the crime of treason itself intended for former Confederate soldiers (hence the name of the pamphlet, arguing that "no treason" had been committed in the war by the South). These excerpts were published in DeBow's Review and in some other well-known southern periodicals of the time.

George Woodcock describes Spooner's essays as an "eloquent elaboration" of Josiah Warren and the early American development of Proudhon's ideas, and the associates his works with that of Stephen Pearl Andrews.[22]

Later life Spooner became a member of the socialist First International[23].Spooner continued to write and publish extensively in the decades following Reconstruction, producing works such as "Natural Law or The Science of Justice" and "Trial By Jury." In "Trial By Jury" he defended the doctrine of "Jury Nullification", which holds that in a free society a trial jury not only has the authority to rule on the facts of the case, but also on the legitimacy of the law under which the case is tried, and which would allow juries to refuse to convict if they regard the law they are asked to convict under as illegitimate. He became closely associated with Benjamin Tucker's anarchist journal Liberty, which published all of his later works in serial format, and for which he wrote several editorial columns on current events.[24] He argued that ". . . almost all fortunes are made out of the capital and labour of other men than those who realise them. Indeed, except by his sponging capital and labour from others."[25]

Spooner died on May 14, 1887 at the age of 79 in his residence, 109 Myrtle Street, Boston.[26] Benjamin Tucker arranged his funeral service and wrote an obituary, entitled "Our Nestor Taken From Us," which appeared in Liberty on May 28.

Influence Spooner's influence extends to the wide range of topics he addressed during his lifetime. He is remembered today primarily for his abolitionist activities and for his challenge to the post office monopoly, which had a lasting influence of significantly reducing postal rates.[citation needed] Spooner's writings contributed to the development of libertarian political theory in the United States, and were often reprinted in early libertarian journals such as the Rampart Journal.[27] His writings were also a major influence on Austrian School economist Murray Rothbard and libertarian law professor and legal theorist Randy Barnett.

In January 2004, Laissez Faire Books established the Lysander Spooner Award for advancing the literature of liberty. The honor is awarded monthly to the most important contributions to the literature of liberty, followed by an annual award to the author of the top book on liberty for the year. The annual "Spooner" earns $1,500 cash for the winning author.[28] Conversely, proponents of market socialism cite Spooner for his opposition to wage labor.[29]

Spooner's "The Unconstitutionality of Slavery" was cited in the 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller case which struck down the federal district's ban on handguns. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the court, quotes Spooner as saying the right to bear arms was necessary for those who wanted to take a stand against slavery.[30] It was also cited by Justice Clarence Thomas in his concurring opinion in the following 2010 "McDonald v. Chicago" case.[31]

Publications The Deist's Immortality, and An Essay On Man's Accountability For His Belief (1834) The Deist's Reply to the Alleged Supernatural Evidences of Christianity (1836) Constitutional Law, Relative to Credit, Currency, and Banking (1843) The Unconstitutionality of the Laws of Congress, Prohibiting Private Mails (1844) The Unconstitutionality of Slavery (1845) Poverty: Its Illegal Causes, and Legal Cure (1846) Illegality of the Trial of John W. Webster (1850) An Essay on Trial by Jury (1852) The Law of Intellectual Property (1855) A Plan For The Abolition Of Slavery (and) To The Non-Slaveholders of the South (1858) Address of the Free Constitutionalists to the People of the United States (1860) A New System of Paper Currency (1861) A Letter to Charles Sumner (1864) Considerations for Bankers, and Holders of United States Bonds (1864) No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority (1870) Forced Consent (1873) Vices Are Not Crimes: A Vindication of Moral Liberty (1875) Our Financiers: Their Ignorance, Usurpations and Frauds (1877) Gold and Silver as Standards of Value: The Flagrant Cheat in Regard to Them (1878) Natural Law, or the Science of Justice (1882) A Letter to Thomas F. Bayard (1882) A Letter to Scientists and Inventors, on the Science of Justice (1884) A Letter to Grover Cleveland, on His False Inaugural Address, The Usurpations and Crimes of Lawmakers and Judges, and the Consequent Poverty, Ignorance, and Servitude of the People (1886)

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Lysander Spooner's Timeline

1808
January 18, 1808
Petersham, Massachusetts, USA
1887
May 14, 1887
Age 79
Athol, Massachusetts, USA
????
Jamaica Plain, Suffolk , Massachusetts, USA