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- Lysander Spooner
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Lysander Spooner (1808 – 1887) was one of the great individualists of his era. He practiced law in violation of state law and then successfully petitioned to change the law. When the United States Post Office claimed a monopoly on first-class mail, Spooner opened a competiting agency which forced the post office to lower their rates. Spooner was a great opponent of slavery, but at odds with many abolitionists of his day. He defended reason, natural law, and individual freedom.
Also included is an introduction by George H. Smith, along with an obituary written by Spooners compatriot, Benjamin Tucker (1854 – 1939) that was published in Tucker’s newspaper, Liberty, May 28, 1887. Lysander Spooner was one of the most important, early libertarian thinkers in the individualist tradition. Even after a full century his working is amazing relevant to today. This paperback edition is about 350 pages with an index included.
This edition contains:
1. A short introduction by George Smith that includes a thumbnail biographical sketch of Spooner’s life. It’s a good bio but a better one can be found in THE COLLECTED WORKS OF LYSANDER SPOONER, a more complete but hugely more expensive collection of Spooner’s work.
2. OUR NESTOR- Benjamin Tucker’s eulogy for Spooner, written in 1887. A short, touching farewell to a friend and fellow anarchist.
3. NATURAL LAW- Spooner says: “Natural Law [...] is naturally applicable and adequate to the rightful settlement of every possible controversy that can arise among men.” Spooner envisions a stateless society built on natural law and voluntary associations. He has plenty of venom for ‘legislators’, calling all governments “a band of robbers who have associated for purposes of plunder, conquest, and the enslavement of their fellow men.”
4. VICES ARE NOT CRIMES: A VINDICATION OF MORAL LIBERTY- An amazingly forward looking critique of consensual or victimless crime laws(keep in mind this was written in 1875!). As Spooner says, “Vices are those acts by which a man harms himself or his property. Crimes are those acts by which one man harms the person or property of another.”
5. & 6. NO TREASON No. I & II- “No Treason” is a series of pamphlets that Spooner published shortly after the Civil War. He was a staunch abolitionist but also believed that the south had the right to secede from the union and authored this series to prove that confederates were not traitors to the union because they never owed it any allegiance. Numbers 3, 4, and 5 were never published and the manuscripts(if they ever existed) were destroyed in a fire.
7. NO TREASON No. VI: THE CONSTITUTION OF NO AUTHORITY- By far the longest essay in the “No Treason” series and Spooner’s most well known work. Spooner takes the idea of the “social contract” literally and applies principles of contract law to the Constitution of the United States.
8. LETTER TO THOMAS F. BAYARD- The subtitle is “Challenging his right and that of all the other so-called senators and representatives in Congress to exercise any legislative power whatever over the people of the United States”. Spooner was inspired to write this letter when he read that Senator Bayard had expressed the opinion that “it is at least possible for a man to be a legislator and yet be an honest man”, lets just say Spooner disagrees.
9. TRIAL BY JURY- This is the longest essay in the book by far. Spooner was a lawyer and defended several people in court who were being tried for assisting escaping slaves ie violating the Fugitive Slave Act(many juries took a moral stand against slavery and refused to convict anyone of this crime even when there was no doubt that the accused was guilty). A fascinating and unique look through 19th century eyes at the right to trial by jury as embodied in the Magna Carta, the US Constitution and english common law. It’s also one of the earliest texts on jury nullification(though Spooner doesn’t use the term), he calls the jury system the “palladium of liberty” and “a barrier against the tyranny and oppression of the government”. The doctrine of jury nullification asserts that in addition to judging the facts in a case it is the jury’s “right and their paramount duty to judge of the justice of the law and to hold all laws invalid that are, in their opinion, unjust or oppressive, and all persons guiltless of violating, or resisting the execution of, such laws.”
Spooner was a fascinating man that doesn’t get nearly the attention he deserves from both historians and political philosophers. This edition contains a good sampling of his work but hardcore Spooner junkies with a lot of disposable income will want to upgrade to THE COLLECTED WORKS OF LYSANDER SPOONER.