Lawyer, abolitionist, entrepreneur, legal theorist and political radical
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  • Lysander Spooner

    Lysander Spooner (19 January 1808 - 14 May 1887) was an American individualist anarchist, political philosopher, Deist, Unitarian 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 federal government.

    Images

    Lysander Spooner - The Advocates
    247x300 JPEG, grayscale

    Born

    19 Jan 1808, in Athol, Massachusetts

    Died

    14 May 1887, in Boston, Massachusetts

    Biography

    Biography of Spooner, by Charles Shively, The Collected Works of Lysander Spooner, 1971
    Ten chapters, covering early life, becoming a lawyer, investing in Ohio, the American Letter Mail Company, his writings about banking, abolitionism, trial by jury, intellectual property and anarchism, his friends and romances and the final years
    "Through his youth and in his old age Lysander Spooner followed the voice of freedom. He never faltered in his quest for and his defense of liberty. ... In some ways he was a representative man of the nineteenth century; his life was a remarkable series of careers: Deist, lawyer, bank clerk, western land speculator, businessman, abolitionist, inventor, legal writer, economist, and anarchist."
    Laissez Faire Books
    "Lysander Spooner (1808-1887) emerged as one of the greatest defenders of natural rights when this philosophy was going out of fashion among intellectuals. Few authors up to his time had produced as much on the subject as he did, and he covered topics which hadn't been covered before. He pushed natural rights principles to radical conclusions which thinkers like Murray Rothbard were to run with in the 20th century."

    Web Sites

    LysanderSpooner.org, by Randy E. Barnett
    Includes biography, lists as well as text of many of Spooner's writings and correspondence, scholarly articles about Spooner and links to other resources

    Web Pages

    Lysander Spooner | Mises Institute
    Includes picture, short profile and links to his works
    "Lysander Spooner (1808–1887) is the American individualist anarchist and legal theorist known mainly for setting up a commercial post office in competition with the government and thereby being shut down. But he was also the author of some of the most radical political and economic writings of the 19th century, and continues to have a huge influence on libertarian thinkers today. He was a dedicated opponent of slavery in all its forms — even advocating guerrilla war to stop it — but also a dedicated opponent of the federal invasion of the South and its postwar reconstruction."
    Lysander Spooner - Online Library of Liberty
    Includes photo, short biography, link to chronological and thematic listing of Spooner's works, links to various editions of his writings and links to selected quotations
    "Lysander Spooner (1808-1887) was a legal theorist, abolitionist, and radical individualist who started his own mail company in order to challenge the monopoly held by the US government. He wrote on the constitutionality of slavery, natural law, trial by jury, intellectual property, paper currency, and banking."
    Lysander Spooner | People | Foundation for Economic Education
    Includes picture and link to Spooner's "Natural Law or The Science of Justice" (1882)
    Lysander Spooner - The Advocates for Self-Government
    Biography (from Laissez Faire Books), picture and quotes
    "Spooner affirmed that government isn’t legitimate just because what it’s doing is legal. All kinds of terrible things have been legal. ... His major works include The Unconstitutionality of the Laws of Congress Prohibiting Private Mail (1835), The Unconstitutionality of Slavery (1845), Trial by Jury (1852) and A Letter to Grover Cleveland (1885). No Treason No. 6, Constitution of No Authority (1870) is the most fully-developed and widely-quoted expression of his radical views."

    Articles

    Is Edward Snowden a Lawbreaker?, by Sheldon Richman, 28 Jun 2013
    Considers whether Edward Snowden "broke the law" by his disclosures of NSA telephone and internet data collection
    "Auburn University philosopher Roderick Long points out that the principle lex injusta non est lex — an unjust law is not a law ... The great American libertarian political philosopher Lysander Spooner (1808–1887) applied this principle in his characteristically consistent and rigorous manner. Indeed, Long notes that Spooner took the principle further than his predecessors 'because traditional natural law theory recognises positive law as an additional source of obligation,' while Spooner's post-Civil War writing 'maintains that legislators cannot add any new obligations to the body of law.'"
    Lysander Spooner (1808-1887) and Foreign Policy: Spooner's Real Views About Everything, by Joseph R. Stromberg, 8 May 2000
    Begins wih biographical summary and then delves into Spooner's views on slavery, the U.S. Constitution and the War Between the States
    "Spooner's lifetime saw many important changes in American life. Born in Massachusetts in 1808, he grew up in a largely free society whose constituent republics were united on the basis of consent. By the time he died in 1887, he had seen the central state strengthened by fire and sword, 1861-1865, and the union shifted to a basis of naked force. The whole time, however, it was maintained by those in authority that nothing substantial had really changed."
    Lysander Spooner - Hero of the Day, The Daily Objectivist, 2000
    Excerpted from 18 May 1887 obituary in the Boston Daily Globe
    "Mr. Spooner was in his eightieth year, having been born in Athol January 19, 1808. A farmer's boy, he left agricultural life on becoming a man, and at the age of 25 entered the law office of John Davis in Worcester, continuing his studies later with another distinguished lawyer of the same city, Charles Allen. ... Though Mr. Spooner did not call himself an Anarchist, his political and financial views coincided more nearly with those of the Individualistic Anarchists than with those of any other school."
    Lysander Spooner on the National Debt, by Sheldon Richman, 27 Sep 2013
    Examines the context of raising the national debt limit by considering what Spooner wrote in "The Constitution of No Authority"
    "When Spooner rips away the veil, we are left with the fact that a group of unknown profit-seeking principals authorize their agents to use the former's money in order to, among other things, extort a larger sum of money from a larger group of people who never consented to an arrangement in the first place. And it is all done, dishonestly, in the name of that larger group with the fraudulent words 'government of the people, by the people, for the people.'"
    Lysander Spooner on the National Debt, by Sheldon Richman, Future of Freedom, Jan 2014
    Analyses how Spooner trounced the arguments given for the legitimacy of the United States' public debt
    "Lysander Spooner (1808–1887), lawyer, abolitionist, entrepreneur, and libertarian subversive ... in section XVII of his 1870 essay, 'The Constitution of No Authority' (Number 6 in his No Treason series), ... took up the question of government debt with his signature fresh look. As you might imagine, he left nothing standing."
    Lysander Spooner, Part 1, by Wendy McElroy, Future of Freedom, Oct 2005
    Lengthy biographical and bibliographical essay; from Spooner's birth to 1850-1860, examining his writings on economics, money, banking, mail delivery and slavery
    "At 25 ... a growing passion for legal theory led him to the law offices of John Davis and Charles Allen ... Three years later, Spooner launched his first attack on an unjust law. ... Spooner's writings became campaign material for the Liberty Party ... formed in 1840 from the memberships of the American and foreign anti-slavery societies."
    Related Topics: Banking, Rights
    Lysander Spooner, Part 2, by Wendy McElroy, Future of Freedom, Nov 2005
    Lengthy biographical and bibliographical essay; from 1852 to Spooner's death, examining An Essay on the Trial by Jury, the No Treason essays and his subsequent influence
    "Spooner's legacy was preserved largely by younger radicals of the day who viewed him as a mentor, especially Benjamin Tucker. Upon Spooner's death, Tucker purchased his printed pamphlets and unpublished manuscripts from the estate. Thereafter, he offered the pamphlets for sale in his periodical Liberty (1881–1908) and donated the proceeds to the Spooner Publication Fund that he established to print and promote his Nestor's manuscripts."
    Benjamin Ricketson Tucker, Part 2, by Wendy McElroy, Future of Freedom, Sep 2007
    Biographical essay on Benjamin Tucker from the first issue of Liberty until his death
    "Here, Tucker drew heavily upon Lysander Spooner in both theory and tone. His extreme admiration of Spooner was such that, upon his mentor's death, he purchased all of Spooner's printed pamphlets and unpublished works. He offered the pamphlets for sale within Liberty, and donated the proceeds to the Spooner Publication Fund, established to issue the unpublished works."
    Benjamin Tucker, Individualism, & Liberty: Not the Daughter but the Mother of Order, by Wendy McElroy, Literature of Liberty, 1981
    Bibliographical essay covering the people and radical movements that influenced Tucker in his founding and publishing of Liberty, its major themes and contributors
    "Another exception to this pietism was Lysander Spooner (1808–1887), author of Vices Are Not Crimes, with whose pamphlets on slavery Tucker was familiar. Tucker particularly praised Spooner's The Unconstitutionality of Slavery (1845). ... It is probable that Tucker's long-term friendship with Lysander Spooner ... began during this period [circa 1876]. Tucker's admiration for Spooner was immense. One of the most moving articles in Liberty was Tucker's eulogy to his deceased friend entitled 'Our Nestor Taken From Us.'"
    No U-Turns, by Jack Dennon, 29 May 2006
    Critiques the U.S. Constitution and the government it allowed to be set up, with quotes from Albert Jay Nock and Lysander Spooner
    "... the first paragraph of Article I, Section 6 ... wrote Spooner, 'makes the legislators constitutionally irresponsible to any body; either to those on whom they exercise their power, or to those who may have, either openly or secretly, attempted or pretended to delegate power to them. And men, who are legally responsible to nobody for their acts, cannot truly be said to be the agents of any body, or to be exercising any power but their own ...'"
    The Politics of Étienne de La Boétie, by Murray N. Rothbard, 1975
    Introduction to the 1975 edition of The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, translated by Harry Kurz; summarises the key insights of La Boétie's work
    "The libertarian theorist Lysander Spooner, writing over four hundred years after La Boétie, propounded the similar view that the supporters of government consisted largely of 'dupes' and 'knaves':
    ... Dupes — a large class, no doubt — each of whom, because he is allowed one voice out of millions in deciding what he may do with his own person and his own property, ... is stupid enough to imagine that he is a 'free man,' a 'sovereign'; that this is a 'free government'; 'a government of equal rights,' 'the best government on earth,' and such like absurdities. ...
    "
    The Post Office as a Violation of Constitutional Rights, by Wendy McElroy, The Freeman, May 2001
    Prompted by the announcement of the U.S. Postal Service eBillPay service (now discontinued), surveys the history of mail service vis-à-vis civil rights, from colonial days to the present
    "One such venture was the American Letter Mail Company that had been established by the noted libertarian legal theorist Lysander Spooner. ... in 1845, in response to the fiscal threat posed by private companies, a congressional act imposed draconian fines on private carriers who dared to offer better service at lower rates. ... Spooner had been so effective in demonstrating the superiority of private mail, however, that the post office was virtually compelled to lower its rates significantly thereafter."

    Writings

    Vices Are Not Crimes: A Vindication of Moral Liberty, Mar 1875
    Contrasts crimes and vices, discussing the need to legislate or take other governmental action against the former but not the latter, countering several potential arguments in favor of vice legislation, in particular laws regarding spirituous liquors
    "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. Vices are simply the errors which a man makes in his search after his own happiness. Unlike crimes, they imply no malice toward others, and no interference with their persons or property. "

    Books Authored

    An Essay on the Trial by Jury: [PDF], 1852
    Partial contents: The Right of Juries to Judge the Justice of the Laws - The Trial by Jury, as Defined by Magna Carta - Additional Proofs of the Rights and Duties of Jurors - The Rights and Duties of Juries in Civil Suits - Objections Answered
    Related Topic: Right to Trial by Jury
    The Lysander Spooner Reader:
        by Lysander Spooner, George H. Smith (Introduction), 1992
    Contents: Editorial Preface (Jeffrey Tucker) - Foreword (Sheldon Richman) - Introduction (George H. Smith) - Our Nestor (Benjamin Tucker) - Natural Law - Vices Are Not Crimes - No Treason - Letter to Thomas F. Bayard - Trial by Jury
    The Unconstitutionality of Slavery: , 1860
    Partial contents: What Is Law? - Written Constitutions - The Colonial Charters - Colonial Statutes - The Declaration of Independence - The State Constitutions Of 1789 - The Articles of Confederation - The Constitution of the United States

    The introductory paragraph uses material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.