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  • Lysander Spooner

    Lysander Spooner (19 January 1808 – 14 May 1887) was an American political philosopher, essayist, pamphlet writer, abolitionist, legal theorist and entrepreneur of the nineteenth century. He was a strong advocate of the labor movement and severely anti-authoritarian and individualist in his political views.


    Spooner, Lysander (1808-1881), by Randy Barnett, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
    Biographical essay
    Lysander Spooner was a political and legal theorist, a writer, and an abolitionist. ... After writing about how the banking system should be reformed to avoid the kind of speculative collapse he had experienced, Spooner struck out in an entirely new direction. In 1844, he founded the American Letter Mail Company to contest the U.S. Post Office's monopoly on the delivery of first class mail. ... With financial assistance from wealthy New York philanthropist and abolitionist Gerrit Smith, Spooner produced the first volume of his book The Unconstitutionality of Slavery in 1845.


    Lysander Spooner - The Advocates
    247x300 JPEG, grayscale


    19 Jan 1808, in Athol, Massachusetts


    14 May 1887, in Boston, Massachusetts


    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.

    Websites, by Randy 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 |
    Links to essays, columns and other resources about Spooner, and to some of his writings
    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.


    Benjamin Ricketson Tucker, Part 2, by Wendy McElroy, Freedom Daily, Sep 2007
    Biographical essay on Benjamin Tucker from the first issue of Liberty until his death
    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. In only one area did Tucker flatly reject Spooner: intellectual property ... Tucker rejected ownership in ideas except as it arose from an explicit contract between individuals ...
    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 ... Tucker particularly praised Spooner's The Unconstitutionality of Slavery (1845) ... Three of Spooner's economic works—Our Financiers: Their Ignorance, Usurpations, and Frauds; The Law of Prices: A Demonstration of the Necessity for an Indefinite Increase of Money; and Gold and Silver as Standards of Value—first appeared in Tucker's Radical Review. Tucker was also acquainted with Spooner's What is a Dollar? and Financial Imposters published in the New Age, a weekly edited by J.M.L. Babcock.
    The Bill of Rights: Trial by Jury, by Jacob G. Hornberger, Freedom Daily, Jan 2005
    Explains why a trial by a jury of ordinary people was considered an essential constitutional guarantee and discusses jury nullification in real and hypothetical cases
    Lysander Spooner provided one of the best summaries ever of the role of the jury in ... "An Essay on the Trial by Jury":
    For more than six hundred years ... there has been no clearer principle of English or American constitutional law, than that, in criminal cases, it is not only the right and duty of juries to judge what are the facts, what is the law, and what was the moral intent of the accused; but that it is also their right, and their primary and paramount duty, to judge the justice of the law, and to hold all laws invalid, that are, in their opinion, unjust or oppressive ...
    The Challenge to the U.S. Postal Monopoly, 1839-1851 [PDF], by Kelly B. Olds, Cato Journal, 1995
    Analysis of the operation of the U.S. Post Office in the 1840s, including estimates of subsidies to various groups, and discussion of the private competitors and the effects they had on the postal service
    The most controversial business was the American Letter Mail Company, organized by Lysander Spooner. Spooner was not a businessman but a radical political reformer. He set up a mail service between New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore partly to make money but mainly as a challenge to the constitutionality of the postal monopoly. ... Spooner argued the postal monopoly was unconstitutional and in his newspaper advertisements he offered to cooperate with the government in bringing the issue in front of the Supreme Court if the government would leave his company unmolested until the issue was settled ...
    Here are 7 lesser-known classical liberal thinkers for your World Philosophy Day, by Kelly Wright, 17 Nov 2016
    Brief profiles of Spencer, Tucker, Spooner, Paterson, Molinari, Garrison and Herbert, together with a reading recommendation for each one of them
    It's hard to determine where to begin when discussing Lysander Spooner. There's his hugely successful first class mail company that successfully competed with the United States Postal Service to the point that the USPS had to lower their cost for postage in order to compete. That is, until Congress passed legislation effectively banning people from competing with the USPS. Or perhaps we could talk about his work as an abolitionist? Or as an advocate for women's suffrage?
    The Invisible Hand Is a Gentle Hand, by Sharon Harris, 14 Sep 1998
    Originally published at; defends the free market and individual liberty, quoting among others Bastiat, Thomas Jefferson, David and Milton Friedman, John Lott, Isabel Paterson, Proudhon, Adam Smith, Sowell, John Stossel and Walter Williams
    Government theft is more insidious than free-lance theft. Lysander Spooner, one of America's most brilliant political theorists, talked about this in his masterpiece, No Treason. He compared ordinary robbers to tax collectors. The robber, he pointed out, robs you only once—and then goes on his way. The government, on the other hand, robs you year after year after year. Then it has the gall to say it's doing you a service and expects your gratitude.
    The visible fist of government.
    Is Edward Snowden a Lawbreaker?, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 28 Jun 2013
    Considers, in the light of the writings of Lysander Spooner in his "A Letter to Grover Cleveland", whether Edward Snowden "broke the law" by his disclosures of NSA telephone and internet data collection
    The great American libertarian political philosopher Lysander Spooner (1808–1887) applied this principle in his characteristically consistent and rigorous manner ... In 1882 Spooner defined natural law as "the science of justice" discoverable by reason:
    the science of all human rights; of all a man's rights of person and property; of all his rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
    It is the science which alone can tell any man what he can, and cannot, do; what he can, and cannot, have; what he can, and cannot, say, without infringing the rights of any other person. ...
    Related Topics: F. A. Hayek, Law, Roderick T. Long
    Lysander & Limited Government, by Fred Miller, Reason, May 1976
    Argues that Spooner, although critical of the government instituted by the U.S. Constitution, was in favor of a legitimate, limited government, i.e., one that is voluntarily financed
    Lysander Spooner, the great 19th-century critic of the American political system, is widely acclaimed in present-day libertarian circles as an anarchist ... Spooner is opposed to a secret government and to a government of looters. But is he opposed, without qualification, to government? "Evidently not" is the answer suggested by at least two passages in "No Treason #6." ... I conclude that Spooner implicitly disagrees with those who hold that libertarianism entails anarchism, that the existence of government is incompatible with the state of freedom.
    Lysander Spooner (1808-1887) and Foreign Policy, 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, ... and the union shifted to a basis of naked force ... Spooner read law in the 1830s under the old apprentice system in which an aspiring lawyer worked for established jurists while learning the law ... [He] opened up a private postal business in 1844. Congress put him out of business, by statute, in 1845.
    Lysander Spooner - Hero of the Day, The Daily Objectivist, 2000
    Biographical profile published by The Daily Objectivist; excerpted from 18 May 1887 obituary published 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, The Goal Is Freedom, 27 Sep 2013
    Examines contemporaneous warnings about Congress not raising the national debt limit by considering what Spooner wrote in "The Constitution of No Authority" about the legitimacy of the debt
    "On general principles of law and reason," Spooner wrote, "debts contracted in the name of 'the United States,' or of 'the people of the United States,' are of no validity." How could that be?
    It is utterly absurd to pretend that debts to the amount of twenty-five hundred millions of dollars are binding upon thirty-five or forty millions of people, when there is not a particle of legitimate evidence—such as would be required to prove a private debt—that can be produced against any one of them, that either he, or his properly authorized attorney, ever contracted to pay one cent ...
    He has a point.
    Related Topics: Government, Taxation, Voting
    Lysander Spooner on the National Debt, by Sheldon Richman, Future of Freedom, Jan 2014
    Revised version of "The Goal Is Freedom" column of 27 Sep 2013; analyzes Spooner's severe criticisms of the arguments given for the legitimacy of the United States' public debt
    [T]here is no better person to turn to than Lysander Spooner (1808–1887), lawyer, abolitionist, entrepreneur, and libertarian subversive ... [I]n section XVII of his 1870 essay, "The Constitution of No Authority" (Number 6 in his No Treason series), Spooner took up the question of government debt with his signature fresh look. As you might imagine, he left nothing standing. "On general principles of law and reason," Spooner wrote, "debts contracted in the name of 'the United States,' or of 'the people of the United States,' are of no validity."
    Related Topics: No Treason, The State
    Lysander Spooner, Part 1, by Wendy McElroy, Freedom Daily, 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
    Lysander Spooner was born in rural Massachusetts ... and named after Lysander of Sparta, the admiral who destroyed the Athenian fleet during the Peloponnesian War ... [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 ... [H]e opened an unlicensed practice and successfully petitioned the General Court to repeal the offending statute ... Spooner rejected the supernatural and authoritarian aspects of religion. Moreover, he openly attacked the clergy and some Church teachings.
    Lysander Spooner, Part 2, by Wendy McElroy, Freedom Daily, Nov 2005
    Lengthy biographical and bibliographical essay; this second part is from 1852 to Spooner's death, examining An Essay on the Trial by Jury, the No Treason essays and his subsequent influence
    No Treason—which competes with Trial by Jury as Spooner's magnum opus—undoubtedly sprang from the soul-searching that was occasioned by the Civil War ... Spooner's life revolved around "the political" ... and there seemed to be little room left for "the personal." He never married and his personal life is something of a mystery ... Politically, Spooner was a sort of early feminist; he argued that the rights of women derive from the same source as the rights of a man—a shared humanity—and are identical to those of a man. But, personally, he [was] a confirmed bachelor.
    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 ...'
    Peace and Pacifism, by Robert Higgs, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
    Reviews what prominent classical liberals and libertarians had to say on the subject of peace and war, as well as the history of United States wars from the War of 1812 to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the efforts of those who opposed them
    Libertarians who oppose the state's very existence, such as Lysander Spooner ..., also naturally oppose war ... Soon after the U.S. Civil War, Spooner wrote that
    on the part of the North, the war was carried on, not to liberate slaves, but by a government that had always perverted and violated the Constitution, to keep the slaves in bondage; and was still willing to do so, if the slaveholders could be thereby induced to stay in the Union.
    He maintained that northern businessmen had supported the war for self-serving economic reasons, a claim that modern scholarship has confirmed.
    The Political Thought of Étienne de La Boétie, by Murray N. Rothbard, 1975
    Introduction to The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude (Free Life Editions, 1975), translated by Harry Kurz; summarizes 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":
    The ostensible supporters ... are made up of three classes ... 1. Knaves ... 2. Dupes ... 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," ... 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
    ... in 1845 ... private mail companies operated with relative freedom, including carrying first-class mail. One such venture was the American Letter Mail Company that had been established by the noted libertarian legal theorist Lysander Spooner. ... 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.
    The Roots of Modern Libertarian Ideas, by Brian Doherty, Cato Policy Report, Mar 2007
    Survey of the history of libertarian ideas, from ancient China and Greece to 20th century writers; adapted from Radicals for Capitalism (2007)
    The intellectual and political movement for slavery's abolition was led by brave libertarian thinkers, most prominent Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison ... Another great abolitionist and individualist was the Massachusetts-born Lysander Spooner, who wrote empassioned and devastating polemics pointing out how government violated standard bourgeois virtues that Americans otherwise believed in, acting in essence like a gang of brigands and killers yet demanding respect and obedience.
    Unjust Immigration Law Is Not Law, by Sheldon Richman, 21 Nov 2014
    Discusses President Obama's decision to defer deportation of some undocumented immigrants, although three years ago he had said he lacked such authority
    Rather than fall into that thicket, let's get Lysander Spooner on them all. What counts is liberty, and lex iniusta non est lex — an unjust law is not a law. As Spooner wrote Grover Cleveland in 1886,
    Let me then remind you that justice is an immutable, natural principle; and not anything that can be made, unmade, or altered by any human power. ... It is also, at all times, and in all places, the supreme law. And being everywhere and always the supreme law, it is necessarily everywhere and always the only law.
    So if a president unilaterally acts to protect someone's liberty, I say bravo ...
    Related Topics: Rule of Law, Barack Obama


    Vices Are Not Crimes: A Vindication of Moral Liberty, 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 ... And those who imagine that they have nothing to do but to go on attributing the poverty of the poor to their vices, and preaching to them against their vices, will ere long wake up to find that the day for all such talk is past. And the question will then be, not what are men's vices, but what are their rights?


    Introducing Revisionism, by James J. Martin, Steven Springer, Michael Hardesty, Peter Kuetzing, John McCarthy, Reason, Jan 1976
    Topics discussed include: World War II vs. Vietnam War revisionism, genocide, the definition of "aggression" between nations, the Cold War, Lysander Spooner vs. Benjamin Tucker on natural rights, the Columbus complex and individualist anarchism
    MARTIN: ... Spooner was an 18th century man and Tucker was a 19th century man. And they argued from different positions because they were born at different times ... Spooner, born in the aftermath of the American Revolution, and in the generation of the founding of the United States, of course was in an intellectual environment which was immersed with talk about natural rights. Anyone familiar with the rhetoric of the American Revolution can't escape that, which in turn indicates dependence on an even earlier English philosophical tradition which invented the idea of natural rights.

    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 George H. Smith (introduction), Lysander Spooner, 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


    Who is Lysander Spooner?, by The Conscious Resistance, 15 Nov 2016
    Discussion of the chapter "Lysander Spooner, Dissident Among Dissidents" of the book Men Against the State

    The introductory paragraph uses material from the Wikipedia article "Lysander Spooner" as of 4 Jul 2018, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.