Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XVI.: THE SUPREME POWER OF A STATE. - The Unconstitutionality of Slavery: Part Second
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CHAPTER XVI.: “THE SUPREME POWER OF A STATE.” - Lysander Spooner, The Unconstitutionality of Slavery: Part Second 
The Unconstitutionality of Slavery: Part Second (Boston: Bela Marsh, 1860).
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“THE SUPREME POWER OF A STATE.”
If any additional argument were needed to enforce the authority of natural law, it would be found in the nature of the only opposing authority, to wit, the authority of “the supreme power of the state,” as it is called.
In most “states,” “the supreme power” is obtained by force, and rests upon force; and its mandates do not necessarily have any other authority than what force can give them.
But in this country, “the supreme power” is acknowledged, in theory, to rest with the people. Our constitutions purport to be established by “the people,” and, in theory, “all the people” consent to such government as the constitutions authorize. But this consent of “the people” exists only in theory. It has no existence in fact. Government is in reality established by the few; and these few assume the consent of all the rest, without any such consent being actually given. Let us see if such be not the fact.
Only the male adults are allowed to vote either in the choice of delegates to form constitutions, or in the choice of legislators under the constitutions. These voters comprise not more than one fifth of the population. A bare majority of these voters,—that is, a little more than one tenth of the whole people,—choose the delegates and representatives. And then a bare majority of these delegates and representatives, (which majority were chosen by, and, consequently, represent but little more than one twentieth of the whole people,) adopt the constitution, and enact the statutes. Thus the actual makers of constitutions and statutes cannot be said to be the representatives of but little more than one twentieth of the people whose rights are affected by their action.
In fact, not one twentieth, but only a little more than one fortieth, of the people, are necessarily represented in our statutory legislation, state and national; for, in the national legislature, and in nearly all the state legislatures, a bare majority of the legislative bodies constitute a quorum, and a bare majority of that quorum are sufficient to enact the laws. The result, then, is substantially this. Not more than one fifth of the people vote. A bare majority of that fifth, (being about one tenth of the whole,) choose the legislators. A bare majority of the legislators, (representing but about one twentieth of the people,) constitute a quorum. A bare majority of the quorum, (representing but about one fortieth of the people.) are sufficient to make the laws.
Finally. Even the will of this one fortieth of the people cannot be said to be represented in the general legislation, because the representative is necessarily chosen for his opinions on one, or at most a few, important topics, when, in fact, he legislates on an hundred, or a thousand others, in regard to many, perhaps most, of which, he differs in opinion from those who actually voted for him. He can, therefore, with certainty, be said to represent nobody but himself.
Yet the statutory and constitutional law, that is manufactured in this ridiculous and fraudulent manner, is claimed to be the will of “the supreme power of the state;” and even though it purport to authorize the invasion, or even the destruction, of the natural rights of large bodies of the people,—men, women, and children,—it is, nevertheless, held to have been established by the consent of the whole people, and to be of higher authority than the principles of justice and natural law. And our judges, with a sanctimony as disgusting as it is hypocritical, continually offer these statutes and constitutions as their warrant for such violations of men’s rights, as, if perpetrated by them in their private capacities, would bring upon them the doom which they themselves pronounce upon felons.*
[* ] The objection stated in the text, to our present system of legislation, will not be obviated in principle, by assuming that the male adults are natural guardians of women and children, as they undoubtedly are of children, and perhaps, also, in some sense, of women. But if they are their natural guardians, they are their guardians only for the purpose of protecting their rights; not for the purpose of taking them away. Nevertheless, suppose, for the sake of the argument, that the women and children are really and rightfully represented through the male adults, the objection will still remain that the legislators are chosen by a bare majority of the voters, (representing a bare majority of the people;) and then, a bare majority of the legislators chosen constitute a quorum; and a bare majority of this quorum make the laws. So that, even then, the actual law-makers represent but little more than one eighth of the people.
If the principle is to be acted upon, that the majority have a right to rule arbitrarily, there is no legitimate way of carrying out that principle, but by requiring, either that a majority of the whole people, (or of the voters,) should vote in favor of every separate law, or by requiring entire unanimity in the representative bodies, who actually represent only a majority of the people.
But the principle is utterly false, that a majority, however large, have any right to rule so as to violate the natural rights of any single individual. It is as unjust for millions of men to murder, ravish, enslave, rob, or otherwise injure a single individual, as it is for another single individual to do it.