Front Page Titles (by Subject) Section IX. - 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
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Section IX. - Lysander Spooner, 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 
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 (Boston: Benjamin R. Tucker Publisher, 1886).
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Sir, if a government is to “do equal and exact justice to all men,” it must do simply that, and nothing more. If it does more than that to any,—that is, if it gives monopolies, privileges, exemptions, bounties, or favors to any,—it can do so only by doing injustice to more or less others. It can give to one only what it takes from others; for it has nothing of its own to give to any one. The best that it can do for all, and the only honest thing it can do for any, is simply to secure to each and every one his own rights,—the rights that nature gave him,—his rights of person, and his rights of property; leaving him, then, to pursue his own interests, and secure his own welfare, by the free and full exercise of his own powers of body and mind; so long as he trespasses upon the equal rights of no other person.
If he desires any favors from any body, he must, I repeat, depend upon the voluntary kindness of such of his fellow men as may be willing to grant them. No government can have any right to grant them; because no government can have a right to take from one man any thing that is his, and give it to another.
If this be the only true idea of an honest government, it is plain that it can have nothing to do with men’s “interests,” “welfare,” or “prosperity,” as distinguished from their “rights.” Being secured in their rights, each and all must take the sole charge of, and have the sole responsibility for, their own “interests,” “welfare,” and “prosperity.”
By simply protecting every man in his rights, a government necessarily keeps open to every one the widest possible field, that he honestly can have, for such industry as he may choose to follow. It also insures him the widest possible field for obtaining such capital as he needs for his industry, and the widest possible markets for the products of his labor. With the possession of these rights, he must be content.
No honest government can go into business with any individuals, be they many, or few. It cannot furnish capital to any, nor prohibit the loaning of capital to any. It can give to no one any special aid to competition; nor protect any one from competition. It must adhere inflexibly to the principle of entire freedom for all honest industry, and all honest traffic. It can do to no one any favor, nor render to any one any assistance, which it withholds from another. It must hold the scales impartially between them; taking no cognizance of any man’s “interests,” “welfare,” or “prosperity,” otherwise than by simply protecting him in his “rights.”
In opposition to this view, lawmakers profess to have weighty duties laid upon them, to promote men’s “interests,” “welfare,” and “prosperity,” as distinguished from their “rights.” They seldom have any thing to say about men’s “rights.” On the contrary, they take it for granted that they are charged with the duty of promoting, superintending, directing, and controlling the “business” of the country. In the performance of this supposed duty, all ideas of individual “rights” are cast aside. Not knowing any way—because there is no way—in which they can impartially promote all men’s “interests,” “welfare,” and “prosperity,” otherwise than by protecting impartially all men’s rights, they boldly proclaim that “individual rights must not be permitted to stand in the way of the public good, the public welfare, and the business interests of the country.”
Substantially all their lawmaking proceeds upon this theory; for there is no other theory, on which they can find any justification whatever for any lawmaking at all. So they proceed to give monopolies, privileges, bounties, grants, loans, etc., etc., to particular persons, or classes of persons; justifying themselves by saying that these privileged persons will “give employment” to the unprivileged; and that this employment, given by the privileged to the unprivileged, will compensate the latter for the loss of their “rights.” And they carry on their lawmaking of this kind to the greatest extent they think is possible, without causing rebellion and revolution, on the part of the injured classes.
Sir, I am sorry to see that you adopt this lawmaking theory to its fullest extent; that although, for once only, and in a dozen words only,—and then merely incidentally,—you describe the government as “a government pledged to do equal and exact justice to all men,” you show, throughout the rest of your address, that you have no thought of abiding by that principle; that you are either utterly ignorant, or utterly regardless, of what that principle requires of you; that the government, so far as your influence goes, is to be given up to the business of lawmaking,—that is, to the business of abolishing justice, and establishing injustice in its place; that you hold it to be the proper duty and function of the government to be constantly looking after men’s “interests,” “welfare,” “prosperity,” etc., etc., as distinguished from their rights; that it must consider men’s “rights” as no guide to the promotion of their “interests”; that it must give favors to some, and withhold the same favors from others; that in order to give these favors to some, it must take from others their rights; that, in reality, it must traffic in both men’s interests and their rights; that it must keep open shop, and sell men’s interests and rights to the highest bidders; and that this is your only plan for promoting “the general welfare,” “the common interest,” etc., etc.
That such is your idea of the constitutional duties and functions of the government, is shown by different parts of your address: but more fully, perhaps, by this:
The large variety of diverse and competing interests subject to federal control, persistently seeking recognition of their claims, need give us no fear that the greatest good of the greatest number will fail to be accomplished, if, in the halls of national legislation, that spirit of amity and mutual concession shall prevail, in which the constitution had its birth. If this involves the surrender or postponement of private interests, and the abandonment of local advantages, compensation will be found in the assurance that thus the common interest is subserved, and the general welfare advanced.
What is all this but saying that the government is not at all an institution for “doing equal and exact justice to all men,” or for the impartial protection of all men’s rights; but that it is its proper business to take sides, for and against, a “large variety of diverse and competing interests”; that it has this “large variety of diverse and competing interests” under its arbitrary “control”; that it can, at its pleasure, make such laws as will give success to some of them, and insure the defeat of others; that these “various, diverse, and competing interests” will be “persistently seeking recognition of their claims . . . . in the halls of national legislation,”—that is, will be “persistently” clamoring for laws to be made in their favor; that, in fact, “the halls of national legislation” are to be mere arenas, into which the government actually invites the advocates and representatives of all the selfish schemes of avarice and ambition that unprincipled men can devise; that these schemes will there be free to “compete” with each other in their corrupt offers for government favor and support; and that it is to be the proper and ordinary business of the lawmakers to listen to all these schemes; to adopt some of them, and sustain them with all the money and power of the government; and to “postpone,” “abandon,” oppose, and defeat all others; it being well known, all the while, that the lawmakers will, individually, favor, or oppose, these various schemes, according to their own irresponsible will, pleasure, and discretion,—that is, according as they can better serve their own personal interests and ambitions by doing the one or the other.
Was a more thorough scheme of national villainy ever invented?
Sir, do you not know that in this conflict, between these “various, diverse, and competing interests,” all ideas of individual “rights”—all ideas of “equal and exact justice to all men”—will be cast to the winds; that the boldest, the strongest, the most fraudulent, the most rapacious, and the most corrupt, men will have control of the government, and make it a mere instrument for plundering the great body of the people?
Your idea of the real character of the government is plainly this: The lawmakers are to assume absolute and irresponsible “control” of all the financial resources, all the legislative, judicial, and executive powers, of the government, and employ them all for the promotion of such schemes of plunder and ambition as they may select from all those that may be submitted to them for their approval; that they are to keep “the halls of national legislation” wide open for the admission of all persons having such schemes to offer; and that they are to grant monopolies, privileges, loans, and bounties to all such of these schemes as they can make subserve their own individual interests and ambitions, and reject or “postpone” all others. And that there is to be no limit to their operations of this kind, except their fear of exciting rebellion and resistance on the part of the plundered classes.
And you are just fool enough to tell us that such a government as this may be relied on to “accomplish the greatest good to the greatest number,” “to subserve the common interest,” and “advance the general welfare,” “if,” only, “in the halls of national legislation, that spirit of amity and mutual concession shall prevail, in which the constitution had its birth.”
You here assume that “the general welfare” is to depend, not upon the free and untrammelled enterprise and industry of the whole people, acting individually, and each enjoying and exercising all his natural rights; but wholly or principally upon the success of such particular schemes as the government may take under its special “control.” And this means that “the general welfare” is to depend, wholly or principally, upon such privileges, monopolies, loans, and bounties as the government may grant to more or less of that “large variety of diverse and competing interests”—that is, schemes—that may be “persistently” pressed upon its attention.
But as you impliedly acknowledge that the government cannot take all these “interests” (schemes) under its “control,” and bestow its favors upon all alike, you concede that some of them must be “surrendered,” “postponed,” or “abandoned”; and that, consequently, the government cannot get on at all, unless, “in the halls of national legislation, that spirit of amity and mutual concession shall prevail, in which the constitution had its birth.”
This “spirit of amity and mutual concession in the halls of legislation,” you explain to mean this: a disposition, on the part of the lawmakers respectively—whose various schemes of plunder cannot all be accomplished, by reason of their being beyond the financial resources of the government, or the endurance of the people—to “surrender” some of them, “postpone” others, and “abandon” others, in order that the general business of robbery may go on to the greatest extent possible, and that each one of the lawmakers may succeed with as many of the schemes he is specially intrusted with, as he can carry through by means of such bargains, for mutual help, as he may be able to make with his fellow lawmakers.
Such is the plan of government, to which you say that you “consecrate” yourself, and “engage your every faculty and effort.”
Was a more shameless avowal ever made?
You cannot claim to be ignorant of what crimes such a government will commit. You have had abundant opportunity to know—and if you have kept your eyes open, you do know—what these schemes of robbery have been in the past; and from these you can judge what they will be in the future.
You know that under such a system, every senator and representative—probably without an exception—will come to the congress as the champion of the dominant scoundrelisms of his own State or district; that he will be elected solely to serve those “interests,” as you call them; that in offering himself as a candidate, he will announce the robbery, or robberies, to which all his efforts will be directed; that he will call these robberies his “policy”; or if he be lost to all decency, he will call them his “principles”; that they will always be such as he thinks will best subserve his own interests, or ambitions; that he will go to “the halls of national legislation” with his head full of plans for making bargains with other lawmakers—as corrupt as himself—for mutual help in carrying their respective schemes.
Such has been the character of our congresses nearly, or quite, from the beginning. It can scarcely be said that there has ever been an honest man in one of them. A man has sometimes gained a reputation for honesty, in his own State or district, by opposing some one or more of the robberies that were proposed by members from other portions of the country. But such a man has seldom, or never, deserved his reputation; for he has, generally, if not always, been the advocate of some one or more schemes of robbery, by which more or less of his own constituents were to profit, and which he knew it would be indispensable that he should advocate, in order to give him votes at home.
If there have ever been any members, who were consistently honest throughout,—who were really in favor of “doing equal and exact justice to all men,”—and, of course, nothing more than that to any,—their numbers have been few; so few as to have left no mark upon the general legislation. They have but constituted the exceptions that proved the rule. If you were now required to name such a lawmaker, I think you would search our history in vain to find him.
That this is no exaggerated description of our national lawmaking, the following facts will prove.
For the first seventy years of the government, one portion of the lawmakers would be satisfied with nothing less than permission to rob one-sixth, or one-seventh, of the whole population, not only of their labor, but even of their right to their own persons. In 1860, this class of lawmakers comprised all the senators and representatives from fifteen, of the then thirty-three, States.*
This body of lawmakers, standing always firmly together, and capable of turning the scale for, or against, any scheme of robbery, in which northern men were interested, but on which northern men were divided,—such as navigation acts, tariffs, bounties, grants, war, peace, etc.,—could purchase immunity for their own crime, by supporting such, and so many, northern crimes—second only to their own in atrocity—as could be mutually agreed on.
In this way the slaveholders bargained for, and secured, protection for slavery and the slave trade, by consenting to such navigation acts as some of the northern States desired, and to such tariffs on imports—such as iron, coal, wool, woollen goods, etc.,—as should enable the home producers of similar articles to make fortunes by robbing everybody else in the prices of their goods.
Another class of lawmakers have been satisfied with nothing less than such a monopoly of money, as should enable the holders of it to suppress, as far as possible, all industry and traffic, except such as they themselves should control; such a monopoly of money as would put it wholly out of the power of the great body of wealth-producers to hire the capital needed for their industries; and thus compel them—especially the mechanical portions of them—by the alternative of starvation—to sell their labor to the monopolists of money, for just such prices as these latter should choose to pay. This monopoly of money has also given, to the holders of it, a control, so nearly absolute, of all industry—agricultural as well as mechanical—and all traffic, as has enabled them to plunder all the producing classes in the prices of their labor, or the products of their labor.
Have you been blind, all these years, to the existence, or the effects, of this monopoly of money?
Still another class of lawmakers have demanded unequal taxation on the various kinds of home property, that are subject to taxation; such unequal taxation as would throw heavy burdens upon some kinds of property, and very light burdens, or no burdens at all, upon other kinds.
And yet another class of lawmakers have demanded great appropriations, or loans, of money, or grants of lands, to enterprises intended to give great wealth to a few, at the expense of everybody else.
These are some of the schemes of downright and outright robbery, which you mildly describe as “the large variety of diverse and competing interests, subject to federal control, persistently seeking recognition of their claims . . . . . in the halls of national legislation”; and each having its champions and representatives among the lawmakers.
You know that all, or very nearly all, the legislation of congress is devoted to these various schemes of robbery; and that little, or no, legislation goes through, except by means of such bargains as these lawmakers may enter into with each other, for mutual support of their respective robberies. And yet you have the mendacity, or the stupidity, to tell us that so much of this legislation as does go through, may be relied on to “accomplish the greatest good to the greatest number,” to “subserve the common interest,” and “advance the general welfare.”
And when these schemes of robbery become so numerous, atrocious, and unendurable that they can no longer be reconciled “in the halls of national legislation,” by “surrendering” some of them, “postponing” others, and “abandoning” others, you assume—for such has been the prevailing opinion, and you say nothing to the contrary—that it is the right of the strongest party, or parties, to murder a half million of men, if that be necessary,—and as we once did,—not to secure liberty or justice to any body,—but to compel the weaker of these would-be robbers to submit to all such robberies as the stronger ones may choose to practise upon them.
[* ] In the Senate they stood thirty to thirty-six, in the house ninety to one hundred and forty-seven, in the two branches united one hundred and twenty to one hundred and eighty-three, relatively to the non-slaveholding members.
From the foundation of the government—without a single interval, I think—the lawmakers from the slaveholding States had been, relatively, as strong, or stronger, than in 1860.