Front Page Titles (by Subject) Section X. - 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 X. - 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, your idea of the true character of our government is plainly this: you assume that all the natural, inherent, inalienable, individual, human rights of fifty millions of people—all their individual rights to preserve their own lives, and promote their own happiness—have been thrown into one common heap,—into hotchpotch, as the lawyers say: and that this hotchpotch has been given into the hands of some four hundred champion robbers, each of whom has pledged himself to carry off as large a portion of it as possible, to be divided among those men—well known to himself, but who—to save themselves from all responsibility for his acts—have secretly (by secret ballot) appointed him to be their champion.
Sir, if you had assumed that all the people of this country had thrown all their wealth, all their rights, all their means of living, into hotchpotch; and that this hotchpotch had been given over to four hundred ferocious hounds; and that each of these hounds had been selected and trained to bring to his masters so much of this common plunder as he, in the general fight, or scramble, could get off with, you would scarcely have drawn a more vivid picture of the true character of the government of the United States, than you have done in your inaugural address.
No wonder that you are obliged to confess that such a government can be carried on only “amid the din of party strife”; that it will be influenced—you should have said directed—by “purely partisan zeal”; and that it will be attended by “the animosities of political strife, the bitterness of partisan defeat, and the exultation of partisan triumph.”
What gang of robbers, quarrelling over the division of their plunder, could exhibit a more shameful picture than you thus acknowledge to be shown by the government of the United States?
Sir, nothing of all this “din,” and “strife,” and “animosity,” and “bitterness,” is caused by any attempt, on the part of the government, to simply “do equal and exact justice to all men,”—to simply protect every man impartially in all his natural rights to life, liberty, and property. It is all caused simply and solely by the government’s violation of some men’s “rights,” to promote other men’s “interests.” If you do not know this, you are mentally an object of pity.
Sir, men’s “rights” are always harmonious. That is to say, each man’s “rights” are always consistent and harmonious with each and every other man’s “rights.” But their “interests,” as you estimate them, constantly clash; especially such “interests” as depend on government grants of monopolies, privileges, loans, and bounties. And these “interests,” like the interests of other gamblers, clash with a fury proportioned to the amounts at stake. It is these clashing “interests,” and not any clashing “rights,” that give rise to all the strife you have here depicted, and to all this necessity for “that spirit of amity and mutual concession,” which you hold to be indispensable to the accomplishment of such legislation as you say is necessary to the welfare of the country.
Each and every man’s “rights” being consistent and harmonious with each and every other man’s “rights”; and all men’s rights being immutably fixed, and easily ascertained, by a science that is open to be learned and known by all; a government that does nothing but “equal and exact justice to all men”—that simply gives to every man his own, and nothing more to any—has no cause and no occasion for any “political parties.” What are these “political parties” but standing armies of robbers, each trying to rob the other, and to prevent being itself robbed by the other? A government that seeks only to “do equal and exact justice to all men,” has no cause and no occasion to enlist all the fighting men in the nation in two hostile ranks; to keep them always in battle array, and burning with hatred towards each other. It has no cause and no occasion for any “political warfare,” any “political hostility,” any “political campaigns,” any “political contests,” any “political fights,” any “political defeats,” or any “political triumphs.” It has no cause and no occasion for any of those “political leaders,” so called, whose whole business is to invent new schemes of robbery, and organize the people into opposing bands of robbers; all for their own aggrandizement alone. It has no cause and no occasion for the toleration, or the existence, of that vile horde of political bullies, and swindlers, and blackguards, who enlist on one side or the other, and fight for pay; who, year in and year out, employ their lungs and their ink in spreading lies among ignorant people, to excite their hopes of gain, or their fears of loss, and thus obtain their votes. In short, it has no cause and no occasion for all this “din of party strife,” for all this “purely partisan zeal,” for all “the bitterness of partisan defeat,” for all “the exultation of partisan triumph,” nor, worst of all, for any of “that spirit of amity and mutual concession [by which you evidently mean that readiness, “in the halls of national legislation,” to sacrifice some men’s “rights” to promote other men’s “interests”] in which [you say] the constitution had its birth.”
If the constitution does really, or naturally, give rise to all this “strife,” and require all this “spirit of amity and mutual concession,”—and I do not care now to deny that it does,—so much the worse for the constitution. And so much the worse for all those men who, like yourself, swear to “preserve, protect, and defend it.”
And yet you have the face to make no end of professions, or pretences, that the impelling power, the real motive, in all this robbery and strife, is nothing else than “the service of the people,” “their interests,” “the promotion of their welfare,” “good government,” “government by the people,” “the popular will,” “the general weal,” “the achievements of our national destiny,” “the benefits which our happy form of government can bestow,” “the lasting welfare of the country,” “the priceless benefits of the constitution,” “the greatest good to the greatest number,” “the common interest,” “the general welfare,” “the people’s will,” “the mission of the American people,” “our civil policy,” “the genius of our institutions,” “the needs of our people in their home life,” “the settlement and development of the resources of our vast territory,” “the prosperity of our republic,” “the interests and prosperity of all the people,” “the safety and confidence of business interests,” “making the wage of labor sure and steady,” “a due regard to the interests of capital invested and workingmen employed in American industries,” “reform in the administration of the government,” “the application of business principles to public affairs,” “the constant and ever varying wants of an active and enterprising population,” “a firm determination to secure to all the people of the land the full benefits of the best form of government ever vouchsafed to man,” “the blessings of our national life,” etc., etc.
Sir, what is the use of such a deluge of unmeaning words, unless it be to gloss over, and, if possible, hide, the true character of the acts of the government?
Such “generalities” as these do not even “glitter.” They are only the stale phrases of the demagogue, who wishes to appear to promise everything, but commits himself to nothing. Or else they are the senseless talk of a mere political parrot, who repeats words he has been taught to utter, without knowing their meaning. At best, they are the mere gibberish of a man destitute of all political ideas, but who imagines that “good government,” “the general welfare,” “the common interest,” “the best form of government ever vouchsafed to man,” etc., etc., must be very good things, if anybody can ever find out what they are. There is nothing definite, nothing real, nothing tangible, nothing honest, about them. Yet they constitute your entire stock in trade. In resorting to them—in holding them up to public gaze as comprising your political creed—you assume that they have a meaning; that they are matters of overruling importance; that they require the action of an omnipotent, irresponsible, lawmaking government; that all these “interests” must be represented, and can be secured, only “in the halls of national legislation”; and by such political hounds as have been selected and trained, and sent there, solely that they may bring off, to their respective masters, as much as possible of the public plunder they hold in their hands; that is, as much as possible of the earnings of all the honest wealth-producers of the country.
And when these masters count up the spoils that their hounds have thus brought home to them, they set up a corresponding shout that “the public prosperity,” “the common interest,” and “the general welfare” have been “advanced.” And the scoundrels by whom the work has been accomplished, “in the halls of national legislation,” are trumpeted to the world as “great statesmen.” And you are just stupid enough to be deceived into the belief, or just knave enough to pretend to be deceived into the belief, that all this is really the truth.
One would infer from your address that you think the people of this country incapable of doing anything for themselves, individually; that they would all perish, but for the employment given them by that “large variety of diverse and competing interests”—that is, such purely selfish schemes—as may be “persistently seeking recognition of their claims . . . . . in the halls of national legislation,” and secure for themselves such monopolies and advantages as congress may see fit to grant them.
Instead of your recognizing the right of each and every individual to judge of, and provide for, his own well-being, according to the dictates of his own judgment, and by the free exercise of his own powers of body and mind,—so long as he infringes the equal rights of no other person,—you assume that fifty millions of people, who never saw you, and never will see you, who know almost nothing about you, and care very little about you, are all so weak, ignorant, and degraded as to be humbly and beseechingly looking to you—and to a few more lawmakers (so called) whom they never saw, and never will see, and of whom they know almost nothing—to enlighten, direct, and “control” them in their daily labors to supply their own wants, and promote their own happiness!
You thus assume that these fifty millions of people are so debased, mentally and morally, that they look upon you and your associate lawmakers as their earthly gods, holding their destinies in your hands, and anxiously studying their welfare; instead of looking upon you—as most of you certainly ought to be looked upon—as a mere cabal of ignorant, selfish, ambitious, rapacious, and unprincipled men, who know very little, and care to know very little, except how you can get fame, and power, and money, by trampling upon other men’s rights, and robbing them of the fruits of their labor.
Assuming yourself to be the greatest of these gods, charged with the “welfare” of fifty millions of people, you enter upon the mighty task with all the mock solemnity, and ridiculous grandiloquence, of a man ignorant enough to imagine that he is really performing a solemn duty, and doing an immense public service, instead of simply making a fool of himself. Thus you say:
Fellow citizens: In the presence of this vast assemblage of my countrymen, I am about to supplement and seal, by the oath which I shall take, the manifestation of the will of a great and free people. In the exercise of their power and right of self-government, they have committed to one of their fellow citizens a supreme and sacred trust, and he here consecrates himself to their service. This impressive ceremony adds little to the solemn sense of responsibility with which I contemplate the duty I owe to all the people of the land. Nothing can relieve me from anxiety lest by any act of mine their interests [not their rights] may suffer, and nothing is needed to strengthen my resolution to engage every faculty and effort in the promotion of their welfare. [Not in “doing equal and exact justice to all men.” After having once described the government as one “pledged to do equal and exact justice to all men,” you drop that subject entirely, and wander off into “interests,” and “welfare,” and an astonishing number of other equally unmeaning things.]
Sir, you would have no occasion to take all this tremendous labor and responsibility upon yourself, if you and your lawmakers would but keep your hands off the “rights” of your “countrymen.” Your “countrymen” would be perfectly competent to take care of their own “interests,” and provide for their own “welfare,” if their hands were not tied, and their powers crippled, by such fetters as men like you and your lawmakers have fastened upon them.
Do you know so little of your “countrymen,” that you need to be told that their own strength and skill must be their sole reliance for their own well-being? Or that they are abundantly able, and willing, and anxious above all other things, to supply their own “needs in their home life,” and secure their own “welfare”? Or that they would do it, not only without jar or friction, but as their highest duty and pleasure, if their powers were not manacled by the absurd and villainous laws you propose to execute upon them? Are you so stupid as to imagine that putting chains on men’s hands, and fetters on their feet, and insurmountable obstacles in their paths, is the way to supply their “needs,” and promote their “welfare”? Do you think your “countrymen” need to be told, either by yourself, or by any such gang of ignorant or unprincipled men as all lawmakers are, what to do, and what not to do, to supply their own “needs in their home life”? Do they not know how to grow their own food, make their own clothing, build their own houses, print their own books, acquire all the knowledge, and create all the wealth, they desire, without being domineered over, and thwarted in all their efforts, by any set of either fools or villains, who may call themselves their lawmakers? And do you think they will never get their eyes open to see what blockheads, or impostors, you and your lawmakers are? Do they not now—at least so far as you will permit them to do it—grow their own food, build their own houses, make their own clothing, print their own books? Do they not make all the scientific discoveries and mechanical inventions, by which all wealth is created? Or are all these things done by “the government”? Are you an idiot, that you can talk as you do, about what you and your lawmakers are doing to provide for the real wants, and promote the real “welfare,” of fifty millions of people?