Front Page Titles (by Subject) Section XII. - 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 XII. - 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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But, in spite of all I have said, or, perhaps, can say, you will probably persist in your idea that the world needs a great deal of lawmaking; that mankind in general are not entitled to have any will, choice, judgment, or conscience of their own; that, if not very wicked, they are at least very ignorant and stupid; that they know very little of what is for their own good, or how to promote their own “interests,” “welfare,” or “prosperity”; that it is therefore necessary that they should be put under guardianship to lawmakers; that these lawmakers, being a very superior race of beings,—wise beyond the rest of their species,—and entirely free from all those selfish passions which tempt common mortals to do wrong,—must be intrusted with absolute and irresponsible dominion over the less favored of their kind; must prescribe to the latter, authoritatively, what they may, and may not, do; and, in general, manage the affairs of this world according to their discretion, free of all accountability to any human tribunals.
And you seem to be perfectly confident that, under this absolute and irresponsible dominion of the lawmakers, the affairs of this world will be rightly managed; that the “interests,” “welfare,” and “prosperity” of “a great and free people” will be properly attended to; that “the greatest good of the greatest number” will be accomplished, etc., etc.
And yet you hold that all this lawmaking, and all this subjection of the great body of the people to the arbitrary, irresponsible dominion of the lawmakers, will not interfere at all with “our liberty,” if only “every citizen” will but keep “a vigilant watch and close scrutiny” of the lawmakers.
Well, perhaps this is all so; although this subjection to the arbitrary will of any man, or body of men, whatever, and under any pretence whatever, seems, on the face of it, to be much more like slavery, than it does like “liberty.”
If, therefore, you really intend to continue this system of lawmaking, it seems indispensable that you should explain to us what you mean by the term “our liberty.”
So far as your address gives us any light on the subject, you evidently mean, by the term “our liberty,” just such, and only such, “liberty,” as the lawmakers may see fit to allow us to have.
You seem to have no conception of any other “liberty” whatever.
You give us no idea of any other “liberty” that we can secure to ourselves, even though “every citizen”—fifty millions and more of them—shall all keep “a vigilant watch and close scrutiny” upon the lawmakers.
Now, inasmuch as the human race always have had all the “liberty” their lawmakers have seen fit to permit them to have; and inasmuch as, under your system of lawmaking, they always will have as much “liberty” as their lawmakers shall see fit to give them; and inasmuch as you apparently concede the right, which the lawmakers have always claimed, of killing all those who are not content with so much “liberty” as their lawmakers have seen fit to allow them,—it seems very plain that you have not added anything to our stock of knowledge on the subject of “our liberty.”
Leaving us thus, as you do, in as great darkness as we ever were, on this all-important subject of “our liberty,” I think you ought to submit patiently to a little questioning on the part of those of us, who feel that all this lawmaking—each and every separate particle of it—is a violation of “our liberty.”
Will you, therefore, please tell us whether any, and, if any, how much, of that natural liberty—of that natural, inherent, inalienable, individual right to liberty—with which it has generally been supposed that God, or Nature, has endowed every human being, will be left to us, if the lawmakers are to continue, as you would have them do, the exercise of their arbitrary, irresponsible dominion over us?
Are you prepared to answer that question?
No. You appear to have never given a thought to any such question as that.
I will therefore answer it for you.
And my answer is, that from the moment it is conceded that any man, or body of men, whatever, under any pretence whatever, have the right to make laws of their own invention, and compel other men to obey them, every vestige of man’s natural and rightful liberty is denied him.
That this is so is proved by the fact that all a man’s natural rights stand upon one and the same basis, viz., that they are the gift of God, or Nature, to him, as an individual, for his own uses, and for his own happiness. If any one of these natural rights may be arbitrarily taken from him by other men, all of them may be taken from him on the same reason. No one of these rights is any more sacred or inviolable in its nature, than are all the others. The denial of any one of these rights is therefore equivalent to a denial of all the others. The violation of any one of these rights, by lawmakers, is equivalent to the assertion of a right to violate all of them.
Plainly, unless all a man’s natural rights are inviolable by lawmakers, none of them are. It is an absurdity to say that a man has any rights of his own, if other men, whether calling themselves a government, or by any other name, have the right to take them from him, without his consent. Therefore the very idea of a lawmaking government necessarily implies a denial of all such things as individual liberty, or individual rights.
From this statement it does not follow that every lawmaking government will, in practice, take from every man all his natural rights. It will do as it pleases about it. It will take some, leaving him to enjoy others, just as its own pleasure or discretion shall dictate at the time. It would defeat its own ends, if it were wantonly to take away all his natural rights,—as, for example, his right to live, and to breathe,—for then he would be dead, and the government could then get nothing more out of him. The most tyrannical government will, therefore, if it have any sense, leave its victims enough liberty to enable them to provide for their own subsistence, to pay their taxes, and to render such military or other service as the government may have need of. But it will do this for its own good, and not for theirs. In allowing them this liberty, it does not at all recognize their right to it, but only consults its own interests.
Now, sir, this is the real character of the government of the United States, as it is of all other lawmaking governments. There is not a single human right, which the government of the United States recognizes as inviolable. It tramples upon any and every individual right, whenever its own will, pleasure, or discretion shall so dictate. It takes men’s property, liberty, and lives whenever it can serve its own purposes by doing so.
All these things prove that the government does not exist at all for the protection of men’s rights; but that it absolutely denies to the people any rights, or any liberty, whatever, except such as it shall see fit to permit them to have for the time being. It virtually declares that it does not itself exist at all for the good of the people, but that the people exist solely for the use of the government.
All these things prove that the government is not one voluntarily established and sustained by the people, for the protection of their natural, inherent, individual rights, but that it is merely a government of usurpers, robbers, and tyrants, who claim to own the people as their slaves, and claim the right to dispose of them, and their property, at their (the usurpers’) pleasure or discretion.
Now, sir, since you may be disposed to deny that such is the real character of the government, I propose to prove it, by evidences so numerous and conclusive that you cannot dispute them.
My proposition, then, is, that there is not a single natural, human right, that the government of the United States recognizes as inviolable; that there is not a single natural, human right, that it hesitates to trample under foot, whenever it thinks it can promote its own interests by doing so.
The proofs of this proposition are so numerous, that only a few of the most important can here be enumerated.
1. The government does not even recognize a man’s natural right to his own life. If it have need of him, for the maintenance of its power, it takes him, against his will (conscripts him), and puts him before the cannon’s mouth, to be blown in pieces, as if he were a mere senseless thing, having no more rights than if he were a shell, a canister, or a torpedo. It considers him simply as so much senseless war material, to be consumed, expended, and destroyed for the maintenance of its power. It no more recognizes his right to have anything to say in the matter, than if he were but so much weight of powder or ball. It does not recognize him at all as a human being, having any rights whatever of his own, but only as an instrument, a weapon, or a machine, to be used in killing other men.
2. The government not only denies a man’s right, as a moral human being, to have any will, any judgment, or any conscience of his own, as to whether he himself will be killed in battle, but it equally denies his right to have any will, any judgment, or any conscience of his own, as a moral human being, as to whether he shall be used as a mere weapon for killing other men. If he refuses to kill any, or all, other men, whom it commands him to kill, it takes his own life, as unceremoniously as if he were but a dog.
Is it possible to conceive of a more complete denial of all a man’s natural, human rights, than is the denial of his right to have any will, judgment, or conscience of his own, either as to his being killed himself, or as to his being used as a mere weapon for killing other men?
3. But in still another way, than by its conscriptions, the government denies a man’s right to any will, choice, judgment, or conscience of his own, in regard either to being killed himself, or used as a weapon in its hands for killing other people.
If, in private life, a man enters into a perfectly voluntary agreement to work for another, at some innocent and useful labor, for a day, a week, a month, or a year, he cannot lawfully be compelled to fulfil that contract; because such compulsion would be an acknowledgment of his right to sell his own liberty. And this is what no one can do.
This right of personal liberty is inalienable. No man can sell it, or transfer it to another; or give to another any right of arbitrary dominion over him. All contracts for such a purpose are absurd and void contracts, that no man can rightfully be compelled to fulfil.
But when a deluded or ignorant young man has once been enticed into a contract to kill others, and to take his chances of being killed himself, in the service of the government, for any given number of years, the government holds that such a contract to sell his liberty, his judgment, his conscience, and his life, is a valid and binding contract; and that if he fails to fulfil it, he may rightfully be shot.
All these things prove that the government recognizes no right of the individual, to his own life, or liberty, or to the exercise of his own will, judgment, or conscience, in regard to his killing his fellow-men, or to being killed himself, if the government sees fit to use him as mere war material, in maintaining its arbitrary dominion over other human beings.
4. The government recognizes no such thing as any natural right of property, on the part of individuals.
This is proved by the fact that it takes, for its own uses, any and every man’s property—when it pleases, and as much of it as it pleases—without obtaining, or even asking, his consent.
This taking of a man’s property, without his consent, is a denial of his right of property; for the right of property is the right of supreme, absolute, and irresponsible dominion over anything that is naturally a subject of property,—that is, of ownership. It is a right against all the world. And this right of property—this right of supreme, absolute, and irresponsible dominion over anything that is naturally a subject of ownership—is subject only to this qualification, viz., that each man must so use his own, as not to injure another.
If A uses his own property so as to injure the person or property of B, his own property may rightfully be taken to any extent that is necessary to make reparation for the wrong he has done.
This is the only qualification to which the natural right of property is subject.
When, therefore, a government takes a man’s property, for its own support, or for its own uses, without his consent, it practically denies his right of property altogether; for it practically asserts that its right of dominion is superior to his.
No man can be said to have any right of property at all, in any thing—that is, any right of supreme, absolute, and irresponsible dominion over any thing—of which any other men may rightfully deprive him at their pleasure.
Now, the government of the United States, in asserting its right to take at pleasure the property of individuals, without their consent, virtually denies their right of property altogether, because it asserts that its right of dominion over it, is superior to theirs.
5. The government denies the natural right of human beings to live on this planet. This it does by denying their natural right to those things that are indispensable to the maintenance of life. It says that, for every thing necessary to the maintenance of life, they must have a special permit from the government; and that the government cannot be required to grant them any other means of living than it chooses to grant them.
All this is shown as follows, viz.:
The government denies the natural right of individuals to take possession of wilderness land, and hold and cultivate it for their own subsistence.
It asserts that wilderness land is the property of the government; and that individuals have no right to take possession of, or cultivate, it, unless by special grant of the government. And if an individual attempts to exercise this natural right, the government punishes him as a trespasser and a criminal.
The government has no more right to claim the ownership of wilderness lands, than it has to claim the ownership of the sunshine, the water, or the atmosphere. And it has no more right to punish a man for taking possession of wilderness land, and cultivating it, without the consent of the government, than it has to punish him for breathing the air, drinking the water, or enjoying the sunshine, without a special grant from the government.
In thus asserting the government’s right of property in wilderness land, and in denying men’s right to take possession of and cultivate it, except on first obtaining a grant from the government,—which grant the government may withhold if it pleases,—the government plainly denies the natural right of men to live on this planet, by denying their natural right to the means that are indispensable to their procuring the food that is necessary for supporting life.
In asserting its right of arbitrary dominion over that natural wealth that is indispensable to the support of human life, it asserts its right to withhold that wealth from those whose lives are dependent upon it. In this way it denies the natural right of human beings to live on the planet. It asserts that government owns the planet, and that men have no right to live on it, except by first getting a permit from the government.
This denial of men’s natural right to take possession of and cultivate wilderness land is not altered at all by the fact that the government consents to sell as much land as it thinks it expedient or profitable to sell; nor by the fact that, in certain cases, it gives outright certain lands to certain persons. Notwithstanding these sales and gifts, the fact remains that the government claims the original ownership of the lands; and thus denies the natural right of individuals to take possession of and cultivate them. In denying this natural right of individuals, it denies their natural right to live on the earth; and asserts that they have no other right to life than the government, by its own mere will, pleasure, and discretion, may see fit to grant them.
In thus denying man’s natural right to life, it of course denies every other natural right of human beings; and asserts that they have no natural right to anything; but that, for all other things, as well as for life itself, they must depend wholly upon the good pleasure and discretion of the government.