Front Page Titles (by Subject) Section XXI. - 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 XXI. - 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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To justify its declaration, that congress has power to alter men’s contracts after they are made, the court dwells upon the fact that, at the times when the legal-tender acts were passed, the government was in peril of its life; and asserts that it had therefore a right to do almost anything for its self-preservation, without much regard to its honesty, or dishonesty, towards private persons. Thus it says:
A civil war was then raging, which seriously threatened the overthrow of the government, and the destruction of the constitution itself. It demanded the equipment and support of large armies and navies, and the employment of money to an extent beyond the capacity of all ordinary sources of supply. Meanwhile the public treasury was nearly empty, and the credit of the government, if not stretched to its utmost tension, bad become nearly exhausted. Moneyed institutions had advanced largely of their means, and more could not be expected of them. They had been compelled to suspend specie payments. Taxation was inadequate to pay even the interest on the debt already incurred, and it was impossible to await the income of additional taxes. The necessity was immediate and pressing. The army was unpaid. There was then due to the soldiers in the field nearly a score of millions of dollars. The requisitions from the War and Navy departments for supplies, exceeded fifty millions, and the current expenditure was over one million per day. . . . . Foreign credit we had none. We say nothing of the overhanging paralysis of trade, and business generally, which threatened loss of confidence in the ability of the government to maintain its continued existence, and therewith the complete destruction of all remaining national credit.
It was at such a time, and in such circumstances, that congress was called upon to devise means for maintaining the army and navy, for securing the large supplies of money needed, and indeed for the preservation of the government created by the constitution. It was at such a time, and in such an emergency, that the legal-tender acts were passed.—12 Wallace 540-1.
In the same case Bradley said:
Can the poor man’s cattle, and horses, and corn be thus taken by the government, when the public exigency requires it, and cannot the rich man’s bonds and notes be in like manner taken to reach the same end?—p. 561.
He also said:
It is absolutely essential to independent national existence that government should have a firm hold on the two great instrumentalities of the sword and the purse, and the right to wield them without restriction, on occasions of national peril. In certain emergencies government must have at its command, not only the personal services—the bodies and lives—of its citizens, but the lesser, though not less essential, power of absolute control over the resources of the country. Its armies must be filled, and its navies manned, by the citizens in person.—p. 563.
Also he said:
The conscription may deprive me of liberty, and destroy my life. . . . . All these are fundamental political conditions on which life, property, and money are respectively held and enjoyed under our system of government, nay, under any system of government. There are times when the exigencies of the State rightly absorb all subordinate considerations of private interest, convenience, and feeling.—p. 565.
Such an attempt as this, to justify one crime, by taking for granted the justice of other and greater crimes, is a rather desperate mode of reasoning, for a court of law; to say nothing of a court of justice. The answer to it is, that no government, however good in other respects—any more than any other good institution—has any right to live otherwise than on purely voluntary support. It can have no right to take either “the poor man’s cattle, and horses, and corn,” or “the rich man’s bonds and notes,” or poor men’s “bodies and lives,” without their consent. And when a government resorts to such measures to save its life, we need no further proof that its time to die has come. A good government, no more than a bad one, has any right to live by robbery, murder, or any other crime.
But so think not the Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. On the contrary, they hold that, in comparison with the preservation of the government, all the rights of the people to property, liberty, and life are worthless things, not to be regarded. So they hold that in such an exigency as they describe, congress had the right to commit any crime against private persons, by which the government could be saved. And among these lawful crimes, the court holds that congress had the right to issue money that should serve as a license to all holders of it, to cheat—or rather openly rob—their creditors.
The court might, with just as much reason, have said that, to preserve the life of the government, congress had the right to issue such money as would authorize all creditors to demand twice the amount of their honest dues from all debtors.
The court might, with just as much reason, have said that, to preserve the life of the government, congress had the right to sell indulgences for all manner of crimes; for theft, robbery, rape, murder, and all other crimes, for which indulgences would bring a price in the market.
Can any one imagine it possible that, if the government had always done nothing but that “equal and exact justice to all men”—which you say it is pledged to do,—but which you must know it has never done,—it could ever have been brought into any such peril of its life, as these judges describe? Could it ever have been necessitated to take either “the poor man’s cattle, and horses, and corn,” or “the rich man’s bonds and notes,” or poor men’s “bodies and lives,” without their consent? Could it ever have been necessitated to “conscript” the poor man—too poor to pay a ransom of three hundred dollars—made thus poor by the tyranny of the government itself—“deprive him of his liberty, and destroy his life”? Could it ever have been necessitated to sell indulgences for crime to either debtors, or creditors, or anybody else? To preserve “the constitution”—a constitution, I repeat, that authorized nothing but “equal and exact justice to all men”—could it ever have been necessitated to send into the field millions of ignorant young men, to cut the throats of other young men as ignorant as themselves—few of whom, on either side, had ever read the constitution, or had any real knowledge of its legal meaning; and not one of whom had ever signed it, or promised to support it, or was under the least obligation to support it?
It is, I think, perfectly safe to say, that not one in a thousand, probably not one in ten thousand, of these young men, who were sent out to butcher others, and be butchered themselves, had any real knowledge of the constitution they were professedly sent out to support; or any reasonable knowledge of the real character and motives of the congresses and courts that profess to administer the constitution. If they had possessed this knowledge, how many of them would have ever gone to the field?
But further. Is it really true that the right of the government to commit all these atrocities:
Are the fundamental political conditions on which life, property, and money are respectively held and enjoyed under our system of government?
If such is the real character of the constitution, can any further proof be required of the necessity that it be buried out of sight at once and forever?
The truth was that the government was in peril, solely because it was not fit to exist. It, and the State governments—all but parts of one and the same system—were rotten with tyranny and crime. And being bound together by no honest tie, and existing for no honest purpose, destruction was the only honest doom to which any of them were entitled. And if we had spent the same money and blood to destroy them, that we did to preserve them, it would have been ten thousand times more creditable to our intelligence and character as a people.
Clearly the court has not strengthened its case at all by this picture of the peril in which the government was placed. It has only shown to what desperate straits a government, founded on usurpation and fraud, and devoted to robbery and oppression, may be brought, by the quarrels that are liable to arise between the different factions—that is, the different bands of robbers—of which it is composed. When such quarrels arise, it is not to be expected that either faction—having never had any regard to human rights, when acting in concert with the other—will hesitate at any new crimes that may be necessary to prolong its existence.
Here was a government that had never had any legitimate existence. It professedly rested all its authority on a certain paper called a constitution; a paper, I repeat, that nobody had ever signed, that few persons had ever read, that the great body of the people had never seen. This government had been imposed, by a few property holders, upon a people too poor, too scattered, and many of them too ignorant, to resist. It had been carried on, for some seventy years, by a mere cabal of irresponsible men, called lawmakers. In this cabal, the several local bands of robbers—the slaveholders of the South, the iron monopolists, the woollen monopolists, and the money monopolists, of the North—were represented. The whole purpose of its laws was to rob and enslave the many—both North and South—for the benefit of a few. But these robbers and tyrants quarreled—as lesser bands of robbers have done—over the division of their spoils. And hence the war. No such principle as justice to anybody—black or white—was the ruling motive on either side.
In this war, each faction—already steeped in crime—plunged into new, if not greater, crimes. In its desperation, it resolved to destroy men and money, without limit, and without mercy, for the preservation of its existence. The northern faction, having more men, money, and credit than the southern, survived the Kilkenny fight. Neither faction cared anything for human rights then, and neither of them has shown any regard for human rights since. “As a war measure,” the northern faction found it necessary to put an end to the one great crime, from which the southern faction had drawn its wealth. But all other government crimes have been more rampant since the war, than they were before. Neither the conquerors, nor the conquered, have yet learned that no government can have any right to exist for any other purpose than the simple maintenance of justice between man and man.
And now, years after the fiendish butchery is over, and after men would seem to have had time to come to their senses, the Supreme Court of the United States, representing the victorious faction, comes forward with the declaration that one of the crimes—the violation of men’s private contracts—resorted to by its faction, in the heat of conflict, as a means of preserving its power over the other, was not only justifiable and proper at the time, but that it is also a legitimate and constitutional power, to be exercised forever hereafter in time of peace!
Mark the knavery of these men. They first say that, because the government was in peril of its life, it had a right to license great crimes against private persons, if by so doing it could raise money for its own preservation. Next they say that, although the government is no longer in peril of its life, it may still go on forever licensing the same crimes as it was before necessitated to license!
They thus virtually say that the government may commit the same crimes in time of peace, that it is necessitated to do in time of war; and, that, consequently, it has the same right to “take the poor man’s cattle, and horses, and corn,” and “the rich man’s bonds and notes,” and poor men’s “bodies and lives,” in time of peace, when no necessity whatever can be alleged, as in time of war, when the government is in peril of its life.
In short, they virtually say, that this government exists for itself alone; and that all the natural rights of the people, to property, liberty, and life, are mere baubles, to be disposed of, at its pleasure, whether in time of peace, or in war.