Front Page Titles (by Subject) IX. - Address of the Free Constitutionalists to the People of the United States
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IX. - Lysander Spooner, Address of the Free Constitutionalists to the People of the United States 
Address of the Free Constitutionalists to the People of the United States (Boston: Thayer & Eldridge, 1860).
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The palpable truth is, that the four millions of human beings now held in bondage in this country are, in the view of the constitution of the United States, full citizens of the United States, entitled, without any qualification, abatement, or discrimination whatever, to all the rights, privileges, and protection which that constitution guarantees to the white citizens of the United States, and that their citizenship has been withheld from them only by ignorance, and fraud, and force.
Such being the truth in regard to this portion of the citizens of the United States, it is the constitutional duty of both the general and State governments to protect them in their personal liberty, and in all the other rights which those governments secure to the other citizens of the United States.
It is as much the constitutional duty of the general government, as of the State governments, to protect the citizens of the United States in their personal liberty; for if it cannot secure to them their personal liberty, it can secure to them no other of the rights or privileges which it is bound to secure to them.
To enable the general government to secure to the people their personal liberty, it is supplied with all necessary powers. It is authorized to use the writ of habeas corpus, which of itself is sufficient to set at liberty all persons illegally restrained. It is authorized to arm and discipline the people as militia, and thus enable them to do something towards defending their own liberty. It is authorized “to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution” the powers specifically enumerated. That is to say, it is authorized “to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying” home to each individual every right and every privilege which the constitution designs to secure to him; and the United States courts are required to take cognizance “of all cases in law and equity arising under this constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made, or which shall be made, under their authority.” In other words, they are authorized to take cognizance of all cases in which the question to be tried is the right which any individual has under the constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States. The United States are also bound to guarantee to all the citizens of the United States, within the States, the benefits of a republican form of government. There is, then, obviously no lack of powers delegated to the general government, to secure the personal liberty of all its citizens.
That it is as much the duty of the general, as of the State, governments to secure the personal liberty of the people of the United States, will be obvious from the following considerations:—
The people of the United States live under, and are citizens of, two governments, the general and the State governments. These two governments are mainly independent of each other; having, for the most part, distinct powers, distinct spheres of action, and owing distinct duties to the citizen. The purpose of the general government is to secure to the individual the enjoyment of a certain enumerated class of rights and privileges; and the object of the State governments is to secure him in the enjoyment of certain other rights and privileges. But both governments have at least one duty in common, viz., that of securing personal liberty to the citizen. This must necessarily be a duty common to both governments, because the enjoyment of each of the classes of rights and privileges before mentioned, to wit, those that are to be secured by the general government, and those that are to be secured by the State governments, necessarily imply the possession of personal liberty on his part; since without this liberty, none of the other rights or privileges to be secured to him by either government, can be enjoyed. It is necessary, therefore, that each government should have the right to secure his liberty to him, else it cannot secure to him the other rights and privileges which it is bound to secure to him. It is as necessary that the general government should have power to secure to him personal liberty, in order that he may enjoy all the other rights and privileges which the general government is bound to secure to him, as it is that the State governments should have power to secure his personal liberty, in order that he may enjoy all the other rights and privileges which it is the duty of the State governments to secure to him. It would be absurd to say that the general government is bound to secure to him certain rights and privileges, which implied the possession of personal liberty on his part, as an indispensable pre-requisite to his enjoyment of them, and yet that it had no power of its own to secure his liberty; for that would be equivalent to saying that the general government could not perform its own duties to the citizen, unless the State governments should have first placed him in a condition to have those duties performed,—a thing which the State governments might neglect or refuse to do.
The State governments have evidently no more right to interfere to prevent the citizen’s enjoyment of the rights and privileges intended to be secured to him by the general government, than the general government has to interfere to prevent his enjoyment of the rights and privileges intended to be secured to him by the State governments. For example, the State governments have no more right to prevent his going into the post-offices, custom-houses, and court-houses, which the general government has provided for his benefit, than the general government has to prevent his travelling on the highways, or going into the schools, or court-houses, which the State governments have provided for his benefit.
This proposition seems to us so manifestly true as to need no elaboration. And yet, if either of these governments can reduce him to slavery, it can deprive him of all the rights and privileges which the other government is designed to secure to him. In other words, it can deprive that other government of a citizen, and thus abolish that other government itself, so far as that citizen is concerned. Certainly a State government has no more power to do this wrong towards the national government, than the national government has to do a similar wrong towards a State government. In short, neither government has any constitutional power to deprive the other of a citizen, by making him a slave.
Furthermore, each of these two governments has an equal right to defend their common citizens against being enslaved by the other. If, for example, the general government were to attempt to enslave its citizens within a State, the State government would clearly have the right to defend them against such enslavement; because they are its citizens as well as citizens of the United States. And, for the same reason, if a State government attempt to enslave its citizens within the United States, the general government clearly has the same right to resist such enslavement, that the State government would have in the other case; because they are citizens of the United States, as well as of the State.
This power of each government to resist the enslavement of their common citizens by the other, is clearly a power necessary for its self-preservation; a power that must, of necessity, belong to every government that has the power of maintaining its own existence. It must, therefore, as much belong to the general as to the State governments.
Still further: The principal, if not the sole object of our having two governments for the same citizen, would be entirely defeated, if each government had not an equal right to defend him against enslavement by the other. What is the grand object of having two governments over the same citizen? It is, that, if either government prove oppressive, he may fly for protection to the other. This right of flying from the oppression of one government to the protection of the other, makes it more difficult for him to be oppressed, than if he had no alternative but submission to a single government. This certainly is the only important, if not the only possible, advantage of our double system of government. Yet if either of these two governments can enslave their common citizen, and the other has no right to interfere for his protection, the principal, if not the only, benefit of our having two governments, is lost.
But our governments, instead of regarding this great and primary motive for their separate existence, have hitherto ignored it, and acted upon the theory, that it is the duty of each to go to the assistance of the other, when the latter finds its own strength inadequate to the accomplishment of its tyrannical purposes. This we see in the case of fugitive slaves. When a citizen of the United States, reduced to slavery by a State government, or by a private individual with the consent and co-operation of the State government, makes his escape beyond the jurisdiction and power of the State government, the United States government pursues him, recaptures him, and restores him to his tyrants. Thus the citizen, instead of finding his security in the double system of government under which he lives, finds in it only a double power of oppression united against him. What grosser violation of all the rational and legitimate purposes of our double system of government can be conceived of than this?
If these views are correct, it is just as much the constitutional duty, and just as clearly the constitutional right, of the general government to protect the people of the United States against enslavement by the State governments, as it is the constitutional duty and right of the State governments, to protect the same people against enslavement by the general government. The general government is as much set as a guard and a shield against enslavement by the State governments, as the latter are as guards and shields against enslavement by the former.
This view, too, of the object to be accomplished by our double system of government,—viz., the greater security of the citizen against the oppression of his government,—presents, more clearly perhaps than has before been done, the necessity that the general government should determine for itself, independently of the State governments, who are its own citizens, and who are entitled to its protection; for otherwise the general government could have power to protect against a State government only those whom the State government should consent to have thus protected against itself. It would be an absurdity to say that the general government was established to protect the people against the State governments, and yet that it is left to the State governments themselves to say whom the general government may thus protect. To allow the State governments the power to say whom the general government may, and whom it may not, protect against themselves (the State governments), would be depriving the general government of all power to protect any. It would be like allowing a man to protect, against a wolf, all lambs except those whom the wolf should choose to devour.
The conclusion necessarily is, that the general government must determine for itself, independently of the State governments, who are its citizens, and whom it will protect; and, if the general government makes this determination, it can, under the constitution of the United States, make no other determination than that all the native and naturalized inhabitants of the United States are its citizens, and entitled to its protection.