The question of treason is distinct from that of slavery; and is the same that it would have been, if free States, instead of slave States, had seceded. On the part of the North, the war was carried on, not to liberate the slaves, but by a government that had always perverted and violated the Constitution, to keep the slaves in bondage; and was still willing to do so, if the slaveholders could be thereby induced to stay in the Union. The principle, on which the war was waged by the North, was simply this: That men may rightfully be compelled to submit to, and support, a government that they do not want; and that resistance, on their part, makes them traitors and criminals. No principle, that is possible to be named, can be more self-evidently false than this; or more self-evidently fatal to all political freedom.
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The first and second numbers of this series were published in For reasons not necessary to be explained, the sixth is now published in advance of the third, fourth and fifth. The Constitution has no inherent authority or obligation.
It has no authority or obligation at all, unless as a contract between man and man. And it does not so much as even purport to be a contract between persons now existing. It purports, at most, to be only a contract between persons living eighty years ago.
And it can be supposed to have been a contract then only between persons who had already come to years of discretion, so as to be competent to make reasonable and obligatory contracts.
Furthermore, we know, historically, that only a small portion even of the people then existing were consulted on the subject, or asked, or permitted to express either their consent or dissent in any formal manner. Those persons, if any, who did give their consent formally, are all dead now. Most of them have been dead forty, fifty, sixty, or seventy years. And the Constitution, so far as it was their contract, died with them. They had no natural power or right to make it obligatory upon their children.
It is not only plainly impossible, in the nature of things, that they could bind their posterity, but they did not even attempt to bind them. Let us see. Its language is:. It is plain, in the first place, that this language, as an agreement, purports to be only what it at most really was, viz: a contract between the people then existing; and, of necessity, binding, as a contract, only upon those then existing.
It only says, in effect, that their hopes and motives in adopting it were that it might prove useful to their posterity, as well as to themselves, by promoting their union, safety, tranquillity, liberty, etc.
This agreement, as an agreement, would clearly bind nobody but the people then existing. It would only indicate that the supposed welfare of their posterity was one of the motives that induced the original parties to enter into the agreement. When a man says he is building a house for himself and his posterity, he does not mean to be understood as saying that he has any thought of binding them, nor is it to be inferred that he Edition: current; Page: [ 5 ] is so foolish as to imagine that he has any right or power to bind them, to live in it.
So far as they are concerned, he only means to be understood as saying that his hopes and motives, in building it, are that they, or at least some of them, may find it for their happiness to live in it.
So when a man says he is planting a tree for himself and his posterity, he does not mean to be understood as saying that he has any thought of compelling them, nor is it to be inferred that he is such a simpleton as to imagine that he has any right or power to compel them, to eat the fruit. So far as they are concerned, he only means to say that his hopes and motives, in planting the tree, are that its fruit may be agreeable to them. So it was with those who originally adopted the Constitution.
Moreover, no body of men, existing at any one time, have the power to create a perpetual corporation. A corporation can become practically perpetual only by the voluntary accession of new members, as the old ones die off. But for this voluntary accession of new members, the corporation necessarily dies with the death of those who originally composed it. If, then, those who established the Constitution, had no power to bind, and did not attempt to bind, their posterity, the question arises, whether their posterity have bound themselves?
If they have done so, they can have done so in only one or both of these two ways, viz. Let us consider these two matters, voting and tax paying, separately.
And first of voting. All the voting that has ever taken place under the Constitution, has been of such a kind that it not only did not pledge the whole people to support the Constitution, but it did not even pledge any one of them to do so, as the following considerations show. In the very nature of things, the act of voting could bind nobody but the actual voters.
But owing to the property qualifications required, it is probable that, during the first twenty or thirty years under the Constitution, not more than one tenth, fifteenth, or perhaps twentieth of the whole population black and white, men, women, and minors were permitted to vote. Consequently, so far as voting was concerned, not more than one tenth, fifteenth, or twentieth of those then existing, could have incurred any obligation to support the Constitution.
At the present time, it is probable that not more than one sixth of the whole population are permitted to vote. Consequently, so far as voting is concerned, the other five-sixths can have given no pledge that they will support the Constitution.
Of the one-sixth that are permitted to vote, probably not more than two-thirds about one-ninth of the whole population have usually voted. Many never vote at all. Many vote only once in two, three, five, or ten years, in periods of great excitement. No one, by voting, can be said to pledge himself for any longer period than that for which he votes.
If, for example, I vote for an officer who is to hold his office for only a year, I cannot be said to have thereby pledged myself to support the government beyond that term. Therefore, on the ground of actual voting, it probably cannot be said that more than one-ninth, or one-eighth, of the whole population are usually under any pledge to support the Constitution.
It cannot be said that, by voting, a man pledges himself to support the Constitution, unless the act of voting be a perfectly voluntary one on his part.
Yet the act of voting cannot properly be called a voluntary one on the part of any very large number of those who do vote. It is rather a measure of necessity imposed upon them by others, than one of their own choice. On the contrary, it is to be considered that, without his consent having even been asked a man finds himself environed by a government that he cannot resist; a government that forces him to pay money, render service, and forego the exercise of many of his natural rights, under peril of weighty punishments.
He sees, too, that other men practise this tyranny over him by the use of the ballot. He sees further, that, if he will but use the ballot Edition: current; Page: [ 8 ] himself, he has some chance of relieving himself from this tyranny of others, by subjecting them to his own. In short, he finds himself, without his consent, so situated that, if he use the ballot, he may become a master; if he does not use it, he must become a slave. And he has no other alternative than these two.
In self-defence, he attempts the former. His case is analogous to that of a man who has been forced into battle, where he must either kill others, or be killed himself. Because, to save his own life in battle, a man attempts to take the lives of his opponents, it is not to be inferred that the battle is one of his own choosing. Neither in contests with the ballot—which is a mere substitute for a bullet—because, as his only chance of self-preservation, a man uses a ballot, is it to be inferred that the contest is one into which he voluntarily entered; that he voluntarily set up all his own natural rights, as a stake against those of others, to be lost or won by the mere power of numbers.
On the contrary, it is to be considered that, in an exigency into which he had been forced by others, and in which no other means of self-defence offered, he, as a matter of necessity, used the only one that was left to him. But it would not, therefore, be a legitimate inference that the government itself, that crushes them, was one which they had voluntarily set up, or ever consented to.
Consequently we have no proof that any very large portion, even of the actual voters of the United States, ever really and voluntarily consented to the Constitution, even for the time being. Nor can we ever have such proof, until every man is left perfectly free to consent, or not, without thereby subjecting himself or his property to be disturbed or injured by others. As we can have no legal knowledge as to who votes from choice, and who from the necessity thus forced upon him, we can have no legal knowledge, as to any particular individual, that he voted from choice; or, consequently, that by voting, he consented, or pledged himself, to support the government.
Legally Edition: current; Page: [ 9 ] speaking, therefore, the act of voting utterly fails to pledge any one to support the government. It utterly fails to prove that the government rests upon the voluntary support of any body. On general principles of law and reason, it cannot be said that the government has any voluntary supporters at all, until it can be distinctly shown who its voluntary supporters are.
As taxation is made compulsory on all, whether they vote or not, a large proportion of those who vote, no doubt do so to prevent their own money being used against themselves; when, in fact, they would have gladly abstained from voting, if they could thereby have saved themselves from taxation alone, to say nothing of being saved from all the other usurpations and tyrannies of the government.
It is, in fact, no proof at all. And as we can have no legal knowledge as to who the particular individuals are, if there are any, who are willing to be taxed for the sake of voting, or who would prefer freedom from taxation to the privilege of voting, we can have no legal knowledge that any particular individual consents to be taxed for the sake of voting; or, consequently, consents to support the Constitution.
At nearly all elections, votes are given for various candidates for the same office. Those who vote for the unsuccessful candidates cannot properly be said to have voted to sustain the Constitution. They may, with more reason, be supposed to have voted, not to support the Constitution, but specially to prevent the tyranny which they anticipate the successful candidate intends to practise upon them under color of the Constitution; and therefore may reasonably be supposed to have voted against the Constitution itself.
This supposition is the more reasonable, inasmuch as such voting is the only mode allowed to them of expressing their dissent to the Constitution. Many votes are usually given for candidates who have no prospect of success. Those who give such votes may reasonably be supposed to have voted as they did, with a special intention, not to support, but to obstruct the execution of, the Constitution; and, therefore, against the Constitution itself. As all the different votes are given secretly by secret ballot , there is no legal means of knowing, from the votes themselves, who votes for, and who against, the Constitution.
Therefore voting affords no legal evidence that any particular individual supports the Constitution. And where there can be no legal evidence that any particular individual supports the Constitution, it cannot legally be said that anybody supports it. It is clearly impossible to have any legal proof of the intentions of large numbers of men, where there can be no legal proof of the intentions of any particular one of them.
As a conjecture, it is probable that a very large proportion of those who vote, do so on this principle, viz. As every body who supports the Constitution by voting if there are any such does so secretly by secret ballot , and in a way to avoid all personal responsibility for the acts of his agents or representatives, it cannot legally or reasonably be Edition: current; Page: [ 11 ] said that anybody at all supports the Constitution by voting.
No man can reasonably or legally be said to do such a thing as to assent to, or support, the Constitution, unless he does it openly, and in a way to make himself personally responsible for the acts of his agents, so long as they act within the limits of the power he delegates to them.
As all voting is secret, by secret ballot, and as all secret governments are necessarily only secret bands of robbers, tyrants, and murderers, the general fact that our government is practically carried on by means of such voting, only proves that there is among us a secret band of robbers, tyrants and murderers, whose purpose is to rob, enslave, and, so far as necessary to accomplish their purposes, murder, the rest of the people.
For all the reasons that have now been given, voting furnishes no legal evidence as to who the particular individuals are if there are any , who voluntarily support the Constitution. It therefore furnishes no legal evidence that any body supports it voluntarily. So far, therefore, as voting is concerned, the Constitution, legally speaking, has no supporters at all.
And, as matter of fact, there is not the slightest probability that the Constitution has a single bona fide supporter in the country. That is to say, there is not the slightest probability that there is a single man in the country, who both understands what the Constitution really is, and sincerely supports it for what it really is.
The ostensible supporters of the Constitution, like the ostensible supporters of most other governments, are made up of three classes, viz. Knaves, a numerous and active class, who see in the government an instrument which they can use for their own aggrandizement or wealth.
A class who have some appreciation of the evils of government, but either do not see how to get rid of them, or do not choose to so far sacrifice their private interests as to give themselves seriously and earnestly to the work of making a change.
The payment of taxes, being compulsory, of course furnishes no evidence that any one voluntarily supports the Constitution. It is true that the theory of our Constitution is, that all taxes are paid voluntarily; that our government is a mutual insurance company, voluntarily entered into by the people with each other; that each man makes a free and purely voluntary contract with all others who are parties to the Constitution, to pay so much money for so much protection, the same as he does with any other insurance company; and that he is just as free not to be protected, and not to pay any tax, as he is to pay a tax, and be protected.
But this theory of our government is wholly different from the practical fact. The fact is that the government, like a highwayman, says to a man: Your money, or your life. And many, if not most, taxes are paid under the compulsion of that threat. The government does not, indeed, waylay a man in a lonely place, spring upon him from the road side, and, holding a pistol Edition: current; Page: [ 13 ] to his head, proceed to rifle his pockets.
But the robbery is none the less a robbery on that account; and it is far more dastardly and shameful. The highwayman takes solely upon himself the responsibility, danger, and crime of his own act. He does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your money, or that he intends to use it for your own benefit. He does not pretend to be anything but a robber. He is too sensible a man to make such professions as these.
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The first and second numbers of this series were published in For reasons not necessary to be explained, the sixth is now published in advance of the third, fourth and fifth. The Constitution has no inherent authority or obligation. It has no authority or obligation at all, unless as a contract between man and man. And it does not so much as even purport to be a contract between persons now existing. It purports, at most, to be only a contract between persons living eighty years ago.
Online Library of Liberty
No Treason is a composition of three essays, all written in No. No essays between No. A lawyer by training, a strong abolitionist , radical thinker, and anarchist , Spooner wrote these specific pamphlets in order to express his discontent with the state and its legitimizing documents in the United States, the U. He strongly believed in the idea of natural law , which he also described as "the science of justice," which he defined as "the science of all human rights; of all man's rights of person and property; of all his rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". Natural law, as Spooner saw it, was to be part of everyone's life, which includes the rights given at birth: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The framers of the United States government also saw natural law to be a good basis for the creation of the Constitution.
No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority
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