"Who does not publicly worship the Constitution? Who, in practice, observe it at all? Congress has only two great powers under the Constitution. The power to declare war and the power of the purse. The first has been relinquished to the executive; the second has drowned in a red sea."
"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and Constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy."
"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 be inferred that the 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 . Whatever may have been their personal intentions, the legal meaning of their language, so far as their "posterity" was concerned, simply was, that their hopes and motives, in entering into the agreement, were that it might prove useful and acceptable to their posterity; that it might promote their union, safety, tranquility, and welfare; and that it might tend "to secure to them the blessings of liberty." The language does not assert nor at all imply, any right, power, or disposition, on the part of the original parties to the agreement, to compel their "posterity" to live under it. If they had intended to bind their posterity to live under it, they should have said that their object was, not "to secure to them the blessings of liberty," but to make slaves of them; for if their "posterity" are bound to live under it, they are nothing less than the slaves of their foolish, tyrannical, and dead grandfathers.
Lysander Spooner (1808-1887)
(May 23, 1857)
Holly Lodge, Kensington, London
You are surprised to learn that I have not a high opinion of Mr. Jefferson, and I am surprised at your surprise. I am certain that I never wrote a line, and that I never….uttered a word indicating an opinion that the supreme authority in a state ought to be instructed to the majority of citizens told by the head, in other words, to the poorest and most ignorant part of society.
I have long been convinced that institutions purely democratic must, sooner or later, destroy liberty, or civilization, or both…..
I have not had the smallest doubt that, if we had a purely democratic government here, the effect would be the same….You may think that your country enjoys an exemption from these evils….I am of a very different opinion. Your fate I believe to be certain, though it is deferred by a physical cause. As long as you have a boundless extent of fertile and unoccupied land, your labouring population will be far more at ease than the labouring population of the old world; and, while that is the case, the Jeffersonian polity may continue to exist without causing any fatal calamity.
But the time will come when New England will be as thickly peoples as old England. Wages will be as low, and will fluctuate as much with you as with us. You will have your Manchesters and Birminghams, and in those Manchesters and Birminghams, hundreds of thousands of artisans will assuredly be sometimes out of work. Then, your institutions will be fairly brought to the test. Distress everywhere makes the labourer mutinous and discontented, and inclines him to listen with eagerness to agitators who tell him that is a monstrous iniquity that one man should have a million while another cannot get a full meal.
In bad years there is plenty of grumbling here, and sometimes a little rioting. But it matters little. For here the sufferers are not the rulers. The supreme power is in the hands of a class, numerous indeed, but select; of an educated class, of a class which is, and knows itself to be, deeply interested in the security of property and the maintenance of order. Accordingly, the malcontents are firmly, yet gently, restrained. The bad time is got over without robbing the wealthy to relieve the indigent. The springs of national prosperity soon begin to flow again: work is plentiful: wages rise, and all is tranquility and cheerfulness….
…..I cannot help foreboding the worst. It is quite plain that your government will never be able to restrain a distressed and discontented majority….The day will come when…..a multitude of people, none of whom has had more than half a breakfast, or expects to have more than half a dinner, will choose a Legislature.
….On one side is a statesman preaching patience, respect for vested rights….On the other is a demagogue ranting about the tyranny of capitalists….and asking why anybody should be permitted to drink Champagne and to ride in a carriage, while thousands of honest folks are in want of necessaries….I seriously apprehend that you will, in some such season of adversity….do things which will prevent prosperity from returning; that you will act like people who should in a year of scarcity devour all the seed corn, and thus make the next year a year, not of scarcity, but of absolute famine….There is nothing to stop you. Your Constitution is all sail and no anchor…..Either some Caesar or Napoleon will seize the reins of government with a strong hand; or your republic will be….laid waste by barbarians in the twentieth Century as the Roman Empire was in the fifth…..
Thomas Babington Macaulay
"We do not agree with the authors of the Declaration of Independence, that governments "derive their just powers from the consent of the governed." All governments must originate in force, and be continued by force. The very term, governments , implies that it is carried on against the consent of the governed. Fathers do not derive their authority, as heads of families, from the consent of wife and children, nor do they govern their families by their consent. They never take the vote of the family as to the labors to be performed, the moneys to be expended, or as to anything else. Masters dare not take the vote of slaves as to their governments. If they did, constant holiday, dissipation, and extravagance would be the result. Captains of ships are not appointed by the consent of the crew, and never take their vote, even in "doubling Cape Horn" . If they did, the crew would generally vote to get drunk, and the ship would never weather the cape. Not even in the most democratic countries are soldiers governed by their consent, nor is their vote taken on the even of battle. They have some how lost (or never had) the "inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," and whether Americans or Russians, are forced into battle without and often against their consent. More of despotic discretion , and less of Law, is what the world wants.
George Fitzhugh (1806-1881)
"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 here 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,: 1. Knaves, a numerous and active class, who see in the government an instrument which they can use for their own aggrandizement or wealth. 2. Dupes-a large class, no doubt-each of whom, because he is allowed one voice out of million in deciding what he may do with his own person and his own property, and because he is permitted to have the same voice in robbing, enslaving, and murdering others, that others have in robbing, enslaving, and murdering himself, is stupid enough to imagine that he is a "free man," a sovereign; that this is "a free government"; a government of equal rights," "the best government on earth," and such like absurdities. 3. 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.
1. 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 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 roadside and holding a pistol 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 has not acquired impudence enough to profess to be merely a "protector", and that he takes men’s money against their will, merely to enable him to "protect’ those infatuated travelers, who feel perfectly able to protect themselves, or do not appreciate his peculiar system of protection. He is too sensible a man to make such professions as these. Furthermore, having taken your money, he leaves you, as you wish him to do. He does not persist in following you on the road, against your will; assuming to be your rightful "sovereign, on account of the "protection" he affords you. He does not keep "protecting" you, by commanding you to bow down and serve him; by requiring more to do this, and forbidding you to do that; by robbing you of more money as often as he finds it for his interest or pleasure to do so; and by branding you as a rebel, a traitor, and an enemy to your country, and shooting you down without mercy, if you dispute his authority, or resist his demands. He is too much of a gentleman to be guilty of such impostures, and insults, and villainies as these. In short, he does not, in addition to robbing you, attempt to make you either his dupe or his slave. The proceedings of those robbers and murderers, who call themselves "the government," are directly the opposite of these of the single highwayman.
No Treason (1862)
"The American Constitution is a unique achievement in modern times and perhaps in all times in terms of government. There was a time many, many years ago, in prehistory and into early history, when the priesthood and the government were one and the same. If you didn't get along with the priest, you also didn't get along with the government. Gradually, over the years, those powers have been separated. We have gone through many revolutions and conflicts about changes in that structure. But, to my knowledge, even though the idea of a republic has come down to us from many hundreds of years ago-and it was not given to us by the Christians, it was given to us by the Greeks-it was not a republic in the sense of the one in this country."
Queen Silver (Our Secular Constitution: Why we have it and why we must keep it)
Back to Chrestomathy Next Page