Perhaps Lysander Spooner’s most famous, and most provocative essays, “NO TREASON” first appeared as a series of three self-published pamphlets in Boston, appearing in 1867 and 1870. In NO TREASON Spooner argues, with sharp insight and relentless detail, against any binding obligation to obey the U.S. Constitution, and against all forms of non-consensual government. Rejecting paper constitutions as a failed strategy for the protection of liberty, and skewering the rationalizations for state power and forced obedience, Spooner defends a politics of pure consent and individual liberty, based in the rights and resistance of the oppressed, not on empty appeals to law, tradition, or state guarantees. In the process, he offers one of the strongest early statements of American individualist anarchism.
“Of all these swindles, the treason swindle is the most flagitious. It is the most flagitious, because it is equally flagitious, in principle, with any; and it includes all the others. It is the instrumentality by which all the others are mode effective. A government that can at pleasure accuse, shoot, and hang men, as traitors, for the one general offence of refusing to surrender themselves and their property unreservedly to its arbitrary will, can practice any and all special and particular oppressions it pleases. . .
“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. . . . Neither voting, nor payment of taxes proves anybody’s consent, or obligation, to support the Constitution. Consequently we have no evidence at all that the Constitution is binding upon anybody, or that any body is under any contract or obligation whatever to support it. And nobody is under any obligation to support it. . . .
“Whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain: that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.”
This edition collects all three pamphlets in the NO TREASON series: the introductory pamphlet No. 1, No. 2 on
The Constitution, and No. 6,
The Constitution of No Authority. (The collection is complete: in spite of the numbering, Spooner never published pamphlets 3, 4 or 5.)
Lysander Spooner (1808-1887) was a labor activist and a radical abolitionist who came out in opposition to the Civil War. (He believed that the slavery should be ended by arming the slaves and supporting their rebellion, rather than by means of invading and occupying the South.) After the war, he wrote this series of essays, entitled “NO TREASON,” arguing against the U.S. Constitution and all forms of non-consensual government. His writing on natural law in the 1880s, for example in the “Letter to Bayard,” “Natural Law,” and the “Letter to Grover Cleveland,” made him an incredibly influential figure in the emerging individualist Anarchist movement, and he became close friends with the radical individualist writer and editor Benjamin Tucker. Spooner’s essays are today widely reprinted and read throughout the libertarian and anarchist movements, and his work played a major role in the intellectual revival of individualist anarchism during the 1960s.
Introduced May 2013.