English Literature

A Letter to Grover Cleveland by Lysander Spooner

A Letter to Grover Cleveland by Lysander Spooner.jpg

Section I.

To Grover Cleveland:

Sir,—Your inaugural address is probably as honest, sensible, and consistent a one as that of any president within the last fifty years, or, perhaps, as any since the foundation of the government. If, therefore, it is false, absurd, self-contradictory, and ridiculous, it is not (as I think) because you are personally less honest, sensible, or consistent than your predecessors, but because the government itself—according to your own description of it, and according to the practical administration of it for nearly a hundred years—is an utterly and palpably false, absurd, and criminal one. Such praises as you bestow upon it are, therefore, necessarily false, absurd, and ridiculous.

Thus you describe it as “a government pledged to do equal and exact justice to all men.”

Did you stop to think what that means? Evidently you did not; for nearly, or quite, all the rest of your address is in direct contradiction to it.

Let me then remind you that justice is an immutable, natural principle; and not anything that can be made, unmade, or altered by any human power.

It is also a subject of science, and is to be learned, like mathematics, or any other science. It does not derive its authority from the commands, will, pleasure, or discretion of any possible combination of men, whether calling themselves a government, or by any other name.

It is also, at all times, and in all places, the supreme law. And being everywhere and always the supreme law, it is necessarily everywhere and always the only law.

Lawmakers, as they call themselves, can add nothing to it, nor take anything from it. Therefore all their laws, as they call them,—that is, all the laws of their own making,—have no color of authority or obligation. It is a falsehood to call them laws; for there is nothing in them that either creates men’s duties or rights, or enlightens them as to their duties or rights. There is consequently nothing binding or obligatory about them. And nobody is bound to take the least notice [Pg 4]of them, unless it be to trample them under foot, as usurpations. If they command men to do justice, they add nothing to men’s obligation to do it, or to any man’s right to enforce it. They are therefore mere idle wind, such as would be commands to consider the day as day, and the night as night. If they command or license any man to do injustice, they are criminal on their face. If they command any man to do anything which justice does not require him to do, they are simple, naked usurpations and tyrannies. If they forbid any man to do anything, which justice would permit him to do, they are criminal invasions of his natural and rightful liberty. In whatever light, therefore, they are viewed, they are utterly destitute of everything like authority or obligation. They are all necessarily either the impudent, fraudulent, and criminal usurpations of tyrants, robbers, and murderers, or the senseless work of ignorant or thoughtless men, who do not know, or certainly do not realize, what they are doing.

This science of justice, or natural law, is the only science that tells us what are, and what are not, each man’s natural, inherent, inalienable, individual rights, as against any and all other men. And to say that any, or all, other men may rightfully compel him to obey any or all such other laws as they may see fit to make, is to say that he has no rights of his own, but is their subject, their property, and their slave.

For the reasons now given, the simple maintenance of justice, or natural law, is plainly the one only purpose for which any coercive power—or anything bearing the name of government—has a right to exist.

It is intrinsically just as false, absurd, ludicrous, and ridiculous to say that lawmakers, so-called, can invent and make any laws, of their own, authoritatively fixing, or declaring, the rights of individuals, or that shall be in any manner authoritative or obligatory upon individuals, or that individuals may rightfully be compelled to obey, as it would be to say that they can invent and make such mathematics, chemistry, physiology, or other sciences, as they see fit, and rightfully compel individuals to conform all their actions to them, instead of conforming them to the mathematics, chemistry, physiology, or other sciences of nature.

Lawmakers, as they call themselves, might just as well claim the right to abolish, by statute, the natural law of gravitation, the natural laws of light, heat, and electricity, and all the other natural laws of matter and mind, and institute laws of their own in the place of them, and compel conformity to them, as to claim the right to set aside the natural law of justice, and compel obedience to such other laws as they may see fit to manufacture, and set up in its stead.

Let me now ask you how you imagine that your so-called lawmakers can “do equal and exact justice to all men,” by any so-called laws of their own making. If their laws command anything but justice, or forbid anything but injustice, they are themselves unjust and criminal. If they simply command justice, and forbid injustice, they add nothing to the natural authority of justice, or to men’s obligation [Pg 5]to obey it. It is, therefore, a simple impertinence, and sheer impudence, on their part, to assume that their commands, as such, are of any authority whatever. It is also sheer impudence, on their part, to assume that their commands are at all necessary to teach other men what is, and what is not, justice. The science of justice is as open to be learned by all other men, as by themselves; and it is, in general, so simple and easy to be learned, that there is no need of, and no place for, any man, or body of men, to teach it, declare it, or command it, on their own authority.

For one, or another, of these reasons, therefore, each and every law, so-called, that forty-eight different congresses have presumed to make, within the last ninety-six years, have been utterly destitute of all legitimate authority. That is to say, they have either been criminal, as commanding or licensing men to do what justice forbade them to do, or as forbidding them to do what justice would have permitted them to do; or else they have been superfluous, as adding nothing to men’s knowledge of justice, or to their obligation to do justice, or abstain from injustice.

What excuse, then, have you for attempting to enforce upon the people that great mass of superfluous or criminal laws (so-called) which ignorant and foolish, or impudent and criminal, men have, for so many years, been manufacturing, and promulgating, and enforcing, in violation of justice, and of all men’s natural, inherent, and inalienable rights?

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