Lysander Spooner (1808-1887) emerged as one of the greatest defenders of natural rights when this philosophy was going out of fashion among intellectuals. Few authors up to his time had produced as much on the subject as he did, and he covered topics which hadn’t been covered before. He pushed natural rights principles to radical conclusions which thinkers like Murray Rothbard were to run with in the 20th century.
Spooner affirmed that government isn’t legitimate just because what it’s doing is legal. All kinds of terrible things have been legal. The bloodbaths of the 20th century have brought renewed appreciation for the natural rights view that government must be judged by independent moral standards. Spooner’s thinking proceeded from the key principles that individuals own themselves, and coercion against peaceful people is wrong.
His major works include The Unconstitutionality of the Laws of Congress Prohibiting Private Mail (1835), The Unconstitutionality of Slavery (1845), Trial by Jury (1852) and A Letter to Grover Cleveland (1885). No Treason No. 6, Constitution of No Authority (1870) is the most fully-developed and widely-quoted expression of his radical views.
A Fund has been established to pay for a historical marker at Spooner’s birthplace in Athol, Massachusetts, and the perpetual care of his grave in Forest Hills.
(Reprinted with permission from Laissez Faire Books)
“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 … Furthermore, having taken your money, he leaves you, as you wish him to do. . . He does not keep ‘protecting’ you by commanding you to bow down and serve him; by requiring you to do this, and forbidding you to do that.”