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´╗┐Title: A Letter to Thomas F. Bayard
Author: Spooner, Lysander, 1808-1887
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Letter to Thomas F. Bayard" ***








A Letter to Thomas F. Bayard

    "_Challenging his right--and that of all the other so-called senators
    and representatives in Congress--to exercise any legislative power
    whatever over the people of the United States._"

    by Lysander Spooner

To Thomas F. Bayard, of Delaware:

Sir--I have read your letter to Rev. Lyman Abbott, in which you express
the opinion that it is at least possible for a man to be a legislator
(under the Constitution of the United States) and yet be an honest man.

This proposition implies that you hold it to be at least possible that
some four hundred men should, by some process or other, become invested
with the right to make laws of their own--that is, _laws wholly of their
own device_, and therefore necessarily distinct from the law of nature,
or the principles of natural justice; and that these laws of their own
making shall be really and truly obligatory upon the people of the
United States; and that, therefore, the people may rightfully be
compelled to obey them.

All this implies that you are of the opinion that the Congress of the
United States, of which you are a member, has, by some process or other,
become possessed of some right _of arbitrary dominion_ over the people
of the United States; which right of arbitrary dominion is not given by,
and is, therefore, necessarily in conflict with, the law of nature, the
principles of natural justice, and the natural rights of men, as
individuals. All this is necessarily implied in the idea that the
Congress now possesses any right whatever to make any laws whatever, _of
its own device_--that is, any laws that shall be either more, less, or
other than that natural law, which it can neither make, unmake, nor
alter--and cause them to be enforced upon the people of the United
States, or any of them, against their will.

You assume that the right of arbitrary dominion--that is, the right of
making laws of their own device, and compelling obedience to them--is a
"trust" that has been delegated to those who now exercise that power.
You call it "the trust of public power."

But, Sir, you are mistaken in supposing that any such power has ever
been delegated, or ever can be delegated, by any body, to any body.

Any such delegation of power is naturally impossible, for these reasons,

1. No man can delegate, or give to another, any right of arbitrary
dominion over himself; for that would be giving himself away as a slave.
And this no one can do. Any contract to do so is necessarily an absurd
one, and has no validity. To call such a contract a "constitution," or
by any other high-sounding name, does not alter its character as an
absurd and void contract.

2. No man can delegate, or give to another, any right of arbitrary
dominion over a third person; for that would imply a right in the first
person, not only to make the third person his slave, but also a right to
dispose of him as a slave to still other persons. Any contract to do
this is necessarily a criminal one, and therefore invalid. To call such
a contract a "constitution" does not at all lessen its criminality, or
add to its validity.

These facts, that no man can delegate, or give away, his own natural
right to liberty, nor any other man's natural right to liberty, prove
that he can delegate no right of arbitrary dominion whatever--or, what
is the same thing, no legislative power whatever--over himself or
anybody else, to any man, or body of men.

This impossibility of any man's delegating any legislative power
whatever, necessarily results from the fact that the law of nature has
drawn the line, and the only line--and that, too, a line that can never
be effaced nor removed--between each man's own interest and inalienable
rights of person and property, and each and every other man's inherent
and inalienable rights of person and property. It, therefore,
necessarily fixes the unalterable limits, within which every man may
rightfully seek his own happiness, in his own way, free from all
responsibility to, or interference by, his fellow men, or any of them.

All this pretended delegation of legislative power--that is, of a power,
on the part of the legislators, so-called, to make any laws of their own
device, distinct from the law of nature--is therefore an entire
falsehood; a falsehood whose only purpose is to cover and hide a pure
usurpation, by one body of men, of arbitrary dominion over other men.

That this legislative power, or power of arbitrary dominion, is a pure
usurpation, on the part of those who now exercise it, and not a "trust"
delegated to them, is still further proved by the fact that the only
delegation of power, that is even professed or pretended to be made, is
made _secretly_--that is, by _secret ballot_--and not in any open and
authentic manner; and therefore not by any men, or body of men, who make
themselves personally responsible, as principals, for the acts of those
to whom they profess to delegate the power.

All this pretended delegation of power having been made secretly--that
is, only by secret ballot--not a single one of all the legislators,
so-called, who profess to be exercising only a delegated power, has
himself any legal knowledge, or can offer any legal proof, as to who the
particular individuals were who delegated it to him. And having no power
to identify the individuals who professed to delegate the power to him,
he cannot show any legal proof that anybody ever even attempted or
pretended to delegate it to him.

Plainly, a man who exercises any arbitrary dominion over other men and
who claims to be exercising only a delegated power, but cannot show who
his principals are, nor, consequently, prove that he has any principals,
must be presumed, both in law and reason, to have no principals; and
therefore to be exercising no power but his own. And having, of right,
no such power of his own, he is, both in law and reason, a naked

Sir, a secret ballot makes a secret government; and a secret government
is a government by conspiracy; in which the people at large can have no
rights. And that is the only government we now have. It is the
government of which you are a voluntary member and supporter, and yet
you claim to be an honest man. If you are an honest man, is not your
honesty that of a thoughtless, ignorant man, who merely drifts with the
current, instead of exercising any judgment of his own?

For still another reason, all legislators, so-called, under the
Constitution of the United States, are exercising simply an arbitrary
and irresponsible dominion of their own; and not any authority that has
been delegated, or pretended to have been delegated, to them. And that
reason is that the Constitution itself (Art. I, Sec. 6) prescribes that:

     "For any speech or debate (or vote) in either house, they (the
     Senators and Representatives) shall not be questioned (held to
     any legal responsibility) in any other place."

This provision makes the legislators constitutionally irresponsible to
anybody; either to those on whom they exercise their power, or to those
who may have, either openly or secretly, attempted or pretended to
delegate power to them. And men who are legally responsible to nobody
for their acts, cannot truly be said to be the agents of any body, or to
be exercising any power but their own; for all real agents are
necessarily responsible both to those _on_ whom they act, and to those
_for_ whom they act.

To say that the people of this country ever have bound, or ever could
bind, themselves by any contract whatever--the Constitution, or any
other--to thus give away all their natural rights of property, liberty,
and life, into the hands of a few men--a mere conclave--and that they
should make it a part of the contract itself that these few men should
be held legally irresponsible for the disposal they should make of those
rights, is an utter absurdity. It is to say that they have bound
themselves, and that they could bind themselves, by an utterly idiotic
and suicidal contract.

If such a contract had ever been made by one private individual to
another, and had been signed, sealed, witnessed, acknowledged, and
delivered, with all possible legal formalities, no decent court on
earth--certainly none in this country--would have regarded it, for a
moment, as conveying any right, or delegating any power, or as having
the slightest legal validity, or obligation.

For all the reasons now given, and for still others that might be given,
the legislative power now exercised by Congress is, in both law and
reason, a purely personal, arbitrary, irresponsible, usurped dominion on
the part of the legislators themselves, and not a power delegated to
them by anybody.

Yet under the pretense that this instrument gives them the right of an
arbitrary and irresponsible dominion over the whole people of the United
States, Congress has now gone on, for ninety years and more, filling
great volumes with laws of their own device, which the people at large
have never read, nor even seen, nor ever will read or see; and of whose
legal meanings it is morally impossible that they should ever know
anything. Congress has never dared to require the people even to read
these laws. Had it done so, the oppression would have been an
intolerable one; and the people, rather than endure it, would have
either rebelled, and overthrown the government, or would have fled the
country. Yet these laws, which Congress has not dared to require the
people even to read, it has compelled them, at the point of the bayonet,
to obey.

And this moral, and legal, and political monstrosity is the kind of
government which Congress claims that the Constitution authorizes it to
impose upon the people.

Sir, can you say that such an arbitrary and irresponsible dominion as
this, over the properties, liberties, and lives of fifty millions of
people--or even over the property, liberty, or life of any one of those
fifty millions--can be justified on any reason whatever? If not, with
what color of truth can you say that you yourself, or anybody else, can
act as a legislator, under the Constitution of the United States, and
yet be an honest man?

To say that the arbitrary and irresponsible dominion, that is exercised
by Congress, has been delegated to it by the Constitution, _and not
solely by the secret ballots of the voters for the time being_, is the
height of absurdity; for what is the Constitution? It is, at best, a
writing that was drawn up more than ninety years ago; was assented to at
the time only by a small number of men; generally those few white male
adults who had prescribed amounts of property; probably not more than
two hundred thousand in all; or one in twenty of the whole population.

Those men have been long since dead. They never had any right of
arbitrary dominion over even their contemporaries; and they never had
any over us. Their wills or wishes have no more rightful authority over
us, than have the wills or wishes of men who lived before the flood.
They never personally signed, sealed, acknowledged, or delivered, or
dared to sign, seal, acknowledge, or deliver, the instrument which they
imposed upon the country as law. They never, in any open and authentic
manner, bound even themselves to obey it, or made themselves personally
responsible for the acts of their so-called agents under it. They had no
natural right to impose it, as law, upon a single human being. The whole
proceeding was a pure usurpation.

In practice, the Constitution has been an utter fraud from the
beginning. Professing to have been "ordained and established" by "_we,
the people of the United States_," it has never been submitted to them,
as individuals, for their voluntary acceptance or rejection. They have
never been asked to sign, seal, acknowledge, or deliver it, as their
free act and deed. They have never signed, sealed, acknowledged, or
delivered it, or promised, or laid themselves under any kind of
obligation, to obey it. Very few of them have ever read, or even seen
it; or ever will read or see it. Of its legal meaning (if it can be said
to have any) they really know nothing; and never did, nor ever will,
know anything.

Why is it, Sir, that such an instrument as the Constitution, for which
nobody has been responsible, and of which few persons have ever known
anything, has been suffered to stand, for the last ninety years, and to
be used for such audacious and criminal purposes? It is solely because
it has been sustained by the same kind of conspiracy as that by which it
was established; that is, by the wealth and the power of those few who
were to profit by the arbitrary dominion it was assumed to give them
over others. While the poor, the weak, and the ignorant, who were to be
cheated, plundered, and enslaved by it, have been told, and some of them
doubtless made to believe, that it is a sacred instrument, designed for
the preservation of their rights.

These cheated, plundered, and enslaved persons have been made to feel,
if not to believe, that the Constitution had such miraculous power, that
it could authorize the majority (or even a plurality) of the male
adults, for the time being--a majority numbering at this time, say, five
millions in all--to exercise, through their agents, secretly appointed,
an arbitrary and irresponsible dominion over the properties, liberties,
and lives of the whole fifty millions; and that these fifty millions
have no rightful alternative but to submit all their rights to this
arbitrary dominion, or suffer such confiscation, imprisonment, or death
as this secretly appointed, irresponsible cabal, of so-called
legislators, should see fit to resort to for the maintenance of its

As might have been expected, and as was, to a large degree, at least,
intended, this Constitution has been used from the beginning by
ambitious, rapacious, and unprincipled men, to enable them to maintain,
at the point of the bayonet, an arbitrary and irresponsible dominion
over those who were too ignorant and too weak to protect themselves
against the conspirators who had thus combined to deceive, plunder, and
enslave them.

Do you really think, Sir, that such a constitution as this can avail to
justify those who, like yourself, are engaged in enforcing it? Is it not
plain, rather, that the members of Congress, as a legislative body,
whether they are conscious of it or not, are, in reality, a mere cabal
of swindlers, usurpers, tyrants and robbers? Is it not plain that they
are stupendous blockheads, if they imagine that they are anything else
than such a cabal? or that their so-called laws impose the least
obligation upon anybody?

If you have never before looked at this matter in this light, I ask you
to do so now. And in the hope to aid you in doing so candidly, and to
some useful purpose, I take the liberty to mail for you a pamphlet

     "NATURAL LAW; OR THE SCIENCE OF JUSTICE; a Treatise on Natural
     Law, Natural Justice, Natural Rights, Natural Liberty, and
     Natural Society; Showing That All Legislation Whatsoever Is an
     Absurdity, a Usurpation, and a Crime. Part I."

In this pamphlet, I have endeavored to controvert distinctly the
proposition that, by any possible process whatever, any man, or body of
men, can become possessed of any right of arbitrary dominion over other
men, or other men's property; or, consequently, any right whatever to
make any law whatever, of their own--distinct from the law of
nature--and compel any other men to obey it.

I trust I need not suspect you, as a legislator under the Constitution,
and claiming to be an honest man, of any desire to evade the issue
presented in this pamphlet. If you shall see fit to meet it, I hope you
will excuse me for suggesting that--to avoid verbiage, and everything
indefinite--you give at least a single specimen of a law that either
heretofore has been made, or that you conceive it possible for
legislators to make--that is, some law of their own device--that either
has been, or shall be, really and truly obligatory upon other persons,
and which such other persons have been, or may be, rightfully compelled
to obey.

If you can either find or devise any such law, I trust you will make it
known, that it may be examined, and the question of its obligation be
fairly settled in the popular mind.

But if it should happen that you can neither find such a law in the
existing statute books of the United States, nor, in your own mind,
conceive of such a law as possible under the Constitution, I give you
leave to find it, if that be possible, in the constitution or statute
book of any other people that now exist, or ever have existed, on the

If, finally, you shall find no such law, anywhere, nor be able to
conceive of any such law yourself, I take the liberty to suggest that it
is your imperative duty to submit the question to your associate
legislators; and, if they can give no light on the subject, that you
call upon them to burn all the existing statute books of the United
States, and then to go home and content themselves with the exercise of
only such rights and powers as nature has given to them in common with
the rest of mankind.

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