Freedom, Individualism, and Anarchy: Great Lysander Spooner Quotes

Why care about Lysander Spooner quotes? Because Spooner challenged the most powerful force in the United States – and won.

In the 1840s the United States Post Office charged nearly 19 cents to ship a letter from Boston to Albany. The Western Railroad charged about 28 cents to ship a barrel of flour over the same distance. Had the Western Railroad’s rate been the same as that of the USPS, they would have charged nearer to $220 to ship that same barrel.

Lysander Spooner reasoned the federal government could only get away with this stupendous gouge because of the de facto monopoly it held over postage. He thus founded the American Letter Mail Company in 1844, which drastically undercut the USPS’s rates.

Spooner did not merely intend for his business venture to turn a profit. With the American Letter Mail Company he also meant to illustrate how dearly the government was overcharging – solely because it could.

In response, the federal government resorted to its most effective tactic: bullying. It first threatened to withdraw its business from railroads that participated in Spooner’s scheme. Next, it resorted to pointed legal action. The government codified its monopoly over the mail and put Spooner out of business in 1851.

But by then the damage had been done. The American people had taken Spooner’s lesson in affordable postage to heart and demanded reasonable rates from the USPS. The government’s bureaucrats acquiesced, no doubt cursing under their breaths what a single, determined entrepreneur could do to their pocketbooks.

Spooner is best known for this historic coup over the government, yet he had a long career of sticking it to the man. He broke state law by setting up a legal practice in Massachusetts despite having neither graduated from college nor studied under another attorney for five years. 

In 1845 Spooner published The Unconstitutionality of Slavery, in which he wove a complex system of legal and moral arguments against the legality of bondage. 

Though he spent the next 20 years campaigning for the abolishment of slavery, Spooner also recognized the right of the Confederate States of America to secede from the union. Spooner’s nuanced morality would fit with neither side’s position during the Civil War.

Spooner was an individualist anarchist. He believed big government hampers mankind’s pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, and indeed makes said pursuit nigh impossible. He was adamant that the Constitution, for all good it represents, is not a contract into which Americans could be rightfully entered on birth. To Spooner no less than the dissolution of Congress was required to restore man’s God-given autonomy. 

Spooner’s legacy doesn’t only endure through affordable postage. He greatly influenced early libertarian theory and the Austrian School of economics. Lysander Spooner quotes taken from The Unconstitutionality of Slavery were cited in District of Columbia v. Heller, a landmark case in which the Supreme Court ruled to preserve Second Amendment rights.

Lysander Spooner Quotes

“A man is none the less a slave because he is allowed to choose a new master once in a term of years.”
– No Treason: The Constitution Of No Authority No. VI pg. 24

Lysander Spooner quotes - "Those who are capable of tyranny are capable of perjury to sustain it."
“Those who are capable of tyranny are capable of perjury to sustain it.”
– An Essay on the Trial by Jury pg. 14

“Certainly no man can rightfully be required to join, or support, an association whose protection he does not desire.”
– Natural Law; or The Science of Justice C.1 §III pg. 7

Lysander Spooner Quotes - "If taxation without consent is not robbery, then any band of robbers have only..."
“If taxation without consent is not robbery, then any band of robbers have only to declare themselves a government, and all their robberies are legalized.”
A Letter to Grover Cleveland

“Vices are those acts by which a man harms himself or his property. Crimes are those acts by which one man harms the person or property of another. Vices are simply the errors which a man makes in his search aft er his own happiness. Unlike crimes, they imply no malice toward others, and no interference with their persons or property.”
– Vices Are Not Crimes pg. 9 

“Still another and all-sufficient answer to the argument that the use of spirituous liquors tends to poverty, is that, as a general rule, it puts the effect before the cause. It assumes that it is the use of the liquors that causes the poverty, instead of its being the poverty that causes the use of the liquors.”
Vices Are Not Crimes pg. 33

“No middle ground is possible on this subject. Either ‘taxation without consent is robbery,’ or it is not. If it is not, then any number of men, who choose, may at any time associate; call themselves a government; assume absolute authority over all weaker than themselves; plunder them at will; and kill them if they resist.”
– No Treason: The Constitution Of No Authority No. II pg. 13

“So these villains, who call themselves governments, well understand that their power rests primarily upon money. With money they can hire soldiers, and with soldiers extort money. And, when their authority is denied, the first use they always make of money, is to hire soldiers to kill or subdue all who refuse them more money.”
No Treason: The Constitution Of No Authority No. VI pg. 16

Lysander Spooner Quotes - "If our fathers, in 1776, had acknowledged the principle..."
“If our fathers, in 1776, had acknowledged the principle that a majority had the right to rule the minority, we should never have become a nation; for they were in a small minority, as compared with those who claimed the right to rule over them.”
– No Treason: The Constitution Of No Authority No. I pg. 59

“All human legislation is simply and always an assumption of authority and dominion, where no right of authority or dominion exists. It is, therefore, simply and always an intrusion, an absurdity, an usurpation, and a crime.”
– Natural Law; or The Science of Justice C.2 §V pg. 113

“Majorities, as such, afford no guarantees for justice. They are men of the same nature as minorities. They have the same passions for fame, power, and money, as minorities; and are liable and likely to be equally — perhaps more than equally, because more boldly — rapacious, tyrannical and unprincipled, if intrusted with power. There is no more reason, then, why a man should either sustain, or submit to, the rule of the majority, than of a minority.”
– No Treason: The Constitution Of No Authority No. I pg. 8

“A man’s natural rights are his own, against the whole world; and any infringement of them is equally a crime, whether committed by one man, or by millions; whether committed by one man, calling himself a robber, (or by any other name indicating his true character,) or by millions, calling themselves a government.”
– No Treason: The Constitution Of No Authority No. I pg. 7

Lysander Spooner Quotes - "A government that can at pleasure accuse, shoot, and hang men, as traitors..."
“A government that can at pleasure accuse, shoot, and hang men, as traitors, for the one general offense of refusing to surrender themselves and their property unreservedly to its arbitrary will, can practice any and all special and particular oppressions it pleases.”
– No Treason: The Constitution Of No Authority No. II

“These conditions are simply these: viz., first, that each man shall do, towards every other, all that justice requires him to do; as, for example, that he shall pay his debts, that he shall return borrowed or stolen property to its owner, and that he shall make reparation for any injury he may have done to the person or property of another.
“The second condition is, that each man shall abstain from doing to another, anything which justice forbids him to do; as, for example, that he shall abstain from committing theft, robbery, arson, murder, or any other crime against the person or property of another.
“So long as these conditions are fulfilled, men are at peace, and ought to remain at peace, with each other.”
– Natural Law; or The Science of Justice C.1 §I pg. 5-6

“If there be such a principle as justice, or natural law, it is the principle, or law, that tells us what rights were given to every human being at his birth; what rights are, therefore, inherent in him as a human being, necessarily remain with him during life; and, however capable of being trampled upon, are incapable of being blotted out, extinguished, annihilated, or separated or eliminated from his nature as a human being, or deprived of their inherent authority or obligation.”
– Natural Law; or The Science of Justice C.2 §IV pg. 12-13

Lysander Constitution Quote

Lysander Spooner Quotes - "But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another..."
“But 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.”
– No Treason: The Constitution Of No Authority No. VI pg. 59

Final Thoughts

Thank you for reading Lysander Spooner quotes on Thought Grenades, the blog on Libertas Bella. The next time you send your grandma a Christmas card without having to sell an only marginally vital organ, you’ll know who to thank!

Want more libertarian quotes? Still looking for the perfect one to embroider onto a pillow? Well, however you want to spend your time is up to you. We will aid your search with the best quotes from great minds like General Smedley Butler, Robert Heinlein, and Walter E. Williams.