Lysander Spooner’s No Treason: Section 2

The creators of the Constitution did not intend to bind their posterity to it nor did they have the power to do so if it in fact were their intention. So, if the creators did not bind their posterity to the Constitution, the only other way that anyone could incur obligation to the Constitution is if they bound themselves. Has that in fact happened? In only two ways could an individual bind himself to the Constitution, by voting or paying taxes.

Spooner presents the argument that none of the voting that has ever taken place under the Constitution has bound the society or even any one of its individual members to that document. Logically, a contract can bind no one but its actual signers. During the first 20 to 30 years the Constitution was in existence Spooner points out, only a small portion of the population was even allowed to vote, somewhere between 1/10th and 1/20th of the population.

So how could 1/20th or even 1/10th of a society’s members be rightfully said to have bound the other 9/10th or 19/20th of the population to a contract to which only they were individually obligated? The answer is that, of course, they could not. Furthermore, of the small portion that actually was able and chose to actually vote, none of those assenting members can be bound for any longer period than that for which he votes. For example, if I vote to elect an officer to hold a certain position for 2 years, I cannot be said to support the government beyond that term.

Can anyone legitimately be said to support the Constitution when the decision is not wholly voluntary? In support of this point, Spooner reiterates a moving and powerful argument taken from No Treason, No. 2: “…a man finds himself environed by a government that he cannot resist; a government that forces him to pay money, render service, and forego the exercise of many of his natural rights, under peril of weighty punishments. He sees…that other men practice this tyranny over him by use of the ballot. He sees…that, if he will but use the ballot himself, he has some chance of relieving himself from this tyranny of others, by subjecting them to his own.

In short, he finds himself…so situated that, if he use the ballot, he may become a master; if he does not use it, he must become a slave. And he has no other alternative than these two. In self-defence, he attempts the former. His case is analogous to that of a man who has been forced into battle, where he must kill…or be killed himself.

Because, to save his own life in battle, a man attempts to take the lives of his opponents, it is not to be inferred that the battle is one of his own choosing. Neither in contest with the ballot-which is a mere substitute for a bullet-because, as his only chance of self-preservation, a man uses a ballot, is it to be inferred that the contest is one into which he voluntarily entered; that he voluntarily set up all his own natural rights, as a stake against those of others, to be lost or won by the mere power of number…

Doubtless the most miserable of men, under the most oppressive government in the world, if allowed the ballot, would use it, if they could see any chance of thereby meliorating their condition. But it would not…be a legitimate inference that the government itself, that crushes them, was one which they had voluntarily set up, or even consented to.

Therefore, a man’s voting under the Constitution…is not to be taken as evidence that he ever freely assented to the Constitution…Nor can we ever have such proof until every man is left perfectly free to consent, or not, without thereby subjecting himself or his property to be disturbed or injured by others [emphasis added] (p. 15).

I’m sorry to have put in such a long quote, but in the event that you are using this live blog as a substitute for reading the book, I wanted to share with you this beautiful passage with which Spooner advances his argument contra the Constitution (and government in general), of his philosophy of voluntary choice, and of individual rights. In brief, there is no way to find out who by voting actually voluntarily assents to and supports the Constitution, since voting is a necessity forced on to every man if he wishes to relieve himself of the tyranny of others by subjecting others to his own tyranny. If a man’s property is to be taken from him by the tyranny of the ballot and then this property used by others to his injury, well no wonder a man might vote so that he might prevent his own property from being used against him!

But this by no means is proof that, by voting, a man supports the Constitution voluntarily. Many people in fact do not support the Constitution and hope to, by voting, obstruct the execution of the Constitution by voting for a candidate who they know has no chance of success- more proof that the act of voting is no proof at all that any individual voluntarily supports the Constitution. Until the government is completely voluntary, then, “on general principles of law and reason, it cannot be said that the government has any voluntary supporters at all, until it can be distinctly shown who its voluntary supporters are” (p. 16).

Is it possible to show even who the supports are of any particular officeholder? No, since all votes are by secret ballot and thus no legal proof of any man’s intentions. Even if you could prove that Joe Smith voted for X candidate, that is no proof at all that he supports the Constitution. It is at least as likely, if not more so, that Joe votes for X candidate to prevent the tyranny that candidate Y will inflict upon them under color of the Constitution. It makes me wish that under the list of potential candidates on the ballot, there was a choice of 2 boxes that must be filled out to complete the voting process:

  • I am voting to support the execution of the Constitution

  • I am voting to obstruct the execution of the Constitution

Well, it would make me laugh at least, since I am fairly certain that precious few would check box A, especially since the people in government who are professedly stewards of the Constitution use it to whatever ends they choose and backwards rationalize their actions to the public.

Now we’ve discussed the dilemma in which every man finds himself that he must use the ballot to the detriment of others that these others will not be able to practice tyranny over him. If a man succeeds let us say, in getting his man into office who will protect his particular interests, that man might voluntarily support the Constitution, since in this case it is working to his favor. But if he does not get his man into office, he might oppose the Constitution on the grounds that, in this case, it is working to his detriment. Let us say that an election was very close then, 51%-49% for sake of example. In this case, 51% might for that period voluntarily support the Constitution, and 49% oppose the Cons

First of all, does this seem like a good system, where at any one point it is possible that 51% practice their special brand of tyranny over the almost equally large 49%? Second, to say that a man consents to the Constitution when it is doubtless that his support is contingent on whether he can be in power is ludicrous. “Such contingent consent as that is, in law and reason, no consent at all” (p. 17).

On a practical issue, how did it get to the point where men secretly cast a ballot for an agent and then never take personal responsibility for the acts of his agent? “No man can reasonably or legally be said to do such a thing as to assent to, or support, the Constitution, unless he openly, and in a way to make himself personally responsible for the acts of his agents, so long as they act within the limits of the power he delegates to them” (p. 17).

As all voting is secret, the only thing that voting proves is that there lives among us a secret band of robbers and tyrants, elected by a faceless number of individuals, that, to accomplish their ends, will rob and murder the rest of the people. “The simple fact of the existence of such a band does nothing towards proving that ‘the people of the United States,’ or any one of them, voluntarily supports the Constitution.

I would actually be very interested to completely “voluntarize” (I’m making up a word for “to make voluntary”) the government and then see how many people actually voluntarily support the Constitution. I agree with Spooner- I think it would be a very small number indeed.

I’ll leave you with this, as Spooner at the end of the chapter lists three classes as ostensible supporters of the Constitution. I think that this particular class applies to the vast majority of Americans: “Dupes – a large class, no doubt – each of whom, because he is allowed one voice out of millions in deciding what he may do with his own person and his own property, and because he is permitted to have the same voice in enslaving, robbing, and murdering others, that others have in enslaving, robbing, and murdering himself, is stupid enough to imagine that he is a ‘free man,’ a ‘sovereign’; that this is ‘a free government,’ ‘a government of equal rights,’ ‘the best government on earth,’ and such like absurdities” (p. 18).

Up next? Taxes! Specifically, that taxes do not provide any evidence that any one voluntarily supports or has assented to the Constitution.

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