Posts tagged Thomas Jefferson

Re: “Not just the signature on a series of essays”


You may or may not be aware of this, but many active slavers, among them John Taylor of Caroline, described slavery as an “evil” while simultaneously opposing, both in their words and their deeds, all immediate efforts to end it. “Evil” is a word which has many shades of meaning, and in the 18th and 19th centuries it was far more commonly used than it is today to refer not only to deliberate acts of wickedness, but also to more generally bad conditions such as hurricanes, earthquakes, or general ignorance and folly. Many anti-abolitionists and slavers viewed slavery as an “evil” in the latter sense (in that they would rather be rid of it, but did not believe that white slavers had any immediate moral obligation to stop enslaving the black people that they held captive). Robert E. Lee, for example, was of this school of thought (the letter in which he famously described slavery as a “moral and political evil” was actually a letter primarily devoted to denouncing abolitionism as a doctrine and Northern abolitionists as a group). So was John Taylor of Caroline. So was Jefferson, at times, although at other times he made hypocritical gestures towards a more anti-slavery position. It is either pure ignorance, pure folly, or pure chicanery to try to represent this position (which recognizes no moral obligation to stop enslaving actually existing slaves, and which explicitly prefers the indefinite continuation of slavery unless and until all black people could be ethnically cleansed from their life-long homes in the American South and forced to foreign colonies in Africa) as an anti-slavery position. Real abolitionists in the 19th century were quite familiar with this position (since it was the official position of the American Colonization Society, an organization of which John Taylor of Caroline was an early supporter and officer), and they denounced it furiously. (See, for example, William Lloyd Garrison’s Thoughts on African Colonization.) As well they should have, since the position is, first, racist rubbish, and, second, quite clearly calculated to ease the consciences of squeamish slavers rather than to free those held in bondage. Those who sentimentally wished for slavery to end, somehow or another, in some far-off day which they perpetually deferred in the name of some other goal that justified their keeping slaves in the meantime — as, for example, with John Taylor of Caroline and his dreams of a Negerrein Virginia — no more count as anti-slavery for those idle remarks than George W. Bush counts as anti-war for having said (in his speech announcing the Iraq war) that war is terrible and he longs to live in peace.

This is the necessary context — that is, the context of John Taylor of Caroline’s actual thoughts about the nature of the “evil” in question and what if anything ought to be done to “alleviate it” (short of “wholly cur[ing]” it), and what all that actually meant in practice for the many black people whose slave-labor he himself was living off of while he wrote those lines — that your isolated use of that single quotation, and your frankly outrageous attempt to paint this active slaver as being anti-slavery, omits.

As for your accusations of plagiarism, I thank you for quoting the passages that you claim to have “caught” me plagiarizing. I’ll be happy to let the reader judge whether what I wrote could fairly be described as “plagiarizing” either of the other passages that you mention here.

Re: “Not just the signature on a series of essays”


Far more difficult is to consider the status of slavery in its own time …

The “status of slavery” where and for whom?

For black people in Virginia, or for that matter for white slavers in Virginia, it was a pretty important issue.


… and ask the question that all persons of moral character asked at the time: what can we do to get rid of this wretched institutional inheritance? If American history shows nothing else, it is that there was no easy answer to that question.

What do you mean by the question “What can we do?”

If it’s intended to be a moral question about what those who were in positions of legal power, or who perpetrated slavery as individuals should have done to get rid of it, the answer is easy: immediate, complete, and unconditional emancipation. This is something that Garrison, Spooner, and Gerrit Smith all believed in, advocated, and acted (in different ways) to bring about. It’s something that Jefferson and Taylor explicitly rejected in favor of continuing slavery, and gradual emancipation conditional on forced exile from America.

If it’s intended to be a strategic question about what abolitionists ought to have done in order to get around the efforts of obdurate or unrepentant slavers to prevent or halt emancipation, then that’s a more difficult question, but it’s a question that is only difficult because of the difficulties inserted by slavers like Jefferson and Taylor. It’s certainly not a “difficulty” that offers any reason to mitigate the judgment on Jefferson’s character, or his libertarian credentials.


The same may be said with equal relevance to Jefferson’s concept of decentralized republicanism. And I’ll leave it at that.

I’m going to repeat this one last time, to make sure that we are clear. Nothing that I have said concerning Jefferson’s political views is a denunciation of “decentralized republicanism.” I’m an anarchist, so I don’t believe in any form of government, no matter how decentralized or how republican. But as it happens, I think that political decentralization is better than political centralization, and republican and democratic governments are better than monarchical governments.

The issue here is not that I’m using slavery in order to stop discussions of decentralized republicanism. This is either a careless or a deliberate distortion of what I’ve explicitly and repeatedly said. What I’m doing is denying that the political system actually advocated by Thomas Jefferson counts as a form of decentralized republicanism, any more than the Roman Catholic Church counts as a “democracy” on account of the cardinals voting for the Pope.

You may want to talk about decentralized republicanism more than you want to talk about Thomas Jefferson and slavery. That’s fine; it’s an interesting subject. But this post is, again, about Thomas Jefferson and slavery. You are the one changing the subject in order to try to redirect conversation to something other than the original topic. Not me.

As for your comments on John Taylor of Caroline, again, you are taking the passage out of its context and directly ignoring the many other things that Taylor said about slavery. I quoted several of these. Taylor was a colonizationist, not an abolitionist, and he explicitly stated that while slavery was an “evil” that continuing to enslave black people was preferable to freeing them without the condition of forced deportation to Africa. He specifically criticized Jefferson’s own writing on slavery because he felt that Jefferson was too negative about it, and that “well managed” slaves were better off than free blacks in America. I gave you several direct quotations in order to contextualize your own quotation and to explain the ways in which his views were a point of transition between the older anti-abolition views of Jefferson and the later positively pro-slavery views of Calhoun, Ruffin, Fitzhugh, et al. You have simply ignored these quotations rather than engaging with them and repeated the original quotation, apparently unaffected by direct evidence to the contrary of your interpretation of it. I don’t know whether or not you have any actual knowledge of John Taylor of Caroline’s political writings on slavery other than the quotation you’ve misused here, but I do know that so far you haven’t engaged with his full views in anything resembling a comprehensive or accurate way, even when the full content of those views has been directly pointed out to you.


And I agree that it’s easy to imagine that we would have applied our modern sensibilities …

Abolitionism is not a “modern sensibility.” It already existed in the 18th and 19th centuries. Jefferson in particular was familiar with the abolitionist arguments; at times he even made some of them himself, while consistently refusing to act on the conclusions that he drew.

Re: “Not just the signature on a series of essays”


What is being argued, though, is that the late 18th century system of Jeffersonian republicanism in the U.S. (though indeed marred by the imperfection of slavery) …

Chattel slavery was not some minor “imperfection” marring a fundamentally humane system. It was the central organizing principle of the law and daily life in Jefferson’s Virginia. It was a crime against humanity that sustained a thoroughly hideous cannibal-empire filled with self-satisfied thugs and posturing hypocrites, who lived on the blood and labor of their fellow creatures, and who passed law after law to protect their neo-feudal economic system and fortify their prison camp plantations at government expense. In Jefferson’s Virginia, this legal cannibalism devoured the lives, property, and labor of three hundred thousand souls, about 40% of the entire population of the state. A conversation about early American politics that ignores such plain facts or marginalizes them as “imperfections” in a basically worthwhile system (rather than what they were — the ghoulish essence of the system itself) is bullshit. And bullshit conversations like that ought to be stopped.


You forgot to add an important qualifier. What you no doubt meant to say was “the decentralized republicanism advocated for white people by Jefferson.”


Of course such a qualifier was hardly “forgotten” as I had acknowledged Jefferson’s fault on slavery from the outset and readily contextualized that grievous fault aside his better characteristics long before you got here. So you return to the slavery canard not to inform the discussion, that discussion already being informed of it, but rather for its conversation-stopping shock value.

No, the reason that I return to chattel slavery is that to describe Jefferson’s slavocracy as “decentralized republicanism” is to carelessly spread an absurd lie. What Jefferson actually believed in, and actually practiced, was decentralized republicanism for white men, patriarchal tyranny for white women and children, and a hereditary, invasive, absolute tyranny accountable to none save God alone for all black people regardless of age or gender. You may as well describe the Roman Catholic Church as a democracy, because, after all, the Cardinals all get to vote on the Pope.


First, by means of comparison between Hamilton’s “views” and Jefferson’s “practice” it appears that you intend to cast the latter as comparatively more offensive.

No, I don’t intend anything of the sort. As I’ve repeatedly said, I consider Hamilton to have been perfectly loathsome, and to be directly responsible for all kinds of political rot. I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, but I’ve never claimed that Jefferson is “worse,” from a libertarian perspective, than Hamilton. I don’t even know how that kind of global comparison would be made — each one was clearly much worse than the other in some respects, and much better than the other in others, and I neither know, nor much care, how you’d make those different respects commensurable with one another to make the comparison.

The reason for linguistically leaning on Jefferson’s practice is that, in addition to being a slaver, he was also a posturing hypocrite, especially on this issue, so the preferences manifest in hisd eeds sometimes need to be stressed over his idle words, when it comes to assessing his character or his legacy.


Second, why the need to constantly qualify Hamilton’s faults …

I don’t.


Why is it not sufficient to fault Hamilton as Hamilton for things he did in and of themselves?

It is.

However, Wilkinson’s original post was about Thomas Jefferson. It was not about Alexander Hamilton at all. My post was about Thomas Jefferson. It mentioned Alexander Hamilton only to explain what a dangerous creep I think he was. Wilkinson’s kind notice of my post was, again, about “Thomas Jefferson’s loathsomely anti-libertarian credentials.” It is only the people trying to apologize for Jefferson who keep insisting on dragging Alexander Hamilton into the discussion, apparently in order to try to change the subject from Jefferson’s anti-libertarian positions to something else — e.g., Hamilton’s Caesarianism, or European monarchy, or the United States Constitution, or just about any damn thing other than the original topic. I responded to some of these comparisons, initiated by you and not by me, by pointing out that American chattel slavery is actually a salient issue in the comparison you’re trying to make, not something that can be waved or set aside, and now, for my trouble, I am told that I ought to be faulting Hamilton as Hamilton rather than comparing him to somebody else. This is really too much. If you want to know my views about Alexander Hamilton or George Washington or the U.S. Constitution or the Whiskey Rebellion or slavery in New York or slavery in the Caribbean or central banking or the Civil War or the Ludlow Massacre or any number of other things, I’ve written about them all, on their own, elsewhere, and I’d be happy to discuss them with you, on their own, in a forum other than this one, but for here and now you should not be surprised that my focus is on Jefferson, not Hamilton, in discussing an article on Jefferson; and you also should not be surprised that if you insist on inserting a comparison with Hamilton into the discussion, I’ll urge that you consider the crime of slavery if that’s one of the salient issues in the comparison. I certainly will not waste my time “faulting Hamilton as Hamilton” in a discussion that’s about something other than Hamilton’s many follies, vices, and crimes.


And that is why I make the claim that decentralized republicanism is a lesser evil than monarchy or other autocracies.

For what it’s worth, I agree with you about this. What I deny is that Jefferson advocated decentralized republicanism, if either the term “decentralized” or the term “republican” means anything at all. What he actually advocated, and practiced, was a form of brutal autocracy for everyone other than his fellow white men.


If you doubt that ask yourself this: is a child inherently marked with evil character if, by pure chance of his birth, he happens to inherit the plantation of his slave-owning father?

No. However, if, as an adult, he continues to spend the rest of his life enslaving those people, even though he had decades in which to legally emancipate them, or simply to treat them as free men and women (by letting them come and go as they pleased, work or not work on what they chose, distributing his unearned lands to the people his father had forced to till, and generally treating them as his equals rather than his servants), and did nothing of the sort for his long life, and continued to live his life of idleness on the backs of his victims and their forced labor–well, then, that certainly does indicate very deep and grave vice in that man-stealer’s character.


But he also advanced in goodness, even on slavery, …

Well gosh, William, that was mighty white of him. But the only way that a slaveholder can “advance in goodness” that matters more than a tinker’s cuss is to stop holding innocent people as slaves. Jefferson didn’t do that. And that’s important.


He called the agrarian trades morally superior to manufacturing based on the fact that manufacturing interests at his time were using the government to subsidize their own existence and tax their competitors abroad.

As opposed to Southern “farmers,” who never sought favors or subsidies for their interests from the United States government.

I don’t know whether you actually intended to endorse this view of Jefferson’s, or merely to explain it. But whether you do or not, it’s worth noting that this is just another example of Jefferson’s posturing hypocrisy. And it’s certainly true that the Southern slavocracy went on for the next three-quarters of a century demanding and getting more and more privileges and protections from the state and federal governments (gag orders, fugitive slave laws, etc. etc. etc.) through the same processes of political back-scratching and log-rolling; something that Jefferson somehow failed to predict.


I’m no expert on Jefferson’s correspondences, but I do know of his influence on the most prominent follower of his agrarian model, John Taylor of Caroline.

Another Virginia slaver and “colonizationist,” who wrote that the abolition of slavery without forced exile for the freed black people, would bring “miseries on both their owners [sic] and themselves, by the perpetual excitements to insurrection,” and that “the blacks will be more enslaved than they are at present; and the whites in pursuit of an ideal of freedom for them, will create some vortex for engulphing the liberty left in the world and obtain real slavery for themselves,” and who had the shamelessness, after a life of man-stealing and useless slave-driving parasitism, to dare to assert that free black farmers, when not forced into exile from their homes, are “driven into every species of crime for subsistence; and destined to a life of idleness, anxiety, and guilt.” Perhaps less of a posturing hypocrite than Jefferson, in the sense that he was rather more explicit and consistent about his belief that the “evils” he condemned were to be remedied by ethnic cleansing, not by emancipation, and, if that wasn’t available, the lesser-evil alternative in his view was for “well managed” slaves who were “docile, useful, and happy,” and a slave-lord “restrained by his property in the slave, and susceptible of humanity.” Taylor is widely considered to have been an important step in the ideological transition from the older Jeffersonian “necessary evil” defenses of slavery to the later Calhounian “positive good” arguments.

You’re making things harder on yourself by bringing up John Taylor of Caroline, not easier.

Re: “Not just the signature on a series of essays”


… the decentralized republicanism advocated by Jefferson ….

You forgot to add an important qualifier. What you no doubt meant to say was “the decentralized republicanism advocated for white people by Jefferson.”

The system of rule that Jefferson advocated, and personally instituted, for black people, was not “decentralized republicanism,” but rather hereditary, personal, absolutist tyranny–tyranny of a form almost unparalleled in human history for its invasiveness, immiseration, and ruthless brutality against its unwilling subjects.

Re: “Not just the signature on a series of essays”

John V.,

But what I didn’t see in that entire article was something about Jefferson’s general views on governance and commerce.

Well, sure, but the post wasn’t intended to be a post about Jefferson’s views in general (much less to compare them to Hamilton’s views, which I also think were despicable). It was intended as a post about the need to take seriously his views and concrete actions with regard to chattel slavery.

If you want a more general take on Jefferson, I’d say that, besides slavery (which is an odd start–would you try to evaluate Augusto Pinochet’s record “aside from the torturing and murdering political dissidents”?) the following do deserve at least some critical attention: (1) his government-imposed Ograbme, (2) his decision to launch the first overseas war in American history, (3) his use of expropriated tax money for massive territorial expansion, (4) his government’s arrogation of title over the unclaimed lands in that new territory, and (5) due to that arrogation, his repeated actions against the land rights of honest homesteaders, in favor of the politically-fabricated land claims of speculators and political jobbers, who had done nothing to earn a right to the land that they claimed, but got the power to grab it away from the people who cleared and tilled it by right of the bribes they paid to the federal government. My own view is that another one of his profoundly anti-libertarian stances, and the root of many of the others, was his belief in the legitimacy of monopoly government, which necessarily involved the willingness impose a government on unwilling subjects, together with its regulations, its imposts and duties, its wars, its claims to vast tracts of land that it had done nothing to earn, etc., even without their consent, even if they wanted nothing but to be left alone to make an honest living in peace, and to violently repress any individual person who tried to do so.

None of this is to say anything about how you ought to rank-order Jefferson, on his libertarian merits, compared to Alexander Hamilton, or any of the other American revolutionaries. As I said in the post, I think Hamilton was perfectly awful as a person and as a political figure. I also don’t actually know or much care how you would go about making all the different kinds and degrees of anti-libertarian views or policies commensurable with each other so that you could do the rank-ordering. Does being for a central bank get you more or fewer or as many libertarian demerits as launching an overseas war, or a “national security” embargo on foreign trade? Or more in some respects but fewer in other respects? How do you even start to do the scoring?

Jacob T. Levy:

and is living in a monarchy– like, say, the UK, or Canada, or Australia, or New Zealand– really inherently more unfree than living in a state with widespread chattel slavery?


Today in the year 2008, no. But in 18th when even the world’s most “benevolent” monarchies – i.e. George III of England and Catherine the Great of Russia – left much to be desired

As opposed to American chattel slavery in the 18th century, which was just peachy.

Hamilton’s views on the Executive, in their more flamboyant monarchistic versions, were contemptible and absurd; his views on the Executive, in their more practical pseudo-republican versions, were no less despicable, and much more damaging (because they were more insidious). But the hereditary absolutist tyranny of slavery, as actually practiced (not merely advocated in speeches) by Jefferson and his fellow white slavelords was no less terrible for being inflicted by means other than formal government.

Jacob T. Levy:

As to whether Jefferson had any anti-libertarian views about government and commerce among whites– setting, as John V insists, “SLAVERY ASIDE”, the answer is yes, certainly. … The Embargo Acts were the most radical restriction of American trade in U.S. history.


They were also enacted as a genuine, if misguided, national defense policy amidst the turmoil of Europe’s Napoleonic wars, and this too was done within the full purview of the Constitution. Nor was the Embargo Act inconsistent with Jefferson’s advocacy of free trade, ….

Well, so?

As far as I can tell, Jacob was discussing libertarianism, not “national defense policy,” the Constitution, or the internal consistency of Jefferson’s anti-libertarian views. If his radical government lock-down on foreign trade was anti-libertarian (and it was), that suffices to show that “Jefferson had any anti-libertarian views about government and commerce among whites.”


That Hamilton not only proposed such a system for the United States but openly praised it as the best system of government illustrates conclusively that he was no friend of liberty.

I’m sorry, just who was claiming that Hamilton was a “friend of liberty”? My original post was explicitly about Jefferson’s vices and crimes, not about Hamilton’s virtues — which, as I said, I can find very few of. As far as I can tell, nobody else in the more widely-ranging follow-up comments made the claim you’re attacking here, either.

I think you’re walloping a strawman.

Re: Gene Callahan Joins the Smearbund


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.


In a perfect world, in a world of the theoretical, of course he is correct.

Actually, part of Spooner’s point, if you’re paying attention, is that here in the real world, the strategy of using paper constitutions to limit the invasiveness of governments is demonstrably impractical. There’s little if any evidence that his views on the theoretical, in-principle relationship between the natural law and the U.S. Constitution changed substantially between The Unconstitutionality of Slavery and No Treason No. 6. (For details, see Roderick Long’s paper.) What did change was that he became convinced, in light of the recent triumph of bayonet-point Unionism, that it was practically useless to go on citing the Constitution as a basis for attacking tyrannical laws, and that a new strategy was called for. Hence the shift to arguments explicitly based on natural law and directed against all forms of government authority, including governments based on paper constitutions.


Far better for us all if these great men would have ENGAGED more and FOUGHT more than they did.

Frederick Douglass:

But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, it is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less, would you persuade more, and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed. But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light? … The time for such argument is past. At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.


I can’t prove it, but I’d wager you anything you like, at any odds, that If we took a plebiscite on whether people wished to live under the Constitution or not, that they would vote in the affirmative, and so would the rest of the world.

Well, so?

I can’t for the life of me see what this has to do with Spooner’s explanation of the criminality of government legislators, judges, executives, etc. My point is precisely that Spooner’s argument have nothing at all to do with the outcome of majoritarian voting games.

As for your claim that the same cabal of usurpers who, under the auspices of the United States Constitution, claimed the right to pass fugitive slave laws and crush the Whiskey Rebellion by force of arms, somehow believed that the Constitution allowed for a right of individual dissenters to freely withdraw from the political obligations that they sought to impose (!), I guess your understanding of the Constitutionalists is different from mine. As it is from the understanding of Spooner, who never made such a risible claim about the motives or expectations of the minority faction who wrote and signed off on the Constitution. (He did believe that the legal meaning of the text sometimes conflicted with their motives and expectations in writing it; but that’s an entirely different claim.)


Yeah, [enslaving hundreds of people] was pretty shitty of Jefferson. He was also a hypocrite, a rapist, and President of the United States, all of which I think were pretty shitty of him. What’s your point?


As much as any single man in history, he was the force, a goddamned genius of liberty, the POWERHOUSE behind what freedoms we DO have today.

Maybe so. Certainly, if the dude is the best there is on offer by way of concrete historical achievements towards liberty, then I guess that could help explain why we’re in such a sorry state today.

In any case, my point is that the presumption that anarchists would just have to recognize and respect the obvious merit of a slaver, rapist, hypocrite, and President is a pretty weird presumption from which to start your argument.


You seem to be presuming that trying to get somebody elected President of the United States is the only way to get “things [to] improve”. But it’s not the only way. It’s not the best way, either, or even a particularly plausible way. Or, at least, if you think that it is, that’s certainly not a self-evident truth that you can just presuppose. It’s a tendentious claim that you’ll have to justify with some kind of argument.


At least you qualified this with the words “seem & “presuming”, otherwise that’s exactly what you would have been doing. The argument you suggested for me; that WOULD be a pretty stupid argument I made, eh?

I charitably suggested that you might be presupposing that premise, or something like it, because if you’re not presupposing that getting Ron Paul elected President is the only way to improve the situation, all you have the following argument:

  1. These folks here aren’t contributing to efforts to get Ron Paul elected President. (given)
  2. Therefore, these folks here aren’t contributing to improving the political situation. (conclusion)

… which is a flat non sequitur. As yet there’s no reason at all to suppose that (2) follows from (1). If you add the extra premise I suggested, then you’ll have:

  1. Getting Ron Paul elected President is the only way to improve the political situation. (implicit)
  2. These folks here aren’t contributing to efforts to get Ron Paul elected President. (given)
  3. Therefore, these folks here aren’t contributing to improving the political situation. (conclusion)

Not all of these premises are true (the implicit premise 0 is clearly false), but it is at least formally valid; if all the premises were true, the conclusion would have to follow.

If I was being too charitable, well, I’m sorry. I take it back. If you’re not actually presuming what I said you seem to be presuming, then your conclusion isn’t supported by question-begging premises; it’s not supported by anything at all.


Doctor Paul, inspired THOUSANDS of people like me to go out and fight these degenerates.

Yep. Let’s all measure the inputs to the allocation process instead of measuring the outputs.

But, well, I guess when you’ve got a prior commitment to methods that require enlisting tens of millions of other people and harnessing tens of millions of dollars, which don’t even operate but for a few months out of every four-year cycle, and which operate on winner-take-all rules that require you to win just about everything before you can win just about anything — methods which, in short, have no plausible hope of even minor progress on the margins for decades to come — measuring the inputs is about all you can do. There are no outputs to measure, and there won’t be in the forseeable future.

Re: Gene Callahan Joins the Smearbund

Matt Polzkill:

Of course Spooner greatly respected the Constitution, that’s why he devoted a large chunk of his life to studying it & writing about it (his treatise on how chattel slavery is unconstitutional is genius). His MAIN problem with it is that no one follows it.

Lysander Spooner, No Treason No. 6: The Constitution of No Authority:

Inasmuch as the Constitution was never signed, nor agreed to, by anybody, as a contract, and therefore never bound anybody, and is now binding upon nobody; and is, moreover, such an one as no people can ever hereafter be expected to consent to, except as they may be forced to do so at the point of the bayonet, it is perhaps of no importance what its true legal meaning, as a contract, is. Nevertheless, the writer thinks it proper to say that, in his opinion, the Constitution is no such instrument as it has generally been assumed to be; but that by false interpretations, and naked usurpations, the government has been made in practice a very widely, and almost wholly, different thing from what the Constitution itself purports to authorize. He has heretofore written much, and could write much more, to prove that such is the truth. 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.

That’s some kind of respect he’s got there.

Matt Polzkill:

He correctly explains that paper can’t magically create a just society & that the people calling themselves “the government” are in fact the greatest criminals because they ignore or subvert it.

That is certainly not Spooner’s explanation of why the people calling themselves “the government” are the greatest criminals.

His explanation of why they are the greatest criminals is that they impose binding political obligations on free and independent people without the latter’s genuine individual consent.

Matt Polzkill:

Yeah, and Jefferson had slaves and…my god, what a way to go about things!

Yeah, that was pretty shitty of Jefferson. He was also a hypocrite, a rapist, and President of the United States, all of which I think were pretty shitty of him. What’s your point?

Matt Polzkill:

I’m sure liberty will just drop in your laps someday, or maybe Jesus Christ will come down. Have a nice wait, if things improve, the rest of us will know who NOT to thank.

You seem to be presuming that trying to get somebody elected President of the United States is the only way to get “things [to] improve”. But it’s not the only way. It’s not the best way, either, or even a particularly plausible way. Or, at least, if you think that it is, that’s certainly not a self-evident truth that you can just presuppose. It’s a tendentious claim that you’ll have to justify with some kind of argument.


… big thinkers like Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, Ayn Rand, and the like …

May I suggest that Thomas Jefferson be excluded from consideration, along with any other so-called “liberal” or “libertarian” who unrepentantly presumed to dominate his fellow human beings and force them into an abject condition of chattel slavery?

As for genuinely libertarian heroes, off the top of my head, I’d like to recommend Thomas Paine, Henry David Thoreau, William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Frederick Douglass, Sarah Moore Grimké, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lysander Spooner, Stephen Pearl Andrews, Ezra Heywood, Angela Tilton Heywood, Benjamin Tucker, William Graham Sumner, Mark Twain, Dyer Lum, Voltairine de Cleyre, Emma Goldman, Randolph Bourne, Murray Rothbard, Karl Hess, and Samuel E. Konkin III.

For what it’s worth, to-day is the 200th birthday of Lysander Spooner, one of America’s foremost radical libertarian heroes.

Simple answers to rhetorical questions

Not being a hip or “urbane” libertarian, perhaps these questions were not directed at me. Nevertheless…

Mark: Do you judge Thomas Jefferson so harshly? He was no less than a slave owner!

Of course I do. What a stupid question. Why would you take it for granted that libertarians must approve of slavers, rapists, hypocritical scoundrels, and Presidents of the United States?

Mark: Do you distance yourself from the Declaration of Independence because you worry what other people think that says about your views of racism?

No. Admiration for a document or an argument, and admiration for its author, are two different things.

Mark: Do you think that it was a tactical mistake for the founders to establish the minarchist government they did …

Yes. Also a moral mistake.

Mark: … should they have established a familiar tyranny on American soil until such time as they agreed on an ethically pure political philosophy?


They should have simply left people alone. You act as if this were not an option. Why?