Lysander Spooner

Lysander Spooner
(1801-1887)

No Treason #1
IV

The question, then, returns, What is implied in a government's resting on consent?

Manifestly this one thing (to say nothing of others) is necessarily implied in the idea of a government's resting on consent, viz.: the separate, individual consent of every man who is required to contribute, either by taxation or personal service, to the support of the government. All this, or nothing, is necessarily implied, because one man's consent is just as necessary as any other man's. If, for example, A claims that his consent is necessary to the establishment or maintenance of government, he thereby necessarily admits that B's and every other man's are equally necessary; because B's and every other man's rights are just as good as his own. On the other hand, if he denies that B's or any other particular man's consent is necessary, he thereby necessarily admits that neither his own, nor any other man's is necessary; and that government need not be founded on consent at all.

There is, therefore, no alternative but to say, either that the separate, individual consent of every man who is required to aid, in any way, in supporting the government, is necessary, or that the consent of no one is necessary.

Clearly this individual consent is indispensable to the idea of treason; for if a man has never consented or agreed to support a government, he breaks no faith in refusing to support it. And if he makes war upon it, he does so as an open enemy, and not as a traitor---that is, as a betrayer, or treacherous friend. All this, or nothing, was necessarily implied in the Declaration made in 1776. If the necessity for consent, then announced, was a sound principle in favor of three millions of man, it was an equally sound one in favor of three men, or of one man. If the principle was a sound one in behalf of men living on a separate continent, it was an equally sound one in behalf of a man living on a separate farm, or in a separate house.

Moreover, it was only as separate individuals, each acting for himself and not as members of organized governments, that the three millions declared their consent to be necessary to their support of a government; and, at the same time, declared their dissent to the support of the British Crown. The governments, then existing in the Colonies, had no constitutional power, as governments, to declare the separation between England and America. On the contrary, those governments, as governments, were organized under charters from, and acknowledged allegiance to, the British Crown. Of course the British king never made it one of the chartered or constitutional powers of those governments, as governments, to absolve the people from their allegiance to himself. So far, therefore, as the Colonial Legislatures acted as revolutionists they acted only as so many individual revolutionists, and not as constitutional legislatures. And their representatives at Philadelphia, who first declared independence, were, in the eye of the constitutional law of that day, simply a committee of Revolutionists, and in no sense constitutional authorities, or the representatives of constitutional authorities.

It was also, in the eye of the law, only as separate individuals, each acting for himself, and exercising simply his natural rights as an individual, that the people at large assented to, and ratified the declaration.

It was also only as so many individuals, each acting for himself, and exercising simply his natural rights, that they revolutionized the constitutional character of their local governments (so as to exclude the idea of allegiance to Great Britain); changing their forms only as and when their convenience dictated. The whole Revolution, therefore, as a Revolution, was declared and accomplished by the people, acting separately as individuals, and exercising each his natural rights, and not by their governments in the exercise of their constitutional powers.

It was, therefore, as individuals, and only as individuals, each acting for himself alone, that they declared that their consent---that is, their individual consent, for each one could consent only for himself---was necessary to the creation or perpetuity of any government that they could rightfully be called upon to support.

In the same way each declared, for himself, that his own will, pleasure, and discretion were the only authorities he had any occasion to consult, in determining whether he would any longer support the government under which he had always lived. And if this action of each individual were valid and rightful when he had so many other individuals to keep him company, it would have been, in the view of natural justice and right, equally valid and rightful, if he had taken the same step alone. He had the same natural right to take up arms alone to take up arms alone to defend his own property against a single tax-gatherer, that he had to take up arms in company with three millions of others, to defend the property of all against an army of tax-gatherers.

Thus the whole Revolution turned upon, asserted, and, in theory, established, the right of each and every man, at his discretion, to release himself from the support of the government under which he had lived. And this principle was asserted, not as a right peculiar to themselves, or to that time, or as applicable only to the government then existing; but as a universal right of all men, at all times, and under all circumstances.

George the Third called our ancestors traitors for what they did at the time. But they were not traitors in fact, whatever he or his laws may have called them. They were not traitors in fact, because the betrayed nobody, and broke faith with nobody. They were his equals, owing him no allegiance, obedience, nor any other duty, except such as they owed to mankind at large. Their political relations with him had been purely voluntary. They had never pledged their faith to him that they would continue these relations any longer than it should please them to do so; and therefore they broke no faith in parting with him. They simply exercised their natural right of saying to him, and to the English people, that they were under no obligation to continue their political connexion with them, and that, for reasons of their own, they chose to dissolve it.

What was true of our ancestors, is true of revolutionists in general. The monarchs and governments, from whom they choose to separate, attempt to stigmatize them as traitors. But they are not traitors in fact; inasmuch as they betray, and break faith with, no one. Having pledged no faith, they break none. They are simply men, who, for reasons of their own---whether good or bad, wise or unwise, is immaterial---choose to exercise their natural right of dissolving their connexion with the governments under which they have lived. In doing this, they no more commit the crime of treason--- which necessarily implied treachery, deceit, breach of faith---than a man commits treason when he chooses to leave a church, or any other voluntary association, with which he has been connected.

This principle was a true one in 1776. It is a true one now. It is the only one on which any rightful government can rest. It is the one on which the Constitution itself professes to rest. If it does not really rest on that basis, it has no right to exist; and it is the duty of every man to raise his hand against it.

If the men of the Revolution designed to incorporate in the Constitution the absurd ideas of allegiance and treason, which they had once repudiated, against which they had fought, and by which the world had been enslaved, they thereby established for themselves an indisputable claim to the disgust and detestation of all mankind.

In subsequent numbers, the author hopes to show that, under the principle of individual consent, the little government that mankind need, is not only practicable, but natural and easy; and that the Constitution of the United States authorizes no government, except one depending wholly on voluntary support.

Next

No Treason - Introduction
No Treason #1 (1867)
No Treason #2 (1867)
No Treason #6 (1870)

NOTICE: Lysander Spooner is not affiliated with Freedom School.
NOTICE: If anything in this presentation is found to be in error a good faith effort will be made to correct it in timely fashion upon notification.
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