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The Unconstitutionality of Slavery () was a book by American abolitionist Lysander Spooner advocating the view that the United States Constitution.
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Whereas , Lysander Spooner, of Massachusetts, that man of honest heart and acute and profound intellect, has published a perfectly conclusive legal argument against the constitutionality of slavery;.
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Resolved , therefore, that we warmly recommend to the friends of freedom, in this and other States, to supply, within the coming six months, each lawyer in their respective counties with a copy of said argument. There are two potential problems here that I should attempt to clear up. For centuries philosophers have distinguished natural law from positive law. The latter signifies an enactment by a sovereign government, whether that government be limited or absolute, and whether the enactment be just or unjust.
They vary dramatically from one nation to the next, and current laws are frequently repealed and new laws enacted. Here is how Spooner summarized his perspective:.
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I shall define [law] to be simply the rule, principle, obligation or requirement of natural justice. This rule, principle, obligation or requirement of natural justice, has its origin in the natural rights of individuals, results necessarily from them, keeps them ever in view as its end and purpose, secures their enjoyment, and forbids their violation.
It also secures all those acquisitions of property, privilege and claim, which men have a natural right to make by labor and contract. Human laws that violate rights are based on nothing but brute force, and we have no moral obligation to obey them.
Of course, we might obey the unjust decrees of a government from fear of being punished by force, but this is a matter of prudence, not morality. As John Locke had argued centuries earlier, force alone cannot create right. The fact that I am pointing a gun at you may compel you to obey me, but my threat does not morally obligate you to obey me.
And, Spooner argued, as it goes with individuals, so it goes with governments, which are nothing but collections of individuals who presume to tell others how to live. In the first chapter of The Unconstitutionality of Slavery, he wrote:. The true and general meaning of [law], is that natural, permanent, unalterable principle, which governs any particular thing or class of things.
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The principle is strictly a natural one; and the term applies to every natural principle, whether mental, moral or physical. Thus we speak of the laws of mind; meaning thereby those natural, universal and necessary principles, according to which mind acts, or by which it is governed.
And it is solely because it is unalterable in its nature, and universal in its application, that it is denominated law. If it were changeable, partial or arbitrary, it would be no law. Unless the operation of this principle were uniform, universal and necessary, it would be no law. Every undergraduate philosophy student will have a ready response to this passage: A physical law expresses what is, whereas a natural moral law expresses what ought to be. A volitional human being does not necessarily follow moral law, as a brick follows the physical law of gravitation when we drop it.
We may say that a person should respect the rights of others, but we cannot say that all people do in fact respect the rights of others, since many people violate those selfsame rights. People are not bricks; people have the power to make choices. This of course relates to the classic Is-Ought Problem so beloved by modern moral philosophers. I cannot possibly discuss the problem here, except to note that I do not regard it as an insurmountable obstacle to a natural-law ethics of the sort that Spooner defended. I may have more to say about this in subsequent essays.
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Share your thoughts with other customers. Write a customer review. Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon. December 22, - Published on Amazon. Verified Purchase.
A very well written dissertation on the evil of slavery. I believe the Law student will find it quite appealling. I like verbosity. July 11, - Published on Amazon.
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I dislike repetitious presumption. Okay, so Spooner is a radical for his time, I grant you. But reaching for repetition as a hammer to make your point destroys any sympathy from your audience. Other than that, he does do a good bit of research, and can quote Blackstone with the best of them. October 10, - Published on Amazon.
October 21, - Published on Amazon. Love Lysander ,. May 3, - Published on Amazon.
Dense, yet clear and easy to follow. I've added Mr.