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Lysander Spooner

Born: 19-Jan-1808
Birthplace: Athol, MA
Died: 14-May-1887
Location of death: Boston, MA
Cause of death: Illness
Remains: Buried, Forest Hills Cemetery, Boston, MA

Gender: Male
Religion: Atheist
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Activist, Anarchist, Attorney

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority

Lysander Spooner grew up on his father's farm, worked as a school teacher, tutor, and bank teller, then learned the law while working in lawyers' offices. He was an outspoken abolitionist, and wrote pamphlets attacking slavery which were read and appreciated by Frederick Douglass. He wrote anti-religious tracts attacking charlatans and the Christian faith in general, and advocated jury nullification, wherein a jury decides not merely a defendant's guilt or innocence but also the fundamental justice of the law itself. He argued for "natural law", a theory that maintains individuals are free to do virtually anything that does not harm others, and that it is improper for man-made legislation to prohibit the acts of consenting adults (i.e., banning drugs, alcohol, or prostitution, etc.). While never yielding in his arguments against slavery, he also held that the Southern states had every right to withdraw from the Union. And in writings seen as radical even among radicals, he wrote articles, pamphlets and brief books eloquently dismantling the underpinnings of government itself.

His law practice floundered, as few prospective clients wanted to be associated with his unpopular political positions. He tried his hand in the real estate business with little success, and eventually returned to work the family farm. In 1844, he decided that US postal rates were onerous: A letter from Boston to New York needed 18 in postage, and a letter from Boston to Washington 25 -- in a time when a quarter could easily buy a meal. So Spooner established the American Letter Mail Company, providing service between Baltimore, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia for a uniform price of 5 per letter. His business was almost immediately profitable, and just as quickly he was prosecuted for violating the Post Office's mail monopoly, and forced out of business. He was widely credited with a "moral victory" when the Congress subsequently mandated a series of reductions in postal rates. Spooner himself wrote another pamphlet pointing out that he had been "the principal, and by far the most efficient agent in effecting the reduction of postage".

Spooner never married, and in his later years he grew more and more radical, and more poor and curmudgeonly. He published an open letter to President Grover Cleveland "on his false inaugural address" -- maintaining than an election gave Cleveland no moral claim to rule free persons. He wrote for Liberty, an anarchist magazine, and he is still remembered and revered by modern-day libertarians. At his death, the New York Times described him as "the father of cheap postage in America", and in just one sentence of his lengthy obituary -- the final sentence -- mentioned that he was also "a voluminous writer and an active abolitionist".

Father: Asa Spooner (farmer, b. 20-Feb-1778, d. 14-Aug-1851)
Mother: Dolly Brown Spooner (b. 3-Jul-1784, m. 13-May-1804, d. 20-Oct-1845)
Brother: Leander Courtland Spooner (b. 13-Nov-1804, d. 30-Mar-1878)
Brother: William Brown Spooner (leather dealer, b. 20-Apr-1809, d. 28-Oct-1880)
Sister: Abigail Spooner (Christian missionary, b. 10-Sep-1811)
Brother: Samuel Wing Spooner (b. 23-Feb-1813)
Brother: Alexander Kutousoff Spooner (b. 13-Jan-1815)
Sister: Lucy Spooner (b. 4-Nov-1818, d. 14-Nov-1855)
Sister: Catherine Spooner Moody (b. 11-Jan-1821, 12-Dec-1869)
Brother: Charles Milton Spooner (b. 1-May-1827, d. 17-Mar-1872)
Girlfriend: Elizabeth Sargent (dated late 1840s)
Girlfriend: Mary Booth (dated and engaged, early 1850s)
Girlfriend: Lizzie Doten (medium, corresponded 1860s)
Girlfriend: Virginia Vaughn (lecturer, corresponded 1870s)

Author of books:
The Unconstitutionality of Slavery (1845)
Poverty: Its Illegal Causes and Legal Cure (1846)
A Defense for Fugitive Slaves against the Acts of Congress of 1793 and 1850 (1850)
A New System of Paper Currency (1861)
No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority (1867)
A New Banking System (1873)
The Law of Prices: A Demonstration of the Necessity for An Indefinite Increase of Money (1877)
Collected Works of Lysander Spooner (1971, posthumous; six volumes)
The Lysander Spooner Reader (1992, posthumous)
A Letter to Grover Cleveland on His False Inaugural Address and Other Essays (2004, posthumous)
An Essay on the Trial By Jury and Other Essays (2007, posthumous)



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