A Letter to Grover Cleveland, Section XXVII, by Lysander Spooner

Lysander Spooner
Continued from Section XXVI, linked below with all prior posts in this series.

Section XXVII.

Of course we can have no courts of justice, under such systems of lawmaking, and supreme court decisions, as now prevail.

We have a population of fifty to sixty millions; and not a single court of justice, State or national!

But we have everywhere courts of injustice—open and avowed injustice—claiming sole jurisdiction of all cases affecting men’s rights of both person and property; and having at their beck brute force enough to compel absolute submission to their decrees, whether just or unjust.

Can a more decisive or infallible condemnation of our governments be conceived of, than the absence of all courts of justice, and the absolute power of their courts of injustice?

Yes, they lie under still another condemnation, to wit, that their courts are not only courts of injustice, but they are also secret tribunals; adjudicating all causes according to the secret instructions of their masters, the lawmakers, and their authorized interpreters, their supreme courts.

I say secret tribunals, and secret instructions, because, to the great body of the people, whose rights are at stake, they are secret to all practical intents and purposes. They are secret, because their reasons for their decrees are to be found only in great volumes of statutes and supreme court reports, which the mass of the people have neither money to buy, nor time to read; and would not understand, if they were to read them.

These statutes and reports are so far out of reach of the people at large, that the only knowledge a man can ordinarily get of them, when he is summoned before one of the tribunals appointed to execute them, is to be obtained by employing an expert—or so-called lawyer—to enlighten him.

This expert in injustice is one who buys these great volumes of statutes and reports, and spends his life in studying them, and trying to keep himself informed of their contents. But even he can give a client very little information in regard to them; for the statutes and decisions are so voluminous, and are so constantly being made and unmade, and are so destitute of all conformity to those natural principles of justice which men readily and intuitively comprehend; and are moreover capable of so many different interpretations, that he is usually in as great doubt—perhaps in even greater doubt—than his client, as to what will be the result of a suit.

The most he can usually say to his client, is this:

Every civil suit must finally be given to one of two persons, the plaintiff or defendant. Whether, therefore, your cause is a just, or an unjust, one, you have at least one chance in two, of gaining it. But no matter how just your cause may be, you need have no hope that the tribunal that tries it, will be governed by any such consideration, if the statute book, or the past decisions of the supreme court, are against you. So, also, no matter how unjust your cause may be, you may nevertheless expect to gain it, if the statutes and past decisions are in your favor. If, therefore, you have money to spend in such a lottery as this, I will do my best to gain your cause for you, whether it be a just, or an unjust, one.

If the charge is a criminal one, this expert says to his client:

You must either be found guilty, or acquitted. Whether, therefore, you are really innocent or guilty, you have at least one chance in two, of an acquittal. But no matter how innocent you may be of any real crime, you need have no hope of an acquittal, if the statute book, or the past decisions of the supreme court, are against you. If, on the other hand, you have committed a real wrong to another, there may be many laws on the statute book, many precedents, and technicalities, and whimsicalities, through which you may hope to escape. But your reputation, your liberty, or perhaps your life, is at stake. To save these you can afford to risk your money, even though the result is so uncertain. Therefore you had best give me your money, and I will do my best to save you, whether you are innocent or guilty.

But for the great body of the people,—those who have no money that they can afford to risk in a lawsuit,—no matter what may be their rights in either a civil or criminal suit,—their cases are hopeless. They may have been taxed, directly and indirectly, to their last dollars, for the support of the government; they may even have been compelled to risk their lives, and to lose their limbs, in its defence; yet when they want its protection,—that protection for which their taxes and military services were professedly extorted from them,—they are coolly told that the government offers no justice, nor even any chance or semblance of justice, except to those who have more money than they.

But the point now to be specially noticed is, that in the case of either the civil or criminal suit, the client, whether rich or poor, is nearly or quite as much in the dark as to his fate, and as to the grounds on which his fate will be determined, as though he were to be tried by an English Star Chamber court, or one of the secret tribunals of Russia, or even the Spanish Inquisition.

Thus in the supreme exigencies of a man’s life, whether in civil or criminal cases, where his property, his reputation, his liberty, or his life is at stake, he is really to be tried by what is, to him, at least, a secret tribunal; a tribunal that is governed by what are, to him, the secret instructions of lawmakers, and supreme courts; neither of whom care anything for his rights of property in a civil suit, or for his guilt or innocence in a criminal one; but only for their own authority as lawmakers and judges.

The bystanders, at these trials, look on amazed, but powerless to defend the right, or prevent the wrong. Human nature has no rights, in the presence of these infernal tribunals.

Is it any wonder that all men live in constant terror of such a government as that? Is it any wonder that so many give up all attempts to preserve their natural rights of person and property, in opposition to tribunals, to whom justice and injustice are indifferent, and whose ways are, to common minds, hidden mysteries, and impenetrable secrets.

But even this is not all. The mode of trial, if not as infamous as the trial itself, is at least so utterly false and absurd, as to add a new element of uncertainty to the result of all judicial proceedings.

A trial in one of these courts of injustice is a trial by battle, almost, if not quite, as really as was a trial by battle, five hundred or a thousand years ago.

Now, as then, the adverse parties choose their champions, to fight their battles for them.

These champions, trained to such contests, and armed, not only with all the weapons their own skill, cunning, and power can supply, but also with all the iniquitous laws, precedents, and technicalities that lawmakers and supreme courts can give them, for defeating justice, and accomplishing injustice, can—if not always, yet none but themselves know how often—offer their clients such chances of victory—independently of the justice of their causes—as to induce the dishonest to go into court to evade justice, or accomplish injustice, not less often perhaps than the honest go there in the hope to get justice, or avoid injustice.

We have now, I think, some sixty thousand of these champions, who make it the business of their lives to equip themselves for these conflicts, and sell their services for a price.

Is there any one of these men, who studies justice as a science, and regards that alone in all his professional exertions? If there are any such, why do we so seldom, or never, hear of them? Why have they not told us, hundreds of years ago, what are men’s natural rights of person and property? And why have they not told us how false, absurd, and tyrannical are all these lawmaking governments? Why have they not told us what impostors and tyrants all these so-called lawmakers, judges, etc., etc., are? Why are so many of them so ambitious to become lawmakers and judges themselves?

Is it too much to hope for mankind, that they may sometime have courts of justice, instead of such courts of injustice as these?

If we ever should have courts of justice, it is easy to see what will become of statute books, supreme courts, trial by battle, and all the other machinery of fraud and tyranny, by which the world is now ruled.

If the people of this country knew what crimes are constantly committed by these courts of injustice, they would squelch them, without mercy, as unceremoniously as they would squelch so many gangs of bandits or pirates. In fact, bandits and pirates are highly respectable and honorable villains, compared with the judges of these courts of injustice. Bandits and pirates do not—like these judges—attempt to cheat us out of our common sense, in order to cheat us out of our property, liberty, or life. They do not profess to be anything but such villains as they really are. They do not claim to have received any “Divine” authority for robbing, enslaving, or murdering us at their pleasure. They do not claim immunity for their crimes, upon the ground that they are duly authorized agents of any such invisible, intangible, irresponsible, unimaginable thing as “society,” or “the State.” They do not insult us by telling us that they are only exercising that authority to rob, enslave, and murder us, which we ourselves have delegated to them. They do not claim that they are robbing, enslaving, and murdering us, solely to secure our happiness and prosperity, and not from any selfish motives of their own. They do not claim a wisdom so superior to that of the producers of wealth, as to know, better than they, how their wealth should be disposed of. They do not tell us that we are the freest and happiest people on earth, inasmuch as each of our male adults is allowed one voice in ten millions in the choice of the men, who are to rob, enslave, and murder us. They do not tell us that all liberty and order would be destroyed, that society itself would go to pieces, and man go back to barbarism, if it were not for the care, and supervision, and protection, they lavish upon us. They do not tell us of the almshouses, hospitals, schools, churches, etc., which, out of the purest charity and benevolence, they maintain for our benefit, out of the money they take from us. They do not carry their heads high, above all other men, and demand our reverence and admiration, as statesmen, patriots, and benefactors. They do not claim that we have voluntarily “come into their society,” and “surrendered” to them all our natural rights of person and property; nor all our “original and natural right” of defending our own rights, and redressing our own wrongs. They do not tell us that they have established infallible supreme courts, to whom they refer all questions as to the legality of their acts, and that they do nothing that is not sanctioned by these courts. They do not attempt to deceive us, or mislead us, or reconcile us to their doings, by any such pretences, impostures, or insults as these. There is not a single John Marshall among them. On the contrary, they acknowledge themselves robbers, murderers, and villains, pure and simple. When they have once taken our money, they have the decency to get out of our sight as soon as possible; they do not persist in following us, and robbing us, again and again, so long as we produce anything that they can take from us. In short, they acknowledge themselves hostes humani generis: enemies of the human race. They acknowledge it to be our unquestioned right and duty to kill them, if we can; that they expect nothing else, than that we will kill them, if we can; and that we are only fools and cowards, if we do not kill them, by any and every means in our power. They neither ask, nor expect, any mercy, if they should ever fall into the hands of honest men.

For all these reasons, they are not only modest and sensible, but really frank, honest, and honorable villains, contrasted with these courts of injustice, and the lawmakers by whom these courts are established.

Such, Mr. Cleveland, is the real character of the government, of which you are the nominal head. Such are, and have been, its lawmakers. Such are, and have been, its judges. Such have been its executives. Such is its present executive. Have you anything to say for any of them?

Yours frankly,

May 15, 1886

Whereas this is not original content, I have declined payout on this post. The rest of the series is linked below.


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