"'THE SPIRIT OF LIBERTY' IS 'CHAINED DOWN IN THE IRON LINKS OF THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION": FIRST EDITION IN BOOK FORM OF ABOLITIONIST WENDELL PHILLIPS 1847' REVIEW OF LYSANDER SPOONER’S ESSAY ON THE UNCONSTITUTIONALITY OF SLAVERY
(CONSTITUTION) PHILLIPS, Wendell. Review of Lysander Spooner's Essay on the Unconstitutionality of Slavery. Reprinted from the "Anti-Slavery Standard," With Additions. Boston: Andrews & Prentiss, 1847. Octavo, modern half calf gilt, marbled boards; pp. (1-3), 4-95 (1). $1600.
First edition in book form of Phillips' bold and influential antebellum work on the U.S. Constitution and the question of slavery, revised and "with additions" to its serialization in the Anti-Slavery Standard.
Controversy over slavery "was the most important single influence on American constitutional development before the Civil War" (Wiecek, Sources, 15). Leaders in that controversy were William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips and Lysander Spooner. As an anti-constitutionalist, Phillips, deemed "Prophet of Liberty, Champion of the Slave," made his "first public pronouncement that the Constitution should be abandoned" when, in 1842, he asserted the "'spirit of liberty' is 'chained down in the iron links of the United States Constitution'" and subsequently argued the Constitution was a "'compromise'… between freedom and slavery" (Knowles, Securing the 'Blessings,'" 41). Phillips' 1844 work, Constitution: A Pro-Slavery Compact, prompted Spooner to author Unconstitutionality of Slavery (First Part: 1845, Second Part: 1847), arguing it was instead slavery that was unconstitutional, not the founding document. Phillips quickly countered with this Review.
"Phillips insisted the only path to justice 'is over the Constitution, trampling it under foot'.. [and] raised pertinent questions about the processes of constitutionalism. Must a just person reject an imperfect constitution, or even one that sanctioned and protected an evil like slavery, to work effectively for constitutional reform and to abolish injustice? Or was it possible to regard the constitution as an imperfect but amendable instrument… the only thing available in the here and now of a heterogeneous secular society that can serve as a means of changing a society's goals and structuring" (Wiecek, 246). To Phillips, Spooner's approach essentially "leaves every one to do 'what is right in his own eyes.'" Spooner and Phillips also disagreed on remedies to immoral laws. "Spooner did not consider an immoral contract binding" and argued, for example, that judges rely, instead, on natural law for their decisions. Phillips felt that in such circumstances, a judge should resign. In this Review, Phillips also offers "a new area in which antislavery and anarchy" could be connected when he describes Spooner's "antislavery constitutionalism… [as] 'the first step toward anarchy'" (Perry, Radical Abolitionism, 165-66). First edition, first printing. Serialized earlier the same year in the Anti-Slavery Standard, the official weekly newspaper of the American Anti-Slavery Society, which was co-founded by William Lloyd Garrison and Arthur Tappen. Sabin 62524. Dumond, 93. Not in Blockson.
Text fresh and about-fine.