Defence for Fugitive Slaves

CONSTITUTION   |   Lysander SPOONER

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Item#: 122987 price:$3,200.00

Defence for Fugitive Slaves
Defence for Fugitive Slaves
Defence for Fugitive Slaves
Defence for Fugitive Slaves

"THE 'UGLY REALITY' OF PROSLAVERY CONSTITUTIONALISM": VERY SCARCE FIRST EDITION OF LYSANDER SPOONER'S "DEVASTATING CRITIQUE" OF THE 1793 ACT AND 1850 FUGITIVE SLAVE ACT IN DEFENCE FOR FUGITIVE SLAVES, 1850

(CONSTITUTION) SPOONER, Lysander. A Defence for Fugitive Slaves, Against the Acts of Congress of February 12, 1793, and September 18, 1850. Boston: Bela Marsh, 1850. Octavo, original wrappers; pp. (1-2), 3-4. (i-iv), (5), 6-72. $3200.

First edition of the rogue abolitionist's provocative call for "vigorous" public resistance to a pattern in the 1793 and 1850 Acts, and court decisions such as Prigg v. Pennsylvania, that demonstrated the government's refusal "to champion liberty or justice," especially elusive in original wrappers.

The 1850 Fugitive Slave Act "exposed the futility of antislavery constitutionalism grounded in a commitment to the 'proper rules of interpretation'" (Knowles, Seeing the Light, 544). It "evinced a clear congressional policy favoring harsh and summary enforcement of the rendition policy over any solicitude for procedural or substantive rights of alleged fugitives" (Cover, Justice Accused, 121). Spooner crafted his answer to this in a "devastating critique" of both the 1793 and 1850 laws (Smith, Lysander Spooner). Defence, one of his most elusive and provocative works, offers "significant evidence of the ways in which the passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act shook his faith in the ability of the nation's courts to interpret the constitution in a manner consistent with the dictates of natural justice" (Knowles, 546). Closely analyzing "reasons why the 1793 and 1850 laws were unconstitutional… he made it very clear why the passage of the 1850 law pushed him away from the 'quiet argument' of the courtroom to 'more vigorous'" public action.

In Defence, while he continued to argue the importance of "procedural objections to the laws… Spooner spent far greater time 1) explaining why the courts would not actually strike down either of the laws, and 2) outlining 'The Right of Resistance': ways in which 'The People' could respond to what he now recognized as the 'ugly reality' of proslavery constitutionalism." He notably pointed to "the 1842 decision in Prigg v. Pennsylvania, in which the Supreme Court held that under the Constitution's Supremacy Clause, the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act trumped Pennsylvania's personal liberty law (which had made it far more difficult… for slaveholders to recover individuals they alleged were fugitive slaves)… In the face of this judicial reality, and to ensure the 'maintenance' of the Constitution, Spooner encouraged popular resistance," arguing the Second Amendment "gave 'The People' an absolute and unqualified' Constitutional 'right' to do so." By 1860 he would utterly lose "faith in the ability or willingness of the government (especially the courts) to champion either liberty or justice" (Knowles, 545, 552). First edition: as issued with printing of 1793 Act of Congress and 1850 Fugitive Slave Act preceding title page; front and rear wrapper interior with publisher's advertisements. Sabin 89607. Work, 335.

Text very fresh, a few minor stains to front wrapper, expert repairs to wraps on the spine. Near-fine.

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