"NOTHING LESS THAN A COMPLETE REINTERPRETATION OF HOW THE CONSTITUTION HAD BEEN FORMULATED": IMPORTANT FIRST EDITION OF 19TH-CENTURY ABOLITIONIST LYSANDER SPOONER'S ADDRESS OF THE FREE CONSTITUTIONALISTS, ISSUED WITH THE NATION ON THE BRINK OF WAR
(CONSTITUTION) (SPOONER, Lysander). Address of the Free Constitutionalists to the People of the United States. Boston: Thayer & Eldridge, 1860. Octavo, original self-wrappers; pp. (1-3), 4-54. Housed in a custom clamshell box.
First edition of Spooner's seminal Address issued in the wake of Dred Scott, calling on Americans to "correct the frauds of the past, and interpret our constitution by the same rules by which it ought to have been interpreted from the first," chief among his provocative works heralding "the commitment to individual liberty that lies at the heart of America’s supreme law."
As the nation edged toward war, a "radical abolitionist reading of the Constitution began to emerge," holding that the Constitution did not "sanction slavery—it outlawed it… the most sustained version of the thesis was developed by Lysander Spooner," who argued "the words of the Constitution be given primacy over the intention of the drafters… this interpretive move enabled him… to take advantage of the undoubted fact that the drafters of the Constitution had self-consciously avoided using the word 'slavery.'" A fiercely independent white abolitionist, Spooner demanded "nothing less than a complete reinterpretation of how the Constitution had been formulated" (Hill in Knowles, Securing the 'Blessings of Liberty,' 36).
To Spooner, "the principle of sovereignty that he saw protected—the prevailing constitutional principle of self-government—was incompatible with slavery because it placed the right to govern oneself over the power to govern anything, or anyone else. By 1860, the nation had long since realized that when confronted with political reality, the 'beautifully simple' principle of sovereignty turned out to be wonderful in theory, but fatal in fact. As Spooner recognized in the Address, this was in no small part because of Dred Scott." He argued "that if the Constitution made any person a slave (which, of course, it did not), then that person would have to be a slave wherever he or she went in the country, for… only the federal government possessed the constitutional power to determine 'who are and who are not (if they are not) citizens of the U.S.' This was a profound argument to make after Dred Scott" (Knowles, Seeing the Light
, 555-56). He writes here: "if we wish to enjoy any liberty ourselves, or do anything for the liberation of others, it is time for us to emancipate ourselves from our intellectual and moral bondage to the frauds and crimes of dead slaveholders… if we dare not correct the frauds of the past, and interpret our constitution by the same rules by which it ought to have been interpreted from the first… we are ourselves wretched cowards and slaves." Historians increasingly view Spooner as a seminal and provocative theorist whose writings "herald the commitment to individual liberty that lies at the heart of America's supreme law" (Knowles, Securing, 62). Sabin 89604 (listing Spooner as author). Title page with small faint library inkstamp, tracings of faint iinked notation.
Text very fresh with only tiny bit of edge-wear to front wrappers, mere trace of soiling. A very scarce near-fine copy.