"THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES RECOGNIZES THE PRINCIPLE THAT ALL MEN ARE BORN FREE… AND NO EXCEPTION IS MADE TO THE RULE": FIRST EDITION OF SPOONER'S UNCONSTITUTIONALITY OF SLAVERY, 1845
(SLAVERY) (CONSTITUTION) SPOONER, Lysander. The Unconstitutionality of Slavery. Boston: Bela Marsh, 1845. Octavo, period-style full speckled calf gilt, black morocco spine label; pp. (1-5), 6-156. $2800.
First edition of Spooner's very elusive abolitionist work declaring the Constitution and Declaration effectively antislavery—"heralds the commitment to individual liberty that lies at the heart of America's supreme law"—boldly opposing William Lloyd Garrison and others who pronounced the Constitution "an agreement with Hell," and a major influence on Frederick Douglass' 1852 Fourth of July Address.
"The brilliant antebellum abolitionist and constitutional theorist Lysander Spooner argued that the Constitution not only did not sanction slavery but, on the contrary, effectively forbade the enslavement of human persons. The key to Spooner's argument was original public meaning: the framers did not dare to use the words slave or slavery in the Constitution" (Bennet & Solum, Constitutional Originalism, 77; emphasis in original). A self-taught lawyer, Spooner "vigorously opposed slavery and used legal reasoning to convince his readers that the Declaration of Independence, the constitutions of the various founding states, and the Article of Confederation… were all documents that did not allow slavery as part of founding agreements. He did not agree with the Garrisonians, particularly Wendell Phillips, who saw in the Constitution an 'agreement with Hell' and a Proslavery Compact'" (Against Slavery). Spooner also "based his arguments on English history, which included 'the writ of habeas corpus… and trial by jury.' Spooner showed that the Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850 denied the fugitive the petition of habeas corpus or trial by jury" (Linebaugh, Magna Carta, 250).
"Spooner's observations about the relationship between law and individual liberty are timeless… his abolitionist reading of the Constitution… heralds the commitment to individual liberty that lies at the heart of America's supreme law" (Knowles, "Securing the 'Blessings of Liberty' for All"). "One of the intellectual giants of 19th-century liberalism… Spooner is reemerging in the 21st century as an influence on libertarian legal theory… Influenced by Spooner, Frederick Douglass argued eloquently that the Constitution was an antislavery document" (Bean, Race and Liberty in America, 35). "In his 1852 July Fourth Address, Douglass told his audience that his very reading of the Constitution as an abolition document came after studying the works of Lysander Spooner… like Spooner, Douglass argued that any law or court decision, including Dred Scott, in violation of God's eternal justice was invalid" (Colaiaco, Frederick Douglass, 97, 156). A passionate supporter of John Brown, "Spooner also provided legal arguments to aid abolitionists charged with violating the Fugitive Slave Act" (Lowrance, House Divided, 447). Economist Murray Rothbard has written, as well, of Spooner's powerful and continuing influence on libertarians, praising "his brilliant insight into the nature of the State, his devotion to morality and justice, and his couching of anarchistic invective in a delightful legal style" (Betrayal of the American Right, 75). First edition: title page verso with "Dow & Jackson's Anti-Slavery Press." Bela Marsh also published Spooner's Defence for Fugitive Slaves (1850) and his Essay on the Trial by Jury (1852), as well as William W. Brown's Anti-Slavery Harp (1848), and other major abolitionist works. Sabin 89617. Tiny bit of early marginalia (p.29).
An about-fine copy.