Lysander SpoonerLysander Spooner, (1808-1887) Political theorist, activist, abolitionist

Lysander Spooner Quote

“For more than six hundred years -- that is, since the Magna Carta in 1215 -- there has been no clearer principle of English or American constitutional law than that, in criminal cases, it is not only the right and duty of juries to judge what are the facts, what is the law, and what was the moral intent of the accused; but that it is also their right, and their primary and paramount duty, to judge the justice of the law, and to hold all laws invalid, that are, in their opinion, unjust, oppressive, and all persons guiltless in violating or resisting the execution of such laws.”

Lysander SpoonerLysander Spooner
~ Lysander Spooner


Ratings and Comments

Mike, Norwalk

Real clear, real straight forward and very accurate in description. The statist theocracy infesting this land, along with its despotic patrons, have to disagree with this as it demonstrates each individual is nobly sovereign and such jurisprudence contradicts their cannons and totalitarian dictatorship,

Norine, Hampton VA

My interpretation could not be further from the previous comment, interestingly it seems we may come from the same side of the political spectrum. This statement seems fully supportive of decisions that disregard the rule of law in favor of the relativism the statists hold so dear. It is not the purvue of the judiciary, nor juries to change the law, but to carry out the law as intended by its writers. Legislators have the power, however much they currently abuse that power, to write laws. It is our responsibility, as citizens, to ensure unjust laws are changed by electing principled legislators and lobbying, to reflect moral and ethical values. To abrogate that responsibility ensures the statist will truly rule, and government "of the people, by the people and for the people will perish from the earth".

Mike, Norwalk

Norine, philosophically, there are two major definitive applications here to consider. The first is sometimes referenced as positivist law. Positivist law, most simply is, what ever executive, legislative, and judicial officers say is law, is law. You did a good job at describing that philosophical system. The States, individually and united, chose what is often referenced as natural law. Natural law (see Declaration of Independence and originating documents) is that which has natural consequences such as fiscal law, murder and larceny, gravity, physics, etc. Jurors, acting in sovereign status, were / are the ultimate check and balance on their limited representatives. It is not the purview of the judiciary to change any legislation, it is within the sovereign juror's purview to find an accused not guilty (at worst) or innocent (at best) of any un-natural / unconstitutional legislation. Another major difference between positivist law and natural law is that at positivist law, man can make law (examples of such are democracy, socialism, and monarchies); at natural law, the law already exists and it is up to man to discover what that law is and pass codes, ordinances, regulations, rules, statutes, etc. to define and harmonize with that existing law (as man can not make law).

Waffler, Smith

I want to give it a five but a thumbs down instead to get Mike's attention. This has gone on now for 750 years, 148 years since Sponner said this. Mike discovered this principile recently and thinks only he knows about it. His looking down his nose at every one else is just symtomatic of the small little cloistered, naive and ignorant world in which he lives. You make an interesting post Norine. Mike believes in absolute law in some cases and relativistic law in other cases. When he agrees with a statute he calls it a LAW and something that should be obeyed, when he disagrees with a statute he calls it a RULE and something that can be ignored.. The only thing constant is Mikes willifullness egotism to self designate what statutes are LAWS to be obeyed and what are RULES to be ignored.

Mike, Norwalk

Norine, one more note, you made some good points. Concerning relativism, It is the sovereign jurors place at natural law to distinguish that which is relative (positivist legislation, un-natural or contrary to natural law) and that which is absolute at natural law. By way of example: income tax is definitively relative within statist theocracy canons (like tithes and offerings of a slave). At natural law, income tax is an absolute, it is larceny and slavery. It is the sovereign jurors' place to rule against the relative, in favor of the absolute and justice by determining fact, law, and intent. According to the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God, the sovereign juror at natural law, as stated here by Spooner, would eliminate the relativism of income tax. You are correct that relativism has become nothing more than a warm and fuzzy non-defined without lawful limits chaos. Mere statutes do not eliminate relativism.

Mike, Norwalk

Waffler, oops, you're wrong again. When you stated you use the handle Waffler so you can laugh at your lies, you've never disappointed ;-)

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RBESRQ    9/14/10

Now totally abuse in every respect. The most heinous of all, the recent denial of habeas corpus. "No Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land." Norine, the natural rights of the individual are there in perpetuity and are not left for the whims of the majority or the legislature - might is not right.

Jim Kress, Northville

Jury nullification is a legitimate right of the people. If they believe a law is unjust (or actually illegal or unconstitutional), it is their right, no, obligation, to destroy it. For example, in one case where I was called for jury duty, a woman was going to be jailed because she had comitted a crime in the past and the prosecutor wanted to make sure she could not do it again, even though she was not being changed with a criminal act. She was being chagred with "the POTENTIAL of possibly comitting a criminal act." That is a Bill of Attainder and is explicitly forbidden by the US Constitution. However, that did not deter the prosecutor. When I pointed this out during jury selection, the judge blew his cool and had me kicked out of the jury pool. I can only hope I sufficently poisedned the jury npool to the point that the poor, innocent woman was not convicted of a crime she hadn't even comitted.

Anonymous, Reston, VA, US

Waffler has nail Mike's pattern for sure (make explicit by Mike in his posting here even). But that does not change the value of this quote.

jim k, Austin,Tx

Inspite of how a judge charges a jury, a jury can have a not guilty verdict if they think the law is unjust, or for any reason for that matter. Since we now have about a zillion laws, many that are just plain wrong, we need to use jury nullification more than ever. No judge will ever mention jury nullification to any jury even if the judge is aware of it.

E Archer, NYC

Good discussion. Keep to the facts, Waffler, belittling one's opponent in order to invalidate his argument instead of debating the premise does not further your own argument. You should know, Waffler, as a firm advocate of democracy, that the trial by jury was an integral part of ancient Athenian democracy -- and the jury had the DUTY to judge the 'law' as well as the issue at hand because it served as a final check against bad legislation. The end of alcohol prohibition was sped up by juries refusing to convict offenders at trial. The jury has ALWAYS held the responsibility for judging the case and ruling based upon his/her own conscience. Let me also add that there used to be separate jurisdictions for common law and commercial law (called statutory law or colorable law -- for which there could be no criminal penalties). As Mike has explained, commercial law is 'positivist' in that the statues tell you what you MUST do, where common law is 'negativist' as in "do not do unto others what you would not have done unto you." In criminal law, mens rea – the Latin term for "guilty mind" or malicious intent -– is a necessary element of a crime. The standard common law test of criminal liability is usually expressed in the Latin phrase, 'actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea,' which means "the act does not make a person guilty unless the mind be also guilty". Thus, in jurisdictions with due process, there must be an 'actus reus' accompanied by some level of 'mens rea' to constitute the crime with which the defendant is charged. The Criminal Law does not usually apply to a person who has acted with the absence of mental fault; this is the general rule. So, for example, let's say a commercial statute is passed that declares sex between 2 men 'illegal,' then 2 gay men are arrested, when they go to trial, in order for there to have been a crime committed, there needs to have been 'mens rea' (malicious intent) and a victim. Thankfully, the trial by a jury of one's peers is to protect the common man from the powers of the politicians. If only ONE juror does not believe a crime has been committed or that the law is unconscionable, that juror may declare the defendant 'not guilty' and no one can debate the case further, end of story. This has always been the intent of the trial by jury and the 'nullification of law by jury' has ALWAYS been an integral check against tyranny. Mike, I would like to know more about your experience restoring the common law courts.

E Archer, NYC

And as far as man administering 'the Laws of Nature's God,' it always seems man is unwilling for Nature's God to be the judge -- it inevitably morphs into man judging other men as if he were God. Just look at all the laws men have been passing for thousands of years -- most have nothing to do with anything except to control people -- sex laws, marriage laws, travelling laws, property laws, labor laws, religious laws, eating laws, trading laws, voting laws, speaking laws, publishing laws, ad infinitum -- and often in the name of 'God.' So I think it is healthy to be skeptical of any upholding of 'laws' from 'God' via man -- millions have been murdered and enslaved when man has acted on God's behalf.

Mike, Norwalk

Archer well said. Its kinda funny (not haha) how the progressives are so adept at character assassination and inept at facts and freedom. On one occasion, I acted more in the capacity as an advisor rather than an active participant so, my part in the 'we' here is more from a distance. Anyway, we were able to get a Deputy Sheriff to sit as judge and had 12 jurors in a suit against the IRS for (-; a lot of dough ;-). The outcome was appealed to the 10th circuit in Oklahoma City. I think the Judge there, not for any brilliance of mine, but just for fun (I don't think he liked the agent involved) upheld the common law court's verdict. All the records to the case were held in the Alfred P Murrah Bldg. before a certain few in government blew it up. After that, the government denied it happened and said our papers were not valid. My experience was that there are a few sheriffs around the country that are waking up and are not totally opposed to the procedure. I did have some success in Montana and Idaho (nothing really ground breaking -- but at least movement).

Ken, Allyn, WA

King Alfred of Wessex, known as one of the great lawgivers of English history, was asked what is justice. His reply was that I know it when I see it. Everyone knows what justice is and they know right from wrong. We each have a conscience to guide us in the proper application of natural law, all we have to do is listen to it no matter how badly a judge wants us to ignore it. Majority rule in no way guarantees justice. It only does so if the individuals who make up the majority listen to their consciences.

  • Reply
Nick    9/16/10
John Shuttleworth, NYC

Good points all around. When it comes to the history and "theory" of "Law" one would like to know more as to how many of these precedents have been handed down and kept in practice over the millennia. "Natural" law is, partly, a reinvention of Western Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. This as a reaction to the absolute rule of kings which was/is an ongoing seesaw battle between secular and religious power. Every so often Athenian law pops up and is used as an example of democratic, social or peer thought; which, upon examination was a law established by a society where three percent of its numbers were actual citizens to whom the law applied (protected). Everyone else was held to a different standard: none. Remember: people were real property and "strangers" were everyone else. Our (current) laws are written documents established by a small group of designated individuals and, once established, are as gold until such evidence is demonstrated they must be changed. All this stuff about the individual juror exercising his or her conscience in opposition to a laws he or she feels is not "just" - is hooey. I, for one, proclaim my difficulty in judging my fellow man through a court of law, yet make judgments every day in contradiction to my espoused principles. One could say I am "opinionating" not "judging" and excuse my hypocrisy on a turn of phrase. Such phrases often take the lives of others as others sometimes take lives. This, regardless of presented, so-called "facts" or "evidence" however those words may be interpreted or defined. Nothing about the "system" is "perfect"; both must be constantly questioned. Almost as much as the individual must question him or her self.

John Shuttleworth, NYC

My apologies to Socrates.

Mike, Norwalk

John, I liked your collegiate / wiiki exposé on natural law - a lot of YEP, mmhhmmm. The natural law referenced by the U.S. founders came from an earlier source. The source and type of U.S. referenced natural law was more biblical (with a flavor of later Babylon, Greek and of the earliest Rome, etc.). Abrahamic law was an administration of natural law. Hammurabi, in his Code included philosophical, moral interpretations and adaptations of the region's versions and analysis of natural law. And, I'm with you. I don't know of a pure natural law document or system; even the Constitution is a blend of natural, positivist and realism law philosophies (though the premise was to be from secular natural law)


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