Letter Two

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    Letter II        March 7, 1843


SIR: In my previous communication I endeavored to show that the idea of the present organization of political government being protective of the persons of its citizens from assault, violence, or murder, is quite fallacious. I believe I succeeded in demonstrating that fact to many who, having taken the supposed axiom upon trust, that governments are instituted for the protection of person and property, have never bestowed one thought upon the subject. Our remaining inquiry is, “What protection does social political government afford to property?”

Curiously enough I had just written the above sentence when, as if to confirm the statement made in my last, the news arrived from England of the design of an individual to assassinate the prime minister, Robert Peel; but which resulted in the murder of his secretary Drummond. Here was the very instance occurring at the time I was writing of the incapability of the political organization to protect its own chief officers. Peel is the very head and front of the Police. He instituted its present form when in office twelve years ago, and we see it can do nothing for his protection. He only escaped with life by the mistake of the murderer, who thought the secretary was the principal. – These are the cases which bring the question to issue. No external coercion could prevent such a crime. The crime is indeed generated in and by the government itself. Had there been no such contrivance this murder would not have taken place; the assassination never would have been contemplated. We shall bye and bye discover that in more instances than this, the existence of a force government itself is the prolific generator of a long catalogue of crimes.

But to recur to the question of property protection, let us inquire what the government does or can do for it. If I am possessed of land by inheritance or purchase, it is registered in the appointed office. If any antagonist claim is set up, I appeal to the record, and the court confirms or annuls my right. But whether by a single judge or a full jury, I am at the mercy of the court and of its intellectual power and moral disposition. The glorious uncertainty of the law is a standing comment; and it is evident that if decisions were quite clear and certain beforehand, no one, or at least no two persons, would be so absurd as to go to law. – Where laws and lawyers abound, injustice must be common. The even current of justice leaves the law court a desert. While man securely grows the corm in his homestead the grass also grows over the steps of the court house. If the possessors of Westminster Abbey had done their duty, the courts in Westminister Hall would have been tenantless.

This, then, is a costly and hazardous defense, for protection it is none; and I do not see why I could not rely upon my neighbors to be the jury in such a case, as well without a State Government as with one. The willingness to arbitrate is generally a good omen. My neighbors know my character, my estate, my property, my rights. Granting for this inquiry that man may justly hold property, I see no more difficulty in deciding a case of large amount than the question of a toy between two children in a family. Congregated neighbors have even more than a parent’s outward authority, and it is only the unjust man who refuses constantly to expose the state of his worldly affairs to anyone who takes sufficient interest in them to inquire. Why should these things be made secret? Men expose their vices; often without shame. They may expose their wealth without fear. A wicked man may keep the lawful owner from his estate, it may be said, by cajoling his neighbors or some other trick. I think it unlikely; and if practicable, the innocent and injured are now subject to greater injustice by party judges and juries, by prejudice and popular feeling. A voluntary court called together, when wanted, would certainly be superior to the present system.

Laws, it is said, are made for the preservation of the weak against the strong; but who has ordinarily found them to work in that manner? Practically we know that the result is otherwise. The strong have made the laws and by their strength also they maintain them. The strong always will endeavor to generate force by force. It is their nature, and they only bring a little cunning to their assistance to render their burdens more tolerable to the weak. – The mercy which strength shows to weakness is just the amount of protection which the weak and poor find in the laws. The most considerate jurists in Christendom admit that the present system of government is merely a refined or polished brigandage. The strongest band is the supreme nation, and the strongest brigand in the band is the monarch. It is not probable the results of civilization could be better than its origin, and the origin was not love nor skill, but force; neither have the additions since made originated in love, but in cunning, that is to say in the dishonest side of knowledge.

Take the case of personal property as it is designated. Government, with all its pretended parental care, leaves every owner of wealth so much exposed, that besides paying taxes and local rates to a considerable amount, he is obliged to expend a large sum of money for locks, bolts, and other defenses, and if the property is very portable, such as gold, silver or paper money, – he cannot either by night or day leave it unguarded. We see by this simple fact how little they who most willingly support the government, they who in fact are the government, I say we see how little, when it comes to actual practice, these parties rely on the government for protection. The wealthy know intuitively how the State preserves their property, as the negro knows practically how it preserves his liberty.

Proceed to a case of attack upon property. – How does the State behave then? A citizen’s house is broken open; he is robbed. In spite of all his care and his payments to the State, his worldly goods are taken away. He finds at all events that the Police is not a preventive or truly protective one. He applies to the executive. Does he obtain restitution of affirmation of his loss? Oh no! Government has so educated its citizens that it has no reliance on their words in such a case, and an individual deprived of his entire property is left naked by this protective government. The utmost the State will or can do is to take his depositions and descriptions, and to seize the thief if the robbed citizen can point him out. Leaving the latter to expend more property, if he can obtain it, in prosecuting; when, if the identical articles are discovered, and if the accused be convicted, and if the loss of time and the expenses do not exceed the amount recovered, the despoiled may be said to be partly reinstated. But what an array of “ifs” and contingencies for a man to work his way through! And into what dark and dirty places will it not lead him! And, when successful, what better has he done than aided in adding another convict to be reckoned over in twenty ways by wondering statists who themselves are undetermined whether or not crime is increased by punishment.

In fact so reckless, so thoughtless, is the present system that it has scarcely one affirmative principle to support it. Such as it lays claim to in words it no more carries in effect than it does when proclaiming personal liberty for every citizen, yet denies it to some because they have a darker skin.

Pretty nearly all minds are now convinced that prisons, that receptacles provided for malefactors by the State, were schools for the education of men in crime. Let us grant that no longer are they so in any eminent degree; yet let us ask whether the State itself, as at present constituted, is not one large school for crime? Its foundation is force, its argument is force, its practice is force. No diviner principle does it recognize. It will obtain all the power, all the wealth, all the territory, commerce and control it possibly can. It does nothing by love, by moral suasion, by unbought attraction. They are considered the best supporters of Government who are most like unto it, and to be a supporter of government, we are constantly told, is the great aim of every good citizen. Immediately around the government is of course gathered a circle of men who are actively engaged in acquiring as individuals all they can by any recognized forceful means of hand or head which they may possess. Round these again are other circles of men who, in like manner, adopt the grasping system in modes less nice or refined than those of the inner circle. And so on it proceeds, until a class is generated who exercise their organs of secretiveness in another mode, not more dishonest, and prey upon the classes who have generated them. In order to some pretence of virtue and honesty, all the other classes of cormorants join in prosecuting this last class of dark feathered birds, and occasionally cage them, so that they may learn to be more wary and clever in their plans. For no better effect seems yet to have ever resulted from that system of the forceful unloving treatment of the depraved which is carried on under the pretence of their reformation and the public protection. Neither of these purposes has it yet attained. Factitious and artificial pain, urged by man upon man, beyond the natural consequences flowing from any actions, must generate a greater degree of depravity; or, in other words, must make the criminal a more determined antagonist against the community which treats him in this ungodlike manner. So that it becomes evident to any one who bestows due consideration on the subject, that the government system tends constantly to make matters worse instead of mending them. Governments of course have no objection to this. They live by it; their existence depends on it. Had we no thieves there could not be even a pretence for thief-catchers; there were no crimes, either social or moral, governments of a political character must cease. Their craft is based on vice; the foundation, like the superstructure, is wickedness. The contrivance works in a circle, into which it is difficult to effect an entrance.

It has for a long time past been seen by many minds, and is always confessed by the candid, that if mankind were honest, the present police system of governing would be un-necessary. It is only tolerated as a check upon the depraved, in the character of the constable. And it can only be upon the sense of depravity in any one’s own heart that there can be any consistent support given to such an institution. Every consciously innocent man must declare that such a contrivance to keep men honest, such a piece of machinery to make men preserve the right track is altogether a waste of human energies. He who is himself really honest will not be afraid to trust his fellow man without such fetters; he who is essentially pure, though he not yet have realized the sentiment in every outward act, will not wish for so hateful and degenerating a system. A man with but a tendency to good, who desires to possess no other property than he may with healthful consequences to himself and all mankind, will not support such a system. He will turn his back upon it, he will not perhaps attack it, but he will let it die out as quickly as it may.

Quite pitiful is it to witness what a miserable and deplorable business mankind pervert human life into by this false idea, this vain pretense of maintaining social virtue. Every thing, every pursuit, every function of our nature is so fenced round by forceful institutions that after all its boasted freedom the spontaneous and youthful spirit of America has to look around and ask where this freedom is. Neither in blacks or whites is it very self-evident. The whole plan is like a checker board where one is checking another in wrong and no institution can pretend to be promotive in a positive manner of virtue and healthfulness. Indeed the highest boast of American statesmen on behalf of its Constitution is that it is “a most admirable system of checks and balances.”

We must take up this subject largely; and, as our reforming ancestors did, in a new spirit, in the spirit of newness. We will trace the workings of the present order from the elementary town meeting up to the legislative assembly, and to the ultimate complication of diplomatic subtlety and international communion. – We need not to be afraid of doing too much good. Neither should we be intimidated by the frown of priests, lawyers, law makers, judges or merchants. These once employed kings and governors to frown virtue down for them, and still do in drowsy Europe; but here they are obliged to do their own bugbear work, which we may safely prophecy they will not much longer have the opportunity of doing. It seems very much to be forgotten that the present institutions are the work of our own hands, and that we may amend them as soon as we know how. Let us not worship an idol which we have set up. Let us not act as if human beings came into the world by some fortuitous process of which we know little or nothing, and that some are so ferocious that they can be no otherwise treated than to be hunted round the earth; hunted, caged, and slaughtered. Human life on earth originates in the family, from the bosom of love, through the tenderest sympathy, and the highest interior bliss. Can it really be needful to encounter the offspring from such a source with the direful weapons of present society? Is it necessary or salutary for me and my neighbors, for my children or their children, that we should uphold such a scheme of taxation, force, fraud, guile, treachery, imprisoning and fighting as the popular system of government presents? I think it is not, and I shall endeavor to show that it is not, if you favor another communication from

Your sincere friend,
C.L.
Concord, Ms.

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