Lysander Spooner, Poverty: Its Illegal Causes and Legal Cures. Boston: Bela Marsh, No. 25 Cornhill. 1846.
CHAPTER 1: ILLEGAL CAUSES OF POVERTY
The existing poverty would be rapidly removed, and future poverty almost entirely prevented, a more equal distribution of property than now exists accomplished, and the aggregate wealth of society greatly increased, if the principles of natural law, and of our national and state constitutions generally, were adhered to by the judiciary in their decisions in regard to contracts.
These principles are violated by the judiciary in various ways, to wit:
1. In a manner to uphold arbitrary and unconstitutional statutes against freedom in banking, and freedom in the rate of interest; thus denying the natural and constitutional right of the people to make two classes of contracts, which will hereafter be shown to be of vital importance, both to the general increase and to the more equal distribution of wealth.
2. In a manner to extend the obligation of certain contracts beyond their natural and legal limit, and hold men liable to pay debts no longer due; thereby condemning large numbers of men to perpetual poverty and destitution, by making their expired debts a burden upon their future acquisitions, and an obstruction to their obtaining credit for the capital necessary to the successful employment of their industry.
3. In a manner to reduce the obligation of the contracts of corporate bodies below their natural and legal limit, and thus enable the privileged debtors, who have the means of payment, to withhold payment of debts actually due, and make themselves rich by making others poor.
4. In a manner to deny the legal rights of creditors, relatively to each other, in the property of their debtors; enabling and, in cases of insolvency, compelling debtors to swindle one portion of their creditors for the benefit of another; making it impossible for capitalists to determine, with any reasonable accuracy, the value of personal security for loans; rendering it unsafe for them to loan capital at all to mere laborers; and thus preventing the natural and more equal diffusion of credit among all those poor men, who are in want of capital upon which to bestow their labor, and who, for the want of such capital, are compelled to sell their labor to others for a price much below the amount of its actual products.
These erroneous decisions of the judiciary are made, in some of the cases, in obedience to arbitrary and unconstitutional legislation; in others, through ignorance of the natural law applicable to contracts, where no special legislation has been had.
It will be the object of the following essays to establish the illegality of these various decisions, and to explain their effects in obstructing the increase and more equal distribution of wealth.
But before proceeding to any legal discussions, let us, state certain economical propositions, that are obviously conducive, if not indispensably necessary, to the greatest aggregate increase, and most equal distribution of wealth, that can be accomplished consistently with the natural right of each man to the control of his own property. Having stated these propositions, we will then see whether those principles of natural and constitutional law, which our judiciary are bound to adhere to, would secure the establishment or realization of the propositions themselves.
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