Perhaps the argument most frequently used by conservative believers in the convenient doctrine of leaving things as they are against those engaged in reformatory efforts of a more or less radical nature is that the "spirit and genius of American institutions" do not admit of the assimilation or acceptance of the proposed innovations. Were one to trust them, the "American institutions" are something so clearly defined, finished, and powerful as to absolutely render it impossible for any inconsistent and discordant element to maintain a vigorous existence within the charmed circle which affords chances of life only to what necessarily and logically flows as a consequence from the fundamental principles supporting the peculiar civilization of this "best government on the face of the earth." We are asked to look upon all that "is," if not as unqualifiedly right and perfect, then as relatively so in the sense of its being the unavoidable outcome of primary conditions.
This fact alone would amply justify our curiosity to learn thoroughly the essence and import of these "institutions," especially since manifold serious evils, universally considered destructive of social equipoise and progress, seem to flourish in our midst without restraint.
But we are moved to such an inquiry by still another circumstance. Besides the easy-going conservative who hurls the epithet "un-American" at the head of anybody contemplating innocent improvements of vexatious misarrangements, there is a large class of men, earnest and determined reformers, who, in working for a gigantic plan of social reorganization, make the same claim of strict fidelity to the logic and spirit of American principles, not only as against those resisting reform as such, but also-and even with greater emphasis-as against other schools of radical reform which oppose them, not because they strive for renovation and change, but because their ideas of the needful, and the desirable, and the truly salutary differ materially. Indeed, every school of reform boasts of exclusive understanding of and jealous care for the "self-evident" maxims on which the opportunities, and possibilities, and prospects of this land of labour and freedom are built.
Now, what shall we believe? Whom shall we follow? Which of the conflicting opinions is most nearly right, if any one is so? Is everything as it should be? If not, in what direction is betterment to be sought? Are State Socialists and Nationalists right: must the function of government be enlarged and extended, and will the completion of the Jeffersonian structure consist in the triumphant adoption of the entire collectivist programme? Or is Anarchism the true doctrine and the removal of the last and least vestige of State compulsion to be demanded and achieved? In a word, what is the meaning of political freedom; whither does it lead us; with what does it inspire us?
For an answer to these important questions the reader is confidently referred to the following pages, which represent an abridgment and rearrangement of Lysander Spooner's remarkable work on "Trial by jury." At the time of its publication Mr. Spooner had no affiliation with any reform movement, and had no special cause to plead, but was simply a private American citizen, a jurist, and an unbiassed student of political science and history. His discussion of the nature, essence, logic, and maintenance of political freedom is so masterful, convincing, and conclusive that it cannot fail to enlighten public opinion on the subject and enable one to form a criterion by which to pass upon the various interpretations of the "American Idea." This work entitles Mr. Spooner to the gratitude and admiration of all the liberty-loving and tyranny-detesting. No one who aspires intelligently to defend or forcibly to assail political independence should neglect to. consider Mr. Spooner's elucidation of its real significance and character.
It is hoped that the present publication will serve yet another purpose. Many of those to whose minds individualistic views appear attractive and rational hesitate to express a positive opinion in consequence of the thousand-and-one questions of detail and practical difficulty which rush into their heads and to the settlement of which they do not see their way. Of course a casuistic philosophy is an absurdity, but generalization and abstraction are not sufficient. Life is too complex to be covered by a simple formula, though first principles we must have. Mr. Spooner successfully demonstrates that the highest justice and equity can be secured under complete freedom and that they have nothing to fear from the dissolution of the State who are prepared to do unto others as they would be done by.
One word more. As the end sought by this republication is distinct from that of the original publication, I could not avoid changes and alterations. Mr. Spooner's intention was to discredit and denounce the perversion of trial by jury and to promulgate the correct and legitimate system by which alone free political relations could be preserved. The explanation of the nature of such relations was of secondary importance. I am here, on the contrary, chiefly concerned with this side of the problem. This necessitated abridgment as well as rearrangement. I was obliged to reduce to subordination that which was dominant and to raise into prominence that which was tributary. Lest I may be criticised for taking so unceremonious a liberty, I will anticipate my critics by requesting the reader to attribute all the merits and good qualities of this edition to Mr. Spooner's ability, while laying the responsibility for all its faults and imperfections at my door.
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