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H J Knowles
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Lysander Spooner was born on this date - January 19 - in 1808, 205 years ago. On this anniversary, I post this transcription of a short but nevertheless significant advertisement-cum-article that appeared in the Boston Commonwealth on January 22, 1851. It refers to copies of another Boston newspaper, the Chronotype... "CHRONOTYPES of Dec. 12 [1850], containing one chapter of Mr. Spooner’s “Defence for Fugitive Slaves,” the same chapter that has been sent to the Lawyers and Editors generally throughout the country, and of which an Alabama paper, just received, says, “This Defence is the boldest and most incendiary publication the... Continue reading
Posted Jan 19, 2013 at "With Irresistible Clearness"
I am pleased to announce that my article about Lysander Spooner and popular constitutionalism is forthcoming in Law and History Review. The article can be downloaded here: Download Knowles - LS and popular constitutionalism - Law and History Review final draft Here is the abstract: In recent years, the rise in academic interest in “popular constitutionalism” has been accompanied by scholarly efforts to identify examples from American history that support that movement’s normative claims about the ills of judicial supremacy. Should antislavery constitutionalists receive substantive discussion in this historical narrative? This article uses the writings of Lysander Spooner (1808-1887) (who... Continue reading
Posted Jan 10, 2012 at "With Irresistible Clearness"
My review of Steve J. Shone, Lysander Spooner: American Anarchist (Lexington, 2010) has been published in the Fall 2011 issue of the Independent Review and can be found here. Continue reading
Posted Sep 21, 2011 at "With Irresistible Clearness"
I am very excited to announce the publication of Reasonable Religion: Lysander Spooner on Christianity This is the first volume in The Lysander Spooner Collection. Published by Cobden Press, the intention is that this series will provide historical reprintings of Spooner's works. While many of these works are available elsewhere, the hope is that this collection will avoid the transcription errors and incompleteness that plagues many other versions. In addition, each volume will include an introductory essay contextualizing the work. I have authored the essay for the first volume, a volume which has the added significance of being "the first,... Continue reading
Posted Jun 21, 2011 at "With Irresistible Clearness"
Today, January 19, we once again celebrate the birthday of Lysander Spooner, who was born, in the central Massachusetts town of Athol, on this day in 1808. Three days after his birthday in 1860, Spooner wrote to William H. Seward, the latest letter in his correspondence with the Senator. As this country reaches the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, readers might find the following extract of Spooner’s letter to be interesting reading. It reflects the way in which by 1860 Spooner’s faith in the ability of the federal government sincerely to tackle the problem of slavery had all but... Continue reading
Posted Jan 19, 2011 at "With Irresistible Clearness"
Beginning with a volume containing Spooner's three essays about deism (which he published in 1834 and 1836), which will be released in early 2011, Cobden Publishing will be producing a set of books containing thematically-organized reprints of Spooner's work. As I explain in the introductory essay that I have written for the deism volume, now available on SSRN, these deism essays were certainly not Spooner's best work, and lacked the rigorous logical reasoning that defines almost all of his later writings. Nevertheless, it is exciting that they will be included in the first volume produced by Cobden. Unlike many of... Continue reading
Posted Dec 5, 2010 at "With Irresistible Clearness"
For those who are interested in learning more about Lysander Spooner from the man himself, an invaluable source of information is undoubtedly the voluminous correspondence between Spooner and many interesting individuals that resides in two manuscript collections at the New-York Historical Society and the Boston Public Library. While incomplete transcripts can be found at, news now comes from the New-York Historical Society that the Lysander Spooner papers held there have been completely digitized - digital images, of stunning quality, of the hundreds of Spooner letters at the N-YHS can now be viewed, free of charge, with full-text transcriptions, at... Continue reading
Posted Oct 24, 2010 at "With Irresistible Clearness"
For those interested in the work of Lysander Spooner, the October 2010 issue of Reason Magazine is worth consulting. There one will find a 'review' article by Damon Root, an article intriguingly and provocatively titled "Clarence Thomas' Favorite Anarchist: The radical anti-statism of Lysander Spooner" At first glance, one might think that this is a book review of Steve Shone's Lysander Spooner: American Anarchist. After all, that is what the article says it is. Unfortunately, Root hardly mentions this book, and fails to tackle the work's major shortcomings (something which I am currently in the process of doing). To be... Continue reading
Posted Sep 16, 2010 at "With Irresistible Clearness"
I have the great pleasure of bringing an exciting new publication to the attention of this blog's readers. Steve Shone, Assistant professor of political science at Winona State University, has published the first book-length treatment of Spooner's works. Lysander Spooner: American Anarchist is published by Lexington Books. I have some initial misgivings about the book's title, because I'm of the opinion that scholars frequently place too much emphasis on Spooner's anarchist views, which, as I've mentioned here, are not really representative of his life's work, especially his legal views. However, I note that I have not yet read Shone's work,... Continue reading
Posted Jul 15, 2010 at "With Irresistible Clearness"
I am pleased to announce that Lysander Spooner's Unconstitutionality of Slavery has been prominently cited and discussed - as it pertains to Spooner's views about the application of the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to actions of local and state governments - in today's decision in McDonald v. Chicago!! Spooner's work was briefly cited by Justice Scalia in 2008 in Heller v. District of Columbia (although Scalia incorrectly stated the page numbers from which he was quoting), but the opinion of the Court in today's opinion in McDonald v. Chicago (written by Justice Alito), and the separate opinion of... Continue reading
Posted Jun 28, 2010 at "With Irresistible Clearness"
Tomorrow - May 14 - brings us another important reason to remember Lysander Spooner, and to reflect upon some of the contributions that he made to 19th century American abolitionism, libertarianism, and legal thought. On a personal note, this is a particularly poignant posting for me as I prepare to say farewell to the town of Lysander, NY, where I have lived for the past four years (I am moving to Walla Walla, WA, where I will be a visiting professor at Whitman College) . On May 14, 1887, after a remarkable, and long life (Spooner was born in 1808),... Continue reading
Posted May 13, 2010 at "With Irresistible Clearness"
January 19 is the birthday of the legal theorist and abolitionist Lysander Spooner, who was born in 1808 in this house in Athol, in central Massachusetts. It is Spooner who inspired the name of this blog. A tireless champion for libertarian causes, during his long life (he died in 1887) Spooner used his logical mindset and his legal skills (he did not receive formal education until, at the age of 25, he left the family farm and moved to Worcester to study law as an apprentice in the offices of John Davis and Charles Allen) to challenge governmental actions; most... Continue reading
Posted Jan 18, 2010 at "With Irresistible Clearness"
Evidence that a little bit of legal knowledge can go a long way... Some years ago, my father, who sadly passed away very suddenly 18 months ago, gave me a holiday surprise when he presented me with the following composition. He had no legal training whatsoever... "From our Special Correspondent - Nina Talksalot." [by W. Ralph Knowles] December 24. Today the Supreme Court made a special emergency ruling in the case of Santa Claus v. FedEx. The Court found in favor of Santa Claus by a five to three majority (Justice Ebenezer Scrooge recused himself following public statements denouncing Christmas... Continue reading
Posted Dec 24, 2009 at "With Irresistible Clearness"
Welcome to "With Irresistible Clearness" This blog is a continuation of the blog that I began over at my website: The blog takes its name from a passage in United States v. Fisher (1805), a U.S. Supreme Court decision. This passage formed the heart of the theory of constitutional interpretation developed by Lysander Spooner in The Unconstitutionality of Slavery (1845, 1847). Continue reading
Posted Dec 21, 2009 at "With Irresistible Clearness"
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Dec 21, 2009