Posts tagged William Lloyd Garrison

Anarchist Communications.

Here’s some things that have come across my desk this week that I’ve been meaning to post a note about.

Publications.

  • Shawn P. Wilbur, La Frondeuse Issues #3 and #4. From Shawn Wilbur: The Black and Red Feminism zine has been reborn as La Frondeuse [The Troublemaker, or The Anti-Authoritarian.] The name is borrowed from one of Séverine’s collections. Issue 3 features works by Louise Michel, Paule Mink and Séverine. Issue 4 contains works by Jenny d’Héricourt under various pen-names. The name-change comes with a bit of fancy repackaging, and will be retroactive. . . . With just a little luck, the paper edition of La Frondeuse will become the first monthly subscription title from Corvus Editions, starting this fall….

  • Roderick Long, Three from The Liberator. From Roderick Long: William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator was the premier abolitionist journal of the antebellum u.s. I’ve just posted three pieces from The Liberator: an anti-voting piece by Garrison, an anti-slavery piece by Lysander Spooner, and a report on an 1858 reform convention.

  • Fair Use Repository, Now available: The Relation of Anarchism to Organization (1899), by Fred Schulder OK, this one’s by me, so the path of communication was a relatively short one. Still, check it out: a rare individualist anarchist pamphlet from Cleveland, Ohio, printed in 1899. By Fred Schulder, an individualist anarchist noticeably influenced by Tucker, Clarence Swartz, and Henry George.[1] From the Fair Use Blog: Schulder’s essay is, in any case, an interesting attempt at discussing the possibilities of consensual social organization, and the anti-social, anti-coordinative features of State force, from a framework based on Spencerian evolutionary theory. [More here.]

  • CAL Press, Modern Slavery #1: From CAL Press: . . . The first full issue of this journal has now taken half a decade to come to fruition. It’s been a struggle on many fronts to turn the original impulse and idea into reality. But from here on there’s no turning back and we refuse to be stopped! The Modern Slavery project is a direct successor to previous C.A.L. Press projects. These include the magazine Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed (published since 1980, and now produced by an independent collective since 2006), the North American Anarchist Review (published for a few years in the ’80s), the Alternative Press Review . . ., and the C.A.L. Press book publishing project . . . . The original idea for this new journal was to provide a space within the libertarian and anarchist milieu for the publication of some of the really important, critical and creative material that has too often fallen into the cracks between what will fit into the inadequate spaces available in libertarian periodicals and what has been publishable in book form. . . . The original concept for Modern Slavery included a roughly 200-page, perfect-bound oversize journal format oriented towards people who enjoy reading and who aren’t afraid to dive into longer texts that are exciting, intelligent and well-written. In order to remove any possibility or appearance of competition with the now separate and independent Anarchy magazine project, the intention was to avoid newsstand distribution, keep the graphic design simple, severely limit artwork and photos, and avoid publishing any material on the shorter side. The planned format was actually intended to be something not yet too far from what you’ll find in this first full issue. However, since the Anarchy collective has recently decided to end its newsstand distribution and shrink its circulation, Modern Slavery will instead seek (limited) newsstand distribution, include more complex graphic design and more artwork and photos, while attempting something more of a balance between longer and shorter contributions in future issues. The changes in direction will probably become more clear as future issues appear. Issue #1 includes articles by Paul Simons, François Gardyn, Henry David Thoreau, Ron Sakolsky, Voltairine de Cleyre, Massimo Passamani, Jason McQuinn, Émile Armand, and the first parts of serialized works by Karen Goaman, Wolfi Landstreicher, and Lang Gore.[2] [More here.]

CFPs.

  • InterOccupy: Science & Society Accepting Papers on Anarchism: Theory, Practice, Roots, Current Trends. From andrea @ InterOccupy: Science & Society is planning a special issue on the broad theme of anarchism, as appearing in both past and present-day political movements. . . . While we expect contributors to innovate and shape their papers according to specific interests and views, we encourage them to contact the Guest Editors (email parameters provided below), so that completeness of coverage can be achieved, and duplication avoided, to the greatest extent possible. We are looking for articles in the 7,000-8,000 word range. Projected publication is Spring 2014, so we would like to have manuscripts in hand by January 2013. Discussion about the project overall, and suggestions concerning content, should begin immediately. Note that, this being Science & Society, the top two suggested topics for contributions are, essentially, What is it that an understanding of Anarchism can contribute to the confirmation or theoretical development of Marxism? But there are a bunch of other topics that they’re throwing out for consideration in the CFP, and it may well turn out to be an interesting issue. (This being a CFP, whether it’s interesting for good, or for ill, is partly up to you….)

Events.

  1. [1] Oh well, you can’t have everything. —R.G.
  2. [2] Also there’s an article by Bob Black, but oh well, you can’t have everything. —R.G.

National holidays

Allowing people into a nation who do not identify themselves as part of that nation—who do not speak the language, who do not observe the holidays, who do not know or care about the history and ideals and cultural icons—is simply suicidal.

— Timothy Sandefur Illegal Alienation, at Positive Liberty (30 March 2006)

Now I am sure that all of you properly assimilated Americans realized that June 14th is Flag Day — a national commemoration of the military colors of this bayonet-bordered Union, first recognized in 1916 by the rabid white supremacist xenophobe, warmongering political persecutor, and President of the United States Thomas Woodrow Wilson. And I do hope that you all have observed this civic holy-day in a manner befitting the solemnity of the occasion, and the importance of such cultural icons to the flourishing — indeed, the survival — of so great a nation.

So perish all compromises with tyranny! And let all the people say, Amen!William Lloyd Garrison

Revolution Day

Other than setting off explosions and taking strong drink, indulging in nationalist nostalgia is probably the most popular way to celebrate July 4th in the U.S. of A. It is, we are told, a day to sing national hymns, pledge our allegiance, have a parade, say a few words about the glory of this old Union, and fly the military colors from every available flagpole. We are told that it is, above all, a day sanctified for celebrating the birth of a new nation.

No it isn’t.

July 4th is not the anniversary of the birth of a new government; it is the anniversary of the ignominious death of a tyranny. On July 4th, 1776, there was no such thing as the United States of America, and the events of that day did nothing to create it. The regime under which we live today was not proclaimed until almost a decade later, on September 17, 1787. What was proclaimed on July 4th was not the establishment of a new government, but the dissolution of all political allegiance to the old one. All for the best: in this secessionist republic of one, we see no reason to celebrate the birth and rise of a foreign power; and in any case a transfer of power from London to Washington, from King George III to President George I, is no more worthy of celebration than any other coup d’etat. What is worth celebrating is this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. —That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it …. [W]hen a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

— Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776

That is, the revolutionary doctrine that we all, each of us, are the equal of every puffed-up prince and President—that as such you, personally, have every right to refuse the arbitrary orders of tyrants—to ignore their sanctimonious claims of sovereignty—to sever all political connections if you want—and to defend yourself from any usurper who would try to rule you without your consent. There is no man or woman on this earth who has the natural right to rule over you, and you have every right, whenever and wherever you will to do so, to oppose, withdraw, resist, and thus stand aright as a free and sovereign human being.

The logical conclusion of the radical equality proclaimed by the Declaration is not, however, what Jefferson or any of the other quasi-revolutionists thought it was. It is not home rule, and it is not republican government. It is not majoritarian democracy or the elective kingship that passes for the Presidency today. It is not democratic government or limited government; it is not any kind of government at all. If you, personally, are equal in rightful authority to your would-be rulers, and so have every right to tell them where they can go promulgate their law; if you, personally, have every right to refuse their demands and nullify their authority over you, at your discretion; if you have every right to withdraw your allegiance, and every right to defend yourself if they should come after you; then the logical conclusion is not popular sovereignty, but individual sovereignty, for each of us, which is to say, anarchy. So when a self-styled Progressive Patriot like Russ Feingold, arbitrary Senator over the state of Wisconsin, utters something like this, in opposing the efforts of the efforts of the arbitrary Congress over the United States to implement an unapologetically tyrannical regime of government eavesdropping and surveillance:

I teased some of my colleagues and said we can celebrate the Constitution on July 4th and maybe when we come back you’ll decide not to tear it up.

… We should applaud the political cause, but recognize the reasons given for the counter-historical bunk that they are. July 4th had nothing to do with begging the existing government to abide by the promises supposedly made in its own Constitution, or with trying to get the powers that be to exercise their better natures. The throne of the Constitution, or of the Law, or of the Majority, is no more dignified or sacred than the old thrones of the Czars and Sultans. Let’s not bow and scrape before them. William Lloyd Garrison, for one, knew what this Revolutionary anniversary was all about, and 154 years ago today, in Framingham, Massachusetts, he showed how you ought to celebrate the Constitution on July 4th:

The rally began with a prayer and a hymn. Then Garrison launched into one of the most controversial performances of his career. To-day, we are called to celebrate the seventy-eighth anniversary of American Independence. In what spirit? he asked, with what purpose? to what end? The Declaration of Independence had declared that all men are created equal … It is not a declaration of equality of property, bodily strength or beauty, intellectually or moral development, industrial or inventive powers, but equality of RIGHTS—not of one race, but of all races.

Massachussets Historical Society, July 2005

We have proved recreant to our own faith, false to our own standard, treacherous to the trust committed to our hands; so that, instead of helping to extend the blessings of freedom, we have mightily served the cause of tyranny throughout the world. Garrison then spoke about the prospects for the success of the revolutionary spirit within the nation, prospects he regarded as dismal because of the insatiable greed, boundless rapacity, and profligate disregard of justice prevalent at the time. He concluded his speech by asserting, Such is our condition, such are our prospects, as a people, on the 4th of July, 1854! Setting aside his manuscript, he told the assembly that he should now proceed to perform an action which would be the testimony of his own soul to all present, of the estimation in which he held the pro-slavery laws and deeds of the nation

— from Thoreau: Lecture 43, 4 July, 1854

Producing a copy of the Fugitive Slave Law, he set fire to it, and it burst to ashes. Using an old and well-known phrase, he said, And let all the people say, Amen; and a unanimous cheer and shout of Amen burst from the vast audience. In like manner, Mr. Garrison burned the decision of Edward G. Loring in the case of Anthony Burns, and the late charge of Judge Benjamin R. Curtis to the United States Grand Jury in reference to the treasonable assault upon the Court House for the rescue of the fugitive—the multitude ratifying the fiery immolation with shouts of applause. Then holding up the U.S. Constitution, he branded it as the source and parent of all the other atrocities,—a covenant with death, and an agreement with hell,—and consumed it to ashes on the spot, exclaiming, So perish all compromises with tyranny! And let all the people say, Amen! A tremendous shout of Amen! went up to heaven in ratification of the deed, mingled with a few hisses and wrathful exclamations from some who were evidently in a rowdyish state of mind, but who were at once cowed by the popular feeling.

— from The Liberator, 7 July 1854 (boldface added)

Today is not a day for nationalist bromides; least of all is it a day for government or its laws or its foot-soldiers. It’s a day for radicals and revolutionaries. A day to proclaim independence, and a day to remember that the American Revolution, if it was worth anything, is far from over. Here is how Frederick Douglass, a refugee from Southern slavery who became one of the United States’ most celebrated orators, put it back in July of 1852:

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth! To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then fellow-citizens, is AMERICAN SLAVERY. I shall see, this day, and its popular characteristics, from the slave’s point of view. Standing, there, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery—the great sin and shame of America! I will not equivocate; I will not excuse; I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgement is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just.

But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, it is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less, would you persuade more, and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed. But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light? Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man? That point is conceded already. Nobody doubts it. The slaveholders themselves acknowledge it in the enactment of laws for their government. They acknowledge it when they punish disobedience on the part of the slave. There are seventy-two crimes in the State of Virginia, which, if committed by a black man, (no matter how ignorant he be), subject him to the punishment of death; while only two of the same crimes will subject a white man to the like punishment. What is this but the acknowledgement that the slave is a moral, intellectual and responsible being? The manhood of the slave is conceded. It is admitted in the fact that Southern statute books are covered with enactments forbidding, under severe fines and penalties, the teaching of the slave to read or to write. When you can point to any such laws, in reference to the beasts of the field, then I may consent to argue the manhood of the slave. When the dogs in your streets, when the fowls of the air, when the cattle on your hills, when the fish of the sea, and the reptiles that crawl, shall be unable to distinguish the slave from a brute, there will I argue with you that the slave is a man!

For the present, it is enough to affirm the equal manhood of the negro race. Is it not astonishing that, while we are ploughing, planting and reaping, using all kinds of mechanical tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building ships, working in metals of brass, iron, copper, silver and gold; that, while we are reading, writing and cyphering, acting as clerks, merchants and secretaries, having among us lawyers, doctors, ministers, poets, authors, editors, orators and teachers; that, while we are engaged in all manner of enterprises common to other men, digging gold in California, capturing the whale in the Pacific, feeding sheep and cattle on the hill-side, living, moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in families as husbands, wives and children, and, above all, confessing and worshipping the Christian’s God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove that we are men!

Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? that he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have already declared it. Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery? Is that a question for Republicans? Is it to be settled by the rules of logic and argumentation, as a matter beset with great difficulty, involving a doubtful application of the principle of justice, hard to be understood? How should I look to-day, in the presence of Americans, dividing, and subdividing a discourse, to show that men have a natural right to freedom? speaking of it relatively, and positively, negatively, and affirmatively. To do so, would be to make myself ridiculous, and lo offer an insult to your understanding. There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven, that does not know that slavery is wrong for him.

What, am I to argue that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men, to beat them with sticks, to flay their flesh with the lash, to load their limbs with irons, to hunt them with dogs, to sell them at auction, to sunder their families, to knock out their teeth, to burn their flesh, to starve them into obedience and submission to their masters? Must I argue that a system thus marked with blood, and stained with pollution, is wrong? No! I will not. I have better employments for my time and strength, than such arguments would imply.

What, then, remains to be argued? Is it that slavery is not divine; that God did not establish it; that our doctors of divinity are mistaken? There is blasphemy in the thought. That which is inhuman, cannot be divine! Who can reason on such a proposition? They that can, may; I cannot. The time for such argument is past.

At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

— Frederick Douglass (1852): What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?

And let the people say, Amen.

Happy Revolution Day. Let’s shut off the Lee Greenwood, and take down that damned flag. It’s time to celebrate the day under a new banner. One which reads:

All power to the people!

And:

No truce with Kings!

And:

Anarchy is the radical notion that other people are not your property.

Other orations:

Over My Shoulder #39: Garrison on radicalism, electoral abolitionism and third-party politics. From Henry Mayer’s All On Fire.

Here’s the rules:

  1. Pick a quote of one or more paragraphs from something you’ve read, in print, over the course of the past week. (It should be something you’ve actually read, and not something that you’ve read a page of just in order to be able to post your favorite quote.)

  2. Avoid commentary above and beyond a couple sentences, more as context-setting or a sort of caption for the text than as a discussion.

  3. Quoting a passage doesn’t entail endorsement of what’s said in it. You may agree or you may not. Whether you do isn’t really the point of the exercise anyway.

Here’s the quote. This is from Henry Mayer’s masterful biography, All On Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery. I was re-reading it recently because of an interesting debate over the Ron Paul campaign on LeftLibertarian2, in particular some interesting comments by Brad Spangler, who has been beating the anti-electioneering drum for some time, to the effect that he thought support for Ron Paul represented progress in people who would be otherwise be state liberals or state conservatives, but that the real shame was when radical libertarians, who ought to know better got sucked in to the same constitutional-statist song and dance.

Garrison agreed with [Abby Kelley and Stephen Foster] that the allure of the presidential campaign threatened the movement’s identity. Abolitionists should not bow down to the house of Rimmon, alluding to the parable (2 Kings 5:18) illustrating the dangers of false worship and conformity with outmoded rituals and reprehensible customs. The first duty of abolitionists, he concluded, was to avoid becoming Republicans. To the Fosters’ intense annoyance, however, he argued that the amount of conscience in the party and the sectional basis of its opposition to the slave power made it a political entity that the movement had to take seriously. Kelley conceded that the party may be the work of our hands, but she insisted that such progeny, like other children, required a great deal of reproof to bring it up in the way it should go. Garrison agreed, but sweetly added that, as in child-rearing, it was important to praise the party when it tried to do good work, as it had on the issue of nonextension.

That Garrison accorded the Republicans a measure of respect he had never conceded to the Liberty Party remnant should come as no surprise. He always had more interest in politicians who lifted themselves toward an acknowledgment of moral principles than he had in moralists who lowered themselves into partisan activities. For the Republicans to support and elect candidates willing to condemn slavery as wrong would be productive agitation, for it created something where nothing had previously existed. For Gerrit Smith to advance himself as a presidential candidate was ludicrous, in Garrison’s view, for he had no practical organization and demeaned himself in the futile process of making one. For Frederick Douglass to make persistent attacks on Garrisonian abolition as passé—as a phase of moral education through which the movement had inevitably traveled en route to more enlightened forms of practical agitation—was more than a continuation of their personal feud; it was the old Liberty Party idea that a token candidacy offered a greater opportunity for moral agitation than did the prophetic apostleship of Garrison. While the Republican nonextensionist approach had the virtue of exposing the constitutional compromises that prevented abolition, moreover, the Smithites continued to dwell, Garrison believed, in the realm of constitutional fantasy. They tried to claim the Framers as architects of an antislavery politics and advanced all sorts of schemes—a congressional repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law, a reconstruction of the federal judiciary through the appointment of antislavery judges, the fixing of a date certain for abolition in the states and federal control of states in default—that had no chance of peaceably breaking the national political deadlock and, far from saving the Union, would make a military confrontation inevitable. Theirs was an oblique disunionism that masked itself behind the facade of constitutional interpretation. For Garrison the special work of abolition lay not in adopting the model of politics, but in creating a redemptive vision. We see what our fathers did not see; we know that they did not know.

Powerful organizations never espouse great reforms, the editor told a December 1855 meeting called to celebrate the desegregation of Boston’s public schools after a decade-long struggle by abolitionists of both races. Social reform, he said, begins in the heart of a solitary individual and grows strong among humble men and humble women [who], unknown to the community, without means, without power, without station, but perceiving the thing to be done … and having faith in the triumph of what is just and true, engage in the work…. He always regarded the abolitionists as a saving remnant who would create the preconditions for reform. Theodore Parker compared such non-political reformers either to the windlass that raises the anchor while the politicians haul in the slack or to the spinners and weavers who make the material from which politicians cut their clothes, but Garrison found the humblest metaphor of all in the baking of bread. By and by, he said with the apostle Paul, the little leaven leavens the whole lump … [and] this is the way the world is to be redeemed (1 Cor. 5:6). The most popular metaphor for the progress of reform in the 1850s, however, drew from both mechanics and nature. The world moves, people said, having found a shorthand way of remarking social change that evoked at once the lever of Archimedes and the stubborn faith of Galileo that the earth itself revolved in obedience to higher laws.

—Henry Mayer (1998), All On Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery, pp. 456-457.

International Ignore the Constitution Day #220

Today is the 220th annual International Ignore the Constitution Day!

In the United States, the federal government’s arbitrary laws supposedly mandate that over the course of this day, schools put on Spontaneous Demonstrations celebrating the founding of the federal government. (I suppose this is after the schools begin their day by ritualistically forcing students to swear allegiance to the federal government.) When Turkmenbashi did this sort of thing, it was called megalomania; when federal government of the United States does it, it is called civics education.

In this secessionist republic of one, we mark the day as a special reminder that the United States Constitution, in its origins, was an act of naked usurpation and an objective force for evil, imposed upon a great mass of people who never agreed to it (nor were even asked), and effecting genocide and the protection of chattel slavery at the point of federal bayonets. Today it is treated as the Enabling Act of a monster State, and as such is the begetter of war, the builder of prisons, the armament of professional thugs, the authorization of Presidential and Congressional power over the lives of innocent people, and all of it over people who have never given any meaningful consent to the arbitrary rule of Washington, D.C. Domineering presidents, legislators, and judges use the powers delegated explicitly or implicitly as an excuse to dominate, to ruin and to kill; cowardly or opportunistic presidents, legislators, and judges use the supposed separation of powers as an excuse to stand by and do nothing while the predators in other branches of government keep on dominating and ruining and killing. The Constitution is interpreted by the highest legal authorities designated by that very document as licensing imperial war, Star Chamber courts, domestic and foreign surveillance, the racist War on Drugs, ruinous taxation, corporate welfare, government cartelization and regimentation of every key industry, in direct proportion to its importance; and if the Constitution does not in fact state that these things are allowed, it has done nothing to prevent them. Some people who ought to know better pretend that a document such as this one deserves respect, or even that it should be taken as a source of our [marching orders][] in matters of life and death, substituting a genuflection to that damned rag in place of a moral defense of freedom and peace. Ignoring the Constitution is routinely used as a grave insult in political discourse — whether applied to the president, the legislature, or the courts — supposedly synonymous with arbitrary tyranny. As if slavishly complying with the dictates of a 220 year old edict, arbitrarily issued without the consent of more than a handful of scheming conspirators, and now laying its dead hands upon us without the consent of anyone at all, were any less tyrannical!

Today is a day to mark that nonsense for what it is. Tyranny is tyranny whether or not it is written into a document, whether that document is called Constitution or any other name. And justice is justice, whatever any document may say; it can stand on its own in arguments, and needs no authorization from any human-crafted covenant or edict, which can neither make nor unmake even one of the rights or even one of the obligations that inhere in justice towards free and equal people, prior to any agreement or act of will. Of course, when government officials ignore the Constitution, they almost always do so in order to usurp arbitrary power and inflict the worst sorts of injustices on innocent people who never did anything to deserve it. But when government officials obey the Constitution, they still almost always do so in order to usurp arbitrary power and inflict the worst sorts of injustices on innocent people who never did anything to deserve it. That is what government officials do, and it’s what government officials did at the time they made up the Constitution, too; and the evils of it have exactly nothing to do with whether or not those usurpations and injustices have been formally enacted according to the procedures set forth in the arbitrary United States Constitution. William Lloyd Garrison knew how to educate the people and celebrate the glorious achievements of that document:

The [4th of July 1851] rally began with a prayer and a hymn. Then Garrison launched into one of the most controversial performances of his career. To-day, we are called to celebrate the seventy-eighth anniversary of American Independence. In what spirit? he asked, with what purpose? to what end? The Declaration of Independence had declared that all men are created equal … It is not a declaration of equality of property, bodily strength or beauty, intellectually or moral development, industrial or inventive powers, but equality of RIGHTS—not of one race, but of all races.

Massachussets Historical Society, July 2005

We have proved recreant to our own faith, false to our own standard, treacherous to the trust committed to our hands; so that, instead of helping to extend the blessings of freedom, we have mightily served the cause of tyranny throughout the world. Garrison then spoke about the prospects for the success of the revolutionary spirit within the nation, prospects he regarded as dismal because of the insatiable greed, boundless rapacity, and profligate disregard of justice prevalent at the time. He concluded his speech by asserting, Such is our condition, such are our prospects, as a people, on the 4th of July, 1854! Setting aside his manuscript, he told the assembly that he should now proceed to perform an action which would be the testimony of his own soul to all present, of the estimation in which he held the pro-slavery laws and deeds of the nation

— from Thoreau: Lecture 43, 4 July, 1854

Producing a copy of the Fugitive Slave Law, he set fire to it, and it burst to ashes. Using an old and well-known phrase, he said, And let all the people say, Amen; and a unanimous cheer and shout of Amen burst from the vast audience. In like manner, Mr. Garrison burned the decision of Edward G. Loring in the case of Anthony Burns, and the late charge of Judge Benjamin R. Curtis to the United States Grand Jury in reference to the treasonable assault upon the Court House for the rescue of the fugitive—the multitude ratifying the fiery immolation with shouts of applause. Then holding up the U.S. Constitution, he branded it as the source and parent of all the other atrocities,—“a covenant with death, and an agreement with hell,”—and consumed it to ashes on the spot, exclaiming, So perish all compromises with tyranny! And let all the people say, Amen! A tremendous shout of Amen! went up to heaven in ratification of the deed, mingled with a few hisses and wrathful exclamations from some who were evidently in a rowdyish state of mind, but who were at once cowed by the popular feeling.

— from The Liberator, 7 July 1854 (boldface added)

As I said last year:

I think that legalism is an insidious error that liberals and libertarians alike are all too prone to fall into. In fact the rule of law is something to be hoped for only insofar as the laws are just: rigorously enforcing a wicked law—even if that law is duly published and generally formulated—is just relentlessness, not virtue. And in our bloodstained age it is as obvious as anything that many laws are very far from being just. But one way of trying to accomodate this point, while entirely missing it, is to throw your weight behind some Super-Duper Law that is supposed to condemn the little-bitty laws that you consider unjustifiable. Besides taking the focus away from creative extremism and direct action, and leaving power in the hands of government-appointed conspiracies of old white dudes in black robes, this strategy also amounts to little more than a stinking red herring. It diverts the inquiry from the obvious injustices of a State that systematically robs, swindles, extorts, censors, proscribes, beats, cuffs, jails, exiles, murders, bombs, burns, starves countless innocent people in the name of its compelling State interests, and puts the focus the powers that are or are not delegated to the government by another damn written law. As if the contents of that law had any more right to preempt considerations of justice than the subordinate laws supposedly enacted under its authority. Those who have spent their days trying to find a lost Constitution under the sofa cushions are engaged in a massive, sophisticated, intricately argued irrelevancy. I’d compare it to debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but that would be grossly unfair—to Scholastic metaphysicians.

— GT 2006-09-17: International Ignore the Constitution Day festivities

And as I said in my first annual Ignore the Constitution oration:

You, too, can celebrate Ignore the Constitution Day! Today, completely ignore all claims to authority granted in the Constitution. Live your life as if the Constitution had no more claim on you than the decrees of Emperor Norton. Enjoy your rights under natural law; you have them whether or not the Constitution says one mumbling word for them. While you’re at it, treat the Constitution as completely irrelevant in political arguments too; instead of complaining that unbridled war powers for the President are unconstitutional, for example, complain that they are evil; instead of reciting that damn Davy Crocket bed-time story again and complaining that government-controlled disaster relief is unconstitutional, complain that government-controlled disaster relief is foolish and deadly. (If the Constitution clearly authorized unilateral war powers for the President, or abusive and incompetant government-controlled disaster relief, would that make it okay?) And, hell, while you’re at it, quit complaining that forced Constitution Day celebrations may be unconstitutional; complain instead that they force children to participate in cultish praise for the written record of a naked usurpation.

Just go ahead. Ignore the Constitution for a day. See what happens. Who’s it gonna hurt? And if your political reasoning becomes sharper, your discourse no longer bogs down in a bunch of pseudo-legal mummeries, and you have a pleasant day without having to ask anybody’s permission for it, then I suggest you continue the celebration, tomorrow, and every day thereafter.

— GT 2005-09-17: International Ignore the Constitution Day

Celebrations elsewhere:

Further reading: