Lysander Spooner (1808-1887) was an American individualist anarchist, entrepreneur, political philosopher, abolitionist, supporter of the labor movement, and legal theorist of the nineteenth century. He is also known for competing with the United States Post Office with his American Letter Mail Company, which was forced out of business by the United States government.
His lifelong activism began with his career as a lawyer, which in itself violated Massachusetts law. Spooner had studied law under the prominent lawyers and politicians John Davis and Charles Allen, but he had never attended college. According to the laws of the commonwealth, college graduates were required to study with an attorney for three years, while non-graduates were required to do so for five years. With the encouragement and support of his legal mentors, Spooner set up his practice in Worcester after only three years, openly defying the courts. To prevent a person from doing business with a person without a professional license he saw as a violation of the natural right to contract. After a disappointing legal career (his radical writing seems to have kept away potential clients) and a failed career in real estate speculation in Ohio, Spooner returned to his father's farm in 1840.
In 1844, Spooner founded the American Letter Mail Company, which had offices in various cities, including Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. Stamps could be purchased and then attached to letters which could be sent to any of its offices. From here agents were dispatched who traveled on railroads and steamboats, and carried the letters in hand bags. Letters were transferred to messengers in the cities along the routes who then delivered the letters to the addressees. This was a challenge to the United States Post Office's monopoly. Although Spooner had finally found commercial success with his mail company, legal challenges by the government eventually exhausted his financial resources. He closed up shop without ever having had the opportunity to fully litigate his constitutional claims. The lasting legacy of Spooner's challenge to the postal service was the 3-cent stamp, adopted in response to the competition his company provided.
Spooner's influence extends to the wide range of topics he addressed during his lifetime. He is remembered today primarily for his abolitionist activities and for his challenge to the post office monopoly, which had a lasting influence of significantly reducing postal rates. Spooner's writings contributed to the development of libertarian political theory in the United States, and were often reprinted in early libertarian journals such as the Rampart Journal.
Lysander Spooner was buried in the Field of Ephron, to the right of the main entrance gates. His grave was recently marked by a large upright granite monument.