Charles T. Sprading was a libertarian activist and prolific writer in a number of causes, ranging from freedom and freethought advocacy, cooperativism, Irish Independence, publisher of libertarian books and periodicals, opponent of anti-blue laws, and, in his last years before his health failed him (d. approx 1960), supporter of the Bricker Amendment and strident opponent to the U.N.
Probably his best-known work outside of Liberty and the Great Libertarians (Los Angeles: The Libertarian Publishing Company, 1913, reprinted in 1978 and 1995), was The Science of Materialism (New York: The Truth Seeker Company, Inc., 1942) which ran through several reprints and one of the most popular freethought works of the 1940’s and 1950’s. He wrote freethought essays throughout his life and numerous other freethought books. Another freethought work, Science versus Dogma (Los Angeles: The Libertarian Publishing Company, 1925) is largely a defense of evolution written with the assistance of the naturalist, David Starr Jordan. Two other freethought books were American Religions (a humorous look at American religion) and Is Materialism A Science?
Sprading was a significant transitional figure in the evolution of the libertarian movement. Starting as a “plumb-line protagonist of freedom” (“plumb-line” generally referred to the Tuckerite wing of the anarchist movement. See, for example, Men Against the State by James J. Martin, who refers to Sprading as one of the Tuckerites.), he remained an anarcho-spencerian proponent of the law of equal rights throughout his life. Perhaps the most well-known proponent of this form of “rational anarchism” was Victor Yarros, particularly in his early writings in Benjamin Tucker’s periodical, Liberty (1881-1908. Yarros was co-editor of Liberty for a period of time.). Yarros was to later move from his radicalism to a form of progressive liberalism, particularly during the period writing for the socialist and freethought publisher, E. Haldeman-Julius.
As an interesting aside, one copy of Liberty and the Great Libertarians has been located with an inscription in the front to President Woodrow Wilson, “a fellow worker for a greater freedom”. Sprading held high hopes for Wilson’s term of office. Sprading admired Woodrow Wilson, as many radical classical liberals (i.e., libertarians–Spencer Heath is another example) did. Wilson was the author of a book entitled, The State, highly regarded by the classical liberals of the time, many of whom were to join with him in his administration. Some shed their fundamental beliefs and stayed with him in positions of power. Others, such as Albert Jay Nock (who worked under William Jennings Bryan in the State Department), left in horror over the directions that his administration was going, never to return to politics again.
As is frequently the case, alas, once in power, Acton’s Disease soon becomes a permanent ailment.
It was particularly saddening to see so many single taxers (influenced by the works of Henry George and tended to be the political activists in the radical wing of the classical liberal movement) in his administration as, in many respects, they were localists in their orientation akin to modern paleolibertarianism and paleoconservativism. The single tax position (taxing only the ground rent of land) places the tax base on land and hence, the benefits from this tax, such as roads and other public services, naturally accrue to the neighboring communities. Many single taxers, including Henry George, sought a drastic reduction in the power of the federal government (contrary to Wilson’s designs). George, for example, wanted the Navy entirely abolished as well as other federal departments. Others, including Nock and Chodorov, believed that the entire structure of the federal government should be limited in size to a single (albeit large) building.
Sprading began his career as a wealthy landowner in the San Francisco area until his properties were destroyed in the Great Earthquake of 1906 (one of the founders of the Oakland Museum and his name remains on the building), following which he traveled to Los Angeles, where he remained until his death.
A leading figure of the Los Angeles Liberal Club, along with several other “plumb-liners”, such as Clarence Lee Swartz (author of What is Mutualism? in 1927 and editor of Benjamin Tucker’s Individual Liberty in 1926), Cassius V. Cook (Rocker Publications), Sadie Cook (Rocker Publications) and H. F. Rossner, Sprading was part of the radical wing of the organization. He formed The Libertarian League around 1920 which published a periodical called The Libertarian for several years. Its primary emphasis was opposition to the blue laws (Sunday business closure laws) and prohibition. Incidentally, this was the only organization which H.L. Mencken officially joined. The Declaration of Principles of The Libertarian League, which remains a good statement to this day, from Sprading’s Freedom and Its Fundamentals (Los Angeles, Libertarian Publishing Company, 1923, pp. 9-10) expressed his position:
The Law of Equal Freedom, as Adopted by The Libertarian League
Since life itself contains the impulse of physical growth and the development of faculties and therefore needs room and freedom to function; and since liberty is necessary to the exercise of faculties; and since the exercise of faculties is essential to happiness; therefore, to attain happiness one must have liberty. And since liberty, being essential to the individual, is also necessary to the race; and since this necessitates limiting the liberty of each to the like liberty of all, we therefore arrive at the sociological Law of Equal Freedom.
- Freedom of thought is essential to the discovery of truth.
- Freedom of speech is essential to the vindication of truth.
- Freedom of the press is requisite for the dissemination of knowledge.
- Freedom of assembly is essential for the discussion of public questions.
- Freedom in education is essential to the development of correct principles of study and teaching.
- Freedom in science is essential to the demonstration of fact, through investigation and experimentation.
- Freedom in literature, art and music is necessary for the highest expression of conceptions and emotions.
- Freedom in amusements and sports is essential to the fullest enjoyment of recreation.
- Freedom in religion is necessary to avert persecution (as, e.g., for adopting and professing religious opinions, and for worshiping or not worshiping, according to the dictates of conscience).
- Freedom of initiative and association is necessary for efficiency and economic in individual or co-operative enterprise.
Equal Freedom and Its Friends was written approximately 1920, between the publication of his Liberty and the Great Libertarians and Freedom and Its Fundamentals. War, Its Cause and Cure was written in the late 1930’s and continues the approach taken in Chapter XI, “Freedom and Militarism” in Freedom and Its Fundamentals. Here is an excerpt from Chapter XI (pp. 165-6, 179-182):
Militarism is a violation of the principle of Equal Freedom. Militarism is founded on force; its method is violence; its theory is “Might is right”; its purpose is to conquer or destroy. Its greatest heroes are those who have slaughtered the greatest number of people. When differences between nations are settled by appeals to force, and not to justice, the stronger nations soon demonstrate that they are right. While the majority of men have outgrown the notion that a pugilist is in the right and an invalid is in the wrong because the former can thrash the latter, an analogous opinion is still entertained by those nations that rely solely on arms to vindicate the right.
The function of the militarist is war. His business is a fighting one. His teachings are to prepare the people for war and to excite other countries to war.
The distinguishing characteristic of the militarist is parasitism; the power and ability to destroy, and to levy tribute, to impose arbitrary restrictions and collect taxes, to take and to consume; in short, to govern…
Even the people in republics, who boast that “We are the Government,” have not a word to say about whether they are to be involved in war and killed. They may have something to say about whether the tariff is to be LOWERED or not, but they have nothing to say about whether they are to be LOWERED into the grave or not.
It is a simple matter to decide whether you want to kill or be killed. Most people have already decided in their own minds against killing, but they have no opportunity to vote against it. They should work for general disarmament.
(1) Those who believe in the use of the ballot should demand it in matters of life and death to themselves and their nation.
(2) Let those who vote for invasive war be registered as such, both male and female, so they may be called on first to face the bullets.
(3) Take away from the military class the power to declare war.
(4) Secret diplomacy should be wiped out; the people should know what is now concealed from them.
(5) Let an International Board of Arbitration composed of men of peace, not militarists, furnish an International Guard, composed of the navies and air fleets of all countries, and if this guard behaves itself, it will soon be seen that even it is not needed.
(6) Demand that the nations accept Equal Freedom (which implies equal rights and equal opportunities) as the guiding principle of nations.
One way to abolish invasive war, is to stop invading other countries. The way to stop bloodshed is to refuse to shed blood. The way to abolish the military class is to stop supporting it. Stop teaching war. Stop believing in war. Stop patronizing war papers. Stop teaching strife; teach mutual aid.
Stop teaching destruction, teach and practice co-operation.
Stop teaching force and murder; teach justice and liberty.
Instead of war mottoes like “My country, right or wrong,” let us have peace mottoes something like these:
It is better to work for your own country than to fight for another country.
It is nobler to live in peace in your own country than to die fighting in another.
It is finer to strive for the liberty to live, than to die in a ditch at the command of a class.
With proper teaching peace can be brought about, the teachers of force and murder must be replaced by teachers of truth and justice, of equal liberty, and the brotherhood of all mankind.
When that day comes murder will cease, for the militarist will have no way to glorify it…
His views on economics, like a number of libertarians of the time, leaned toward co-operation. He wrote several books on the subject, Mutual Service and Cooperation (1930), Cooperation—The Economic Solution(1935) and Ethics of Cooperation (early 1950’s). James P. Warbasse’s book, Cooperative Peace (Cooperative Publishing Association,, 1950) explains their economic theories. You will find Cooperation, the journal of the cooperative movement, was radically antipolitical in its focus during the 1920’s.
Sprading’s Real Freedom (Wetzel Publishing Co., Inc., 1954) and The World State Craze (Wetzel Publishing Co., Inc., 1954) were his final works. Real Freedom continued the effort of Sprading to describe the general position of libertarianism and follows Liberty and The Great Libertarians, Freedom and Its Fundamentals, Equal Freedom and Its Friends and Positive and Constructive Freedom and the Struggle for Rights and Freedom (1959) in this effort.
The World State Craze was his final attack on militarist trends in the U.S. This includes his defense of the Bricker Amendment and his opposition to the United Nations treaties (which he foresaw as destroying the last constitutional protections of the American citizen), as well as his opposition to the Marshal Plan and the World Bank. By this time, he lost any of the belief of the traditional 19th century classical liberal in international agreements for peace. As he made clear (pp. 19-22):
The talk about an “International Police Force” is a fraud. A police force belongs to a city, is governed by the city, and can be discharged and replaced by the city. This is not true of the armed force to control the world that is proposed. No city or citizens have any control of it. It is an International body, and must be controlled by an International State, and this International State supersedes all National States. It sets aside all the national sovereignties of all nations…
In the light of existing standards of international morality, the natural question is whether the people of the United States will consent to a military force of sufficient strength to crush the armed forces of this country?
American youth will be expected to join or be conscripted into a force which might be used to overwhelm the United States, and the citizens of this nation will have to pay the largest part of the expenses of that army, as it did of World War II…
The nature of a World State is to rule the world. Its nature is to encroach upon the legal rights and activities of the national states within the federation and to effect gradually a centralized form of government under which nations’ rights disappear…
A World State rulership is foreign rule to all nations and no nation likes foreign rule. The English rule has been the most perfect for centuries, and yet its colonies revolted against that rule. Now how can one expect the rulership of a World State to be satisfactory to all nations?
The history of the past furnishes plenty of evidence of nations revolting against foreign rule. As a World State is of that nature, revolt against that rule is certain when it conflicts with the interests of some nations, and when these revolts occur, the revolting nation must be subdued. Judging from past history, there will be plenty of such revolts, which will mean perpetual war, instead of peace.
…So this International Army will have plenty to do in suppressing uprisings which will not mean “peace” that has been heralded to the world by the Internationalists, but perpetual war.
Sprading is an important transitional figure. Not only was he one of the few classical liberal/libertarian activists spanning the period from WWI to the Cold War, but he was, along with Leonard Read and Frank Chodorov (although predating both), a leading advocate of the evolution of libertarians from their traditional nomenclature of “liberalism” into the new terminology of “libertarianism”. Beginning at the turn of the century and continuing through WWI, progressives had largely co-opted the term “liberal” from its traditional meanings of rationalism, free markets at home and abroad into almost the opposite sense–a hatred of individualism, pro-regulations, creation of an amazing array of taxes, and the imperialist Wilsonian internationalism which has dominated the last century in American liberal foreign policy.
Largely through the proliferation of Sprading’s writings, the term libertarian had become popularized throughout the radical classical liberal circles increasingly estranged from their traditional position on the left by a proto-fascist progressive liberalism. With the loss of the once dominating Cleveland Democrats who supported the hard gold, anti-tariff, pro-laissez-faire classical liberals, and the rise of the Wilsonian progressives, the old liberalism was supplanted by progressivism. The last great effort by the classical liberals was their anti-prohibition efforts in the 1920’s and the feeble attempts to organize (such as the Liberty League in the 1930’s) against their quisling, Franklinstein (as FDR was referred to by a libertarian radical of the time, E. C. Riegel).
The final issue which separated libertarians from the left was the growing awareness by the libertarians that the other leftist groups sanctioned a tyrannical soviet regime responsible for the murder of millions of people under Stalin. As this problem was swept under the rug or ignored by many of the leftists of the period (particularly among the communist and socialist left), the libertarian left would not condone such measures. This process continued through the 1920’s and, by the mid-30’s, was largely complete (Murray Rothbard’s classic essay, “Left and Right: Prospects for Liberty” discusses this in a different focus than the one here.
The creation of the new classical liberal paradigm, libertarianism, largely followed the personalities and philosophies identified in Sprading’s classic Liberty and the Great Libertarians. By identifying the libertarian American traditions and those elsewhere with fundamental principles of individualism and equal freedom, the radical classical liberals of the ‘20’s, and 30’s were able to clearly grasp who their friends were, and who were not. Sprading was known by many radicals throughout various anarchist and pro-freedom movements and his name would crop up in as many periodicals that he did not write for as the ones he did (Marcus Graham’s MAN! which was published part of the time in Los Angeles during the 1930’s is an example. See MAN! An Anthology of Anarchist Ideas, Essays, Poetry and Commentaries (London: Cienfuegos Press, 1974) edited by Marcus Graham) at a time when libertarian and pro-freedom periodicals and books were few and far between.
The evolution and popularity of new paradigm was to continue with the creation of the Foundation for Economic Education with Leonard Read (who had studied the missteps of The Liberty League and the Chambers of Commerce), F.A. Harper, Henry Hazlitt, Ludwig von Mises, and such independents as Rose Wilder Lane, Isabel Paterson, R.C. Hoiles and Robert LeFevre with the founding of the Freedom School during the 1950’s.
By the time that Charles T. Sprading died around 1960 of pneumonia, he was little remembered by the current crop of libertarians. His old friends and colleagues were all dead and forgotten. A few people still remembered him, including Queen Silver. You can find references to Sprading in Wendy McElroy’s biography, Queen Silver: The Godless Girl (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Press, 1999), for example, and in Emma Goldman’s Living My Life, Vol. I (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1931) which mentions Sprading’s financial support for Goldman.