Winning third place in the contest, this artful story is set in the grimy streets of 17th century London.
From the streets of Cairo in the midst of the Arab Spring to rebellions on distant planets, and from a daring rescue on a seastead-studded ocean to the gallows and grimy streets of 17th century London, here are ten short stories of liberty and revolution.
Imagine…a world where independent seasteads and private airship companies keep the peace on the high seas.
Imagine…a dying planet ruled by a rigid caste system, but with one last chance to be free.
Imagine…a journalist investigating the fate of a government program to match individuals with their perfect mate.
These stories are the winners of the Libertarian Fiction Authors Association’s first short story contest, following the prompt, “Write a short story that illustrates the positive role of freedom in human life.” With 169 total submissions these ten (three winners and seven runners-up), stood out as the top entries from a very broad, and talented field.
These original works are as exhilarating as they are thoughtful and imaginative.
Tags: libertarian, libertarianism, anarchism, anarchy, libertarian short stories, libertarian science fiction, libertarian fiction, libertarian sf, anarchocapitalism
|Author||J.P. Medved, Jack McDonald Burnett|
|Publication Date||Jan. 30, 2016|
|BCRS ratings?Learn more|
When not writing, J.P. can be found frying anything he can get his hands on in his deep fat fryer, shooting tons of guns and losing himself in a good book at the most inopportune times (around the dinner table, at baseball games, during heartfelt emotional conversations).
Latest posts by J.P. Medved (see all)
- Imagining Liberty, Part 9: What You Don’t Get About Freedom - August 15, 2017
- Imagining Liberty, Part 10: Processing Power - August 15, 2017
- Imagining Liberty, Part 8: If Pigs Could Fly - August 15, 2017
Volume 1 – Part 2
Geoffrey Allan Plauché, J.P. Medved, Matthew Alexander
Cover image courtesy of the Seasteading Institute, licensed under Creative Commons
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From the Editors
This anthology is the result of a short story contest run as a collaboration between the Libertarian Fiction Authors association (LFA) and Students for Liberty (SFL). It couldn’t have happened without the hard work of our fellow editors, the generous donations of LFA members for prize money, and the promotion and organizational help of SFL. Additionally, a wide variety of other people and organizations helped promote the contest and bring in some great entries. From Jeffrey Tucker, to Freedomworks, to AFF, and Robert Murphy, we were fortunate in all the enthusiastic support and assistance we received.
The contest was conceived as an experiment in unapologetically libertarian fiction and was also run in as libertarian a way as possible (prize money was even paid out in Litecoin, in one instance). We hoped that such a contest would attract high-quality writers, with powerful stories to share, that also carried a strong explicit or implicit libertarian message.
In this it was an unqualified success.
The following prompt inspired over 169 authors to submit stories ranging across genre, style, and voice:
“Write a short story that illustrates the positive role of freedom in human life. Whether it’s a galaxy-spanning space epic or an introspective contemporary character piece, we want to see stories that paint the benefits and possibilities of human freedom in sharply compelling brush-strokes.”
From epistolary shorts made up of fictional news pieces, to tales of rebellion on distant planets, submissions were marvelously varied. In fact, the only thing they really held in common was a love of, and even yearning for, political liberty (and a high standard of writing quality).
What you’ll find in this collection are the ten winners (first, second, and third place, and the seven runners up) that managed to deftly combine the universal value of freedom with just plain good storytelling.
We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did editing and selecting them.
By Jack McDonald Burnett
Since Laws were made for ev’ry Degree,
To curb Vice in others, as well as me,
I wonder we han’t better Company,
Upon Tyburn Tree!
But Gold from Law can take out the Sting;
And if rich Men like us were to swing,
‘Twou’d thin the Land, such Numbers to string
Upon Tyburn Tree!
– James Gay, The Beggar’s Opera
English was not Madame Graveau’s first language. “I read your pamphlets hungry – no, thirsty. Thirsty, like you with my gin!” She winked, having practiced it. I think she meant to be coquettish. “I drink them up, hmn?” She pursed her lips and let out what was probably a purr. “Am I your best customer?” She made to nudge my arm, but it was a moving target and her elbow got me right in the temple. The pursed lips formed an O and her eyebrows leapt up and the purr became a gasp… it was all rather exhausting. I gestured that no harm had been done.
Mme. Graveau’s tavern had settled into a low murmur. It was the early evening after a hanging day. For hours before and after the mid-day event, the excited, intoxicated noise bulged the walls and windows, threatening to burst. Now, the structure sighed with relief. Mme. Graveau’s was, happily for Mme. Graveau, located just off Tyburn Square, four times a year the site of a wondrous, absurd carnival that erupted around London’s gallows. All the taverns within a furlong’s radius of Tyburn were settling into a low murmur. They all smelled like Mme. Graveau’s did also, you can be sure: sweat and breath, beer-soaked wood, spent energy.
“Your best customer,” she emphasized. It was true, Mme. Graveau ate up – drank up – my pamphlets describing the last hours of the lives of condemned criminals. Sometimes, it was difficult to imagine. A woman who owned a tavern would be literate enough, in the language of her customers, to read my work. But there was something surprising about Mme. Graveau, in particular, reading. She seemed too… lumpy.
My best customer, perhaps, but there were many to choose. High born, low born, and in-between gobbled up each Account of the Behaviour, Confession and Dying Words of the Malefactor [Malefactor], Executed at Tyburn on… (or such) and tittered about it for days amongst themselves. The Accounts had something for everybody.
“Confessions! Warnings, for the children!” I raised an eyebrow I hoped Mme. Graveau didn’t see. “Repentance! Humility before our Lord! How these men die, hmn? I mean, they hang, that’s how they die, but how they die.” There was not, as far as I ever discerned, a M. Graveau. “What is in their hearts, their phiz, do they have messy pantaloons?” I tried not to let my face betray my disgust, for Mme. Graveau did not mean are they wearing trousers appropriate to the occasion? Luckily, she had been bent toward my ear. But then she straightened. “But you know, hmn? You know what the people like. You write it!” Tousling my hair. Exhausting. And I recalled only once mentioning someone’s messy pantaloons, and that time it was critical to my Account.
I drained my gin, and looked around meaningfully, as if there were somebody else but Mme. Graveau to replenish me. But no, hectoring first, gin later. “But that is what troubles me so.” Leaning in again, closer than before. “I don’t know how you write it. I mean, you write it here, right here in Mme. Graveau’s. I tell everybody that, you know. Every!” Poke. “Body!” Poke. “But how you write it, I don’t know.”
She reared back and pounced on her point. “How you do it without going crazy. See people die horribly, then describe it in detail – and don’t lose your charm and cheerfulness.” Wink. I assured her that on every day but a hanging day, I had a surfeit of both. She agreed, ostentatiously. Her fingertips brushed my shoulder, she agreed so much. Laughing, she took my cup with her to where the gin was. I exhaled.
Mme. Graveau believed that writing about death should have made me mad, or hollowed me out, somehow. Granted, I had been at it for twelve years, four to eight hanging days a year, average of six men and women dispatched each time, carry the one, that was… a lot of hanged men and women. But I was not mad, and I was not hollow. I had a license – a press license, from the government – not a mandate. If I got too hollow, or too anything else, I could go back to writing out sermons, or, worse come to worse, writing for newspapers.
I bent over paper with a pen I hadn’t inked, and looked busy. My cup returned, full of gin again. Mme. Graveau smiled, and retreated. Paying for my gin stunted my creativity, you see. I ran a tab until my published Accounts hit the streets. Then, I was flush with cash. By the next hanging day, I was usually whatever the opposite of flush is. Blanched?
I had not gone mad, as I say, but it may sound like it when I confess: For the first ten, eleven years, I enjoyed the stories I was telling. The Popish Plot, the regicides, Grandees, Fifth Monarchists, Millenarianists, Jesuits… There was always a good story to tell about a swinging Jesuit, dreary as you might think them. Educated relentlessly, better read and better spoken than any five Aldermen put together. I was born in the chaotic middle of the seventeenth century of our Saviour’s reign on Earth, so unfortunately, I was in school when Charlie was cleaning the place up after his Restoration. But he and his still gave me plenty to do.
To go with good stories, there was a setting out of a writer’s dream. Nothing was more sensational than the execution of a traitor. No troupe could ever re-create it. Crowds so thick the people in them would leave covered in other people’s sweat, not just their own. Vendors, more in number and more enthusiastic the graver the crime, hawking meats and cheeses on skewers, ales and gin, trinkets, gewgaws and souvenirs; newspapers, sermons, tracts, serialized novels. Objects of Curiosity, experienced for a penny. You had festoonery, drums, trumpets – for a time, the Sheriff would order the trumpets and drums to drown out a traitor’s last words. When higher-ups forbade that tactic, he resorted to physical intimidation and discouragement. Many an unrepentant Jacobite’s dying words were interrupted by a punch to the kidney.
The crowd could fairly be called a mob, but without the connotation of violence. Very little blood-lust, but what an appetite for spectacle. Cheering and exhorting the executioner. The roar when the cart was drawn out from under a notorious traitor was by my reckoning the loudest man-made sound history has ever heard. And then the shouts, delighted or derisive, in surprise or in horror, as the condemned bounces and jerks and spins, before suffocating to death – it was all enough to make you eye your fellow man warily for days after, knowing him to be vulnerable to that kind of emotion.
All in good fun, you may ask? Judge me not: I do not condemn the condemned, I only write about them. And I once liked my work.
What had become of the execution ritual since those first ten years of mine, while it shared the superficialities of crowds, shouts, commerce, and executions with earlier revels, was not enjoyable. For the Alderman had spent those ten years, when they weren’t hanging traitors, decreeing crime after crime involving property. Correspondingly, there was lately a surge of crimes involving things rather than principles – acts criminalized now that but a dozen years ago were not. Corresponding to that, some years hence – especially the last two years – the inception of a new kind of criminal, his crime depriving others of things, receiving for it the oldest and least appealable of sentences.
Lawmaking can tether public morality to it and drag it from one place to another, much as we might wish it were the other way round. Literate London was becoming as hungry for Accounts of petty criminals as for traitors, slowly, but surely. That was good for my purse. But hanging crimes – once exclusively in the sphere of treason, heresy, murder, highway robbery – were now the likes of horse-thievery and pick-pocketing. Behavior that should be deterred, but by death?
There had been a condemned that very day, whose name was James Morneau. His crime had been stealing a pair of child’s shoes. Killed for that! Had James Morneau stolen the child herself, he would have faced misdemeanor charges, so long as he didn’t harm her.
It had gone too far. I’d known it for some time, to tell the truth, but seeing James Morneau swing was like a blow to the–
I ducked and sucked in a breath. I’d been struck in the back of the head.
Susan Palmer, the perpetrator, harrumphed and dropped herself heavily into a chair opposite mine.
“Someday,” she seethed, as seethes go whilst speaking with a mouthful of fresh vegetables – there was a bowl of them, one of Mme. Graveau’s earthenware bowls, of carrots, leeks, and I knew not what else, on the table before me. I swear, it had not been there, only moments before – “I will live in an England where it is not appropriate to wallop a girl’s ass as she walks by in a tavern.”
I had never walloped Susan’s ass. Once or twice, when she demanded it, but she implicitly wasn’t talking about that. “You’ll live to be 200, then,” I said.
“Older,” she murmured in reply. “Such a pity that you will cease to be functional, let alone attractive, in one-tenth that time.”
My ears turned as red as the beet I saw in Susan’s bowl. No, that was a turnip. My ears turned as purple as a turnip. “You think me attractive,” I said to my knees, one side of my face smiling. Susan rolled her eyes. I didn’t see it, but it was obvious she had. Consider us, though:
I in my fourth decade, married once, wife an ocean away, and never coming back. I missed her often, but recovered quickly by remembering what an idiot she thought me: She had been sentenced to transportation to America for forgery. Those few words sum up an elaborate set of facts she thought all along she was keeping from me. At the end she said she was leaving me of her own accord, to join some second cousin-branch of her family in the New World. I was expected to believe this, notwithstanding that I keep two eyes on the criminal proceedings at Old Bailey to make my living… but never mind. At least she wasn’t sentenced to hang – you can be, for forgery – because writing her Account would have been awkward.
And then Susan, a beautiful 23-year-old; small, but densely packed; long hair very nearly the red of embers, and ever a-bun; widowed six years; an ass any man would be delighted to wallop. Passionate, determined, more confident than I – more everything than I – and fundamentally good. She rolled her eyes at things I said? Well, that meant she was listening to them. I would cheerfully suffer the indignity. (I should add that Susan was beautiful to me. I had punched a man in the nose once for a remark about her that included the words “horse face,” not only to defend Susan’s honor, but because the insult was patently ridiculous. Her face was almost round.)
Susan bent down to the surface of Mme. Graveau’s heavy, oak table, only her breasts keeping her from a parallel position. She looked this way and that, and saw nothing of interest amongst the other patrons of Mme. Graveau’s. In a gravelly stage whisper she said, “James Morneau. Did you see him?”
“Did I see him?” Of course I did. “Susan, yes, I saw him while I was working. Where were you?” I reached for the earthenware bowl, and she slapped my hand away.
Her eyes were moist, as quickly and with as little warning as the bowl of vegetables had appeared. I knew her to have a spigot somewhere on her person, for just this purpose. I had not yet found it, despite rather thorough searching, but mark you, it was there.
“I knew James Morneau, Mattie.” Sniffle. “Or rather, I know his wife, Jennie. Three dear children, two without shoes to this day – only the littlest one has them, worn down from wear by her brothers…” She continued, but the bit about the children still not having shoes let me know Susan was in the midst of one of her… embellishments. Aye, at one time or another, maybe a year before, James Morneau must have had an unshod wee one, and no other way to shoe ‘m. But if “Jennie” and the Morneau family were such objects of her affection, Susan would have put shoes on those children by then, if no-one else would. She had the means, for that, anyway.
Mind you, to draw attention to Susan’s embellishments is not to disparage her – so long as one has learned to recognize them, and to avoid being misled by them, where was the harm?
“…So you see, I couldn’t bear to come see it. Oh, Jennie, poor Jennie, she needed so much love and support today, make no mistake, but she had all of her family there, every one. I would not have wanted to be in the way, as it were…”
Not on account of anything Susan was saying, I was aroused to anger – and not for the first time that day. Truth, embellished truth, or something in-between coming out of Susan’s mouth, James Morneau did have a family. He perpetrated his crime to put shoes on a boy’s feet.
“Ask him!” Susan reached across the table and struck me as close to the back of the head as she could manage. “Ask him!” she hissed, or as near to a hiss as you can get whilst saying ask him! She pointed at a tall, wobbly young man who had loped into the tavern, passed us, and was leaning against a wall, profile toward me, looking confused at Mme. Graveau.
I had not lived 34 years and been married without being able to reach back and tease out what a woman had said even when I hadn’t been listening. Susan averred that perhaps the loping man had been at Tyburn Square today, and would be able to testify to the fact of Jennie Morneau’s oldest children being present, and bare of foot.
Had I said something I was thinking, aloud? It was a tic afflicting me since meeting Susan. The alternative, that she could read my mind, was too frightening to consider.
“Susan, I’ve no doubt your friend” – she sputtered at that description. I seemed not to be meant to know they were acquainted. But I pressed on – “your friend, I’ve seen him before, with you, I don’t know what you’re getting excited about! Listen.” She had something leafy green in her teeth. “You and he both advocate for capital punishment reform, correct? Stop! Please. I’ve no doubt your friend would tell me James and Jennie Morneau’s boys were shoeless. I’m not naïve.”
Susan looked at me warily. “Naturally, Jennie Morneau would keep shoes off her boys, today, in the shadow of the gallows. She would want London to see, ehrm, the need, the noble motivation behind James’ crime. Right?” She had relaxed, noticeably.
“I am not suggesting poor Jennie would deceive for the sake of sympathy,” I continued more kindly, “just that, the Morneau boys being barefoot, today at Tyburn Square, would say nothing about the state of their feet on other days.”
I drained my cup, and with it mimed a to the King! at Susan’s friend, who then looked confused at me instead. I caught Mme. Graveau’s eye, and she came to collect my empty cup to re-fill it again.
Assuaging Susan when she was agitated had put me in a satisfied mood. She scotched that soon, with relentless discourse on James Morneau’s crime and punishment. Anecdotes about a happier Morneau family, some possibly even true, soon gave way to more abstract expressions of distress. The evil of the Bloody Code: the popular name for England’s relentlessly growing list of hanging offenses for property crimes, together with its application in fact, by the rich, against the poor – the poor having no property the rich would be interested in stealing or damaging.
The power to kill, exercised not with utmost gravity, but rather will-ye-nill-he. Lawmaking, a shield protecting the rights and liberties of all Englishmen, instead misused by those who wielded power, on behalf of those who wielded power, as a sword – a weapon dripping more and more blood each hanging day. James Morneau’s sentence and death had shaken me, and it was clear they had shaken Susan as well.
“… And you, Mattie, you are the one who needs to do something about it,” after a time she concluded. Truthfully, Susan and I had had a variation on this conversation half a dozen times before. Today, a picture in my mind’s eye of James Morneau swinging on the gallows – a raucous, cheering crowd – ale gulped, spilt and spit – his barefoot sons wailing – Jennie Morneau’s face in her hands – all of it stirred me beyond the noncommittal, the someday I’ll….
Still, my press license allowed me to report what the condemned did, said and thought. If I embellished, Susan-like, my license could be forfeit. Even if not, if my customers learned they were getting fiction for their coins, I could lose them without the help of the Aldermen. They bought novels for their fiction, or newspapers.
But I would not deter Susan worrying about my livelihood. Instead I tested her, aiming to plumb the depth of her conviction – and thereby steel my own. I argued points in which I did not believe, or believed only reluctantly.
I told her that the poor people whose cause she championed could avoid swinging on Tyburn tree by not breaking the law. James Morneau could have obeyed the law, and he would be alive today.
“Where does that end, Mattie? The Aldermen could say all must carry at least ten crowns on their person at all times. All you need to do is to obey the law, you say? If you haven’t got two ha’pennies to rub together, off you go to Old Bailey.” She had been on an even keel, but began to waver. “Mattie, they could make it more difficult to avoid paying for what you steal or damage. They could make victims whole, without additional punishment.” Her voice then rose, and I winced. “But that’s not what this is about!” She spat: “It’s that having so many poor people about offends Charlie’s taste!”
I shushed her severely. Only a few nearby in Mme. Graveau’s had heard above the low murmur. Only one or two had reacted, both grinning. “Charlie Scott,” I said, loudly. “Her brother-in-law. The banker!” Susan looked chastised, a rare sight.
Very well: I told her that the property of the poor had exactly the status as the property of the rich did, under the Bloody Code. Was that not equal justice under the law? “Equal justice! Let us also tax each red hair on everybody’s head, Mattie,” she suggested. I agreed with her before she could slander the King again.
I told her that rich English without fear their property would be stolen or damaged, without needing to spend time and coin protecting it, improved England for everyone – including the poor. Restitution was not a deterrent to property crime – but the threat of death surely was. We would see that, after there had been enough criminals made into examples.
Susan remained collected. I could see in her fidgets that it was an effort on her part. “How is that different from slavery?” My eyebrows arched. Go on… “How isn’t it worse, Mattie?” She dropped out of character for a moment. “You want me to convince you, correct? Not the public at large, or heaven forbid, the Aldermen?” Yes, convince me. It would be my livelihood at stake. “Well, then, I know how you feel about slavery. Slavery uses one person to make things better for another, without the slave’s consent. Right? But execution-as-a-deterrent uses one person – all of him, ends one person – to, we are supposed to believe, make things better for others. And as with slavery, it is not confined to just one person – it is a plague upon an entire class of persons.” She was right about slavery. Slavery shamed England, and when I thought on it, it made me ashamed to be English.
Whether the comparison to slavery was apt or not, executing the poor, essentially for the crime of being poor, shamed England, too. I was coming to understand that more clearly the longer I listened to Susan. And somehow, she sensed it – that she nearly had me.
I managed one more argument, and not my strongest. I said that lenity toward property crimes for so long did not mean that was the normal, moral state of affairs. Perhaps the Code should have been more Bloody all along, and no-one today would think twice? I was smiling by the end, for Susan was, too.
Her rejoinder was that she loved me.
I was astonished. We shared affection, a bed now and then… but this marvelous person loved me? Me? She rose, came to my side of the table at a trot, the best you can trot from one side of a table to another, and kissed me on the cheek. My cheek had already turned hot as a pie. She struck the back of my head again, then, rather more tenderly than every other time.
It is possible that I echoed her confession of love. My ears were purple, my heart thumping in my chest, my loins stirring, and my surroundings became indistinct to me. I fondly remember Susan returning to her side of the table, crunching a carrot and gesturing for me to hurry up and drain my gin. And then Mme. Graveau taking my empty cup without my even asking, and smiling at both of us conspiratorially.
I knew then that I could, and would, embellish my writings concerning the day’s hangings, including the Account of James Morneau, with the object of reforming the Bloody Code. I knew that Susan’s declaration of love was surely an embellishment – but she made it seem so easy, and yet so very powerful.
My Account of James Morneau’s death was well-received – but much different than I, or anyone, was used to.
In any Account for the last twelve years, I would have reported that James had gone to sleep, with difficulty, the night before his hanging, heart overflowing with grief – repentance, regret, fear his Saviour would reject him and off to Hell he’d go, no doubt. He woke briefly when the bell at St. Sepulchre’s, next-door, pealed, and the bellman’s dismal voice warned him and his fellow condemned that the Hour’s drawing near, that you before th’Almighty must appear. Heavy of heart, he sank back into sleep, his last. Then a revelation in a dream showed James the way to the Lord: Demonstrate to others the error of his ways, in the earthly time left him. Call loudly for his Saviour’s mercy under the Tyburn tree. Be in his soul all repentance and humility. In the morning, James and the Ordinary rejoiced in James’ potential salvation, and prayed their way to Tyburn.
There are at least twenty ways to write all this, between you and me, and I had written all of them, at least half a dozen times each. I soon realized that I had been embellishing my entire career – my Accounts now would be more faithful to the truth, not less.
In contrast, James Morneau’s published Account said that he indeed felt grief, but following a visit from his family – young wife, three young children, two boys bare of foot, all terrified of losing him, anxious and hopeless.
Sleep eluded him, occupied as he was over who would care for them, and how. He had just managed to doze when the St. Sepulchre’s bellman tolled the bell, droning his all you that in the condemn’d holds do lie, prepare you, for to Morrow you shall die, &c., which started him awake. He was no violent man, never once (I thought that a clever touch), but the St. Sepulchre’s bellman might have gotten him up to it that night.
Surprising himself, he fell into a short, dreamless sleep, undisturbed by further bells or revelations. He was awakened by the Ordinary, whose priestly services James knew he would indeed require, so James spared him as he had the bellman. The Ordinary told James what to say, and exhorted him to be loud about it, so that our Saviour could hear him over the Tyburn mob. James’s heart was nowhere but with Jennie and the children, and he doubted he would have the faculties to remember the Ordinary’s instructions, but he dutifully assented to his instructions, and accepted the appropriate rites, miserably and already in abject terror.
You get the gist. I then told the story of James’s life – something I would have done at least briefly for a notorious condemned, but never for an unemployed barber.
Never in any fights or trouble, not even in the East End alleys where he and the other weaver’s sons played all hid and lummelen – active games, no naughts and crosses, no draughts. Orphaned at 12, then apprenticed to a barber; the barber died when James was 16, and James could not afford a new premium; James subsisted by cleaning up, collecting bets and performing odd-jobbery for a vile “sportsman” who operated an underground bear-baiting theatre. He met Jennet Magnon, a weaver’s daughter, which inspired James to leave the “sporting life.” At 19, James found a barber whose apprentice had left him with three years left in his indenture; James pledged five years in exchange for a reduced premium, to be paid over time. James and Jennie had two boys before James’s new barber died, leaving James with dismal prospects once again.
Then, one steel-grey October afternoon, thinking to ask at the apothecary about a job, James made off with a pair of children’s shoes a young mother had dropped outside that apothecary. He did so entirely on impulse. The chemist happened to see, from inside, James take something – and that James’ “body language” was that of someone doing a misdeed. The chemist hurried out to the street, emerging whilst both James and the mother were in earshot, going separate directions on Cable Street. The chemist, certainly with little hope of success, nevertheless shouted for someone to, “Stop! Thief!” The words brought James to an immediate halt on his own, dropping his chin to his chest sadly. The mother happened to hear the chemist, too and started back towards him, he by then summoning her with a waving arm. James shuffled back. The mother saw what he was carrying, and gasped. This let James know the shoes were hers, and he gave them back to her, apologizing earnestly.
His oldest had outgrown his shoes, and James and Jennie had decided three nights before, setting priorities for their survival, that little James Jr. would go without. The decision, while sound, boiled inside James. Rage against the moneyed class, fate, and whichever of Death’s lieutenants was responsible for barbers, had not been productive, and now an impulsive theft had not, either. The judge and jury heard rather more about the bear-baiting operation in court than my readers read in my Account, and that was likely the reason he was sentenced to hang by the neck until dead – for about 40 yards’ worth of stealing a pair of shoes for his son.
All true, every word. (Promised Susan.) And easily and quickly researched, with the help of Susan and her friends. So what was embellished, charitably assuming that the “research” was totally faithful to the facts? This: James’s dying words, on the cart under the gallows. One out of every three of my readers skips right to them, anyhow.
Before, I would have reported that the Ordinary looked on kindly as James issued a heartfelt petition for mercy from our Lord. I said instead that he implored our Lord to have mercy – on his poor young wife and family, and to see them cared for, though he knew not how. That part was true. Then he “said,”
Know you that my Fate could be the Fate of any Body with little Ones to care for: I go to Judgment today not for conspiring against the Crown, not for Murder or Highway Robbery, not for harming Anyone; I go to meet our Lord to Day for the crime of being a Father – and of being poor. For the Wrong I did in a single Moment of moral Weakness, I have made my Victim whole, as any Christian and Englishman should – and I have regretted my Actions, I have sought and received Forgiveness for them. But the Crown would take more from me, take everything – would erase me, and many More like me, rather than suffer my Existence, the Existence of Men and Women born low, tethered to that Lowness throughout Life – that I were born poor, that I led a poor Life, it offends very important Persons in the Government. You might offend Him next. You might swing here next – get you Money and Property and Status as you can, by any Means; or you may die, like me, upon Tyburn Tree!
Tyburn Square does not quiet down for the last words of a thief, and barely anyone can hear them. Those that did likely preferred my version.
Now, my press license was given to me so I could show London that the government is just, God loves us all, and bad people – criminals – are redeemable, or are dispatched. My Accounts of James Morneau and those hanged with him that day strayed far from those purposes. They inspired Susan to such a level of energy in love that I wistfully regretted never having witnessed it before.
The Aldermen had rather a different reaction, in particular to the bit where “James Morneau” exhorts his fellow poor to obtain money, property and status by any Means.
They called me to Old Bailey so they might warn me – well, so one of them might warn me – to get back on the straight and narrow. I promised him I would, and then I did not. The next hanging day was three months after James Morneau, and there were at least four James Morneaus hung that day – pitiful souls condemned by a Morneau-like injustice. The number of them seemed to grow along with the number of Susan’s comrades. In sum eighteen souls departed. No-one could have made five of the eighteen out to be sympathetic characters, and another five were rich as Lazarus’ foil: and so in an outright apostasy to my career and license, I did not write Accounts of any of those ten.
I, Susan and her friends spent weeks before the executions “researching” the remaining eight condemned, where my “advance” work might normally have started three days before the hangings. As I say, the ranks of Susan’s “friends” had swelled, which made Susan very happy, and Susan made me very happy on account of it.
If James Morneau & al. had swelled the ranks of Susan’s like-minded friends, my eight Accounts that next hanging day overflowed them. Naturally, Old Bailey noticed this at the same time I did. I had become a voice for the reformation of the Bloody Code, for the laudable cause of equal justice under the law for rich and poor alike. But it was with the Aldermen’s renewed attention to my Accounts that I began a war on another front, one closer to my own heart: the freedom of speech of free Englishmen.
One Alderman had lectured me at Old Bailey after my James Morneau &c. publications. Three together confronted me shortly after those eight Accounts went out. It was a more cordial meeting than the first, which had me wary, until I realized I had more power, and that explained it. One bade me sit down, which I did; another offered me tea, for which I thanked him; a third asked after my business, generally, to which I responded, primly. I have no experience being high born, but I have met enough high-born criminals to pass, in a meeting with some of the Court of Alderman, at any rate.
There were three secretaries, one for each man, all scratching like birds during the meeting, and all whispering in their master’s ear. Could have been reminders, what to say and what points to make. I sensed it was enemy intelligence – tactics for each one to maneuver around the other two.
In any event, hearing, as I am sure he expected, that my sales were satisfactory to me, the third Alderman bore down upon me more specifically: They were up, far up, were they not? It was true, my eight most recent Accounts, “embellished” to tell the stories of the lives of the condemned and to make eloquent speechmakers out of all of them, were brisk sellers. James Morneau’s Account had sold well, too – not as well as the most recent, but better also than I was used to.
I knew Susan and her friends, not the salaciousness of the material, were responsible for much of this. In me they had found a valuable medium – I amplified and spread their message. More than that, I was their most prolific recruiter. As such, they made heroic efforts to sell and to otherwise encourage the reading of my work. I was pleased. But until my meeting with the Aldermen, I regarded the spread of Susan’s cause to be somebody else’s bounty, and somebody else’s problem. After my meeting, I had a better sense of what I had gotten myself into.
Which Alderman said what for the balance of the meeting is immaterial. What they made me understand, and not easily, with all the scratching and whispering and maneuvering, was that I was stayed from writing any more Accounts whilst my conduct was “investigated,” and whether or not my license was revoked, and other remedial measures taken if appropriate, would depend on what actions I took before the next hanging day. One forceful suggestion was that I publish a retraction of all of the eight most recent Accounts, identifying them as fiction. Another was providing a list of the names of the “assistants” who had helped me “research” the Accounts; the names of any others who volunteered to “assist” in “research” for the next batch, and the names of whomever were de jure or de facto “leaders” of these “research assistants.”
In my rare opportunities to speak, I mumbled this and that about my non-involvement (my de jure non-involvement, as it were) in any league of “assistants” prowling the London streets researching and selling criminal biographies; about the essential (if not quite de facto) truth of every one of the contentious Accounts, and about my freedom of speech as an Englishman. Only the last made any of the scratching, whispering and maneuvering so much as slow down, and that only for the odd request that I kindly repeat myself, or the odd chuckle.
As you might expect, I undertook none of the actions suggested by the Aldermen as the next hanging day approached, nor any others in that vein. Susan and her friends, who soon took to calling themselves Adjoints à la Recherché as the details of my meeting spread through the ranks, grew even more energized and enthusiastic. La recherché vigoreaux began on the criminals most likely to swing on the next hanging day, which by then was more than two months hence. By the time three men and three women were officially sentenced to hang on that day, the Adjoints had full stories for me about the six, and enough to work with on six more, had there been a need.
During this time Susan and I had not grown closer, if I am being honest. Rather, we had become familiar to one another in the way spouses often are. (Marriage was rarely discussed. When it was, it was obvious that Susan was too busy, and I left our conversations convinced I was not yet ready. Not for re-marriage, and not for marriage to Susan.) We became more perfunctory. We worked well together, we fucked well together, and we made one another, if not happy, then comfortable – literally, we were comforts for one another, when our days became hectic, overfilled, overwhelming, anxious.
And there was no shortage of anxiety. My press license was revoked a month before the hanging day. Susan convinced me to publish anyway. My friend, Robert Spencer, proprietor of the press which printed my Accounts, agreed to go ahead with the publication of the next six – more at Susan’s insistence than at mine. He had been duly notified of the revocation of my license, but was prepared to forget he had or to claim he misunderstood. It was a touching gesture of friendship. Bonds of friendship are strongest, I’ve found, when runaway sales are making one’s business a lot of money.
A league of enthusiastic Adjoints, and so much of the recherché being complete, notwithstanding, I insisted that I spend time with the condemned in the days before their hanging, and that I must accompany them on the procession from Newgate to Tyburn. The former was accomplished thanks to friends of mine among the jailors, and (less frequently) to disguises. (I was barred from Newgate.) My presence on the parade from Newgate to Tyburn was less a problem: All six of the condemned expressed a wish for me to accompany them, and such execution day wishes are, where within reason, always granted.
The six Accounts were attributed to me in print. They sold even better than the previous eight, and created more Adjoints. Good news was sparse beyond that. Debilitating fines were leveled at Robert Spencer – his protestations of ignorance ineffective. As often happened under such circumstances, my friend shuttered his doors, probably before paying anything. He has opened a new house, using a new name.
Worse, much worse, was to have someone dear to me jailed on charges arising from her leadership in acts of sedition against the Crown. Shortly after the latest six Accounts hit the streets, I dutifully sought out Mme. Graveau to settle my bill from my most recent “creative period.” I was shocked to learn that she, Mme. Graveau, had been arrested! I was stupefied. It seemed she did indeed “tell everybody” that I wrote at her tavern – and of late, I soon learned, she told them why my work there was so important to liberty and to all free Englishmen, not just criminals. The ranks of the Adjoints swelled just as much because of her recruitment efforts as because of my writing – more than, I would admit. It was she who had been behind recruiting me to the effort – and I was embarrassed to learn that my “assistants” really considered themselves adjoints à Mme. Graveau, and it was she, not I, who in truth coordinated and directed their recherché. (The French nomenclature now made more sense.)
My amazement and indignation distended steadily as I learned more about Mme. Graveau, and before long it rose to fury. Mme. Graveau had never encouraged a single word said against the Crown – let alone uttered one herself. Her enemy was the Bloody Code, not the men who enacted it, nor even the men who induced them to enact it. She wanted allies at Old Bailey and Westminster, not enemies, for the love of God. Take all that as given, and her persecution was nothing more than an attack on the freedom of speech – a right engendered by that same loving God, and inuring to all free men and women in England.
I wrote and caused to be published tract after tract, four in one month, defending Mme. Graveau (and her Adjoints), agitating for her release, and promoting her message about the evils – unforeseen consequences, as Mme. Graveau would have it – of the Bloody Code. I found houses to print the first two, and printed the others with my own coin, leasing a press at night from publishers deliberately uninterested in what I was doing. I was putting the money I saved on Mme. Graveau’s gin to good use.
As the weeks passed, my fear grew that I would be jailed next. The Adjoints, some of the life wrung from them by the loss of Mme. Graveau, were on tenterhooks themselves. But I was their leading indicator: Surely, if I were not yet arrested, they were safe. Even so, there was a palpable sense of resentment from “my” assistants that Mme. Graveau resided at Newgate, and I in my home.
I followed with keen interest both the proceedings against Mme. Graveau, and the approaching hanging day. I had the freedom to split my attention so, for no fewer than three Adjoints enthusiastically offered to direct the recherché for the eleven Accounts that would come out of Tyburn next, as well as to draft them – subject to my review and revisions. I was grateful for the assistance. My efforts were no closer to freeing Mme. Graveau, but I intended to work harder, not less.
Mme. Graveau herself would not allow me to become discouraged. I visited her often at Newgate – I had moved heaven and Earth for dispensation to do so – and never once did I find her anything but confident and cheerful. Once, in a fit of hopelessness on my part, I railed against God, fate, the government, and my own impotence. I might convince a thousand people she should be freed immediately, I cried, but if none were Kings or Aldermen or Sheriffs, she might still hang. Her stoic reply was unforgettable: “I might hang, but you create a thousand yous? Mon cher, you make a thousand yous and England may endure until Kingdom come.”
That was why I thundered and raged in print and, increasingly, in public speech: I was sowing seeds. With hard work from many others, and much time, and a favorable environment, those seeds could become shoots, roots anchored in the soil, striving toward the sun, to the benefit of England and Liberty herself. Mme. Graveau would rather have been around to see those shoots burst into the sunshine, but if that were impossible, she was at least happy to be there at the beginning.
I saw much less of Susan than had been the case six months before. Mme. Graveau was to be tried just three days after the hanging day, and I was working 20 hours per day, and sleeping the other four. She asked me once:
“Mattie, which would you be doing, if you could only do one?”
I was distracted, and didn’t quite understand. She explained – that is to say, repeated, more slowly – that she wanted to know which, of Mme. Graveau’s persecution or the poor English to swing at Tyburn, I would devote my efforts to, if I had to choose only one.
“Mme. Graveau,” I said, almost before she was done “explaining.” She was silent. I felt compelled to explain myself – for Susan always had that effect on me.
“Susan, this is England. Free men and women have the right to speak freely, harm they no-one. It’s fundamental. It’s the bedrock under England. Without it, there is no England.” I suppose I babbled. My wits were strained taut.
Susan was not in a mood generous enough to slacken her line. “They took Mme. Graveau away so that we would renounce her cause! Matthew – you’re letting them win! Mme. Graveau would lash you black and blue!”
I retorted that I had seen and spoken with Mme. Graveau quite often of late, and that in reality – a state with which Susan-land had evidently cut off all diplomatic ties – Mme. Graveau encouraged me heartily.
“She’s the one in prison!” she shrieked. “Of course Mme. Graveau is grateful for your work on her behalf. If she were here, and not there, she would choose us every day of the month!”
I made a frustrated, derisive noise. She made a frustrated, angry noise. I went on, “you ask me to imagine Mme. Graveau is free. Mme. Graveau is not free. Imagining that she is free renders your hypothetical meaningless. Susan, if they can jail her for advocating her position, your position, my position – for you seem to suffer under the illusion that we all want three different things – they can jail anyone for any position. Any argument they disagree with they can win not with persuasion, but rather by force.
“You once compared execution to slavery. I thought it was an exceptionally weak device at the time, but I was too smitten to say so. But you like it, so: How is jailing and possibly killing someone for the things they think and say, which harm no-one, not worse than slavery?”
Her lips made an O and her eyebrows arched – Mme. Graveau made that face when she hurt me; Susan made it when I hurt her. She turned and left me.
The bell next door is tolling, I am running out of space, my eyes hurt, and my fingers! Stiff as iron bars, and the skin on the sides is shredded, maybe gone for good.
My three Adjoints wrote the next hanging day’s Accounts, and published them under my name. By then, not all of literate London was demanding the Bloody Code be repealed, but many were newly conscious of the evil it could be put to, and open minded. Enough that the Aldermen pledged reform. A pledge from an Alderman to change things is like a bottle of gin offering to pay for itself – but in the end, we had shook loose the tethers from public morality, held lawmaking down and tied it up instead, and as I write, I have hope that the former will drag the latter along with it in the months and years to come.
I was arrested for sedition, on the same day that Mme. Graveau was found guilty of it. She was sentenced to transportation. I hope someone forewarned America.
I had many visitors at my eight-foot by ten-foot cell of stone at Newgate, at first. Adjoints, well-wishers, sympathizers. Never Susan. The visits dwindled, in number and in length, and became a trickle. Other than from the Ordinary of Newgate, determined as he was to save my soul.
I was found guilty by a jury that, if I had to guess, believed martyrdom would be my wish, the cause of capital punishment reform being so dear to me. The guaranty of a trial by jury is another stone in the foundation of England. Someday, soon, we are going to need a stone that guarantees trial by a smart jury. I was sentenced to hang.
I was philosophical as my hanging day approached. It was a stupor from which I was only roused by the increasing frequency of visits by the Ordinary, and by the newly regular appearance of all three of my – Mme. Graveau’s – former Adjoints-turned-authors. All three were now planning to publish, without a license, Accounts, the condemned to be apportioned among them, by them. Except for me. All three wished to have a hand in drafting my Account, saying they planned to make it the fiercest, most persuasive, most devastating one yet. There was talk of publishing it in my name, but I scotched it, saying that they ought to shout to the sky that it was their work, if it turned out as well as they thought it would. My career did not stand to benefit not at all. Theirs would.
Once the Adjoints became authors, I believe their thoughts about freedom of speech began to more closely resemble my own. I have even enjoyed intelligent conversation and debate with them on the possibility the Aldermen will someday overturn the press licensing law itself. (With citations to Milton!) During our conversations, I encouraged them to identify and consider ways to promote freedom of speech alongside their other reform goals. Without the one, I said, no others were possible.
I was delighted that they all wished to contribute to my Account, and that they were so ensconced in their new roles. I enjoyed the idea – to come full circle – that my last hours and words would live on, in what the Adjoints were convinced would be a masterpiece of the literature of liberty.
The Aldermen enjoyed it not. I have had it today from a source I have utter faith in, and then again confirmation from another, unrelated source: News of my – Mme. Graveau’s – Adjoints-turned-authors’ plans for my Account has been quick to spread. Talk that it would indeed be attributed to me persists, some even positing that I would write it myself – my greatest work, published posthumously. Those details aside, though, the expectation is my Account will be the best-selling one yet, by furlongs. My customers clamor for it, literate London anticipates it with breath bated – and the Aldermen fear it. I am to be carted along in the procession to Tyburn tomorrow. I am to be hooded and noosed. And then I am to be pardoned. By the Aldermen’s reckoning, this will stifle any “masterpiece of the literature of liberty,” while putting the fear of God – and government – in me. It is without a doubt the best possible outcome for them.
It is certainly high on the list of good outcomes for me, even if, as I expect, my pardon is conditioned on my agreeing to transportation to America. Even so, as loathe as I am to become a martyr of any stripe, I am in equal measure disappointed for the cause of freedom of speech. There will be no official censorship tomorrow – all they have done is to eliminate the market. Yet they will have jailed me for months for what I, an Englishman, believed, and said. For my advocacy on behalf of England and some of her best, as well as some of her worst. All of this while committing no treason nor heresy, slandering no King, in fact harming no-one: and the only good that will come out of it will be my life. I am sure Liberty considers that a fine kettle of fish, indeed. Perhaps I can make it up to her in America.
On one hand, I would have been pleased to learn of my new lease on life closer to nine days ago. For the more I thought about it, and the longer I was awake nights as the date of my execution approached, the more definitely I did not want to leave my story in the hands of others. A friend here at Newgate was kind enough to procure for me a saddler’s awl – by order of the Aldermen and the Sheriff, I am denied paper, pen, and transcription by visitors – those nine days ago; and I have been carving this Account onto the stone surfaces of my cell since. My right hand may never recover – and it could have spent those nine days helping gin to my lips.
On the other hand, now there is an Account that will, in all likelihood, survive me – perhaps not as fierce and persuasive a one as it might have been in other circumstances, but nonetheless. It will not be read by many, but perhaps it is right where it needs to be, where the right people may read it. That they may see the lengths to which remarkable persons, alone or as soldiers in a greater effort, will go on their behalf, as condemned prisoners and as English men and women. That they may learn that belief, together with commitment, saves lives, reforms unjust laws, and keeps England free for their progeny. This Account will not restore their personal liberty, but it may restore their hope.
About the Author
Jack is an attorney and freelance writer in the Atlanta area, originally from Chicago. New to fiction, his nonfiction work has appeared in such diverse publications and venues as Mortgage Lending Compliance Alert, American Builders Quarterly, Economic Opportunity Report, and Puck Daddy. Jack is Associate General Counsel for a mid-size, privately-owned technology company. His first novel, Surfeit: a Space Western will be published in the fall.
Afterword: The Importance of Libertarian Fiction
By J.P. Medved
“Politics,” Andrew Brietbart famously said, “is downstream from culture.”
Libertarians all want to live in a more free world, where the life, property and unique dreams of the individual are respected and inviolable. But to get from here to there, far too many libertarians focus on making political arguments. They write position papers, explain statistics in economics essays, and argue the nuances of gun control online.
And this political focus, while necessary to make our societies more free, is not sufficient. It may not even be all that effective.
Study after study has shown the most effective way to convince people of your position is not through argument or detailed, logical explication, but through stories. Through connecting with people’s belief systems directly, on an emotional level.
When presented with a sympathetic main character on the screen or the page, we more easily accept their beliefs as plausible and understandable, because we tend to project ourselves into the protagonist’s thoughts and feelings as we experience the story. Chip and Dan Heath, authors of the seminal business book Made to Stick, reference a study in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and conclude that “attitudes formed by direct experiences are more powerful, and stories give us the feeling of real experience.” There’s a reason accomplished businessmen and politicians pepper their speeches with anecdotes.
But for a movement that owes so many converts to a single story (Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged), libertarians have been remarkably slow to adopt fiction as a technology for spreading their message.
There’s no reason this should remain the case.
And, thankfully, there are signs it’s changing. With organizations like LFA, Liberty Island, and the Agorist Writer’s Workshop popping up, and with the growing success of self publishing as a method for circumventing the statist cultural gatekeepers of the traditional publishing houses, a genuine ecosystem of libertarian fiction is starting to develop.
Through new works like LFA member Matthew Alexander’s Withur We, Mike DiBaggio’s Ascension Epoch series, or my own Granite Republic, we’re not only inspiring existing libertarians to envision and work for the freer world of the future but also, hopefully, reaching new readers with a message of liberty that resonates with them on a visceral, emotional level.
For libertarians to have success politically, they first need to engage with the deeper values and beliefs individuals have culturally. Stories and fiction are our own first step into that wider conversation. We hope you’ll join us.
Join the LFA for free.
More Great Libertarian Fiction from LFA Members
Withur We by Matthew Alexander
Salamander Six by Michael DiBaggio
Defiant, She Advanced edited by George Donnelly
Indivisible by Troy J. Grice
Higher Cause by John Hunt, MD
Granite Republic by J.P. Medved
Homecoming by Jaylan Phoenix
High Desert Barbecue by J.D. Tuccille
Seamus Tripp & the Empire City by Richard Walsh
For even more see the full list of libertarian fiction at:
A great many thanks go to everyone who helped us throughout the process of promoting the contest, selecting, editing, and finally publishing these stories. A special thanks to Geoffrey Allan Plauché for his creation of the LFA with all the wonderful collaboration that has made possible. Thank you as well to the members who donated for the contest’s prize money, and to our SFL counterparts who were so involved in promoting and managing the contest and entries, David Deerson, Monica Lucas, Nicole Lough, and Kara LaRose.