In 1913, Charles T. Spading (1871-1959) wrote a book of remarkable prescience that anticipated the systematic development of an American libertarian tradition. He called it Liberty and the Great Libertarians. What he provided was a biography and intellectual analysis of some thirty great thinkers. Most valuable is his extraordinary job of editing. He chooses the best and most enlightening of their writings and brings them to life.
The thinkers covered include Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, William Godwin, Wilhelm von Humboldt, John Stuart Mill, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Josiah Warren, Max Stirner, Henry D. Thoreau, Herbert Spencer, Lysander Spooner, Henry George, Benjamin Tucker, Pierre Kropotkin, Abraham Lincoln, Auberon Herbert, G. Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, Maria Montessori, and others.
Now, not all of these people would be considered libertarians by the modern understanding. Some even called themselves socialists, as absurd as that may sound to us today. But they all exhibited in their writings a deep and abiding attachment to the idea of human liberty. They agree in the primacy of the individual. They agreed that the greatest threat to individual rights is the state. And they believed in fighting for these rights. They believed in the freedom of assembly, freedom of press, freedom of religion, freedom to think and act. They hated war and social control. They rejected every form of authoritarianism, and, in all these areas, they made huge contributions.
"The history of civilized man is the history of the incessant conflict between liberty and authority. Each victory for liberty marked a new step in the world's progress; so we can measure the advance of civilization by the amount of freedom acquired by human institutions.
The first great struggle for liberty was in the realm of thought. The Libertarians reasoned that freedom of thought would be good for mankind; it would promote knowledge, and increased knowledge would advance civilization. But the Authoritarians protested that freedom of thought would be dangerous; that people would think wrong; that a few were divinely appointed to think for the people, that these had books which contained the whole truth, and that further search was unnecessary and forbidden. The powers of Church and State were arrayed against the Libertarians; but, after the sacrifice of many great men, freedom in thought was won."
Charles T. Sprading
Charles T. Sprading (1871-1959) 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.
Probably his best-known work outside of Liberty and the Great Libertarians and The Science of Materialism 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.