Wisdom From America's Founders-I

"I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and suddent usurpations."--James Madison

I’m sure I don’t agree with everything the Founding Fathers of America said about government tyranny and power, but I am still looking for something I don’t agree with.  I'm going to start a series here entitled "Wisdom From America's Founders" in which I will give interesting quotes from the men who established this country and then briefly comment upon them.  There are many who would argue that such is a futile exercise because these men lived over 200 years ago, in a day of agriculture, slavery, minimal technology, etc., and that since things have changed so much, their world outlook and their views on government are far outdated and no longer relevant or useful.  I beg to differ and very soon I will demonstrate why.

But, to give a preview of that last thought, one reason why their ideas are still so useful is because they knew history, wrote and spoke of it, and understood that some truths and principles are timeless and will always be applicable, regardless of antiquity or modernity.  This last point is the great failure of modern liberalism, which holds nothing sacred or wise except their own fleeting, passing whims and desires.  Madison's quote above is exactly what has happened countless times in history.  Not that violent "usurpations" (revolutions) never occur; of course they do, and Madison would have been quick to admit it.  But still, most governmental tyranny begins slowly and creeps--like a cancer.  And you don't even know it's there until you wake up and it's too late, or almost so.  This is exactly what has happened in the United States of America.

It began, as I have been at pains to point out in this blog, with the American "Civil War," in which the federal government, by force of arms, wrested the sovereignty of the people away from their state governemnts, over which they had much more control, and placed it in the hands of the national government, over which the people have substantially limited power and regulatory ability.  The generation following the war (approximately 1865-1900) actually saw a phase of limited government along the lines of what the Founders had in mind, but only because the Presidents, especially, were not of a mind to use their new-found powers to infringe upon the liberties of the people.  Some of our best presidents are some of our most unknown--Rutherford B. Hayes, Chester Arthur, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, and especially Grover Cleveland--men who worked to restrict the long-reaching arm of the federal government in order that the people might use their liberties to pursue their own happiness and enjoy the fruits of their labors.  In that generation after the War for Southern Independence, the United States became the richest nation in history.

There were problems, there always are.  No society is perfect, and America needed some amendments--it always does.  And by 1900, the country had some issues to deal with, the exact nature of which it is not necessary to recount in this article.  Let me just say that Marxism, with its anti-property, pro-government philosophy, was now rampant in intellectual circles in America.  And thus the "Progessives" of the early 20th century, when they cried out for "reform," demanded it be done via national government interference.  Because of Abraham Lincoln and the victory of the federal government in the "Civil War," there was little that could be done to stop this movement.  For almost 20 years the "Progressives" (and that very term, used by themselves and historians ever since, is instructive; governmental intervention into the lives of the people, i.e., greater government is "progressive") had their way, but World War I and the unpopularity of Woodrow Wilson because of it, led to a period of "calm" in the 1920s, where two very good Presidents, Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge, held back the "progressive" movement and allowed the country to follow its own course.  The "Roaring '20s," the greatest economic decade in human history, was the result.  The major error Harding and Coolidge made was not abolishing the Federal Reserve system, a "progressive" institution which enabled, in effect, national control of the economy (it's a little more complicated than that, but for the moment, that's sufficient).  It was the Fed that caused the Great Depression, not capitalism.  Also, Harding and Coolidge, because they were largely "hands off" presidents, didn't--or couldn't--role back the governmental growth of the "progressives."

Of course, the Great Depression led to the election of Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt, both of whom bought into the "progressive" philosophy and thus believed that it was the government's obligation to end the depression and restore prosperity, and both of whom failed miserably in the attempt (Hoover was actually elected before the Depression began, but he was a "progressive" at heart.  Coolidge, in whose Cabinet Hoover sat, once said of him, "That man has offered me unsolicited advice for six years--all of it bad").  It was FDR, of course, who oversaw the next big--creeping--growth of government with his New Deal, putting in place many unconstitutional programs such as Social Security and Medicare.  World War II helped end the New Deal, and to attempt to shorten the story some, the 1950s were much like the 1920s--a President who limited the activities of the federal government.  But the New Deal was not rolled back.  Slow, progressive usurpation.  The 1950s were probably the last great decade in American history, and almost assuredly will be.

The 1960s gave us Lyndon Johnson and his "war on poverty," which he called the "Great Society," and which has done nothing to cure poverty; it has only created a permanent welfare class who do not know how to work and have been told they are "entitled" to the wealth of others.  In order to be able to truly sell that disgusting doctrine, the 1960s also destroyed the Judeo-Christian moral foundations of the country; now "morality" is whatever "intellectuals" tell us it is, and "profit" is immoral and "spreading the wealth," via governmental force is moral.  The point here is that the Great Society's programs were legion, installing more national government in the lives of the people.  Ronald Reagan, for all his glorious abilities, was not able to stem that tide.  And no President since has even tried, though none was as bold as Barak Obama in the obvious attempt to expand government's dominion of the lives of the American people.

It began with the "Civil War," folks, and picked up in earnest about 100 years ago with the "Progressive" movement.  There has been no "violent or sudden usurpations" in American history.  But this country, today, is almost the exact opposite what our Founders intended for it to be.  "Gradual and silent encroachments" was Mr. Madison's term.  And it exactly describes the historical trend in this country.

The question beomes, is the cancer in America so far gone today that the patient is terminal?