America is at a crossroads. The 2012 election, as well as those in the very near future, could very well determine what kind of nation we will leave for posterity. Yet, while on our current political trajectory, America is in danger of losing the constitutional republic created by the Founding Fathers, and once lost, it might be gone forever.
My new book, The Last Jeffersonian: Grover Cleveland and the Path to Restoring the Republic, examines the true nature of conservative thought, the present direction of the nation, and the changes we must make in order to preserve our great political heritage. Exhibit A in achieving these three goals is a study of the public career of Grover Cleveland, who served as the 22nd and 24th President of the United States, from 1885-1889 and from 1893-1897.
As a great public servant – mayor, governor, and president – Cleveland confronted many of the same troubles we face in our time – the public character and behavior of our candidates, the role of government in the everyday lives of the people, the burden of taxation, the distribution of wealth, government involvement in an economic depression, spending, constitutional interpretation, and complex foreign affairs.
Cleveland solidly embraced true conservative thought, I argue, is to found in the principles of Jeffersonianism, ideals at home in the 19th century Democratic Party, founded by Thomas Jefferson – limited government, states’ rights, low taxes and tariffs, economy and accountability in government, no national debt, sound money, equal and exact justice for all, strict construction of the Constitution, and a prudent, non-interventionist foreign policy.
As a steadfast Jeffersonian, Cleveland held as true to these principles as he did to his religion, and applied them to the problems he faced as a servant of the people, with much better results than we are getting from our current crop of elected officials. But sadly, he was the last president to uphold all of these timeless values, as today, 115 years after he left office, we have no major party that truly adheres to Jeffersonian thought.
Since the advent of the progressive era, coming as Cleveland left the White House at the end of the 19th century, the federal government has steadily encroached on the rights of the states and the people, chipping away at the “empire of liberty” envisioned by Jefferson. As a result of progressivism, the government has grown by leaps and bounds, running up an unthinkable national debt, destroying the monetary system, raising a whole host of taxes, and shredding the Constitution’s original meaning, as well as intervene in nearly every conflict around the globe.
Yet rather than major presidential candidates advocating a rollback of the federal leviathan, we today are inundated with politicians of both parties who seek new ideas and innovative ways to make government work. They seem content with government’s current size and scope, and only argue about who is best to manage the mess.
This is the dilemma faced by conservatives today: no robust leader and no unified agenda. It seems Republican presidential candidates fight with each other more than they go after the Democrats, with some as far apart on the issues as night and day.
But to restore our republic we need a strong, conservative leader and a solid, cohesive agenda, which we can gain by looking to the past, to the Jeffersonian political fathers of old who made the nation the best and brightest on earth.
Grover Cleveland would have agreed with such an approach. “It is well in these latter days,” he wrote, “to often turn back and read of the faith which the founders of our party had in the people – how exactly they approached their needs and with what lofty aims and purposes they sought the public good.”
My book is about a strong conservative leader, Grover Cleveland, a largely unknown president who held fast to a solid conservative agenda against all attempts to stop it. Progressives, beginning to emerge in his day, were just as eager to stomp out Jeffersonian principles as they are today. He fought the good fight and held back the tide as long as he could, but in the end was unable to prevent the virus from invading the body politic.
But that does not mean that Grover Cleveland is not important. He was the last of our conservative fathers to serve as president in the Jeffersonian mold. His policy prescriptions to troublesome political issues are exactly what our nation needs today. By studying Cleveland’s policies and ideals, we can re-learn those forgotten lessons of ancient times and, if implemented, restore the American republic.