Clearing Up the Confusion of Party Ideology

When discussing the history of the two major political parties and their ideologies, most people have a tendency to get very confused and with good reason.

Both major parties of today have their origins in the early 1790s, coming out of disputes in George Washington’s Cabinet between Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton.  Jefferson opposed Hamilton’s entire fiscal program, arguing for a limited federal government and a strict interpretation of the Constitution.  Hamilton wanted the new government to expand beyond its constitutional powers, the Constitution becoming what he hoped would be a “fail and worthless fabric.”

Though the Founders yearned for a nation without parties, or factions, as they called them, inevitably they did form.  One was the Federalist Party, founded by Hamilton, which lasted from 1792 to 1816, the last year it ran a candidate for President, having succumbed to the might of Jefferson as well as its opposition to the War of 1812.  The other was Jefferson’s Republican Party (sometimes referred to as the Democratic-Republicans), lasting from 1792 to 1824.  The two parties in existence today can be traced to these two original organizations. Continue reading

Safeguarding Our Minds

This column appeared in the Laurel Leader Call (Laurel, MS) on May 22, 2012:

“I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”  So said Thomas Jefferson, the architect of American liberty and its greatest champion.  Throughout his entire life, he fought every attempt by government to control the lives of the people, in thought, speech, and deed.

Today we should be just as vigilant, whether a form of tyranny originates in Washington, Jackson, or the local schoolhouse.  We must be ever mindful that state and local governments can be just as tyrannical as Washington, DC. Continue reading

A Short History of Presidential Second Terms

This column was published in the Laurel Leader Call (Laurel, MS) on May 15, 2012:

As Barack Obama seeks a second term in the White House, one must wonder why he would even want one.  Amazingly, almost every presidential second term has been wrought with severe problems, especially in our modern era.  And almost every chief executive seeks to go home long before the final curtain closes on his final administration.

The only exceptions to second term malaise are George Washington, who did face serious public opposition and outrage over the hated Jay Treaty in 1794, though most of the anger was directed towards John Jay, and James Monroe, whose first term was wrought with several crises – Missouri’s admission as a slave state and the Panic of 1819, but his second was relatively quiet.

We may also count Calvin Coolidge, as a second Harding-Coolidge term, where the Roaring Twenties was in full swing, and Silent Cal saw unemployment reach the unheard of level of just one percent in 1926.

As for the rest, there was no smooth sailing on the turbulent sea of statecraft. Continue reading

Jeffersonian Solutions for America’s Problems

The United States faces an abundance of problems, a weak economy, an abundance of public expenditures, out of control entitlements, and an over-expansive foreign policy, to name a few. These issues are getting worse, not better, with no end in sight. In recent decades, politicians of nearly every conceivable stripe have offered solutions, all to no avail. The only real solution to America’s woes is a return to Jeffersonian principles.

Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, and D.R. Francis standing on a porch circa 1903. Courtesy of the POTUS Flickr archive.

Since the days of Grover Cleveland, who ended the harsh Panic of 1893 in less than a full term in office, the federal government has used Keynesian economic theory, or intervention, to fight every economic downturn. The results have been less than spectacular. What began as a severe recession in 1929 became the “Great Depression,” the worst economic calamity in American history. Many people will be surprised to learn that the Great Depression came after the government stepped in with its bag of tricks. It did not end until the latter half of the 1940s.

After the Panic of 2008, the government bailed out Wall Street to the tune of $700 billion. In 2009, the Obama administration kicked in another $800 billion in a stimulus designed to jump-start the sagging economy. A total of $1.5 trillion in stimulus money has been apportioned. The economy is still in a state of mild depression with a net job loss during the Obama presidency. Continue reading

Some Advice from a First-time Author

This column was published in the Laurel Leader Call newspaper (Laurel, MS) on May 8, 2012:

Recently, I published my first book, The Last Jeffersonian: Grover Cleveland and the Path to Restoring the Republic.  It re-examines the life of a great, but largely forgotten President and extolls the policies he used to solve the political problems he faced in his day, which are many of the same issues we now confront.

I am now working on a couple of book projects for future publication, one on the history of the Democratic Party since Grover Cleveland and a defense of another tarnished President, Warren G. Harding.

I’ve had many questions from people who are also interested in writing a book, seeking my advice and guidance, for whatever it’s worth.  I’m often asked questions like, how long it took me, how I found a publisher, and how hard it was to actually produce a book manuscript.

So, rather than producing yet another opinion piece on the sad and frustrating state of our politics, and on the recommendation of friends, I wrote today’s column to answer some of these questions. Continue reading

Grover Cleveland and the Same-sex Marriage Debate: State vs. Federal Power

As a historian of American politics, I am most often asked how this or that historical figure would think about modern political issues.  Many times the answer is an easy one, but others not so much.  The issue of gay marriage would certainly fall into the latter category.

So, you might ask, how would Grover Cleveland, as President of the United States, have dealt with the issue in the late 19th century?

The subject of same-sex marriage was certainly not on anyone’s lips in his day, nor can it be found in any letters or papers to my knowledge.  But we can ascertain Cleveland’s probable thoughts on the matter by understanding his political thought.  He was a steadfast Jeffersonian President who believed in the cardinal principles of that philosophy, two of which were the absolute will of the people and respect for the individual states.

As Thomas Jefferson had vowed in his first inaugural address in 1801, his administration would support “the State governments in all their rights, as the most competent administrations for our domestic concerns and the surest bulwarks against anti-republican tendencies.” President Cleveland also swore, on numerous occasions, to maintain respect for the states in their independent and sovereign character.

The state governments control the process of marriage by issuing licenses and sanctioning the procedure.  Nowhere in the US Constitution is marriage mentioned, thereby making it off limits to meddling by Washington politicians.  So for Cleveland, the question should be left up to the people of the states to decide, expressing their will at the local ballot box.

And as of this writing, the people in 32 states have voted down same-sex marriage, many of them overwhelmingly so, representing every region in the country.  Where it has been put to popular vote, not one single state has accepted it.

Mississippi had the highest vote totals against the practice, with 86 percent.  Tennessee and Alabama also had vote totals over 80 percent.  That was to be expected in the Bible Belt South.  But other reliable Republican states have also voted, unsurprisingly, to forbid it, many with totals in the 60s and 70s.

Yet what has been surprising to many is the fact that the mostly Democratic states of Colorado (56 percent), Nevada (69 percent), Wisconsin (59 percent), Michigan (59 percent), and Hawaii (69 percent), overwhelmingly rejected it.  Even California, where one would think it had a fighting chance of passage, voted it down with 52 percent of the vote.

The people of the states have spoken on this issue, and the results of their suffrage should put an end to the debate.  Grover Cleveland would have wholeheartedly agreed.

History Repeating Itself: Grover Cleveland and Modern American society

During Grover Cleveland’s eight years in the presidential chair, he confronted national problems nearly identical to those America faces today.  There are numerous issues with striking similarities, but the three major ones stand out above all others are – the economy, paternalism, and foreign affairs.

Painting of Grover Cleveland

Anders Zorn [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Continue reading

Reshaping America with Jeffersonian Values

The United States began its existence as an independent nation during a pitched battle over what direction the federal government should take and which party – the Hamiltonian Federalist or the Jeffersonian Republican – would rightly carry the banner of the American Revolution. This first ideological fight took place in President Washington’s Cabinet, which found itself torn between Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. The philosophical clash that began in 1789 continues today.

US President Grover ClevelandHamilton’s arguments prevailed during both the Washington and Adams administrations, but Jefferson struck back with a great victory in 1800 and stopped the Federalist onslaught. The nation was governed, for the most part, by Jeffersonian principles for the next sixty years, and, despite some historians’ beliefs to the contrary, Hamilton’s entire big government program was eventually repealed.

However with Lincoln’s election in 1860 – Old Abe being from the school of Hamiltonian thought – and the secession of the Jeffersonian South, the Republican Party re-instituted all of Hamilton’s ideas – a strong central government, a national banking system, fiat currency, high tariffs and internal taxes, direct aid to corporations, loose construction of the Constitution, and suppression of civil liberties, with little opposition. Continue reading

We Are All Romney Men Now

The following blog post was published in the Laurel Leader Call newspaper (Laurel, MS) on April 24, 2012, a column that stresses the need for conservatives to get behind Romney as a means of replacing Obama:

With the recent withdrawal of Rick Santorum from the Republican presidential nomination race, opposition to Mitt Romney has all but evaporated.  It is inconceivable that anyone, neither Newt Gingrich nor Ron Paul, can mount the kind of resistance needed to stop the former Massachusetts governor.

So whether we like Romney or hate Romney, conservatives must rally around him in order to keep Obama out of the Oval Office for another four years.

With the nomination all but won, Mitt Romney must make take several key steps to ensure a Republican victory in November. Continue reading