The Grover Cleveland of Our Time

As a historian and admirer of Grover Cleveland, I have been on the hunt for a modern-day version of the 22nd and 24th President, someone with like qualities who could clean up the growing, and seemingly insurmountable, mess in Washington.  I now believe that man is quietly emerging in the state of New Jersey.  Governor Chris Christie, with less than a year in office, is now on the lips of many conservatives who are seeking new leadership for the 2012 presidential race.

Neil Cavuto of Fox News recently asked Governor Christie about a possible White House run, pointing out that Woodrow Wilson became President after serving as governor of New Jersey.

“I’m not Woodrow Wilson,” the governor said.  “I think nobody could confuse me with Woodrow Wilson.”

Conservatives in New Jersey may thank God for that.  Chris Christie is nothing like the progressive Wilson, but he can be compared to another reform governor, the Jeffersonian Grover Cleveland, the only president born in the Garden State.

There are amazing similarities between Cleveland and Christie – both from New Jersey – Cleveland born in Caldwell in 1837, Christie in Newark in 1962; both big, burly men of similar build; both governors – Christie of his home state of New Jersey, Cleveland of his adopted state of New York; both lawyers by trade; both politically conservative; both with combative, confrontational styles; and both with the political courage to say what they believe without fear, to take on powerful, entrenched special interests, and to never back down from a fight.

Before the governorship, Cleveland served as mayor of Buffalo, where he fought mass corruption in city government.  In his lone year in office, he saved the city over a million dollars in frivolous spending, a huge amount of money in 1882.  State Democrats took notice of Mayor Cleveland’s reform efforts, which propelled him to the statehouse in Albany.

Christie served as a U.S. Attorney from 2002 until 2008 and fought corruption in one of the most corrupt of states.  He successfully prosecuted 130 dishonest public officials, of both parties, without losing a single case.  The New Jersey Star Ledger called it an “impressive resume” and Christie was praised across the state, a record of achievement that helped carry him to Trenton.

While governor, Cleveland took on the forces of big government and the entrenched special interests of his day, namely the infamous Tammany Hall political machine in New York City.  To defy Tammany Hall was the surest way to lose one’s political shirt.  Cleveland never hesitated.  And he won.

Christie has also fought big government, taking on one of the most powerful special interest groups in New Jersey, the unions, particularly those supporting teachers.  Rather than capitulate to the unions, Christie has taken them on.  And if he stands his ground, he will win.

As governor, Cleveland vetoed 200 bills in two years, upholding the state’s constitution and protecting taxpayers.  Just as he had done as mayor, Governor Cleveland ended the “business-as-usual” mentality in the New York capital and brought needed change and reform.

Christie has also changed the political culture in Trenton, aggressively wielding the veto pen to kill measures that boosted spending and taxes.  Governor Christie recently vetoed a tax hike on millionaires, the so-called “success tax,” just two minutes after it passed the legislature.  He needed no time to decide what he believed about the issue.  He has consistently defied a state legislature that is insistent on more government and higher taxes.

Both men possess similar styles.  Cleveland was criticized because he was confrontational.  In an age before modern mass media outlets, Cleveland laced his veto messages with hard-hitting, and often sarcastic, commentary directed at legislators.  He was not afraid to say who he was and what he believed.

Neither is Christie.  Like Cleveland, Christie has taken heat for his “confrontational tone.”  But he will not back down, stating his positions “directly, straightly, bluntly,” as he said in a recent press conference, “and nobody in New Jersey is gonna have to wonder where I am on an issue.”

Both also expressed a similar reluctance to be considered for President of the United States.  Unlike Governor Woodrow Wilson, who earnestly desired the presidency and pursued it in 1912, Cleveland and Christie shunned the White House.

“I have but one ambition,” Governor Cleveland said in 1884, “and that is to make a good governor and do something for the people of the State.”  He wanted to be governor of New York and an “offer of a second term will satisfy any wish I can possibly entertain, at all related to political life.”

Christie’s reluctance is nearly identical to Cleveland’s.  “I want to be governor of New Jersey.  I ran for governor of New Jersey.  I want to do this job for as long as the people want me to do it,” he told Neil Cavuto.  “I am ready to do the best job I can for the people of this state.  I want to serve the people of the state where I was born and raised,” he continued.  “You have to be really in your gut, and in your heart, ready to be President of the United States if you decide to run for that. And I simply do not have the desire to do it, nor do I think I’m ready,”

Such disinclination might depress some conservatives, but this is precisely the kind of person we need in a President, one who does not earnestly seek the job, exactly the way the Founders desired it.  In Grover Cleveland’s day, it was very unfashionable to pursue the presidency.  To desire it meant you had only mischief in mind.  The office should seek the man.  Not the other way around.

Democrats drafted Cleveland to run for the White House in 1884, after only one and a half years as governor, and he acquiesced.  The nation needed him, he was told.

Cleveland did not actively seek the nomination at the national convention but would accept it if it came his way.  “Every consideration which presents itself to me tends to the personal wish on my part that the wisdom of the Democratic Party in the coming convention may lead to a result not involving my nomination for the Presidency,” he wrote a friend.  “If, however, it should be otherwise and I should be selected as the nominee, my sense of duty to the people of my party would dictate my submission to the will of the convention.”

The result was a two-term presidency that greatly benefited the nation.  President Cleveland brought needed reforms to Washington, serving as the last Jeffersonian president.  He stopped lavish spending, cut taxes, protected the Treasury’s surplus, maintained the gold standard, fought inflation, resisted big government solutions to a financial panic by employing laissez faire policies, helped saved the West from exploitation, and held firm against the growing imperialist tide then rising across the country.  Grover Cleveland accepted the call and served the American people well.

For the good of the nation, let’s hope Governor Chris Christie will do likewise.

A House Divided

In the Age of Obama, America is becoming polarized. The “Anointed One” promised the country that he could bring us all together, but now it seems he is tearing the nation apart.

During the course of U.S. political history, Americans were polarized in a handful of instances, most notably in the 1850s, just before the War Between the States.

Abraham Lincoln warned of this just three years before the war. On June 16, 1858, upon receiving the GOP nomination for a United States Senate seat in Illinois, Lincoln gave his famous “House Divided” speech to the Republican state convention in Springfield.

Quoting the words of Jesus, Lincoln proclaimed “‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.”

Obama campaigned on a similar theme and on the night he won the presidency spoke of a new direction in American politics:

“Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House – a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity. Those are values we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress. As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, ‘We are not enemies, but friends…though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.’ And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn – I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too.”

But we now find ourselves not united but as divided as ever. There is little evidence that Obama is attempting be fulfill his lofty campaign rhetoric. He has become a divider, not a uniter.

No president this early in a term has seen the kind of popular uprising that has emerged with the Tea Party movement. Obama has exhibited a total disregard for Republicans and like-minded citizens. He has rammed unpopular legislation through Congress even as polls indicated the nation is against his agenda.

And Democrats are becoming more and more frantic these days to get the attention off their power-grabbing programs and onto something else.

They fear the Tea Party movement and desperately want to destroy it, namely by demonizing it as racist. The media are complicit in the leftwing smear campaign. Major outlets have stated that the underlying motive in the healthcare debate is racism. The Baltimore Examiner even compared the Tea Party movement to a “Klan Rally.”

Supposedly, Tea Party members hurled racist and hate-filled epithets at members of Congress. Supposedly, Tea Party members spat on members of Congress. However, capitol police officers were standing in close proximity to these congressmen and never made any moves toward the Tea Party members.

But, rather than bringing us all together, and speaking out against the race-baiting media, as well as those in his own party who are desperately fanning the flames, Obama has yet to address the issue.

By the end of the Obama presidency, America will be more divided than it has been in decades and race relations will be set back 30 years.

A recent Rasmussen poll showed Obama with a disapproval rating of 51 percent, while 48 percent approved of his job as president. The striking number in this poll was that 99 percent had an opinion one way or the other, instead of the usual 8, 9, or 10 percent who don’t know.

Our House is becoming Divided. But which way will we go?

The Party of No

With the healthcare debate over, and a brand new healthcare law on the books, Republicans stood in complete unison against the liberal assault on the free market. Not one single GOP member of Congress supported the final bill or the reconciliation “fix its” that came afterward. Democrats have been quick to pounce on Republican “obstruction” but the GOP should maintain their stiff resistance and “just say no” when it comes to liberal ideas.

Since losing control of the government, Republicans have been sensitive to charges that they represent nothing more than a ‘party of no.’ But during the furious debate, they unveiled a healthcare proposal of their own. The plan has its merits. Running just 230 pages, as opposed to the 2,200 page monstrosity produced by House Democrats, it relied on the free market rather than government to fix a flawed system. It included tort reforms and, most importantly, allowed health insurance to be sold across state lines, thereby putting an end to state monopolies. In addition, several incentives were built-in to encourage Americans to open healthcare savings accounts, as well as to encourage states to lower health insurance premiums.

If nothing else, the proposal demonstrated the stark contrast between conservative and liberal ideas on healthcare, giving the people a true choice. But Republicans are under no obligation to propose a healthcare bill or any other issue for that matter.

For starters, the GOP does not control either house of Congress or the presidency, so its under no pressure to produce anything. Democrats wanted both a congressional majority and the White House, and voters gave it to them, so its up to them to produce legislation and govern the country, not Republicans.

Democrat complaints would be like a football coach asking his counterpart on the opposing team to suggest plays to run.

A similar situation occurred in the 1890s. The major policy issue was the tariff. Grover Cleveland, a Democrat when Democrats were cool, attempted to lower tariffs during his first term, but his tariff bill was defeated in the Senate and he lost his bid for re-election in 1888. The new president, Benjamin Harrison, and the Republican-controlled Congress, were having trouble passing legislation. Democrats suggested proposing a tariff bill similar to one that was defeated during Cleveland’s administration but the former president had different advice.

Seeing the Republicans “getting deeper and deeper into the mire,” he wrote Congressman John Carlisle, “our policy should be to let them flounder.”

“A bill presented by us,” the former president continued, “will give the enemy what I should think they would want: an opportunity to attack some other measure instead of defending their own. In this way they can shift ground and throw more dirt in the eyes of the people.” And even if a good bill were drafted, “nothing really good coming from our side would go through.” So why bother.

Democrats took the former president’s advice and stayed out of the policy debate. Republicans eventually passed several far-reaching pieces of legislation during that session – higher tariffs, the nation’s first antitrust act, and a bill to increase the money supply, which led to inflation. They even tried to place local elections under federal supervision but failed. As a result of the overreach, Americans reacted angrily and Democrats, the ‘party of no,’ regained the House and Senate in the 1890 mid-terms. Two years later in 1892, Cleveland regained the presidency.

History has shown, such tactics can work in the short-term. Remember, Democrats took control of Congress in 2006, and then increased their majorities in both houses while gaining the presidency in 2008, and never did have a positive program for success. They simply ran against George W. Bush and the Republican party. As Sarah Palin exclaimed recently, while campaigning for John McCain, Republicans should not be a party of no, but a “party of hell no!”

The Hope of History

History is not, in the words of one critic, “just one damn thing after another.” Sadly, most Americans might agree with that statement, but by studying the past we can learn much about ourselves and gain hope for an uncertain future.

With Democrats fully in control of the federal government and ideologically as far to the left as at anytime in history, recent polling indicates that an increasing number of Americans have become apprehensive about the direction the Obama White House and the Pelosi-led Congress are taking the country. A massive economic stimulus priced at nearly $800 billion; the seizure of banks, financial institutions, and businesses like GM; plans to take over the health care industry; the potential destruction of the capitalist system with a “cap and trade” climate bill, politicization of the census, and the intention to silence talk radio are just a few of the agenda items either on the books or on their way to becoming law. This is, without question, the greatest legislative overreach in American history and, what’s more, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

But if history is any indication, their ambitious agenda will only lead to a crushing electoral defeat in the near future.

Using history as a guide, our present situation harkens back to the political circumstances in 1890, when Republicans, the liberal party in those days, over-reached during the 51st Congress, leading to a landslide by conservative Democrats in two successive elections and full party control of the government for the first time since the 1850s.

For its part, the GOP, after the 1888 election, believed the country was decidedly Republican, giving them a mandate to do as they wished. And they had every reason to think just that. From Lincoln’s election in 1860 until Benjamin Harrison’s defeat of Democratic President Grover Cleveland in 1888, Republicans dominated Washington and were accustomed to setting policy and administering the government on a more progressive basis.

During that time span, as the Civil War nearly destroyed the Democratic Party, the GOP held the White House for 24 of 28 years. The makeup of Congress was almost as one-sided. From the midterm elections in 1858 until 1888, a period of three decades, Democrats, with a strengthening Northern wing, coupled with its steadfast Southern stronghold, managed to control the House for only 12 years; the Senate for only four.

The only real Democratic respite came in 1884, with the election of Grover Cleveland and a Democratic House, a brief period when the nation turned back to the policies of Mr. Jefferson and the government was administered very conservatively.

But the Jeffersonian administration of Cleveland only made liberal Republicans more eager to get their national vision back on track, and after the election of 1888 they had full control of the federal government once again, embarking on an ambitious, far-reaching agenda, seemingly to make up for lost time. The new House Speaker, Thomas “Czar” Reed, summed up the Republican attitude. “The danger in a free country is not that power will be exercised too freely, but that it will be exercised too sparingly.” Such a statement could be the official slogan for the Obama-Pelosi administration.

During the first session of the 51st Congress, Republicans enacted several major pieces of legislation, which have an eerie similarity with present government actions. Liberals went after corporations, inflated the currency, raised taxes, massively increased spending, and tried to assert federal control over the electoral process.

First, succumbing to pressure from its Western base, Republicans authorized the Sherman Antitrust Act, a strong measure that gave the federal government more control over big business. Authored by Senator John Sherman of Ohio, brother of the famous Civil War general, William T. Sherman, the bill stated in its very first sentence: “Every contract, combination in the form of trust or other- wise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, is hereby declared to be illegal.” Yet the new law consisted of very vague language, allowing future administrations, namely that of Theodore Roosevelt, to use it in wide-ranging ways. With this bill, the federal government could essentially seize and break up any company it deemed a monopoly.

Second, to provide more inflation in the currency, pressure which also came from the West, Congress passed the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, which required the government to buy 4.5 million ounces of silver per month, as opposed to just 2 million per month under the old law. Though not all of it was coined and put into circulation, the Sherman Act authorized new Treasury notes to purchase the bullion, greenbacks that could be redeemed for gold at the U.S. Mint. This caused a slow drain on the nation’s gold reserve, which, along with the new element of cheap currency into the economy, led to a severe depression in 1893.

Third, protectionist Republicans wanted higher tariffs, even though rates were already at all-time highs. Ohio Congressman William McKinley, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, authored a new tariff law which raised duties to their highest level in history. By doing so, it was hoped the McKinley Act would keep out most foreign imports, which would also help to alleviate the growing federal budget surplus, ongoing since 1866. With such high rates, imports would fall, thereby diminishing revenue. But despite its intentions, this bill effectively raised taxes on everyone by making products more expensive for consumers.

Fourth, in another effort to get rid of the pesky surplus, Congress passed an extravagant pension bill, the Dependent Pension Act, to provide help to veterans and their dependents. Older, more stringent requirements were loosened tremendously, so that anyone who had served at least 90 days in the Union army and had a disability, regardless of how the handicap occurred, could receive a pension. President Cleveland had vetoed a similar measure in 1887 as a raid on the treasury but the Republican Congress, now with a Republican President, was determined to place it into the law books and reward one of its favored constituent groups with funds from the public trough.

Under Harrison and the Republican Congress, spending on pensions rose from $80 million in 1888 to $160 million by 1893. The pension list also swelled from 489,725 recipients in 1889 to 966,012 in 1893, as the Pension Bureau added 19,000 new pensioners per month, whereas before just 19,000 per year were placed to the rolls.

In addition to the increased spending on pensions, Congress also spent a wealth of money on other schemes, earmarking funds for additional naval vessels and various internal improvements projects, such as river and harbor development.

With all the spending, Democrats quickly dubbed it the “Billion Dollar Congress,” the first Congress in American history to spend a billion dollars. Czar Reed, in his smug, arrogant manner, responded to Democratic epithets by noted that “It’s a billion dollar country!” But Americans weren’t buying it.

Under liberal governance, the nation saw its hard-earned surplus, accumulating in the Treasury at a rate of $100 million per year, vanish with scarcely a return. President Cleveland had watched over it like a mother over her child, and tried on many occasions to return it to the people, but Republicans squandered it with little regard for its rightful owners. Political cartoons routinely depicted Harrison pouring Cleveland’s surplus into a large hole in the ground.

Furthermore, Congress attempted to put the federal government in charge of elections, even on the local level. In shades of the current ACORN scandal, a bill authored by Congressman Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts would have given the federal courts jurisdiction over elections and voter registration efforts, presumably to aid disenfranchised blacks in the South. But Democrats feared the measure would enhance the GOP’s hold on power through fraud. Southerners, reminded of the hated days of Reconstruction, were outraged, calling the act the “Force Bill.” It passed the House by a close party-line vote, but later died in the Senate.

This was all too much for the American people. In the midterm elections in 1890, Republicans were trounced, losing 93 seats in the House. Conservative Democrats gained an astonishing 238 of 332 congressional seats. When the 52nd Congress opened in 1891, only 86 Republicans remained in the U.S. House of Representatives. Among the vanquished – staunch progressive and future presidential candidate Robert M. LaFollette of Wisconsin, future House Speaker “Uncle Joe” Cannon of Illinois, and Bill McKinley himself, who was punished for his massive tax hike. And though they did not reclaim the Senate, Democrats gained four seats there as well.

Such a midterm landslide is nothing unusual in American political history. A more recent example would be 1994, when Bill Clinton’s overreach caused a Republican congressional sweep that year, but the GOP did not keep up the momentum and fouled up its opportunity to make further gains in 1996, as Clinton held on to the White House.

But after the 1890 elections, conservatives did not stop working. Two years later, in 1892, the conservative tide continued unmolested, as the nation turned once again to the Jeffersonian Grover Cleveland, and Democrats took control of the Senate, while maintaining its majority in the House. Not since the 35th Congress, from 1857 to 1859, had the Democrats controlled the Senate, the House, and the presidency. A massive, seemingly insurmountable political mountain had been climbed by a party many though dead after the war.

For Obama, Pelosi, Reed, and company, happy days are, indeed, here again! But, though their agenda is far-reaching, even frightening, history can provide real hope for conservatives. Americans have traditionally reacted strongly against any swift move to grow and expand the federal government.

Let us hope for a repeat of 1890, when the American people rose up in righteous indignation against government encroachment and returned our Republic to those who believed in its original purity.


The Great Transcontinental Railroad Scam

This week marks the 140th anniversary of the completion of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad, the Union Pacific-Central Pacific, which famously linked up at Promontory Point, Utah on May 10, 1869 with the driving of the ceremonial golden spike. During the late 19th century, a total of five transcontinental lines were constructed to the West Coast, an amazing feat for the time period.

Most Americans have heard the story of these astonishing engineering exploits but not the real truth behind it. It is a tale of the utter failure of government subsidization of business but also the roaring success of unfettered capitalism, a part of the saga often ignored in history textbooks.

The first discussion of a transcontinental railroad began soon after the United States acquired California, during the Mexican War of 1846-1848. But with the ongoing struggle between North and South, a fight over constitutional principles as much as slavery, neither side could agree on anything concerning funding for a rail line or a path for its construction. However, with the secession of the conservative South, the federal government began financing a railway to the West Coast with passage of the Pacific Railroad Act in 1862.

To construct the first four lines, the government provided hundreds of millions of dollars in loans and freely granted over 150 million acres of land, an area nearly as large as the state of Texas, to various railroad corporations. Many historians and authors, including those charged with writing textbooks for college students, heap praise on the government’s role in providing the necessary capital for these Herculean endeavors.

Stephen Ambrose writes in his book, Nothing Like It In The World: The Men Who Built The Transcontinental Railroad, 1863-1869, that “Government aid…took many forms. Without it, the line could not have been built, quite possibly would not have been started.”

In The National Experience, major historians John M. Blum, Edmund S. Morgan, Willie Lee Rose, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Kenneth M. Stampp, and C. Van Woodward, note that “Since such huge sums were far more than private American investors could supply, promoters turned to foreign investors and to local, state, and federal governments.”

Alan Brinkley, in The Unfinished Nation: A Concise History of the American People, contends that “Subsidies from federal, state, and local governments (along with foreign loans and investments) were vital to this [railroad] expansion, which required far more capital than private entrepreneurs could raise by themselves.”

And finally, in a two-volume work, The Growth of the American Republic, authors Samuel Eliot Morison and Henry Steele Commager make a similar contention. Of the transcontinental lines the authors write: “Certainly very few of the western railroads could have been built by private capital alone without the generous aid from federal, state, and local governments.” This was possible because Washington took a new view of the Constitution, “having abandoned the embarrassing strict construction theories that bothered an earlier generation.” Such an assertion should come as no surprise, for the bias within this particular book should be readily apparent. Upon examining this work, one finds that a portrait of FDR graces the opening pages, which remains in later versions published years after the president’s death in 1945.

However, each of these statements might possess a certain degree of truth, if it were not for the impressive accomplishment of railroad titan James J. Hill. Hill built the fifth and final transcontinental line of the 19th century, the Great Northern, which ran from St. Paul, Minnesota to Seattle, Washington. Though it took longer, he constructed his line without any government aid whatsoever. None of these works discuss Hill, or his achievement, in any degree of detail.

Hill was a supreme capitalist and ran his railroad corporation as such. He did not rely on the government to supply him with capital or land. Burton W. Folsom, Jr., in a great little book, The Myth of the Robber Barons, quotes from a letter Hill wrote to one of his rivals. “Our own line in the north was built without any government aid, even the right of way, through hundreds of miles of public lands, being paid for in cash,” the conservative Hill wrote. He also disliked the fact that Congress granted millions in subsidies to his competitors, providing them with an unfair advantage. “The government should not furnish capital to these companies, in addition to their enormous land subsidies, to enable them to conduct their business in competition with enterprises that have received no aid from the public treasury.”

To get his railroad constructed, Hill decided to develop the frontier as he went along. He transported settlers and supplied them with grain, seed, and livestock, all to help them get started and to set the stage for the development of a capitalist economy in the west.

Of this Morison and Commager write that the “day of land grants and federal subsidies was past,” and “Hill saw that the Great Northern Railway…could reach the Pacific only by developing the country as it progressed.” The authors then quote Hill’s explanation of his plan for the Northwest: “We consider ourselves and the people along our lines as co-partners in the prosperity of the country we both occupy and the prosperity of the one should mean the prosperity of both, and their adversity will be quickly followed by ours.”

Though these authors might not admit it, they are actually acknowledging that capitalism worked! Their unintended praise of Hill’s capitalism continued: “Construction costs were low, the financial management was skillful and conservative, and the Great Northern was the one transcontinental line that managed to weather every financial crisis.”

Echoing a similar sentiment, authors Blum, Morgan, Rose, Schlesinger, Jr., Stampp, and Woodward write in The National Experience that “Built more carefully and solidly than its competitor, financed more soundly, and integrated more thoroughly in the economy of the region it served, Hill’s Great Northern was the only transcontinental railroad to pull through the Panic of 1893 and the depression that followed.”

Unlike the other lines, Hill chose the most economical routes, insisted on using only the very finest steel rails, not the cheaper iron, as well as the best timbers. His work was slower, but also less costly and much more efficient, for it was his money he was using, not someone else’s. It is for these reasons that his company survived every panic and depression, while the other lines all went bankrupt, a fact that many historians never bother to inform their students or readers. In fact, many textbooks never mention Hill at all.

However, there are historians and economists who will tell the absolute truth about Hill and his Great Northern. In addition to Folsom, Professor Thomas J. DiLorenzo, in his book How Capitalism Saved America, discusses the transcontinental lines in great detail, pointing out that not only did all the lines but Hill’s go bankrupt, most of them were rife with corruption, culminating in the Credit Mobilier scandal during Grant’s administration. These corrupt railroad corporations were actually bribing members of Congress to keep the government off their backs and continue the subsidies, giving out passes to ride the lines free of charge as well as company stock. Dozens of members of Congress, as well as Grant’s vice president, were tangled up in the scam.

Today, we find ourselves in a serious economic predicament, to which the government has chosen to heavily regulate the economy, engaging in everything from bailing out corporations to taking over businesses and banks. And with the new massive growth of government has also come new allegations of corruption. History teaches us that such massive government undertakings will always end up as a corrupt disaster. The building of the five 19th century transcontinental railroads provides ample proof that government intervention into the economy will eventually fail and the only success is pure, unbridled capitalism.


“All the indications are that this treasonable inflammation — secessionitis — keeps on making steady progress week by week,” wrote New York lawyer George Templeton Strong in January of 1861. One by one, Southern states began their trek out of the Union, rather than face the coming Lincoln administration, a new government Southerners believed would be destructive to their liberty.

As a Yankee, Strong had a decidedly negative view of secession, a notion still held by a surprising number of our citizens. But in reality secession is an integral part of the American political tradition.

Today, as our nation endures the most radical, leftist government in our history, thoughts of secession are again on the lips of some Americans, including a few well-known political leaders. Texas Governor Rick Perry recently alluded to secession as a possible solution to an out-of-control government in Washington. For his remarks, he has been slammed as an anti-American radical.

But when Northern liberals discussed secession in the days after Bush’s re-election victory in 2004, I don’t remember much talk on the left of how crazy, or treasonable, the idea was. Only when the South desires to leave are such a notions ridiculed or opposed with force. (Perhaps there is a good reason why the North desires to keep the South in the Union.)

Secession is not anti-American; it is one of the most American of responses to oppressive government. The United States of America was founded on secession, a disunion with the British Empire that is clearly enunciated in the Declaration of Independence.

Thomas Jefferson penned a great document espousing the rights of man but also proclaimed the rightness of the people to “dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them.”

When governments oppress the liberties of its citizens, “it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

The people have a “right” and a “duty,” Mr. Jefferson continued, “to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” Americans endured “a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.” Rather than live under a government they felt was tyrannical, early Americans seceded from the British Empire, declaring “That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved.”

The same American spirit of independence found in the Declaration could also be found in most state ratification conventions, when they were asked to approve the new Constitution crafted by the Philadelphia Convention in 1787. Several states placed stipulations on their endorsement of the new compact. The powers given to the federal government were delegated, not surrendered permanently, and New York and Rhode Island made sure it was understood that the states could take them back if they were abused, declaring that “the powers of government may be reassumed by the people whensoever it shall become necessary to their happiness.” The Southern state of Virginia made a similar declaration in its act of ratification.

Under the United States of America, secession movements gathered serious momentum in the Northern states on several occasions. Many Northerners were upset with Jefferson’s election as President in 1800 and his purchase of Louisiana in 1803, to which they believed would eventually constitute a vast region for the spread of slavery. The North also vigorously opposed the War of 1812. In each of these cases, secession was seriously discussed and contemplated.

Facing these secession threats, President Jefferson did not threaten force, but recognized the right of individual states to leave the Union if they so chose. Speaking to the North, he stated in his Inaugural Address: “If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”

After the purchase of Louisiana in 1803, President Jefferson wrote to John C. Breckinridge about the new territories and the new states which would soon be created. If New England preferred secession and a second confederacy, or should the new states beyond the Mississippi desire to be free from the Union, then it is their right, if that would make them happier. “God bless them both, & keep them in union, if it be for their good,” Jefferson wrote, “but separate them, if it is better.”

Northerners again seriously contemplated separating from the Union during the War of 1812, being upset with government policy, namely in regards to trade. During the winter of 1814-1815, Northern states held a convention in Harford, Connecticut to discuss the possibility of creating a Northern Confederacy. This was done right in the middle of a war with Britain that the United States was not winning. No vote on secession took place, but the convention did draft a report that upheld the notions of state sovereignty and state’s rights. But the anti-war fervor destroyed the Federalist party, located almost exclusively in the North.

These principles of secession were simply the common belief of the time period, political facts that everyone knew to be the obvious truth, even visiting foreigners. After touring the United States during the Jacksonian period, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote a famous book, Democracy In America, in 1835. In it he discussed the notion of secession in the United States. “The Union was formed by the voluntary agreement of the States; and these, in uniting together, have not forfeited their Nationality, nor have they been reduced to the condition of one and the same people. If one of the States chose to withdraw its name from the contract, it would be difficult to disprove its right of doing so, and the Federal Government would have no means of maintaining its claims directly, either by force or by right.” Again, Tocqueville was simply writing about what he had learned from everyday Americans.

The South made several secessionist threats throughout the Antebellum period and finally made good on those threats after Lincoln’s election in 1860. Many in the North were content to let them go. Horace Greeley, a Republican abolitionist, editorialized in his New York Tribune that according to the principles of Declaration of Independence, the South had every right to leave the Union. With political issues at a fever pitch, secession would “prevent the shedding of seas of human blood.” If Americans accepted those principles in 1776, asked the Tribune, then “we do not see why it would not justify the secession of Five Millions of Southrons from the Federal Union in 1861.” But Lincoln would not allow the South to determine for itself what kind of government it would live under.

Yet, amazingly, the federal government has recently backed secession movements around the globe, most notably the former republics of the old Soviet Union. Not only did our government support and even encourage those nations to break free, we have assured their independence with war guarantees. Russian has recently tried to take back Georgia with military force, which we condemned, and also has designs on re-taking Ukraine, which we have threatened to protect within NATO.  We do this, and profess to believe in self-determination, but deny the same principles to our own people!

Today, many on the Left, and surprisingly the Right, love to ridicule the principles of secession. Soon after Governor Perry’s comments, Bill Pascoe of CQ Politics wrote a column entitled “Note to the Governor of Texas: You Couldn’t Secede If You Wanted To.” Pascoe tackles the notion that Texas was given special treatment when it entered the Union in 1845 and has some special right to leave if it wants. However, he fails to mention that any state that enters the United States joins as a co-equal with the original thirteen and possesses all the same rights and privileges. But, even if the special circumstance were true, he writes, when Texas joined the Confederacy, took up arms against the United States, and lost the war, “any special dispensation went out the window.”

Furthermore, Pascoe quotes from a proclamation by President Andrew Johnson declaring an end to the war and end to secession, stating “it is the manifest determination of the American people that no State, of its own will, has a right or power to go out of or separate itself from, or be separated from the American Union; and that, therefore, each State ought to remain and constitute an integral part of the United States.”

Funny, I didn’t realize Andrew Johnson was given dictatorial powers but following Lincoln I guess we can see why he thought that! So, no matter how tyrannical Washington becomes, we must remain in the Union. Even if the federal government bans all guns, raises taxes to 95 percent, abolishes private property, seizes all businesses, enforces military conscription, listens to all phone calls, opens everyone’s mail, cancels talk radio, and places conservative “extremists” in concentration camps, we, as individual sovereign states, have no recourse, at least according to Bill Pascoe and his favorite president Andy Johnson!

Such ignorance and stupidity is understandable on the Left but its shocking when so-called conservatives like Pascoe have trouble grasping the simple truths within the Declaration.

A recent column by Ben Shapiro in Human Events supports this fact. While correctly pointing out that “the states, according to the founders, were duty-bound to resist action by the federal government superseding its allotted authority under the Constitution,” he goes on to state that Lincoln’s war on the South was “quick and right,” a conflict that “restored for all time the founding promises of the Declaration of Independence.” This is tortured logic! Lincoln ran roughshod over both the Declaration and the Constitution, holding the Union together at the point of a gun!

I wonder if Mr. Shapiro, who is an attorney in Los Angeles, or Mr. Pascoe, ever heard of the principle of self-determination of peoples? Our Founders certainly did and thank God for it or we would all be speaking the Queen’s English today!

But the question remains: should a state secede from the Union today? Though it has been suggested, this moment might not be the proper time to consider it. But we must never lose our founding principles and our cherished rights! Just because we “lost a war,” to use Pascoe’s words, does not mean the principles of the American Revolution died at Appomattox.

And even if Pascoe is correct, why would anyone join a union, enter into a contract, or any such agreement, that you could not get out of? As the great Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises wrote in 1919: “No people and no part of a people shall be held against its will in a political association that it does not want.”



Obama Rewrites History

When history does not suit the Liberal agenda, the Left will always follow the same strategy – they rewrite it. Whether its delusional thinking on their part or simply a belief that the majority of Americans are ignorant, politicians love to give us their version of history to solidify their questionable and unconstitutional policies.

President Obama’s address to Congress this week did just that. The president told the nation that he rejected the view “that says our problems will simply take care of themselves, that says government has no role in laying the foundation for our common prosperity. For history tells a different story. History reminds us that at every moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this nation has responded with bold action and big ideas.”

This is an unbelievably false statement with no basis in reality. In fact, history tells us just the opposite. Unless you mean “bold” tax cuts and “big” spending reductions, the use of “Bold action and big ideas” to counter an economic depression did not begin until FDR’s New Deal.

“Bold actions and big ideas” have been used to treat the symptoms of every economic recession since the 1930s and the results always end up the same, more economic misery and stagnation. Our greatest periods of economic growth and activity have always come when the government lessened its role in the economy.

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, the United States faced economic depressions, called “panics” in those days, in approximate 20-year intervals – 1819, 1837, 1857, 1873, 1893, 1907, and finally the big one in 1929.

And until 1929, Washington stayed out of the economy and let the free market regulate and correct itself. Bad loans made in ignorance or greed were simply lost. If bankers mismanaged their institutions, they paid the price, and that price was being out of business. There were no government bailouts to cover mistakes and stupidity. But they knew that going in.

Capitalism is a brutal, cutthroat system, and most liberals refuse to understand it. To be successful, you must be smart, innovative, efficient, hardworking, or otherwise you will lose your shirt. Capitalism is a system for winners and achievers, a system whose rewards are great if you put forth the effort. On the other hand, socialism, to be blunt, is a system for losers. Socialism rewards the slothful, the ignorant, and those with no ideas or initiative. It rewards, to those who do nothing, handouts from the government off the backs of someone else’s hard work. It has never been the American way.

Early Americans understood this perfectly and did not look to government to close the gap between achievers and non-achievers. America was an idea, a place where you were free to pursue your own happiness, so long as you did not infringe on the rights of others. Every American has a right to pursue happiness; no one has any right to demand it.

During the early economic downturns, the federal government reacted with these ideals in mind.

President Martin Van Buren responded to the Panic of 1837 by cutting taxes and reducing government. In his annual message to Congress that year, he reminded the members that the founders “wisely judged that the less government interferes with private pursuits the better for the general prosperity.” He also began the effort to totally separate the government from banks, rather the opposite approach we have chosen today. As a result, the panic did not last nearly as long as it could have.

In 1893 another severe depression struck the nation, which many historians and economists contend was every bit as strong as the 1930s. Unemployment hit 20 percent, 16,000 businesses closed, 150 railroads went into receivership, and 600 banks went out of business. President Cleveland responded with a laissez faire approach that lessened its effects, refusing to use government programs to intervene. As a result, the depression was over quickly and did not last nearly as long as the Great Depression, though it was nearly as bad in many ways. The nation’s GNP stood at $13.3 billion in 1893 and by 1894 had dropped to $12 billion. However, by 1896 the nation had nearly regained all losses, and by the next year, 1897, had surpassed its 1893 level.

Obama went on to list the “bold action and big ideas” we supposedly embarked on in times of economic trouble. “In the midst of civil war,” he said, “we laid railroad tracks from one coast to another that spurred commerce and industry.”

Actually, this took place after the war. The vast majority of railroad track in existence in the United States was laid during the late 19th century.

Railroad corporations were the quintessential “big business” of its day, the Wal-Mart, Microsoft, and Enron of the late 19th century. They were the beneficiaries of large government subsidies but were also unbelievably corrupt and inefficient. Of the five transcontinental railroads built during that time period, only one did not end up in bankruptcy, and that was James J. Hill’s Great Northern, which operated free of government handouts. It was also the most efficient and the least expensive of the five.

And though it is true that the railroads helped spur the explosive economic growth of that time period, it was also an era of unfettered capitalism. There were almost no regulations or taxes on businesses that would hamper growth. It was this laissez faire approach, and not government aid, that caused the great economic boom of the late 19th century.

The United States went from being a second-rate economy to the greatest on earth, leading the world in manufacturing, mining, commerce, and agriculture by 1900. Deriving revenue from tariffs and excise taxes was sufficient enough for the federal government to run a budget surplus every year from 1866 to 1893, the year of the economic panic. Though this has been lost on the Left.

“In each case,” President Obama continued, “government didn’t supplant private enterprise, it catalyzed private enterprise. It created the conditions for thousands of entrepreneurs and new businesses to adapt and to thrive.” Yes, Mr. President, the government can be a catalyst, but not with government action. The catalyst early Americans used was government inaction. The more the government stayed out of the free enterprise system, the more prosperous the nation would become. Let individuals pursue their own dreams and the whole of society will benefit.

But Obama and the Democrats do not believe in any economic policies based on laissez faire capitalism. Obamanomics holds, as does its twin brother Keynesianism, that government can stimulate economic growth with spending programs, particularly deficit spending. The catalyst Obama refers to is a massive infusion of cash into the economy through spending, a recipe that has never worked and if used too much will most certainly bring on massive inflation.

During the severe recession of 1919-1920, a downturn that could have very easily plunged the country into a depression, if it wasn’t one already, President Harding and his treasury secretary, Andrew Mellon, responded by massively cutting both taxes and spending, rather than using a government “catalyst” of new programs. The top tax rate under Woodrow Wilson stood at 70 percent, but Harding cut it to 25. The federal budget also saw a cut of 40 percent. We can’t even get a cut of one percent today.

The Harding administration also reduced immigration to cut down on the number of workers available for the fewer jobs available in the market. The result was the greatest economic boom in peacetime in American history. British historian Paul Johnson notes that Harding’s response was “the last time a major industrial power treated a recession by classic laissez-faire methods.”

“Now is the time to act boldly and wisely – to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity.”

And finally, Mr. President, we need no “new foundation.” The old one worked just fine, as long as it was adhered to. Americans are the smartest, most innovative, creative, and hardworking people in the world. Yes, we can do it, but without government help. Earlier Americans created the greatest engine of economic growth in the history of the planet, all from a frontier wilderness without any help from government. When American know-how is unleashed, so too will be a revival of the American economy.

Happy Birthday, Charlie!

In one of the unique facts of history, two of the most influential men in world history, Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin, were born on the same day, February 12, 1809. Last week marked their 200th anniversary, to which Lincoln has stolen most of the show, but Darwin should have received his due, as Darwinism continues to exact an enormous amount of influence in the world, particularly when the Left needs a club to bash Christianity.

Make no mistake, Darwinism is the Left’s baby. To a liberal it’s akin to religious dogma and must be taught in public schools. But Christians must wage an all-out fight, including court action, to teach creationism. The Left does not even want public school students to be free thinkers and decide the matter for themselves, after having been presented both sides of the argument fair and equally.

Yet, when it comes to other issues, such as global warming, the environment, and public welfare, liberals conveniently leave out Darwin altogether, seeking to separate them from Darwinism, as if it were distinct from what he intended. This is usually referred to as Social Darwinism – the application of Darwin’s theories to other areas of society.

But, despite the Left’s propaganda campaign, the two are actually one and the same. They attempt to propagate the lie that only a handful of heartless monsters twisted Darwin’s theories to suit their own evil desires. It’s just another example of liberal hypocrisy.

For example, it is often remarked, especially in the world of academia, that Darwin was not talking about humans in his book, On the Origins of Species. This fact is true but human beings were implied if you consider the subtitle of the book – By Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Most professors never bother to point out this brutal subtitle. I found it out on my own when examining an older copy of the book. Newer reprints often do not include the subtitle at all!

Liberal scholars also conveniently forget that Darwin wrote a second book, The Descent of Man (1871), where mankind was the subject.

And if you think Darwin did not apply any of his theories to humans, consider this gem from The Descent of Man:

“With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.”

Hitler could not have said it better. He was a passionate believer in Darwinism and survival of the fittest. The whole of Nazi philosophy was centered on natural selection. But most of the geniuses constituting the Left do not realize this (or maybe they do but think we are so stupid not to ever find out). These crazies drive around in their cars with the ridiculous Darwin stickers and magnets on the back for all to see, but it might as well be a swastika.

Another of the Left’s icons, Friedrich Nietzsche, of “God is dead” fame, who was also a Darwinist, wrote that should we “preserve all that was sick and that suffered” then we would “worsen the European race.”

Liberals conveniently forget about these gems.

The Left also dumps Darwin when it comes to issues like the promotion of big business and welfare programs. Applying Darwinism to economics would allow for monopolies and prevent any public assistance to the needy, to which Darwin would have approved.

A British philosopher named Herbert Spencer applied Darwin’s theory to the business world, arguing that the brightest, the most energetic, and the most imaginative business tycoons would survive the brutal rigors of capitalism and the weak would fail and end up in bankruptcy. The strong businesses would become stronger, and as a result, the whole of society benefited. This philosophy found wide acceptance among the wealthy tycoons in late 19th century America, as it seemed to justify what they were doing and how they had arrived at such a high station in life.

A Yale professor, William Graham Sumner, wrote about this philosophy in a 1902 essay entitled “The Concentration of Wealth: Its Economic Justification”:

“What matters it then that some millionaires are idle, or silly, or vulgar, that their ideas are sometimes futile, and their plans grotesque, when they turn aside from money-making? How do they differ in this from any other class? The millionaires are a product of natural selection, acting on the whole body of men, to pick out those who can meet the requirement of certain work to be done. They get high wages and live in luxury, but the bargain is a good one for society.”

Poverty and slums, then, were the unfortunate consequences of this competitive struggle but poverty should only be temporary. Only the slothful, lazy, ignorant, unfit, and defective people would not rise from poverty and the state should not intervene to alleviate or attempt to eliminate poverty because that would negate the good effect of natural selection, where the strong survive and the weak perish. Nature’s process must be allowed to run its course.

During the late 18th century, Europeans were worried that a massive population surge over the previous 100 years could have devastating consequences, namely that there would not be enough food to feed everyone. An economic philosopher, Thomas Malthus, came up with one possible solution in a 1798 pamphlet entitled “Essay on Population.” Malthus believed that the population would grow too quickly for the earth to supply enough food and mass starvation would be the result.

Therefore, the government should not attempt to relieve the condition of the lower classes by increasing their incomes or improving agricultural productivity, as the extra means of subsistence would be completely absorbed by an induced boost in population.  As long as this tendency remained, Malthus argued, the “perfectibility” of society will always be out of reach.  And perfectibility, or Utopia, has always been the ultimate goal of socialists.

But in the 1840’s, it looked as though Malthus might be right, as Ireland experienced a potato famine beginning in the fall of 1845. Ireland had experienced food shortages before, usually lasting a few months, but never anything like this. It came to be known as the “Great Hunger” and lasted until 1849. One million Irish fled to the United States during the famine, while another million emigrated over the next few decades. Records are not available but it is widely believed that anywhere from 500,000 to 2,000,000 died in the famine. Although the British government instituted some assistance programs, for the most part it did nothing to help, believing in the validity of Malthus’ theory, as well as that of Darwin.

During the same time period, the economist David Ricardo, applying Darwin to economics, maintained that the wages of laborers should be kept at the lowest possible level because their high rate of reproduction ensured a surplus supply of labor. In other words, wages should be kept low and government should not set any type of minimum wage.

Ricardo also advocated a restriction of the so-called “Poor Laws.” These had originally been passed by the British Parliament in the early nineteenth century to bring relief to the poorer classes in British society.

But in our modern era, to advocate anything like Darwinism regarding liberal issues would essentially destroy your career.

In 2007, Dr. James Watson, the 79-year-old co-winner of the 1962 Nobel Prize for medicine, saw his tenure canceled at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, where he taught for four decades, as well as a book tour promoting his latest work. The prestigious Science Museum in London canceled a scheduled lecture, all for a remark that was pale in comparison to anything the Brit Darwin ever said.

Dr. Watson told The Sunday Times in October 2007 that he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really.” He said there was a natural desire that all human beings should be equal but “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true.”

His views are also reflected in his newest book Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science, in which he writes: “There is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so.”

Hadn’t Darwin reasoned much the same way, that there are races that have not been able to measure up to others? This is not to accuse Dr. Watson of being a Darwinist or even a racist, for I don’t believe he is one. He is only drawing conclusions from the scientific data, as was Darwin.

So why is Darwin a God of the Left but Watson a child of the devil?

In today’s society, the slightest instance, the tiniest utterance, however innocent it might be, if directed toward a protected group can lead to being branded a racist, the 21st century equivalent of a Scarlet Letter, which can ruin any career in any field. Ask Dr. Watson, ask Trent Lott, if you think it not so. Though neither can be considered racist, Darwin was every bit as racist as the most vile among us.

The Left invokes Darwin when it is useful, such as bashing creationism and Christianity in general, but conveniently puts him in the closet when it does not suit their immediate political needs in regards to other issues, like promoting victim-hood.

Darwinism is incompatible with Christianity. You cannot be a Darwinian Christian, for Jesus is the very antithesis of Darwin, teaching to help the poor, the weak, and the sick, though I don’t think he meant for the government to do it, only his Church.

So either you are a Darwinist or you are not. Either you believe all men are created equal, as Christ did, or you believe that they are not, as Darwin clearly did. We must either use Darwinism in all its sick and twisted ways, or we place him where he truly belongs, on the ash heap of history.

Ignorance Kills

“If a Nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1816. “The functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents. There is no safe deposit for these but with the people themselves; nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe.”

Jefferson lived in a time when the world was progressing in knowledge and ideas, the Age of Enlightenment. He understood, as well as anyone, the benefits of education and the desire to gain knowledge. These valuable traits were among the most important aspects needed to protect one’s liberty from government encroachment. Prior to this age, however, governments were tyrannical and held on to absolute power by keeping the people mired in ignorance. If the people did not know what was going on, then it was much easier to control them.

America, by contrast, erected a barrier between government and the press, protecting the people’s ability to spread and acquire knowledge. With no television or radio to occupy their time, most early Americans were voluminous readers, devouring newspapers and other periodicals, as well as books on history, government, and economics. Armed with facts, they could keep a close eye on what transpired in Washington.

Now, sadly, we seem to be regressing, hooked on television sitcoms, reality shows, video games, and the internet, rather than reading, learning, and gaining wisdom. And this lack of knowledge is killing our country.

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) has conducted a major study on the knowledge of history, civics, and economics among various groups of the American populace. The results have been staggering, that is staggeringly bad. The institute crafted a simple multiple choice exam to be given to three segments – a random sampling of American citizens, college freshmen and seniors, and elected officials. The results have been published in a new report entitled “Our Fading Heritage.”

Of the two college groups, freshmen and seniors, no score was higher than 54 percent, a failing grade. The general public group scored just 49 percent and elected officials tallied the lowest of all at 44 percent. Just 0.8 percent of elected officials scored an “A” on this simple test. Somehow that shouldn’t surprise anyone!

And its not as if these questions are difficult. Here are a couple:

What are the three branches of government?

A. Executive, Legislative, Judicial

B. Executive, Legislative, Military

C. Bureaucratic, Military, Industry

D. Federal, State, Local

Less than half of the general public and only 36 percent of college graduates could correctly answer this basic question – executive, legislative, judicial – which is required on citizenship exams.

The United States Electoral College:

A. trains those aspiring to higher political office

B. was established to supervise the first televised presidential debates

C. is otherwise known as the U.S. Congress

D. is a constitutionally mandated assembly that elects the president

E. was ruled undemocratic by the Supreme Court

The obvious answer is “D” but amazingly 20 percent of elected officials answered “B”!

In the general public survey, only 21 percent knew the phrase “of the people, by the people, and for the people” was taken from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, but over twice as many, 56 percent, knew Paula Abdul was a judge on American Idol! Only 53 percent knew the power to declare war resides with Congress and 40 percent thought the power to declare war was a presidential authority. This is the obvious result of the Iraq War.

Amazingly, most Americans still do not realize that the phrase “separation of church and state” is not in the Constitution’s First Amendment. In the ISI survey less than one in five knew the phrase came from a letter by Thomas Jefferson, while almost half believed it was in the Constitution. It would probably surprise many to learn that it can be found in the old Soviet constitution but not ours!

Of college graduates, 52 percent believed the phrase “separation of church and state” could be found in the Constitution while just 26 percent knew it came from a Jefferson letter; only 33 percent knew that the First Amendment prohibited the establishment of an official religion; 18 percent could not name a single First Amendment right; 32 percent thought the president could declare war; and only 24 percent knew the main issue of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates was the expansion of slavery into the federal territories. And speaking of Lincoln, only 24 percent knew that his phrase “of the people, by the people, and for the people” came from the Gettysburg Address.

And on this last point, I don’t know why we should be surprised at this finding. You might recall that Bill Clinton apparently didn’t know it while campaigning for re-election in 1996. He incorrectly said it could be found in both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

The chairman of the ISI’s National Civic Literacy Board, Josiah Bunting, said of the findings, “There is an epidemic of economic, political, and historical ignorance in our country. It is disturbing enough that the general public failed ISI’s civic literacy test, but when you consider the even more dismal scores of elected officials, you have to be concerned. How can political leaders make informed decisions if they don’t understand the American experience?”

The report finds that most of this ignorance can be traced to television. More and more Americans have their heads stuck in the television while fewer and fewer are reading. Even the TV news networks have not aided this problem. This attachment to television, according to ISI, “dumbs America down.”

But how can this trend be reversed? According to Bunting, “Colleges can, and should, play an important role in curing this national epidemic of ignorance.” But they don’t and probably won’t. Our education system has been politically dumbed down and is held captive to political correctness. And its becoming harder and harder for conservative professors to even get job interviews, let alone be hired in many major universities.

The vast majority of colleges and universities don’t require American history, government, or a basic economics class any longer. In regards to history, most institutions are now requiring world civilization survey courses, where the students get a sampling of all the world has to offer. With very few exceptions, U.S. history has been dropped as a core requirement.

In addition, rather than learning that America is an exceptional place with a positive history, college students are more likely to be instructed on the “crimes” America has committed and the cultural equality of all the world’s civilizations. Professors theorize and philosophize in history courses on what should have been rather than on the facts of American history and government. Students are not taught facts so its no surprise when they don’t know any facts.

Though this study may be just mere statistics to many, I have personal experience of this lack of knowledge among college students. In the summer of 2007 I taught a world history survey course at a university and I asked my class to tell me when the American Civil War was fought. Not one single student, among the 60 in the class, could tell me the correct answer, and the few that tried were not even close. One young lady said the 1960s, while another thought perhaps the 1930s. The most cataclysmic event in American history, one that changed the nature of the Union and the country forever, not to mention resulted in the deaths of more than 600,000 Americans, and not one single citizen in that classroom could tell me when it occurred. That’s tragic.

A dearth of knowledge of the Constitution is also prevalent in our society, as the survey indicated. The Constitution is the American Political Bible, and if we won’t read it, won’t study it, and do not understand the history behind it, we risk residing in a political hell. Couple that with elected officials who don’t know anything about our history of freedom and capitalism, and its little wonder we are in serious trouble today.

Either we listen to our Founders and gain knowledge about our great country so we can better protect it while basking in the sunshine of freedom, or fall into the darkness of ignorance and the totalitarianism that goes with it. The choice is ours.

Lincoln Mania

In my latest column, I discussed the beginnings of a media frenzy regarding Barack Obama and the rush to compare him to Abraham Lincoln. A major cover story appeared in Newsweek and now subsequent articles have appeared in Time. The subject has also been discussed on many nightly news programs. But this is not just a Democrat phenomenon, as the GOP has always maintained an attachment to its first president. Most recently Michael Steele, running to head the RNC, has repeatedly described himself as a “Lincoln Republican.”

Modern-day politicians, for whatever reason, feel a great need to identify with Lincoln. But as I have written many times in the past, comparisons to Lincoln should not fill us with hope but dread.

Most of the “history” of our 16th president is myth. Many of Lincoln’s most famous sayings and phrases are false. And most of his political stances are, in fact, the opposite of what they have been portrayed.

“Anyone who embarks on a study of Abraham Lincoln,” writes Robert W. Johannsen in Lincoln, the South, and Slavery, “must first come to terms with the Lincoln myth. The effort to penetrate the crust of legend that surrounds Lincoln…is both a formidable and intimidating task. Lincoln…requires special considerations that are denied to other figures of his generation.” Because of this, its very difficult for historians to conduct a genuine study of him, as H. L. Mencken wrote in 1931: “Lincoln has become one of our national deities and a realistic examination of him is thus no longer possible.”

And it is these myths that cause politicians, and the general public, to get a warm feeling about Lincoln and the desire to idolize him. Reading glamorous accounts by adoring scholars have only served to worsen this situation.

The real Lincoln, though, is quite different than the myth that has been depicted in history.

I’ve wrote at length about Lincoln’s war policy and his trampling of the Constitution and individual liberties. But his economic policies were just as damaging and deadly to American freedom. Lincoln considered himself an “old Henry Clay tariff Whig,” strictly following the economic program of Alexander Hamilton and Henry Clay, which consisted of high protective tariffs, direct taxes, federally-funded internal improvements, direct subsidies to big business, and a national banking system complete with paper money not backed by gold.

We are now in the midst of a great financial crisis. So if he were president today, what would Lincoln do? Sadly, not that much different than has been done thus far, a major boost in government intervention.

In the area of foreign trade, a huge issue for Lincoln, he was, according to Pat Buchanan, the “Great Protectionist.” He believed, passionately, in the benefits of a high protective tariff, saying on one occasion, “Give us a protective tariff and we will have the greatest nation on earth.” So I’m always amazed at how self-described “Lincoln Republicans,” including Michael Steele and Jack Kemp, are always free traders. Lincoln loathed free trade.

It must be noted, however, that the Republican tariffs during this era were sky-high, with an average rate of more than 50 percent, and were imposed for the benefit of the great industrialists of the North, the backbone of the party. They were essentially campaign payoffs, which enriched one section of the country, the North, while impoverishing another, the South. This was a grievance many Southerners held against the North and a major reason for secession.

But this is one area where Republicans could actually learn something of value from Lincoln but choose to ignore, as free trade continues to eat away at our manufacturing base. Though there may not be any consensus that tariffs should be that high today, practicing fair trade would greatly strengthen our economy.

To derive more revenue for his imperialistic war of subjugation against the South, Lincoln’s Republicans adopted the first income tax in American history. It was a progressive tax with a top rate that eventually reached 10 percent on all incomes over $10,000 a year. So someone making that much annually had a tax bill of $1,000. In those days a house could be purchased for a thousand dollars! Those making as little as $600 annually fell in a 3 percent bracket. The new tax law also imposed excise taxes on every conceivable item and created a new federal bureaucracy to collect the funds, a predecessor to the IRS. And though it was imposed to fund the war, and fitted with a sunset provision to expire in 1872, Republicans never voted to end it, even when hostilities ended in 1865.

Lincoln, like Hamilton and Clay before him, also believed in direct government aid to industry and “investing” in the economy. In short, he would have loved all these federal bailouts. Federally-funded internal improvements, as they were labeled in his time, are what we today call earmarks or pork-barrel projects. A great example of this part of Lincolnian economics was the funding of the transcontinental railroads. In 1862 Congress passed the Pacific Railway Act to finally fund the construction of a rail line to the Pacific Ocean. The South had been the major obstacle in previous congressional attempts, mainly because the proposed routes would not pass through the southern states and such an enterprise was unconstitutional. But with the South out of the way, Republicans were free to spend taxpayer dollars anyway they saw fit.

In all, five transcontinental rail lines were completed in the 19th century. Four received federal government money for every mile of track constructed, but the last of the five, built by James J. Hill, was done with private funding. As a result, according to economist Tom DiLorenzo, Hill’s Great Northern was a “famously efficient and profitable operation” while the government railroads “were so inefficient that they were bankrupt as soon as they were completed.” The subsidized lines were also rife with corruption and produced a major presidential scandal for Ulysses S. Grant, the Credit Mobilier Scandal, where at least a dozen congressmen were bribed by railroad executives. Vice President Schuyler Colfax, a former Speaker of the House, was also implicated and left office in disgrace.

Lincoln also favored central banking and had been a proponent of the old Bank of the United States, which was a forerunner to the federal reserve system we have today. But since Andrew Jackson had killed the Second Bank of the United States in 1836, no national banking system existed in America until Lincoln signed a series of laws creating one in the early 1860s. These nationally-chartered banks also issued paper currency known as “greenbacks” that were not backed by gold. With so much put into circulation, this fiat money was highly inflationary, and by 1864 had lost two-thirds of its value. This caused an unstable monetary supply, something central banking is supposed to prevent. We seem not to have learned any lessons.

So as we can see, Lincoln was, in the words of Professor DiLorenzo, the “Great Centralizer.” He believed that government, not the free market, was the best solution for economic distress and was the best vehicle for economic growth. The only clear reason that conservatives embrace Lincoln is his supposed attachment to racial equality. This is Jack Kemp’s main argument. But this is also a myth. Nothing in Lincoln’s career even suggests he believed in civil rights for blacks. He wasn’t even an abolitionist. Lincoln only moved toward freedom for the slaves when it became militarily expedient to do so. He was adamant on more than one occasion that the war was not being fought to free slaves, ordered commanders to return runaways to their masters, and drafted an Emancipation Proclamation that freed no one.

For conservatives to revere Lincoln is, to borrow from Winston Churchill, “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Nothing Lincoln believed is consistent with today’s Republican economic philosophy. Embracing the mantle of Goldwater, Reagan, or even Coolidge would be much more in line with an economic philosophy of free enterprise. We have a party of centralization. Let us now have a party of capitalism.