The decision of a lifetime
There are elections, and then there are watershed elections, such as those in the U.S. in 1800, 1860, and 1932. Voracious student of history and longtime engineer Jim O’Leary believes the 2012 election falls into this category, as "unrest with the governmental status quo has reached an epic high tide."
Editor’s Note: This article represents the opinion of the author solely and is not intended to be a reflection of the views of any person or entity other than the author. Feel free to leave your comments either in support or opposition of the author’s view in the comment section below the article.
The U.S. embodies an ideal that is buried deep in the breast of mankind—an ideal that was carried through the times and events of history until it bloomed into fruition with the advent of this country. This ideal was codified in three documents that have withstood the test of time and trial.
These three documents, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, represent the concept that men could live in freedom with magnanimity and goodwill with their fellow citizens. This concept, which was enshrined throughout all three documents by codifying the relationship between citizens and their government, became the force of supreme law that could not easily be abrogated by individuals or groups of people.
All government activities became subject to this law and, as such, could not arbitrarily subordinate the people to rules and regulations that ran contrary to the intent of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Many safeguards were put in place that thwarted numerous attempts to circumvent the wisdom that our founding fathers codified into these three documents.
The people were to use their freedom to live lives of liberty and to pursue their dreams of happiness. No person had to answer to arbitrary and capricious decrees and dictates handed down by an unaccountable government. People maintained control of their government through the elective process that took place every two years. All office holders had to submit to the electoral process based on the term lengths spelled out in the Constitution. Judges had lifetime tenure not subject to the electoral process to minimize political influence on their work.
The first major test of this new governmental concept came in1798 with the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts. The Sedition portion of the Acts provided for fines or imprisonment of individuals who criticized the government, Congress, or president in speech or print. This resulted in several individuals being tried and imprisoned for speaking out about governmental activities. The Federalists used the Sedition Act to suppress their political rivals in the Democratic-Republican Party.
The Federalist Party fully intended to mold the country into their vision for the future. That future was to be run by the wealthy landholders and merchants.
These acts became the major focus of the elections of 1800. The Federalist Party was the power holder in Congress that passed the law with John Adams (a Federalist) signing as president. The people were so enraged at how the law curtailed their First Amendment rights that they literally threw out almost all of the Federalist office holders and voted in Democratic-Republicans with Thomas Jefferson as president after the Congress broke the Electoral College tie between him and Aaron Burr.
Now what made this first upheaval election so important is hidden in the political philosophies of the two parties. The Federalist Party was headed up by John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and John Marshall. They believed in a very strong federal government with absolute power and a variable adherence to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. They favored very strong taxation powers and wanted to build an industrial society as opposed to an agrarian one. In short, they wanted a powerful federal government that would direct the affairs of states and men.
The Federalist Party believed in the supremacy of the federal government over the states and individuals. The Sedition Act was a major power grab that was intended to suppress individuals’ and states’ First Amendment rights. In the game of political chess, the Alien and Sedition Acts comprised the opening move of the Federalists, consolidating their control over the new nation.
The Democratic-Republicans were opposite in their positions. They believed that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights guaranteed the supremacy of the individual states and people over the federal government. It was the Anti-Federalists, the forerunners of the Democratic- Republicans, who insisted on a Bill of Rights to be established after the Constitution was ratified.
The people made their decision in the 1800 election. The repudiation of the Federalist Party and its political positions was thorough and complete. The last Federalist presidential nominee ran in the 1816 election; the party was no more after that election.
Thus, a seismic shift from the governing philosophy of Adams, Hamilton, and Marshall to Jefferson and Madison was effected that election. This shift would stay in place until the Civil War. That war—over states’ rights and the right of secession from the Union—was the second major turning point in our country’s history.
In the 60 years following the 1800 election, a national economic experiment began to take place. With the repudiation of the coercive power of the federal government, the country basically divided into two economic spheres. The North became an industrial powerhouse with the development of manufacturing and transportation infrastructure. The transportation system was a mix of east-west-direction roads, canals, and railroads. This growth was populated by European immigrants coming to America to seek freedom and economic opportunity.
The South maintained its agrarian culture based on the plantation system run with slave labor. Free men without slaves farmed small free-holder claims and lived basically subsistence lives. No manufacturing or transportation infrastructure was developed, except to support the agricultural production for export. The main exports were cotton and tobacco. The primary transportation system was north-south-flowing rivers. The South had only a small percentage of railroad tracks compared to the North.
By 1860 the country had expanded west to include the states of Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas. California and Oregon also were states by this time. As noted, the Northern free states had developed into economic powerhouses based on free men and free association. The Southern economy had far lesser industrial development, because most of its capital was tied up in slavery.
It became apparent to many in the North that slavery was incompatible with the ideals of freedom that had developed over the past 60 years. This sentiment became crystal-clear with the development of the Republican Party and the election of Abraham Lincoln as president in 1860.
The war was started by the Southern slaveholding states based on the concept that states’ rights had supremacy over the federal law and that seceding from the Union would preserve those rights. The South lost the war because the North had a far superior economic and manpower base to draw resources from. Northern men fought the war for the principles of freedom for all and to preserve the Union. The majority of the slaves did not support Southern efforts in the war, and for good reason. They wanted freedom.
After the war, the supremacy of the Union was firmly in place. The federal system as established moved to a superior position to the states. However, this power was not used to restore the vision that the Federalist Party had, but to position freedom and liberty to all people as the preeminent position for the U.S. citizen. The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments codified that all men’s freedoms, regardless of race, were equally protected under the Constitution. The 15th Amendment was ratified and enacted in February 1870, five years after the Civil War ended.
For the next 60 years, the power of the federal government was directed at expanding the country, encouraging economic growth, and expanding freedoms. With the exception of the Southern states that maintained suppression of the black races and the Army’s suppression of the Indian rebellions, the freedom of the individual was the ideal of the land. This freedom expanded to include women with the enactment of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
This was a time of unprecedented economic expansion and growth. The nation added the rest of the western states and filled in the map from the Atlantic to Pacific oceans. The transcontinental railroad was built, which represented an era of capital growth and the rise of the industrialists.
It was during this period that wealthy businessmen and industrialists began dominating control of the political world. This was the fulfillment of the old Federalist Party’s dreams. By using their influence and money, they captured federal and state policy to their benefit at the expense of their competitors and the common person.
The late 19th century saw the rise of the Populist Movement, a movement inspired by economic deprivations of the people caused by government policies and excise taxes, business combines, trusts, and monopolies.
Starting around 1900, a new line of thinking called progressivism arose. Its proponents believed that unfettered economic freedom of the businessman and industrialist needed to be “regulated” for the benefit of the nation’s people. It was championed by Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and later by Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt. This new philosophy proposed that the instruments and power of government should be used to control and channel business and its economic activities.
1913 was the year that the Populist and Progressive movements culminated with three major changes to our nation’s government: ratification of the 16th Amendment, which conferred unfettered governmental taxing powers on income; the 17th Amendment, which transferred senator selection from state legislators to popular vote, thereby removing them from representing state governments’ interests at the federal level; and the Federal Reserve Act, which consolidated control of the monetary and banking system into a quasi-private entity that was not accountable to the government or the people.
These three acts paved the way for the federal government to start regulating and controlling the nation’s businesses and economy.
The first test of federal regulation of the economy came during World War I under the helm of Woodrow Wilson and the Democratic Party. By most accounts, managing the war economy by newly created federal agencies convinced many Americans that the federal government could play an important positive role in the American economy. The lesson learned by the American people was that in time of national emergency, such as war, the federal government should have the power to regulate the economy.
With the end of World War I, the size of the federal government shrank back to almost prewar levels. However, the American people were imprinted with the idea of federal economic control. This lesson remained dormant during the 1920s, but came to life when the U.S. faced the Great Depression, which was caused by the Federal Reserve Board and the excessive growth of an easy money policy. The idea of fighting the Depression by creating federal agencies and programs reflected precedents set in World War I.
Three years into the Great Depression came the 1932 election. With the election of Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal policies, many people easily turned their economic freedoms over to the control of the federal government and thereby relinquished their personal freedoms. This same relationship continued into World War II. Personal and economic freedoms were curtailed significantly by the federal and state governments during the depression and World War II.
After the war, government partially restored personal liberty, but did not relinquish the reins of economic power. An example is the introduction of mandatory withholding of income taxes at the source in 1943 to help fund the war effort. It was never rescinded, and now we all must give to the federal and state governments the first slice off of our wages and other incomes. By the way, the original tax rate was 6 percent. Compare that to the rates now in place. And there is talk of increasing rates even higher.
From the 1930s until now, the federal and state governments have increased their control over our economic freedoms. This has been done by tax policy (the 16th Amendment) and regulatory mandates. They have done this while paying lip service to our personal freedoms. The reality is this: As our economic freedoms have become servant to the government, we have lost our personal freedoms.
As we have seen, there have been three elections that have been major turning points in our history. The 1800 election was a challenge to usurping the Constitution and the Bill of Rights by one party. The 1860 election was a challenge to rampant states’ rights with regards to slavery. The 1932 election was a referendum on unbridled business and industrialist activities and a sense of powerlessness on the part of the common man on the street.
Each one of these elections represented a major break from the previous governing philosophy. These breaks were precipitated by a building consensus over the years that the current political thinking was out of step with the people and their desires. Each one of these elections presented to the people a clear and stark distinction between the two choices being put before them.
And so we come to 2012, 80 years since the 1932 watershed election. We have come full circle and reached the end. Again, the American people are faced with a clear, distinct choice for our nation’s future.
On one hand, we could elect leaders that will continue the policies that have led to our current state of economic and personal decline. These policies have culminated in a quagmire of nepotism, crony capitalism, economic stagnation, regulatory and legal overload, and suppression of economic and personal freedoms. These policies have led our republic to the brink of financial collapse. National bankruptcy is eminent in the very near future. This group has moved far from our Constitutional principles as a limited governing philosophy.
On the other hand, we could elect leaders that want to return us to our founding principles. By doing this, perhaps we could begin the process of restoring the economic and personal freedoms that have been badly eroded in the past 80 years. Maybe we could restore sound monetary and financial principles to our federal government and avert collapse and bankruptcy.
This second option is not a leap into the dark. The individual states have become laboratories in which each is working out its particular political-economic agenda. As they do, it is becoming very clear that returning to limited government taxes and spending, minimizing regulation, and placing a strong emphasis on personal responsibility are restoring the people’s freedoms and sound economy. Many of these states are doing so without the blessings of the federal political leadership. In fact, many are banding together to challenge the supremacy of the federal government mandates on issues such as voter ID, environmental regulations, health care, and fiscal management.
As in the elections of 1800, 1860, and 1932, unrest with the governmental status quo has reached an epic high tide. It is time to turn this country in a different direction. Will the 2012 election be the turning point for our nation? Will the American people rise up and throw off the shackles of an oppressive government and restore personal and economic freedoms? Will we elect leaders not on the basis of their party affiliations or their promises to bring home federal goodies, but on their commitments to restore fiscal sanity and freedom from oppressive governmental dictate?
The future of this wonderful experiment in self-government is before the American people front and center. A new class of political leadership is presenting itself for consideration. They are not the products of the political parties or machines. They have come into being in spite of the efforts of the old-guard politicians in both parties that are protecting the status quo that led us to where we are today. They are coming forward to represent the founding principles of limited government (both in law and regulation), sound budgetary and taxing policies, and a pro-economic and pro-personal freedom agenda.
The decision of a lifetime is before you this November. This election will determine our children’s and their children’s futures. Will it be one of freedom, opportunity, and prosperity, or will it be austerity, poverty, and slavery to our federal masters and their policy minions?
The choice is yours to make.