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Washington, Lincoln, FDR and... Bush?

Our next 'great' President.

by James Leroy Wilson
June 19, 2003

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Washington, Lincoln, FDR and... Bush?_James Leroy Wilson-Our next 'great' President. Rankings are fun to talk about. Perhaps the most fun thing to talk about. All-time movie grosses, and what they mean in terms of popularity adjusted for inflation, and quality. All-time best albums. The college football polls. The Billboard charts. Greatest athletes of the twentieth century.

And then there is Greatest Presidents.

Historians sometimes poll themselves with such a list, in order to make news. Leftist historian Arthur Schlesinger conducted such a poll in 1948, and in virtually every poll since, the three Greatest Presidents have constantly been George Washington and Abraham Lincoln (swapping the #1 and #2 spots from poll to poll) and Franklin D. Roosevelt (the constant #3).

If one goes through such lists, one will note that highly-ranked Presidents invariably brought more power to the office of President personally, or to the overall power of both the Presidency and the federal government in general. Historians love big government because it keeps them occupied. That explains Washington, Lincoln, and FDR. They changed the rules of the political game.

David Nolan, the founder of the Libertarian Party, remarked in a speech at the 2002 Libertarian Party Convention something else notable about the three. The first elections of Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt were 72 years apart. A lifetime, or two full generations apart.

I'm not one for numerology or superstition. But in one sense the Constitutional Convention Washington presided over, and which created the Constitution by which he would become President, was as Albert Jay Nock in Our Enemy: the State puts it, a "coup d'etat" by throwing away the very Articles of Confederation it was supposed to revise. This new Union Washington founded was something new; it pretended to protect the freedom of its member states by taking away many of the powers that independent states normally have. For two generations with some peace, some war, some unconstitutional actions, some outrageous compromises, finding itself with more territory than it could handle, Washington's America evolved (or devolved, depending on your perspective) into Lincoln's America.

Lincoln's America, following the spirit of nationalist revolutions of Europe in 1848, was one in which the citizen's loyalty was to a strong centralized nation, with its Capitol in Washington D.C., with plenty of tariff-supported government spending on "internal improvements" to aid domestic industry. Washington's America resulted in a desire for the United States to become strong in the face of foreign threats; Lincoln's America was a desire for the United States to become a great Nation. After Lincoln, other ideas came in from Europe and, over the course of a generation, began to infect America. Ideas like socialism, imperialism, and militarism.

Washington, clearly enough, did not personally cause the sectionalism and rivalry that sprang from Thomas Jefferson's unconstitutional Louisiana Purchase and James K. Polk's fraudulent Mexican War, though his appointment of Alexander Hamilton as Treasurer did inspire the disasters of protective tariffs and national banks. And Lincoln, in his defense, did not force the annexation of Hawaii, or pointlessly and fraudulently cause the Spanish-American War (which, as in most of its wars, America won militarily but lost in every other conceivable way). And Lincoln did not create the Progressive movement or break George Washington's advice to stay out of Europe's wars. Nevertheless, he sowed the seeds for every abuse of the Constitution that came after. Lincoln put Union ahead of liberty and state sovereignty, and henceforth both were going to be sacrificed. Lincoln's prosecution of the War Between the State was, according to Nock, the nation's second coup d’etat.

And, just as Lincoln took over a nation Washington founded, then destroyed it, and then rebuilt it in his own image, so did FDR take over Lincoln's America and destroyed that and brought in something new to the American experience. It destroyed the one redeeming feature of Lincoln's America, the laissez-faire capitalism that made the nation the world's greatest agricultural and industrial power and, more importantly, produced tremendous improvements in the standard of living for all Americans. Although exceptions abound, the federal government had still been small and aside from the postal service, had very little contact with actual individuals. But this one enduring trait was under assault as the United States became a colonial power, established the Federal Reserve, brought in the income tax and established Prohibition.

FDR killed the last vestiges of economic liberty and brought in something new. He accomplished this quickly in his administration. He broke all of his campaign promises of sound money and balanced budgets in 100 days. Nock, writing in 1935, calls this the third coup d'etat. By 1936, the nation was little better off, but had developed some addictions: agricultural subsidies, old-age pensions, government unemployment insurance. FDR bribed America into re-electing him. Then he lied to America about keeping America out of the war and won an unprecedented third term. Right out of the gate, however, he did his best to provoke Germany by giving Great Britain virtually free war supplies. When that failed, his oil embargo against Japan forced Japan to steal the resources from various Pacific islands to continue its war with China. Japan took the bait. FDR finally got America working again through war.

And then FDR lied about his health to win a fourth term. His successor, Harry Truman, committed an act so brazen and contemptible that would have surprised and delighted FDR. Truman got America into a war 7000 miles away without a Congressional Declaration of war. And Congress let him get away with it.

As to foreign affairs, Presidents Wilson and Truman may be even more influential in terms of ideological aggression and the destruction of Constitutional safeguards. But the massive, bureaucratic welfare-warfare state was FDR's creation.

2004 will be 72 years after FDR's election. Time for the next "great" President, eh?

Or maybe he's already here. Was not the election of 2000 a coup d'etat? I don't say this because George W. Bush lost the popular vote. Or even that he lost Florida, which journalists counting after the fact suggests he actually won. But rather, that what should have been an ugly, dragged-out political fight was instead decided by the Supreme Court. And compounding that, President Bush has replaced what his campaign promises for a "humble" foreign policy for one that is grotesquely aggressive and dishonest. Not to mention his anti-market policies which betrayed his campaign: greater agricultural subsidies, steel tariffs, lumber tariffs. And his anti-liberty policies: signing the Campaign Finance Reform bill, the PATRIOT Act, the Department of Homeland Security.

From a Federation to a Nation to the bureaucratic central State. President Bush is taking our country to the next level: World Empire. Let's hope this empire of perpetual oppression and perpetual war is only the final conclusion to the State that FDR gave us, not the dawn of a new era. Here's hoping it ends in 2004.

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