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Allan C. Brownfeld

Allan C. Brownfeld is a syndicated columnist and associate editor of the Lincoln Review, a journal published by the Lincoln Institute of Research and Education, and editor of Issues, the quarterly journal of the American Council for Judaism.

What Would the Founding Fathers Think about the Explosive Growth of Government Power?

In recent years, whether Republicans or Democrats have been in office, the size and power of government have grown steadily.

Under President Bush, what some have called a new "Imperial Presidency" has emerged. In "The Cult of the Presidency" (The Cato Institute), Gene Healy notes that the administration's broad assertion of executive power include:

. . . the power to launch wars at will, to tap phones and read e-mail without a warrant, and to seize American citizens on American soil, and hold them for the duration of the war on terror -- in other words, perhaps forever -- without ever having to answer to a judge.

He continues:

Neither Left nor Right sees the president as the Farmers saw him: a constitutionally constrained chief executive with an important, but limited, job: to defend the country when attacked, check Congress when it violates the Constitution, enforce the law -- and little else. Today, for conservatives as well as liberals, it is the president's job to protect us from harm, to "grow the economy," to spread democracy and American ideals abroad, and even to heal spiritual malaise.

Healy explains that during the 1912 re-election campaign the 27th president, William Howard Taft, looked on with dread as his former friend and mentor, Theodore Roosevelt, articulated a grandiose vision of the presidency. Seeking to secure a third term by denying Taft a second one, Roosevelt struck an apocalyptic note in his campaign. In his address to the delegates at the Progressive Party convention, Roosevelt declared:

You who strive in a spirit of brotherhood for the betterment of our Nation, to you who gird yourselves for this great new fight in the never-ending warfare for the good of humankind, I say in closing . . . We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord.

Taft offered a more realistic account of the presidency's potential. He insisted that the president was not responsible for solving every major problem in American life and should not have the power to attempt it. In the speech, Taft declared that the president "cannot create good times . . . cannot make the rain to fall, the sun to shine, or the crops to grow."

In his State of the Union address, George W. Bush promised, among other things, to rescue America's children from gangs, fight steroids in sports, move America beyond a petroleum-based economy, and "lead freedom's advance" around the world.

In Gene Healy's view, the rhetoric of modern presidents reflects what the office has become:

The constitutional presidency, as the Framers conceived it, was designed to stand against the popular will as often as not, with the president wielding the veto power to restrain Congress when it transgressed its constitutional bounds. In contrast the modern president considers himself the tribune of the people, promising transformative action and demanding the power to carry it out. The result is what political scientist Theodore J. Lowi has termed "the plebiscitary presidency": "An office of tremendous personal power drawn from people. . . and based on the new democratic theory that the presidency with all powers is the necessary condition for governing a large democratic nation."

Now, with a full-blown economic crisis, the U.S. economy is heavily dependent on the federal government, propped up by loans, guarantees and cash from the Treasury Department. No president since Franklin Roosevelt -- who offered a New Deal to pull the nation out of the Depression and then fought World War II -- has presided over as rapid a growth of government when measured as a percentage of the total economy. Even before the Wall Street bailout, President Bush already was the first president in history to implement budgets that crossed the $2 trillion a year and $3 trillion a year marks. His final budget, which comes to an end September 30, conceivably could near $4 trillion.

Both political parties have turned against the idea of small and limited government. Democrats, of course, had long abandoned that view. Republicans now seem to have joined them. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Senator John McCain's senior economic adviser in the 2008 presidential campaign, said, "You can't start by talking about smaller government. People don't buy it." David Frum, a former economic speechwriter for the Bush White House, agreed. "While there are some who care about government as a percentage of the total economy, most Americans don't care very much." In fact, measured by the rate of spending as a percentage of the total economy, or gross domestic product, President Bush's 4.4 percentage point increase outranks those of all presidents since FDR.

This is all very far from the thinking of our Founding Fathers. Their entire political philosophy was based on a fear of government power and the need to limit and control that power very strictly. It was their fear of total government that caused them to rebel against the arbitrary rule of King George III. In the constitution they tried their best to construct a form of government that, through a series of checks and balances and a clear division of powers, would protect the individual. They believed that government was a necessary evil, not a positive good. They would shudder at popular assumptions that regard government as a force for the enhancement of individual freedom.

Yet, the Founding Fathers would not be surprised to see the many limitations upon individual freedom that have come into existence. In a letter to Edward Carrington, Thomas Jefferson wrote that:

One of the most profound preferences in human nature is for satisfying one's needs and desires with the least possible exertion; for appropriating wealth produced by the labor of others, rather than producing it by one's own labor. The stronger and more centralized the government, the safer would be the guarantee of such monopolies; in other words, the stronger the government, the weaker the producer, the less consideration need be given him and the more might be taken away from him.

That government should be clearly limited and that power is a corrupting force were essential convictions held by the men who founded the nation. In The Federalist Papers, James Madison declared:

It may be a reflection on human nature that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed, and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

The written and spoken words of the men who led the Revolution give us numerous examples of their suspicion of power and those who hold it. Samuel Adams asserted that:

There is a degree of watchfulness over all men possessed of power or influence upon which the liberties of mankind much depend. It is necessary to guard against the infirmities of the best as well as the wickedness of the worst of men.

Therefore, "Jealousy is the best security of public liberty."

It is not only our political leaders -- of both parties -- who have presided over the dramatic growth of government power. Too many Americans want other things more than they want freedom and are no longer jealous of freedom in the way men like Samuel Adams argued they would have to be if it were to be maintained.

The Founding Fathers would not be happy with our increasingly powerful government -- and chief executive -- but they would not be surprised. Leaving the Constitutional convention, Benjamin Franklin was asked what kind of government had been established. He replied: "A Republic, if you can keep it."

Re-examining Booker T. Washington: Black America's Prophetic Leader

In recent years, Booker T. Washington, the pre-eminent black leader and educator of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, has come under increasing criticism by many in the black community -- and among academics of all races -- for promoting self-help and economic independence rather than political action, as advocated by others such as W. E. B. Du Bois -- as the best way to advance members of his race in the post-Civil War years in the South.

In June 2006, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Washington's birth, a symposium was held at Northwestern University, sponsored by the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based public policy research institute whose mission is to discover, develop, and promote free market solutions to social and economic problems. The papers delivered at this symposium have recently been published under the title, "Booker T. Washington, a Re-examination."

In the Introduction, Lee Walker, president of the New Coalition for Economic and Social Change and a senior fellow at the Heartland Institute, notes that:

Although many today have never heard of him, the Wizard of Tuskegee was, without doubt, the most powerful and influential black leader of his time, and arguably of all time. He received honorary degrees from Harvard and Dartmouth, dined with U.S. Presidents and the Queen of England, and was the first black person to have his image appear on a U.S. stamp and commemorative coin. President Eisenhower created a national monument to Booker T. Washington in 1956.

Concerning Washington's famous speech at the Atlanta Exposition in 1895, Dr. Rayford W. Logan, Professor of History at Howard University, wrote in his book The Betrayal of the Negro from Rutherford B. Hayes to Woodrow Wilson, that:

Washington's speech in Atlanta . . . was one of the most effective pieces of political oratory in the history of the U.S. It deserves a place alongside that in which Patrick Henry proclaimed, "Give me liberty, or give me death."

Clark Howell, editor of the Atlanta Constitution, praised the speech as "one of the most notable speeches ever delivered to a Southern audience." Pulitzer Prize winning David Levering Lewis counted Washington's speech as "one of the most consequential pronouncements in American history."

In Lee Walker's view:

It is astounding that a man so widely respected and even revered by his contemporaries is now so thoroughly overlooked. What was it that made Booker T. Washington the central figure in American race relations at the dawn of the 20th century? Why did historians of the era label the years 1895-1915, "The years of Washington?" And why have modern scholars been so quick to dismiss this mountain of a man? These questions and many others were addressed during the course of the symposium.

Washington leapt onto the national scene following the nationwide publication of his speech at the Atlanta Exposition in 1895. Perhaps it was fitting that 1895 was also the year that respected abolitionist Frederick Douglass died. Douglass, one of Washington's personal heroes, had been black America's leader and spokesman for 50 years. Washington inherited Douglass' firm belief in the strength and capability of his black brethren. When a white journalist asked Douglass, "What do you blacks want from white people?" Douglass' response was, "Just leave us alone and we can take care of ourselves." It was Washington's firm belief that former slaves could stand on their own feet and achieve prosperity in American society.

In the years leading up to 1895, Washington earned a solid reputation by founding and directing the Tuskegee Institute. While the Freedmen's Bureau had used northern white men to establish and run schools such as Fisk, Howard, and Hampton, Washington was the first black to lead such a school. Washington was confronted with the challenge of transforming emancipated slaves into productive and prosperous citizens. The end of Reconstruction and resurgence of violent white supremacy complicated his mission. After running Tuskegee for 14 years, Washington developed strong opinions about how blacks should pursue freedom and prosperity.

A second theme in Washington's life, closely tied to education, was self-reliance. Tuskegee began as a Normal School and focused on training black men and women to become skilled at building, farming, and other occupations so they could earn their way into mainstream American society. Washington was convinced, as he wrote in Up from Slavery in 1901, that:

. . . the actual sight of a first-class house that a Negro has built is ten times more potent than pages of discussion about a house that he ought to build, or perhaps could build.

A third Washington theme was entrepreneurship. Living at a time of racism and segregation, Washington encouraged black men and women to look at the need for goods and services in their communities as an opportunity to start their own businesses. In 1900 Washington founded the first black businessman's association -- the National Negro Business League (NNBL). He personally helped many black businesses to get started by introducing black entrepreneurs to white investors.

In 1901, Washington published his autobiography, Up from Slavery, which became the first best-selling book ever written by a black. It was eventually translated into seven languages and was as popular in Europe as it was in Africa. Up from Slavery was more than an autobiography. It was an explication of Washington's major themes: education, self-help, and entrepreneurship.

Lee Walker writes that:

Having achieved political equality with whites, blacks have largely achieved the agenda set out by Du Bois and his followers. The time seems right to discuss a New Agenda that can advance the black community, an agenda that will help blacks solve the problems that break up too many families and undermine economic security. In the words of Thomas Sowell, "The economic and social advancement of black Americans in this country is still a great unfinished task. The methods and approaches currently used for dealing with this task have become familiar over the years and they demand reexamination." If blacks are to achieve the fullness of the American Dream, we need to move beyond political agitation and re-embrace the agenda of Booker T. Washington: quality education, self-reliance, character, and entrepreneurship.

Addressing the symposium, Professor Anne Wortham of Illinois State University, declared that:

As a member of the Tuskegee Institute class of 1963, I was truly a beneficiary of Booker T. Washington's legacy. . . . One of Washington's well-known metaphors was, "Cast down your bucket where you are." That was a theme in his history-making speech at the Atlanta Exposition in 1895. . . . Washington's critics have distorted the metaphor to suggest that his words were those of an appeaser of white racism, an "Uncle Tom." It is wrongly used to suggest that Washington believed the best approach to race relations was that blacks should not protest the system of white supremacy that blocked their strivings. But if Washington actually believed that blacks should not protest the state of their community, why did he devote all of his life to promoting industrial education, economic self-sufficiency, self-responsibility, and self-cultivation? . . . "Cast down your bucket" was the advocacy not of resignation or passive accommodation, but of self-initiated and self-responsible action.

At the 1922 unveiling of the Booker T. Washington memorial, Dr. George Cleveland Hall said of Washington:

He changed a crying race to a trying race and put in their hands the wonderful crafts of the age. He instilled in their minds the dignity of labor and urged them to stop marking time, but keep pace with the grand march of civilization.

Ann Wortham argues that:

"Cast down your bucket where you are" is a methodology of progress, not of passivity and stagnation. Passivity is the abdication of responsibility. Washington was exhorting blacks and whites to get on with doing what was necessary to bring about their mutual advancement. . . . Since Washington, few leaders in the black community have emphasized the connection between virtue and success. The most concerted opposition to Washington's philosophy of thrift, industry, and self-help, and his emphasis on the primacy of black economic development, was led by the NAACP, founded in 1909, which espoused a program of public agitation for the Negro's full civil and political rights.

In his book Plural but Equal, Harold Cruse writes that:

Immobilized by its policy of political activism, the NAACP was put in the position of relying on Roosevelt's New Deal as the bountiful dispenser of black uplift. The result was that blacks were made economic wards of the state . . . blacks born during the 1930s and beyond would become the "Children of the New Deal," indoctrinated with the psychology of dependency on government.

Professor Glenn C. Loury of Brown University notes that:

There's a deep truth in Booker T. Washington's legacy. . . . It is that insisting on respect from others, demanding it, in the name of justice, in the name of what is right, saying we ought to be respected -- ultimately is not a satisfactory strategy. Respectability is not something that you can demand from people. It's something that has to be earned on the basis of what you do with your life.

Those who criticize Washington tend to forget the age in which he lived and the challenges he confronted. Professor Robert J. Norell of the University of Tennessee, declares that:

. . . . the writing on Washington by scholars, at least in the modern period, from the Civil Rights movement forward, has not placed him accurately in the context of Tuskegee and of the white South where he had to work. The hostility to black education -- and I mean any black education, not just classical education or liberal education -- the hostility toward even industrial education from whites in the South in the 1890s and the first decades of the 20th century was vicious and virulent. . . . Men such as Ben Tillman in South Carolina, Tom Helfin in Alabama, James K. Vardaman of Mississippi, and the novelist Thomas Dixon argued that Washington's commitment to black education was ultimately a challenge to white supremacy. These were intensely racist political leaders who were open in their intense hostility to Washington and far more popular than some of the more liberal-minded whites, a few of whom were Washington's friends. These racist leaders said that if enough black people were educated they would do well in society and rise and challenge the Jim Crow system. . . . It seems to be one of the things that scholars have assumed is that black leaders have to be in the model of Frederick Douglass or Martin King: They have to be lions, they can't ever be foxes, they can never effectively be subtle and indirect. Booker T. Washington was a man way ahead of his time in how he understood communications and the way Americans came to believe what they believe. Much of that he shaped by indirect means as he lived in a viciously racist time. In my view he did what he could, within the limits of human capacity.

In the view of Professor William B. Allen of Michigan State University, the alleged division between Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois has been overstated:

. . . the division between them is exaggerated. This is not to say they weren't of different opinions in some important respects. After all, Booker T. Washington contributed enduring institutions and ideas that have a life, that seems to have an assured existence even well beyond our time. He never fell into the vulnerabilities that came ultimately to characterize Du Bois. But with regard to the fundamental question, the question of education, I believe the division is overstated.

Allen points out that Washington typically cited Du Bois. In The Future of the Negro, Washington is at pains to show how little the two of them disagree:

The Negro should be taught that material development is not an end, but simply a means to an end. As Professor W. E. B. Du Bois puts it, "The idea should not simply be to make men carpenters, but to make carpenters men." The Negro has a highly religious temperament, but what he needs more and more is to be convinced of the importance of weaving his religion and morality into the practical affairs of daily life.

Together with philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, who built Sears Roebuck, Washington, who became a friend of Rosenwald's and named Rosenwald to the Tuskegee board, helped to build schools for black children throughout the southern states. Where no public education was available, "Rosenwald schools" began to appear. Rosenwald's grandson Peter Ascoli, author of a biography of his grandfather, told the symposium that:

For Booker T. Washington, as for Julius Rosenwald, the key to solving some of the problems of race that plagued the U.S. in the early 20th century was education. Before you could have entrepreneurship, which both men espoused -- whether it be black entrepreneurship . . . or white entrepreneurship . . . you have to have children who can read and count. Hence, for both of them education was of paramount importance.

Washington believed that blacks must have indispensable skills and economic independence. In 1905, the Tuskegee Institute produced more self-made millionaires than Harvard, Yale, and Princeton combined. Interestingly, his autobiography Up from Slavery influenced the title of William F. Buckley, Jr.'s Up from Liberalism. Washington was a man of his time -- but the values he taught are eternal, as relevant today as a century ago.

Dr. Frank Harold Wilson, professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, stated that:

As a "man of action" he left us a legacy of institution-and-organization-building, "bridge-building" across the racial divide, and race pride. . . . His ideas on education and self-reliance are the ideas we are required to come back to and build on. *

"I mean to live my life as an obedient man, but obedient to God, subservient to the wisdom of my ancestors; never to the authority of political truths arrived at yesterday at the voting booth." --William F. Buckley

Some of the quotes following each article have been gathered by The Federalist Patriot at: http://FederalistPatriot.US/services.asp.

Read 2093 times Last modified on Friday, 20 November 2015 19:37
Allan C. Brownfeld

Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby(Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. vice president, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

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