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Publisher Thomas Nelson
Published in Law/Constitutional Law
eBook Kindle Edition
A harsh and revealing political exposé of two beloved presidents.
Judge Andrew P. Napolitano reveals how Teddy Roosevelt, a bully, and Woodrow Wilson, a constitutional scholar, each pushed aside the Constitution's restrictions on the federal government and used it as an instrument to redistribute wealth, regulate personal behavior, and enrich the government. These two men and the Progressives who supported them have brought us, among other things:
The income taxThe Federal ReserveCompulsory, state-prescribed educationThe destruction of state sovereigntyThe rise of Jim Crow and military conscriptionProhibition and war
The Progressive Era witnessed the most dramatic peaceful shift of power from persons and from the states to a new and permanent federal bureaucracy in all of American history. Theodore and Woodrow exposes two of our nation's most beloved presidents and how they helped speed the Progressive cause on its merry way.
Roosevelt's New Party in His Own Image and Likeness
I'll name the compromise candidate. He'll be me. I'll name the compromise platform. It will be our platform.
—Theodore Roosevelt, 1912 Republican Convention
[I]t may be concluded, that a pure Democracy, by which I mean a Society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the Government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of Government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party, or an obnoxious individual. —Publius (James Madison), Federalist No. 10
The Constitution makes no mention of political parties. In fact, when drafting the Constitution, our Founding Fathers were very weary of the creation of political factions. They knew that political parties would get in the way of pragmatism and rational thinking. Having political parties would cause party loyalists to cling steadfastly to their party lines and keep the government from protecting freedom. But on another level, they liked the fact that factions in a democracy could clog the government's mechanisms and keep it from doing anything rash. Alexander Hamilton and James Madison mentioned in Federalist No. 9 and No. 10 how detrimental political parties would be for the nation, but the factions quickly reared their ugly heads all the same.
Early Political Parties
Over the course of American history, there have been several incarnations of the two-party political system. Initially, during the Constitution's drafting phase there were the Federalists, who were in favor of a strong federal government, and the anti-Federalists, or Democratic-Republicans, who wanted more rights to be retained by the states and a smaller federal government. Even Hamilton and Madison, who wrote No. 9 and No. 10 of the Federalist Papers—a two-part exploration of political parties—quickly became factionalized.
The Federalists were led by the nation's first secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton. He was a strong advocate for a central national bank, tariffs, and muscular foreign relations. Both modern Republican and Democratic parties support all these ideas, each of which has become manifest in extremes far beyond anything Hamilton ever wrote or publicly spoke about.
America's first opposition party was originally born as the anti-Federalists, led by the nation's first secretary of state, Thomas Jefferson. He tried to limit the power of the federal government in the Constitution itself and championed the drafting and inclusion of the Bill of Rights. His party quickly grew into the Democratic-Republicans. That name may sound funny to readers abreast of modern politics, but not to history. Our modern two parties were born out of the same party name.
The Constitution establishes the federal government of the United States of America as a form of government known as a federal democratic republic. A republic is a nation run by leaders chosen by the people and not solely based on birth; a democracy is a type of government where the people have a direct say in who will lead them and what actions those leaders take; and federal connotes the union of sovereign entities (those would be our once sovereign states).
The first heads of the Democratic-Republicans were Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. They both understood that having a federal government was necessary to keep commerce regularly flowing between the states, but they also wanted to make sure that it did not jeopardize the rights of the people and the states. It is from the Democratic-Republicans that the modern Democrats claim their heritage, feeling that the nation should always be more of a democracy than a republic, and calling themselves the party of Jefferson, who no doubt would reject the Nanny State that the Democrats have built.
The Federalists were the first major American political party to die off. Their original leaders, in addition to Hamilton, were George Washington and John Adams. They met their demise during the eight-year so-called Era of Good Feelings from about 1816 to about 1824. The nation turned on the Federalists when they did not support the War of 1812, and for that brief period only the Democratic-Republicans were relevant in federal elections.
But that honeymoon wouldn't last. The Democratic-Republicans quickly split in 1824 and 1828 into the Democrats led by Andrew Jackson and the Whigs led by Henry Clay.
The Democrats favored the strong presidential power of their leader, Andrew Jackson, and strongly opposed the Bank of the United States. The Whigs took the name of the common British opposition party and were formed to oppose the principal policies of the Jacksonian Democrats. The Whigs thought that Congress—some of whose members at the time still wore actual wigs—should be supreme over the president, and they favored the strong national bank.
The Whigs were replaced in the 1850s by the Republican Party. This new party continued the economic policies of the Whigs, such as supporting the bank, supporting the railroads, raising tariffs, furthering the nation's homestead policy (making free western land available to Americans who agreed to improve it for a period of five years), and providing further funding for the nation's land grant colleges.
Unfortunately for the Democrats, this period in American history did not serve them well. The first victorious presidential candidate of the new Republican Party was, of course, Abraham Lincoln. He would undoubtedly be happy with the Regulatory State, the Warfare State, and the Welfare State that the Republicans have built.
Andrew Jackson hailed from the South, as did much of the Democratic bloc. When the southern states seceded from the Union, they took with them many Democratic states. The setup of strong anti-slavery Republicans and weakened pro-slavery (until the Civil War) Democrats lasted through the nation's reconstruction and was coming to a close when the Progressive Era began.
Along Came Teddy
Theodore Roosevelt was an old-money Republican. His family had been influential for six generations in politics, business, and society. He grew up in several luxurious Manhattan apartments and a vast country estate in Oyster Bay, Long Island. At a young age he was drawn into politics and joined the family's Republican Party. But his party was a far cry from the Republicans we think of today.
In 1896, as police commissioner of New York City, Roosevelt saved from a heat wave thousands of poor New Yorkers on the Lower East Side that the rest of his party had decided to neglect. He pushed for the idea of giving away free ice to overheated New Yorkers and personally oversaw the proper distribution and use of the ice. He also advocated reforms such as universal health care and women's suffrage.
Another difference between Roosevelt and most politicians of either party of his day was the fact that he was quite the aggressive war hawk. From his youth, he had a tendency for violence, even once shooting his neighbor's dog because his girlfriend dumped him. He had long felt that Americans were the superior race and that the nation was at its strongest when it was at war. His appetite for blood was whetted on hunting trips and during the infamous escapades of the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War in Cuba in the late nineteenth century.
Roosevelt may have been a Republican, but he wasn't a typical toe-the-party-line Republican by his day's or our day's definition. Before being added to President William McKinley's Republican ticket for McKinley's reelection campaign in 1900, Roosevelt was the very popular governor of New York. He was popular with the citizens of the state, but not with Thomas C. Platt, New York State's Republican Party boss.
During that era, both political parties had bosses who may or may not have held office but were undoubtedly the kingmakers for large and important states. These bosses held large sway over constituencies of voters, or worse, over the people counting the votes, and were able to ensure that their man would be elected. Today, the equivalent of a political boss on the surface is each party's chairman.
Platt controlled the Republican-dominated New York state government and saw Roosevelt as too much of a reformer to be controlled by the political machine of the day. After President McKinley's first vice president, Garret Hobart of Paterson, New Jersey, died, Platt moved to get Roosevelt on the ticket in the powerless position of vice president. Vice president had long been seen as a purely glad-handing position that did not allow its holder to exercise any actual power or influence.
In Platt's view, putting Roosevelt into that slot would kill two birds with one stone. Not only would it remove Roosevelt as governor of Platt's state, New York; it would also silence and neuter Roosevelt. Little did Platt know that McKinley would die less than a year after the election, making the traditional Republicans' worst nightmare, the bellicose Nanny Stater from Oyster Bay, the president of the United States.
Roosevelt knew throughout his presidency that he had gained his position despite his party and not because of it. He consistently pushed for and signed into law measures that he thought were best for the nation and not necessarily what the Republican Party thought was best for the nation. He regulated the railroads, regulated what Americans could eat and drink, personally intervened to resolve a coal strike, kept vast amounts of public land from private ownership, and dissolved many corporate giants. And he didn't care much about following the Constitution.
Roosevelt was one of the first presidents to use the press in his favor. He gave the press its own room inside the White House (he was actually the first president to call it officially the White House). He understood that if he made himself popular enough, it did not matter how much the old Republican guard hated him; he would be their candidate and win election to keep his office in 1904.
Early in Roosevelt's first term there was a dump Roosevelt movement, which put forth Ohio senator Mark Hanna as its candidate. Unfortunately, Hanna died in February 1904, also killing the movement's shot at wrestling the Republican nomination away from Roosevelt.
As a compromise in return for allowing a Progressive, Roosevelt, to be the 1904 Republican candidate, the conservative Republicans were allowed to pick his vice presidential running mate, Charles Fairbanks. Fairbanks made his millions as a lawyer for the Indianapolis, Bloomington, and Western Railroad. Fairbanks then turned to politics, where he was a member of the U.S. Senate for one term (1897–1905).
Both men were chosen unanimously as the candidates on the first ballot at the 1904 Republican Convention. Roosevelt won a landslide victory. He took every northern and western state, 56.4 percent of the popular vote, and 336 out of 476 electoral votes. He defeated the Democratic candidate, Alton Parker. Parker was the chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals (New York's highest court), and he ran on a platform that primarily supported small government and was sympathetic to the Wall Street banks. He was nominated primarily because he was seen as an affable and smart man who would be a popular candidate, but he was not as popular as Roosevelt.
Upon election to retain his presidency in 1904, Roosevelt vowed that he was retiring from the presidency when his term ended in 1909, after serving as president for seven and a half years. Upon his departure, Roosevelt handpicked his successor, William Howard Taft.
What About Taft?
Many readers who keep up with the order of the men who ascended to the post of the presidency may have asked early on when opening this book the following question: "What about Taft?" Taft served as a one-term (1909–13) president between the bookends who are the subjects of this book, Theodore Roosevelt (1901–9) and Woodrow Wilson (1913–21). He served four short years during the Progressive Era, but was a clog in the Progressives' gears of change that was quickly thrown out of office when he ran for reelection.
The conservative Republicans would not forget Taft's presidency, and when the next conservative Republican, Warren Harding, held the presidency in 1921, Taft was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Roosevelt selected Taft to succeed him because he had served as his secretary of war and appeared to be the man who would continue his Progressive agenda, but Taft shortly revealed that he did not have the stomach for it. He stayed much truer to conservative Republican principles than Roosevelt had envisioned or enjoyed.
Roosevelt saw the federal government's role as a protector of the people from big business. But Taft felt it was a good Republican's duty to protect persons and corporations from the government. When the time came for Taft's reelection campaign in 1912, Roosevelt—the man who just three years earlier had retired from the presidency and sworn never to run again—went back on his word.
Roosevelt felt he had to enter the race because Taft was simply "an agent of 'the forces of reaction and political crookedness.'" The two men were then set on a crash course to meet in a battle to the political death in the Chicago Coliseum for the Republican nomination.
Although it was not a true battle to the death, journalists of the day used similar hyperbole when describing the gravity of the encounter in which the two former friends were now to be engaged. Roosevelt had promised the American people a fair deal, and he felt that Taft was not giving them their deserved fairness. He felt it was his duty to take back the presidency or at the very least remove Taft for the good of the American people.
Taft had thought that Roosevelt stretched the powers of the executive too far, and in a rare move Taft actually reined in those powers and limited his own powers as a sitting president. (As this book will explain in a later chapter, sitting presidents almost never lessen their own powers. The modern Democrats were outraged at the reaches that President George W. Bush made, but President Barack Obama has only reached further since he took office.)
Taft and Roosevelt had a distinct disagreement about the role of the courts. Roosevelt was deeply upset by the fact that the Supreme Court had overturned several of his key pieces of Progressive legislation, such as the Lochner v. New York decision, which held that a baker's natural right to work as many hours as he pleased superseded New York's maximum work hours law, thus invalidating laws he sought and signed into law as governor of New York. One of the issues on Roosevelt's platform as he ran for the Republican nomination was the recall of judicial decisions through the popular vote.
Roosevelt was a bully and was willing to use the tyranny of the majority to bully any minority. He felt that if the people wanted something, in a true democracy, they should be able to have it. This was a key theme of Progressivism and led to the multiple constitutional amendments that were enacted during the Progressive Era. A constitutional amendment is the one way that the people can enact legislation that is unconstitutional because it changes the actual Constitution.
Taft and the conservative wing of the Republican Party rightfully viewed Roosevelt as a serious threat to their conservative plans. They feared that if Roosevelt won a third term, he might become a perpetual president, running for a fourth term, a fifth term, and so on until nature or someone more popular took the post from him. He had made the mistake of relinquishing the presidency once and would likely not make it again. Oddly enough, that would happen thirty years later with Theodore Roosevelt's distant cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was elected to four presidential terms, but only served three.
Taft said that he feared Roosevelt because Roosevelt firmly had the vote of the "less intelligent voters and the discontented." Taft feared that to appease his base, Roosevelt would initiate "a forced division of property, and that means socialism." The campaign became extremely bitter, with both men calling each other names. Roosevelt called Taft a "puzzlewit," and Taft called Roosevelt a "honeyfugler." While neither name has a direct translation to modern politics, "puzzlewit" roughly meant that Taft was of inferior intelligence, similar to the tactic used by the modern Left to describe Republican candidates such as George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, and Michele Bachmann. The name that Taft gave to Roosevelt, "honeyfugler," has a looser translation. It has the obviously similar sound to several words that cannot be said on television and was most likely intended to have a similar effect. It also had the slang meaning of a person who would stoop to any low in order to get what he wanted.
Neither of these men realized that this feud and the principals of the election of 1912 itself were no accident and were not even in their control. Although Roosevelt and Taft considered themselves politicians, the big bankers regarded them as nothing but puppets. Despite the supposedly anti-trust position of Progressives such as President Theodore Roosevelt and President Woodrow Wilson, both men allowed themselves to be used as pawns of the big bankers. The presidential election of 1912 is a prime example of the unhealthy relationship between the bankers and the federal government during the Progressive Era.
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