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Lincoln’s Pecuniary Interests at Council Bluffs

Though popular histories portray Lincoln as a simple and self-educated man who rose from a lowly background to become president, he was in reality a shrewd politician and wealthy corporate attorney. His clients before 1860 included the Illinois Central Railroad, then the largest railroad in the world, and an annual income of about $5000, more than triple that of the Illinois governor. After the War, Lincoln’s heavy-handed policy of military might was continued by his generals sent to eradicate the Plains Indians in the way of government-subsidized transcontinental railroads.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Lincoln’s Pecuniary Interests at Council Bluffs

“A year prior to his nomination to the presidency — to be exact, in August, 1859 — he had visited Council Bluffs, Iowa, to look after his real estate holdings there and incidentally see the country.

A contemplated railroad to extend westward from the Missouri River to the Pacific coast was a live, but no new topic. For years such a possibility had been discussed, and in the first national campaign conducted by the Republican Party in 1856, a Pacific railroad was made a rather prominent issue. Shortly before his trip to Council Bluffs, Abraham Lincoln had purchased several town lots from his fellow [Illinois Central] railroad attorney, Norman B. Judd, who had acquired them from the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad. Council Bluffs at this time was a frontier town, containing about fifteen hundred people.

General [Grenville] Dodge . . . relates that “during Lincoln’s visit, some of the citizens of Council Bluffs took him to a high bluff known as Cemetery Hill, just north of the town. He was greatly impressed with the outlook; and the bluff from that time has been known as Lincoln’s Hill . . .

From here he looked down upon the place, where by his order, four years later, the terminus of the first trans-continental railway was established.”

The platform of the Republican National Convention that nominated Abraham Lincoln for president in May 1860 at Chicago, declared in the sixteenth plank:  “That a railroad to the Pacific Ocean is imperatively demanded by the interests of the whole country; that the Federal Government ought to render immediate and efficient aid in its construction . . . ”

General Dodge [said]: “There is great competition from all the towns on both sides of the Missouri River for fifty miles above and below Council Bluffs, Iowa, for the distinction of being selected as [the] initial point. President Lincoln, after going over all the facts that could be presented to him, and from his own knowledge, finally fixed the eastern terminus of the Union Pacific Railroad where our surveys determined the practical locality — at Council Bluffs, Iowa.”

(Lincoln and the Railroads, John W. Starr, Jr., Arno Press, 1981 (original 1927), excerpts, pp. 196-202)

 

Chinese Labor for the Central Pacific Railroad

The “Big Four” of Central Pacific Railroad fame included Charles Crocker and Leland Stanford, both of New York. While the War Between the States raged in the East, they made a fortune through generous government subsidies usually obtained by bribery or special treatment for Republican Party donors. While that party claimed to be waging war against the American South to eradicate slavery, the government-supported railroad companies used virtual slave labor for construction crews. The railroad crews used white supervisors of Chinese laborers in the same manner as Northern regiments of colored troops were led by white officers.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Chinese Labor for the Central Pacific Railroad    

“Early in January 1865 Crocker’s agents scoured Sacramento, Stockton, and San Francisco for laborers . . . [but many] quit when they had earned enough money to pay stage fare to Virginia City. But children, too, were scarce in the foothills and for months the labor shortage remained acute. In the company’s new San Francisco office [Leland] Stanford . . . petitioned the War Department to send out five thousand Rebel prisoners to be put to work under the guard of a few companies of Union soldiers. But the war ended and the scheme had to be shelved.

A plan of importing, under contract, thousands of peons from Sonora and other Mexican states never got beyond the discussion stage . . . [but another] dubious possibility remained – the lowly Chinese. There were already thousands of them on the Coast . . . crowded into the wretched warrens of a score of “Chinatowns.”

A threatened strike of his white crews proved the deciding point. [Fifty] Chinese were herded on freight cars in the Sacramento yards and hauled to the end of the track. By sunrise they went to work with picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows. At the end of their first twelve hours of prodding industry Crocker and his engineers viewed the result with gratified astonishment.

Another gang of fifty was hired at once, then a third. Finally all doubt vanished and the Chinatowns of the state were searched for every able-bodied male who could be tempted by the bait of steady work and forty dollars a month.

Of course the white laborers of the Coast resented the affront. To counteract this injury, railroad spokesmen were presently referring to the Chinese as “the Asiatic contingent of the Grand Army of Civilization,” and Stanford was incorporating into company reports long defense for them . . . To charges that the Chinese were held in a state of virtual serfdom by the labor contractors with whom the company dealt, Stanford stated: “No system similar to slavery . . . prevails . . . Their wages . . . Paid in coin at the end of each month, are divided among them by their agents . . . in proportion to the labor done by each . . . These agents are generally American or Chinese merchants, who furnish them with supplies of food, the value of which they deduct monthly . . .”

By the end of 1865 the company was committed to the use of Chinese for most of their labor, and Stanford was hopeful that the force might be increased to fifteen thousand during the coming year. Of course no such supply was available in California . . . [but accordingly] boats from Canton were presently tying up at San Francisco piers, their rails swarming with yellow faces, while labor leaders predicted economic ruin for the Coast and threatened reprisals.

The advent of the Chinese relieved white men of pick and shovel work; many became gang foremen, others were promoted to teamsters, powdermen, or stone-workers. Moreover, the Chinese lived in their own camps, cooked their own meals, and knew their place. Thus the superiority of the Caucasian was undiminished, his dignity enhanced. Harmony reigned in the Sierra canyons and real progress began to be made.”

(The Big Four, The Story of the Building of the Central Pacific, Oscar Lewis, Borzoi Books, 1938, excerpts, pp. 69-72)

Soundest Fiat Note Ever Issued

Elihu Root was an attorney, Carnegie institution functionary, served as Secretary of War under McKinley and Roosevelt the First, as well as Secretary of State under the latter. Born in New York in 1845, he witnessed the American South become an economic colony of New England, became a member of the notorious Union League Club and proponent of the income tax and American entry into WWI. Root was an opponent of the Federal Reserve Act. Signed into law by Woodrow Wilson with four gold pens on 23 December 1913, he remarked that the controversial Federal Reserve “measure had suffered many narrow escapes” before reaching his desk.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Ccirca1865.com

 

Soundest Fiat Note Ever Issued

“On the floor of the Senate the [Federal Reserve] bill encountered heavy opposition. Senator Elihu Root, of New York, led the attack. His remarks were bitter and persistent. Such was Root’s standing that his assaults attracted much attention. The vehement antagonism of Senator Root was based on the charge that inflation and “fiat” money were at the center of the proposed system.

“The American people,” he argued, “closed the case for and against inflation . . . when they sustained the vote of the inflation bill by President Grant in 1874. Coming into power, the Democratic Party undertakes to reserve the oft-repeated judgment of the people of the United States upon this question. We are setting our steps now in the pathway which through the protection of a paternal government brought the mighty power of Rome to its fall. And we are doing it here without a mandate from the people of the United States.”

Defenders of the bill admitted that it was true that the Federal Reserve note was not, strictly speaking, a “Government” note, but contended that it was quite obvious that it was not “fiat” money. On the contrary, it was a sound bank note, secured by a forty percent gold reserve, a lien on the issuing bank and its stock, and by the Federal Government itself. There was little or no need for the Government obligation, it was held, but for the sake of safety and William Jennings Bryan, it was there.

The Senate paid little attention to the admonition of Senator Root. In fact, it actually enlarged the inflationary features of the bill. [They] deplored the fact that a statesman of Senator Root’s international reputation should have seized upon a politician’s catch phrase and denounced as “fiat” money the soundest note ever issued.”

(Carter Glass, Unreconstructed Rebel, James E. Palmer, Jr., Institute of American Biography, 1938, pp. 100-102)

Resistance Fighters Against the Industrial Machine

William B. Elliott was a resident of Pasquotank County in northeastern North Carolina who enlisted at the age of 20, on May 4th, 1861. Captured by enemy forces at Roanoke Island in early 1862, he was exchanged in August of that year. William joined the small local resistance force fighting against enemy troops from New York, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and local black men seized for Northern service.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Resistance Fighters Against the Industrial Machine

“After William was exchanged in August, 1862, he renewed former friendships. While doing so, he learned of another resistance unit being formed in adjacent, and occupied, Camden County. Residents of counties bordering on the northern shores of Albemarle Sound, had been living under the shadow of Union occupation since mid-summer of 1861. In Camden County, there was Captain Willis B. Sanderlin, who commanded on of these shadowy partisan units.

In the middle of May [1863], the occupation forces again felt the sting from the valiant guerilla defenders [when the] Union steamers, Emily and Arrow, were captured by partisans at Currituck Sound, on May 15, 1863.

Every army of occupation has attempted to suppress civilians by acts of depredation. Not only were crops, livestock, and personal property confiscated, but also Federal wrath was directed at civilians themselves. [A North Carolina House of Representatives committee investigated enemy outrages and noted the depredations] of Brig. General Edward A. Wild, commanding all Negro soldiers, who occupied Camden and Pasquotank counties.

A citizen, Daniel Bright, was hung, by the roadside just north of Elizabeth City. Bright was a former soldier of the Sixty-second Georgia Regiment, with authority of Governor Vance to raise a company in Pasquotank for local defense. [The partisans] captured two of General Wild’s Negro soldiers . . . [and one], was hung as reprisal for the hanging of Daniel Bright.

Federal retaliation was directed against Mrs. Elizabeth Weeks, wife of Private Pender Weeks, and Mrs. Phoebe Munden, wife of Lt. W.J. Munden, of Captain John T. Elliott’s company. Both were taken hostage, abused, humiliated, and physically mistreated in public, then taken to Norfolk for imprisonment.

Dwellings in both counties were burned [by the enemy] . . . An aged gentleman of 70 years, Gregory, was taken hostage, all his property burned, and while a prisoner he suffered a seizure . . . endured great pain, dying a few days later.

Meager Confederate defensive forces, coupled with insufficient arms and provisions, matched against the Union industrial machine, would, had the truth been known, portend the future.

As October and November [1863] passed, all Union activity increased [and] Federal units scoured the countryside in search of horses, carts, fuel, forage, and contrabands. The Federals were becoming increasingly outraged for their inability to exterminate the guerillas.

[An official report stated that] ”General Benjamin Butler intends to exterminate all guerillas east of . . . Chowan River . . . and will use every means . . . to do so.” The General well emphasized the Union resolve, with warning for residents to: “give information against them (the guerillas) to the military . . . by assisting them (the guerillas) on their way with food and . . . transportation, you can save yourselves . . . the necessity of visitations from the Negro troops.”

(A Tarheel Confederate and His Family, Robert Garrison Elliott, RGE Publications, 1989, excerpts, pp. 14-26; 32)

 

Reconstruction’s Long Life in North Carolina

There were two clear-cut factions within the Republican Party in North Carolina in the early 1900s: one which supported industrial development, and the more dominant one whose primary interest was in the spoils of office with one political aim – the holding of a Federal job. As Secretary of War William H. Taft relates below, the entire Federal service in North Carolina was controlled by “a distant appointing power.” The author writes of “Revenue officials, often openly and unblushingly corrupt, almost alone had the ear of the Federal administration and dominated Federal politics in the State. The people could not forget that the Federal government had forced Negro rule on them at the point of the bayonet, nor that every Democratic victory for years had been accompanied by a threat of Federal interference in State elections.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Reconstruction’s Long Life in North Carolina

“The chief interest in State politics in 1906 centers in the fight within the Republican party for control of the organization. So bitter did the fight become that President [Theodore] Roosevelt felt called upon to take a hand. He sent his secretary of war, William H. Taft, to address a warning to the State Republican convention which met in Greensboro, July 9-10, and it was in this speech that Secretary Taft said:

“I do not wish to seem ungracious, but I must be candid. In my judgement the Republican Party in North Carolina would be much stronger as a voting party, if all the Federal officers were filled by Democrats. Of course I cannot deny that a wish to fill public office is an honorable aspiration, whether by appointment of by election, but when all hope of choice by the people is abandoned, and everything is given over to influencing a distant appointing power to choose particular men to perform official functions in a community hostile to those men, the result is not good for the men or the community . . . As long, however, as the Republican Party in the Southern States shall represent little save a factional chase for Federal offices in which business men of substance in the community have no desire to enter and in the result of which they have no interest, we may expect the present political conditions in the South to continue.” [Raleigh News & Observer, July 10, 1906]

The warning of Candidate Taft fell upon deaf ears . . . [and] Thus the Republican party in North Carolina specifically acknowledged itself to be an organization merely for the control of Federal patronage.”

(Republican Office Holders Refuse to Abdicate; North Carolina, Rebuilding an Ancient Commonwealth, 1584-1925, R.D.W. Conner, Volume II, American Historical Society, 1929, pg. 527)

 

Postwar South Ruled by Genial, Patronizing Viceroys

Lincoln’s war not only destroyed the Southern economy and impoverished the region, but also became a vehicle for New England’s commercial colonization of the South. This status persisted through FDR’s first term as he recognized the South as America’s number one economic problem and used Democrat Party patronage and power to keep the region in bondage. The North continued tales of “Southern outrages” from Reconstruction days, and Presidential candidate George Wallace noted in 1968 that Northern editors would always refer to racial incidents in the South as “race riots,” while the same in the North were labeled “civil disturbances.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Postwar South Ruled by Genial, Patronizing Viceroys

“The manufacturers and distributors of the North and various adjunct agencies are bleeding the South white. The same may be said of a very large part of Southern industries, owned, as has been observed, in the North and operated by local overseers.

To a great extent the region is controlled by the absentee owners through their overseers and retainer agents. These agents are the symbols of success in the South and the paragons of social life. Their mansions stand on a thousand hills. It is good to wine and dine with these genial, if patronizing, viceroys. The absentee overlords retain the best legal talent to help them with their battles in the courts and the legislatures. Other types of influential persons, good public relations men and lobbyists, are also retained. Some of their retainers are always member of the legislatures. By selling some stock locally they raise up other friends and defenders.

Small wonder, then, that the corporations have exercised a large influence over law-making in the Southern States. Too often they have been able to defeat measures objectionable to them especially tax measures – and to promote those favorable to them. Too often they have not been willing to pay their fair part of the cost of public services or a fair wage to their employees.

Such industries are of questionable value to a community. The South has advertised its cheap labor, and industrialists from the North have tried to keep it so. There are other differentials against the South, already noted, that have also been a factor in the lower wage scales of Southern industry.

The absentee masters of Southern industry and the chain store magnates are interested in profits and not in the welfare of the South. This is natural, but it illustrates a fundamental weakness in an industrial system based on outside capital. It would seem that those who gather their wealth from the South might reasonably be expected to give some of their educational benefactions to higher education in the South.

But their gifts have generally gone to northern institutions that are already rich compared with those in the South. Their contributions to cultural development, whether in the form of gifts or taxes, go largely to the North.

The North has not only held the South in colonial bondage, but it has been very critical of the South, even for conditions that inhere in such an economic status. It is doubtful if the British ever had a more superior and intolerant attitude toward the American colonists.

The “Southern outrages” complex, fomented by Radical politicians in the old Reconstruction days, has persisted. Incidents that have escaped editorial eyes if they happened in the North have been denounced as outrages if they occurred in the South. A public lynching in a well-known western State a few years ago did not evoke nearly as much condemnation as does the lynching of a Negro by a clandestine mob in the South.

The people of the North are not denounced as being crude and barbarous because of the persistent activities of murderous bands of racketeers in large northern cities.”

(One Hundred Years of Reconstruction, Albert B. Moore, 1943, Southern Historical Society Addresses; Journal of Southern History, 9, 1943, excerpts, pp. 159-164)

South Carolina Injected with a Foreign Poison

Newspaper editor William Watts Ball of South Carolina could painted a vivid picture of life in the postwar South, and railed at the “foreign poison of democracy” injected into his State by Northern radicals. The Founders’ erected barriers to democracy in their Constitution; historian Charles Beard tells us that “When the Constitution was framed, no respectable person called himself or herself a democrat.” John C. Calhoun’s greatest fear was that democracy in the United States would evolve into a class warfare system with taxpayers perpetually looted by the tax consuming class. Alexis de Tocqueville also noted the evil powers of this “strange new democratic monster with its tyranny of public opinion and numerical majority dwelling in perpetual self-applause.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

South Carolina Injected with a Foreign Poison

“The State That Forgot” is a historical sketch of South Carolina from colonial days to the turn of the twentieth century, generously adorned with “local color” and autobiographical anecdotes. But the heart is [W.W.] Ball’s political philosophy; everything else is embellishment. South Carolina had surrendered to democracy, he said, and as surrender implies defeat, so had she induced her own decline when rule by the aristocracy gave way to rule by the masses. Ball traced the democratic curse back to Reconstruction:

“My political thesis is that the Federal Government, by means of armed forces, placed South Carolina on the operating table in 1867, that in 1868 the Carpetbaggers made an incision in its body, and, by the constitution they adopted, injected into it the deadly and foreign poison of democracy, which, after causing the loathsome ulcers of Reconstruction, subtly spread through the bloodstream of the white people and killed for ever in it the inherited corpuscles of political and social health.”

“The new constitution,” said Ball, was a long step but not a plunge in democracy.” The State had not spurned the colonial constitution fashioned along semi-feudal lines by John Locke. “A more “numerous democracy” had been made but a “too numerous democracy” had been avoided.

South Carolina, however, was forced to scrap that constitution and devise another which would better satisfy the [Northern Republican] Radicals who had taken control of the federal Reconstruction program. Accordingly, a convention composed almost entirely of carpetbaggers, scalawags, and Negroes fashioned the constitution of 1868. Ball appraised the new constitution with these words:

“The finished product of the convention was a document copied from constitutions of Northern States . . . [T]hus at last the rash of democracy was spread by law, backed by bayonets, over the body of South Carolina . . .”

(Damned Upcountryman: William Watts Ball, John D. Stark, Duke University Press, 1968, pp. 144-146)

Southern Christianity and Slavery

That Lincoln and his abolitionist colleagues did not propose a peaceful and practical to the African slavery they seemed to object to, is a national tragedy. Had they followed compensated emancipation as the British had done earlier (the British were primarily responsible for populating their American colonies with Africans), or helped advance a reasonable solution to the need for large numbers of workers to support their agricultural economy, a million lives would have been spared as well as the death, destruction and tortured legacy of the war Lincoln was responsible for.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Southern Christianity and Slavery

“ . . . Southern [slavery] reformers cast much blame on the Northern Abolitionist movement. They constantly complained that it was difficult to persuade planters that they should be teaching their slaves to read when the Abolitionists were sparing no effort in smuggling into the Southern States inflammatory literature which urged the slaves to rise up and slit their masters’ throats, among other things.

The palpable hostility and antagonism displayed by the Abolitionists toward the white South, their calls for a bloody slave rebellion, and their unrealistic demands for immediate and unconditional emancipation made slavery reform more difficult by producing resentment, fear, and a siege mentality among the whites.

[Many] Northerners (including Sen. Daniel Webster, Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, and Princeton theologian Charles Hodge) condemned the Abolitionists for actually worsening the plight of the slaves and for creating hostility and distrust between the Northern and Southern people.

[It] is at least possible that an independent South might have enacted the reforms urged by her Christian leaders and thus avoided falling into a state of economic backwardness and dependency.  After all, Southerners consistently valued such non-monetary goods as country living, personal independence and liberty, and an harmonious and rich social life at least as much as mere wealth and material accumulation; and independence [from the North] might have created a more favorable environment for Christian reform of their labor system.

Southerners might have introduced a smaller and more humanely scaled industrialization to provide some measure of industrial self-sufficiency, and black Southerners might eventually have achieved legal equality and propertied independence.  In other words, an independent South could well have found an alternate – and perhaps more Christian – path to modernity.  Thanks to Mr. Lincoln, we shall never know.”

(Christianity and Slavery in the Old South, excerpt, H. Arthur Scott Trask, Chronicles Magazine, July 1999, page 33)

 

 

 

America’s Conservative Catastrophe

Ambrose Bierce defined “Conservative” in his Devil’s Dictionary as “A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others . . .” Italian’s of the medieval period gave the title of “conservator” to guardians of the law; English justices of the peace originally “were styled custodus pacis – conservators of the peace.” In the modern sense, the word implies the principles of thought and action which opposed the radicalism and political innovation of the French Revolution.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

America’s Conservative Catastrophe

“[A Tory] party in the old English sense scarcely existed in [British] America. Political debates usually occurred between two factions of Whigs, both attached to the Whig idea of liberty, but differing as to means and the relationship with the Crown. The triumph of the Patriots in the Revolution expelled from the Thirteen Colonies what little Toryism existed there, and along with it many of the moderate Whigs.

For all that, recent scholarship inclines toward the view that the American Revolution was no revolution truly, but simply a War of Independence – a revolution (in Burke’s phrase concerning the Glorious Revolution of 1688) “not made, but prevented.”

The intellectual leaders of the Americans during the troubled period of Confederation, were men, most of them, of a conservative tendency – John Adams, Gouveneur Morris, John Jay, Hamilton. Even Jefferson . . . was no frantic innovator.

Most other Southern leaders, such as Pinckney or Mason, differed more about means than about the ends of society: their view of the state was conservative – viewed that is, from a twentieth century vantage point. Even some eminent radicals of the time, notably Patrick Henry, grew steadily more conservative as responsibility settled upon them.

And the Federalist Papers, written to obtain acceptance of the Constitution, reflect the conservative concepts of moderation, balance, order and prudence – together with those conservative guarantees of prescriptive usage, arrangement of political checks, restrictions upon power, protection of private property, and restraints upon popular [democratic] impulses.

During the early years of the United States, the chief political contests many be regarded as long, acrimonious debate between two powerful conservative interests – the mercantile interests of the North, the agricultural interests of the South – confused by lesser issues and personalities.

The catastrophe of the Civil War dealt a grim blow to reflective conservatism, North or South. In the Gilded Age, little political principle of any kind could be distinguished. As the United States grew into the greatest power in the world . . . conservative concepts were discussed again . . . [though the] Great Depression and ascendancy of Franklin Roosevelt seemed to quash this renewal of conservative thought.

Until the first administration of Franklin Roosevelt, the term “liberal” had not been popular among American politicians; but Rooseveltian liberalism swept everything before it during the 1930s and 1940s. Not until the 1950s did there appear, or reappear, a strong body of conservative thought, expressed in books and periodical literature, to challenge the dominant liberalism . . .

[An] American conservative, at least as the term is employed popularly, is a person who believes strongly that the old pattern of American society ought not to be much altered. Typically, such a person holds by the Constitution, maintaining that it should be strictly interpreted; he endeavors to oppose the drift toward political centralization; he dislikes organizations on a grand scale, in government, in business and industry, in organized labor; he is a defender of private property; he resents the heavy increase of taxation and many of the “transfer payments” of the welfare state; he is unalterably opposed to the Communist ideology . . . and sighs, or perhaps shouts O tempora! O mores! at the decay of private and public morality.”

(The Essential Russell Kirk: Selected Essays; George A. Panichas, editor, ISI Books, 2007, excerpts, pp. 14-16)

Wilson Lacked Burke’s Prudence

Woodrow Wilson’s liberal arguments for a European peace after the First World War came “not from prudence, not from principle as [Edmund] Burke had described principle, but from abstraction; and the states upon which he bestowed his blessing collapsed in less than two decades, because they were constructed in defiance of history, of real interests, and of the hard facts of power.” Hitler rose from the ashes of that war and Wilson’s ideal design for Europe.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Wilson Lacked Edmund Burke’s Prudence

“Wilson did what he could to establish a better order among nations. His principles were confused, the times moved too fast for him (particularly in the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian system), and he proved far too thoroughly convinced of his own wisdom, too unyielding, to achieve anything which might endure.

Yet the errors into which he fell were not the errors of conservative policy; they were the errors of liberalism; they were the sort of errors which Gladstone made in diplomacy. The climate of 1918 and 1919 was liberal, and it is hard to say who might have done better in Wilson’s place. His failure was the failure of the nation’s political imagination in those years, a normative failure.

Certain liberal abstractions concerning the nature of political order and the nature of man lay behind Wilson’s doctrine of self-determination, behind his assumption that leagues of nations and paper constitutions and treaties might of themselves bring peace and contentment, behind his insistence upon fitting the map of Europe into his ideal design.

He had learned much from the Federalists and Burke; but he had not learned prudence, which Burke considered the highest virtue in a statesman. That aspect of Burke’s thought which defends prescription and prejudice, which perceives how dangerous it is to disturb anything that is at rest, which is prepared to tolerate an old evil lest the cure prove worse than the disease, he understood imperfectly.

Burke . . . never would have thought of approving a doctrinaire and wholesale shifting of boundaries, a vast abolition of governments and substitution of new ones, an overthrow of historical and natural groupings in favor of simple language-affinity. Burke would have perceived at once the consequence of abolishing the power which held together the heart of Europe and checked German and Russian ambition, the Austrian system.

To the conservative of Burke’s school, the world is at best a tolerable place, kept in order chiefly through respect for custom and precedent. It may be patched and pruned here and there; but the nature of man remains flawed, ambition always aspires to domination, and states are kept at peace only by a balancing of power, a recognition of the traditions of civility, and a concern for real interests. Parchment and declarations of the rights of man cannot restrain private or national concupiscence.

To the liberal, on the other hand, the world is infinitely improvable, and so is man himself; experiment and emancipation will lead to peace; and what ought to be, shall be. So Wilson thought and acted through the War and the making of the Peace.

The idea that power may be checked only by countervailing power always has been distasteful to the liberal. Wilson’s concept of self-determination, his championship of the League, and much of the rest of his program reflected that distaste. A vague confidence in Progress, Equality and the People overcame the cautionary precepts of Burke and the Federalists.

“You are a Liberal,” the Duke of Omnium says to Phineas Finn, in one of Trollope’s parliamentary novels, “because you know that it is not all as it ought to be; and because you would still march on to some nearer approach to equality; though the thing itself is so great, so glorious, so god-like, — nay, so absolutely divine, — that you have been disgusted by the very promise of it, because its perfection is unattainable.”

Trollope knew his Liberals. This yearning to march on toward some future universal condition of democracy and equality got the better of Wilson, when authority was his. Despite his earlier declarations that the American Republic – though a model for other states – could not be transplanted, he called upon America to make the world safe for democracy; and this same liberal universalism marked his arguments in the shaping of the evanescent Peace.”

(The Essential Russell Kirk: Selected Essays; George A. Panichas, editor, ISI Books, 2007, excerpts, pp. 507-509)