Browsing "Prescient Warnings"
Nov 27, 2014 - Prescient Warnings    No Comments

America's Self-Evident Course in Foreign Policy

President John Adams in his Fourth of July, 1821 address reiterated the foundation-stone of American foreign policy with: “America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion only of her own. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication . . . [and in doing so] She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.”

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865


America’s Self-Evident Course in Foreign Policy

“[President George Washington said]: Put not your trust in allies, especially those who are stronger than you. At worst they will betray or disappoint you; at best they will make you the pawn in their games. Trust instead in the Lord and yourselves in your dealings with aliens, and cast not away the protection conferred by a generous Providence.

The second great tradition of US foreign policy is habitually dubbed “isolationism.” This, despite dogged efforts by some diplomatic historians to instruct us that no such principle ever informed American government, and that the word came into general use only in the 1930s. What brought “isolation” to the consciousness of the American public was the propaganda of navalists like Captain A.T. Mahan, who sought to pin on their anti-imperialist critics a tag that implied they were old-fashioned curmudgeons.

Thus the Washington Post proclaimed at the time of the Spanish-American War that “the policy of isolation is dead,” and the Oxford English Dictionary first made reference to the concept in 1901: “Hence, Isolationist, one who favors or advocates isolation. In US politics, one who thinks the Republic ought to pursue a policy of political isolation.”

The Encyclopaedia Britannica never made “isolation” a rubric, and only after World War II did its articles on diplomacy refer to the phenomenon. Most telling of all, not even the “isolationists” of the 1930s had any use for the term, preferring to call themselves neutralists or nationalists. So, our vaunted tradition of “isolationism” is no tradition at all, but a dirty word that interventionists, especially since Pearl Harbor, hurl at anyone who questions their policies.

Let us dispense with the term altogether and substitute for it a word that really describes the second great tradition in American foreign relations: Unilateralism. It was a natural, even inevitable corollary of the first American tradition, for if the essence of Exceptionalism was liberty at home, the essence of Unilateralism was to be at liberty to make foreign policy independent of the “toils of European ambition.”

Unilateralism never meant that the United States should, or for that matter could, sequester itself or pursue an ostrich-like policy toward all foreign countries. It simply meant, as Hamilton and Jefferson both underscored, that the self-evident course for the United States was to avoid permanent, entangling alliances and to remain neutral in Europe’s wars except when our Liberty – the first hallowed tradition – was at risk.”

(Promised Land, Crusader State, Walter A. McDougall, Houghton-Mifflin, 1997, pp. 39-40)

Andrew Jackson and the Spoils System

Small “r” republican John C. Calhoun of South Carolina predicted the result when political victory became a license for partisan favors to be distributed to base and corrupt party men.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865


Andrew Jackson and the Spoils System:

“[For] the first forty years of our history were singularly free from the spoils system, with the coming of Andrew Jackson, “the man of perpetual fury,” all this had been changed. Jackson frankly divided the spoils of political victory with his fellow Democrats and established a precedent which successive administrations, Democrat, Whig and Republican alike, had eagerly followed, till slowly, but with terrible certainty, the partisan conception had grown into a system, generally accepted as an unavoidable incident of popular government.

There had, of course, always been indignant protestants. Calhoun, in 1835, declared:

“So long as the offices were considered as public trusts, to be conferred on the honest, the faithful and capable, for the common good, and not for the benefit or gain of the incumbent or his party, and so long it was the practice of the Government to continue in office those who faithfully performed their duties, its patronage, in point of fact, was limited to the mere power of nominating to accidental vacancies or to newly created offices, and would, of course, exercise but a moderate influence either over the body of the community or over the office holders themselves; but when this practice was reversed – when offices, instead of being considered as public trusts, to be conferred on the deserving, were regarded as the spoils of victory, to be bestowed as rewards for partisan service – it is easy to see the certain, direct and inevitable tendency . . . to convert the entire body of those in office into corrupt and supple instruments of power, and to raise up a host of hungry, greedy and subservient partisans, ready for every service, however base and corrupt.”

(Grover Cleveland, The Man and the Statesman, Volume I, Harper & Brothers, 1923, pp. 121-122)

Nov 21, 2014 - Prescient Warnings    No Comments

Patrick Henry Fears an American King

Patrick Henry opposed the adoption of the Constitution as he feared the consolidating purpose of it.  He foretold that the growing power of the federal agent would oppress the States  and “use a standing army to execute the execrable commands of tyranny”; he warned of leaving the agricultural States of the South at the mercy of the trading and manufacturing States of the North through treaty and protective tariff bills, as well as “an army of Federal officers” sent forth to harass the people and interfering in their elections.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865


Patrick Henry Fears an American King:

“The great danger to the country lies in the temptation to the political party controlling Congress to so manipulate the elections as to perpetuate its powers. Another danger in Federal elections, foreseen by Mr. Henry, was the improper use of money. He predicted that rich men would carry the elections and constitute an aristocracy of wealth. Bribery in elections has become open and shameless, and the most conspicuous corruptors of the people, instead of being relegated to infamy, are too often rewarded by high official positions.

The conduct of the Northern members of the Congress, especially in the matter of the Mississippi, induced Mr. Henry to predict, that under a government that subjected the South to the will of a Northern majority, that majority having different interests, would never consent to Southern aggrandizement. The history of the country may be appealed to for the fulfillment of this prophesy, and the justifications of the fears he expressed.

Mr. Henry’s declaration that the Federal Government “squints toward monarchy,” is now, after a century of trial, admitted to be true by writers on the subject. Professor Hare . . . after stating that in England the prime minister is the responsible executive officer, and that he is controlled by the House of Commons, adds:

“Our system, on the contrary, intrusts the executive department of the government to a chief magistrate, who, during his term of office, and so far as his power extends, is virtually a king . . . When President Polk precipitated hostilities with Mexico by marching an army into the disputed territory, Congress had no choice but to declare war which he had provoked, and which they had no power to terminate . . . A chief magistrate who wields the whole military, and no inconsiderable share of the civil power, of the State, who can incline the scale to war and forbid the return of peace, whose veto will stay the course of legislation, who is the source of enormous patronage which is the main lever in the politics of the United States, exercise functions more truly regal than those of an English monarch . . . every inch a king.”

(Patrick Henry, Life, Correspondence and Speeches, William Wirt Henry, Volume I, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1891, pp. 404-406)


Nov 17, 2014 - Prescient Warnings    No Comments

Riotous Living Out of the Public Treasury

Georgian Alexander H. Stephens saw evil in the nativist and anti-Catholic Know-Nothing party, just coming into notice in late 1854.  He was opposed to secret organizations in a free republic, “where,” he says, “every man ought to have his principles written on his forehead.” Below he writes on 1 December 1854:

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865


Riotous Living Out of the Public Treasury

“Public sentiment in this country is in a transition state, so far as the principle of party organization is concerned. Old parties, old names, old issues, and old organizations are passing away.

A day of new things, new issues, new leaders, and new organizations is at hand. The men now in power, holding their positions by the foulest coalition known in our history, seem not to foresee that doom which evidently awaits them.

Standing upon no policy but the division of the spoils, their time is taken up in revelry and riotous living out of the public treasury. But like Belshazzar at the feast, they have the handwriting on the wall, whether they can read it or not.”

(Life of Alexander H. Stephens, Richard M. Johnston & William Hand Browne, J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1883, pg. 286)


Nov 7, 2014 - Prescient Warnings    No Comments

Constitution Unable to Control Man's Nature

The most prescient of the Founders, Patrick Henry discerned the predictable result of ratifying a Constitution which he viewed as nothing more than consolidating the States into one centralized government. He challenged the Federalists of his day: “let me appeal to the candor of the committee, if the want of money be not the source of all our misfortunes.” He maintained that the new government was a consolidated one, and that its advocates sought “splendor” – not liberty.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865


Constitution Unable to Control Man’s Nature

“Man,” Patrick Henry warned, “is a fallen creature, a fallible being, and cannot be depended upon without self-love.” Certainly, a large measure of Henry’s ideas of the type of government which would serve the true function of government, the preservations of liberty, were based upon this idea of the nature of the human species. Indeed, the best government would be one which would be one which made the most effective provisions against this.

One of the primary modes in which this “self-love” manifested itself was in a desire for power because “human nature never will part from power.” The human temptation was present in all men . . . Henry deduced, for “the characteristic of the good or great Man is not that he has been exempted from the evils of life, but that he surmounted them.”

The annals of history pointed this out, for “can the annals of mankind exhibit one single example, where rulers overcharged with power willingly let go the oppressed, though solicited and requested most earnestly?” In fact, “a willing relinquishment of power is one of those things which human nature never was, nor will ever be capable of.”

What was there about this new government which did not provide for this innate weakness of man? Why had the men at the Constitutional Convention created a new government? Was it because the government of the Articles of Confederation was so weak that they were faced with the alternatives of drastic action or anarchy? Patrick Henry did not think so.

The Confederation had won the war; it had saved the West. He protested that history was replete with examples, “instances of people losing their liberties by their own carelessness and the ambition of a few.” Was this not the real reason for the proposed change in government?

Also disturbing to Henry’s mind was the fact that in many States which had ratified the new Constitution, the masses had not been awarded the opportunity to vote on the election of new delegates to the ratification conventions. He protested, “. . . only 10,000 were represented in Pennsylvania although 70,000 had a right to be represented. Is this not a serious thing?”

If the people did not want a change in their government, why then did the Philadelphia Convention write the new Constitution?”

(The Christian Philosophy of Patrick Henry, James M. Wells, Carris J. Kocher, editor, Bill of Rights Bicentennial Committee, 2004 (original 1960), pp. 58-59)

Nov 7, 2014 - Prescient Warnings    No Comments

Daniel Webster, A Prophet

“The Old Guard” was published from 1863 to 1867 by C. Chauncey Burr in New York, though not pro-Union.  Articles that appeared during the war years were very critical of Lincoln and his administration, and blamed them either directly of indirectly, for the mass casualties on both sides of the fighting.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circ1865

Daniel Webster, Prophet

“When the “great Expounder of the Constitution” read the speech of Mr. [William H.] Seward, which announced “the irrepressible conflict,” he exclaimed:

“If these infernal fanatics and abolitionists ever get power in their hands, they will override the Constitution, set Supreme Court at defiance, change and make laws to suit themselves, lay violent hands on those that differ with them in their opinion, or dare question their infallibility; and finally, bankrupt the country and deluge it with blood.”

We beg, with due respect, to call Mr. Lincoln’s attention to these words of terrible prophecy uttered by the immortal Daniel Webster. The flowers have blossomed over the grave of the great statesman but a few summers before his awful words are more than fulfilled. Will Mr. Lincoln deny that abolitionism has already wrought the work of destruction and death then foretold?”

(The Old Guard, September 1863 issue, C. Chauncey Burr & Co. New York.)

Nov 5, 2014 - Prescient Warnings    No Comments

Government Replete With Insupportable Evils

Patrick Henry was outspoken in his resistance to the adoption of the Constitution, pleading with the delegates to “consider what you are about to do before you part with [the articles of Confederation]”  He stated that history was replete with “instances of people losing their liberties by their own carelessness and the ambition of a few.”

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865


Government Replete With Insupportable Evils

“The [proposed United States] Constitution is said to have beautiful features; but when I come to examine these features, sir, they appear to me horribly frightful. Among other deformities, it has an awful squinting; it squints toward monarchy, and does not this raise indignation in the breast of every true American?

Your president may easily become king. Your Senate is so imperfectly constructed that your dearest rights may be sacrificed to what may be a small minority; and a very small minority may continue for ever interchangeably this government, altho horribly defective. Where are your checks in this government? Your strongholds will be in the hands of your enemies.

It is on a supposition that your American governors shall be honest that all the good qualities of this government are founded; but its defective and imperfect construction puts it in their power to perpetrate the worst of mischiefs should they be bad men; and, sir, would not all the world, from the Eastern to the Western Hemisphere, blame our distracted folly in resting our rights upon the contingency of our rulers being good or bad?

Show me the age and country where the rights and liberties of the people were placed on the sole chance of their rulers being good men without a consequent loss of liberty! I say that the loss of that dearest privilege has ever followed, with absolute certainty, every such mad attempt.

If your American chief be a man of ambition and abilities, how easy is it for him to render himself absolute? The army is in his hands, and if he be a man of address, it will be attached to him, and it will be the subject of long meditation with him to seize the first auspicious moment to accomplish his design, and, sir, will the American spirit solely relieve you when this happens?

I would rather infinitely – and I am sure most of this Convention are of the same opinion — have a king, lords, and commons, than a government so replete with such insupportable evils. If we make a king we may prescribe the rules by which he shall rule his people, and interpose such checks as shall prevent him from infringing them; but the president, in the field, at the head of his army, can prescribe the terms on which he shall reign master, so far that it will puzzle any American ever to get his neck from under the galling yoke.

But, sir, where is the existing force to punish him? Can he not, at the head of his army, beat down every opposition? Away with your president! We shall have a king: the army will salute him monarch; your militia will leave you, and assist in making him king, and fight against you: and what have you to oppose this force? What will become of your rights? Will not absolute despotism prevail?

(Patrick Henry, “Give Me Liberty of Give Me Death” speech, March 23, 1775, before the Second Revolutionary Convention of Virginia; The World’s Famous Orations, William Jennings Bryan, editor, Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1906, pp. 74-76)