A Brief History Lesson on the Growth of the Federal Government
"The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground." – Thomas Jefferson
Paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln, Eleven score and four years ago our forefathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.
We are indeed engaged in a war, either a civil war of progressives versus tea partiers or a second revolutionary war. We either turn in the direction of what the founders had in mind or America ceases to exist as that shining light on the hill, the last best hope for mankind.
The country was founded on the belief in natural law, whereby the right to life, liberty and property were fundamental. Moreover, natural law and the non aggression principle defined the role of government – you could do what you want with what you own except to aggress against the private property rights of others. The government was to protect private property rights.
The US constitution was unique: other constitutions say, "Government grants you these rights," whereas in the US constitution says, "You are born with these rights, they are yours, and no government on earth can take them from you." From the beginning, people such as John Adams and Alexander Hamilton called for a greater federal government. But, the federal government remained small. It was not until 1857 that Congress approved a specific appropriation for the president to hire a private secretary.
Although the Civil War ended the idea of states rights and led to a growth of the federal government, it was not until the progressive era -- Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson – that the role of government changed.
The story of the growth of the federal government can be divided into two parts: before and after 1913. In1913 the 16th amendment to the Constitution, which permitted a federal income tax, was ratified and the Federal Reserve was created. A government that began in 1776 as a protector of individual rights by 1913 had evolved into one that presumed to guarantee the economic welfare of its citizens. When the federal income tax was introduced in 1913, the highest tax bracket was 7 percent for all income above $20,000. Because of the demand for war-related spending, by 1918 the highest rate rose to 77 percent beginning at $4,000. This was the context in which Warren G. Harding was elected to the presidency in 1920 with the theme, a “return to normalcy.”
In the late 19th century the president most sensitive to liberty was the Democrat Grover Cleveland, who, in the 1880s and 1890s, defended the gold standard, reduced tariffs, relied heavily on his veto pen, and rooted out corruption. When the Republicans took over with William McKinley in 1897, they continued their trend of expanding government and using subsidies and tariffs to benefit Big Business. In 1898, they took America on its first step toward global empire – the Spanish-American War.
Teddy Roosevelt, continued with US imperialism, intervening in Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Honduras. Under Roosevelt, the US government did withdraw from Cuba, and in return, the US was given control of Guantanamo Bay. He also “protected” some say, I say confiscated, some 230 million acres of national land = 35,938 square miles. He called for a graduated income tax. It was Woodrow Wilson who rammed a tariff law through Congress which had attached, the graduated Federal income tax. Wilson also herded the passage of the Federal Reserve Act in 1913.
The progressives have justified their actions on the basis of two clauses of the Constitution. Article I, section 8 of the U. S. Constitution grants Congress the power to "lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts, and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common defense and general Welfare of the United States." This general welfare clause created debates even in the Articles of Confederation. Most of the founders believed that the clause was intended to deal only with the enumerated powers of the govt. , that is, to tax and spend only on those things so enumerated – paying debts for instance. Most did not believe it was an invitation of unlimited govt. But it has been so interpreted by the Progressives.
Similarly, the Commerce Clause: (Article I, Section 8, Clause 3) was intended to prevent states from charging import and export duties on other states. But, this clause has been interpreted as the right of the federal government to intervene in any action because the action might deal with interstate commerce. In other words, the Progressives see no limits to the expansion of the federal government in the constitution.