Rules by Which a Great Empire May Be Reduced to a Small One

Benjamin_Franklin_by_Joseph_Siffrein_DuplessisI guess we could call this a guest post, although the author didn’t write it for us, specifically. He did do a masterful job of presenting our grievances however, and so, although it is long, I have decided to simply present it.

The author, as some may know in Benjamin Franklin, of Pennsylvania, and it was first published on 11 September 1773 in The Public Advertiser. I suppose my instant comment is, “Nothing new under the sun”.
Enjoy and heed!
For the Public Advertiser.

Rules by which a great Empire may be reduced to a small one. [Presented privately to a late Minister, when he entered upon his Administration; and now first published.]3

An ancient Sage valued himself upon this, that tho’ he could not fiddle, he knew how to make agreat City of a little one.4 The Science that I, a modern Simpleton, am about to communicate is the very reverse.

I address myself to all Ministers who have the Management of extensive Dominions, which from their very Greatness are become troublesome to govern, because the Multiplicity of their Affairs leaves no Time for fiddling.

I. In the first Place, Gentlemen, you are to consider, that a great Empire, like a great Cake, is most easily diminished at the Edges. Turn your Attention therefore first to your remotest Provinces; that as you get rid of them, the next may follow in Order.

II. That the Possibility of this Separation may always exist, take special Care the Provinces are never incorporated with the Mother Country, that they do not enjoy the same common Rights, the same Privileges in Commerce, and that they are governed by severer Laws, all of your enacting, without allowing them any Share in the Choice of the Legislators. By carefully making and preserving such Distinctions, you will (to keep to my Simile of the Cake) act like a wise Gingerbread Baker, who, to facilitate a Division, cuts his Dough half through in those Places, where, when bak’d, he would have it broken to Pieces.

III. These remote Provinces have perhaps been acquired, purchas’d, or conquer’d, at the sole Expence of the Settlers or their Ancestors, without the Aid of the Mother Country. If this should happen to increase her Strength by their growing Numbers ready to join in her Wars, herCommerce by their growing Demand for her Manufactures, or her Naval Power by greater Employment for her Ships and Seamen, they may probably suppose some Merit in this, and that it entitles them to some Favour; you are therefore to forget it all, or resent it as if they had done you Injury. If they happen to be zealous Whigs, Friends of Liberty, nurtur’d in Revolution Principles,remember all that to their Prejudice, and contrive to punish it: For such Principles, after a Revolution is thoroughly established, are of no more Use, they are even odious and abominable.5

IV. However peaceably your Colonies have submitted to your Government, shewn their Affection to your Interest, and patiently borne their Grievances, you are to suppose them always inclined to revolt, and treat them accordingly. Quarter Troops among them, who by their Insolence may provoke the rising of Mobs, and by their Bullets and Bayonets suppress them. By this Means, like the Husband who uses his Wife ill from Suspicion, you may in Time convert your Suspicionsinto Realities.

V. Remote Provinces must have Governors, and Judges, to represent the Royal Person, and execute every where the delegated Parts of his Office and Authority. You Ministers know, that much of the Strength of Government depends on the Opinion of the People; and much of that Opinion on the Choice of6 Rulers placed immediately over them. If you send them wise and good Men for Governors, who study the Interest of the Colonists, and advance their Prosperity, they will think their King wise and good, and that he wishes the Welfare of his Subjects. If you send them learned and upright Men for judges, they will think him a Lover of Justice. This may attach your Provinces more to his Government. You are therefore to be careful who you recommend for those Offices. If you can find Prodigals who have ruined their Fortunes, broken Gamesters or Stock-Jobbers, these may do well as Governors; for they will probably be rapacious, and provoke the People by their Extortions. Wrangling Proctors and petty-fogging Lawyers7 too are not amiss, for they will be for ever disputing and quarrelling with their little Parliaments, if withal they should be ignorant, wrong-headed and insolent, so much the better. Attorneys Clerks and Newgate Solicitors will do for Chief-Justices, especially if they hold their Places during your Pleasure: And all will contribute to impress those ideas of your Government that are proper for a People you would wish to renounce it.

VI. To confirm these Impressions, and strike them deeper, whenever the Injured come to the Capital with Complaints of Mal-administration, Oppression, or Injustice, punish such Suitors with long Delay, enormous Expence, and a final Judgment in Favour of the Oppressor. This will have an admirable Effect every Way. The Trouble of future Complaints will be prevented, and Governors and Judges will be encouraged to farther Acts of Oppression and Injustice; and thence the People may become more disaffected, and at length desperate.

VII. When such Governors have crammed their Coffers, and made themselves so odious to the People that they can no longer remain among them with Safety to their Persons, recall and rewardthem with Pensions. You may make them Baronets too,8 if that respectable Order should not think fit to resent it. All will contribute to encourage new Governors in the same Practices, and make the supreme Government detestable.

VIII. If when you are engaged in War, your Colonies should vie in liberal Aids of Men and Money against the common Enemy, upon your simple Requisition, and give far beyond their Abilities, reflect, that a Penny taken from them by your Power is more honourable to you than a Pound presented by their Benevolence. Despise therefore their voluntary Grants, and resolve to harrass them with novel Taxes. They will probably complain to your Parliaments that they are taxed by a Body in which they have no Representative, and that this is contrary to common Right. They will petition for Redress. Let the Parliaments flout their Claims, reject their Petitions, refuse even to suffer the reading of them, and treat the Petitioners with the utmost Contempt. Nothing can have a better Effect, in producing the Alienation proposed; for though many can forgive Injuries,none ever forgave Contempt.

IX. In laying these Taxes, never regard the heavy Burthens those remote People already undergo, in defending their own Frontiers, supporting their own provincial Governments, making new Roads, building Bridges, Churches and other public Edifices, which in old Countries have been done to your Hands by your Ancestors, but which occasion constant Calls and Demands on the Purses of a new People. Forget the Restraints you lay on their Trade for your own Benefit, and the Advantage a Monopoly of this Trade gives your exacting Merchants. Think nothing of the Wealth those Merchants and your Manufacturers acquire by the Colony Commerce; their encreased Ability thereby to pay Taxes at home; their accumulating, in the Price of their Commodities, most of those Taxes, and so levying them from their consuming Customers: All this, and the Employment and Support of thousands of your Poor by the Colonists, you are intirely to forget. But remember to make your arbitrary Tax more grievous to your Provinces, by public Declarations importing that your Power of taxing them has no limits, so that when you take from them without their Consent a Shilling in the Pound, you have a clear Right to the other nineteen. This will probably weaken every Idea of Security in their Property, and convince them that under such a Government they have nothing they can call their own; which can scarce fail of producingthe happiest Consequences!9

X. Possibly indeed some of them might still comfort themselves, and say, “Though we have no Property, we have yet something left that is valuable; we have constitutional Liberty both of Person and of Conscience. This King, these Lords, and these Commons, who it seems are too remote from us to know us and feel for us, cannot take from us our Habeas Corpus Right, or our Right of Trial by a Jury of our Neighbours: They cannot deprive us of the Exercise of our Religion, alter our ecclesiastical Constitutions, and compel us to be Papists if they please, or Mahometans.” To annihilate this Comfort, begin by Laws to perplex their Commerce with infinite Regulations impossible to be remembered and observed; ordain Seizures of their Property for every Failure; take away the Trial of such Property by Jury, and give it to arbitrary Judges of your own appointing, and of the lowest Characters in the Country, whose Salaries and Emoluments are to arise out of the Duties or Condemnations, and whose Appointments are during Pleasure. Then let there be a formal Declaration of both Houses, that Opposition to your Edicts is Treason, and that Persons suspected of Treason in the Provinces may, according to some obsolete Law, be seized and sent to the Metropolis of the Empire for Trial; and pass an Act that those there charged with certain other Offences shall be sent away in Chains from their Friends and Country to be tried in the same Manner for Felony. Then erect a new Court of Inquisition among them, accompanied by an armed Force, with Instructions to transport all such suspected Persons, to be ruined by the Expence if they bring over Evidences to prove their Innocence, or be found guilty and hanged if they can’t afford it. And lest the People should think you cannot possibly go any farther, pass another solemn declaratory Act, that “King, Lords, and Commons had, hath, and of Right ought to have, full Power and Authority to make Statutes of sufficient Force and Validity to bind the unrepresented Provinces in all cases whatsoever.” This will include Spiritual with temporal; and taken together, must operate wonderfully to your Purpose, by convincing them, that they are at present under a Power something like that spoken of in the Scriptures, which can not only kill their Bodies, butdamn their Souls to all Eternity, by compelling them, if it pleases, to worship the Devil.1

XI. To make your Taxes more odious, and more likely to procure Resistance, send from the Capital a Board of Officers to superintend the Collection, composed of the most indiscreet, ill-bredand insolent you can find. Let these have large Salaries out of the extorted Revenue, and live in open grating Luxury upon the Sweat and Blood of the Industrious, whom they are to worry continually with groundless and expensive Prosecutions before the above-mentioned arbitrary Revenue-Judges, all at the Cost of the Party prosecuted tho’ acquitted, because the King is to pay no Costs. Let these Men by your Order be exempted from all the common Taxes and Burthens of the Province, though they and their Property are protected by its Laws. If any Revenue Officers aresuspected of the least Tenderness for the People, discard them.2 If others are justly complained of, protect and reward them. If any of the Under-officers behave so as to provoke the People to drub them, promote those to better Offices: This will encourage others to procure for themselves such profitable Drubbings, by multiplying and enlarging such Provocations, and all with work towards the End you aim at.

XII. Another Way to make your Tax odious, is to misapply the Produce of it. If it was originally appropriated for the Defence of the Provinces and the better Support of Government, and the Administration of Justice where it may be necessary, then apply none of it to that Defence, but bestow it where it is not necessary, in augmented Salaries or Pensions to every Governor who has distinguished himself by his Enmity to the People, and by calumniating them to their Sovereign. This will make them pay it more unwillingly, and be more apt to quarrel with those that collect it, and those that imposed it, who will quarrel again with them, and all shall contribute to your main Purpose of making them weary of your Government.

XIII. If the People of any Province have been accustomed to support their own Governors and Judges to Satisfaction, you are to apprehend that such Governors and Judges may be thereby influenced to treat the People kindly, and to do them Justice. This is another Reason for applying Part of that Revenue in larger Salaries to such Governors and Judges, given, as their Commissions are, during your Pleasure only, forbidding them to take any Salaries from their Provinces; that thus the People may no longer hope any Kindness from their Governors, or (in Crown Cases) any Justice from their Judges. And as the Money thus mis-applied in one Province is extorted from all, probably all will resent the Misapplication.

XIV. If the Parliaments of your Provinces should dare to claim Rights or complain of your Administration, order them to be harass’d with repeated Dissolutions. If the same Men are continually return’d by new Elections, adjourn their Meetings to some Country Village where they cannot be accommodated, and there keep them during Pleasure; for this, you know, is yourPrerogative; and an excellent one it is, as you may manage it, to promote Discontents among the People, diminish their Respect, and increase their Disaffection.

XV. Convert the brave honest Officers of your Navy into pimping Tide-waiters and Colony Officers of the Customs. Let those who in Time of War fought gallantly in Defence of the Commerce of their Countrymen, in Peace be taught to prey upon it. Let them learn to be corrupted by great and real Smugglers; but (to shew their Diligence) scour with armed Boats every Bay, Harbour, River, Creek, Cove or Nook throughout the Coast of your Colonies, stop and detain every Coaster, every Wood-boat, every Fisherman, tumble their Cargoes, and even their Ballast, inside out and upside down; and if a Penn’orth of Pins is found un-entered, let the Whole be seized and confiscated. Thus shall the Trade of your Colonists suffer more from their Friends in Time of Peace, than it did from their Enemies in War. Then let these Boats Crews land upon every Farm in their Way, rob the Orchards, steal the Pigs and Poultry, and insult the Inhabitants. If the injured and exasperated Farmers, unable to procure other Justice, should attack the Agressors, drub them and burn their Boats, you are to call this High Treason and Rebellion, order3 Fleets and Armies into their Country, and threaten to carry all the Offenders three thousand Miles to be hang’d, drawn and quartered. O! this will work admirably!

XVI. If you are told of Discontents in your Colonies, never believe that they are general, or that you have given Occasion for them; therefore do not think of applying any Remedy, or of changing any offensive Measure. Redress no Grievance, lest they should be encouraged to demand the Redress of some other Grievance. Grant no Request that is just and reasonable, lest they should make another that is unreasonable. Take all your Informations of the State of the Colonies from your Governors and Officers in Enmity with them. Encourage and reward these Leasing-makers;4secrete their lying Accusations lest they should be confuted; but act upon them as the clearest Evidence, and believe nothing you hear from the Friends of the People. Suppose all theirComplaints to be invented and promoted by a few factious Demagogues, whom if you could catch and hang, all would be quiet. Catch and hang a few of them accordingly; and the Blood of the Martyrs shall work Miracles in favour of your Purpose.

XVII. If you see rival Nations rejoicing at the Prospect of your Disunion with your Provinces, and endeavouring to promote it: If they translate, publish and applaud all the Complaints of your discontented Colonists,5 at the same Time privately stimulating you to severer Measures; let not that alarm or offend you. Why should it? since you all mean the same Thing.6

XVIII. If any Colony should at their own Charge erect a Fortress to secure their Port against the Fleets of a foreign Enemy, get your Governor to betray that Fortress into your Hands. Never think of paying what it cost the Country, for that would look, at least, like some Regard for Justice; but turn it into a Citadel to awe the Inhabitants and curb their Commerce. If they should have lodged in such Fortress the very Arms they bought and used to aid you in your Conquests, seize them all, ’twill provoke like Ingratitude added to Robbery.7 One admirable Effect of these Operations will be, to discourage every other Colony from erecting such Defences, and so their and your Enemies may more easily invade them, to the great Disgrace of your Government, and of course the Furtherance of your Project.8

XIX. Send Armies into their Country under Pretence of protecting the Inhabitants; but instead of garrisoning the Forts on their Frontiers with those Troops, to prevent Incursions, demolish those Forts, and order the Troops into the Heart of the Country, that the Savages may be encouraged to attack the Frontiers, and that the Troops may be protected by the Inhabitants: This will seem to proceed from your Ill will or your Ignorance, and contribute farther to produce and strengthen an Opinion among them, that you are no longer fit to govern them.

XX. Lastly, Invest the General of your Army in the Provinces with great and unconstitutional Powers, and free him from the Controul of even your own Civil Governors. Let him have Troops enow under his Command, with all the Fortresses in his Possession; and who knows but (like some provincial Generals in the Roman Empire, and encouraged by the universal Discontent you have produced) he may take it into his Head to set up for himself. If he should, and you have carefully practised these few excellent Rules of mine, take my Word for it, all the Provinces will immediately join him, and you will that Day (if you have not done it sooner) get rid of the Trouble of governing them, and all the Plagues attending their Commerce and Connection from thenceforth and for ever.


[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6The draft lacks the middle pages and conclusion. The notes are small additions, written on the back of an invoice from Brown & Whitefoord dated Sept. 2, 1773; we indicate where they were and were not embodied in the draft.

7Below, under Sept. 22. For a literary analysis of the satires see Richard E. Amacher, Benjamin Franklin (New York, [1962]), pp. 82–8. The fullest analysis is unfortunately not in print: Francis X. Davy, “Benjamin Franklin, Satirist: the Satire of Franklin and Its Rhetoric,” unpublished doctoral dissertation, Columbia University, 1958.

8bf to wf below, Oct. 6.

9Ibid.; Crane, Letters to the Press, pp. 233–4, 236–7.

1To wf below, Nov. 3. bf’s most interesting comment on his motives was to Jane Mecom below, Nov. 1.

3When Hillsborough took office in 1768, in other words, he adopted these rules to guide his policy. Brackets are in the original.

4The sage was Themistocles, as reported by Plutarch; bf’s wording is approximated in John and William Langhorne, Plutarch’s Lives … (6 vols., London, 1770), i, 281.

5bf added this passage, beginning with “If they happen,” from one of the notes mentioned above. His comment must have shocked English readers as much as he intended, for the principles of the Glorious Revolution had developed differently on the two sides of the Atlantic. In England the principle of an omnicompetent crown in Parliament had largely submerged the contractual limitations on government inherent in the Bill of Rights. The colonies, where local autonomy was in tension with control from London, preserved in full force the principle that authority per se was dangerous. See Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge, Mass., [1967]), especially pp. 35–6, 43–7, 201–3.

6The first portion of the surviving draft ends here.

7Proctors had their own areas of pettifoggery, the ecclesiastical and admiralty courts.

8Sir Francis Bernard.

9bf had made this point earlier in his marginalia: above, xvii, 339.

1bf introduced “unrepresented Provinces” into his quotation from the Declaratory Act. His Biblical reference is to Matthew 10:28.

2A reference to John Temple, dismissed in 1770: above, xix, 402.

3The second portion of the surviving draft begins here.

4Liars, a phrase derived from Scottish law. The part of the sentence that follows, from “secrete” to “Evidence,” bf interlined in his draft from one of the notes mentioned above.

5The controlled French press had been publishing, since the time of the Stamp Act, documentation of the developing Anglo-American quarrel; see Durand Echeverria, Mirage in the West: a History of the French Image of American Society to 1815 (Princeton, [1957]), pp. 36–7.

6bf added Rule xvii to his draft from one of the notes mentioned above, but deleted the opening sentence of that note: “If wretched Writers rail against your Colonists, and do their best to widen Breaches, reward them with Pensions or with Patent Places: if those are to be paid out of the Colony Revenue, and those are Colony Places, it will be the more grating and of course so much the better. And if you see,” etc.

7bf interlined this sentence in his draft from one of the notes mentioned above.

8The second portion of the surviving draft ends here. bf returned to the subject of this paragraph in his introduction to Bernard’s speeches below, Sept. 17.

Rules by Which a Great Empire May Be Reduced to a Small One, 1 ….

From: “Rules by Which a Great Empire May Be Reduced to a Small One, 11 September 1773,” Founders Online, National Archives ( [last update: 2015-03-20]). Source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 20, January 1 through December 31, 1773, ed. William B. Willcox. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1976, pp. 389–399.

Mr. President, You Have One Job

U.S. Presidential flag, 1960-present (not usua...

U.S. Presidential flag, 1960-present (not usually called a “standard” in official U.S. government terminology). It is defined in Executive Order 10860. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In essence, the President of the United States has one job: to protect the Republic from all enemies, foreign and domestic. So a year and a half before we hire a new guy or girl, how are we doing?

I’d say not good. There are many things wrong, the government seems to have lost its way to the point that it cannot tell the good guys from the bad ones, the productive from the moocher, the anarchist from the fascist, in essence, good from evil.

Yes, I did say good from evil. But understand this, it’s not supposed to be the President’s job to help you get a degree, let alone a useful one, nor to make sure you don’t starve because you haven’t found a job. Those things are your job, not is. If you fail, it is your problem, along with those who were foolish enough to depend on you. You don’t want to be a burger flipper that’s commendable, learn a marketable skill, and you won’t be. It would help if the government would get out of the way enough for productive people to be productive.

It would also help if the government would get out of the way enough for the health care industry to provide health care, instead of filling out forms for Leviathan.

But in a sense, none of this is the President’s primary tasking. That is, as it always has been to protect the Republic from foreign enemies. And in that the administration has failed, utterly.

As the linked article says, to be safe one needs some combination of raw power, respect, admiration, and fear. No one of them will really work. And that’s where the US is failing. Raw power is the one we have, but since we are unwilling to use it, it no longer matters. Thousands of tanks in a tank park at Fort Hood are an interesting (to some, anyway) artifact, not a symbol of power. Those same tanks rampaging down ‘Thunder Road’ in Iraq are an unmistakable sign that one is extremely unwise to poke at the Eagle, overmuch.

Notice anybody refraining from that poking lately? Yeah, me either. Here’s why.

The United States is no longer a serious country.

Now, by this I do not mean that America is no longer a super-power. By any gross indicator of strength, the United States is as powerful as it’s ever been, perhaps more powerful than at any time in its history. It has a massive, highly productive economy, a military second to none, and an alliance that dwarfs all possible competitors. On paper, it’s still the only super-power on this planet (or on any other that we know of, so far).

But the status of a great nation is built on more than raw power. It includes intangible qualities like respect, admiration, and, yes, fear. We don’t need all three of them; no major power does. But we need at least one of them at any given moment, and right now, we’re bottoming out in each of these measures. President Obama may insist that America is now “the most respected country on Earth”—a claim even the normally more forgiving folks at PolitiFact rate as only “half-true”—but the Russians, Iranians, and Chinese clearly disagree, and for good reason.

The Chinese hack of the Office of Personnel Management is the most recent, and most obvious, example of how our status is going down the drain. This is a disaster of unimaginable proportions. The intelligence damage, including security-clearance information, will last for decades. (I, of course, am one of the millions of federal workers waiting to find out if my files are now in Beijing.) Almost as shocking as the size of this breach, however, is the fact that no one seems to care very much, including the Chinese, who have shown no concern at all.

An Act of War, Ignored

In any normal world, a super-power would not tolerate this kind of an attack. Perhaps more accurately, a true super-power would never have to endure such an attack in the first place, because other nations would be loath to engage in such a direct act of open hostility. States do lousy things to each other all day long, but the wholesale and brazen theft of personnel records is a different kind of espionage. The scale is so vast that it is a direct challenge to the United States of America.

Countries, as a rule, do not do whatever they can do, they do what they think they can get away with.

Contunue reading: America, The Unserious Super-Power. Emphasis mine.

Seems to me when saudi Arabia and Israel find that they have more in c0mmon with each other than they do with theUnited states, something has goe deeply wrong.

We are pretty much stuck with this until 20 January 2017, but we would be perhaps wise to start thinking ait now. And keep it uppermost in our minds as we think about a new prsident.

That Was the Week That Was

thobamaSo, it’s been quite a week, hasn’t it? And we haven’t even got to the ‘Government by Blog Post’ Friday document dump yet. So we’ll see what else can go wrong.

I don’t ever tell people how to vote but if I was a Mississippian, I would not vote for Cochran, this kind of despicable conduct has no business in America, let alone in a so-called principled party. And yes, that does mean that I have no use at all for the national republican party. I think it to be no more than the sort-of right facing part of the party of government, and not an iota different from the democratic party. Here’s a couple of stories about it:

Here’s The Worst Part of Thad Cochran’s Victory


Then there is the Mexican (used to be) border


Then there is the piece of the world formerly known as Iraq. It hard to see how there could have been a worse foreign policy debacle, short, I suppose, of surrendering to the Soviet Union. It’s bad, it’s going to get worse, and I don’t have a clear idea of what, if anything we should do.

Why an Isis caliphate is no more than a pipe dream

That’s sort of reassuring, isn’t it? Then there is this:

The Mouse that roared

I frankly don’t know which of them is right, if either but. If I had to bet, I’d bet on an American Marine before I bet on any sort of reporter. If he’s right, we are in for a very long and bleak few years, and if I was a European, I would think very strongly about whether I wanted to place my entire defense in the hands of the American led (sort-of) NATO. Because by the time we get ourselves sorted out again, Europe is very likely to look like it did in late 1941, except the Turk is far more bloodthirsty than Hitler ever was. Of course, it probably doesn’t really matter since Europe is committing suicide by abortion anyway.

Then there is the Veteran’s Administration

VA Flags “Disgruntled” Vets

Obamacare anyone, or would you prefer the NHS?

And the Internal Revenue Service

Lies, Damned Lies, and the IRS

And that is pretty much the news from ‘Chicago on the Potomac’

The Age of Mafia Government

Pretty depressing round-up isn’t it? But you know this is still America, and we (most of us, anyway) are still Americans who remember a free country. So let us join with Bill Whittle to

He’s right you know, we built it, with sweat, and blood, and tears, and we can damned well rebuild it as well, and laugh at the losers while we do.

Since you hung around through all that crap they’re throwing at us, you deserve a treat. How about this.

And a hat tip to Big Fur Hat at I Own the World for reminding me that we need some cowbell in our life.


“World War I on the Home Front,” By Ralph Raico

1934_cartoonThis is considerably heavier (and longer) than what I usually do on Saturday. That’s not an apology, it’s also important. Most of it comes from Nomocracy in Politics, which is a wonderful source for us. Many of you have seen my utter disgust for Woodrow Wilson, and my belief that he ushered in many of the policies that slowed down or maybe stopped the miracle that was America. And I’ll bet you haven’t heard any of this in school, because even back when I was in school, the official line was that Wilson was a great president. He wasn’t. In fact, he may have been the worst of American presidents, even including Obama, if for no other reason than Obama is inconceivable without Wilson.

The break point to me is in three parts:

  1. The income tax, that penalizes Americans for success.
  2. The Federal Reserve, that allows the government to spend money that it didn’t have, without specifically borrowing it, and
  3. World War I. This was the worst of all because the government did all sorts of things that were (and are) illegal and or unconstitutional.

In this essay, Ralph Raico, summarizes very well the pernicious changes instituted by Wilson during the war. You’ll note that most of them continue in force. As you are reading this (and do follow the link) I want you to think about how much freer our society was before these things

The changes wrought in America during the First World War were so profound that one scholar has referred to “the Wilsonian Revolution in government.”[1] Like other revolutions, it was preceded by an intellectual transformation, as the philosophy of progressivism came to dominate political discourse.[2] Progressive notions — of the obsolescence of laissez-faire and of constitutionally limited government, the urgent need to “organize” society “scientifically,” and the superiority of the collective over the individual — were propagated by the most influential sector of the intelligentsia and began to make inroads in the nation’s political life.

As the war furnished Lenin with otherwise unavailable opportunities for realizing his program, so too, on a more modest level, it opened up prospects for American progressives that could never have existed in peacetime. The coterie of intellectuals around the New Republicdiscovered a heaven-sent chance to advance their agenda. John Dewey praised the “immense impetus to reorganization afforded by this war,” while Walter Lippmann wrote: “We can dare to hope for things which we never dared to hope for in the past.” The magazine itself rejoiced in the war’s possibilities for broadening “social control … subordinating the individual to the group and the group to society,” and advocated that the war be used “as a pretext to foist innovations upon the country.”[3]

Woodrow Wilson’s readiness to cast off traditional restraints on government power greatly facilitated the “foisting” of such “innovations.” The result was a shrinking of American freedoms unrivaled since at least the War Between the States.

It is customary to distinguish “economic liberties” from “civil liberties.” But since all rights are rooted in the right to property, starting with the basic right to self-ownership, this distinction is in the last analysis an artificial one.[4] It is maintained here, however, for purposes of exposition.

As regards the economy, Robert Higgs, in his seminal work,Crisis and Leviathan, demonstrated the unprecedented changes in this period, amounting to an American version of Imperial Germany’s Kriegssozialismus. Even before we entered the war, Congress passed the National Defense Act. It gave the president the authority, in time of war “or when war is imminent,” to place orders with private firms which would “take precedence over all other orders and contracts.” If the manufacturer refused to fill the order at a “reasonable price as determined by the Secretary of War,” the government was “authorized to take immediate possession of any such plant [and] … to manufacture therein … such product or material as may be required”; the private owner, meanwhile, would be “deemed guilty of a felony.”[5]

Once war was declared, state power grew at a dizzying pace. The Lever Act alone put Washington in charge of the production and distribution of all food and fuel in the United States.

By the time of the armistice, the government had taken over the ocean-shipping, railroad, telephone, and telegraph industries; commandeered hundreds of manufacturing plants; entered into massive enterprises on its own account in such varied departments as shipbuilding, wheat trading, and building construction; undertaken to lend huge sums to business directly or indirectly and to regulate the private issuance of securities; established official priorities for the use of transportation facilities, food, fuel, and many raw materials; fixed the prices of dozens of important commodities; intervened in hundreds of labor disputes; and conscripted millions of men for service in the armed forces.

via “World War I on the Home Front,” By Ralph Raico | Nomocracy In Politics.

There were, of course, precursors going back at least to Lincoln and becoming noticeable in Theodore Roosevelt’s, and Taft’s administrations but, they were just that: precursors. This is when Progressivism got its real hold on our country–much to our detriment.

Can we go back? I doubt it, at least not all at once, unless the whole thing falls apart, like the Soviet Union in 1989, and that’s a hard way to fix things.

Should we? Yes we should. We were the wonder of the world, some things were harder but on balance we did more for ourselves–and for the world–than we have since. This is where we came from and how we did it.

Maybe not all the way, all at once. It did take us a hundred years to get this screwed up, but we need to change the direction, or we will go off that cliff at some point. If that happens, everything we have stood for, individual liberty, free market success, free innovation and all the rest will be lost, including the free world, maybe for a long time, maybe forever.

But remember, on this journey, you are responsible for you and yours, no one else is.

Cliven Bundy and The Rural Way

I said yesterday we were going to look at the confrontation between Cliven Bundy and the BLM today, and we are. But first I want you to read Victor Davis Hanson on it, so here it is:

Works and Days » Cliven Bundy and The Rural Way

I’m sure that Cliven Bundy probably could have cut a deal with the Bureau of Land Management and should have. Of course, it’s never wise to let a federal court order hang over your head. And certainly we cannot have a world of Cliven Bundys if a legal system is to function.


So Mr. Bundy must realize that in about 1990 we decided to focus on the misdemeanor of the law-abiding citizen and to ignore the felony of the lawbreaker. The former gave law enforcement respect; the latter ignored their authority. The first made or at least did not cost enforcers money; arresting the second began a money-losing odyssey of incarceration, trials, lawyers, appeals, and all the rest.

Mr. Bundy knows that the bullies of the BLM would much rather send a SWAT team after him than after 50 illegal aliens being smuggled by a gun-toting cartel across the southwestern desert. How strange, then, at this late postmodern date, for someone like Bundy on his horse still to be playing the law-breaking maverick Jack Burns (Kirk Douglas) in (the David Miller, Dalton Trumbo, Edward Abbey effort) Lonely Are the Brave.

But the interest in Mr. Bundy’s case is not about legal strategies in revolving fiscal disagreements with the federal government.

Instead, we all have followed Mr. Bundy for three reasons.

One, he called attention to the frightening fact that the federal government owns 83% of the land in Nevada. Note that “federal” and “government” are the key words and yet are abstractions. Rather, a few thousands unelected employees — in the BLM, EPA, Defense Department, and other alphabet soup agencies — can pretty much do what they want on the land they control. And note, this is not quite the case in Silicon Valley or Manhattan or Laguna Beach. The danger can be summed up by a scene I see about once a month on a Fresno freeway: a decrepit truck stopped by the California Highway Patrol for having inadequate tarps on a trailer of green clippings, just as a new city garbage truck speeds by, with wet garbage flying over the median. Who will police the police?

Two, this administration has a long record of not following the law — picking and choosing when and how to enforce immigration statutes, depending on the particular dynamics of the next election; picking and choosing which elements of Obamacare  to enforce, again depending on perceived political advantage; and picking and choosing when to go after coal companies, or when not to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act, or when to reverse the order of the Chrysler creditors, or when to allow Lois Lerner to destroy the credibility of the IRS for partisan advantage.

In other words, the Obama administration regularly breaks the law as it sees fit. So we wonder why a federal agency sends out swarms of armed security agents to the empty desert on behalf of a tortoise, when it could just as easily storm Jay Carney’s press conference and demand that the president promise to enforce the Affordable Care Act. Or start apprehending those who are not just violating immigration law, but also serially signing false federal affidavits or providing employers with fraudulent identities.

via Works and Days » Cliven Bundy and The Rural Way.

And that’s the real story here, isn’t it? Cliven Bundy is the old American ideal, doing what he has to do to earn a living in a hard world, asking neither for our help nor tolerating our intrusion. He may be wrong legally (by all accounts he is) but by Anglo-American history he is very nearly the ideal. A man who completely understands what Augustine of Hippo meant when he said, “An unjust law is no law at all”. I can’t speak for you, but I was raised to be a moral, upright, and just man, and so was Cliven Bundy. Crusty and hard to get along with he may be but, he is a real man, as we have understood it since at least the time of Henry VIII.

Now let’s talk about the BLM and Bundy.

I’m not sure that I have heard anyone claim that Bundy is in the right, in court he’s going to lose, and badly but that is not why he got so much sympathy. He got that sympathy mostly from people who believe deeply in the Rule of Law and he got it because the government badly overstepped it proper role. Just like Parliament did in the run up to the revolution.

First, I’m old enough that I remember when we referred to the police as “peace officers,” their role was to protect the peace and fight crime, and to do it legally within the constitution, and they did it superlatively. In that context, the government would have gotten an order from the court and the sheriff would have gone out and done what was necessary, whether it was seizing the land and cattle, or arresting Mr. Bundy. It might have come down to an armed confrontation, or it might not have, either way it would be a local story and almost instantly forgotten.

But now, what we saw was a paramilitary federal force invading like an occupying power with armored vehicles, air support, snipers, and all the appurtenances of modern war, to effect a civil settlement. The means were far beyond the object, and people reacted as Americans always do, against the overreach of arbitrary government power, and so like in Lexington, 239 years before almost to the day, an opposition gathered. And like that day, the government caved, at least for the moment. I also suspect more than a few BLM agents wondered what they were doing there but, that’s another story. And parenthetically, so did the British Regulars on that day.

That’s one thing that must always be remembered, American are very jealous of our freedom, and even the appearance of infringing it brings an immediate reaction. I found it quite telling to see the pictures of the opposition, with not only the national colors flying but, also the colors of every armed service of the country. These were men that know what it is to fight for freedom, and are far better trained than paramilitary federal forces. In the old phrase that has come down from the Civil War, “They have seen the elephant”.

I have said before that America is very tense, right now, and it is. It feels very much like the prairie does before a big thunderstorm. If the government is wise, it will do whatever it must to reduce those tensions. Given the isolation of the government from the people, which is hardly less than that of Parliament was from the colonies, I have little hope of that.

And thus after a long detour we come back to Sen. Reid’s comment. I and many like me see Mr. Bundy as wrong on the issue but right to resist. In truth, we see the government as acting like an occupying power, and are beginning to think of the government as the enemy of the people.

It is hurtful to the peace of the realm when government officials attempt to make us “the other” because that status (and we know this) removes any liability for anything done to us, it also works in reverse, and that is inimical to peace.

What we really have here is the clash of cultures. One is the old traditional do-it-your-way, mostly rural America, where men are men, and not interested in your forced government charity. The other is the progressive nanny state, which looks a lot like France. This is the baseline battle in our culture, and on it depends the future of America, the free world, and liberty itself.

The real endangered specie here is not some tortoise,

it’s the American.

[Update: Dan Miller has some very good thought on this as well, here.

and Kevin D. Williamson has a very good article at NRO on it as well]



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The Rhymes of History

This is going to be a two or three-part series, and it’s not going to have many laughs in it. What we are going to talk about is the manifest overreach of the federal government, in especially the last few years. We are also going to dispassionately (mostly) compare it to a similar time some 240 years ago, in the 1770s. We’ll start this morning with some discussion about what the Founders were thinking in those days. So, let’s begin.

And so, Sen. Harry Reid thinks that Cliven Bundy and those with him the other week are domestic terrorists. I suppose he is entitled to his opinion, and we’ll come back to that.

It seems to me that we are starting to tread on ground that we haven’t covered in about 240 years. Yes it may be that serious. And so we need to review the basics. America was founded above all to reclaim the liberties afforded to all freeborn Englishmen, and because of when the settlement happened, we inherited them at their zenith. In fact, in 1775, Edmund Burke said this:

Let the colonies always keep the idea of their civil rights associated with your government-they will cling and grapple to you, and no force under heaven will be of power to tear them from their allegiance. But let it be once understood that your government may be one thing and their privileges another, that these two things may exist without any mutual relation – the cement is gone, the cohesion is loosened, and everything hastens to decay and dissolution. As long as you have the wisdom to keep the sovereign authority of this country as the sanctuary of liberty, the sacred temple consecrated to our common faith, wherever the chosen race and sons of England worship freedom, they will turn their faces towards you. The more they multiply, the more friends you will have, the more ardently they love liberty, the more perfect will be their obedience. Slavery they can have anywhere. It is a weed that grows in every soil. They may have it from Spain, they may have it from Prussia. But until you become lost to all feeling of your true interest and your natural dignity, freedom they can have from none but you. This is the commodity of price, of which you have the monopoly. This is the true Act of Navigation, which binds to you the commerce of the -colonies, and through them secures to you the wealth of the world. Deny them this participation of freedom, and you break that sole bond which originally made, and must still preserve, the unity of the empire. Do not entertain so weak an imagination as that your registers and your bonds, your affidavits and your sufferances, your cockets and your clearances, are what form the great securities of your commerce. Do not dream that your Letters of office, and your instructions, and your suspending clauses are the things that hold together the great contexture of this mysterious whole. These things do not make your government. Dead instruments, passive tools as they are, it is the spirit of the English communion that gives all their life and efficacy to them. It is the spirit of the English constitution which, infused through the mighty mass, pervades, feeds, unites, invigorates, vivffles every part of the empire, even down to the minutest member.

And it seems that history does at least rhyme, because we may have come again to that point.

And so, we find ourselves doing the same things as the founders did, studying the writing of the great philosophers of antiquity as we attempt to discern the way forward. And inevitable after watching the confrontation in the Nevada desert, we gravitate to St. Thomas Aquinas, and his just war theory, in Summa Theologica, he writes of the just causes of war, to wit.

  • First, war must occur for a good and just purpose rather than the pursuit of wealth or power.

  • Second, just war must be waged by a properly instituted authority such as the state.

  • Third, peace must be a central motive even in the midst of violence.

Which is all very well, but leaves us with the conundrum of the “properly instituted authority, such as the state”.

The School of Salamanca expanded on his work in this area thusly:

  • In self-defense, as long as there is a reasonable possibility of success. If failure is a foregone conclusion, then it is just a wasteful spilling of blood.

  • Preventive war against a tyrant who is about to attack.

  • War to punish a guilty enemy.

Which sheds a bit more light, with the introduction the term tyrant.

We often have trouble when arguing in the English-speaking world when we work from sources connected with the Catholic church, for all their learning which is immense and very useful, there is also a dichotomy. The Church is properly called The Roman Catholic Church, and it is no misnomer. That is in no way meant to be a disparagement of the church, but since the empire itself, Roman law has always had the principle that the state is the giver, the top of the pyramid, if you will.

In the English-speaking world, which developed from the old north German tribes (Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and others) who migrated to England after the Roman period and never owed allegiance to the empire we have another model. In our history the government has always been the creation of the people, and the government, the servant of the people. This is the thread of which we have spoken so many times that runs from King Alfred’s Charter to, Magna Charta, on to the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution and the English Bill of Rights, and continued on this side of the Atlantic with the American Revolution (which many see as a reprise of the English Civil War) and finally the Constitution and its attendant Bill of Rights.

That is a very long way of saying that the people are sovereign and may set up their government as they please. And that gives us the properly instituted authority, that Aquinas demands, the people are the highest authority, in our world.

Even the law codes reflect this, in the Roman world we hear such terms as the Justinian Code and the Code Napoleon, which signify law written from scratch by the ruler and imposed on the populace. But in our world we have the Law of the Land, by which we usually mean the Common Law, and it reflects what we have said, instead of being imposed by the ruler, it has been built one case at a time over the centuries, by the people themselves, and their needs.

The clearest manifestation of the difference is in this. In most of Europe it is assumed that you can do most anything if you get the permission of the government. In the UK and even more in America it is assumed you can do anything you please unless it is specifically prohibited by law. It is a very big difference, isn’t it?

That’s all fine and good, but do we have the individual right to resist the government. In some ways that is a question that you have to answer for yourself, but if we go back to St. Augustine we’ll find that while he considered self-defense to be a bit sub-optimal, he did recognize it and further recognized a right to defend the weak and/or defenseless. He recognized that one could be faithful to God and still be a soldier, although it could at times present a decided dichotomy between obedience to God and obedience to the state. In the last analysis, you’re going to have to talk it over with God.

That’s the general background that supported the Revolution, and would have to be satisfied to justify another one. Echoing everyone who ever thought about this Thomas Jefferson said this in the Declaration of Independence:

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security..

So we need to think long and hard before doing anything like that, and make sure we can’t do it peacefully. But of course, it’s not entirely up to us either.“

In our next post, we will analyze the confrontation between Cliven Bundy and the BLM.

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