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Haupt’s Commentary: Federalism was not our Predetermined Destiny

“All of us need to be reminded that the federal government did not create the states; the states created the federal government.” -Ronald Reagan

Although we tribute the roots of today’s “big government” to the seedlings that FDR fertilized during the New Deal; he only “fast tracked” what had begun years before. And since “It’s a very bad habit to put off disagreeable things,” (L. Montgomery) we have avoided facing this reality for decades.

Free men of character throughout history have always had a problem with too much centralization of government and totalitarian authority. The never ending question has been how do we reconcile freedom with order?

shutterstock_174496697After the American Revolution the only compromising solution to this tension between freedom and disobedience seemed to be “federalism.” Commingling these two antipodal dichotomies could possibly create a manageable society.

Therefore, the untrusting, spirited, free thinking colonies, eager to reestablish some kind of mutual good conduct, reluctantly accepted this quizzical compromise. And some 200 plus years later, their pessimism seemed to be well founded. “We can’t be so fixated on our desire to preserve the rights of ordinary Americans.” (Bill Clinton)

After the Federalists and Anti-Federalists were done with their bellicose “sparring” they took off their gloves and declared a truce. Then they sat down at ringside and proceeded to divide up our rights and privileges for us. And, what started out as an acceptable solution to an age old problem seemed quite equitable at the time.

Both the individual and society would profit if they were protected by some specific limited central guidelines for self discipline. But, they were soon to learn that this would be about as easy to manage as a “pre-arranged marriage” to end a conflict between two royal families.

War does not end with a simple handshake, a kiss or a romantic interlude. And “Arranged marriage is like a blind date except that date is supposed to last for a lifetime.” (Oswald)

Although the Tenth Amendment clearly defined the division of powers in the US and designated specific and limited authority to the Feds we were soon to learn that was easier said then done with a growing federal government.

And this started right after the first Electoral College convened. Most state legislatures picked their electors and the framers figured no candidate would ever get a majority of the vote. That would permit the House of Representatives to pick their president. But that backfired.

“It is a great act of cleverness to be able to conceal one’s being clever.” -François La Rochefoucauld

By 1828, with the election of Andrew Jackson, popular voting for electors along with the party system was firmly entrenched. And since, “Political parties, overanxious for vote catching, become tolerant to intolerant groups,” (Wendell Willkie) most all victorious candidates owed their allegiance to their parties, not “we the people.”

shutterstock_21641008Probably the biggest event that fanned the flames of Federalism was the Civil War. It laid the groundwork for special interest groups. Veteran pensions and benefits totaled $1,548 million in today’s dollars.

Naturally the White House was obligated to compensate all Union veterans for their patriotism. “But, we know that no good deed goes unpunished.” Shrewd special interest groups keenly looked upon this as an opportunity to garner future handouts.

No, they were not entitled to anything, but they figured if they made enough noise at the right time reciprocity would follow.

Each election special interest groups lobbied candidates for regulatory benefits. The Interstate Commerce Commission in 1887 and the Sherman Antitrust Act in 1890 quickly followed.

And this was just the beginning. The Progressive Era was fully vested by the turn of the century. The Food and Drug Administration came to fruition in 1906, the Federal Reserve in 1913, and the Federal Trade Commission in 1914 quickly followed.

Our government was now obviously more concerned about protecting our personal economic interests than our liberty. As we traded more of our freedoms for favors we surrendered more rights!

“Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.” -John Adams

Woodrow Wilson became the “king” of the Progressive Era and New Federalism on his very first day in office when he stated: “I plan to transform America”! (Does that sound familiar?) During World War I “New Federalism” accelerated faster than an Indy drag racer! The Feds regulated fuel, railroads, shipping, food, agriculture, and eventually the entire economy.

And as the top income tax bracket rose to 77% in 1920, Warren G. Harding was easily elected on the manta of a “return to normalcy.” But it only took a brief hiatus. It resumed under Coolidge with the passage of the 18th Amendment which made us superficially a “dry” country; unless you were priest, a rabbi, a doctor or visited a “sleazy speakeasy.”

speak easySince, “Prohibition is the trigger of crime,” (Ian Fleming) this was a tremendous opportunity for the Bureau of Internal Revenue to grow with reckless abandonment!

Our first banks were only government incorporated until 1836. But after the war, most of them had lost huge sums of money. Not learning anything from their past mistakes, they doubled down and started the War Finance Corporation, The Federal Land Bank, Spruce Production Corporation, and Sugar Equalization Boards.

In 1923 the Federal Agricultural Credits Act brought us 12 federally owned banks. In 1924 the Inland Waterways Corporation and in 1929 the Federal Farm Boards were created. And this was primarily to satisfy the lobbying efforts of special interest groups. “Ten people who speak make more noise than ten thousand who are silent.” (Napoleon Bonaparte)

Congress passed tariffs on farm imports in 1921, and the Capper-Volstead Act was enacted to exempt them from antitrust laws. In 1923, The Agricultural Credits Act subsidized their loans. By 1930 the Department of Agriculture had established federal price supports for agricultural products.

And all of this damage was done before the New Deal in 1933! And Federalism was here to stay!

“You pray for rain, you gotta deal with the mud too. That’s a part of it.” -Denzel Washington

Yes, FDR’s New Deal was one of the pivotal events that helped usher in America’s current federal Leviathan, but it was well established decades before. FDR just poured gasoline on the fire. And following administrations just took over where he left off!

Major events transpired such as the Civil War, terrorist attacks, The Great Wars, and natural disasters, that gave them impetus to monitor or restrict our liberty, but it was our ever increasing appetite for more government involvement in our lives that encouraged them to over legislate us into subservience!

shutterstock_157520087We gave them permission to expand because of our extortionate demands. “It was not curiosity that killed the goose who laid the golden egg, but an insatiable greed that devoured common sense.” (E.A. Bucchianeri)

The federal government was not destined to become a giant controlling conglomerate since its inception. “Caveat Emptor” is prudent counsel for a buyer, not a moral guideline for a seller.

The Anti-Federalists warned us. They knew, “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” (Edward Abbey)

It took years to assemble this Frankenstein, and it will take decades to undo its damage. And, “All effective actions require the passport of morality,” because, “The greatest enemy of individual freedom is the individual himself.” (Saul Alinsky)

We can do better. We are still the land of opportunity. As Alexis de Tocqueville said, “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”

William Haupt III

William Haupt III is a retired professional journalist, citizen legislator in California for 40 plus years, and author. He got his start working to approve prop 13.

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