Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The 10 years that changed the path of America

The following is a Position Paper of The Jacksonian Party.

This is not the decade you are thinking of, unless you have been paying very careful attention, and even then the full scope and impact of it have not been felt. A decade where America was involved in War but would not fully fight it, when the President would alter course for future generations, when Congress would accumulate power to itself and remove some from the People. A decade of vibrancy and change, after which the Nation would step into a new world order and try to expunge the thought of war from its mind. This was the decade that would forever change what it meant to be an American and start to alienate the People from its Government.

That decade is the one from 1909-1919.

In 1909 the US had called for an International Opium Conference to start to limit the opium trade. This had been spurred on by American missionaries in the Far East that had seen the social havoc of opium in China and the social decay of it there along with disrupting the counter-insurgency work of the Philippines by the US. The Hague Convention of 1912 would lead to international agreements on limiting or eliminating the opium trade. This Conference would lead to the very first legislation in the US to curb drugs: Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914. This law was the very first in US history in which Congress tried to decide what an individual could or could not ingest in the way of drugs. This was done due to that missionary zeal and the feeling that such drugs were ruining the Nation as a whole. And it is hard to see where opium in cough syrup was a great help to much of anyone, since it hid tuberculosis. The use of it by mothers on children was a problem and should have been restricted by the States. This feeling by the prohibitionists to outlaw such was one that ran strongly religious communities, which saw the overseas use of such drugs and worked to marginalize or eliminate them for use in the US. Still, it was under Treaty obligations that the Harrison Act was promulgated, to uphold the US signing on to the 1912 Hague Convention. The far reaching effects of this are felt to this day with organized crime and Narco-terrorism rife in those areas that grow plants that lead to making narcotics and makes it such a profitable business in the criminal realm to this day. For the first time a social movement to limit the rights of Citizens had gained a foothold in America after the Civil War.

Also started in 1909 was Amendment XVI to the US Constitution that would allow Congress to collect income tax. Prior to that the US used a system of property taxes and tariffs to generate income, but the first was seen as being unwieldy and the movement to income tax was pushed by a view that the wealthy were not paying their share of the burden in the Nation. While it has done that, it has also been broadened to include such things as tips, wagers on bets, and even finding something of value and selling it. All of that now falls within the power first given to Congress once this Amendment was ratified in 1913. Until that point in time taxes were levied via apportionment to the States via the census so that it would fall equally upon all in the Union. Also in this era was the Clayton Antitrust Act that would further limit monopoly power and cover problems with business sales and mergers that would unduly concentrate market power as an extension of the Sherman Antitrust Act. These were aimed at reducing the power of wealthy individuals, but also put power in the hands of Congress to apportion taxation as it saw fit upon income and put limitations on how much market power a business can accumulate. While this may have made collecting taxes 'easier' the question of if such would actually lead to a 'fairer' assessment of taxes is still debated. With the ability of wealthy individuals to get loopholes and tax havens and other means to gain income outside of the income routes, the burden of this has fallen to the working class, by and large, although the wealthiest still do pay the largest amount in taxes. In the modern era the movement back to a more 'flat tax' which removes all loopholes is one that continues to be seen as more fair, even if graduated by income, as it removes the power of lobbyists to unduly influence legislation on behalf of the wealthy.

In 1911 the movement for the direct election of Senators by the public was put into what would become Amendment XVII which would also be ratified in 1913. Here the ill was seen as bribery and corruption at the State level to gain Senate seats, and these problems continued on for decades. Some States ran referenda to elect Senators and the election date was also regularized to that of the General Election. Still, the ability to 'wheel and deal' at the State level to gain Senate seats was seen as a major problem by the majority, and this Amendment was made to allow for direct selection by popular vote. This also changed the balance of power so that both Houses of Congress were now in hands of direct election instead of by dispersing power to the States and the People for the Senate and House respectively. The concentration of power in Washington via those that could win and continue to win these elections changed the turnover rate in the Senate and removed a major role for the States to play in the Federal system of governance. Previously that had been a check on Federal power via the States and a limit to the People so that more moderate voices could be heard in the Senate.

Also in 1911 came Public Law 62-5 which would permanently set the size of the House at 435 members and allow voting portion to float while keeping a set House size. With the enactment of this law in 1913, the modern Congress type would be set and the difficulties of it would take time to manifest. The first and most important of these is that as the population increased, the amount of diversity in the House remained the same. Seats would shift from State to State, instead of having States grow in their number of seats over time. Although gerrymandering or 'non-compact districts' had always been a problem, they were seen as amenable to the fact that more would be created over time. Re-draw the districts every decade and you get a different mix of communities. In a set system, the redraws come at a much lower rate and only happen due to internal shifts in proportion of population, not absolute size. With that comes House seats that become 'safe' election after election and often for decades at a time with a single member for that seat.

Finally, in 1919 would come Amendment XVIII for the Prohibition of Alcohol, and while that would be repealed, it pointed to how far social ills were seen as needing a National remedy instead of via local control. Taken as a whole, these Amendments and Public Law would greatly change the nature of representative democracy within the Republic of the United States and start a major power shift towards Washington. With that would also come the money of wealthy individuals to start influencing this new form of Government and change the outlook of the Federal system itself in that doing. Lobbying this more constant government set-up would entrench power and money over time and give affluence access to the National Government.

Changes were not only happening due to Amendments and in Congress, however, as a major change in the Executive would be brought about in this same era by Woodrow Wilson. And with President Wilson the source of the strain of American political thought that would come to bear his name was started: Wilsonianism. President Wilson would approach the world in an attempt to promulgate American commerce and ideals, in that order. He would also search to bring a re-ordering of Nations so as to avoid the scourge of war, but then have troubles addressing the problems of tyranny.

Staunchly anti-imperialist in outlook and pro-business, Woodrow Wilson would look to try and safeguard both of those during the looming war in the Europe, while trying to keep America out of the war. Running on a Neutrality platform that was isolationist in conception, Wilson won a second term in office as the War dragged on, and increased hitting more neutral shipping and Wilson then turned his decision to supporting the War which his opponent had run on during the campaign. In the previous campaign of 1912, President Wilson had supported the idea of a Jewish homeland in the Middle East, which was a continuation of American evangelical tradition that had been in-place for more than a century. What had changed during that time, however, was the idea of a Christian homeland where the Jews would naturally convert via evangelism to one that would be Zionist in outlook. This too, gained support, although Jews in America, at 1912 were not so much convinced of this. The people who were convinced of it, however, were the British and their outlook and secret treaty to carve up the Ottoman Empire once the war was over to give a homeland, but not Nation to the Jews in the Middle East was presented to President Wilson in 1917.

The plan had been seen by others in the Administration who thought no good could come of it, and President Wilson, himself, when talking to Arthur Balfour, the designer of the Sykes-Picot treaty was that it would be difficult to support something that sounded like a 'brand of tea' . Wilson would characterize this as the 'old diplomacy' of the imperial powers and was aimed at selfish gain for France and Britain. While he would give tacit support of it, and Balfour announce a broadly supportive outline of the British view of a homeland for the Jews in Palestine, the actual treaty was something not accepted 'as-is' by President Wilson. The reason for that is the United States would not declare war on a key German ally: The Ottoman Empire.

This set many aghast in Congress, including ex-President Teddy Roosevelt who decried *not* going to war against an ally of the Kaiser and supporting the Alliance fully. He had experienced the problems of the Ottoman Turks right after their massacre of Armenians and as word filtered out that even worse genocide was taking place Roosevelt and others in Congress were pushing hard for the entirety of those that opposed the United States should be attacked. On the political front it was beyond belief that the US would *not* attack an ally of an enemy that was seen as the 'weak link' . President Wilson put forward that as Turkey had shown no outright hostility towards the US and that the US had much in the way of trade with the Ottoman's, that putting that in danger would be very harmful to the United States. He also worried that US missionaries would then be targeted by the Ottomans in their view of clearing Europeans out of Turkey and the Empire. Also he put forward that the US could not sustain a war in Europe and the Middle East and that the Nation could not expand its military forces fast enough to have an impact in that theater of war. Finally, the start of the US oil industry in the Middle East was demonstrating the ability to generate income from the region and Wilson had hard problems going to war and seeing those resources fall into the hands of the Ottomans completely.

The view of Teddy Roosevelt and others was that if the US did *not* take part as a full partner in war, then the US would have a greatly diminished say in the peace agreements. By being a 'junior partner' unwilling to fully commit to support of Allies in war, the US would be unable to help guide the peace. Out of this conflict would come one of the most noxious of ideas held by the United States to this day: that trade is more important than freedom.

While espousing this as a 'War for Democracy' President Wilson was unable to demonstrate that the US would carry through fully on that intention. As the war ground down to a close, the worse fears of many came slowly forward as the war ended and the US was left espousing ''The Fourteen Points plan', but being unable to demonstrate the resolve to carry through on it. Even worse was that the plan, itself, in an attempt to end warfare as a valid right of Sovereign Nations, was not grounded in this world but in some other where everyone actually *does* want to live peacefully with their neighbor. The preceding century alone should have disabused President Wilson of that, but his boyhood memories of the horror and aftermath of the US Civil War drove him on a quest to end warfare.

While some of 'The Fourteen Points' are laudable, like the Abolition of Secret Treaties and Freedom of the Seas, others that saw Disarmament and attempts to decolonize areas of the world ran head-long into the agreements already forming up by the UK and France. The resulting Versailles Treaty and follow-on Treaties to address the Middle East saw little deviation from the existing UK and French outlooks as the Ottoman Empire was carved up and sections put into semi-colonial 'mandates' under the control and protection of Britain and France. The US was left fighting to support an indigenous Turkish State, a homeland for the Jews and then demurred on taking up any mandate to protect the Armenian people as President Wilson did not think that the people of the US would agree to such a foreign activity.

The final piece that would be entered into this would be the League of Nations, which would attempt to forestall future wars. What President Wilson did not see coming was that this was alien to the United States as it involved the encroachment of National Sovereignty by a foreign body that was not held accountable by any direct or democratic means. Taken as a whole, President Wilson by being unable to be considered a full and equal partner in World War I was unable to push lofty goals after that war and fought for some few gains, such as a better alignment of National boundaries to ethnic ones but that was limited, and large areas of the Middle East and borders drawn that had no recognition of indigenous peoples or their ethnic backgrounds. And immediately after signing such Treaties, Turkey, in particular, started to abrogate them and push for some ethnic enclaves, like the Kurds, to be sub-divided into these new Nations.

What comes from this are some of the major problems that would become hallmarks of US Foreign Policy and a main problem for the US in the late 20th century and into the 21st.

First is 'Realism' in Foreign Policy further aided by the 'Arabist' part of the State Department. This co-joining of commercial interests to foreign policy would push that "stability" and primarily economic stability, was more important in pushing human rights than anything else in the Middle East and globally. This was the intent and goal of President Wilson and it has failed utterly and miserably in this region known as the Middle East and has been the cause to support tyrannical regimes and dictatorships in that region and sacrificing freedom and liberty to this idea that trade will gain liberty and freedom. By keeping everything 'stable' during the Cold War, the outlook was to not rock the boat and hope for the wiles of freedom to work their way into the hearts of people there. This, patently, did *not* happen until the US finally landed a real army in the Middle East with intent to take down a tyrant. The very thing that President Wilson could not think of nor sanction as worthy of doing is the *only* thing that has given any chance for freedom in that region outside of Israel. Those that push Free Trade to free people have gotten the order *wrong* and have forgotten that the US was founded on freedom allowing for the People to have a say on trade so that it could empower them. While it may provide more in the way of material goods, such trade has not stimulated a path to freedom and has, contrarily, made it easier and cheaper for the enemies of liberty to arm against it on a global and dispersed basis. When the 'Realists' could see no end to the USSR and predicted it would be around at least until 2030 if not longer, the entire foundation of 'Realism' vaporized along with the USSR when it collapsed. Those that continue to push for this concept have not addressed the global problems that it has caused nor demonstrated how they will ever get any accountability into the trade process to help secure liberty and freedom.

Second in this is the idea of global organizations being able to remove the capability of Nations to defend themselves via disarmament. While being a very lofty goal, the concept that humanity will not look at any tool as having a capability for harm is misguided in the extreme. Further, so long as there are individuals and groups of same that look to espouse and enforce doctrine and their own oversight on others, the need to be armed for self-defense alone is necessary and right. And as even a shield may bash, so it is difficult to find any defense that cannot be used in an offensive and provocative manner. By trying to entrust this to a larger organization of States, each with their own self-interest, what is developed is the least capable system for assuring liberty and freedom and a system that allows tyrants to befuddle those trusting such systems while they continue to expand their influence via force of arms. A misguided notion is that the League of Nations failed because the US did not join it. The League of Nations had no means or methodology to succeed, and in every case where the US had *no* stake in the goings-on, which was almost all of them, the actual influence of the US would have been, effectively, nil.

The moment a Nation has a stake in anything, then their position changes, and if they have *no* stake then they have no guide for justice nor for ensuring freedom as such a decision would be seen as imposed without input from those involved. And as those involved are the ones usually under the gun, they are the ones to suffer no matter *what* the decision would be. By relying solely on international good will, without any capability to demonstrate reciprocity and assurance that agreements would be adhered to, the League of Nations like the United Nations, fails constantly in its outlook. Such organizations become stumbling blocks to finding solutions and delay solutions so that they are seen as unjust no matter what is decided. This would, ultimately, lead to Transnationalism and the concept that the Nation State has outlived its usefulness

Third, and finally, is the thorough misjudging the character of the American People in wartime. President Wilson, wishing to avoid visiting the horrors of the Civil War on a new generation, did not take into account how the US was already reacting to the massacre and holocaust of the Armenian People in the closing decades of the 19th century. And while a number of religious schools opened in the Middle East, they promulgated a form of Nationalism that would turn into Pan-Arabism. Many of the very same kings and dictators that the US would have to oppose in the middle 20th century were taught at US backed religious schools in the Middle East. That flow of information, while still having a great rose colored tint to it due to religion, was bringing home the fact that the oppression of peoples in that region was ongoing and deep. The lack of freedom and liberty was highly apparent throughout the Ottoman Empire and some of its break-away components. The disgust that the American People had for the Kaiser was also reflected upon the Ottoman Empire which was seen as a key ally to Germany. Even after seeing the horrific cost paid by Australia and others to try and invade, Congress *still* pushed for going to war against Turkey, but bowed in this Foreign Policy arena to the President. By not showing the full will to fight *for* liberty and democracy, President Wilson was asking for a half-loaf from America when America was learning that the time to set things right that it had seen as wrong was arriving. The US Armed Forces increased eightfold in under one year and proved to be an aggressive fighting force in the trenches of France and prepared to die in thousands there to help remove the grasp of a tyrant. To do so in the Middle East would have required more resources, but at the end of the war the US was left with an Army with 1 million men in it which pretty much stood the Nation alone in the world at that point in time. The fast and poor demobilization of that Army would lead to more unrest at home in following decades, but to have that sort of capability left demonstrated that America had the will and fighting power to take on much more than just the European theater of war.

By 1919 the United States would see more personal rights removed than had previously been the case all the way up to 1909, a burgeoning economy which was growing larger than any of the remaining world powers, a Congress slowly sliding into an arthritic grasp that would not change much year on year, see the groundwork for the Second World War be built upon, and after that see the slow removal of Nation State legitimacy via those that pushed that no war is worth fighting, that no tyranny is worth opposing and that free trade will free people. When combined, these things have given us a tyrannical brew that is slowly grinding down liberty and freedom at home and abroad and disenfranchising the American People from their Government as that Government drifts more into the hands of permanent power that does not care about party affiliations, just the continuance of those people and families in power.

World War I was, indeed a bad war. It was poorly fought and when the US entered into fighting it did not stand by her ideals. America fought to not lose the war, not win it and the peace thereafter. And that un-lost war remains at the root of much of our modern problems as they stem from there and get nourishment from that vile mass that marks the first genocide of the 20th century. Leaving it un-lost would encourage many more and worse ones to follow. That can either be stopped by discontinuing the things that allow this, or continue on the path we are on which will end in global genocide bought cheaply by the enemies of human liberty.


Reliapundit said...


many thoughts....

here's one: what if the uk and the usa had enforced versailles instead of turning the other way?

then: no ww2. no nazism. we can go after stalin in 1940.

also: i agree that the income tax and limiting the size of the House in congress to 435 were bad.

we can change them both.

the latter would be GREAT.,

we can add 100 seats.

all open - in their first contest.

apportioned to the sates based on the census.

this would improve the electoral college.


i will bookmareozmrik and reread this essay and think on it.

thanks for sharing it.

A Jacksonian said...

My pleasure, and thank you!

If you want historical speculation/analysis and the chilling prospects of that, then you want my History is not inevitable. As an SF reader and one who looks at history in a few different ways, the idea of contingent history is one we must learn and hard. We have been lucky, and the best luck is that we make ourselves by not letting history sweep us along with it, but by taking active direction as a Nation.

We no longer do that and the results are chilling... history now repeats itself and democracy is no safe haven from non-participation. Just the opposite, in fact.