When fishing around for an excuse to give federal and state bureaucrats a three-day weekend, Congress decided about 50 years ago to combine Lincoln’s (Feb. 12) and Washington’s (Feb. 22) birthdays into one, and … oh, what the heck, just throw in all the other ones, too.
Just from a personal opinion, which will largely be misunderstood, the best presidents have been the ones who meticulously followed the Constitution, that ill-used document that they all swore an oath to uphold – most of them doing so quite poorly.
The list of constitutional presidents is very short indeed, and not being an expert on the detailed tissues of every facet of their tenure as chief executive, there likely are overlooked transgressions even from the best.
John Tyler. Of Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too fame, he became president one month after the Whig Party’s [read: the “more government” party] president, William Harrison died. Not liking the unconstitutional tax-and-tariff-for-industrial-subsidy “American System” program of Henry Clay, Tyler vetoed the Whig’s legislation, and was universally detested. He also lived a very long life, tried to save the Union with compromise after Lincoln’s election, and had to be considered a “traitor” when he linked his fate with his home state of Virginia when it seceded.
You might wonder, why did Tyler, a less-government Jeffersonian Democrat, ever join the Whig Party to begin with? Because he saw Andrew Jackson’s dictatorial tendencies, beginning with his threat to invade the South. Himself a slave-owner and born-and-bred southerner, Jackson was going to enforce tariffs, tariffs that he himself hated, but nevertheless was going to enforce, at the risk of civil war, not in 1861 but in 1832. Van Buren, Jackson’s protégé, kept doing that constitutional deconstruction thing, and Tyler wanted someone or something else in the presidency.
When it turned out to be him, he wasn’t going to blow his chance!
Grover Cleveland was the last of the less-government Democrats.
Andrew Johnson. Himself a pro-union southerner who became Lincoln’s second vice-president, Johnson might be fairly criticized for opposing secession. Yet when he was placed in power after the assassination, Johnson lashed himself to the mast and defended states’ rights against the vicious tyranny of Radical Reconstruction. That he was ineffective and bumbling is not the point. A man who even his opponent’s admired for his raw courage, he did what he felt had to be done to defend his oath.
Grover Cleveland. The last of the less-government Democrats, Cleveland famously said, regarding the use of federal power and money:
“I know of nothing in the Constitution which authorizes expenditures for charitable purposes.”
“Though the people support the government, the government should not support the people.
“Communism is a hateful thing, and a menace to peace and organized government.”
“Whatever you do, TELL THE TRUTH.” And he did, admitting during his first campaign, at the very height of the Victorian Era, that he had fathered an illegitimate child 20 years earlier.
Historians are notoriously always sympathetic towards more and centralizing government power.
He still won.
Calvin Coolidge. Although he unconstitutionally deployed Marines to Nicaragua, ostensibly to stave off communism, he was a complete niggling and parsimonious follower of the Constitution in domestic affairs. Next to Lincoln, Coolidge’s quotes are the most sought-after:
“Restricted immigration is not an offensive but purely a defensive action. It is not adopted in criticism of others in the slightest degree, but solely for the purpose of protecting ourselves. We cast no aspersions on any race or creed, but we must remember that every object of our institutions of society and government will fail unless America be kept American.”
“I am opposed to any general extension of government ownership, and control. I believe not only in advocating economy in public expenditure, but in its practical application and actual accomplishment. I believe in a reduction and reform of taxation, and shall continue my efforts in that direction.”
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“I favor the policy of economy, not because I wish to save money, but because I wish to save people. The men and women of this country who toil are the ones who bear the cost of the government. Every dollar that we carelessly waste means that their life will be so much the more meager. Every dollar that we prudently save means that their life will be so much the more abundant. Economy is idealism in its most practical form.”
“It would not be unjust to ask of every alien: What will you contribute to the common good, once you are admitted through the gates of liberty? Our country must cease to be regarded as a dumping ground.”
This is a short list, and will not be found on any other. Historians are notoriously always sympathetic towards more and centralizing government power. Thus, in part two we will analyze the worst presidents. That list is tiresomely long.
And on this
Presidents’ Dictators’ Day, please consider what the current dictator is doing regarding the World Health Organization and our national sovereignty.
The views expressed here are those of the author.