On March 20, 1854, the Republican Party was born in Wisconsin. The party consisted of an amalgam of parties, business groups and other special interest groups, but was primarily made up of former Whigs and members of the Free Soil Party.
The Whigs believed in protectionism for industry, a national bank and currency, a large national debt and large Federal government engaged in extensive public works. Free Soilers believed in free land and subsidies for farmers. Business leaders wanted a protectionist big government that would keep them free from competition and send them money from the Federal treasury.
Whigs favored the economic platforms of Federalist Alexander Hamilton and former Whig leader Henry Clay. These ideas formed the economic agenda of the new Republican Party. “They advocated protective tariffs for industry, a national bank, and plenty of public works and patronage,” explained the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
The Republican Party nominated its first Presidential candidate for the 1856 election. John C. Fremont won 11 of 16 Northern States. The party’s fortunes were brighter in 1860, though, with the Democratic Party divided over slavery and Southern States threatening secession if Republican candidate and railroad lawyer Abraham Lincoln won the Presidency.
As the historian Bruce Catton wrote in The Civil War, in 1860, Lincoln wanted to be the nominee of the Republican Party — a party that consisted of an amalgam of former members of the defunct Whig Party, Free Soilers (those who believed all new territories should be slave-free), business leaders who wanted a central government that would protect industry and ordinary folk who wanted a homestead act that would provide free farms in the West. “The Republican platform, however, did represent a threat to Southern interests. It embodied the political and economic program of the North — upward revision of the tariff, free farms in the West, railroad subsidies, and all the rest.”
And in his book, The Constitution in Exile, Judge Andrew Napolitano wrote: “For forty years, Clay supported the creation of an American empire through measures such as corporate welfare, (which politicians like to call ‘internal improvements’); today we call them corporate tax breaks, protectionist tariffs, and a nationwide central bank. All the things that Clay favored in essence provided for a highly centralized government. And Lincoln supported them all.”
In the early 1860s, the Republican Party’s flurry of new laws, regulations and bureaucracies created by Lincoln and the Republicans foreshadowed Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” for volume, scope and questionable Constitutionality of its legislation.
The term “New Deal” was only co-opted by Roosevelt. It was first coined to describe Lincoln and the Republican agenda by a Raleigh, N.C., newspaper editor in 1865.
“Lincoln’s massive expansion of the federal government into the economy led Daniel Elazar to claim, ‘ . . . one could easily call Lincoln’s presidency the “New Deal” of the 1860s.’ Republicans established a much larger, more powerful, and more destructive federal government in the 1860s,” Mises explained.
Republican elites try to cast themselves as the party of small government. But during the past 40 years, the party of Lincoln has done much more to grow government than reduce it. Both Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald Ford expanded the Great Society programs of Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1970, Nixon imposed wage and price controls throughout the economy, imposed a tax surcharge on all imports and removed the American dollar from the gold standard: hardly small-government policies.
Nixon’s policies sparked a rise in oil prices and caused the Great Inflation of the 1970s, according to Charles R. Morris, writing in his book, The Trillion Dollar Meltdown.
Morris writes that Nixon was a Keynesian through and through, as were his supposedly conservative cabinet members.
President Ronald Reagan was a believer in limited government, and he took steps to reduce its size. His tax cuts stimulated the economy; but Democrats controlled the House, and he was vilified by them for his efforts to reduce domestic spending while he increased military spending. While he campaigned on balancing the budget, he wasn’t able to accomplish it and deficits soared. His limited-government agenda was hijacked by the Democrats and the Council on Foreign Relations, the members of which dominated his staff.
President George H.W. Bush was elected to continue Reagan’s policies but despite his “Read my lips. No new taxes” pledge, Bush 41 was neither a small-government guy nor a believer in Reagan’s low-tax policies or trickle-down economics. He was a true Republican. He immediately joined the Democrats and raised taxes and grew government.
The second President Bush, George W. (compassionate conservative), was simply a big-government fascist. He expanded the Federal reach into our children’s education with No Child Left Behind, along with Senator Edward Kennedy, expanded entitlement programs like the Medicare Drug benefit and embarked on a war strategy that helped push a teetering economy over the cliff.
More egregious than that was his USA PATRIOT Act — which, among other things, suspended habeas corpus — and other supposed terrorism-fighting provisions that intrude on the liberty and privacy of Americans and codified the expansive spying bureaucracy we only now are learning the depth and scope of. And many Republicans claiming to be conservative went right along.
“I’ve abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system,” Bush 43 said, in classic Bushism fashion, as he pushed his Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).
So those of you who are counting on the Republican Party elites to rein in government have embarked on a fool’s errand. The GOP remains true to its roots, planted 160 years ago, today. A very unhappy birthday to the GOP.