I need your help.
I am writing a high school textbook in American history. As I research the nation’s history, I keep coming across bad guys. The trouble is, most of them are widely regarded as good guys.
It is very difficult to tell the story of America to teenagers when you have to point out that most of the men on white horses actually rode brown horses with whitewash.
I am thinking of writing a supplemental book on the worst of the bad guys. Murray Rothbard always called these people monsters. He had a long list of them.
I want to focus on the worst ones. Do you have any favorites?
Here is my methodology. I ask: “How would America be better off today if these people had sold insurance instead?” This is known as as if historiography. It is hypothetical.
Sadly, the legacies that these people left behind are anything but hypothetical.
PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER ONE
I decided long ago who the worst person was. You have no possibility of persuading me otherwise. My mind is made up. Here are the criteria. The person must have been the following:
Self-consciousDedicatedConspiratorialAgenda-drivenSuccessful in achieving this agendaDestructive on an unprecedented scaleEconomical: more bang for the buckOther people’s moneyStill revered by liberal intellectuals
Think about this. Who would your choice be? Don’t be too hasty. Give this some thought. See if you can find someone worse.
He was a known murderer who got away with it. He was lauded by the media despite these murders, mainly because he went on another bloody rampage. He was presented by the media as a hero.
He was funded by an intellectual elite: other people’s money.
His agenda was to start a revolution that would bathe the nation in blood, which he saw as redemptive.
He pulled it off, almost (but not quite) singlehandedly.
Liberal intellectuals still regard this destruction as redemptive, and acknowledge that he was the prime mover.
John Brown, the hero of Pottawatomie Creek.
I rest my case.
WELL DONE, MR. PRESIDENT
When it comes to inflicting devastation, a wartime President is always a tough act to follow. I can think of only one man ever to achieve this feat: Harry Truman. Not only did he follow a wartime President, he started another war of his very own. Even more impressive, he didn’t call it a war, so Congress never voted for it, and now no President asks Congress to declare war. Also, he never gets much credit for the fact that the Korean War has not ended. There was no peace treaty, only a cease-fire, so tens of thousands of American troops are still stationed there, ready for the next battle. Finally, he gave us the national security state domestically as a kind of bonus package. (“Order now, and we’ll send you an extra. . . .”) Yes, Harry Truman was a tough act to follow.
Abraham Lincoln was John Brown’s dream come true. They were a team. Without Brown’s 1859 raid, Lincoln might not have been elected, for he seemed to be a moderate in the North in 1860 and a Jacobin in the South — the perfect candidate for old Brown.
Then there are the usual suspects: Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson. All of them ran on peace platforms and then took the country into a war. All of them ran up the national debt, although FDR put the other two to shame in this regard. All of them centralized the economy. Johnson, while not heralded as a redeemer by the media, is still presented as a man who got good things accomplished, all things considered. Basically, he is praised with faint damns.
THE SUNSHINE BOYS
Of course, none of this would have been possible had it not been for the stand-up team of Madison and Hamilton.
Madison ran the most successful conspiratorial coup in history, for the heirs of the victims still do not perceive that it was a coup. I have written a book on this, Conspiracy in Philadelphia. In this regard, he is unrivaled. Had it not been for him, America would still be a confederation of states. Washington D.C. might still belong to the Gore family. All of Virginia might still be dominated by the Byrd family, rather than just the western section.
This is not to say Madison was all bark and no bite. He got us into the War in 1812. Yet he gets little credit for this from historians, who regard the War of 1812 as an unnecessary war. It was more of a national embarrassment than a national catastrophe. So, Madison fails the media’s “Go and do thou likewise” test. To say that it was an unnecessary war is not doing it justice. It was quite necessary, given the fact that Madison had failed in 1811 to get Congress to renew the charter for the Hamilton-created, privately owned, Federal monopoly known as the Bank of the United States.
Stephen Girard of Philadelphia, the richest man in the country, saw what had to be done. He bought the Bank’s assets and changed its name to the Bank of Stephen Girard. Then he waited for his next opportunity. He soon got it: the War of 1812.
The national debt rose so high so fast that Girard personally funded 95% of the 1814 war loan. The payoff for this was that Madison made Girard’s lawyer, Alexander Dallas, the Secretary of the Treasury, who then wrote the charter for the Second Bank of the United States. Madison sold this project to Congress, along with a big hike in tariffs, so as to pay off the debt owed to Girard. Both laws passed in the same month (April, 1816). This made sure that Girard would be repaid on time and at face value. He then bought controlling interest in the Bank. In October, Dallas resigned and went back to Philadelphia. Mission accomplished. But historians are unaware of all this, so Madison is not praised for any of it. Nice try, Jimmy, but no cigar.
Hamilton is a very hot commodity these days in the market for books on the Founding Fathers. Biographies of him abound. Most important, Ron Chernow wrote one, which makes Hamilton media-worthy. He has also written books on John D. Rockefeller, Sr., the Warburgs, and the House of Morgan.
Hamilton lied repeatedly about the Constitution in The Federalist, downplaying its centralization potential. He always knew what the new government could do, and as Secretary of the Treasury, he helped to do it.
He turned the national government into a banker’s dream come true. First, he consolidated state debts in order to get political support for a larger central government. Then he gave us our first central bank. Had it not been for foul-up Jimmy, who failed to persuade Congress in 1811 to re-charter it, it would have survived until Jackson’s era, and maybe beyond.
Hamilton had big plans. He needed a big government to achieve them. This is why he is so beloved (Rothbard’s beloved word) today.
What would America be today without John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and the various Rockefeller foundations? Better off.
Teddy Roosevelt never got us into a war, although he did his best to humiliate Woodrow Wilson into taking us into World War I. He surely incarnated the Progressive movement. He was a poster boy for big government as no other President had been before him.
Then there was Horace Mann, who ran the newly created public school system in Massachusetts in the 1840’s. He set the pattern for all of his successors: a defender of the redemptive power of tax-funded education.
So many scoundrels. So little time.
Send me your suggestions. There’s always room for one more.
Gary North [send him mail] is the author of Mises on Money. Visit http://www.garynorth.com. He is also the author of a free 19-volume series, An Economic Commentary on the Bible.
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