Search This Blog

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Three Indispensable Presidents

Three Indispensable Presidents
Among the United States’ 44 presidents, there have been some good ones and some bad ones.  But, I believe there have only been three indispensable Presidents.

The first, of course, was George Washington, who after leading the Revolutionary Army to victory had the most difficult job of all, leading a new nation in a new system of governance.  Just a few missteps by Washington could have sent the nation off track and careening into despotism.  It’s difficult to imagine being in a position of leadership of an entirely new type of government of a brand new nation.  Everything Washington did set a precedent for those that followed him in the presidency, for good or bad.  

Perhaps the greatest challenge and feat of all that Washington did was setting aside his power and choosing not to run after his first two terms.  When his former enemy, King George III, heard that Washington intended to voluntarily step down as President, he said to the painter, Benjamin West, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”  Washington was thereafter often characterized as Cincinnatus, the famous Roman dictator who served Rome in a time of crisis from 458 BC to 432 BC and then, when the crisis had passed, set aside his power and stepped down as Roman dictator.  Indeed, George Washington was elected the first President General of the Cincinnatus Society in 1783 and served until his death in 1799.  The Cincinnatus Society exists until this day and maintains offices in Washington, D.C.  George Washington was the indispensible President of the 18th Century.

The second indispensable President was Abraham Lincoln, who ended the horrible scourge of slavery in the United States and saved the Union.  Lincoln was a man of steadfast character and unwavering principle.  As a man of strong Christian convictions, he sought freedom for slaves for moral reasons and because he knew that slavery was incompatible with the principles of individual freedom upon which the nation had been founded.  He knew that to continue slavery would have made a mockery of the Declaration of Independence itself, which contains these words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”  Abraham Lincoln was the indispensible President of the 19th Century.

The third indispensable President was Ronald Reagan, who was elected at a time of great financial and international crisis.  But the real crisis which Reagan faced was the growing threat to the very principles of a Republican form of limited government that is the foundation of a free society.  America and Americans had lost their way.  Beginning with the election of Woodrow Wilson in 1912, a new anti-Founders philosophy had taken root in America.  It was a rejection of the concept of limited government replaced by a belief in bigger and stronger and more centralized government that personified the Wilson presidency.  Wilson expanded government’s power dramatically by persuading Congress to pass a Constitutional Amendment saddling the American with the income tax.  This one step alone put massive amounts of money in and thus shifted a massive amount of power to the federal government.  The income tax was central to the creation of a powerful, centralized government.  

Wilson continued his attack on the federal system by urging Congress to repeal the 17th Amendment and replacing it with the direct election of US Senators.  This step dramatically weakened the power of the individual states and once again added to the power of the federal government.  Under Wilson’s leadership, the Federal Reserve System was created.  The Fed, as it is known, is essentially a national bank which had and has the power to arbitrarily regulate the supply of money.  

The “Progressive” attack on the principles of the Founders was renewed with a vengeance under Franklin D. Roosevelt who further expanded the central government, giving it more power and control over the lives of everyday Americans.  Wilson and Roosevelt saw government as the solution to America’s social ills, not the danger that our Founders understood.  Roosevelt even tried to stack the Supreme Court by adding more members just to get his way.  It was an expression of his contempt for the rule of law.  The same kind of contempt we see today as liberals mock and scoff at the meaning of the words of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.
Roosevelt was no Washington.  He wanted to be President for life and he was.  He flaunted the Cincinnatus example of Washington, running for President four times.  The “Progressive/Liberal” wave of attack on limited Constitutional government continued under Harry Truman with his Fair Deal and Lyndon Johnson with his Great Society that created a permanent black underclass in America, kicking the ladder of opportunity right out from under the people he thought he was helping.  Jimmy Carter was another progressive/liberal in the mold of Wilson and Roosevelt, and his disdain for the principles of the Founders was combined with a stumbling ineptitude.  All these Presidents sought and succeeded in expanding the role of government, and their Republican counterparts interspersed between their terms were only marginally better.  The toll on individual freedom was immense.  This rejection of Founding principles continued unabated until the election of Ronald Wilson Reagan. 

Washington was critical to the founding of our nation, Lincoln re-affirmed Founding principles, and Reagan, in turn, championed those principles.  That is what made these three presidents indispensable to our nation.  All three are classical liberals in the sense that they understood the greatest threat to human freedom is the concentration of power in the hands of a few.  In Federalist paper 51 James Madison wrote,

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary.  If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.  In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.  A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”  

What James Madison and the other Founders, along with Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan understood is that men are not angels.  They understood the Christian concept that men are imperfect, and sinful by nature.  Men and women have to be constrained from following their baser instincts.  They will either be constrained by their fear and love of God or they will be constrained by growing, more powerful government.

Washington, Lincoln, and Reagan were Christian men who understood that a big, all powerful government is the greatest threat to human freedom that exists in the world. 

I am thankful that during my lifetime I lived when America was blessed by an indispensable President, Ronald Wilson Reagan.  He wasn’t perfect, he was sinful just like you and me, but because he believed in someone who was perfect and because he understood the danger posed by the frailty of human nature, he helped to get our nation back on course.  Even though he faced powerful political opposition he successfully led our nation from the brink of financial collapse to new heights of prosperity.  He defeated the Soviet Union by being the first President who executed a plan to bring down that evil, totalitarian state.  And he made Americans once again proud to be Americans.  Ronald Reagan was the indispensible President of the 20th Century.

Ronald Reagan was a President for the ages.  I salute him on his 100th birthday and look toward the next indispensable President who will take the reins of government and re-establish the Founders’ principles of limited, Constitutional government in the 21st Century.  It is only by clinging to those principles that my children and my grandchildren will live in freedom as did those who came before me.  May God continue to bless the United States of America!

No comments:

Post a Comment