The concept of Progressive-Liberal vs Conservative in our historical context and popular knowledge has been one of sharp contrasts and distinctions. Progressives have been seen and described as the defenders of free thinking, individual rights and open to exciting fresh ideas. Conservatives are depicted as stodgy old, backwards thinking men, who want to stifle thought and free speech and want to take away our individual liberties. Conservatives want to stop open debate and freedom in favor of some old-fashioned ideal world that never really existed. These are the beliefs taught in schools, written in books, and depicted in movies, T.V. and news shows. Are these depictions historically accurate and focused on the right group?
The issues are whether this popular belief is based upon reality and facts and whether it is possible that the facts show the reverse to be true?
The historical facts can be discomforting for some and enlightening for others. Lets us first establish what some acts of power are wrong, evil or dangerous:
1. The Forced Government imposition of itself on free men to speak against the government.
2. The taking of freedom to move and to live in one’s home.
3. The labeling of one as a danger to the Country because of one’s color or national origin.
4. Making one a felon by ex post facto declaration.
5. The taking of one’s property without due process of law.
6. classification of entire peoples as “undesirables” and socially engineering them out of existence.
The above points, one would argue, are antithetical to our notion of a Constitutional Republic and laws and would be universally agreed to be wrong and detrimental to a free society. One would hope that the above points would be condemned by all factions of American democracy.
In forming a fair and factual comparison of Progressives and Conservatives and how they truly acted and believed in history and fact, we must consider the above points and find which of the two have actually been in favor of any of the above points.
Woodrow Wilson, has been seen by historians and political scientists as the prime moving giant of Progressive thought and the Progressive movement. His position in our history is seen as the “great thinking President” who has very little negative ever written about him. Yet, the truth shows that his positions and beliefs may not be very conducive to a free thinking person.
Wilson was an outspoken critic and foe to the Founding Fathers and the concept of the Constitutional interpretation. He despised the “original intent” basis for interpreting our constitutional rights ( as do most Progressives ) and believed that our constitutional rights evolved according to the times.ie. The particular generation could change each and every right as they so desired, if they wanted. Wilson argued that liberty could not be permanently defined. Liberty must take its meaning from the historical spirit in which it operates, so as history moves forward, the definition of liberty must move accordingly. ( Woodrow Wilson, “Constitutional Government in the United States, 3 ( New York; Columbia University Press, 1908).
Wilson stated that ” liberty is not something that can be laid away in a document, a completed work. It is an organic principle, a principle of life, renewing and being renewed. Democratic institutions are never done-they are , like the living tissue, always a-making. ( Ronald J. Prestritto, “Woodrow Wilson Roots of Modern Liberalism” p. 54( Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2005) citing, ”Commemorative Address PWW 6:180) ) Wilson argued that the Declaration of Independence language which refered to the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” was meant to be understood practically and not theoretically. Wilson said that the Declaration of Independence was a ” …highly theoretical document, but except for its assertion that all men are created equal, it is not. It is intensely practical, even upon the question of liberty…it expressly leaves to each generation of men the determination of what they will do with their lives, what they will prefer as the form and object of their liberty.” ( Wilson, “constitutional Government supra. )
Wilson was changing the concept of freedom from one which was absolute and ascertainable to one that changed with the changing times and political powers. Wilson was changing the way we conceived of what was to be a freedom and what could be restricted. It would no longer be a fixed point in our horizon. ” Political liberty is the right of those who are governed to adjust government to their own needs and interests”. ( Wilson, Constitutional Government, 4 supra. ). Thus, under Wilson’s view, a Stalinist view of freedom, where the State’s freedom over the individual is just as legitimate as one where individual rights take precedence and is equally as valid. If a majority so desired, ( under Wilson’s reasoning) free elections could be redefined in the Communist vein to mean that the people’s party is the only party that can exist and no other, and still be consistent with the Constitution that can always change.
Wilson declared that, ” We are not bound to adhere to the doctrines held by the signers of the Declaration of Independence: we are as free as they were to make and unmake governments. We are not here to worship men or a document. But neither are we here to indulge in a mere rhetorical and uncritical eulogy. Every Fourth of July should be a time for examining our standards , our purposes, for determining afresh what principles, what forms of power we think most likely to effect our safety and happiness. This and that alone is the obligation the Declaration lays upon us” ( Wilson, ” Authors and Signers of the Declaration of Independence”, July 4, 1907 in Papers of Woodrow Wilson, 69 volumes, ( Princeton University Press, 1966-1993, 17:251 )
Wilson was pushing for the declared rights of the State to the individual over the concept of Natural Rights which no government could give or take away from the individual. This reasoning would lead to an acceptance of the idea of equality as described in Pravda, ” The idea of equality is not an unshakable eternal truth. It was born of certain social relationships. Its contents changes with changes in the latter. The sense of the demand for equality lies only in the abolition of inequality. With the disappearance of inequality, the contents of the demand for equality are lost. That is why Engels, explaining that the real contents of the demand for equality consists in the liquidation of classes, added: ‘ All demands for equality going further than this inevitably lead to absurdities’. ” ( Socialism and Equality, Pravda, December 29, 1936 ).
Progressiveness for Wilson, was also a matter of racial superiority, as well as State created rights. Wilson believed that certain races had been “progressive” and that all governments must have had their historical foundations in the beginnings of these ” progressive races”. Wilson traced the roots of modern government to the development of three races over others. The superior races have a modern spirit and thus, the best form of government for them is modern democracy, while inferior races are mired back in the process of history-thus the inferior races were a perfect match for autocracies. The more advanced races, by virtue of their historical superiority, deserve a more advanced government. ( Wilson, ” The State” ( Boston : DC Heath, 1889) 2-3 and “Study in Politics” Papers of Woodrow Wilson [PWW] 7: 280-81) ). Wilson believed that the Black man should not be given power to run government because he was just too ignorant. Wilson opposed the political power of blacks in the South as ” leading to the prevalence of carpetbagging, which was having a deleterious effect upon southern economy. ( Wilson, “Stray Thoughts from the South”, February 22, 1881, in PWW 2: 19-29) ) For Wilson, there were “stagnated nationalities”, races or people s who have not come into conflict with their superiors and consequently have not progressed beyond the primitive stage of development.
( Wilson, ” The State”, 24, supra. ) . For Wilson, the best thing that could happen to the inferior races was to be defeated and assimilated by their historical superiors. ( Ronald Pestrito, ” Woodrow Wilson, Roots of Modern Liberalism” p. 44, supra. )
Wilson’s racial purity beliefs were echoed by another prominent Progressive at the time, and creator of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, who refered to immigrants and indigents in society as ” human weeds, reckless breeders, spawning human beings who never should have been born.” ( Margaret Sanger, ” Pivot of Civilization”) Sanger’s motive for birth control over the black population and for racial purification was to be kept out of the public knowledge by intent; she wrote, ” We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population…if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members”. ( Linda Gordon, ” Woman’s Body, Woman’s Right: A Social history of Birth Control in America” quoting Margaret Sanger). In a world where rights can change according to an evolution of the society, Margaret Sanger’s vision of racial and ethnic control is perfectly legal and constitutional. The Bill of Rights is fluid under the Wilsonian, Progressive interpretation.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, the self-appointed and most respected leader of the Progressive liberals declared, ” …it is my sworn duty, as President, to take all steps necessary to insure the continuance of liberalism in our government. I believe, at the same time, that it is my duty as head of the Democratic Party to see to it that my party remains the truly liberal party in the political life of America.” ( FDR 1941, quoted in the Politically Incorrect Guide to the Presidents, p. 116 )
Franklin D. Roosevelt, the leader of the Progressive movement, has escaped a critical review from historians and his actual acts while in office don’t conform to the popular notions of “liberalism”. In Roosevelt’s first week in office, he closed the nation’s banks and then ordered the end to exporting of gold by financial institutions. He had Congress pass the Emergency Banking Act of 1933, and Roosevelt dictated that Americans exchange their gold for paper money. He also voided all existing contracts ( ex post facto) which required the payment of goods and services in gold . Next, Roosevelt entered an Executive order, Order 6102 ( April 5, 1933) making it a crime punishable by 10 years imprisonment, to fail to surrender all personally held gold by all citizens. Gold would be exchanged for paper. ( Jim Powell, ” FDR’s Folly: How Roosevelt and His New Deal Prolonged the Great Depression ( New York: Crown Forum, 2003) p.65-74).
In 1934, in Roosevelt’s’ State of the Union Address, Roosevelt defended the confiscation of gold as necessary to stabilize the dollar. His actions had made the dollar so unstable that John Maynard Keynes compared the fluctuating dollar to watching a ” gold standard on the booze” . Next, Congress gave Roosevelt the Gold Reserve Act, which allowed him to fix the price of gold at $35 per ounce, and since the federal government now had over 190 million ounces of confiscated gold purchased for well under the $35 price, Roosevelt had forced a profit at the expense of the private property owners at the point of federal imprisonment. ( Burton Folsom, Jr. New Deal or Raw Deal, (Threshold Editions, New York, 2008) p 104-107 )
With an executive order, a sitting president had declared private ownership of a property to be a crime, had applied the illegality ex post facto law and imposed federal power on a door to door level to each and every person holding gold. It is interesting that this event in history is almost completely forgotten and ignored by the media and historians.
Then, a progressive president instituted a program around the country which dictated to every single small shop owner, every business and commercial establishment that they now had to comply with a central committee’s determination of what each, supposedly free and independent, private property owner could do with his own property and business. A federal committee now could demand that each business comply with its committee set prices for the products, sold by the businesses, owned by businesses and, in many cases, manufactured by them. Violators were fined and imprisoned for failing to comply. People actually went to jail, in the United States, for choosing to price their goods at a cheaper rate than their competitors.
As a philosophical policy justifying why Roosevelt was using the Government to impose its will on the free market through Central Planning, he stated, ” A mere builder of more industrial plants, a creator of more railroad systems, an organizer of more corporations, is as likely to be a danger as a help. Our Task is not…necessarily producing more goods. It is the soberer, less dramatic business of administering resources and plants already in hand”. ( Franklin D. Roosevelt, Quoted in Harold L. Cole and Lee Ohanian, “New Deal Policies and the Persistence of the Great Depression: A General Equilibrium Analysis.” 4). Roosevelt was clearly declaring a disregard for the private right to property and one’s constitutional right to be free from unlawful taking without compensation and due process. The FDR administration would continue a barrage of administrative attacks on the free market and individual liberties.
In New Jersey, Jacob Maged, a dry cleaner, had been pressing pants of 22 years and had been known for his low prices and quality work. He was able to compete against the larger, fancier shops in the City. All this changed when the National Recovery Administration ( NRA ) took over and began to literally dictate to small shops, like Maged’s, with their NRA Cleaners and Dryer’s Code. The NRA demanded that suit pressing be charged at .40 cents and Maged continued to charge his customers .35 cents. Maged protested that, ” You can’t tell me how to run my own business, ” and was threatened with jail. Maged continued to exercise what he believed to be his American right to free contract and free determination of his own property and labor. He was wrong. Maged was arrested and hit with a $100,000 fine. After throwing Maged in jail, NRA director, Abraham Traube, boasted that ” if we do the same in New York City we would soon get the whole industry in line”. ( Burton Folson, Jr. , ” New Deal or Raw Deal?” How FDR’s Legacy Has Damaged America ( New York: Threshold Editions, 2008) p. 55)).
There was also Carl Pharis, owner of a tire manufacturing company that employed 1000 people in Ohio. Pharis could not compete with Firestone and Goodyear and others and had regional distribution of his tires. He ” made the best possible rubber tire and sells it at the lowest price consistent with a modest but safe profit.” However, the NRA, which had close ties to the big manufactures, made Pharis and his business model illegal. Pharis explained: ” the Government deliberately raised our prices up towards the prices at which the big companies wanted to sell, at which they could make a profit…where more easily, with much less loss, they could come down and ‘get us’ and where, bound by NRA decrees, we could not use lower prices, although we could have lowered them and still made a decent profit”. ( Ibid, supra at 50-51).
The most egregious attack by the Progressives came to the Schechter brothers who were chicken butchers in Brooklyn New York. The NRA, using the Code of Fair Competition for the Live Poultry Industry of the Metropolitan Area declared a prohibition of the “straight killing ( defined as, killing on the basis of official grade) . The rule meant that customers might select a coop or half coop of chickens for purchase, but they did not have the right to make selections of a particular bird. ( Amity Shlaes, ” The Forgotten Man: A new History of The Great Depression”, ( New York: Harper Collins, 2007) p. 217 )).
The Schechters were charged with selling unfit chickens that had an egg still within it ( a fact that no butcher could reasonably see ). For this crime, the brothers were hit with a fine equivalent to $100,000 in today’s prices, and were sentenced to THREE months in jail. ( Ibid ) The New York TImes heralded the NRA victory over the brothers as ” A sweeping victory of immense importance”. ( ibid. p 224). A sweeping victory for what? Certainly not the Bill of Rights or the individual right to enter into a contract, for private ownership or for due process, since there had been no clear and unambiguous law to violate.
The enforcement of the rules and codes by the NRA became as frightening as some storm troopers of Germany. One scholar described the NRA as ” storm Troopers”, ” The NRA was discovering it could not enforce its rules. Black markets flourished. Only the most violent police methods could procure enforcement . In Sidney Hillman’s garment industry the code authority employed enforcement police which roamed through the garment district like storm troopers. They could enter a man’s factory, send him out, line up his employees, subject them to minute interrogation, take over his books without notice. Night work was forbidden and flying squadrons of these private coat and suit police went through the district at night, battering down doors with axes looking for men who were committing the crime of sewing together a pair of pants at night. ( John T. Flynn, “Great Myths of the Great Depression”, Larry Reed ( Mackinac Center for Public Policy, 1998 )
The Schechter case made it to the United States Supreme Court where the Court held that ” Extraordinary conditions do not create or enlarge constitutional power” , the NRA had abused the Schechters and other businesses, through unconstitutional “coercive exercise of law making power. The case was unanimously for the Schechters and against the Government. ( Amity Shlaes, “The Forgotten Man”, ( Harper Collins, 2007) p. 242 ). Justice Brandeis later told the attorneys for the President, ” This is the end of this business of centralization, and I want you to go back and tell the president that we’re not going to let this government centralize everything. Its come to an end” . ( Ibid., p. 243 ) Roosevelt chastised the Court, accusing it of “going back to the horse and buggy days”. ( ibid at 244)
In a country with a constitutional protection under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, the thought of government agents breaking through doors and forcibly interrogating workers without regard to probable cause or due process is anathema to a free society. Yet, amazingly enough, the government disregard for privacy, contract rights and individual rights was rampant in the administration of THE Progressive leader of the 20th Century, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In the name of centralization ( ie. a collective ) rights were disregarded.
Under the Government Progressive Orders controlling competition, farmers and growers were ordered to destroy their surplus food and produce. Orange growers were forced to douse gasoline on their oranges and burn them in order to increase the prices. One million cotton farmers were paid to destroy their crops and plow under their farmland. Hog farmers were paid to slaughter 6 million baby pigs, and discard them or use them as fertilizer. This was done at a time when millions of people were going hungry. ( Robert Murphy, ph.D, The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Great Depression, ( Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2009) p. 136))
As a culmination of the prior years of the FDR Administrations attack on individual liberties, all the imprisonment and fines on business owners and property owners, the Progressive belief in the collective rights over the individual rights and the Constitution, saw the full manifestation played out under Franklin Roosevelt executive order Number 9066. This Order in reaction to the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor, saw Roosevelt act consistently with his prior Centralized Decrees controlling individual behavior. FDR in a broad generalized disregard for an entire populations’ civil rights, declared a population as prisoners because of their race. Executive Order Number 9066 ordered and authorized the Government agents to collect and intern Japanese people who were living and working throughout the United States into concentration camps; over 120,000 Japanese American families, ( children included) were forcibly taken from their homes, simply because of their race and national origin and imprisoned in Western U. S. Concentration Camps. Actual United States citizens were forcibly interned in camps situated in desolate desert areas of the American West.
Roosevelt didn’t limit his concept of power over the constitutional restrictions to just the realm of war but also to Presidential supremacy over the other branches. During the first two and a half years that the U.S. was not involved in World War II, Roosevelt strenuously claimed to be doing everything he could to keep America out of the war with Germany. American public opinion overwhelmingly wanted to stay out of the war and there was no political desire to enter the war. In spite of what Roosevelt declared openly, secretly he was provoking German attack on the U.S. The President unilaterally gave fifty American destroyers in exchange for several leases on military bases in the West. Roosevelt and his assistant secretary of State both admitted that the action would probably cause Germany to declare war on the U.S. Political Scientist, Edward Corwin, wrote , ” Why not any and all of Congress’s specifically delegated powers to be set aside by the President’s executive power’ and the country be put on a totalitarian basis without further ado?” additionally, Democrat Senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York wrote in ” ON the Law of Nations”, that FDR “actually subverted the law” and “was clearly subject to impeachment”. FDR forever set the mold for the imperial presidency that has so troubled the liberal intelligentsia of academia . ( Thomas Woods, The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, (Regnery Publishing, 2004) p. 176 )).
On the issue of political asylum for immigrants, 200 Russian prisoners on U.S. soil in Fort Dix, New jersey had been captured in German uniform by American soldiers. The 200 soldiers begged to remain in the United States and it was clear that their return meant certain death at the hands of Stalin; in fact, denying the soldiers asylum violated the Geneva Convention. Roosevelt ordered them returned and the U.S. Military tear gassed the prisoners and forced them onto the Soviet Ship. On the ship, the men were so desperate to get away, that they were destroying the ship’s engine and a U.S. sergeant, had the men drugged by spiking their coffee with barbituates, placing the men in a coma like sleep-only to wake up in the Soviet Union, where they were never heard from again.
More recently, Progressive President Barack Obama has issued a secret memorandum Order which has authorized, unilaterally, and free from Congressional review, the assassination of American Citizens-despite an existing federal law prohibiting such actions and despite the Bill of Rights. ( Charlie Savage, New York Times, October 8, 2011). This presidential position is right in line with the Wilsonian interpretation of power and rights and with Roosevelt’s past actions of acting as an imperial president without regard to the constitutional imposition of restrictions. Mr. Obama, further followed through on this principle of disregard for the constitutional system of government when he declared, through an Executive Order, a command to stop enforcement all immigration deportations. Both Wilson and Roosevelt would feel quite comfortable with President Obama’s acts around the Congress and the Constitution and both would heartily approve.
Progressive-Liberals have a foundation of disregard of individual rights in order to obtain rights for the Collective and the State. History has been watered down and school books have omitted entire portions of violence to human and individual rights of American Citizens. It has been the Progressive liberal that has tried to circumvent the legal restrictions of the Constitution, the right of the individual to contract and use his own property, the right to Fourth amendment and Fifth amendment protection, the right to be free from ex post facto laws, the right to due process protection from ambiguous and illegal rules which have the effect of laws, the right to a government of checks and balances with a healthy Judiciary and Legislature, the right to be free to enjoy the fruits of one’s labor and finally, the right to be free from discrimination based on Race and national origin and imprisonment without due process of law. These violations have happened in history at the hands of Progressive-Liberals, not Conservatives. Contrary to the image and popular culture depictions, the powers that have gone for individual rights have not been the Conservative “fat cats”, but rather the nice and gentlemanly Liberal leader that has “fireside chats” with the population.
Truth can be very inconvenient, indeed.