”Fighting does not solve anything.” A saw made up to persuade people toward pacifism. In fact, the only potential virtue possessed by fighting is that it sometimes does solve things. Did the Americans and their allies fighting from D-Day to Berlin not solve the problem of European fascism, at least for the time? Do not a few fisticuffs in the schoolyard often dissipate conflicts, clear the air, and lead to friendships, or at least to an acceptable hierarchy? There are some problems that can be solved only by fighting.
”They also serve who only stand and wait.” These words from Milton’s sonnet on his blindness have some validity if they mean that God values us all whether we are able to act in His behalf or not. But the saying is more often used to comfort stay-at-homes during war or some emergency. In that case, it does not make much sense.
Tariffs were the cause of American economic might and would restore our industrial strength and workers’ welfare if we would re-adopt them and get rid of “free trade.” The nostalgia for taxes on foreign goods is understandable among those worried about American decline. However, it is mistaken for all sorts of reasons. Tariffs, like every other government action, cannot create wealth—they can only redistribute it. To credit tariffs with American economic might is rather to neglect the intelligence, hard work, enterprise, entrepreneurship, creativity, and incomparably immense treasure of natural resources that Americans displayed and enjoyed during the growth of our wealth and strength in the 19th and 20th centuries. There is no real evidence that tariffs enhanced American prosperity—quite the contrary. Tariff advocates like to condemn the present government-managed trade as somehow the product of a mistaken belief in free-trade theory. The present system is not free trade, which is the exchange of goods without the added costs of government interference. The present system is slave trade, resting on the trading of people, which was never a part of free trade. In the tariff era the law was arranged to profit the dominant interests of industrial capital—at the expense of everyone else. In the “free trade” era legislation is arranged to profit the dominant interests of financial capital—at the expense of everyone else. “Free trade” advocates of the present regime are not devoted to a beautiful theory—they are serving their masters. Blaming “free trade” merely detracts from the real issue, which is one of power, not of economic theory. Were a tariff policy adopted, who can doubt that the interests that own Congress would work it to their advantage? How can tariffs help American workers—unless you consider as “American” all the imported cheap labour that is coming and will come. In fact, the high tariff era was also the era of high immigration—the industrialists imported contract gangs of impoverished workers from Europe to keep down the wages of native Americans. Tariff advocates imagine that their policy will bring an America independent of foreigners. In fact, a high tariff policy is historically associated with militarism and imperialism. Countries that hamper foreign imports discourage reciprocal trade. They need to go abroad to find coerced markets. This was a major factor in American leaders adopting imperialism in the late 19th century—controlling colonial markets. Matthew Carey, who was the foremost American spokesman for “tariff protection” in the 19th century was also the spokesman for a large navy to compete with Britain for control of markets around the world. (He was not even a native American but an Irish immigrant who wanted to use U.S. power to damage Britain.) Carey, thirty years before the War Between the States, wanted the North to invade the South and force it to accept the tariff. If it is necessary to build or strengthen certain industries, a direct subsidy would me more honest and effective than a tariff or any of the indirect subsidies (tax breaks, etc.) now used. Of course, you would still have the corruption, incompetence, and colossal wastefulness of federal bureaucrats.
”Lafayette we are here.” It is pretty well established that General Pershing did not actually say this when the American Expeditionary Force landed in France in World War I. However, the saying doubtless reflected sentiment at the time, which was wholly inaccurate. Lafayette was an advocate of ordered liberty and loved America. Like any real American patriot, he would never have approved of Americans joining in the pointless carnage among the militarized European states.
“America does not go abroad searching for monsters to slay.” This supposed statement by John Quincy Adams is often invoked by Americans who want to disparage foreign interventionism. Its use is an indication of how deeply entrenched is Massachusetts control of American discourse. The warnings of great statesmen and patriots Washington and Jefferson would serve much better. Actually, J.Q. Adams is a poor example for American non-interventionists. As Secretary of State he put out the Monroe Doctrine, which asserted U.S. supremacy in the Western Hemisphere and was later used by imperialists like Teddy Roosevelt to justify aggressive intervention in other countries. As President, Adams attempted to get the U.S. involved in an international association of South American states, though fortunately that was shot down by a vigilant Congress.
“All men are created equal . . .” It is difficult to imagine a more absurd and untrue statement. The gentlemen who signed the document containing these words on behalf of the thirteen colonies were bolstering their declaration of independence with a bit of poetic sentiment. They were indicating their belief that all free citizens of a commonwealth were entitled to the rights that in the Old World had been limited to the privileged few, that distinctions that are merely hereditary should not trump earned distinctions. And that a Briton on this side of the water had just as much right to self-government as a Briton in the mother country. Men are created in the womb, where they are anything but equal to the born. They are born as mewing babes, unable to survive a day without a hierarchical society surrounding them. Their equality has no meaning outside that society and the divine recognition of the uniqueness of every soul. If those gentlemen had known what misuse their statement would be put by ideologues and fools after the French Revolution, they would have used other words.
Clyde N. Wilson is the Emeritus Distinguished Professor of History at the University of South Carolina and a Contributing Editor to Chronicles. Dr. Wilson is best known as the editor of the 28-volume documentary edition of The Papers of John C. Calhoun. He is the author or editor of a dozen other books—including Carolina Cavalier: The Life and Mind of James Johnston Pettigrew and Defending Dixie: Essays in Southern History and Culture—and has published over 700 articles, essays, and reviews. He is also the co-owner of Shotwell Publishing.