How About Small Government?

My latest posting aroused some interest, and raised interesting points. One correspondent pointed out to me that the Founding Fathers wouldn't recognize today's United States. That was a point I had to concede, they certainly wouldn't. He further said that by today's standards, the Founders were small-government conservatives.

On brief reflection, though, I have to point out that the Founding Fathers wouldn't recognize much of anything in today's world.

In 1789, the year George Washington was inaugurated President, it could easily take a couple of months for a message to go from America to England and a reply to make it back. For that matter, it could take weeks for a letter to go from Boston to Savannah and back. It took about as long for people to make the trip. Today, thanks to the internet, communications satellites, and jet aircraft, messages to most places in the world are nearly instantaneous, and travel-time around the world is measured in hours, not weeks.

The Founding Fathers would be astounded by such speed.

In 1789, the United States of America was a small, insignificant, backwoods country of relatively little importance in the world. Indeed, one reason our Revolution was successful was that England was simultaneously fighting another rebellion in a more important colony: India.

The view of the United States as a backward, insignificant country was a long time reversing:

  • England didn't put too much stock in our independence, as witness the War of 1812, caused by the British claim that they could take sailors off our ships to serve in the Royal Navy. We managed to win that war (some call it a draw) because the Brits were busy fighting Napoleon at the time.
  • In 1846, when the United States went to war with Mexico, all of Europe assumed that Mexico's modern, European-style army would make short work of those unlettered American backwoodsmen and ruffians. Boy, did they guess wrong.
  • When the United States quickly defeated Spain in the 1898 Spanish-American War, the European powers shrugged it off as being the result of Spain having grown weak, not because America was becomming stronger. They still didn't get it a decade later when Teddy Roosevelt's Great White Fleet circumnavigated the world.
  • The United States entered World War I in 1917, and had to fight the British and French before firing any shots at the Germans—the allies thought that the Americans were only good to use as warm bodies to serve as replacements for casualties in their own units. General Pershing had to fight to keep the American soldiers and Marines in American units with American commanders.
  • Nearly all of the generals and admirals in the Japanese Imperial Army and Navy thought that America would simply keel over and surrender when attacked. Japan paid a horrendous price for underestimating American strength and will.
  • Germany was rolling up Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East until America entered the war. Field Marshal Montgomery thought the American military leadership lacked a great deal, and that American forces should serve under his—and other British generals'—command.
  • It wasn't until American commanders and soldiers forced the issue and led the way to winning World War II that the other world powers finally recognized the United States as a major power. It was post-WWII that the USA, along with the Soviet Union, became a Super Power.
  • The Founding Fathers certainly wouldn't recognize that.

    Another thing. In 1789, America was an experiment in self-rule, rather than rule by a God-appointed, hereditary king. Nobody knew whether or not it would work. At least half of Europe expected the states to disband their union and crawl back to England, seeking forgiveness and begging to become colonies once more.

    Instead, the United States of American has become the richest, most powerful nation on Earth, the country that most people want to immigrate to. More countries have attempted, with varying degrees of success, to emulate our way of government, than that of any other country.

    The Founding Fathers would be astonished.

    But I strongly suspect that most would be very, very pleased.

    The "small government" conservatism of the Founding Fathers was "small" relative to a royal form of government, one where the king and the aristocracy made all the rules and owned nearly all the wealth. Ordinary citizens had little redress for grievances. The Founders wanted to end that form of government. The Founders wanted the people to have the final say, not a king. But even there, read the papers, read the debates. Many of the Founders wanted a form of aristocracy to do the actual ruling, because they believed the common folk simply didn't have the education or intelligence to do the job.

    The richest and most powerful nation on earth.

    Small-government conservatives.

    I see a conflict.

    Andorra can have a small government. Burundi can have a small government. Paraguay can have a small government. Turkmenistan can have a small government. Those are small countries, insignificant on the world stage, virtually meaningless to anybody but their immediate neighbors.

    The United States of America is a large country. The third largest in land mass, the third largest in population, the largest in gross domestic product, one of the richest in terms of per capita income. More young people throughout the world want to come to America to attend college than to any other country—because our universities collectively are the best in the world. American technologic advances far outstrip anybody else's.

    In way after way after way after way, the USA leads the world.

    You can't do that on the cheap.

    Maybe the small-government advocates want to go back to the 19th Century, back to when most of the world thought that Mexico could clean our clock. But I don't. I like being a citizen of the richest, most powerful nation on Earth. If that means big government, so be it.

    And stop whining about taxes. The United States has the lowest tax rates of all developed nations. That's right, our tax burden is lowest—especially for those of us who have the most. But now I'm getting into a topic for a different opinion.