Miller Center

Riding The Tiger

“I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.” Harry S. Truman

Solving the Rancor of Executive Privilege Disputes

Miller Center Executive Privilege Report Cover

Yesterday, Mitt Romney assailed President Obama for a lack of transparency in invoking executive privilege to withhold documents related to the botched gun-walking Operation “Fast and Furious” to the House Government and Oversight Committee. In the Romney campaign’s released statement, headlined “Transparent Hypocrisy: Obama’s Fast and Furious Broken Promises,’’ Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said: “President Obama’s pledge to be transparent has turned out to be just another broken promise.” Romney is following Republicans in Congress who already have seized upon the issue for partisan and political gain. Last month, in a vote of 255 to 67, with 108 Democrats abstaining, the House of Representatives voted to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. in contempt of Congress, a move that Holder described as a proxy attack against President Obama.

The attack is also founded on President Obama’s criticisms of President George W. Bush in 2007 for invoking executive privilege over the firing of nine United States Attorneys and the Valerie Plame leak. In an interview on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” Obama said, “There’s been a tendency on the part of this administration to try to hide behind executive privilege every time there's something a little shaky that's taking place.” Obama was also critical of the Bush administration’s practices during the 2008 campaign. Of course, the Obama administration has defended invoking the doctrine over “Fast and Furious,” noting that it was the first time the president has done so, while the Bush administration invoked it six times and the Clinton administration invoked it fourteen. What is perhaps more interesting than President Obama invoking the doctrine to withhold the documents, however, is that while he had promised more government transparency in 2008, he has not departed from all of the Bush administration’s executive privilege practices.

While Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidency marks the modern rise of the use of executive privilege (Eisenhower invoked the doctrine more than 40 times), George Washington set a precedent for future administrations. After a disastrous military expedition against Native Americans in 1791, Congress convened an investigation and requested President Washington turn over documents related to the expedition. The President convened the Cabinet and Thomas Jefferson recorded that they all determined “that the Executive ought to communicate such papers as the public good would permit & ought to refuse those the disclosure of which would injure the public” (Paul Ford, ed., 1892. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson. New York: Putnam. pp. 189–190). President Washington similarly withheld documents in two further instances: after Congress made a request for diplomatic correspondence between the United States and France in 1794 and after the House of Representatives requested documents related to the Jay Treaty in 1796. Presidents since the founding have claimed they have a right to withhold documents from Congress and the judiciary.

So why all the controversy? Executive privilege, is after all, a presidential power derived under Article II of the Constitution that is legitimate when it relates to certain national security needs, when it is in the public interest and when ongoing investigations require secrecy. A new Miller Center report entitled Executive Privilege: Mapping an Extraordinary Power highlights the rancorous nature of executive privilege conflicts:

Although the current approach to executive privilege allows most disputes to be settled through negotiation, these settlements may come with significant partisan bickering. Members of Congress and the executive are often more interested in scoring political points than in protecting the prerogatives of their respective branches of government. They see themselves as partisans first and institutionalists second. As a result, Congress tends to investigate the executive branch more when it is controlled by the opposing party and less when the same party controls both branches.

Reagan’s Coalition Building and the Compact of Freedom

Ronald Wilson Reagan, Acceptance Speech to the Republican National Convention, July 17, 1980.

Thirty-two years today, on July 17, 1980, Ronald Reagan addressed the Republican National Convention and accepted the party’s nomination for the presidency. As the excerpts below reveal, his speech stressed the themes of American values, reducing government growth, balancing the budget, the need to revitalize the nation’s defense and the need to take a leadership role in the world.

Isn't it once again time to renew our compact of freedom; to pledge to each other all that is best in our lives; all that gives meaning to them--for the sake of this, our beloved and blessed land?...

As your nominee, I pledge to restore to the federal government the capacity to do the people's work without dominating their lives…

America must get to work producing more energy. The Republican program for solving economic problems is based on growth and productivity…

It is essential that we maintain both the forward momentum of economic growth and the strength of the safety net beneath those in society who need help. We also believe it is essential that the integrity of all aspects of Social Security are preserved…

Beyond these essentials, I believe it is clear our federal government is overgrown and overweight. Indeed, it is time for our government to go on a diet…

I have long advocated a 30 percent reduction in income tax rates over a period of three years. This phased tax reduction would begin with a 10 percent "down payment" tax cut in 1981, which the Republicans and Congress and I have already proposed…

It is time to put America back to work; to make our cities and towns resound with the confident voices of men and women of all races, nationalities and faiths bringing home to their families a decent paycheck they can cash for honest money…

Adversaries large and small test our will and seek to confound our resolve, but we are given weakness when we need strength; vacillation when the times demand firmness…. The administration which has brought us to this state is seeking your endorsement for four more years of weakness, indecision, mediocrity and incompetence. No American should vote until he or she has asked, is the United States stronger and more respected now than it was three-and-a-half years ago? Is the world today a safer place in which to live?... I would regard my election as proof that we have renewed our resolve to preserve world peace and freedom. This nation will once again be strong enough to do that…

Tonight, let us dedicate ourselves to renewing the American compact. I ask you not simply to "Trust me," but to trust your values – our values – and to hold me responsible for living up to them. I ask you to trust that American spirit which knows no ethnic, religious, social, political, regional, or economic boundaries; the spirit that burned with zeal in the hearts of millions of immigrants from every corner of the Earth who came here in search of freedom.

But like many modern campaigns where the real proving ground for nominees takes place in the primaries, the 1980 Republican convention was more ceremonial than decision-making. Reagan’s real concerted campaign for the Republican Party’s nomination for the presidency began even before he stepped down from the governorship of California.

Bipartisan Meeting of Governors Faces Partisanship and Presidential Politics

President Barack Obama answers questions from the National Governors Association in the State Dining Room of the White House.

President Barack Obama answers questions from the National Governors Association in the State Dining Room of the White House, Feb. 22, 2010. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza. PD.

Over the weekend, the annual meeting of the National Governor’s Association was held in Virginia and the expansion of federal programs was just as controversial this year as it has been in previous years.

First, some history. The National Governor’s Association was established in 1908 after President Theodore Roosevelt called a Conference of Governors to discuss conservation issues. The meeting included the nine Supreme Court Justices, biologists, ornithologists and advocates of forestry science in an unprecedented Blue Ribbon Commission on natural resource management. Roosevelt said that the purpose of the conference was so “this Nation as a whole should earnestly desire and strive to leave to the next generation the National honor unstained and the National resources unexhausted.” In the opening session of the Conference of Governors on May 13, 1908, President Roosevelt warned:

We have become great in a material sense because of the lavish use of our resources, and we have just reason to be proud of our growth. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils shall have been still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers…One distinguishing characteristic of really civilized men is foresight. We have to as a nation exercise foresight for this nation in the future; and if we do not exercise that foresight, dark will be the future.

The Conference of Governors was the result of the President’s belief that increased interstate cooperation for conservation was necessary; states and the federal government had to work together in order to conserve the nation’s natural resources. However, many governors and some of Roosevelt’s critics thought the president cared more about the natural environment than the Constitution, limited government or private property, and the president’s agenda was just another means for expanding federal regulatory power. Yet the conference proved beneficial beyond just the issue of conservation. Following the conference, governors decided to form an association through which they could come together to discuss their mutual concerns and act collectively. The annual meetings of governors have thus often been used as a forum to introduce policy ideas at the state level and to debate issues of national importance. For example, in 1930, then-governor of New York Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first prominent political leader to advocate unemployment insurance at the Conference of Governors in Salt Lake City.

One of the key sources of national debate and controversy at the 2012 annual meeting of the National Governor’s Association centered upon Medicaid and Healthcare exchanges.

Friday Roundup

Ronald Wilson Reagan, Speech to the NAACP Annual Convention, June 29, 1981

The campaign got nasty (again) this week. In this week's Friday round-up, we’re focusing on the two biggest campaign stories: fights over the economy and the NAACP convention in Houston. Plus we leave you with bonus excerpts from Truman and Reagan speeches to the NAACP highlighting the parties competing visions for achieving racial justice and equality. Read on!

Friday Feature: President Bush Not Riding a Tiger

President George W. Bush rides a mountain bike with an American flag in the background.

President George W. Bush remained an avid mountain bike rider throughout his presidency. Just this year he joined the Wounded Warrior project for a 100K mountain bike ride through Palo Verde Canyon in Texas.

Stay tuned! Every Friday we'll highlight a whimsical item from presidential history.

Should the Candidates be More Like Ike?

Miller Center Transportation Report Cover

On July 12, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower proposed a highway modernization program, with costs to be shared by federal and state governments. Modernizing the nation’s highways was a priority for Eisenhower to the delight of the road building community, which had been disappointed by President Harry Truman. In a pre-election statement to the Hearst Newspapers, candidate Eisenhower justified expanding federal government power with joint planning between state and local governments to modernize the road system:

The obsolescence of the nation's highways presents an appalling problem of waste, danger and death. Next to the manufacture of the most modern implements of war as a guarantee of peace through strength, a network of modern roads is as necessary to defense as it is to our national economy and personal safety.

We have fallen far behind in this task-until today there is hardly a city of any size without almost hopeless congestion within its boundaries and stalled traffic blocking roads leading beyond these boundaries. A solution can and will be found through the joint planning of the Federal, state and local governments.

Beginning with his State of the Union address on January 7, 1954, President Eisenhower and his administration began pitching road modernization to the public, Congress and state leaders, arguing it was in the “vital interests of every citizen” to have “a safe and adequate highway system.” Vice President Richard Nixon told the Governor’s Conference on July 12, 1954 that the goal of President Eisenhower’s “grand plan” was “a properly articulated system that solves the problems of speedy, safe, transcontinental traffic: intercity communication, access highways and farm-to-market movement, metropolitan area congestion, bottlenecks and parking.”

Although President Eisenhower signed the 1954 Federal Aid Highway Act in the days following Nixon’s speech, both Congress and state leaders resisted the bill because of costs and Eisenhower’s insistence that it be budget-neutral. But, the president pressed his case to Congress and eventually struck a deal with governors, creating a national gasoline tax to fund the interstate system. On June 29, 1956, President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act, which authorized the building of the interstate highway system, the largest public works project in the nations history, providing $25 billion for the construction of 41,000 miles of roads over a period of 20 years.

The nation faces a very similar challenge today in its declining transportation infrastructure. This Spring, the Miller Center released a report, titled “Are We There Yet? Selling America on Transportation” that calls attention to the nation’s transportation infrastructure challenges. The report puts the situation frankly:

Two imperatives have collided: on the one hand the imperative to invest in a transportation system that will continue to grow our nation’s economy, create jobs, and enhance U.S. competitiveness; on the other hand, the imperative to come to grips with the nation’s short- and long-term fiscal problems, including especially the federal treasury’s unsustainable and still growing level of debt. In short, it’s not that our political leaders don’t agree that transportation is important or that infrastructure investments are needed; rather they can’t agree on whether or how to fund those investments given the current budget situation.

Beware Fundraising Graphs

Obama Vs Romney. Photo Courtsesy Malwack, CC BY-SA.

Obama Vs Romney. Photo Courtsesy Malwack, CC BY-SA.

On Monday, Aaron Blake at The Fix presented what they called “the second most important chart of the 2012 election.” The chart graphed fundraising by the campaigns of President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney from January to June of this year. Blake asserted that the chart “paints another potentially grim picture for President Obama, who was outraised by $35 million in June.” The chart also didn’t include any money raised by the super PACs, where Romney has the clear advantage. While there is no doubt that Romney has the clear fundraising advantage in this election, the implicit argument of Blake’s chart – that Obama will be disadvantaged electorally because of lower fundraising levels – is questionable. For example, in a paper that tried to isolate the effect of spending in campaigns, Economist Steve Levitt found:

When a candidate doubled their spending, holding everything else constant, they only got an extra one percent of the popular vote. It’s the same if you cut your spending in half, you only lose one percent of the popular vote. So we’re talking about really large swings in campaign spending with almost trivial changes in the vote.

Fundraising might (and that’s a big MIGHT) matter for the candidates’ ability to air ads in key states, but the effect of ads on the outcome is still questionable. As John Sides noted yesterday:

Campaign ads can have an effect, even in presidential races.  However, three caveats are important here, which speak to how one should follow the ads.  First, the effect of ads seems to emerge when one side is outspending the other by a significant margin.  How much of a margin is hard to say; let’s take 2-1 as a rough estimate, which corresponds to the apparently consequential imbalance in Bush and Gore ads in battleground states right before the 2000 election.  I’m not sure either Romney or Obama will muster that kind of advantage, even with the independent spending taken into account.  TBD.

Second, the effect of ads seems to dissipate quickly, even within a week (see point #3).  So you may not need to think about the effects of ads for another 3+ months.   In fact, let’s shout that: FOR ANOTHER 3+ MONTHS.  This notion that you have to advertise early to “define” the candidate or the opposition is folklore.  Maybe there is some truth to that, but the truly rigorous studies have not identified such an effect, but have identified rapid decay.

Third, whether any effect of ads actually affects the outcome is a real question.  It may be that the net effect of ads only slightly widens the winner’s margin of victory, without actually making the difference between winning and losing.

As I have argued previously on RTT, one of the keys to a successful campaign is the candidates’ ability to assemble and mobilize a winning coalition of interest groups and voters. The goal of fundraising should be to support these efforts, and candidate success will depend more upon organizing than fundraising alone. I would assert that the Obama campaign has so far been unable to repeat its successful online and on-the-ground grassroots organization of the 2008 campaign, at least in part because of the embrace by President Obama and his campaign of a more partisan approach since the 2010 election. And this may matter more than being out-fundraised by Romney. Second, political science studies have shown that while campaigns help voters learn about the economy or the party positions, campaigns matter only under certain conditions. For example, Kevin Arceneaux (gated article) has argued that some voters learn more from campaigns than others. Arceneauz shows that campaigns matter more for voters with low political sophistication and who receive information from the parties. Furthermore, voters draw more on their long-standing political identities, including party identification, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and religion. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, as repeated political science studies have demonstrated, how voters feel about the state of the economy is likely to be the greatest predictor of who wins the White House come November because it underlies voter evaluations of the candidates.

King Andrew’s Bank War

Cartoon of Andrew Jackson from anonymous artist circa 1832, used in campaign posters.

Cartoon of Andrew Jackson by an anonymous artist circa 1832, used in campaign posters. PD-US.

Last week I blogged about President Martin Van Buren’s Independent Treasury Act and the partisan rancor surrounding the legislation that ensued through the three subsequent elections. The independent Treasury was the culmination of a bitter partisan battle that was rooted in Andrew Jackson’s fight against the Bank of the United States. On July 10, 1832, President Jackson delivered his veto of the re-charter of the Second Bank to Congress, triggering a Bank War and the formation of the Whig and Democratic Parties. The Bank War was at its core a battle over how Capitalism should be organized and what the role the state should play in managing the economy. The veto also became the key issue in the 1832 election between Jackson and Senator Henry Clay.

To be sure, the National Bank was barely an issue in the 1828 election between Jackson and John Quincy Adams, though Adams’ platform included a strong national bank to regulate the economy. Instead, the 1828 election focused more on the character of the candidates and intense personal attacks. Jackson only began a two-fold concerted attack on the Bank once he assumed office. To Jackson, the Bank threatened liberty and symbolized corruption, political oppression and privilege. Jackson also argued that the Bank was unconstitutional because Congress didn’t have the power to charter corporations and exclude them from government regulation or taxation, although the Supreme Court had previously rejected this argument in the landmark case of McCulloch v. Maryland in 1819. Nonetheless, Jackson reiterated his opposition to the Bank on these grounds in his annual messages in 1830 and 1831.

In 1832, Bank President Nicholas Biddle, who had incensed Jackson when Biddle approached him in 1829 with an early request to re-charter, worked behind the scenes with Senator Clay on legislation to re-charter the Bank. The move of course confirmed Jackson’s concerns about the Bank’s meddling in politics. Congress passed the bill, but without the two-thirds necessary to override the President’s veto.

Jackson’s veto message was, in historian Daniel Feller's words, the “the rhetorical apex of his presidency.” 

Bryan’s Cross of Gold and the Partisan Battle over Economic Policy

1896 William Jennings Bryan campaign poster.

Print shows the “Cross of Gold speech” by William J. Bryan; portraits of William J. Bryan and his family, and a farmer and a blacksmith. The speech helped Bryan win the Democratic Party nomination for president. By Peter Tracey, 1896; Courtesy of Library of Congress.

The election of 1896 was just as much a partisan battle over the future of American economic policy as this year’s election. On this day in 1896, William Jennings Bryan delivered his rousing speech as a delegate to the Democratic convention declaring that mankind would not be “crucified on a cross of gold.” In the speech, Bryan, who was from the western farming state of Nebraska, advocated the inclusion of a silver standard for U.S. currency, which rallied the populist base of the Democratic Party and helped Bryan win the nomination for the presidency.

To take a step back in history, the source of the issue began with the Gold Rush in 1849, which altered the bi-metallism status quo. For decades, both gold and silver backed U.S. currency and both silver and gold specie could be turned into a Sub-Treasury Mint for dollars. The government valued silver at a ratio of 16:1 to gold in ounces. With the flood of gold to the market following the Gold Rush, people could sell their silver privately and to foreign markets at a lower ratio, thus making more money. However, when silver was discovered in Nevada in the 1860s, the ratio of silver to gold sold privately or abroad increased, but the government continued to offer the 16:1 ratio. In short, the government policy increased currency circulation, benefitting westerners, rural farmers, and the poor who could more easily pay off debts or make purchases. Meanwhile, Wall Street and banks in the East mobilized against the government’s policy because they would not receive as much profit on loans to farmers and the poor.

However, by 1873, the flood of silver into government coffers created an economic crisis. Congress responded by passing the Coinage Act of 1873, which effectively ended bi-metallism by eliminating the silver dollar and by making gold the only metallic standard (though the U.S. did not accept the Gold Standard de jure until 1900). Western miners and farmers termed it the “Crime of 1873.” Their “Free Silver” movement became a core constituency of the Democratic Party, represented by William Jennings Bryan.

A clear partisan divide in the elections of 1896 and 1900 centered on the bi-metallism debate. Republican candidate William McKinley blamed the Democrats and their platform of bi-metallism for the Panic of 1893, while Republicans and Eastern banking interests called the gold standard “sound money” policy.  In the “Cross of Gold” speech, Bryan argued that the Democratic Party’s focus on bi-metallism in its platform was justified because a gold standard alone could not solve the country’s problems at the time, including debt, small business failure, and monopolies.

Friday Roundup

Obama Vs Romney.

Obama Vs Romney. Photo Courtsesy Malwack, CC BY-SA.

It’s the economy, stupid. According to the monthly Labor Department report, the economy added 80,000 jobs in June, but unemployment remained at 8.2 percent. Mitt Romney seized upon the new report to attack President Barack Obama’s economic record. Nate Silver added an economic index to his election forecast model. He noted:

The historical evidence is robust enough to say that economic performance almost certainly matters at least somewhat, and that poorer economic performance tends to hurt the incumbent party’s presidential candidate. Likewise, it seems clear that the trend in performance matters more than the absolute level.

Healthcare. Mitt Romney said Wednesday that the individual mandate is “a tax,” contradicting a statement made by his senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom on Monday in which he said the former Massachusetts governor rejected the court’s characterization and believed that the individual mandate was a penalty. Seven states with Republican governors have given a flat ‘no’ to the Medicaid expansion since the Supreme Court ruling and another eight are leaning towards rejection, striking a blow to President Obama’s promise of expanded coverage, according to The Hill. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds American attitudes are split down the middle on the court ruling, with 43 percent holding favorable impressions of the ruling, and 42 percent holding unfavorable ones. The poll also finds a partisan split in attitudes with 80 percent of Democrats holding favorable views of President Obama’s plans for health care. Meanwhile 62 percent of Republicans have positive views of Mitt Romney’s ideas. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll also finds the public split at 41 percent favorable, 41 percent unfavorable, and 18 percent undecided. It also demonstrates a partisan divide.

Potpourri. A Wall Street Journal editorial outlining Romney’s hesitance to detail his policies from healthcare to immigration and other policies with any specificity is letting down Republicans. According to the WSJ:

All of these attacks were predictable, in particular because they go to the heart of Mr. Romney’s main campaign theme — that he can create jobs as President because he is a successful businessman and manager. But candidates who live by biography typically lose by it. See President John Kerry.

The biography that voters care about is their own, and they want to know how a candidate is going to improve their future. That means offering a larger economic narrative and vision than Mr. Romney has so far provided. It means pointing out the differences with specificity on higher taxes, government-run health care, punitive regulation, and the waste of politically-driven government spending.

Meanwhile Ann Romney told CBS News she worries that President Obama's entire campaign strategy is "kill Romney."

What would a second term for President Obama look like? One of the most important policy issues he could address is climate change. He might also champion immigration reform and address a more robust aid agenda for developing countries. According to Ryan Lizza:

If Obama aims to leave a legislative mark in his second term, he’ll need two things: a sense of humility, and a revitalized faction of Republican lawmakers willing to make deals with the President. Given the polarized environment and the likelihood of a closely divided Congress, it seems more implausible to suppose that Obama would turn radical in his second term than that he would cool to his Democratic base.

Friday Feature: President Bush and the Governator Not Riding a Tiger

President Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger tip in a shared sled.

“I’ll be back… [as Governor]”

With much of the country seeing record-breaking temperatures, this week's Feature is a reminder of the crisp days of winter, and the often-unique career trajectories of political figures.

President Bush is seen here tobogganing with—you guessed it—Arnold Schwarzenegger. The visit took place in January 1991 and the conditions were reportedly a bit treacherous: First Lady Barbara Bush lost control of her sled on an icy hill and broke her leg. The incident was covered in the New York Times.

The Times refers to Arnold as "the actor" and "a former Mr. Universe who heads the President's Council on Physical Fitness." His then-wife, "television news broadcaster" Maria Shriver, also joined him on the trip.


Stay tuned! Every Friday we'll highlight a whimsical item from presidential history.

Labor Relations and Partisan Division

Francis Perkins looks on as Franklin Roosevelt signs the National Labor Relations Act.

Francis Perkins looks on as Franklin Roosevelt signs the National Labor Relations Act.

On this day in 1935 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the pro-labor National Labor Relations Act, also called the Wagner Act or NLRA, into law, which established the National Labor Relations Board and gave the unions the right to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining. At the time, AFL leader William Green and future CIO president John L. Lewis called the law labor’s “Magna Carta.” One scholar, Karl Klare, heralded the Wagner Act as “the most radical piece of legislation ever enacted by the United States Congress.” The bill led to an era, albeit a rather short-lived one, of union and federal regulatory power, giving workers the legal right to strike, the right to be protected from discrimination on the basis of their union activity, and the right to enter into collective bargaining agreements, all regulated and enforced by the National Labor Relations Board. Scholars have noted the dramatic increase in the number of labor unions after the Wagner Act’s passage as one measure of the bill’s success.

However, the law was a short-lived victory for unions. As Dorian T. Warren (gated article) has argued, since its inception the National Labor Relations Board has lacked adequate power to monitor and enforce labor law effectively because of a comparatively weak federal administrative apparatus and its regulatory capture by business groups. Especially following the passage of the pro-business 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, unions were subsequently retrenched by employers. Although President Harry Truman vetoed Taft-Hartley, Congress passed the bill over the president’s veto. Truman explained his position to the American public:

I vetoed this bill because I am convinced it is a bad bill. It is bad for labor, bad for management, and bad for the country.

It is unfair to the working people of this country. It clearly abuses the right, which millions of our citizens now enjoy, to join together and bargain with their employers for fair wages and fair working conditions.

The bill is deliberately designed to weaken labor unions. When the sponsors of the bill claim that by weakening unions, they are giving rights back to individual workingmen, they ignore the basic reason why unions are important in our democracy. Unions exist so that laboring men can bargain with their employers on a basis of equality. Because of unions, the living standards of our working people have increased steadily until they are today the highest in the world.
A bill which would weaken unions would undermine our national policy of collective bargaining. The Taft-Hartley bill would do just that. It would take us back in the direction of the old evils of individual bargaining. It would take the bargaining power away from the workers and give more power to management.

Celebrating Independence Day with Presidential Speeches

Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan in the general's tent at Antietam, Maryland, October 3, 1862.

Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan in the general’s tent at Antietam, Maryland, October 3, 1862. Photo by Alexander Gardner, courtesy of Library of Congress.

Happy Fourth of July! In celebration of Independence Day, we bring you three presidential speeches from our archives.

On July 4, 1821, then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams delivered a speech on foreign policy in the House of Representatives. Adams stressed America’s devotion to principles of freedom, independence and peace.

[America’s] glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind. She has a spear and a shield: but the motto upon her shield is, Freedom, Independence, Peace. This has been her Declaration: this has been, as far as her necessary intercourse with the rest of mankind would permit, her practice.

On July 4, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln addressed Congress, asking the legislature to validate actions he had taken in response to secession without Congressional approval between April 1861 and July. The speech is also notable as Lincoln provides the first full explanation of the Civil War’s purpose. In the passage below, Lincoln requested Congress to validate the suspension of habeas corpus. Lincoln argued that he had the power to do so because of the oath of office that requires the president to uphold the Constitution and “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” He further clarified that the nation was facing a case of rebellion and argued that the Constitution gives the president emergency powers “when public safety may require it.” Lincoln would later justify suspending habeas corpus in a letter to Albert Hodges in this way, “By general law life and limb must be protected; yet often a limb must be amputated to save a life; but a life is never wisely given to save a limb. I felt that measures, otherwise unconstitutional, might become lawful, by becoming indispensable to the preservation of the constitution, through the preservation of the nation.”

On the 50th anniversary of the Civil War's Battle of Gettysburg, Woodrow Wilson addressed a crowd, which included Union and Confederate veterans, at the historic site in 1913. The battle itself was waged July 1-3, 1863, while Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg address in November of that same year.

Is what the fifty years have wrought since those days of battle finished, rounded out, and completed? Here is a great people, great with every force that has ever beaten in the lifeblood of mankind. And it is secure. There is no one within its borders, there is no power among the nations of the earth, to make it afraid. But has it yet squared itself with its own great standards set up at its birth, when it made that first noble, naive appeal to the moral judgment of mankind to take notice that a government had now at last been established which was to serve men, not masters? It is secure in everything except the satisfaction that its life is right, adjusted to the uttermost to the standards of righteousness and humanity. The days of sacrifice and cleansing are not closed. We have harder things to do than were done in the heroic days of war, because harder to see clearly, requiring more vision, more calm balance of judgment, a more candid searching of the very springs of right.

Partisan Rancor and the Independence of the Treasury

Martin Van Buren Campaign Poster Celebrating Independent Treasury

One of the few campaign prints issued in support of Democratic incumbent Martin Van Buren’s 1840 presidential bid. Above his portrait flies an eagle holding a streamer with the words “Independent Treasury and Liberty,” celebrating Van Buren’s Independent Treasury Bill, passed in July 1840.

While many Americans will be celebrating Independence Day, July 4th is also worth reflecting upon as it marks the anniversary of Martin Van Buren’s signing of the Independent Treasury Act in 1840, a bill that “divorced” the federal Treasury Department from its relationship with all banks. While the deeply partisan battle for the Independent Treasury’s establishment would continue for six more years, the legislation marked a significant triumph in Jacksonian laissez faire philosophy and the assertion of States’ Rights and Supremacy. A brief look at the legislation’s history is also a reminder that the partisan rancor surrounding policy proposals to deal with the economic crisis the country faces today is not unique. Indeed, it suggests instead that we are amidst one of the nation’s periodic partisan battles over defining the government’s role in the economy and society.

The Independent Treasury Act was a response to the Panic of 1837. The economic crisis of 1837 was triggered by the Deposit Act of 1836 and the collapse of state banks that had been using funds distributed by President Andrew Jackson from the Bank of the United States as a basis for speculation. With the collapse of credit, banks could no longer redeem currency notes in gold and silver despite demand for it. Meanwhile, the situation was exacerbated by a depression in England, which ended British loans to the United States and forced the price of cotton to drop. The United States had also accumulated debts and unemployment rates were high. Although President Jackson used popular opinion to attack the national banks and although he extended executive power as a bulwark of popular rights against moneyed interests, the bottom line in 1837 was that the American economy was unstable.

In response to the economic crisis, President Van Buren, a proponent of Jacksonian laissez faire philosophy, called for a special session of Congress to deal with the government’s financial situation. Van Buren opposed the establishment of a new central bank, arguing that the American people had spoken against it in the previous two elections. Further, he argued that it was not government’s business to regulate “domestic exchange.” Instead, Van Buren proposed a policy that would completely separate the government from banks. In addition, the government would collect, keep and disburse it’s own funds independent of the national banking and financial system. (Senator Gordon of Virginia had made a similar proposal in 1836.)

As David Kinley wrote in 1893, the Independent Treasury System was established on the “violence of partisan feeling.” According to Kinley:

“It was a question on which parties lost and won; a question on which great statesmen changed their opinions, and parties shifted their ground; on which there was a flux and reflux of public opinion and governmental policy, until it was settled at last, nearly a half a century ago, more as a party issue than a question of scientific economics; a vindication of party strength, and a necessary outcome of the drift of practical politics rather than a triumph of economic and financial truth over fallacy, or the consensus of concerted and convinced opinion as to the merits of the question.”

Roberts Rules and Obama Cares

President Barack Obama with Chief Justice John Roberts.

President Barack Obama with Chief Justice John Roberts, January 15, 2009. Official Photo by Pete Souza.

As I approached the U.S. Supreme Court on my way to this term’s last Decision Day, I suddenly found myself literally caught between two extreme factions in the health-care debate.  One group, led by two belly dancers and a compatriot carrying a bed-sheet labeled “Single Payer,” shimmied toward two bearded anti-Obamacare protestors who shouted at the gyrating dancers, “Communists!” and “Single payer is socialism!”  Momentarily stuck between the zealots, I felt like Chief Justice Roberts, trying to find an exit strategy.

An hour later I sat in my prized seat inside the churchlike courtroom and marveled at the chief’s painstakingly crafted opinion, upholding the Affordable Care Act (ACA), while attempting to extricate the high tribunal from a political quagmire.  Much has been made of this patently conservative jurist’s reaching a liberal outcome.  Is John Roberts the next David Souter, Harry Blackmun, William Brennan, or Earl Warren—his Supreme Court predecessors who disappointed their appointing presidents by swinging to the other side of the ideological spectrum?  Probably not.  One liberal decision—albeit in a landmark case—does not a judicial career make.  In fact, on the larger issues at stake in the ACA litigation (Congress’ commerce, “necessary and proper,” and spending powers), the chief reached conservative conclusions.  It remains to be seen whether his limits on legislative prerogatives are mere “blips,” as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her stinging dissent predicted, or lasting obstacles to future liberal policy initiatives.

More important, Roberts’ opinion, partially joined by the Court’s liberal quartet (Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan), reflects his historic view of the chief justice’s role.  One of his first acts after confirmation was to send staff members to Chief Justice John Marshall’s Richmond, Virginia home to retrieve the fourth chief justice’s judicial robe on display there.  Roberts wanted to model his robe after the “great chief justice,” as Marshall is called.  The act speaks volumes.  Roberts’ mentor, William Rehnquist, who as an associate justice was dubbed the “Lone Ranger” for his many solo dissents, modeled his chief justice robe after a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta character (complete with four gold metallic stripes on the sleeves!).  Assuming the Court’s center chair in the wake of the polarizing Bush v. Gore decision, Roberts explained to George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Rosen that he hoped to increase collegiality and unanimity among the nine justices.  Unanimity produces stability in the law, he reasoned, which, in turn, leads to more public respect for the tribunal.

With the Court’s most recent approval ratings dropping to 44%, and three-quarters of Americans surveyed believing that the justices would follow their partisan inclinations in deciding the health-care case, Chief Justice Roberts faced a dilemma.  Siding with his conservative soul mates (Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito) would confirm the view that the Court is just another political institution.  Instead, he assumed the uncharacteristic position of swing voter, casting the deciding vote between four liberals and four conservatives.