Oscar Stanton De Priest: The First Black Congressman of the 20th Century

Image result for Oscar De Priest

Black History Month is about to come to an end, and I don’t want to miss out on making a related post for February, so here it is.

In 1900, North Carolina Congressman George H. White called it quits when the Democratic State Legislature disenfranchised the black population of the state. White’s departure constituted the end of an era, which started during Reconstruction, in which black Republicans could hold some measure of political power from the South and get elected to Congress. These states had adopted Jim Crow constitutions that aimed to disenfranchise as many blacks as possible while letting as many whites vote as possible. In his final speech before Congress, White stated that although this was a farewell for blacks from Congress, that it would be a temporary one. This farewell would last 28 years, and no black person would be elected from the South until 1972.

Illinois’ 1st district was a reliably Republican area in 1928 given the continued loyalty of black voters to the Republican Party. The district’s black population had grown to a majority and they had as their representative an unthinkable fellow today: Martin B. Madden, the conservative chair of the House Appropriations Committee. However, 1928 would be a year of change in more than a few ways: Madden died and Chicago Mayor William Hale Thompson, eager to court the black vote, greenlit Oscar Stanton De Priest (1871-1951) running for Congress. He had previously served as Chicago’s first black alderman from 1915 to 1917, when he resigned after he had been accused of accepting money from a gambling establishment. De Priest retained the great Clarence Darrow as his attorney in the case, and was acquitted. He won election by a plurality to Congress and was seated in 1929 despite Southern Democratic efforts to block it. Their efforts had been thwarted by Speaker Nicholas Longworth (R-Ohio), who swore all members of the House in simultaneously. De Priest was not only the first black person to be elected to Congress in the 20th Century, but also the first to be elected from the North. His election was the eventual product of the great migration out of the South of blacks who were tired of being treated as second class citizens or worse under the Jim Crow system.

De Priest made headlines soon after his election when his wife, Jessie, was invited to tea by First Lady Lou Hoover, which was attended by a small group of Congressional wives who were known ahead of time to be racially tolerant. Southern newspapers blasted her attendance, as it sent a message of equality. De Priest responded forcefully, charging that the reaction by Southern Democrats was part of an effort to bring back Southern states that had voted for Herbert Hoover in 1928 and added, “I want to thank the Democrats of the south for one thing. They were so barbaric they drove my parents to the north. If it had not been for that I wouldn’t be in Congress today. I’ve been Jim Crowed, segregated, persecuted, and I think I know how best the Negro can put a stop to being imposed upon. It is through the ballot, through organization, through eternally fighting for his rights” (Stokes-Hammond). If it wasn’t clear already, De Priest himself was not a slouch or an “Uncle Tom” on civil rights. Although he fought to desegregate the House diner and managed to get a resolution passed in 1934 to form a committee to investigate its practices, he was unsuccessful as the committee’s Democrats voted to maintain the status quo. De Priest also pushed for anti-lynching legislation, a bill permitting a transfer of jurisdiction of a defendant believed they couldn’t get a fair trial on account of their race or religion (a response to the Scottsboro rape case), and in 1933 managed to attach an amendment to the bill establishing the Civilian Conservation Corps that banned racial discrimination. He delivered speeches in the South despite death threats and once told an Alabama senator (almost certainly Tom Heflin) he wasn’t big enough to stop him from eating in the Senate restaurant. De Priest spoke of injustices blacks faced in the criminal justice system in Congress, stating “I am making these remarks because I want you to know that the American Negro is not satisfied with the treatment he receives in America, and I know of no forum where I can better present the matter than the floor of Congress” (U.S. House of Representatives). However, he encountered criticism among civil rights activists for his opposition to the New Deal, which he denounced as “socialist” and advocated for state and local relief instead of federal. De Priest also called for the investigation of the Communist Party and its efforts to recruit disgruntled urban voters. Overall, ideologically he was a moderate conservative.

De Priest’s opposition to the New Deal would cost him reelection in 1934 in a district that was shifting allegiances, losing to his former protégé, Arthur W. Mitchell, who had switched parties. The district has remained Democratic ever since. De Priest’s loss of reelection portended the black vote going to FDR in the 1936 election and to Democrats thereafter. De Priest would subsequently serve on the Chicago City Council from 1943 until his defeat in 1947. He would meet his end in 1951 as a result of injuries from being accidentally struck by a bus. De Priest represented a first step for blacks in the United States in the 20th century, but his failure to follow the majority of them into the Democratic Party rendered him out of date.


DE PRIEST, Oscar Stanton. U.S. House of Representatives.

Retrieved from


Stokes-Hammond, S. Pathbreakers: Oscar Stanton DePriest and Jessie L. Williams DePriest.  The White House Historical Association.

Retrieved from



The Strange Personal Nature of Political Leadership of the 1950s

Image result for 1950s family values

Although the 1950s are portrayed as a time of American prosperity and family values, a number of contradictions about that period have abounded. For example, despite it being regarded as a conservative time, liberals have pointed out that the maximum federal income tax rate was 91% as a way of implying that high rates can still mean prosperity. Although this factoid presented alone paints a misleading picture of the tax code of the time, this is not what today’s post is about. The 1950s have a sort of allure to those who are prone to look back to better times. The truth is that although life could really be as wonderful as people who lived in that time remembered if they were white children living in the suburbs, America was so high in the world largely because its would-be economic competitors were still recovering from the previous decade’s war. Absent another devastating war in which we suffer no war damages on mainland America, we can’t count on having such an advantage again. All this aside, I’m going to talk about a strange phenomenon. While the 1950s were regarded as a time of the wholesome nuclear family, the political leadership of Washington was anything but the ideal from this perspective.

In the Senate, the leaders of both parties had relationships outside of marriage. The fact that Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas carried on numerous extramarital affairs is now well known. The grass wasn’t necessarily greener on the other side. Helen Knowland, the wife of Republican William F. Knowland of California, carried on an affair with his friend, Senator Blair Moody of Michigan. Knowland himself, unaware of the affair, subsequently had one with Moody’s wife, Ruth. The two couples regularly socialized and the affairs were deep. Helen maintained her affair with Moody for eight years until his death of a heart attack, after which she attempted suicide. Knowland, on the other hand, underwent a painful circumcision to please Ruth, who pushed him to do it. Although the couple attempted to save their marriage, after his defeat in the 1958 gubernatorial race his life careened to catastrophe. Knowland divorced his wife, became addicted to gambling, married an alcoholic spendthrift, and was heavily in debt, allegedly to organized crime. He took his life in 1974.

In the House, Speaker Sam Rayburn of Texas had been married for only a few months of his life, with the marriage having been annulled. His Republican counterpart, Joe Martin of Massachusetts, was a lifelong bachelor despite many letters from women offering marriage. He was shy with women and for nearly his entire adult life he was married to politics, having no hobbies outside his work. Another lifelong bachelor was the unofficial leader of the Senate’s Southern Democrats, Richard Russell of Georgia. LBJ, the cunning and wily fellow he was, saw opportunity with the childless Rayburn and Russell and played the role of a son to them, greatly assisting his rise in politics.

Although President Eisenhower is alleged to have been unfaithful during World War II with his driver, Kay Summersby, these claims are rejected by most historians. For the most part, the Executive Branch was scandal free during the Eisenhower years. Although the 1950s had a wholesome nuclear family emphasis, the political leadership of the time led alternative lifestyles, be it through extramarital affairs or perpetual bachelorhood.


Critchlow, D.T. (2013). When Hollywood was right: How movie stars, studio moguls, and big business remade American politics. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Hill, R. (2018, April 8). Mr. Speaker: Joseph W. Martin of Massachusetts. The Knoxville Focus.

Retrieved from






The “Beefsteak Election” of 1946: The First Time America Asked, “Where’s the Beef”?

Image result for meat shortage

During World War II, the United States was under tight economic control. Price controls, rations, and subsidies abound in the name of maintaining a stable wartime economy. Meat in the United States was largely apportioned to soldiers overseas. However, by the end of 1945 the war had ended, and controls were being lifted. In the case of meat, it had been quite scarce during the war so the people, eager to eat it again, purchased in droves. In accordance with the economic law of supply and demand, this drove the price of meat up by 70%. Farmers and butchers had rather lean years during the war and some had even gone out of business over rationing and they were finally making a good profit. However, President Truman was eager to gain in popularity and imposed price controls on meat. The farmers in response restricted supply, resulting in a shortage of meat.

The Democrats of the Connecticut delegation in Congress wrote to President Truman that all the voters were talking about was meat, and the situation needed to be addressed urgently. Hospitals reported that they could only serve their patients horsemeat, leading to the Republicans calling Truman “Horsemeat Harry” (Leuchtenburg). To make matters worse for the campaign trail, the Republican National Committee had managed to come up with a masterful slogan for their campaign, “Had Enough?” This could be read to both refer to meat and of New Deal policies. Truman attempted to minimize the damage by offering up an “October Surprise” by ending price controls on meat, but it was too little, too late. On November 6, 1946, Truman woke up with, as his daughter Margaret wrote, “a bad cold and a Republican Congress” (Leuchtenburg). The results were worse than had been predicted, with Republicans gaining 54 seats. One commentator was proven correct on the meat situation when he wrote, “a housewife who cannot get hamburger is more dangerous than Medea wronged” (Leuchtenburg). It seemed like such a rebuke at the time that Senator J. William Fulbright (D-Ark.) recommended he resign, which would have resulted in the Republican Senate Pro Tem, Arthur Vandenberg, becoming president. Truman called Fulbright an “over-educated Oxford S.O.B.” and thereafter would refer to the senator behind his back as “Senator Halfbright” (Leuchtenburg). There were other factors that assisted in this result, such as Truman’s bad-tempered and poorly thought-out proposed legislation to draft strikers which alienated organized labor and his veto of the Case labor bill, which ticked off Southerners. Another factor was voter fatigue with Democratic rule.

The 1946 midterms illustrate important lessons in economics and in politics. The economics lesson is that imposing price controls reduces supply of the goods and services being controlled, and that when it comes to meat it is political suicide. However, while the 1946 election was a lesson in economics, the following election was one of perseverance: Harry S. Truman pulled off a victory only he seemed to think was possible against Republican Thomas E. Dewey, who had played it too safe on the advice of most of his advisors. Truman had won over labor by his opposition to the Taft-Hartley Act (passed over his veto) and managed to win without the support of radical socialists and communists who voted for Henry Wallace, and without the support of rabid segregationists, who voted for Strom Thurmond.  Truman would later remark that “The luckiest thing that ever happened to me was the Eightieth Congress” (Leuchtenburg).

Leuchtenburg, W.E. (2006, November). New Faces of 1946. Smithsonian Magazine.

Retrieved from


Rude, E. (2016, August 30). The ‘Beefsteak Election’: When Meat Changed the Course of American Politics. Time.

Retrieved from



The Conscience of a Conservative, Part 6 Notes

Image result for Barry Goldwater

Chapter 10: The Soviet Menace

What would a political book in the Cold War be without a chapter about the red menace? Goldwater finds all efforts on the home front at securing freedom to be for naught if we lose the Cold War. He writes, “American freedom has always depended, to an extent, on what is happening beyond our shores” (86). Goldwater finds our national existence to be in peril due to the international communist movement. He believes it has “political warfare and propaganda skills that are superior to ours, an international fifth column that operates conspiratorially in the heart of our defenses, an ideology that imbues its adherents with a sense of historical mission; and all of these resources controlled by a ruthless despotism that brooks no deviation from the revolutionary cause” (87-88). Although writing from 2019 I can say that the US won the Cold War, the power of the political warfare and propaganda abilities of communists are not to be underestimated – too many people still believe their lies to this day, especially in the universities. Goldwater has no respect for those who aim to appease the USSR out of fear of nuclear annihilation, and believes the US is currently losing the Cold War. There was reason to believe this at the time: communism had spread to China, had in 1959 spread to Cuba, and they had the bomb. Anti-communists at the time were losing ground in a defensive war. Indeed, at the time, no nation had turned back from a communist government and no nation would until the American invasion of Grenada in 1983. Goldwater states simply America’s problem: “Our enemies have understood the nature of the conflict, and we have not. They are determined to win the conflict, and we are not” (88-89). Indeed, it would not be until Ronald Reagan was elected president that “winning the Cold War” would be the theme of American foreign policy.  It is not that American leaders were interested in losing, rather it was “peace”.

To be clear, Goldwater doesn’t condemn the goal of peace, but wants victory and peace, the former meaning that a shooting war cannot be “unthinkable”. He channels Patrick Henry in his thinking on freedom, finding death preferable to the absence of liberty Communism would bring. Goldwater holds in utter contempt the sentiment “I would rather crawl on my knees to Moscow than die under an Atomic bomb” (91). Amen! Successful nations are not built, grown, and maintained with fearful and defeatist sentiments. Although Goldwater acknowledges that international alliances and organizations have likely prevented overt military aggression by the USSR, he cites Iraq and Cuba as examples of where they can fall short in anti-Communist efforts. Both pro-Communist coups occurred without direct Soviet involvement, and this was only a year after the adoption of the Eisenhower Doctrine, of which Iraq was a central target. Although Iraq’s pro-Communist regime fell to a coup in 1963, Cuba’s regime proved outright Communist and it remains so to this day. Goldwater regards a strictly defensive strategy as one bound to lose eventually and believes that will be the outcome of the Cold War if our encounters continue to be on the terms of the Soviets.

Senator Goldwater opposes any foreign aid that doesn’t directly support American interests and even finds such aid to be unconstitutional, as the support of the social welfare of people in foreign nations is not an explicit power granted to the federal government. He counts himself as something of a skeptic of the Marshall Plan as well. While Goldwater finds that aid had a correlative effect in weakening the Communist parties in France and Italy, West Germany recovered even faster than those countries with much less American aid. He issues a criticism of economic aid to Europe: it enables these nations to pass more “butter” as opposed to “guns” policies. Goldwater considers communist ideology a product of the mind, and not one of men’s poverty. To this, I must partially disagree. For the well-off person, the former is certainly true. There have been wealthy people in America who have supported communism, such as Frederick Vanderbilt Field, a great-great-grandson of railroad baron Cornelius Vanderbilt. But, if the man on the street finds acquiring food difficult under a despotic yet pro-US regime, they might just want to give the communists a shot, as ironic as this seems in retrospect. When people are hungry, their ability to think is compromised. Why in poor countries do you think some people have resorted to selling their children to people who will make their existences worse than death? I can see only one reason short of sociopathy: the corruption of the mind hunger brings.

Goldwater criticizes U.S. aid to “neutral” nations because first, their neutrality is questionable, and second, they are all committed to Socialism. What’s more, he regards the communist perspective on negotiations as not one to find agreement, but rather to score political points. When the Soviets challenged the U.S. presence in West Berlin, he interprets it as a victory for the Soviets the mere fact that we chose to sit down and negotiate. For Goldwater, the message here is that our position in West Berlin is negotiable. By contrast, when President Eisenhower in 1955 told the Soviets he wanted a discussion about the status of the Soviet satellite states, the USSR flat out refused to negotiate on the subject and there were no repercussions for it. Goldwater believes that the Russian people in this whole matter are not really a factor for diplomacy (although he believes they are on our side) as we cannot know whether the Soviet leaders truly represent the Russian people, as they don’t have a say. He staunchly objects to the normalization of the USSR and the notion that their government is tolerable, and calls for revoking recognition of Russia’s Communist government, just like policy was at the time for China’s government. Goldwater also opposes bans on nuclear testing and disarmament treaties, as he believes that any agreement we will reach with the Soviets will put them, one way or another, at an advantage, including the Soviets secretly breaking said agreements. He also dismisses health concerns regarding atmospheric nuclear testing, believing that the fallout is minimal. There is no other answer for Goldwater than to achieve and maintain superiority in all weapons, and he is willing to spend the money necessary to prevent the destruction of liberty.

Goldwater’s foreign policy is quite moralistic and about the interests of the United States and wants to give Communist regimes around the world no quarter. However, his dismissal of health concerns about atmospheric nuclear testing have aged badly, considering the United States has paid out over $2 billion in compensation over radiation related illnesses and deaths that have resulted. Goldwater’s foreign policy views didn’t truly gain currency until the Reagan Administration, which ultimately got the desired result: the end of the USSR and its domination over European satellite states.


I have in the past identified myself as a “Goldwater Conservative”, and after reading this I know now, more than ever, that I am. His ideas and perspective speak to me, his staunch opposition to coercion in government policy resonates deeply as does his moral and practical opposition to Communism and Socialism. The lessons overall that I took from this book are that Conservatism at heart respects liberty and order, regards the entire Constitution as the law of the land, embraces the free market, and rejects totalitarianism. Conservatism is not an ideology of dollars and cents or a philosophy dedicated to upholding privilege but rather is one of the spirit of mankind, respecting human nature, and does not pretend to have an ideal for a “perfect” society, for that does not and cannot exist in this world. Its prescribed solutions for the problems of today are based in the lessons of history, which is why people who consider themselves conservatives ought to read up on it. I highly recommend this book for conservatives to greater understand what they stand for and may offer some new insights to consider.

The Conscience of a Conservative, Part 5 Notes


Chapter 8: The Welfare State

Goldwater introduces this chapter by concluding that the primary threat to freedom in the United States is no longer the Marxist goal of “socializing the means of production” (68). Rather, given the free enterprise system’s success at eliminating cause for a revolution of the proletariat, doctrinaire Marxism is no longer “in”, rather the welfare state takes its place. Goldwater finds the welfare state insidious, as it curbs the freedom of a man by “divesting him of the means to provide for his personal needs and by giving the State the responsibility of caring for those needs from cradle to grave” (69-70). This is an adaptation to a democratic society by the left, as “Welfarism is much more compatible with the political processes of a democratic society” (70). This is a more sneaky approach, as outright nationalization would scare the majority of the public and such proposals would be likely be defeated outright.

Political promises of free goods are even more of a thing today than they were in the past from the left. Goldwater notes the collectivists can win victories this way on topics from housing, education aid, and hospitalization. He finds this form, he calls “Socialism-through-Welfarism” to be more dangerous as it is more difficult to combat than nationalization (70). Goldwater identifies the appeal of emotion to voters on this subject, and finds it difficult for conservatives to not look selfish or callous in the face of the emotional framing of the left. Such guilt-tripping in the name of statism can be found in the oft-asked questions Goldwater notes, “Have you no sense of social obligation? Have you no concern for people who are out of work? For sick people who lack medical care? For children in overcrowded schools? Are you unmoved by the problems of the aged and disabled? Are you against human welfare?” (71). There is always an implication out there that if you oppose federal action for a problem, you must have a personal problem with its sufferers. Goldwater’s ultimate complaint with the welfare system is its effect on moral character. He states that it “transforms the individual from a dignified, industrious, self-reliant spiritual being into a dependent animal creature without his knowing it” (73). With the provision of welfare, there comes the provision of attitude, and Goldwater notes that because these programs are considered by the government an “obligation”, that the government thus “owes” people said money that they have the “right” to. His solution? Make welfare a private matter…after all, higher taxes are highly detrimental for fundraising for charities.

Chapter 9: Some Notes On Education

Goldwater has already established himself as a staunch opponent of federal funding for education in previous chapters, and has a whole chapter for continued elaboration. We know that he believes federal involvement in education to be unconstitutional, but he also has normative reasons for his opposition. Goldwater thinks the focus on the issues with education is off. It is not a quantitative problem in his view, rather a qualitative one. He wants to raise standards instead of spending more money. The impetus for the push for federal education aid was the Eisenhower Administration’s Conference on Education in 1955, which was designed to build support for federal grants for education. The problem, the committee found, was not funding, but lack of political will. Goldwater considers it inappropriate for the federal government to intervene to motivate political will, rather believes that political will must be built up by the people of states and localities. Although proponents of federal aid to education have spoken of urgent need, according to HEW Secretary Arthur Fleming, only about 230 out of approximately 42,000 school districts are in financial trouble. Yet, Goldwater notes that the Eisenhower Administration and congressional liberals are pushing for a comprehensive program to address a problem that effects 0.5% of school districts. Contrary to his previous statement about state legislatures being forced to use federal funds, he cites his own state of Arizona turning down funds under the 1958 Defense Education Act as evidence that states can raise the needed money. Perhaps, then, resisting federal aid is difficult but not impossible. What’s more, he finds that given the increase in classroom construction since World War II that school funding has met postwar population needs.

Goldwater sees two more problems with federal education. First, it promotes the idea that federal aid is free money when in truth it comes out of taxpayer dollars, and second, it leads to increased federal control of education as the federal government can slap on conditions for the states to meet to receive the money. He also decries the Dewey method of education, which focused on how a subject was taught rather than what and de-emphasized character education. Goldwater ultimately wants the concept of “federal” in education to be gone as he believes in communities. This notion is rather unthinkable today given the growth of federal involvement in education since 1965, and even Republicans surrendered on this question with No Child Left Behind in 2002 despite including the shuttering of the Department of Education in their campaign platform six years earlier. Although Goldwater would have approved of the motive of the legislation to improve education on the quality end, he would have opposed the entire federal nature of it, from federal standards to increased federal spending.  When it comes to how the book has aged with time, this chapter is the second oldest part of it, the first of course being civil rights.


The Conscience of a Conservative, Part 4 Notes


Chapter Six: Freedom For Labor

Goldwater notes his proudest vote as his vote against the Kennedy-Ervin Labor Reform Bill. He thought the measure was a weak reform in the face of the revelations of the McClellan Committee about union corruption. Goldwater had originally been the only vote against, but debate picked up on the measure in the House, and it was rejected. This resulted in the Landrum-Griffin Bill, which had much more teeth. He finds that the graft and corruption exposed by the McClellan Committee to be due to “the enormous economic and political power now concentrated in the hands of union leaders” (45). Goldwater then issues a searing indictment of labor’s power as it stood in 1960: “Such power hurts the nation’s economy by forcing on employers contract terms that encourage inefficiency, lower production and high prices – all of which result in a lower standard of living for the American people” (45). He proceeds to deny that he is “anti-labor” and believes that unions can be beneficial for the country and serves as an alternative to Socialism. The union is supposed to, in his eyes, represent employees who want to collectively bargain for employment terms. Goldwater considers it corruption when unions aim to do the following:

  1. Represent employees who don’t want representation.
  2. Conduct activities that have nothing to do with collective bargaining.
  3. Bargain with an industry rather than individual business.

He acknowledges that unions need some sort of legal protection in order to function free of employer suppression. The laws that do so he notes are the Clayton Act, the Norris-LaGuardia Act (prohibiting yellow dog contracts), and the Wagner Act (the most groundbreaking and thus most offending act in conservative eyes). These laws, Goldwater holds, have done their jobs too well with the balance of power shifting from industry to labor, or, more accurately, union leaders. He gives an example of a deleterious impact on freedom of association: a family man in Pennsylvania had been a union member for over twenty years and worked in the electrical profession, but the union that became the recognized bargaining agent of his plant was the United Electrical Workers, which the CIO had ruled to be Communist dominated when they kicked them out of their organization in 1950. This man refused to join on those grounds and lost his job.

One of the most common arguments labor will push forward for compulsory unionism is the “free loader” argument, which Goldwater addresses. He compares unions to the Red Cross, as the Red Cross’s efforts provide benefits to society, yet the American public isn’t forced to give donations to them. Goldwater believes that most people will stand behind a good union that is deserving of their support.

Chapter 7: Taxes and Spending

To kick off this chapter, Goldwater decries those who run for public office and speak of lower taxes while voting for spending and projects that necessitate higher taxes. He finds those who remain consistent to be tragically uncommon. Goldwater challenges the notion that government has unlimited claim to the earnings of the citizens of the United States and finds that the individual has “lost confidence in his claim to his money” (59). He considers it to be a natural right for people to have and use their property. Goldwater considers attacks on property to be attacks on freedom and regards the concepts of property and freedom to be inseparable. He notes the attacks on property rights that regard them as manifestations of greed and materialism, which still ring true for too many American ears today. After all, he reasons, “How can a man be truly free if the fruits of his labor are not his to dispose of, but are treated, instead, as part of a common pool of public wealth?” (59).

So how does Goldwater think we should proceed? He provides an answer: “government has a right to claim an equal percentage of each man’s wealth, and no more” (61). He cites property tax assessment as an example of a tax that is collected in such a manner. Goldwater does not believe in penalizing success and regards the revenue argument for the income tax unconvincing as he finds the total revenue collected above 20% to be less than $5 billion. A figure, according to him, that amounts to “less than the federal government now spends on the one item of agriculture” (62). He properly identifies the income tax as “confiscatory” and done in the name of equalizing all men. Indeed, many proponents of higher income taxes justify it on the grounds of wealth redistribution. A key quote here is, “We are all equal in the eyes of God but we are equal in no other respect” (62). This may be the most triggering sentence for a leftist in this book. Goldwater not only recognizes the need for tax reduction, but also the need for budget reduction.

Goldwater proceeds to recount some recent (in his day) history: in 1952, General Dwight Eisenhower and Senator Robert Taft met to discuss taxes and spending, reaching an agreement to have a budget of $70 billion in fiscal 1954 and $60 billion in 1955, and this became a part of the Republican campaign that year. Unfortunately, Senator Taft died of cancer the following year and thus was unable to lead his party to reduced spending. Instead, the budget for fiscal 1961 came out to $80 billion. Goldwater laments not only the failure of the GOP to cut spending but the fact that spending rose under Eisenhower, who had pushed for lower budgets. He notes that domestic expenditures increased from $15.2 billion in fiscal 1951 to $37 billion in fiscal 1961, and that although spending rose by 143%, the population of the United States only increased by 18%. He also dismisses inflation as an explanation, as the value of the dollar increased by less than 20%. Goldwater finds spending to be a bipartisan problem and notes that the Democrats push for more spending in their campaigning and that the proposal from the Hoover Commission to reduce spending by $7 billion a year was mostly ignored in Washington. He finds the only solution to limiting spending is to end the programs that encourage it. Goldwater’s solution? A gradual withdrawal from functions not constitutionally assigned to the federal government. This includes such liberal hot topics of the day as:

Social welfare


Public power


Public housing

Urban renewal

These programs wouldn’t necessarily have no replacements: Goldwater leaves these functions to states and localities, although I don’t think he’d offer state level substitutes for public power, public housing, urban renewal, and most agricultural programs.

Of all the politicians in modern day, Goldwater strikes me as being most like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul in his beliefs about the role of the federal government. He clenches on to an understanding of the Constitution that in his day had been passé since 1937 and seemingly a lost cause. But, as the famed attorney Clarence Darrow once stated, “Lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for”.

The Conscience of a Conservative: Part 3 Notes


Chapter 4: Civil Rights

Goldwater denies there is a conflict between state’s rights and civil rights, if both terms are properly defined. He describes how a “civil right” is created: “A sociologist writes a paper proposing to abolish some inequity, or a politician makes a speech about it – and, behold, a “new civil right” is born!” (32) Goldwater’s definition of civil rights is limited to what is clearly protected by the law. Thus, suffrage without race restrictions is one of them, as is the 14th Amendment. However, he holds that States must be the highest government actors in education and concludes that the Constitution “does not require the States to maintain racially mixed schools” (33-34). He also states that the Federal government can’t force the South to do so based on the 14th Amendment, as historical evidence indicates that the people who voted to ratify did not intend for it to be applied to segregation. Goldwater adds, “I believe it is both wise and just for negro children to attend the same schools as whites, and that to deny them this opportunity carries with it strong implications of inferiority. I am not prepared, however, to impose that judgment of mine on the people of Mississippi or South Carolina, or to tell them what methods should be adopted and what pace should be kept in striving toward that goal. That is their business, not mine” (37).

This is easily the section of the book that has aged the worst. Goldwater, however, isn’t lying when he states his supports desegregation: he desegregated Arizona’s National Guard two years before President Truman issued the order desegregating the U.S. Army (which Goldwater lobbied the military brass to do), he desegregated his family’s department store, and he backed the desegregation of the Phoenix public school system as a councilman. It is clear, however, that if Goldwater was elected president in 1964 and fully followed his philosophy while in office, the only new legislation he would approve of would be voting rights legislation in the name of enforcing the 15th Amendment. Perhaps it was his belief that if voting rights could be enforced, the rest would follow. To most modern readers, Goldwater looks at best naïve on the subject of civil rights and are not likely to regard the constitutional questions being as important as the urgency of remedying the second class citizenship of blacks in the South.

Chapter 5: Agriculture

Contrary to those who believe that Alexander Hamilton’s stance on federalism amounts to “federalize everything”, Goldwater provides the following quote from him: “…supervision of agriculture and other concerns of a similar nature…which are proper to be provided for by local legislation, can never be desirable cares of a general jurisdiction. It is therefore improbable that there should exist a disposition in the federal councils usurp the powers with which they are connected; because the attempt to exercise those powers would be as troublesome as they were nugatory” (38). Hamilton, thus, would have almost certainly opposed the agricultural legislation established under the New Deal. Goldwater staunchly opposes price supports and production controls, finding that they have led to tremendous waste.

In the process of making his arguments, Goldwater cites a decision that has never been overturned by the Supreme Court, merely ignored like the drunken, conspiracy-spouting uncle: United States v. Butler (1936). This decision overturned the Agricultural Adjustment Act and established that the phrase “general welfare” served as a qualification of the power to tax, not an enablement of the government to regulate agriculture. He then discusses a precedent that both he and I find truly terrible: Wickard v. Filburn (1942), which upheld the second Agricultural Adjustment Act and went as far as to hold that a farmer who used surplus wheat to feed himself impacted interstate commerce as it precluded him buying wheat from another farmer, thus having a potential impact on interstate wheat prices. Under such reasoning, the question no longer is what falls under the Commerce Clause, but what doesn’t fall under the Commerce Clause?

Goldwater wants the market on agriculture to be free to save the nation from the waste and tax burdens that come out of these programs, calling for the “prompt and final termination of the farm subsidy program” (42). He condemns the soil bank and acreage retirement programs under Eisenhower, holding that they are simply an updated Republican version of the crop destruction regimen under FDR’s Secretary of Agriculture, Henry Wallace. Farmers get paid to not farm under these programs to not impact prices. It is Goldwater’s belief that farmers want to be independent of government and are willing to take their chances in the market. The agricultural part of conservatism often gets forgotten because this happens to be an area that sometimes urban liberals can side with Republican conservatives on since, in my view, they care more about equality than expanding government. Although most of their proposed solutions involve expanding government, some of them abhor expansions that make some farmers millionaires. Americans for Democratic Action, for instance, often didn’t count agricultural votes unless they involved foreign policy, such as subsidizing grain exports to the USSR. Additionally, conservative legislators are more likely to come from rural areas and thus make exceptions to their ideology in that area. The conservative view on agriculture takes a bit more courage from some conservative legislators.

Next time, I’ll cover the next two chapters: Freedom for Labor and Taxes and Spending.

The Conscience of a Conservative: Part 2 Notes

Image result for Barry Goldwater

Today’s post consists of Goldwater weighing in against the powers of the federal government, holding that the size and scope are inconsistent with the intentions of the Constitution.

Chapter 2: The Perils of Power

Goldwater finds little difference in the words of Dean Acheson in his approval of the New Deal and a Republican spokesman in what he thought the proper role of the federal government. As he notes, both implicitly repudiate limited government and neither consider the Constitution.

Goldwater describes the Constitution’s setup as “a system of restraints against the natural tendency of government to expand in the direction of absolutism” (18). Such restrictions he lists include specific, limited powers the federal government is authorized to do, granting to the States or people the power not delegated to the feds, the three branches of government, and making constitutional amendments difficult to pass. Goldwater holds that we have not kept the system the Founders intended given the size and scope of the federal government’s activities. He cites as evidence for this is the amount of spending per year (almost $100 billion in 1960) and that the Chicago Tribune found that the federal government is the “biggest land owner, property manager, renter, mover and hauler, medical clinician, lender, insurer, mortgage broker, employer, debtor, taxer and spender in all history” (20).

Interestingly enough, Goldwater states as well, “nearly a third of earnings are taken every year in the form of taxes” (20). This is not much higher than the almost 30% rate paid by the average American today when all federal, state, and local taxes are accounted for. Something else to note about taxes in that era: the wealthy navigated their way through a complex tax code weighed down with exemptions and loopholes, so no one actually paid the statute rate of 91% on income. He also writes that Alexis de Tocqueville (an astute and prescient 19th century French observer of American life), predicted deterioration for a society that puts more emphasis on democracy than republicanism. Writer’s aside: learn how long Athenian Democracy lasted vs. Roman Republicanism.

Chapter 3: State’s Rights

Goldwater starts with a 1930 quote from the Governor of New York, who stated that the Constitution doesn’t grant Congress the power to deal with “a great number of…vital problems of government, such as the conduct of public utilities, of banks, of insurance, of business, of agriculture, of education, of social welfare, and a dozen other important features” (24). This man, of course, was Franklin D. Roosevelt!

Goldwater points out a very fascinating under-the-surface form of federal interference in the form of “grants-in-aid” for states in functions that are known only as the jurisdiction of the States. If the States agree to pay a portion, the Feds will cover a portion, which often is over half the cost. This proposition, he holds, is “a mixture of blackmail and bribery” (26). How so, you ask? Once federal funding is offered, State legislatures are unlikely to turn it down since if others didn’t do so it would look terrible politically. This makes refusal tantamount to political suicide. Washington designs the programs based on what they think States need, not the States themselves on what they think they need. Washington, you could say, makes an offer the States can’t refuse. Washington does not always act so indirectly as sometimes its representatives make threats for action should the states refuse. Goldwater gives an example of the Secretary of Labor directly telling States that if they didn’t enact unemployment compensation laws the Federal government found satisfactory, they would jump in. The list of functions Goldwater believes should have no federal involvement are numerous, and all the examples he lists are functions that are taken for granted today.

The Constitution effectively has been boiled down to guidelines, not a law on the question of relations between the Federal government and the States. There is an interesting exclusion in the state’s rights chapter –  never once is the term “civil rights” mentioned, because that is the next chapter! Yeah, that’s right. This post ends on a cliffhanger!