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True Libertarian Presidents II: Warren G. Harding

President Warren G. Harding advocated for social peace and economic freedom. Was he a true libertarian president, or another big government, politician?

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By Dane Larsen | United States

“Warren Gamaliel Harding sweeps country in a GOP landslide” (San Francisco Chronicle, November 1920). After the 1920 Presidential election, the country had high hopes for a man who promised peace, progress and prosperity. Harding won the EC with votes 404-127, and stuck to his vowed code of ethics, by keeping the government out of the economy, bringing peace to the world after WWI, and protecting citizen’s personal liberties. An enormous portion of the United States voted him in so that they could see the results in categories like such.

Economic Freedom

Being preceded by Woodrow Wilson, a man notorious for his blasphemous economic positions, Harding was set up with a massive Depression from 1920-21. It’s not a big surprise that this was one of the depressions that hit us hard, but we never hear about it in the context of some of the worst in our nation’s history. This is because the former POTUS in question had about some of the finest economic stances, that he rarely went back on. Coupled with a post-World War economy, and the creation of the Federal Reserve, Harding was arranged to fail, as the economy as we knew it, was structured on faulty foundation. One future President, and Secretary of Commerce at the time Herbert Hoover, loosely defined himself as a laissez-faire advocate, and pushed for Keynesian tactics in the wake of a 17% GNP fall off, and a raise of unemployment by 8%. Harding ignored this.

Instead, Harding changed everything he could in his power, while keeping the checks and balances in D.C. that our forefathers envisioned, and not stepping over any boundaries. The Federal Income Tax started with a cap at 7% in 1913 but at the end of WWI skyrocketed to 77%. Secretary Mellon of Harding’s cabinet proposed tax cuts that would get the economy going again, with more money in the pockets of Americans in all tax brackets you could imagine. This cut in these taxes eventually led to a rapid growth in the US citizen wealth and all. In the passing years, GNP steadily rose 4.7% annually, and unemployment fell to 6.7% in 1921, then 3.2% in the following year. Furthermore, Harding cut spending of government entities by nearly 50%, and along with his almost 40% tax reduction, him and his administration cut back the national debt, with no bail-outs, government catalyst programs, etc.

Although he did enact a small tariff known as the Fordney-McCumber protectionist laws, he only had good intentions. Only one small crack in an air-tight economist of a President, the man “always decried high taxes, government waste, and excessive governmental interference in the private sector of the economy,” as Robert Murray wrote in “The Harding Era”. He was an honest man, who just wanted to see prominence in the economy of his home country, with the people he legitimately cared about.

Non-Interventionism

Foreign policy is the regard where Hardings reputation begins to become tarnished. He was a product of his time, and it’s hard to envision anybody in power at that particular time not wanting to grab at immediate power when there were so many vulnerable assets up for grabs. The occupations of many satellite colonies in the age of Imperialism was something every power of the Western world partook in. Harding wanted to do as much as he could in power to put these activities to rest, but it’s a shame that he never developed his words into actions. During his Presidency, the affairs regarding control over territories in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Nicaragua were still in tact. This cruel behavior was sinister, yes, but in the context of the 1920’s, not uncommon in the slightest. At least then, there was very little conflict or civil disruptions in the territories from 1920-22, besides the D.R. citizens fighting soldiers positioned on sight, which stopped after Harding retracted troops to ease tension.

He was, however, an advocate of world diplomacy, at least when it came to the world superpowers. The Washington Naval Conference was put on by President Harding from November of ’21, to February of ’22, pre United Nations, here Harding brought together a lot of the powerful countries of the World, in another of the conferences of the League of Nations. Along with pushing for disarmament around the globe, being the first world consultation of arms control, it also enacted three main treaties, among others, that stood out as being a type of foreshadowing of things that the world would see in the near future. After a long time coming, China eventually launched an “open-door” foreign trade policy that would stimulate the World’s economy, only following the Nine-Power Treaty introduced and signed by none other than Warren G. Harding. Furthermore, many attribute the breakdown of Imperialism itself to Harding, who knocked over one of the first dominoes with the Four-Power Treaty, which made sure that the members of the star members of the League of Nations wouldn’t exceed their status quo of stationed troops in Oceania during colonization. This was meant as a plea to give the citizens of their homeland some breathing room.

Individual Autonomy

Through thick and thin, Americans could cont on Harding pushing for personal freedom in the oval office, on behalf of his supporters, but for the good of everyone in the country. At one time, it was him valuing freedom of speech, when he pardoned Eugene Debs, wrongly imprisoned under the Democratic President Woodrow Wilson for speaking out against the USA’s participation in WWI, whether he agreed with it or not. He thought that through free speech and advocacy of the American people, the federal government could take some notes on how to run the country that gave them their power in the first place. He seems like an honest and good-hearted politician? No wonder it sounds so foreign to us in the 21st century.

Furthermore, in a time of turmoil, post-Emancipation Proclamation and pre-Civil Right Movement, Harding was one who always pushed for legal and God-given rights to all, no matter their skin color, or potential criminal background. On one hand, he endorsed equal political rights for all, especially African Americans. He got rid of double standards when citizens in the South applied to vote. In a campaign speech in Birmingham, a notable Democratic, segregated city, Harding once said “Whether you like it or not… Unless our democracy is a lie, you must stand for that equality”, pertaining to the equal voting rights he proposed.

Furthermore, on the other hand, Harding pushed for legislation on all fronts in favor of rehabilitation over punishment as well. In a more extreme case, the POTUS signed into law an anti-lynching and/or mob violence bill, only to be hated by a Senate filibuster. Although he didn’t push for the death penalty or anything of the sort, he wanted maximum punishment for the type of people who would do these things to other humans. In some cases, lynching was a branch of the punishment, and Harding didn’t approve of such an act in his United States.

A Prosperity Story, from Rubbish to Riches

Harding’s success story aligns itself right up with the story of the USA during his tenure as President. Harding lifted himself up through the ranks of the governmental positions. Born in Ohio himself, he was elected as a State Senator, elected Ohio’s Governor four years later, and the to the US Senate in 1914. He was thought of as a gamble in the RNC and when elected in the primaries, but his fresh ideas served as a springboard for America’s success in the Roaring Twenties.

Known as one of the most prosperous time periods in the United States’ history, economically, socially, spiritually, and in every other category, Harding overlooked and set the states up for a great boom. From WWI and a body count too many to fathom at that time in the War, the USA was coming from nothing. Under Harding, the country was built on a great infrastructure, thanks to his core libertarian beliefs.

“Our most dangerous tendency is to expect too much of government, and at the same time do for it too little.” –Warren Gamaliel Harding


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