By Dane Larsen | @therealdanelars
When brought up in debate of the best Presidents we’ve ever had here in the United States, my picks usually get shot down as not significant enough to be in contention. I am here to debate that some of the lesser known presidents are some of the ones that made due with their time in office and advanced the movement of liberty in our nation. Considering there have been no Presidents who identify as pure libertarians (yet…), most have been Republicans sometimes even before the LP was founded, so they all have their flaws. I will try to give an unbiased review of Presidents who have proven to hold up three core libertarian beliefs: economic freedom, non-interventionism, and individual autonomy.
Our first President subject to the libertarian analysis is Ulysses Simpson Grant. He is a man who, when mentioned, is usually confined to his career as General of the Union Army during the American Civil War. Before this appointment, Grant rose through the ranks at the USMA at West Point, NY, to show his potential turned to skill in the Mexican-American War. Throughout the Civil War, he proved his worth to the nation, as he pummeled the South in the battle of Shiloh, Chattanooga, and the Appomattox campaigns. This led to the surrender of the Confederacy, and a great big win on Mr. Grant’s resume.
Once a war hero, always a war hero, and in 1868, the voters showed this when they voted Grant over his Liberal Democrat opponent, Horatio Seymour, with a difference of 300,000 in the popular vote, and 214-80 in the Electoral College. Right off the bat, Ulysses S. Grant oversaw tremendous achievement: finishing the Transcontinental Railroad, and the beginning of the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Five months after inauguration, the US experienced a financial panic known as “Black Friday”, after a shaky post-war economy. From then on, it was smooth sailing for President Grant. He proved his clear advocacy for laissez-faire economics when he vetoed many attempts by Congress to intervene with the market to get it trending back up. Again, in 1874, he demonstrated transparency on the policies he ran on when he vetoed the Inflation Bill of 1874, which would have increased the nation’s spending by $100,000,000. This would amount to $2.12 billion in 2018 when adjusted for inflation, which was intended to accommodate for the economic crisis in 1873. It made people have hope for the sitting POTUS, because this proves that even in the worst of times, he never went back on his morals. He had too much respect for the people who put him in office, to go back on what he promised.
Throughout the rest of his tenure as President of the United States, Grant promoted with no question, a stable economy, with a finite resource behind its success. Multiple times in his two terms, he signed bills into law that campaigned for silver, gold, and other precious metals, rather than a standard US note. In 1875, the Specie Payment Resumption Act, Grant sanctified those values, when he restored the nation to the gold standard, to separate the USA from their normal inflammatory policies in the economy. Earlier, in 1872, the President signed the General Mining Act, where he authorized prospecting and mining of precious metals on all public properties in the US.
Furthermore, Ulysses cut taxes and chipped away at the seemingly insurmountable national debt in the post-war situation he was dropped into. He made do with what he was given and ended up being one of the most economically-sound Presidents.
In the context of 1868, when he was elected for his first term, Mr. Grant didn’t experience a lot of the problems that would go along with the globalization that has come with uniting the world through the Internet. Every President has their downfalls, and foreign policy is where Grant slips up with his resume in office. Not to say he didn’t do any good in this role of President of the USA. His narrow encounters with Spain and Cuba in the Winter of 1873 could’ve ended disastrously, but he avoided it with his calm demeanor and his compensation to the families who were affected by the dangerous sea warfare. Even to follow up with this, and to fortify the Pacific Ocean bases from other powers of the world, Grant made efforts to strengthen relations with Hawaii, by implementing a free trade agreement with the King.
Prior to that, Grant also signed off on the Treaty of Washington, which enshrined peaceful relations between the US and the United Kingdom, under the rule of William Gladstone. Between British-built battleships causing damage to American cruisers, innocent UK civilians being lost in the Civil War, and illegal fishing in Canadian territories, the UK and America wanted to start over with a peaceful alliance. Ulysses S. Grant oversaw this, and the relationship between the two superpowers of the world.
Other than that, there was a particular part of Grant’s presidential terms that modern-day Libertarians would find repulsive. With the embarkment of the USS Alaska set out to fight with the Grebo Confederacy against the Liberian imperialists, trying to take their native land. This was one of the first steps the US took to becoming the policemen of the globe, getting involved in an affair that didn’t concern them whatsoever. President Grant even ran on a platform of annexing the Dominican Republic, which would be getting back to exactly what the US fought against the British for, a central government that is close to their regions. Serving the D.R. from D.C. is inherently against the ideals of the non-interventionism that libertarianism is built on.
Lastly, Grant is up for ridicule on some of his social policies. In light of the Civil War, rather than some politicians like Lincoln who weren’t intrinsically against slavery, Grant didn’t just talk the talk, but he also walked the walk on his stance with civil liberties to Native Americans and African Americans, especially ex-slaves. These deep down bearings sprung him to have one of his most notorious decisions in his tenure: the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment. Denying the right to vote is an ideology that only empowers the few, and that is not what Libertarians are about, and that’s why Grant ensured this right for every citizen of the US.
Again, however, Grant wasn’t perfect in this regard either, passing some questionable legislation, the first of which being the Comstock Laws. These laws criminalized any employees of the US Postal Service who sent anything from contraceptives to pornographic material, and any other thing that Congress deemed immoral. This was a big step for the government starting to save their citizens from themselves. Again in 1875, Grant signed the Civil Rights Act, where he loosely defined “discrimination” when he prohibited it pertaining to race in public places. This was later deemed unconstitutional eight years later, but overturned in the Civil Rights Movement, but changed to not affect private businesses.
A Good Reputation, Gone Down the Drain
Towards the end, the Grant administration was cursed by countless scandals by people in his Cabinet. Although he wasn’t involved in actuality with any of these acts of misconduct, the man didn’t have very good evaluations of the men he hired. Between the Whiskey Ring and Benjamin Bristow, many distilleries evaded taxes with their connections with the Treasury Secretary. George M. Robeson was the Secretary of the Navy and stole $15 million of the $55 million in his special construction budget allotted by Grant in 1876. Furthermore, this President’s War Secretary took extortion money to head a trading post at the expense of Native Americans. This lucrative act was also immoral and cost the Presidency a bit of trust.
What we can take away from Ulysses S. Grant’s time in office, is that he was a good man, a drunkard, yes, but a good man who stuck with his principles throughout his incumbency. He was plagued by dishonor by his colleagues that he couldn’t exactly control. But in the end, he was economically sound, and an individualist at heart, even if he did overstep his boundaries.
“My failures have been errors in judgement, not of intent.” –Ulysses Simpson Grant
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