IT IS UN-AMERICAN
By: Red Phillips
President Obamas recent you didnt build
that comment has ignited quite
a debate. Interestingly, this debate has brought to the forefront the
terminology and the idea of the American System. James Pinkerton covers the
history of the American System well in this
article from The
American Conservative, although, as you will see, I do not totally agree with his
Those of us who have been involved in the renewed debate over
the merits of Abraham Lincoln are well aware of the term American System as
one of the chief criticisms of Lincoln by his new antagonists is that he essentially
remained a Henry Clay style Whig intent on advancing Clays American
System including federally subsidized internal improvements
(infrastructure), which is why he could not afford to let the South leave. So I was a bit
surprised that this terminology seemed new to so many people, but I guess if you have not
been following the Lincoln debate it could be.
While as a partisan Southerner I do not concede that the
debate about Lincoln was ever over, there has clearly been a recent upsurge in Lincoln
revisionism. I would date this renewed debate to the publication of
Thomas DiLorenzos first
Lincoln book. Lincoln as Clay style Whig was one of DiLorenzos main themes.
Of course for conservatives and
constitutionalist, Clays American System is un-American. (It is probably
more accurate albeit less alliterative to call it un-Constitutional rather than
un-American because violating the Constitution has unfortunately been a feature of
American reality for quite some time now.) According to conservative minded
constitutionalists, the Constitution is a document of enumerated powers so if
the power is not enumerated the Federal Government does not have it. By this reading of
the Constitution there should be virtually no federal spending on
infrastructure. Roads and bridges are a state and local concern.
I concede that there is always the question of what was
intended and authorized by the term post roads
in the Constitution (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 7), but the defenders of the interstate
highway system did not even try to justify it on the basis of post roads, but
rather they attempted to justify it on national defense grounds. Even if you allow for a
liberal interpretation of what it means to establish post roads, the Federal
Government does not have carte blanche authority to build infrastructure for the
facilitation of enterprise which is what Clays American System
Of course Romney will not make this constitutionalist argument. Instead he will
continue to reinforce the impression that he is a Chamber of Commerce Republican and have
his surrogates make vague insinuations that Obama is a collectivist or a socialist or
whatever and does not respect entrepreneurs. (As Pinkerton points out, Obama is in fact an
advocate of a mixed economy, but Republicans and movement conservative wags
cannot effectively make this point because for so many of them their defense of
free-enterprise is actually shilling for state corporatism gussied up with
free-market platitudes. How can the same people who labeled Ron Paul a wacko for
criticizing the Federal Reserve question the wisdom of Henry Second Bank of the
United States Clays American System?) And a valuable opportunity
to explain what the American System (constitutionally limited government) really is and
should be will be lost.
Red Phillips is a physician
from Georgia. He occasionally blogs at Conservative
Times. He is a regular columnist for Ether Zone.
"Published originally at EtherZone.com :
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Red Phillips may be contacted at: email@example.comJuly 24, 2012 issue of Ether Zone.
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