"Henry Clay's "American System," devised in the burst of nationalism that followed the war of 1812, remains one of the most historically significant examples of a government-sponsored program to harmonize and balance the nation's agriculture, commerce, and industry. This "System" consisted of three mutually reinforcing parts: a tariff to protect and promote American industry; a national bank to foster commerce; and federal subsidies for roads, canals, and other "internal improvements" to develop profitable markets for agriculture. Funds for these subsidies would be obtained from tariffs and sales of public lands. Clay argued that a vigorously maintained system of sectional economic interdependence would eliminate the chance of renewed subservience to the free-trade, laissez-faire "British System," U.S. Senate.
Part I: Invisible Hand-Job, Don’t Believe the Lies
Rightwing extremists have been battering liberals and the progressive left with the terms socialist and communist for a hundred years. And for a hundred years the rightwing extremists have been lying. This article begins a brief history lesson in Progressivism and leftwing politics in America. Two things can be noted about progressive politics in America. One, their roots goes back to our Founding Fathers. Two, for just over one hundred years the rightwing laissez-faire liars have intentionally mischaracterized Progressive liberals as socialists/communists.
In order to debunk the rightwing extremist’s myth that Progressive liberals are socialists/communists we need to consider the origins of this argument and the history of the Progressive movement in the United States. The first thing that should be pointed out is that the words socialism and communist are joined together in order to conflate the meaning of the words. Prominent rightwing commentators and politicians have long been conflating socialism with communism. Communications experts state "slippery slope" logic is the fallacious reasoning that asserts one step automatically leads to a second step undesirable step. Just to simplify the issue, communism, which is socialism taking to the extreme, calls for single party rule.
Socialism, which can take on many ideological and political forms, has been embraced by most governments throughout the world in the form of social welfare programs democratically passed into law. To conflate socialism with communism is an example of slippery slope logic which claims socialism automatically leads to communism. In other words, it is fallacious to assert just because a liberal Progressive support social justice and socialist programs like Medicare, they are therefore a communist. Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Fox News and the rest of the laissez-faire liars would like Americans to think so.
The idea of America being a liberal, social democracy did not come out of communism and Karl Marx. In fact, taxing businesses to build roads and educate the nation essentially became the first order of business in the first Congress of the United States of America. In doing so, George Washington’s and Alexander Hamilton’s economic policies became the backbone of America’s Progressive social justice movement. In other words, Progressivism evolved out of our Founding Father’s belief in a liberal, social democracy.
The War of 1812 proved that Hamilton’s policies of high tariffs on imports along with modest taxes on big business, a strong national banking system, along with sound infrastructure and social programs were the bedrock to building an American empire. The American systems was designed to build an empire upon an economic system separate from that of the "subservience to the free-trade, laissez-faire ‘British System’," which impoverished many of its citizens and boosted the fortunes of the aristocrats and the crown.
Henry Clay’s "American System" sought to find balance social, infrastructure, and educational programs with commerce and the free-markets. This balanced economic approach helped build America up into an industrial powerhouse. The American System is not, nor has it ever been about radical socialism or capitalism. The American System, which was fully embraced by social justice movements of the Reconstruction Era, became the foundation of the Progressive Era.
After the Civil War, the Radical Republican’s of the Reconstruction Era continued to push for a balance of free trade and civil and social projects. It is at this time in American history we see the true origins of national social justice movements. Out of Reconstruction came our first national education laws; along with national civil rights, workers rights, housing rights, child welfare rights, and women rights movements. It was the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments that brought rise to political Progressivism and the Progressive era. It was the Reconstruction era that brought rise to modern Progressivism, social justice movements and American liberal politics in general. The historical record in clear and there for anyone to read. The fact is, in spite of what Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and the laissez-faire lairs are currently telling America, communism has never had any real influence on liberal Progressive ideology. That is a lie.
Historians label the years between Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson the Progressive Era. Much like the progressive movement of today, the Progressive Era was marked by a diverse collection of beliefs and specials interests. Progressivism had five main features. First, democracy; Progressives sought to increase civil participation. Progressives passed the Seventeenth Amendment which mandated popular elections for senators. Second, efficiency; Progressives worked to streamline government, reduce redundancy, and scientifically manage the bureaucracies. Roosevelt’s and Gifford Pinchot, the head the Division of Forestry, efforts in the National Parks and forestry exemplify this tenet. Third, regulation; Progressives worked to balance laissez-faire capitalism and outright socialism with fair, common sense regulations. Fourth, social justice; Progressives worked for and passed laws the prohibited child labor, created an eight hour work day, and legislation to prevent accidents in the workplace. And fifth, prohibition; Progressives were split on this feature. But it could be said that due to its diverse features of the movement, no one Progressive embodied or supported all the main tenets of Progressivism and the Progressive era.
Many liberals fail to realize that out of the Progressive Era came Prohibition. In fact, this issue was perhaps the most divisive issue of the entire era. I believe it was in many ways the main cause for the downfall of the Progressive Era. Anyway, Progressives were split on the issue of temperance. As would be expected, most of the labor movements did not support the alcohol prohibition campaigns coming from the religious elements of the social justice movement. Nonetheless, they needed the support of the religious movement because the religious groups were also supporting the labor movement’s campaign for fair wages, eight hour work days, safe working conditions, and restrictions to child labor on moral grounds. The newly forming labor unions were able to align with the churches in providing basic social protections. This unholy alignment with rough and tumble labor and religious movements lead to Progressive majorities in both Congress and the White House for the nearly twenty years that defined America’s Progressive Era.
What the laissez-faire liars want Americans to believe is that liberal Progressivism came out of communism. However, the historical facts prove them wrong. Liberal Progressivism has a long history which sets much of its roots in the Reconstruction Era and the economic policies of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, which strongly differed with the subservient nature of the laissez-fair "British System."
Liberals need to know this history. Liberals need to go back and reflect on the social justice work done during the Reconstruction and Gilded-Age. Prior to the Progressive Era and FDR’s New Deal, prior to Karl Marx and communism, you will find the Founding Fathers sowing the seeds of social justice and the new "American System;" a progressive system which protected the general welfare of the people, unlike the subservient laissez-faire "British System," a system that sought to find harmony and balance between social welfare and capitalism.
Every president marked in the Progressive Era believed in this balance. Every mainstream liberal organization in America walks in the footsteps of America’s great Progressive Era presidents and the economic policy legacy set down by our Founding Fathers. The fact is, during the heights of each of the varying social movements in U.S. history, including the 1960’s, Communist views never received more than the most modest shares the viewpoints of American liberals and Progressives. Yet, the radical rightwing laissez-faire liars have effectively used their slippery slope logic for over one hundred years to discredit and mischaracterize liberals and Progressives.
The question I keep asking myself is how long will the liberals and Progressive go on before they finally start correcting the revisionist history tellers on the right? Perhaps that is the purpose of this whole article? Anyway, How on Earth did the liberal Progressive movement allow themselves to be continually defined by the laissez-faire liars as "socialists/communists" in the first place? The fallacious s/c logic by the defenders of the gluttonous magical hand-job of the free-markets continues to this day, mostly due to Progressive ignorance or tolerance. The screaming rightwing lunatics have been calling an end to Social Security, Medicare, the Department of Education, safe abortions, and even the Fourteenth Amendment. The laissez-faire liars would like to undo all off the progressive gains made going back to the Civil War.
This coming midterm elections we find rightwing extremist, laissez-faire candidate liars repeating all the same lies the opponents of the "American System" and the social justice reforms of the Reconstruction, Progressive Era and New Deal Era had made in the past. Yes, it is the billionaires, both foreign and domestic, that are once again trying to buy our government and turn it into an economic system much like the old subservient "British System," which relied on the massage pallor laissez-faire ideology of free-markets over the Progressive "American System" based o the harmony and balance of socialism and capitalism inspired by our Founding Fathers. Once again, the two hundred plus year old political battle lines are drawn between those that wish in the harmony and balance involved in taxing the rich to build a civil and socially justice society, and those that simply believe in maintaining the myths of invisible hand-jobs, aristocracies, and other radical laissez-faire utopian, happy ending ideologies.
Oh, how history repeats itself. And so, if you consider yourself a liberal, a Progressive, a Democrat, a support of health care for all, a believer in consumer protections, a believer in women’s rights, a supporter of equal right, if you support an eight hour work day, Social Security, education for all Americans, if you believe the rich should not have massive tax loopholes that allow them to pay less of their income to the government than the middle class, if you believe forgoing tax cuts for the super rich could help employ millions of Americans, you are not a socialist or a communist. No, you are actually part of the long historical heritage dating back to our Founding Fathers. Yes, liberal Progressives are the voice of reason and the voice that opposed the subservient "British System." Instead, our Founding Fathers proposed the economically progressive and socially liberal "American System. Liberals can be proud of this fact. When it comes to true American ideals and patriotism, the laissez-faire liars are again and again proven to be the historical losers.