Friday, August 26, 2011

Government Efficiency, Billion Dollar Congresses, and the Erosion of Freedom during the Gilded Age

House Speaker Thomas B. Reed ruled the United States House of Representatives with a rod of iron.

His lasting accomplished, during the Gilded Age of wealth and free market prosperity during the latter half of the nineteenth century, Reed manipulated safe Republican majorities (whipped into power by the pull of the bloody shirt guilt against Democrats who has sympathized with the South and the Confederacy during the nations Civil War)

He snidely derided the parliamentary procedures which stymied enthusiastic majorities, the Republican juggernaut dead set on passing power-hungry legislation, including massive appropriation bills. Unfortunately, his petulant impatience flew in the face of James Madison's wisdom, confirming the Founding Father's concern about dedicated factions who would impoverish the state, or one class of the nation, for the benefit of another.

Starting with the Radical Republicans of the 1860s and 1870s cared more about power than the needs of minorities. The liberal Republican hegemony fell into the hands of monied interests interested in stifling innovation and protecting public monopoly.

House Speaker Reed would lock members into the chamber, forcing a vote. He would dismiss dilatory tactics, like motions to require roll calls. Yet these measures were the essential safeguards which prevented the more populist chamber in Congress from heedlessly passing expensive legislation, at great cost to taxpayers.

Reed boasted of the first Billion Dollar Congress under his tenure, yet the tax-and-spend profligacy of the Gilded Age came at a great process, the necessary deliberation of two legislative chambers and a strong executive, who would force extensive compromise or kill legislative largess outright.

Throughout the Federalist Papers, Madison opined that a government whose powers were separated inconveniently would prevent factions from despoiling one segment of society at the expense of the other. Unfortunately, Madison did not foresee the lasting damage inflicted by the Civil War, in which the party that championed Federal strength at the expense of the states would not only hold onto power, but would push out the opposition from any meaningful input or impact in government.

With a president who was either reduced (Johnson) or merely a rubber stamp (Grant, Hayes, Harrison), Congress had its way with spending sprees, government growth, and deficit spending, a legacy which has plagued this nation, up to now.

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