Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – First up here today, we have Brion McClanahan who has a number of books out there I hope all of you have, first of which is Forgotten Conservatives in American History. We have copies of that autographed by Brion in the Founders Tradin’ Post. He has the Politically Incorrect Guide to Real American Heroes. That’s a recent release. The Founding Fathers Guide to the Constitution is another great book that Brion has written. Brion is on the line here. Brion, welcome to the program. Check out today’s transcript for the rest…
Mike: First up here today, we have Brion McClanahan who has a number of books out there I hope all of you have, first of which is Forgotten Conservatives in American History. We have copies of that autographed by Brion in the Founders Tradin’ Post. He has the Politically Incorrect Guide to Real American Heroes. That’s a recent release. The Founding Fathers Guide to the Constitution is another great book that Brion has written. Brion is on the line here. Brion, welcome to the program.
Brion McClanahan: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.
Mike: Today we’re going to talk about President Cleveland?
McClanahan: President Cleveland is great. I wish we had him back. You opened up the segment talking about George Washington. I think if you look at the late 19th and into the 20th century, Cleveland would be the closest you can get to the model executive. If you go back before the war, the antebellum period, you can find pretty good examples. After the war, there are very, very few. Cleveland is it. If you want to find the guy in the modern era you should look at, it’s Grover Cleveland. We often overlook him. Historians generally rank him middle of the pack or lower because he was not one of their guys. He didn’t go out and use the executive office as a hammer to bring home their progressive legislation. He’s a great guy. I wish we talked more about him.
Mike: He did use the executive hammer but he used it to hammer Congress.
McClanahan: Exactly. He used the veto as a wrecking ball. Every time the Congress would pass some unconstitutional trash, he’d just veto it and say: It has to be constitutional. If you look at the way that say Franklin Roosevelt used the veto, he was vetoing stuff because he thought it wasn’t progressive enough or wasn’t active enough, didn’t have enough centralization. Cleveland was going back to this Republican-led congress and saying: Everything you’re doing is unconstitutional. You’ve got to make it constitutional or I’m not signing this legislation. That’s exactly the way Washington said the veto should be used. Cleveland vetoed more legislation than anybody previous to his administration, and it wasn’t surpassed until Franklin Roosevelt who, as I said, used it in a different way.
Mike: Brion McClanahan is on the Dude Maker Hotline with us. Was Cleveland called by someone the last Jeffersonian?
McClanahan: Yes. In fact, I think the title of a chapter of Forgotten Conservatives had that. Also, there’s a book out by Ryan Walters that has that title, The Last Jeffersonian. There’s a new book coming out on Cleveland in the spring. I think the title is The Last Conservative or something like that. I haven’t read that yet. The one thing that’s interesting about that, at least in the blurb that was put out, saying Cleveland was not presiding over any type of difficult times. If you look at the late 19th century, it was terribly difficult. You had a terrible depression in 1893 that was caused by inflationary policies of the Republican Party. You had the end effects of reconstruction, so you had a situation where Democrats had not even had the executive office, at least elected, since 1857 with James Buchanan. You had terrible animosity towards the South. He was trying to heal the wounds of reconstruction, yet the beginnings of American imperialism which he was trying to put the brakes on. There was a lot of stuff going on in the Cleveland administration that needs to be addressed and it’s not.
Mike: Not only that, but wasn’t Cleveland also — didn’t he have a fight going on? There were two other things that seem to come to mind. Perhaps you can illuminate this a little bit. One was that he resisted the urge, and never stopped for most of his administration, to bail on the gold standard. The other you kind of alluded to with the foreign policy or imperialism, to pay for the imperialism, weren’t there nonstop efforts in Congress to pass income taxes?
McClanahan: Absolutely. You mentioned the gold standard. What happened in the Benjamin Harrison administration just before Cleveland, you had these inflationary polices the Republicans put into effect. Essentially what they were doing was making gold and silver equal in the treasury. People were pulling gold out of the treasury and all we were left with was silver. When he came back into office in 1893 — Cleveland served two nonconsecutive terms. He was fraudulently voted out of office in the 1888 election. There was tremendous voter fraud in that election. He won the popular vote but of course lost in the electoral college.
So he’s out and comes back in 1893, after he gets elected in 1892, and he’s got to deal with this big mess. He’s got all these — he’s got a treasury crisis. He goes back to the gold standard and gets that put through Congress. Of course, it causes some economic upheaval at that point because inflation was so bad that there was now a deflationary problem. He straightened everything out. He had to do this because legally the government had to keep a certain amount of gold in the treasury and they weren’t doing it. If it wasn’t for Cleveland, we would have had a major catastrophe.
Then, of course, the 1880s into the 1890s, the Republican Party was continually trying to have some type of revenue to pay for everything they were doing. It wasn’t just imperialism. They were inflating the budget tremendously in that period. In fact, he presided over the first billion-dollar budget. I would love to go back to a billion-dollar budget. In 1880s, 1890s money, that was a lot of money. Cleveland was trying to rein this in. He was pretty successful at it. The Republicans were continually thwarted and they hated him.
Mike: What is intriguing about what Professor McClanahan just said is you hear a lot of “conservatives” say, [mocking] “We’re gonna get rid of these RINOs. We’re gonna get Republicans back to being real conservatives like they used to be.” Oh, you mean like the ones in the 1860s, 70s, 80s and 90s? Are those the ones you’re referring to? Every time I bring this up and read about it, my blood pressure goes up. I’m like Jackie Gleason in the second Smoky and the Bandit movie. If I had that thing on my wrist, it would start beeping. My blood pressure starts to go up. You start thinking about this and the subjugation of the southern states. The unbelievably dubious 15th Amendment, which was to try to save the election of what, Brion, 1872?
McClanahan: Correct. Everything they did, if you look at the Republicans, they were Jacobins. I think we have to look at it that way. This war between 1860 and 1865 was the American French Revolution. People say nobody was going to the guillotine. There were people in the Republican Party who were calling for the execution of Confederate leaders, who didn’t mind if they put people in prison and let them rot for four years when habeas corpus was suspended. In the radical transformations that we get after that, this opened the flood gates to every type of progressive proposal you can think of. A lot of these Republicans supported it.
You mentioned the ’72 election. It was basically a radical Republican in Horace Greeley against a radical Republican in Grant. Grant was the more conservative of the two, but Greeley was actually supported by the Democrats because he wasn’t Grant. It’s amazing how people look at this. Of course, Greeley died before the election was held, so that wasn’t going to work out for the Democrats. It’s amazing that you look back at this, as you said, Republicans that say we need to get back to good, solid, conservative Republicans. If you look at the Republican Party, it’s always been the party of progressivism, reform, change, leftism. We don’t really have a party for conservatives anymore. It’s unfortunate but it’s gone.
Mike: The irony is that the conservative party that came out of the Civil War or War of Northern Aggression would have been the Democrat Party.
McClanahan: That’s exactly right. The thing about Cleveland, this is an unknown part of this, but in 1896 the Democrats were finally co-opted by the Silverites. William Jennings Bryan was nominated. The conservatives were searching for a home. There was a splinter party called the National Democratic Party. Cleveland supported it, not really campaigning for it. You had all these conservative Democrats break off. They actually nominated a former Union soldier for president, Palmer, and a former Confederate general for vice president named Buckner, Governor of Kentucky at one time. You had this splinter party, a gold-based party. You can actually get their little handbook on Google Books for free. It’s an amazing read. Other conservatives gravitated toward the Republican Party because they started co-opting some of the message of the Democrats. That was a real turning point, that 1896 election. It’s unfortunate and it’s never gone back. One time the Democrats nominated a conservative in 1904 and that was it. Since then it’s just been a disaster for anyone who’s interested in libertarianism or conservatism. There’s nothing out there for you at the national level.
Mike: Shocking, isn’t it? Apart from Washington and apart from Cleveland, if you had to pick another American president that you would say was a grand conservative, who would it be and why?
McClanahan: Kevin Gutzman and I talked about this. It would be John Tyler. In fact, I would say he’s probably the best example we can have for a chief executive, even better than Washington. Washington had a couple of instances where he was doing some things that were a little dubious. John Tyler comes into office in ’41 and just obliterates the Whigs. Of course, he was a Whig, but he wasn’t a National Republican type of Whig. Everything they tried to pass, a central bank, he vetoed it. Tried to pass internal improvements, he vetoed it. Tried to pass tariff legislation, he vetoes it. All the centralization they were trying to do, he vetoed everything, so they booted him out of the party. They said: You’re not really a Whig. He was a Whig in the old tradition of resisting executive authority and resisting centralization. It goes back to the British tradition of what a Whit really was. John Tyler is the best, and again, the guy I wish we had more of but we don’t.
Mike: That’s one of those presidents that when your kids memorize the list of presidents, that’s one they’ll get wrong every time. You’ll have Zachary Taylor in there, John Taylor, Polk. Other than Jackson who, of course, stands out, he’s in that era in the late 1830s, 40s.
McClanahan: 1841. He was president from 41 to 45, just before Polk. He comes into office because William Henry Harrison died after a month in office. They called him “his accidency.” The cabinet called him and said: We’re just going to run the executive branch and you just be a rubber stamp. He told them no so they all quit. It’s great. Daniel Webster was, of course, in that cabinet. He hung on for about a year. Webster had all his own problems. These are the kind of people he was dealing with and he just stood up to them and said: No, I’m not Henry Clay. I’m not doing that. You can pass your legislation. If it’s constitutional I’ll sign it; it if’s not, I won’t, and of course it wasn’t. He was always like this. Even going back to the 1830s, he stood up against the Force Bill. He supported nullification in South Carolina. He had always been this way. They just didn’t think he was going to act like that as executive but he surely did.
Mike: A great trivia question on President’s Day, you’re talking about the vetoes that Tyler issued, the vetoes that Cleveland issued. What was the last bill a president signed that was actually constitutional?
McClanahan: I can’t even answer that.
Mike: Has there been one?
McClanahan: Because our bills are so littered up with pork and other things now, it’s hard to say. There are so many writers. It would be hard to say if there was a single bill you can say there’s nothing in it you can find a problem with. You’d probably have to go back a good ways. I don’t know that answer.
Mike: You could just look up Ron Paul’s voting record and start your research from there. He voted yes on that, why?
McClanahan: There you go. If he voted yes, it’s probably constitutional. If he didn’t, there’s something in it that shouldn’t be there.
Mike: Brion McClanahan’s latest book is The Politically Incorrect Guide to Real American Heroes. Get it at Amazon.com. Of course, we have Forgotten Conservatives in American History and the chapter he was just talking about with Grover Cleveland in it. It’s in the Founders Tradin’ Post and signed by the author. Brion, Happy Washington’s Birthday to you and thank you very much.
McClanahan: Thank you. Thanks for having me, Mike.
End Mike Church Show Transcript